Historians' Take on the News: 9-25-03 to 1-2-04





On occasion this page will include, in addition to historians, political scientists and economists who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.

Note: Comments in some cases have been edited.

Click here for the archives.


Click here to return to top of page.

Tom Engelhardt: The Bush Team's Playing at War (posted 1-2-04)

Tom Engelhardt, writing in www.tomdispatch.com (Jan. 2004):

[T]he neocon utopians who dreamed up our distinctly unpeaceful Pax Americana in deepest, darkest Washington and out of whole cloth seem to have imagined global military domination as something akin to the board game Risk. They too were, after a fashion, Risk managers, seeing themselves rolling the dice for little weapons icons (most of which they controlled), oil-well icons (which they wanted) and strategic-country icons (which they needed). They were consummate game players. It just so happens our planet isn't a two-dimensional gameboard, but a confusing, bloody, resistant, complex place that exists in at least three dimensions, all unexpected.

I mean if you think I'm kidding -- about children playing games -- just remember that we have a President who, according to the Washington Post 's Bob Woodward, keeps a"scorecard" in his desk drawer with the names/faces and personality sketches of al Qaeda adversaries (and assumedly Saddam) and then X's them out as they're brought in"dead or alive." Think tic-tac-toe here.

The president and his men, in short, have been living in a fantasy world that makes The Lord of the Rings look like an exercise in reality. Even before the Iraq war, this was worrisome to the adults who had to deal with them. This is why there was so much opposition within the top ranks of the military before the war; this was why there was no Pentagon planning whatsoever for the post-war moment (hey, you've just won the Iraq card in your game, now you fortify and move on); this was why, for instance, General Anthony Zinni, Vietnam veteran and former CentCom commander, who endorsed young George in the 2000 race, went into opposition to the administration; this is why a seething"intelligence community" has been in near revolt after watching our fantasists rejigger"intelligence" to make their"turn" come out right; this is why our great"adventure" in the Middle East pitched over into the nearest ditch.

2004 should be a fierce holding action for them. The question is -- as with Richard Nixon in 1972 -- can they make it through to November before the seams start to tear. They might be able to. But here's the thing: Sooner or later, the children will leave the stage and some set of adults will have to start picking up the pieces. If the 2004 election is theirs, however… well, sometimes there are just things, our planet included, too broken to fix.

Click here to return to top of page.

Arnold Beichman: Anti-Semitism Is Global (posted 12-31-03)

Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (Dec. 31, 2003):

I wonder why the thesis is rarely examined publicly that the Palestinians will never never never never never never never be allowed to make peace with Israel even if the Palestinians wanted to. Yasser Arafat, Hamas, Hezbollah and free-lance terrorists won't allow it to happen because they believe victory is at hand. The reason this thesis is not on anybody's public agenda is that were it considered a reality it would mean recognizing the futility of Oslo-Camp David-shuttle diplomacy.

To operate from such an approach would mean accepting that peace and stability in the area is inconceivable. I believe that Israel could close down all the settlements, home to 220,000 Jews, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and still the three-year Palestinian uprising would continue and intensify. Why? Because the PLO regards Israel as the Settlement, which has to be "relocated," as the PLO constitution has it, right into the Mediterranean Sea.

And the PLO's dedication to terrorism is fully supported by its neighbors. Their revolting propaganda, directed at their Arab citizenry and future generations of suicide bombers, underscores that belief. I have seen translations of schoolbooks used by Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian students. The books are anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli tracts. I have just seen on Syrian TV a horrible movie showing Arab actors costumed as bearded, nightmarish rabbis wielding butcher knives as they slash the throat of a Syrian Christian boy lashed on a gurney in order to drench matzoh flour in Christian blood. In other words, upcoming generations are being trained as future guerrilla warriors against Israel. I have seen translations of Friday mosque sermons that could easily compete with the worst obscenities of Julius Streicher's Nazi newspaper, Der Steurmer.

The latest piece of evidence of the unwillingness of the Palestinians to consider a peaceful settlement with Israel is what happened a few days ago to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher when he came to pray at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque. He was pelted with the shoes of his co-religionists and had to be dragged out by his bodyguards and hospitalized. His crime? At Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's direction Mr. Maher had met with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, to see if the so-called peace process could be revivified. The attack was a warning to Mr. Maher: shoes today, bullets next time. It was a reminder of the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after he signed an accord with Israel in 1979. The PLO will not allow the intifada, which began in October 2000, to end. Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Mr. Arafat criticized the shoe-pelters.

Why should the Palestinians give up hope and make peace where anti-Semitism has seen its biggest growth since the Hitler era, not just among skinheads but also among "the best people?" I'm thinking of those who use Israel as their cover for anti-Semitism, as the French ambassador to Britain did a few weeks ago. Why should the Palestinians give up hope when Matahir Mohammed at an international conference talks about Jewish control of the world and there is applause? Or when the best-selling book in Egypt is the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a century-old forgery created in the tsarist era by the Russian gendarmerie?

The real problem for Israel is not that the Palestinians will not or cannot make peace with Israel but that a world of otherwise intelligent, literate people will not make peace with an entity called "the Jews."

Click here to return to top of page.

The Pill Did Was Not Responsible for the Sexual Revolution (posted 12-30-03)

Joshua M. Zeitz, lecturer in history at Cambridge University, writing in the NYT (Dec. 27, 2003):

Opponents of the emergency contraceptive, known as Plan B, say they are concerned that among other things, widening access to the morning-after pill will encourage sexual promiscuity, particularly among young people. It was this apprehension that led Dr. W. David Hager of the University of Kentucky to join three other committee members in voting against the recommendation. Dr. Hager said he worried that Plan B was no less revolutionary than the birth control pill, which he claims ushered in"a new day and age for the expression of sexuality among young people."

Dr. Hager's argument is a common one. Legalized by the F.D.A. in 1960,"the pill" has been widely described as starting a revolution in sexuality and morals. But that is based on a misunderstanding of the history of America's sexual revolution and the pill's role in it.

Before 1960, the story goes, the natural constraints of human biology held Americans to strict standards of sexual discipline; after 1960, and after the pill, Americans threw off the shackles (or, depending on one's political perspective, the civilizing influence) of sexual propriety. Ever since, we've been either slouching toward Gomorrah or, as Clare Boothe Luce once famously announced, living in an age when the"modern woman is at last free as a man is free, to dispose of her own body, to earn her living, to pursue the improvement of her mind, to try a successful career."

That's a lot of power for one little pill. In truth, this narrative is flawed. Though the pill surely made contraception easier, and while it gave women more power and responsibility in family planning, it hardly created a sexual revolution. American sexual habits had been changing long before the pill found its way onto the market. Early sex surveys revealed that about half of all women who came of age in the 1920's admitted to engaging in premarital sex (defined as coitus), a figure that held steady for women in later decades.

Americans were also practicing birth control long before the pill. As early as 1938 a poll commissioned by The Ladies' Home Journal found that roughly four of every five women approved of using birth control. Just over two decades later, on the eve of the pill's legalization, 80 percent of white women and 60 percent of nonwhite women reported practicing some form of family planning.

Even the heightened sexual permissiveness of the 1960's can't be attributed to the pill. Throughout the better part of the decade doctors generally prescribed the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, only for married women, who made up the drug's largest market share in its early years. As late as 1971 only 15 percent of unmarried women age 15 to 19 used the pill. Even in recent times, only about 23 percent of women age 15 to 24 report using it.

The pill, then, did not create America's sexual revolution as much as it accelerated it. And that revolution had been a long time in the making.

Over the course of the 19th century the average number of children born to married couples dropped to about four from about seven. Americans probably weren't having less sex. Instead, couples — particularly those in the growing middle class, whose families no longer required legions of children to work on the farm — were practicing birth control. They were coming to view sex as an activity that wasn't merely procreative, but also central to pleasurable and loving marriages.

In the early 20th century many Americans began experimenting with sex outside of matrimony — partly because they could. By the 1920's a majority of Americans lived in urban areas where they enjoyed greater anonymity and social freedom. Meanwhile, a growing leisure culture provided a host of places — from dance halls to movie theaters — where men and women could meet.

Click here to return to top of page.

Correlli Barnett: The Terrorists Are Winning (posted 12-30-03)

Correlli Barnett, writing in the Spectator (Dec. 13, 2003):

Last month, the sixth since President Bush proclaimed ‘Mission Accomplished' in Iraq, proved the worst so far in terms of American and ‘coalition' body bags: 81 in all. November was also marked by the bombing of a residential quarter in Riyadh, and by the four Istanbul car-bombs. In ironic contrast, this was the month dignified with President Bush's state visit to Britain, complete with his and Blair's defiant rhetoric about defeating ‘global terror'. All in all, now is surely a good time coolly to re-assess the state of play in this so-called ‘war on terrorism'.

First of all, we have to clear our minds of moralising political cant and media clichés. Thus it is misleading to talk of a ‘war on terrorism', let alone a ‘war on global terrorism'. ‘Terrorism' is a phenomenon, just as is war in the conventional sense. But you cannot in logic wage war against a phenomenon, only against a specific enemy. It is therefore as meaningless to speak of ‘a war on terrorism' as it would be to speak of a ‘war on war'. Today, then, America is combating not ‘terrorism' but a specific terrorist network, al-Qa'eda.

What's more, terrorist campaigns, whether conducted by al-Qa'eda, the IRA or ETA, are not at all irrational expressions of hatred, let alone manifestations of ‘evil' to be denounced from political pulpits, but instead are entirely rational in purpose and conduct. To adapt a well-known dictum of Clausewitz about conventional war, terrorism of any brand is a continuation of politics by other means. Al-Qa'eda's own political aim has been proclaimed by Osama bin Laden: to expel American military forces, bases and business corporations from Arab or Islamic soil, along with ‘corrupt' Western cultural influences. Furthermore, to adapt a second of Clausewitz's dicta about conventional war, terrorism is an act of violence intended to impose the terrorists' political will on their enemy.

The question for us today is this: which side is at present imposing its will on the enemy — the United States or al-Qa'eda? Which side enjoys the initiative? Objective strategic analysis can return only one answer: it is al-Qa'eda. ...

The truth is that the two military occupations (and especially that of Iraq) have simply opened up long American flanks vulnerable to increasing guerrilla attack: a classic case of strategic overextension. In Iraq, moreover, Washington has brought about the linkage between al-Qa'eda and Saddam's men which, despite Washington's claims at the time, never existed before the war. Major American combat divisions — airborne, armoured and infantry — are now tied down in Iraq in peace-enforcement operations, for which they have not been trained and wherein they are clearly floundering (viz, the random blasting of firepower in all directions when ambushed in Samarra the other week). These field divisions are of course no longer available for deployment elsewhere in the world. Result: the army of the world's single hyperpower is now seriously overstretched in terms of personnel, with reservists and National Guardsmen having to be posted to Iraq.

What is more, al-Qa'eda also holds the psychological initiative. By its acts of terror, it provokes fresh outbursts of grief and anger in the West (cf. the reaction to the Istanbul attacks) and a political response of windy rhetoric (cf. Blair and Bush at their joint press conference in London). But grief, anger and windy rhetoric are poor guides to shrewd strategy, as the ‘coalition' entanglements in Afghanistan and Iraq already go to demonstrate. As also demonstrated by these entanglements, an equally poor guide to strategy is the romantic vision of ‘neocon' ideologues in Washington like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz who want to revolutionise the entire Middle East, even the whole world, into ‘democracies'.

Click here to return to top of page.

Peter Maguire: The Myth of Nuremberg Is Warping the Debate About Saddam's Trial (posted 12-30-03)

Peter Maguire, who has taught the laws of war at Columbia University and Bard College, is author of Law and War; writing in Newsday (Dec. 28, 2003):

The captured Iraqi leader is the most significant single war-crimes defendant since Herman Goering took the stand at Nuremberg in 1946. Compared to Hussein's use of poison gas against Iranians and his own people, Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial in the Hague , is a relative small fry.

How ironic that the president who singlehandedly rolled back most of the international legal gains of the 1990s is now calling for a trial that will bear "international scrutiny." While a legitimate trial for Hussein could firmly establish his guilt in the eyes of his countrymen, any trial designed to "educate" the Iraqi people could quickly turn to farce as trials cannot be asked to teach historical lessons. Trials, at best, can only establish legal guilt or innocence.

The idea that war-crimes trials can "re-educate" societies is based upon the assumption that the Nuremberg trials did more than punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent - that they also transformed Nazis into law-abiding democrats. Neither assumption stands up to the analysis of a new generation of scholars. German historian J"rg Friedrich contends that the Nuremberg trials caused many to embrace their fallen leaders: "Yet although their guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the public simply chose not to believe it. The wedge of criminal guilt that was meant to be a wedge between the public and the defendants turned out to form a link between them."

Click here to return to top of page.

Frederick W. Kagan: We Must Win in Iraq (posted 12-30-03)

Frederick W. Kagan, the military historian, writing in the LAT (Dec. 28, 2003):

The capture of Saddam Hussein could be a turning point in the U.S. war on terrorism. Properly handled, it may restore momentum to flagging U.S. efforts to establish a stable democracy in Iraq . In addition, a Hussein trial might end, once and for all, the divisive and enervating argument over whether the war was justified in the first place. Above all, Hussein's capture and possible trial might become a new symbol of hope throughout the Middle East , hope that tyranny ultimately fails. Much, however, depends on how the U.S. moves from here.

One of the weapons in Al Qaeda's arsenal is the widespread feeling in the Muslim world that its rulers are corrupt and tyrannical. The effective disenfranchisement of most Muslims living in "managed democracies" -- or overt oligarchies or monarchies -- creates an attentive audience for Osama bin Laden's calls for jihad. One of Bin Laden's reasons for attacking the United States is its continuing support for such regimes. It isn't primarily a struggle about the distribution of wealth. There are, after all, many countries in the world less well off than, say, Saudi Arabia . It's a struggle about the distribution of liberty.

All this makes Iraq central to the "war on terror." By invading the country, President Bush bet that he could destroy one of the standard-bearers of Arab tyranny and replace him with a stable democracy. There is virtually no historical precedent for this in the Muslim states of the Middle East . Most Muslims have been able to choose only among varieties of despotism, and Bin Laden's theocracy might seem no worse to them than most. This lack of political options is a key element of Bin Laden's appeal.

If the U.S. succeeds in establishing democracy in Iraq , the situation would be fundamentally altered. No longer could Bin Laden claim that democracy was unsuitable for Muslims and could not work within the Umma, as the Islamic world calls itself. He would be forced to compare his authoritarian Islamic creed not just with tyrants and corrupt despots but also with liberty. That would be a much more difficult task. A democratic Iraq would thus undermine one of Bin Laden's central arguments. Failure to establish a stable democracy in Iraq , on the other hand, would add new power to Bin Laden's claims and new momentum to his movement.

It is unfortunate that this larger issue in the war against terrorism has been obscured by the debate over the legitimacy of the war. Critics who have fixed on the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction as evidence of a Bush deception miss this point. Removing one of the worst regimes of all time, one that traded in death and torture, sends a strong signal to corrupt and authoritarian Arab and Muslim governments that reform may be the better part of wisdom. Reform is bad news for Bin Laden and his terrorist network.

With the stakes so high, failure in Iraq is unthinkable.

Click here to return to top of page.

Bernard Lewis: Our Enemies Fear Democracy Will Succeed in Iraq, Our Friends Fear It Won't (posted 12-22-03)

Bernard Lewis, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 22, 2003):

The American military intervention in Afghanistan and then in Iraq has had two declared objectives: the first and more immediate, to deter and defeat terrorism; the second, to bring freedom, sometimes called democracy, to the peoples of these countries and beyond.

The sponsors and organizers of terrorism are of two kinds, with very different purposes, even though they can and frequently do cooperate. One of the two is local or regional, and consists of survivors of the former Iraqi regime, encouraged and supported by the governments of other countries in the region that feel endangered by what might happen in Iraq. The aim of these groups is to protect -- or, in the case of Iraq, restore -- the tyrannies under which these countries have lived so long. If, as many urge, the Americans decide to abandon this costly and troublesome operation and simply go home, this might just possibly be enough to satisfy the local sponsors of terror. Some of them might even offer the resumption of what passes for friendly relations.

But there are others who would see the eviction of the Americans from Afghanistan and Iraq not as the end but as the beginning -- as a victory not in a war but in a battle, one step in a longer and wider war that must be pursued until the final and global victory.

The Americans too, have proclaimed a larger and longer purpose for their intervention; not just to defeat and end terrorism, but to give to the long-oppressed peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and eventually other countries the opportunity to end the corrupt and oppressive regimes under which they have suffered for decades, and to restore or create a political order respected by and answerable to the people. This goal evokes strong support among many in the region. But, because of both past experience and current discourse, that support is understandably wary.

Certainly, the creation of a democracy in the Middle East will not be quick or easy, any more than it was in Europe or the Americas. There, too, it must come in gradual stages. Going too far, too fast would give an immediate advantage to those skilled in the arts of manipulation and of intimidation. As the example of Algeria demonstrates, it can even lead to a violent clash between the two.

The kind of dictatorship that exists in the Middle East today has to no small extent been the result of modernization, more specifically of European influence and example. This included the only European political model that really worked in the Middle East -- that of the one- party state, either in the Nazi or the communist version, which did not differ greatly from one another. In these systems, the party is not, as in the West, an organization for attracting votes and winning elections. It is part of the apparatus of government, particularly concerned with indoctrination and enforcement. The Baath Party has a double ancestry, both fascist and communist, and still represents both trends very well.

But beyond these there are older traditions, well represented in both the political literature and political experience of the Islamic Middle East: traditions of government under law, by consent, even by contract.

Changes in the spirit of these traditions would offer an opportunity to other versions of Islam besides the fanatical and intolerant creed of the terrorists. Though at present widely held and richly endowed, this version is far from representative of mainstream Islam through the centuries. The traditions of command and obedience are indeed deep-rooted, but there are other elements in Islamic tradition that could contribute to a more open and freer form of government: the rejection by the traditional jurists of despotic and arbitrary rule in favor of contract in the formation and consensus in the conduct of government; and their insistence that the mightiest of rulers, no less than the humblest of his servants, is bound by the law.

Another element is the acceptance, indeed, the requirement of tolerance, embodied in such dicta as the Quranic verse"there is no compulsion in religion," and the early tradition"diversity in my community is God's mercy." This is carried a step further in the Sufi ideal of dialogue between faiths in a common search for the fulfillment of shared aspirations.

The attempt to bring freedom to the Middle East evokes two fears: one in the U.S. and still more in Europe, that it will fail; and the other, among many of the present rulers of the region, that it will succeed.

Click here to return to top of page.

Iraq's Christian Heritage (posted 12-25-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Dec. 25, 2003):

For the history of Iraqi Christianity click here. Iraqis believe Christianity was brought to what is now Iraq, an Aramaic-speaking area, around 35 AD by Thomas the doubting apostle (some say Peter also preached in Mesopotamia). The religions of Iraqis at that time included Babylonian-style polytheism and star worship (including astrology), Zoroastrianism from Iran, Greek Gnosticism and Judaism. In the theological disputes that developed from the 400s, most Iraqi Christians are believed by historians to have favored the Nestorian branch of Christianity, founded by Nestorius (d. 451). By the time of the Muslim Arab conquest of Iraq in the 600s AD, what is now Iraq had a significant Christian population. Over time most Iraqis gradually converted to Islam and adopted Arabic, and contrary to popular Western belief, the conversion was for the most part peaceful. From the 1400s some Iraqi Nestorians accepted overtures from Rome and acknowledged the pope, becoming Catholics. They were allowed to keep their Aramaic liturgy. These Catholic “Uniate” Iraqis became known as Chaldeans, and had their own patriarch. Over time they became the majority (now 80%). Those who remained outside Catholicism may not be exactly identified as Nestorians any more by this period, but had historical roots in that branch of Christianity, and were called Assyrians. In recent decades there has been a push to unify the Chaldeans and the Assyrians. Iraqi Christians probably amount to between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals, about 2 or 3 percent of Iraqis.

Click here to return to top of page.

Juan Cole: Iraqis Should Be Leary About Putting Saddam on Trial in Iraq (And So Should We) (posted 12-22-03)

Historian Juan Cole, in the course of an interview published in the Ann Arbor News (Dec. 21, 2003)

Q: What concerns do you have about the suggestions of putting Saddam Hussein on trial?

A: There are several. The Bush administration and Iraqi interim Governing Council both seem to think it's a good idea to try him in Iraq, and I understand why. But one wonders at what cost this will come. A lot of Sunni Muslims in Iraq fear the fall of the government because it will place them in the vast minority to Shiites who were persecuted by Saddam.

Any trial is going to cover his acts of genocide against the Kurds in the late 1980s and Shiites following the first Gulf War of the early '90s. Spending months on these kind of investigations has the potential for provoking ethnic violence.

Q: What are other potential consequences of putting Saddam on trial?

A: I believe giving Saddam Hussein a stage or platform in Iraq through a trial is a bad idea because he's going to be defiant and still has Fedayeen and a loyal base active in the country. There also is the potential that Saddam may find ways to underline U.S. complicity in the atrocities, which could make it difficult to maintain support for the occupation forces.

Q: The atrocities you mentioned that are attributed to Saddam are what we know about. Is there a danger that such trials would reveal more that we don't know about?

A: Diplomatic historians say there are no secrets if you know where to look. We already know a great deal about the U.S. government's [complicity] with Saddam Hussein and his actions. There could be more.

Q: Would he focus on that compliance to mount a defense?

A: I don't know that he would. It certainly would hurt his stature in the Middle East and Arab world to make himself look like an agent of the CIA, so he may not want to. But when he can bring that information to light in self defense, I believe he could.

Q: International human rights organizations have been collecting data on Saddam's brutal regime for decades. With so much documentation, what kind of defense could he mount?

A: What we have seen in the cases of those dictators who have been tried for war crimes in the past is that they are impertinent. They blame subordinates, say things got out of hand and blame the victims. He's already been quoted as saying the bodies of those found in mass graves throughout the country belonged to thieves and traitors.

Q: Is it possible for him to get a fair trial?

A: That's another issue. One of the persons who is calling for a war crimes tribunal in Iraq is Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, current president of the interim Governing Council. Sixty-three members of his family were killed by Saddam Hussein. I'm willing to concede that the man is an upright man, but I don't know if saints exist to that extent in the world where he has no sense of vindictiveness about this. That's a problem that a lot of the people involved in this have talked about, and for those reasons I really think it is important that any trial occurs in The Hague.

Q: Are there other reasons why any trial should be conducted by the existing format of international war crimes tribunals?

A: There has never been such a tribunal in Iraq before. It's being created from scratch, most of the judges with long experience in Iraq are Baathists and there's no constitution in Iraq. Under what statutes can he be tried?

Q: Does it matter if he gets a fair trial?

A: I think it does matter. First, Saddam still has supporters, and to satisfy those supporters, it's important that any trial is conducted through a fair process. Otherwise, it could be construed that he was treated unfairly.

I also think it's important for Iraq. If there is going to be a new Iraq, it must be founded on the principles of law and fairness. It would not [. . .] bode well that the country's first act would be to railroad someone even as despised as Saddam Hussein.

Click here to return to top of page.

How the Republican Party Coddled Saddam (posted 12-20-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Dec. 20, 2003):

Well, the Democratic Party seems too nice or inept to do anything with it, but as the Washington Post points out, the good folks at the National Security Archive are continuing to document the long history of Republican Party coddling of Saddam Hussein, and their hypocritical winking at his use of weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s.

The Archive incidentally shows that the Bechtel Corporation actively connived to subvert 1988 Congressional sanctions on Iraq for using weapons of mass destruction by seeking non-US subcontractors. Bechtel was awarded an Iraq reconstruction contract by US AID last spring worth at least $640 million. Yup, some American corporations have long been deeply concerned about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and the moral evil of genocide.

It turns out that Don Rumsfeld actually went to Iraq twice, once in 1983, and again in 1984. The work Rumsfeld did in 1983 of beginning a rapprochement between Reagan and Saddam was detracted from by a strong State Department condemnation of Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Schultz told Rumsfeld to explain to Saddam [warning: PDF] that the Reagan administration did not actually, really have any serious objections to, like, exterminating Iranian troops like cockroaches with poison gas. It was just a general, unspecific blanket condemnation of that sort of thing, you know, to keep up appearances. Sort of like when the US was against genocide in general but didn't really mind so much the one conducted in Indonesia against hundreds of thousands of leftists in 1965. So, Saddam should feel comfortable about Reagan's desire to continually improve bilateral Reagan-Saddam relations at a pace of Saddam's choosing, and not be put off by the unfortunate but necessary pro forma condemnations of him as a war criminal issued at silly old Foggy Bottom.

The document also reveals two other things on which the press hasn't widely remarked. George H. W. Bush was deeply involved in this Saddamist démarche, he was the one who extended an invitation to high Baathist official Tariq Aziz to come to Washington.

And, Schultz told both Rumsfeld and Saddam that the US was trying to curb weapons flows to Iran. Yet it is well known that Israel was supplying Iran with weaponry in return for Iranian oil. Only a little over a year later, Schultz double-crossed Saddam by getting on board with the Iran-Contra weapons exchange, which was suggested by the Israelis in the first place. The White House illegally sold Iran hundreds of powerful TOW anti-tank and HAWK anti-aircraft weapons [which Reagan came on television and told us were shoulder-launched weapons!], for use against Washington's newfound ally, the Iraqis, who were being assured that the US was trying hard to"prevent an Iranian victory . . ."

These weapons sales contravened US law, under which Iran was tagged as a terrorist nation. (Even today I can get into trouble for so much as editing a paper by an Iranian scholar for publication in a US scholarly journal, but it was all right for the Republicans and Neocons to send Khomeini 1000 TOWs!) Not only that, but Reagan's team then turned around and used the money garnered from these off-the-books sales to support the contra death squads in Nicaragua. In the US Constitution, how to spend government money is the purview of Congress, and Congress had told Reagan"no" on funding the death squads. So Reagan's people essentially stole weapons from the Pentagon storehouses, shipped them to Israel for transfer to Ayatollah Khomeini, and then took the ill gotten gains from fencing the stolen goods and gave them to nun-murderers in Latin America.

Here's the timeline:

"1985
July -- An Israeli official suggests a deal with Iran to then-national security adviser Robert McFarlane, saying the transfer of arms could lead to release of Americans being held hostage in Lebanon. McFarlane brings the message to President Reagan.
Aug. 30 -- The first planeload of U.S.-made weapons is sent from Israel to Tehran. Two weeks later the first American Hostage is released.
Dec. 5 -- Reagan secretly signs a presidential 'finding,' or authorization, describing the operation with Iran as an arms-for-hostages deal.

1986
Jan. 17 -- Reagan signs a finding authorizing CIA participation in the sales and ordering the process kept secret from Congress.
April -- Then-White House aide Oliver North writes a memo outlining plans to use $12 million in profits from Iran arms sales for Contra aid.
"

Where are they now?

George P. Shultz is the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was sworn in on July 16, 1982, as the sixtieth U.S. secretary of state and served until January 20, 1989. In January 1989, he rejoined Stanford University as the Jack Steele Parker Professor of International Economics at the Graduate School of Business and a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a member of the board of directors of Bechtel Group, Fremont Group, Gilead Sciences, and Charles Schwab & Co. He is chairman of the International Council of J. P. Morgan Chase and chairman of the Accenture Energy Advisory Board. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, on January 19, 1989. He also received the Seoul Peace Prize (1992), the Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service (2001), and the Reagan Distinguished American Award (2002).

Schultz strongly supported the war against Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam had used chemical weapons in the 1980s.

Elliot Abrams, a convicted criminal who lied to Congress about the shady goings-on in Central America and a long-time supporter of the far rightwing Likud Party, was appointed by W. as the National Security Council advisor for Arab-Israeli affairs. Perhaps it was Abrams who told W. that Ariel Sharon, the Butcher of Beirut, is"a man of peace."

Donald Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense of the United States, and supported the war against Iraq, partially on the grounds that Saddam had used chemical weapons in the 1980s.

George H. W. Bush is the former president of the United States. His invitee, Tariq Aziz, is in a US prison at the Baghdad Airport.

Oliver North, a convicted criminal, has been given a cushy job on Fox television by its owner, eccentric far rightwing Australian billionnaire Rupert Murdoch.

Saddam Hussein is in a US prison at the Baghdad airport.

Ronald Reagan is being considered above criticism by the US Right, which pressured CBS to cancel a mini-series on his life that was anything less than absolutely adoring, and is now being proposed as a replacement on the US dime or 10 cent piece for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the defeater of the Axis.


Click here to return to top of page.

Samantha Power: McNamara's Lessons (posted 12-16-03)

Samantha Power, writing in the NYT (Dec. 14, 2003):

SOMETIME in the mid-1960's, the Vietnam War became known as "McNamara's War." In the seven years Robert S. McNamara served as Secretary of Defense for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon. B. Johnson, the United States commitment in Vietnam soared — in a soothingly gradual fashion — from fewer than a thousand Americans to just under half a million. Mr. McNamara, in turn, went from being heralded as a whiz kid to being hounded as a war monger. In 1965, a Quaker protester set himself on fire below Mr. McNamara's Pentagon office window. In 1967, antiwar activists tried to burn down the his vacation home in Aspen, Colo. And in 1972, an artist who spotted him on a ferry tried to heave him into the Atlantic Ocean.

A quarter of a century later, Mr. McNamara broke his silence, publishing "In Retrospect," his best-selling memoir. He asked how he and his fellow leaders could have pushed for a war he at last acknowledged was "wrong, terribly wrong." But after the deaths of three million Vietnamese and more than 58,000 Americans, many saw Mr. McNamara's public reckoning as, at best, incommensurate with the carnage and at worst, dishonest and self-serving. In a stinging editorial in 1995, The New York Times dismissed his "prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late," contrasting the fates of the dead with that of Mr. McNamara, who, despite his torment, "got a sinecure at the World Bank and summers at the Vineyard."

The debate over Vietnam and the debate over Robert McNamara — debates that overlap, but that over the years have grown distinct — refuse to subside, partly because Mr. McNamara, now 87, refuses to go away. In "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara," opening Friday, Errol Morris, the ingenious Cambridge-based director of such documentaries as "The Thin Blue Line" and "Mr. Death," has given Mr. McNamara a big-screen chance to reflect upon a career of watching fallible human beings like himself make decisions that imperil or extinguish human lives.

While Mr. McNamara uses the film to propagate the "lessons" of his six decades in public life, Mr. Morris has another agenda: to raise questions that are moral, timeless and rarely broached with such subtlety. How do decent men commit or abet evil acts? And once they have done so, how should they interact with their victims, live with their consciences and pass along their insights? It is the indefatigable relevance of these questions that keep Americans at once enthralled and repelled by Robert S. McNamara. And it is the long-standing aversion of American decision-makers to address past mistakes that has helped undermine the American standing around the world and has hindered our ability to learn from history.

Click here to return to top of page.

Jay Winik: Resistance in Iraq Will Continue (posted 12-16-03)

Jay Winik, writing in the NYT (Dec. 16, 2003):

[T]he stunning capture of Mr. Hussein, the symbolic leader of the resistance, is bound to be a serious blow to the guerrillas. But in spite of this remarkable turn of events, it would be a profound mistake for American leaders to believe the worst is over in Iraq....

At its essence, guerrilla warfare is how the weak make war against the strong. Insurrectionist, subversive and chaotic, its application is classic and surprisingly simple: concentrate strength against vulnerability. As most Americans know from the Vietnam experience, guerrilla warfare can work with frightening success.

But Vietnam is not the only template, and its "lessons" may be misleading. America is not the only nation that has been a victim of guerrilla conflict. An astounding number of other world powers, large and small, have been humbled by guerrilla war in the last century alone.

At the turn of the 20th century, the heavily outnumbered Boers in South Africa staved off the mightiest force in the globe, the British empire, for four long years. In the late 1950's and early 60's the Algerians used guerrilla tactics with devastating success against the far more powerful French. The Khmer Rouge employed them to come to power in Cambodia almost 30 years ago. And Palestinian forces have relied on these tactics for almost three decades against Israel.

Far from being simply a phenomenon of the most recent century, the pedigree of guerrilla warfare dates to the earliest days of human combat. Five hundred years before the coming of Jesus, the ceaseless harassment and lightening strikes of the nomadic Scythians blunted the best efforts by King Darius I of Persia to subdue them. In Spain in the second century B.C., the Romans suffered humiliating defeats and required several decades to surmount the tactics of the Lusitanians and Celtiberians. Later, in Wales, the conquering English endured some 200 years of acrimonious struggle before they prevailed. And Napoleon, of course, was forced to give up on the Iberian Peninsula only a few years after he occupied it.

In far too many guerrilla wars, the military balance becomes almost meaningless; more frightening than the actual casualties are the demoralization and exhaustion that regular armies feel, even against small numbers of terrorists and guerrillas. Deprived of the fruits of closure, of the legitimacy of victory, at what point does the occupier deem that the cruelties of a guerrilla war are no longer worth it? As a dispatch from North Africa to King Louis-Philippe of France in 1833 stated: "We have surpassed in barbarity the barbarians we came to civilize."

It is this grim specter, more than any other, that haunts the American experience in Iraq....

The best that American forces can now do — and it is no small task — is to provide breathing space for a viable Iraqi political process to take hold. Success in quelling this guerrilla war will depend less on the military than on politics and diplomacy. Success will come when the Iraqi people themselves, with American assistance, unite behind a new representative government and political pluralism. If they can, then over time the guerrillas will ultimately be reduced to rogue bandits.

Click here to return to top of page.

Martin Halpern: Japan Should Not Send Troops to Iraq (posted 12-16-03)

Martin Halpern, writing in Japan Times (Dec. 13, 2003):

A recent New York Times carried the story that Japan will send 600 ground troops to southeastern Iraq. I read this news with sadness as I prepared to lead a discussion in my upper level class in 20th-century U.S. history on the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan's role as voice for peace and nuclear disarmament is at stake.

The New York Times account rightly stressed that the meaning of Japan's pacifist Constitution is also at stake. Does anyone believe that the so-called Self-Defense Forces are on anything other than a military mission and acting as a combat army when they carry antitank weapons and drive armored vehicles into a war zone?

The subject of the dropping of the bomb is a highly personal one for me. I was born on Aug. 9, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. I developed an understanding as I grew up of the great wrong committed by my government, and traveled to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Museum when I was a Fulbright lecturer five years ago at Tohoku University.

The New York Times account emphasized that the peace Constitution was imposed by the U.S. on Japan, but it failed to note the strong desire of the Japanese people after the war to break with the militarism and aggression that had brought enormous harm and suffering to Japan's neighbors and disaster to Japan itself. I learned from my time in Japan that strong sentiments for peace and opposition against nuclear arms persist to this day.

Long a critic of the nuclear-arms race, I was struck on my visit to the Peace Museum by the documentation of the many times my government has threatened to use nuclear weapons and of the continuing advocacy of nuclear disarmament by the citizens and leaders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At a time when a neoconservative clique seeking world hegemony plays a leading role in U.S. foreign policy formation, we hear U.S. President George W. Bush speaking frequently about the determination to stop other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons but not a word about taking steps toward nuclear disarmament called for in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Japan's antinuclear advocacy is needed now more than ever.

Click here to return to top of page.

What the Vietnam War Tells Us About Iraq (posted 12-15-03) Henry Ryan Butterfield, a writer for the History News Service (Dec. 2003):

Memories of the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s hover over our occupation of Iraq like sullen ghosts, calling out warnings to American policy makers.

President Bush obviously hears them, and he is determined that Iraq will not scar him as Vietnam did Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Above all, he doesn't want this crisis to turn him out of the White House as the Vietnam crisis turned out Johnson.

But for President Bush to escape Iraq undamaged will not be easy. His first priority must be to continue bringing U.S. troops home. But several months ago, just as they began returning, a guerrilla war erupted and, despite optimistic administration statements, shows no signs of abating. As in Southeast Asia decades ago, the casualty lists lengthen, and already many observers predict that more, rather than fewer, troops will be required to defeat the insurgents.

Meanwhile, American policy makers fear that the U.S. public has little stomach for much bloodletting in Iraq, a military occupation whose motives are being seriously questioned, just as were the motives for the Vietnam War. Then, widespread disbelief in their validity stimulated often violent antiwar protests. That could happen again if the occupation of Iraq leads America into another quagmire.

Americans had been led to believe that conquering Iraq would be easy, and indeed Saddam Hussein's regular military forces collapsed quickly enough. But the widespread Iraqi rejoicing over the Hussein's defeat that the Bush administration led Americans to expect never occurred. Nor have U.S. soldiers or those of America's allies been hailed as liberators and reformers any more than they were in Southeast Asia all those years ago.

Instead, they have encountered a nagging insurgency, reminiscent of the one that pulled us ever deeper into Vietnam's civil war. Another similarity may prove the most troublesome of all for President Bush. Citizen troops -- reservists and National Guard personnel -- form a significant share of America's forces in Iraq, and their number could grow if the United States increases its forces to contain the guerrillas. Already
citizen warriors and their families, who believe that prolonged active service is unjustified, have voiced their discontent.

The administration does not want their dissatisfaction to spread. As President Bush must know, similar resentment among citizens liable for military service during the Vietnam era fueled the revolt that drove President Johnson from office.

In short, just as the United States is about to enter a presidential election year, President Bush risks arousing opposition among voters because of unforeseen military problems in Iraq. To solve that dilemma he has undertaken three measures, starting with recruitment of Iraqis for reconstituted police and military forces. That effort, begun even before Hussein's fall, is intended to ease the U.S. security burden.

Washington attempted the same kind of program in Vietnam. It failed completely. The second measure calls for an Iraqi government to be created and functioning by the summer of 2004, a few months before the U.S. election.

But even if it takes office, that government could easily lack any real authority. It will be hastily created under American guidance in a country of great ethnic, tribal and religious divisions and currently in the midst of an armed rebellion against foreign occupiers and their Iraqi allies. If American forces leave before the country is stable, the new Iraqi government will almost certainly crumble.

Again, Vietnam provides a troubling precedent. There, we shored up a series of weak governments, the last of which, along with the local security forces we created, was overrun within two years of our departure.

The president's third measure could be the most effective. But so far it hasn't been given the energy it deserves by the administration. It calls for the United Nations, which Washington snubbed earlier in the Iraqi crisis, to endorse U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq. That endorsement could make the largely American-made regime more acceptable to Iraqis and others, including potential allies whose help we seek.

The U.S. mission to the UN has also begun exploring the possibility of UN assistance in rebuilding and administering Iraq. Until now, President Bush has shunned international administration there because it might require surrendering U.S. control, and that attitude in the White House may prevent meaningful international help now. Still, assistance from the UN would allow the United States to pull out of Iraq with its prestige intact, even while conditions remained chaotic, something neither Johnson nor Nixon managed to
do under similar circumstances in Vietnam. In today's Iraq, the UN would inherit the postwar mess while the United States took credit for toppling Hussein.

Invading Iraq was a dangerous and reckless undertaking. Analogies with the Vietnam War, while not exact, help highlight the perils of the Iraqi campaign for the United States. Today, most Americans would be glad just to have our troops come home. The trick is to get them out without seriously damaging either Iraq or American prestige and influence in the world.

NOTE: This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

Click here to return to top of page.

Why We Have Wars (posted 12-12-03)

Peter Furtado, editor of History Today, writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement(Dec. 12, 2003):

Historians have always been fascinated by wars. Thucydides and Xenophon saw war as the result of political calculation and shifts in the balance of power, although both considered the wars they described as cultural clashes between two distinct and ultimately antagonistic world-views - to Thucydides between the democratic Athenians and the conservative and oligarchic Spartans; to Xenophon between the imperial, oriental tyrannical Persians and the federal, freedom-loving, nationalistic and decent Greeks.

To Roman historians Livy and Caesar, war was a natural function of the state, something justified by the very successes in Roman arms that they chronicled. The historians and chroniclers of the Christian Middle Ages, led by the Venerable Bede, saw history as having a didactic meaning, tending to see the suffering caused by war as God's punishment for wickedness and success in war as a sign of divine favour.

These two approaches, the realistic and the moralistic - supplemented by the structuralist approach that argues that wars are an inevitable result of fundamental contradictions in the system of power - have dominated discussion up to our own day. Plus, perhaps, the cock-up theory. While long-term causes were popular in the Marxistic 1960s and 1970s, they have since fallen prey to revisionism: for example, the English civil war was seen by Marxist historian Christopher Hill in the 1960s to have had long-term economic causes and deep intellectual roots in the transition from a feudal society to a commercial one, whereas today most historians blame it on short-term miscalculations and point out that no one foresaw it, even 12 months before hostilities broke out.

Not surprisingly, the two wars that have seen the most debate over their outbreak are the two world wars of the 20th century. While Fischer blamed the German high command for challenging British supremacy and destabilising the balance of power in Europe, others saw the war as resulting from a calculated risk by Germany that got out of hand; a third approach takes the focus away from Germany and blames the intellectual and cultural environment of Europe, while a fourth suggests the entire thing could have been avoided if the British foreign secretary had played his hand more subtly in the summer of 1914. Of course, these do not have to be mutually exclusive.

This argument has a direct bearing on attitudes to the Treaty of Versailles, which itself is often seen as the contributory cause of the rise of Hitler and the return of war in 1939. Indeed, some historians prefer to consider the two wars as part of a single conflict interrupted by a 20-year truce. But the fact that the two major wars of the 20th century were started by Germany led some to seek the origins of the war in the bellicose character of the German nation. For most, the second war was fought to end Hitler's plan of continental domination and to avert the consequences of the Nazi-Soviet pact.

Fresh life has been breathed into all these questions by the war in Iraq, and historians have been as divided as any other group on its rights and wrongs. But they have probably been less noisy than in the debate on the "war on terror" in the aftermath of 9/11, when they debated the question of a historic "clash of civilisations" between Islam and the West, as Samuel P. Huntington had argued. The typical historian's counter to Huntington's assertions was a sceptical one, with an appeal to caution and complexity, and attention to the specifics of when, where, who and how.

Click here to return to top of page.

Juan Cole: On the Differences Between Cheney and Wolfowitz (posted 12-12-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Dec. 7, 2003):

I was on an Iraq panel at MIT on Friday with Ivo Daalder,, co-author of the just-published America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. I found his views of how the policy in Iraq has developed very interesting, and they provoked me to some thoughts of my own.

He distinguishes between the "Democratic Imperialists" (Wolfowitz and many of the Neocons) and the assertive American nationalists (Cheney and Rumsfeld), and sees them as opposing one another.

So we have three phases of American policy in Iraq and different analogies to other US imperial ventures, based on who was on top:

1. Jay Garner: Was planning to put Iraq on an even keel within 6 months and go home. This plan would have entailed putting Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress in charge of the Iraqi Army and bureaucracy (both would have been retained). It resembled the policy toward France after the US victory in 1945, where the government was handed over to the Free French. This policy was favored by Cheney and Rumsfeld.

2. Paul Bremer, First Phase: Bremer displaces Garner by mid-May. Intends to rule Iraq himself by fiat for two or three years. He disbands the Iraqi army altogether and puts off re-instituting the ministries. This is a Japan sort of plan, with Bremer playing MacArthur. He initially does not plan to have an Interim Governing Council or early elections. This plan was probably favored by Wolfowitz and some other neocons.

(Bremer first phase was modified July 13 when Bremer is forced to appoint an Interim Governing Council, because he simply did not have the legitimacy to rule Iraq by himself).


3. Paul Bremer, Second Phase: The Nov. 15 agreement is hastily hammered out calling for quick elections on a caucus basis, so that Bremer can hand over power to it by July 1, 2004. So, he would depart a year or two before scheduled. This is an Afghanistan model, complete with a US-invented Iraqi analogue to the manipulated Loya Jirga. Again, this model would be supported by Rumsfeld and Cheney and would raise anxieties among the neocons, who are dedicated to a Japan model of completely reshaping Iraq via direct US rule.

So, we've had three different models in less than 8 months, with the Washington infighting reinforced by the problem the US has had in getting control of the security situation.

I think the above analysis, which synthesizes some things that Daalder said with some things I said, leaves out the State Department too much. I think State has tended to support the Japan model and therefore to be allied with the neocons, if only as a matter of practical outcomes. It seems that the security problems are playing into the hands of the assertive American nationalists, who want to turn Iraqi civil administration over to someone local and then just leave. A US military division would be left behind for Gulf security.

The above is also probably too schematic. Daalder says that Wolfowitz is not that enamored of Chalabi, and implies that he supported Bremer against Garner (who is then coded as Rumsfeld's man). But the neocons, and not just Perle, seem to have had some sort of deal with Chalabi that made the "French" model acceptable to them. Did they really over-rule Rumsfeld to replace Garner with Bremer? How could Rumsfeld's deputies have that power to over-rule their own boss? I am pretty sure the Neocons were on board with the Pentagon flying Chalabi into Iraq in April with his militia. Moreover, there is the anecdote that Cheney poked his finger in Colin Powell's chest recently and said, 'If you had just let us turn Iraq over to Chalabi, we wouldn't be in this quagmire." This story implies that Bremer and the Japan model were State Department innovations, not neocon ones. Maybe Wolfowitz could live with it better than Cheney, but it seems to have come from Foggy Bottom. There is another wrinkle, which is that Bremer excluded most State Department Arabists in his Phase I. Why, if his Japan model was a State Department victory?

So, these whipsaw movements in Iraq no doubt do reflect Washington power struggles to some extent, but I'm not sure we have a really clear idea of who played what role. That developments on the ground in Iraq were more influential could be argued. Maybe Daalder explains all this in his book, which I have not yet read.

Josh Marshall has already written an important review of it for Foreign Affairs that is available online. He thinks Daalder and Lindsay understate the influence of the neoconservatives, who have advantages of cohesiveness that outweigh their relegation to 2nd-tier appointments.

Click here to return to top of page.

Lisa Duggan: How Neoliberalism Has Helped Undermine the New Deal and the Great Society (postd 12-12-03)

An interview on NPR with historian Lisa Duggan, author of the new book, The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Dec. 8, 2003):

TAVIS SMILEY: Let me start by asking you what you mean by neoliberalism?

Prof. DUGGAN: When I talk about neoliberalism, it's actually a term that's very well recognized in Europe and Latin America and some other parts of the world. In the United States it's less often immediately understood as a set of pro-corporate, pro-business policies that were put in place by a pro-corporate social movement that really got its legs in the 1970s. And by the 1980s, had in place a series of economic policies that affected the entire globe and were centered in global institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization. And also with really strong ties to the US government through the US Treasury Department.

So these were a set of policies that sort of masqueraded as purely managerial or technical, economic policies that were going to help enhance democracy and expand wealth. But, in fact, the effect that they've had over the past 30 years is to redistribute resources, all kinds of resources, economic resources, political resources, cultural resources to redistribute them upward so that now we're living in a globe that has the highest concentration of wealth in the history of the planet. And this is partly a result of neoliberal policies that have been forwarded in the United States by both the Democratic and the Republican Party.

SMILEY: Let's get more specific here and talk about how these policies have affected social, political and economic issues in this country. Let me start with the welfare state. How does neoliberalism affect or how has it affected this country's notion of the welfare state?

Prof. DUGGAN: Well, one of the key words for neoliberalism is the term 'privatization.' You hear it a lot coming from both Democratic and Republican candidates. The call is to take institutions and practices and services that had been in the hands of the state, that there was a strong push during the New Deal and the--to put in the hands of the state a lot of care for dependent citizens and for people who are unemployed. But during the 1970s and later, the push has been to take all kinds of welfare and so-called entitlement programs, as well as things like prisons and garbage collection and schools, and to put them in the hands, instead, of private corporations, private profit-making corporations. The impact on this has been to remove a lot of the social safety net that was put in place during the New Deal, the limited welfare state put in place during the New Deal has really been stripped down and is continuing to be.

SMILEY: Lisa, I can make an educated guess here, I won't, and I'll let you respond more directly. But I'm listening to you explain this concept of neoliberalism and I hear pretty clearly who the losers are. But who are the winners? Who's benefiting from neoliberalism?

Prof. DUGGAN: Well, in the first instance, neoliberalism was a set of policies that were put together by corporations based in the United States and Europe at a time when global competition was driving profit rates up. So since neoliberal policies have been dominant around the globe for the past 20 years or so, corporate profit rates have risen dramatically in response to those policies. So the immediate winners are the profit holders in global corporations. But also various political elites around the world have also profited from a concentration of political power and the managers who run and supervise international financial institutions are also the winners in a sense.

But there's also a kind of strange shift that's happened about over the past 10 years. In the United States specifically, neoliberals initially made alliances with conservatives--moral conservatives, religious conservatives. They made electoral alliances through the Reagan administration and in company with, you know, corporate allies. And then with racial nationalists and anti-feminists and anti-gay forces within the moral conservative ranks in order to shore up the winners in a set of other sets of inequalities--racial inequalities, gender inequalities and sexual inequalities.

But over about the past 10 years, there's been a slight shift away from that set of alliances and towards forwarding a kind of phony, multicultural, egalitarianism that promotes a very narrow form of equality politics that offers a limited kind of inclusion but that doesn't do any kind of redistribution.

SMILEY: Finally, because there was a time in this country when social movements did, in fact, allow for optimism to--just how to simplify it--what can and what should inspire change now in the political direction of our government?

Prof. DUGGAN: Well, I'm hoping that this is actually a time of opportunity for progressives in this country and around the world. Actually, neoliberal policies in Latin America are taking a pretty big beating right now and there are lots of protests around the world against the anti-democratic and inaccessible global financial institutions. I think finally the Bush administration is being exposed for the kind of lying that it's been doing for the cutback on all kinds of civil liberties for those sort of coming out into the open of a kind of unilateral violent US imperialism. I think it's a moment, as bleak as things are, to actually start to expose and see and look at these policies and say, 'Hey, you know, these are not neutral economic policies. These are not about wealth expansion and the spread of democracy. These are a bunch of policies that are just making inequalities worse and restricting public life, debasing public life in a very serious way.'

So if we can all see--all of us who advocate downward distributions of all kinds, those of us who are looking for lesbian and gay equality, for women's equality, for racial equality, I'm hoping that we can see that we actually belong in alliance with each other and not dismiss each other like make--the way that some people in economic justice movements will roll their eyes and be dismissive about so-called identity politics or so-called cultural politics. Or the way in which some equality lobbies might not pay enough attention to questions of political economy, I'm hoping that we can see that we have so much more in common than what divides us and that is what we have in common is a wish for the downward redistribution, for a more egalitarian kind of spread of every kind of resource, political, cultural and material.

Click here to return to top of page.

Ruth Rosen: FDR Should Remain on the Dime (posted 12-11-03)

Ruth Rosen, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 11, 2003):

YOU'D THINK that Republicans would be content to control the presidency and both houses of Congress, but apparently not. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., and 89 co-sponsors have launched a symbolic crusade to repeal the New Deal by replacing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's visage on the dime with that of President Ronald Reagan.

It's a bad idea -- for all kind of reasons. It's inappropriate and distasteful to put anyone's face on a coin while he is still alive. Nancy Reagan, who knows that her husband admired FDR, has asked that the resolution be withdrawn. Souder has ungraciously denied the request.

The best reason Republicans should abandon this campaign, however, is that Reagan's mythic greatness won't survive historical scrutiny and cannot favorably compete with FDR's legacy of extraordinary accomplishments.

Although both presidents were great communicators who knew how to reach out to the American people, that's where the similarity stops.

FDR's New Deal provided working people with Social Security pensions, unemployment insurance, aid to dependent children and compulsory education. It also banned child labor, gave workers the right to unionize, authorized a minimum wage and pushed progressive taxation. As a skillful leader, FDR helped millions of Americans to survive the Great Depression and rallied the nation to fight a successful war against fascism.

So far, Teflon and myth have protected Reagan's legacy. Many Americans liked him because he was a genuinely decent and charming man. As a result, few of us know that his foreign policies helped promote a long list of despots and fanatics around the world, including Osama bin laden and Saddam Hussein.

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Reagan administration gradually began providing Osama bin laden and his followers with huge arsenals of weapons. What Reagan's foreign policy failed to grasp was that these Islamic holy warriors, who had traveled from across the Muslim world to liberate the Afghan people, hated the United States as much as the Russians.

After Iraq attacked Iran in 1980, the Reagan administration -- fearful that Iran's Islamic revolution might spread -- quietly began providing Saddam Hussein, a secular Arab leader, with intelligence and logistical support. It also approved, according to a December, 2002 Washington Post report, the sale to Iraq of dual-use items -- those with military and civilian applications -- that included chemicals and germs, even anthrax and bubonic plague.

Support for Iraq, however, didn't stop Reagan administration officials from secretly selling weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages and funds to support the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, who were then fighting the leftist Sandinista government. Financial assistance to the Contras defied a congressional ban; the sale of arms violated U.S. law and our nation's stated policy. Reagan and other high officials, however, claimed ignorance of what came to be called the Iran-Contra scandal.

To these foreign policy failures, add the unhappy history that under the Reagan Doctrine, which stated that America should support any anti-communist groups or governments, our country ended up supporting the Contras in Nicaragua, the government of El Salvador and Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebels in Angola. This support instigated or prolonged civil wars and resulted in the"disappearance" or slaughter of tens of thousands of people.

Nor did Reagan end the Cold War by boosting military spending and bankrupting the Soviet Union. He certainly tried to end the Cold War, but the idea that he was responsible is a myth. The Soviet Union began to implode and collapse in the late 1980s when a corrupt Communist Party elite dismantled the USSR's failed economic policies and appropriated its nationalized industries.

On the domestic front, Reagan blew 90 percent of a federal budget surplus on tax cuts for the rich and tripled the national deficit by the time he left office. Under Reaganomics, the country fell into a deep recession in 1982, the gulf between the wealthy and poor widened, funds for public housing and mental health evaporated and the media began describing growing homelessness on the streets of America's cities.

This is not a legacy that we should inscribe on our dime. Republicans should listen to Nancy Reagan, perpetual guardian of her husband's legacy. She knows better.

Click here to return to top of page.

Niall Ferguson: Bush Can Have Both Guns and Butter (For Awhile) (posted 12-9-03)

Niall Ferguson, writing in the NYT (Dec. 7, 2003):

GUNS or butter: this is the choice historians conventionally say that governments face. Either they can build up their military capabilities to wield power abroad, or they can aim to increase their citizens' living standards.

In "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," the Yale historian Paul M. Kennedy developed this zero-sum model into a sophisticated theory of how empires work. In essence, you need wealth to be able to fight your rivals, but if you devote too much money to war, your wealth tends to stagnate. That's because (according to the theory) investment in the arms industry is less conducive to long-term economic growth than investment in sectors that ultimately satisfy some kind of consumer demand.

A simpler version of this idea suggests a trade-off between military spending and personal consumption. "Guns" are paid for by raising taxes, and this leaves people with less money to spend on "butter."

The Bush administration is currently engaged in an audacious — some would say reckless — experiment to disprove this theory. To judge by his actions, President Bush's response to the question "Guns or butter?" is: "Thanks, I'll take both." This, in short, is the guns and butter presidency.

It's generally a safe assumption that, in politics as in life, you can't have it both ways. But there are exceptions — provided you get the timing right. Today's economic circumstances mean that, in the short run, the administration can actually afford to spend billions simultaneously on conquest and on consumption.

In the long run, this double or nothing strategy has dangers — but, as Keynes remarked, in the long run we are all dead. All Mr. Bush needs to stand a good chance of re-election is 12 more months of guns and butter. In short, President Bush's second term depends on his being President Both.

Many a government has been impaled on the horns of the guns and butter issue. In the runup to Thanksgiving, however, two measures symbolized the Bush administration's conviction that it can grab those horns and take a ride. The first was approval of a $401 billion military appropriations package for next year, the biggest ever. The second was Congress's approval of a Medicare overhaul that increases the spiraling costs of the system by adding a drug prescription benefit...

To critics of the White House, the rapid shift of the federal budget from surplus to deficit is a sign of profligacy — part of what they would call the Enronization of public finance. It is true that there are real constraints on how much the administration can have of both guns and butter. Yet these constraints may prove to be weaker (or, to be precise, further away in time) than Mr. Bush's critics anticipate.

First, recall that the United States has broken the guns or butter rule before. Under President Ronald Reagan, substantial increases in military spending coincided with comparable increases, relative to gross domestic product, in personal consumption — that proportion of G.D.P. that the public, as opposed to the government, spends.

From 1979 to 1986, military spending leaped from 4.6 percent of G.D.P. to 6.2 percent, while personal consumption rose from 62 percent to 65 percent. Nor was this unprecedented. From 1965 to 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson managed to combine the guns needed to fight the Vietnam War with the butter of the Great Society — not to mention the ballooning consumer society.

The crucial point, of course, is that in the short term at least, fiscal policy is not a zero-sum game: a government can easily increase military spending without reducing consumer demand if it finances the higher spending by borrowing rather than taxation (and provided taxpayers do not view borrowing as future taxation and reduce consumption in anticipation).

The downside is that such debt-financed fiscal policies led to inflation in the past . In the late 1960's and in the late 1980's, deficits were partly financed by printing dollars, which ultimately led to higher prices.

The good news for Mr. Bush is that this is unlikely to happen now.

Click here to return to top of page.

It's Always Difficult to Convey What Is Really Happening in a War to the Folks on the Homefront (posted 12-8-03)

Thomas A. Desjardin, a historian with the Maine Department of Conservation, writing about President Bush's complaint that the American people are getting a jaundiced view of the war in Iraq from the media; in the Boston Globe (Dec. 7, 2003):

The truth is, people on the home front never get an accurate perception of what happens in large-scale conflicts, not in the past and not now. If understanding the war in real time on television is difficult to fathom, then imagine reaching back a dozen decades or more and asking "history" to figure things out.

While the media serve as a filter through which we see the story of modern warfare, a more complex and intricate system of filters has shaped our understanding of past struggles. And perhaps no event in American military history illustrates this better than the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.

To begin with, our knowledge of this Civil War battle -- the "history" of it -- comes largely from sources other than historians. Indeed, the most influential chronicler of Gettysburg listed among his qualifications the fact that he painted landscape watercolors in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood before the War Between the States. Though John Badger Bachelder did not serve in any army and was not present at the battle, most of what we know about Gettysburg is a direct or indirect result of his influence.

Prior to the Civil War, Bachelder had tried to collect enough accounts of the Revolutionary War's battle of Bunker Hill to paint an accurate historical depiction, only to find that the passage of years had left memories of the event scattered and contradictory. So when war of an equally important scale broke out again in the United States, he decided to do his research while memories were still fresh.

Within seven days of the battle of Gettysburg, Bachelder was on the field, interviewing wounded soldiers and making topographic sketches. Two months later, he traveled to the war front in Virginia, where he interviewed every officer he could find who had been present at Gettysburg. From this work, he published an intriguing three-dimensional map of the battlefield with lines showing the positions of the units. This enabled him to gain the endorsement of the Union Army commander and to continue to collect firsthand accounts of the battle....

In the end, however, Bachelder was never able to render his huge wealth of knowledge into an illustrated history. The final product of his endeavor was an eight-volume, 2,000-page summary taken largely from the already published official reports of the battle. Less than 10 percent of this massive work made use of the vast body of knowledge he had collected himself. What he had no doubt learned through years of toil was that the experience of combat is too complicated to fully understand and record....

Click here to return to top of page.

Arnold Beichman: The Necessity of Preemption (posted 12-4-03)

Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (Dec. 1, 2003):

On Oct, 25, 1984, then Secretary of State George Shultz laid out what came to be known as the "Shultz Doctrine":

"We must reach a consensus in this country that our responses should go beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, pre-emption and retaliation. Our goal must be to prevent and deter future terrorist acts, and experience has taught us over the years that one of the best deterrents to terrorism is the certainty that swift and sure measures will be taken against those who engage in it. We should take steps toward carrying out such measures."

Never was such a consensus more needed than it is today 20 years later. In the shadow of September 11, 2001, pre-emption should now be No. 1 on today's agenda. Legal justification for such military action against the metastasis of terrorism must be considered as an integral part of the right of self-defense outlined by the United Nations charter. Let it not be forgotten that when President Reagan invaded Grenada Oct. 25, 1983, and ousted another Castro-controlled Caribbean regime, he was acting pre-emptively. Should President Reagan have waited for another Cuba to appear?

To Mr. Shultz's words, let me add those of an earlier American statesman, Thomas Jefferson:

"A strict observance of the laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence of written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property of all those who are enjoying them with us."

The history of the 20th century is full of examples where pre-emption might have saved millions of lives. Who could have believed that on that Saturday morning of March 7, 1936, when Nazi troops reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland in violation of the Versailles and Locarno treaties that some 31/2 years later World War II would begin? Had the British and French armies acted pre-emptively against Adolf Hitler's Rhineland coup, how many million lives might have been saved?

Click here to return to top of page.

Thomas Powers: The Vanishing Case for War (posted 12-4-03)

Thomas Powers, writing in the NY Review of Books (Nov. 5, 2003):

The invasion and conquest of Iraq by the United States last spring was the result of what is probably the least ambiguous case of the misreading of secret intelligence information in American history. Whether it is even possible that a misreading so profound could yet be in some sense "a mistake" is a question to which I shall return. Going to war was not something we were forced to do and it certainly was not something we were asked to do. It was something we elected to do for reasons that have still not been fully explained.

The official argument for war, pressed in numerous speeches by President Bush and others, failed to convince most of the world that war against Iraq was necessary and just; it failed to soften the opposition to war by longtime allies like France and Germany; and it failed to persuade even a simple majority of the Security Council to vote for war despite immense pressure from Washington. The President's argument was accepted only by the United States Congress, which voted to give him blanket authority to attack Iraq, and then kept silent during the worldwide debate that followed. The entire process—from the moment it became unmistakably clear that the President had decided to go to war in August 2002, until his announcement on May 1 that "major combat" was over—took about nine months, and it will stand for decades to come as an object lesson in secrecy and its hazards.

Click here to return to top of page.

Sept. 11, Like Pearl Harbor, Is Subject to Multiple Meanings (posted 12-3-03)

Emily S. Rosenberg, professor of history at Macalester College, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) (Dec. 3, 2003):

The images and references to Pearl Harbor seem to be all around us as the anniversary of the attack looms. They are instantly recognizable. But what do they mean?

The analogies came easily after September 11, 2001, when newspaper headlines picked up the cry of"Infamy!" and President Bush reportedly wrote in his diary that"the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today."...

"Infamy" framed the first representations of September 11. That word, which since 1941 had become a virtual synonym for the Pearl Harbor attack, was culturally legible to almost everyone. It invoked a familiar, even comforting, narrative: a sleeping nation, a treacherous attack, and the need to rally patriotism and"manly" virtues on behalf of retribution. Structured by the Pearl Harbor story, September 11 seemed the prelude to another struggle between good and evil; to the testing of yet another"greatest generation"; and to an inevitable, righteous victory. The Bush administration and other politicians embraced that Pearl Harbor metaphor as they prepared to strike the Taliban in Afghanistan, and journalists seemed unable to resist reacting to Al Qaeda's assaults within the rhetorical conventions of Pearl Harbor. It was a ready, and easy, metaphor. Experts who flooded the airwaves more often addressed World War II parallels than the complexities of, say, Middle Eastern politics....

Once Pearl Harbor and September 11 became rhetorically intertwined, however, the spread of disparate meanings could not be easily contained. The attack on Pearl Harbor had never represented only one story, one"lesson," or one set of rhetorical conventions. If the framework of"infamy" initially marshaled remembrance of a deadly surprise attack by"evil" racial others, the story of Pearl Harbor could easily evoke other contexts as well.

One of those was the"sleeping" metaphor. American films, cartoons, comedians, and commentators during World War II commonly depicted"Uncle Sam" as having been"asleep" during the 1930s. One of the most widely read books on Pearl Harbor after the war was Gordon W. Prange's At Dawn We Slept (1981), and nearly every rendition of the attack since the film Tora! Tora! Tora! has invoked the quote, attributed to the Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, about the dangers of"awakening a sleeping giant."...

Slowly but steadily, yet another Pearl Harbor analogy emerged. Just after December 7, Roosevelt's most embittered critics charged him with manipulating a"back door to war" -- provoking a Japanese attack and opening a"back door" to American involvement in the war that had already engulfed Europe. The more extreme view suggested a dark conspiracy: The Roosevelt administration knew the attack was coming, failed to send clear and urgent messages of an imminent assault to the Pacific commanders, and then covered up its misdeeds....

Politicians, in particular, often claim that the study of history teaches certain clear, and singular,"lessons." An examination of the uses of Pearl Harbor, however, suggests that history offers an arena for a diversity of narratives and for continuing debate about their possible meanings. Pearl Harbor stories have long been generating diverse debates, especially over the conduct of foreign policy, the global expansion of American power, and executive-branch responsibility. It is hardly surprising that September 11, so embedded within Pearl Harbor's metaphorical structures, has already sparked controversy over similar concerns. The politics of memory are no less complex than any other form of politics.

Click here to return to top of page.

Juan Cole: W Sneaks into Iraq (posted 12-1-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Nov. 28, 2003):

W. must have envisaged his triumphal first trip to Baghdad very differently. Last spring, before the war, he was told by Ahmad Chalabi via Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, that the Iraqi people would welcome him this November with garlands and dancing in the street. They would regard him as the great liberator, a second Roosevelt or Truman. The US military, having easily defeated the Baath army and wiped up its remnants, would have departed. Only a US division, about 20,000 men, would remain, at a former Baath army base and out of sight of most Iraqis. Engineers and decontamination units, Feith told him, would be busy destroying chemical and biological stockpiles, and dismantling the advanced nuclear weapons program, carefully securing the stockpiles of Niger yellowcake uranium.

Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress would be ensconced, running the country and dictating policy to the Baath military (minus its senior officers) and the Baath ministries (minus their ministers and deputy ministers). The educated, secular Iraqi Shiites would be busy stamping out priest-ridden superstition and covertly helping to undermine both the Iranian hardline ayatollahs and the radical Hizbullah militia in South Lebanon. The captured Baath generals would have given up Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, identifying the caves they were hiding in with Iraqi help, in Waziristan. Chalabi would already have recognized Israel and bullied the Palestinians into acquiescing in the loss of the rest of their land, so that Arafat's followers had been reduced to shuffling with their eyes fixed on the ground before their White betters. Air Force One would land in full daylight at Baghdad International Airport. W. would emerge from the plane, waving and smiling, his cowboy boots glinting in the desert sun. He would pass in review of the Iraqi military with its new generals, which might do some goose stepping for him just for show, the now reformed lads smiling warmly under their freshly waxed moustaches. A grateful and obedient country, pacified and acquiescent in Chalabi's presidency for life ("a clear move toward democracy after the brutal dicatatorship of Saddam"), would shout out "Bi'r-ruh, bi'l-dunya, nufdika ya Dubya" (With our spirits and our world, we sacrifice ourselves for you, O W.!).

Instead, the President had to sneak in and out of Iraq for a quick and dirty photo op, clearly in fear of his life if the news of his visit had leaked. He did not even get time to eat a meal with the troops. He was there for two hours. He did not dare meet with ordinary Iraqis, with the people he had conquered (liberated).

Offstage, the real Iraq carried on. Guerrillas attacked a military convoy on the main highway to the west of Baghdad, near Abu Ghraib. The wire services said, that an AP cameraman filmed "two abandoned military trucks with their cabs burning fiercely as dozens of townspeople looted tires and other vehicle parts." Guerrillas in Mosul shot an Iraqi police sergeant to death.

Click here to return to top of page.

Max Boot: Bush's Secret Trip to Baghdad Reminds Me of FDR's Trips to Meet Churchill (posted 12-1-03)

Max Boot, writing in the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only) (Dec. 1, 2003):

The most compelling evidence of the success of President Bush's trip to Iraq was the reaction of the opposition. No, not the Iraqi opposition -- or "resistance," as the French have taken to calling it. I mean the American opposition: the Democrats and the news media....

Why, the gall of the White House in claiming that the president was at his ranch all the while he was winging his way to Baghdad. The New York Times Washington bureau chief seemed particularly indignant, though perhaps his pique was understandable given that a Washington Post reporter was invited on the trip but his correspondent was not. Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in other words a self-appointed guardian of journalistic virtue, harrumphed, "That's just not kosher."

Kosher or not, there is, in fact, a long and glorious tradition of just such deceptions in wartime (and, yes, we're at war now). Franklin Roosevelt was a master of the art. When he slipped away to meet Winston Churchill on a battleship off Newfoundland in 1941, he left the presidential yacht, the Potomac, conspicuously floating around Cape Cod with one crew member decked out with a pince-nez and cigarette holder to resemble the president. Two years later, the president took a train north from the White House, seemingly headed for his home at Hyde Park. In the dead of night, he turned around in Baltimore and headed south for Miami. From there, he flew by Pan-Am Clipper flying boat and an army transport plane, with multiple stops in between, to the Casablanca summit.

George W. Bush seems to have been infected with the Roosevelt spirit. And a good thing, too. Cynics may claim that the visit to Iraq was only "theater" without any real strategic significance, but this misses the point entirely: As FDR realized, a large part of modern warfare must be waged in the public arena. The battle over symbols and images can be as important as the battle for any hill or town. This is particularly the case in a guerrilla war where there are few conventional measures of success and the "center of gravity" -- to use Clausewitz's term -- lies in public opinion, American and Iraqi.

Click here to return to top of page.

The Dutch Who Settled New York: The Un-Pilgrims (posted 11-28-03)

Russell Shorto, writing in the NYT (Nov. 27, 2003):

Three hundred and eighty years ago, a huddled band of Europeans set out across the Atlantic to seek a new life in wilderness America. They survived hardship, gave thanks, ate turkeys and eventually flourished. And every year at Thanksgiving we ignore them.

No, I'm not talking about the Pilgrims, nor about that other sect often hailed as progenitors of America, the Puritans. There was another group of settlers at the start of things. You might call them the un-Pilgrims, for they lack the neat mythic qualities that won the Plymouth residents their plum role in the national epic. Rather, the Dutch colony of New Netherland — which had as its capital New Amsterdam, precursor to New York City — has a ragged historical profile, which suits it because it was a jumble of ethnicities and had an excess of pirates and prostitutes. But its mixed nature is precisely the point. These forgotten pioneers forged America's first melting pot, making this holiday a particularly appropriate moment to recognize their achievement.

The contribution of these settlers has been overlooked because of that truest of truisms: history is written by the winners. The two great European rivals of the 17th century, the English and Dutch, each planted colonies in America. In time, the English engulfed the Dutch colony, which, we have been told, didn't exist long enough to leave an imprint. But that's not so. Dutch records — now being translated after centuries of neglect — reveal a thriving, complex society growing up alongside the English colonies. In fact, "Dutch" is something of a misnomer. The colony was Dutch, but more than half its residents were not. Then again, "Dutch" is very much the point. It wasn't accidental that Swedes, Germans, Jews and others flocked to this colony, for the Dutch Republic of the 17th century was itself built on a policy of tolerance that made it the melting pot of Europe.

The birth of tolerance in the Low Countries changed history. It made Holland the center of publishing, where Galileo and Hobbes printed their books free of censorship. The Dutch provided haven to exiled English royalty and peasants from across Europe who fled war and repression. It's often forgotten that the English Pilgrims, before taking a flyer on America, went to Holland in their search for religious freedom. They found it and then left for the same reason: they feared that amid the diversity of Holland their children would stray, and so opted to carve out an isolationist settlement in the New World.

Click here to return to top of page.

John Patrick Diggins: So the Republican Party Is to Be Trusted with National Security? (posted 11-27-03)

John Patrick Diggins, writing in the American Prospect (Dec. 2003):

THE AFTERMATH OF THE IRAQ WAR WILL SURELY SEE U.S. foreign policy at the forefront of national debates for years to come. Conservatives will claim -- as they have been claiming for months -- that only they were sufficiently prescient about "the present danger" of Saddam Hussein. And liberals will again find themselves on the defensive.

Sound familiar? Back during the Cold War, neoconservative intellectuals flattered themselves in their conviction that they carried forward the anti-communist cause that liberals had dropped in the late 1970s and 1980s, and they ran with it as though they had recovered a fumble and headed toward the goal line to win the game and enjoy the glory. The monthly magazine Commentary has basked in that glory, enjoying more influence on recent government foreign policy than any other intellectual journal.

In fact, the history of the Republican Party should serve as a cautionary tale of conservatism's limitations for statecraft. With Dwight Eisenhower, communism survived in Korea; with Richard Nixon, it prevailed in Vietnam. Gerald Ford assured the American people that Poland was a "free" country. Ronald Reagan withdrew from Lebanon after terrorists massacred about 400 American and French soldiers. And George Bush Senior had no objections when Chinese officials told him that in crushing the Tiananmen Square movement, they were simply doing what America had done against student demonstrators in the 1960s. The party that Commentary claims won the Cold War was actually the party of pullout and back off. And today The Weekly Standard looks to the party that refused to support democracy in China, and could not even bring it to our neighbor Haiti, as the very party that is ready and willing to establish it in Iraq.

Click here to return to top of page.

Tom Engelhardt: Bush's Trip to Baghdad Shows More Evidence of Imperial Folly (posted 11-26-03)

Tom Engelhardt, writing in www.tomdispatch.com (Nov. 27, 2003):

The ritualistic presidential trips abroad of this administration were all flipped on their head yesterday when the President visited"Iraq" (or at least the beleaguered American version of it at Baghdad International Airport). Previously on his imperial peregrinations, he had imposed his"bubble" world on whole cities -- from Manila to Sydney to London -- shutting them down and buttoning them up, emptying them of anything like normal life as he passed through their streets and institutions untouched. Yesterday, on his two-hour turn-about at Baghdad International, he shut himself down, slipping out of his house in an unmarked car, sending out such complex and heavily preplanned disinformation that he reputedly fooled his own parents, who arrived at the Crawford ranch for a Thanksgiving meal with their missing son. He then rode a blacked-out Air Force One into Baghdad International, shut down the airport till he left, and was gone in the twinkling of an eye.

Phil Reeves of the British Independent commented in an aptly titled piece, The turkey has landed:

"The administration will be hoping that the video images will help erase memories of a not dissimilar staged event on 1 May in which the President landed on an American aircraft carrier to announce that the war in Iraq had been won. As the violence has worsened, that day has come to haunt the White House. This time, wearing a US army jacket, he told the troops that America 'stands solidly' behind them, and to whoops of approval that the US military was doing a 'fantastic job.'"

I have no doubt - based on watching TV last night - that this political coup de theater will briefly pump up support here for the President (or at least that ephemeral category of presidential existence, his"job approval rating"), but since the stealth visit was phantasmagoric and changed nothing in Iraq -- as opposed to"Iraq" -- I'm ready to make a small wager of my own. Some months down the line these triumphant propaganda photos, meant to replace"Mission Accomplished," will look no better than the strutting-the-flight-deck ones do now, and will be no less useful to the other side in the presidential race. (Keep these photos Democrats!) It was perhaps typical of the event that Bush strode out from behind some curtains on the introduction of L. Paul Bremer, saying,"I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere," but evidently never ate a bite.

His rallying speech to the troops was surprisingly retread-Vietnam in tone -- all that talk about them"testing our will," us not"retreating" ("we will prevail"), not"running" ("They hope we will run") and especially that classic Vietnam line,"You are defeating the terrorists [it would, of course, have been" communists" back then] here in Iraq, so that we don't have to face them in our own country."

It would be interesting to see what Lyndon Johnson said on his surprise visit to Cam Ranh Bay back in October 1966. I'll bet some of the lines and phrases would have been almost exact duplicates. (Johnson, after all, used to talk about fighting the communists in Vietnam rather than on the beaches of San Diego.) LBJ broke off an Asian tour to fly in and out of the giant base at Cam Ranh Bay which, like Baghdad International, was a little fortified version of America and he, too, spent just 2 ½ hours in country.

I don't know whether there were any of"our" Vietnamese present when Johnson arrived, but there were evidently members of our appointed Iraqi Governing Council locked in with the troops when Bush appeared because the President mentioned them and commented that he was"pleased you are joining us on our nation's great holiday. It's a chance to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings we receive." (I doubt he was referring to Allah.)

And then, he assured the troops, just before boarding his stealth jet back to Crawford,"We will stay until the job is done." They, of course, will have to stay. Need I say more, except that such words are soon likely to feel sour indeed. There are, after all, other realities creeping up on this administration. Just a few days ago, for instance, the widow of a soldier slain in Iraq refused to join other relatives of those who had died at a Fort Carson (Colorado) meeting with the President )."I have a lot of harsh feelings for the president right now," [Johnna] Loia told The Pueblo Chieftain."I contemplated going, but right now I think I'd find it hard to be respectful… I would want to know why he decided to go to Iraq and why he felt that the war was justified… In my eyes, I don't feel it was justified at all."

Actually, this"unmarked,""blacked out" visit to Baghdad tells us a great deal -- none of it particularly good news for them -- about where the Bush administration is today as well as about where the arrogance of power can lead mighty nations. After all, this administration is filled with men who imagined the President's first entry into Baghdad as a truly triumphal event. (Remember those flowers that were to be strewn in the victor's path?). If you want to check out the fullness of their fantasy, don't miss Juan Cole's"Informed Consent" website.

Another problem for the administration: In our world, propaganda can't just be confined to your own side. The President may get a bump in the polls here, but the very nature of his trip, his inability to visit Iraq rather than"Iraq," his stealth journey, and so on can only be a form of aid and comfort to the enemy. His trip can't but be a sign to them of their own success to date. The problem for George Bush is that it's not as easy to black out the parts of the world you don't want to know about as it is to black out an airplane. As the Independent pointed out in the piece quoted above:

"News of the visit only broke in the US after Air Force One had taken off from Baghdad and was on its way home. And no sooner was the visit made public in Baghdad, than the city was shaken by the sounds of conflict repeated loud explosions, gunfire and ambulance sirens."

And, of course, another American died from a roadside bomb this morning.

The folly that lurks in imperial arrogance is that it naturally walls you off from other realities, even in a sense from the existence of other places beyond your particular vision of them. This has taken a particularly striking form in Iraq, a country we invaded so blithely convinced of our power to rule over events anywhere on this planet that we hardly bothered about specific Iraqis. It wasn't just the lack of translators who could speak Arabic among the occupation forces, or of specialists in the region (they were left behind because they were associated with the reviled State Department when the Pentagon was riding high), or the junking of all the State Department's prewar planning for the occupation (same reason), but also our inability even to imagine that individual Iraqis had wills that might successfully oppose ours.

Who woulda thunk it: Iraqis actually live in Iraq with ideas of their own about how their world should be shaped. The imperial imagination, even when it soars, is still a distinctly limited creature.

Click here to return to top of page.

Paul Kennedy: Talk of an Exit Strategy Is a Mistake (posted 11-26-03)

Paul Kennedy, writing in the Guardian (Nov. 26, 2003):

It is difficult for conservatives here in the US not to concede that things have failed to go according to plan in Iraq, but only a few admit that things are a mess. Meanwhile, among the critics of the Bush administration's "forward school" - ranging from retired army generals through Middle East experts to anti-war radicals - there seems little satisfaction at having been proved correct in their forecasts that it would be harder to get out of Iraq than to kick one's way in. The situation in Iraq and, perhaps increasingly in Afghanistan, is too serious for schadenfreude. So, as George Bush and Tony Blair conferred last week, it was hardly surprising that the planned ceremonies were overshadowed not just by the mobs of protesters but also by the urgency of the private discussions about what to do next.

The Bush-Blair confab about strategy brought to mind that old tale about the two English gentlemen who had set forth vigorously one morning across the Irish countryside. By mid-afternoon they realised that their maps were faulty and they were well and truly lost. Spotting a peasant at work in his field, they called out: "I say, old chap, how do we get back to Dublin?" The peasant scratched his head thoughtfully and then replied, "Well, if I were you, sirs, I wouldn't start from here." No doubt the man had good grounds for offering that opinion, but the problem for the two walkers was precisely that they had to start from where they were at the time. And so do the Bush and Blair governments with regard to Iraq.

As they consider the various options of getting from here to there, they are naturally bombarded with all sorts of ideas from the pundits, with calls from congressmen and MPs for solutions, with urgings from allies, and, above all, with reports from the field, usually conflicting in nature. Amid all the slogans and vogue-words tossed around in this cacophony, one is beginning to drown out the rest: the term is "exit strategy" (as in, how to find one).

The sudden return of Paul Bremer, the US-led coalition's chief administrator of Iraq, to Washington, and the announcement of some form of handover to some form of Iraqi authority by June, has intensified the impression that the Bush team, especially, are looking for a way out. It's going to be difficult, politically, to get through the Christmas season (yellow ribbons on trees, families encountering their first Christmas without their father or son, images of soldiers still on patrol in Baghdad on Christmas night); but it may be even more difficult if the US electoral campaign unfolds with the two governments still, metaphorically, a long way from Dublin.

One wishes that the term "exit strategy" was not bandied about at all. Although the conservatives deny the comparison, it has deep echoes of Vietnam. Exit strategies from a conflict, such as Napoleon's retreat from Moscow or the British army heading towards Dunkirk, are often desperate, hand-to-mouth affairs, and full of Clausewitzian frictions. They smell of defeat, and defeatism. Most importantly, the open discussion by one side of various ways of making an exit gives a tremendous morale and propaganda boost to the opposition - all they have to do now is to hang on until the terminus date itself, and sharpen their knives. This is particularly true in the present situation, because there is an image abroad, fuelled by memories of Vietnam, Mogadishu and the first Iraq war, that Americans can't stand long and costly wars overseas.

Click here to return to top of page.

Daniel Pipes: Finally We Are on a More Realistic Path in Iraq (posted 11-20-03)

Daniel Pipes, writing in the Jerusalem Post (Nov. 19, 2003):

Stay the course – but change the course. That was the meaning of the sudden, sharp, and understated change in Washington's Iraq policy last week.

After the American civilian administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, made a hurried visit to the White House, President George W. Bush said he wants "the Iraqis to be more involved in the governance of their country" and offered some ideas toward that end. Two days later, the Iraqi Governing Council announced that the formal occupation of Iraq would end by June 2004, becoming at that time a mere "military presence."

Ambitious plans for an early constitution have now been shunted aside; instead, reports the Associated Press, Bremer will "name an interim Iraqi leader with authority to govern the country until a constitution can be written and elections held."

The military will be "Iraqified." The new emphasis is less on establishing a Jeffersonian democracy than on shifting power and responsibility to Iraqis, and doing so pronto.

This welcome shift marks a victory for the Defense Department's realism and a defeat for the State Department's dreamy hope (as the Wall Street Journal puts it) "to re-create the Philadelphia of 1787 in Baghdad." Sure, it would be wonderful if Americans and Britons could, in leisurely fashion, educate Iraqis in the fine arts of governance. But Iraqis are not children eager to learn from Western instructors. They are proud of their history, defiant toward the outside world, suspicious of Anglo-Americans, and determined to run their own country. Attempts to tutor them will surely fail.

Iraqi today is deeply dissimilar to Germany or Japan post-1945, primarily because a very different equation exists.

  • Germans and Japanese were each defeated as a people, ground down by a multi-year total war, and so they accepted the remake of their societies and cultures. In contrast, Iraqis emerged almost unscathed from a three-week war designed not to harm them. Feeling liberated more than defeated, Iraqis are in no mood to be told what to do. They take what serves them from the occupation and fend off, through violence and other forms of resistance, what does not.

  • Conversely, not having gone through a long and brutal war with Iraqis, Americans display limited concern about the future course of Iraq.
    In brief, Iraqi determination is much greater than that of the occupiers, severely limiting what the latter can accomplish.

Washington's sensible new approach is in keeping with my call in April 2003 for a "politically moderate but operationally tough – democratically-minded Iraqi strongman," as well as my recommendation to let Iraqis run Iraq.

Click here to return to top of page.

Kevin Starr: Arnold Should Govern Like a Bi-Partisan Figure in the Mold of Hiram Johnson

Kevin Starr, state librarian of California, writing in the LA Times (Nov. 16, 2003):

Of necessity, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger must run a fusion government....

This will be an easier task if the new governor revives the bipartisan "Party of California" that animated four previous — and great — governors: Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren, Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan....

Serving from 1911 to 1917, [Hiram Johnson] is remembered today as the greatest governor in the history of the state. Why? He led the reform of California. Under his leadership, the Progressives, a Republican-dominated coalition with a strong Democratic wing, rescued and revitalized — indeed, refounded — California by redesigning its government. Conservative Republicans were always suspicious of Johnson, just as they are suspicious of Schwarzenegger. When Johnson went to the U.S. Senate, serving there from 1917 to 1945, he kept his Progressive designation on the ballot, along with his Republican one, just in case the GOP right wing turned against him.

Warren served from 1943 to 1953, when he was appointed chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Some historians contend that he turned from conservative Republican to liberal Republican while on the court. Not so. Warren was a hard-nosed crime buster as attorney general, but as governor he was a fusion politician. His inner circle included Democrat William Sweigert, an Irish-Catholic attorney from San Francisco. He successfully urged Warren to push for such liberal programs as workers' compensation and equal opportunity in employment. The two formed a kind of Masonic-Catholic odd couple, with Sweigert as the articulator of the liberal side of Warren's political imagination. The Republican governor was equally friendly with Atty. Gen. Robert Kenny, a Daniel Patrick Moynihan-like liberal intellectual who was strongly influenced by the social teachings of papal encyclicals. Once again, as in the case of Johnson, the Republican establishment, sensing the liberal in Warren, who would flower when he became chief justice, frowned on his fusionist tendencies.

Brown, governor from 1959 to 1967, began his political career as a Republican. He didn't, however, entirely leave his Republican self behind when he became a Democrat, because the GOP of his day had a highly respected moderate-to-liberal wing. When attorney general, Brown was so close to Warren that he should be considered a member of the governor's inner circle. The two frequently drove to Sacramento from the Bay Area together. As governor, Brown enlisted key Republicans to support such programs as the water plan, the master plan for higher education, development of state beaches and parks, welfare expansion and fair-employment practices.

Republican Reagan, governor from 1967 to 1975, never forgot that he owed his political success in part to Democrats. As president, Reagan's friendship with House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, a quintessential Irish-Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts, had its prototypes in Reagan's good-humored relations with key Democrats throughout his two terms as California's chief executive. Elected on an anti-tax platform, Reagan listened to Democrats once in office and, early in his first term, gave Californians the biggest tax hike in their history — and got away with it.

Click here to return to top of page.

Max Boot: We Are Repeating One of the Big Mistakes of Vietnam

Max Boot, writing in the NYT (Nov. 16, 2003):

This month's setbacks in Iraq — the downing of American helicopters, the suicide bombing of an Italian headquarters — have made President Bush's mantra of "progress" ring increasingly hollow. It's true that 80 percent of Iraq remains peaceful and stable, but we seem to be losing in the other 20 percent, mostly among Sunni Muslims who benefited from Saddam Hussein's rule. The escalating violence lends credence to critics who see parallels with Vietnam.

In truth, there is no comparison: In Vietnam, we faced more than 1 million enemy combatants backed to the hilt by North Vietnam and its superpower patrons, China and Russia. In Iraq we confront a few thousand Baathists and jihadis with, at most, limited support from Iran and Syria. But even if this isn't "another Vietnam," we can still learn important lessons from that earlier war about how to deal with the insurgency.

The biggest error the armed forces made in Vietnam was trying to fight a guerrilla foe the same way they had fought the Wehrmacht. The military staged big-unit sweeps with fancy code names like Cedar Falls and Junction City, and dropped more bombs than during World War II. Neither had much effect on the enemy, who would hide in the jungles and then emerge to ambush American soldiers. Seeing that his strategy wasn't working, Gen. William Westmoreland, the American commander, responded by asking for more and more troops, until we had 500,000 soldiers in Vietnam. And still it was not enough.

President Bush seems so intent on avoiding this mistake that the Defense Department has unveiled plans to cut the total number of troops in Iraq next year from 132,000 to 105,000. It is hard to see what, in the current dismal strategic picture, convinces the Pentagon that this makes sense. Such a slow-motion withdrawal will only embolden our enemies in Iraq and discourage our friends....

What proved most effective in Vietnam were not large conventional operations but targeted counterinsurgency programs. Four — known as CAP, Cords, Kit Carson Scouts and Phoenix — were particularly effective.

CAP stood for Combined Action Platoon. Under it, a Marine rifle squad would live and fight alongside a South Vietnamese militia platoon to secure a village from the Vietcong. The combination of the Marines' military skills and the militias' local knowledge proved highly effective. No village protected under CAP was ever retaken by the Vietcong.

Cords, or Civil Operations and Rural Development Support, was the civilian side of the counterinsurgency, run by two C.I.A. legends: Robert Komer and William Colby. It oversaw aid programs designed to win hearts and minds of South Vietnamese villagers, and its effectiveness lay in closely coordinating its efforts with the military.

The Kit Carson Scouts were former Communists who were enlisted to help United States forces. They primarily served as scouts and interpreters, but they also fought. Most proved fiercely loyal. They had to be: they knew that capture by their former Vietcong comrades meant death.

Phoenix was a joint C.I.A.-South Vietnam effort to identify and eradicate Vietcong cadres in villages. Critics later charged the program with carrying out assassinations, and even William Colby acknowledged there were "excesses." Nevertheless, far more cadres were captured (33,000) or induced to defect under Phoenix (22,000) than were killed (26,000).

There is little doubt that if the United States had placed more emphasis on such programs, instead of the army's conventional strategy, it would have fared better in Vietnam.

Click here to return to top of page.

Martin Kramer: Turn the Middle East Democratic? Forget It

Martin Kramer, writing on his blog (Nov. 10, 2003):

George Bush took an unequivocal stand on the Arab democracy debate, in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy:

Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are "ready" for democracy--as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress....The United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results.

I guess he was talkin' to me, because I've been one of those doubting Thomases. I laid out the counter-case to the President's in an address I delivered last year: Should America Promote a Liberal, Democratic Middle East? My answer: at its peril.

A lot of the press coverage compares the President's idealism to Ronald Reagan's. An analysis in the Washington Post called it "Reaganism distilled, the 150-proof stuff." Frankly, the President's speech reminded me more of Jimmy Carter's human rights idealism, with its heavy overtones of missionary purpose. At the end of the day, Carter's human rights diplomacy in the Middle East undermined only one regime: the Shah's. The result was not a net gain for human rights or U.S. interests.

I know a few of the new missionaries, and I wish them well. I hope they've thought out what the "new policy" means in practical terms, especially regarding countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Their rulers are likely to feel its impact long before the despots of Syria and Iran do. And whatever their "Plan A," I would urge them to start working now on "Plan B." They just might need it--sooner than they think.

Click here to return to top of page.

Gabriel Kolko: Iraq Is Very Much Like Vietnam

Gabriel Kolko, writing in the Australian Age (Nov. 10, 2003)

There are 130,000 American troops in Iraq now - twice the number Bush predicted would remain by this month - but, as in Vietnam, their morale is already low and sinking. Bush's poll ratings have fallen dramatically. He needs more soldiers in Iraq desperately and foreign nations will not provide them.

In Vietnam, president Nixon tried to "Vietnamize" the land war and transfer the burdens of soldiering to Nguyen Van Thieu's huge army. But it was demoralized and organized to maintain Thieu in power, not win the victory that had eluded American forces.

"Iraqization" of the military force required to put down dissidents will not accomplish what has eluded the Americans, and in both Vietnam and Iraq the US underestimated the length of time it would have to remain and cultivated illusions about the strength of its friends.

The Iraqi army was disbanded but now is being partially reconstituted by utilizing Saddam's officers and enlisted men. As in Vietnam, where the Buddhists opposed the Catholics who comprised the leaders America endorsed, Iraq is a divided nation regionally and religiously, and Washington has the unenviable choice between the risks of disorder, which its own lack of troops make likely, and civil war if it arms Iraqis.

Despite plenty of expert opinion to warn it, the Bush Administration has scant perception of the complexity of the political problems it confronts in Iraq. Afghanistan is a reminder of how military success depends ultimately on politics, and how things go wrong.

Rumsfeld's admission in his confidential memo of October 16 that "we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror" was an indication that key members of the Bush Administration are far less confident of what they are doing than they were early in 2003.

But as in Vietnam, when defense secretary Robert McNamara ceased to believe that victory was inevitable, it is too late to reverse course and now the credibility of America's military power is at stake.

Eventually, domestic politics takes precedence over everything else. It did in Vietnam and it will in Iraq. By 1968, the polls were turning against the Democrats and the Tet offensive in February caught President Lyndon Johnson by surprise because he and his generals refused to believe the CIA's estimates that there were really 600,000 rather than 300,000 people in the communist forces. Nixon won because he promised a war-weary public he would bring peace with honor.

Bush declared on October 28 that "we're not leaving" Iraq soon, but his party and political advisers are likely to have the last word as US casualties mount and his poll ratings continue to decline.

Vietnam proved that the American public has limited patience. That is still true.

The real lessons of Vietnam have yet to be learned.

Click here to return to top of page.

An Interview with Victor Davis Hanson: Re. Iraq and Anti-Americanism

An interview with Victor Davis Hanson on ABC Radio National (Nov. 9, 2003):

VICTOR DAVID HANSON: We still have lost about 300 Americans, which is just 10 per cent of what we lost in one hour on 9/11. We lost 262 in Lebanon in 1983. So after taking over two countries, if I could use that term, and liberating 50 million people and planning to install consensual government at a cost of 300 lives, and not having another 9/11, is a pretty amazing military record, although you'd never get that in the media.

LEIGH SALES: So if we do look at what's going on in Iraq in the context of history, how would you characterise the progress of the occupation?

VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I think it's going very well. I think we are dealing with a very difficult period.

I'm afraid that we made a few critical mistakes by trying to not stop looters, shooting looters would have been a good, that would have established authority right away, or sending more troops into the Sunni triangle.

But I think now we're going to have to arm the Kurds and some of the Shia and start to cordon off the Sunni triangle, and when we have Americans killed and people cheering, we're going to have to change that dynamic.

LEIGH SALES: How long can the instability in Iraq be expected to last?

VICTOR DAVID HANSON: If we can pressure the Syrians and the Iranians to stop sending troops and capital in there and then isolate… I think within a year it will be much better.

LEIGH SALES: How do you think the lessons of what's happened in Iraq will influence the Administration as it thinks about how to possibly deal with the problems posed by Syria and Iran?

VICTOR DAVID HANSON: Well, I think the world is going to have to realise that there's going to be consequences for their deductive anti-Americanism, in the sense that if you have France or Russia telling Saddam Hussein that don't worry, we're going to ensure the Americans won't invade, which Mr Aziz just said, or you're going to have people say that we're too pre-emptive, then the Americans are going to probably give them their wish – they're going to probably tell the South Koreans go up to the DMZ on your own, or they're going to tell the Turks if you don't want to participate in an alliance then there's no reason for Americans to be there. Or if they're going to tell the Germans why should 80,000 Americans be in Germany.

So, I think there's a mood in America now that we're going to be more pre-emptive, unilateral, but from the point of view of American security, and the world's going to have to understand if they're going to be so deductively anti-American, then their own security will be in their own hands.

LEIGH SALES: So how you do think that's going to make the world look in, say, 25 years?

VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I'm very worried about that, because I think the world was so worried about America, and when you have a European poll, as we saw this week, that said America was right up there with Israel, to be lumped together with Iran and North Korea, stretched to the world. And most Americans, be they Republican or Democrat, left or right, are going to want to wash their hands of these collective security arrangements.

And I think the Europeans are going to find out in about 10 years that we get another Balkans, or there's a madman in one of the Soviet republics, or there's a north African problem, it's all their problem, it's going to their concern.

LEIGH SALES: Is there a way that that scenario can be avoided?

VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I don't think so. I really don't. I think that what I've seen in America is a very strange political coalescence. Right now Republican and Democrats are angry at each other, and blaming each other.

But if you distil carefully and soberly what the message is, the message is on left and right it doesn't make much sense to force people to want to protect or do something in their own long-term security.

So, England, Australia, Japan – Americans are more than willing to participate with them, they have a high regard. But the Europeans, other people, they’re thinking well these people aren't worth it. Let ‘em go and do what they have to do on their own. That's going to be very, very important in the next 20 years.

LEIGH SALES: So then if you look ahead even further in say… to 50 years, or 100 years, how will the world look then?

VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I don't know. I think that the United States is going to have to look to its own national security interests, whether it's missile defence or it's bilateral relations with particular allies.

Click here to return to top of page.

Robert Brent Toplin:"The Reagans": The Spirit of Censorship Lives

Robert Brent Toplin, in a syndicated piece for the History News Service (Nov. 11, 2003):

Relatively few Americans will see the CBS Television mini-series, "The Reagans," when it's released in the months ahead. A barrage of protests from Republicans and conservative groups evidently convinced CBS executives that the controversial series was more appropriate for a small, paying Showtime audience than a network broadcast.

Reagan supporters also warned leading advertisers about the series and dropped hints about a possible conservative boycott of CBS programming. Their success in frightening executives at CBS revealed that intimidation still works in the entertainment industry. Political partisans managed to block a dramatic presentation of history that they did not like. These actions serve the cause of censorship, but critics of the television series do not acknowledge that their actions represent an assault on freedom of speech that is little different than an attempt to suppress publication of a novel. Instead, they claim to be advocates of "accurate" and "balanced" history.

Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, complained that the CBS script contains language that Ronald Reagan never actually used, and that the film's interpretation is excessively critical of the former president. The Republican chairman asked CBS to allow Reagan's associates to examine the film for historical accuracy. Otherwise, said Gillespie, the network should place a disclaimer on the screen every ten minutes advising viewers that the drama contained fictional material. If filmmakers were to follow Gillespie's recommendations, just about every historical drama would be off-limits for Hollywood and network television. "Docudrama" is, by its very nature, interpretive. Dramatic representations of the past always contain inventions, because the creators of these films must imagine conversations and actions that have not been recorded by historians. The films are unbalanced because artists can never represent an entire life in their stories. They must select examples, and those choices reflect judgments.

Since the time of Shakespeare's historical plays, virtually all docudramas have offered hard-hitting, opinionated viewpoints. Most film and television dramas that have excited public interest in history have delivered partisan portrayals of events and people. They were all "controversial" in some way. "Roots," the influential television series that aroused the American public's interest in the history of slavery, portrayed most blacks as noble and depicted most whites as exploitative.

"The Reagans" contains information that can please both enthusiasts and detractors. A reporter who saw the script indicated that it shows the president's political skills and commitment to his beliefs and gives him credit for ending the Cold War. On the other hand, it highlights his forgetfulness and loose control over his staff, and it portrays his wife, Nancy, as a control-obsessed First Lady who sought advice on policy matters from astrologers.

Partisans may contest the placement of this information in a dramatic film, but they need as well to acknowledge that reports about these matters appeared frequently in newspaper accounts. Conservatives are particularly angry about a line in the script that suggests Ronald Reagan was not motivated to act aggressively when the AIDS crisis appeared. The president says in the drama, "They that live in sin shall die in sin."

After much protest, CBS agreed to remove the offending statement, but the comment is not completely out of character. Edmund Morris, Reagan's authorized biographer, reports the President once said, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague" because "illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."

Do critics of the CBS mini-series feel that the only truthful portrait of Reagan is a saintly and heroic one? Must all dramas about Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, overlook his ownership of slaves? Should filmmakers crafting films about FDR or JFK avoid reference to their dalliances with women? In fact, should historical novels, also, present only inspiring depictions of national figures? The emphasis on positive portrayals suggested by Gillespie and his colleagues can leave us with a sterile and limited understanding of history.

Those unhappy with the program also insist that docudramas should present stories about the deceased, not living figures such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan. If that requirement applies, we may need to wait thirty or more years to see a drama about Bill Clinton, Tony Blair or other notable figures from public life. The complaints leveled by Gillespie and others do not constitute a noble effort to ensure fair treatment of a historical subject. They represent a form of intimidation. These protesters do not agree with the point of view offered by CBS Television's docudrama, and they wish to prevent broadcast of the mini-series. We do not have formal censorship these days, but the actions of Gillespie and others come close to giving us the suppression of ideas that our laws and traditions aim to prevent.

NOTE: This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

Click here to return to top of page.

Michael Bellesiles: The Limits of Technology

Michael Bellesiles, writing in an op ed syndicated by the History News Service (HNS) (Nov. 10, 2003):

The United States began its war against Iraq with a campaign of "shock and awe." An overwhelming demonstration of American airpower was designed to persuade the Iraqis to throw down their arms and surrender even while rising in revolt againAst Saddam Hussein. Sadly, that expectation has been thwarted, as the war drags on and Americans and Iraqis continue to die.

The term "shock and awe" is in keeping with a long-standing Anglo-American faith in technological quick fixes. Military techno-hype has frequently fed expectations of a "clean" victory. But we have found that the latest technology does not always shorten wars.

As early as 1609, John Smith, a leader of colonial Virginia, told his troops that if they just discharged their muskets, "the very smoake will bee sufficient to affright them." Unfortunately, Smith was wrong. Virginia's Indians developed tactics to circumvent the colonists' technological advantages. Smith returned to England, proclaiming his mission accomplished; but the Virginia Indian wars lasted for decades.

In the American Revolution, Britain's Captain Patrick Ferguson believed his ingenious breech-loading rifle would guarantee victory. His confidence cost Ferguson his life in the South Carolina forests at King's Mountain, where American "peasants" carrying old-fashioned weapons wiped out his forces.

Modern weaponry is far more destructive and would seem able to convince any opponent to avoid fighting. The American Richard Gatling employed such reasoning in the nineteenth century, predicting that his rapid-fire gun would put an end to war, as no one could advance in the face of such overwhelming firepower.

But Gatling, like many later innovators, underestimated the willingness of people to give their lives in even the most bloody conflicts.

Click here to return to top of page.

Edmund Morris: Ronald Can't Be Hurt by a TV Movie

Edmund Morris, writing in the NYT (Nov. 9, 2003):

The idea that anything so trivial as a made-for-TV mockumentary might harm [Ronald Reagan's] reputation is ludicrous. Theodore Roosevelt suffered much worse damage, historiographically speaking, in 1931, when the biographer Henry Pringle depicted him as an overgrown bully. Pringle's book is still in print, but has not stopped T. R. from settling at No. 4 on several recent scholarly surveys of the greatest presidents. And John F. Kennedy, who has been repeatedly portrayed on television as a Mafia stooge, a serial bimbophile and the plotter of Marilyn Monroe's murder (or was that some other Kennedy?) still shines in American memory.

What Mr. Reagan did as president — the big, enduring things: restoring national pride, rebuilding the military, refiring the economy, rearming Western Europe, and above all, forcing Soviet Communism to self-destruct — cannot be argued away. Neither, it might be added, can his more serious derelictions, such as the bartering of arms for hostages, and (yes) his lack of any particular sympathy for the victims of AIDS. The writers of CBS's canceled miniseries have invented a bit of dialogue to the latter effect, but historians might more seriously ponder Mr. Reagan's actual remarks, including, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague [because] illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."

Behind the soft exterior, I repeat, was hard metal, and not all of him was nice. But more of him was nice than is normal in men that powerful. Even in ruminations like the above, and in the very funny stories he told (many of them politically incorrect), there was never any hint of malice. Well, maybe there was, when he leveled his wit against the one thing he really did hate: totalitarianism. Aides cringed at plenary sessions with Mr. Gorbachev as Mr. Reagan chucklingly told (again and again and again) jokes that ridiculed everything the Soviet leader stood for. It was insensitive, it was moral, and it was magnificent.

What he did, he did out of conviction, not caring how his actions might be perceived, then or now. Those protesting the reported slurs and inaccuracies of CBS's canceled miniseries forget that before he was afflicted by Alzheimer's, and particularly during the early years of his presidency, Ronald Reagan was lampooned with a savagery that Bill Clinton might feel happy to have escaped.

I remember Garry Trudeau drawing a series of "Doonesbury" cartoons, with explorers scouting a sterile landscape, under the rubric, "In Search of Reagan's Brain." Paul Slansky published a devastating book, "The Clothes Have No Emperor," that consisted almost entirely of presidential quotations as goofy as any emanating from the present White House. And on the private yet world-encompassing grapevine used by heads of state to convey their true feelings about one another, Mr. Reagan was a subject of such French contempt that his national security adviser flew secretly to Paris to plead with President François Mitterrand to stop making plaisanteries about le cow-boy in the White House.

It is a matter of record that President Mitterrand came to admire Mr. Reagan, as most sophisticates did when they got past what one Brit called "the corn barrier." He was especially impressed with Mr. Reagan's notion de l'état, his dignified self-identification with all that was strong in the American state.

When I published my biography of Ronald Reagan, my confession that I found him to be, on first acquaintance, "an apparent airhead," caused screams of outrage among his acolytes. The fact that the book was narratively designed to prove the author wrong — that Mr. Reagan was, for all his emotional coolness and often dumbfounding cultural ignorance, a visionary statesman — did not soothe the incense-swingers.

Click here to return to top of page.

Jefferson Cowie: Howard Dean Was Right to Try to Get Back the Southern White Vote

Jefferson Cowie, a history professor at Cornell University, writing in the American Prospect (Nov. 7, 2003):

When a white, patrician guy from a very white state starts talking about Confederate flags, he really ought to be careful. Howard Dean's clumsy recent statement that he wants to court "white folks in the South who drive trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back" is a good example of why. But though he fumbled the rhetoric, burned himself politically and failed to develop his idea in any sophisticated way, the sentiment behind Dean's statement is exactly what the Democratic Party needs.

At some point during his political education, Dean -- or, more likely, someone on his campaign staff -- learned some very valuable, if oversimplified, history. "The Republicans have been talking about [race] since 1968 in order to divide us, and I'm going to bring us together," Dean has said. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he was well aware that he was pushing white southerners out of the Democratic Party for at least a generation. Then, in 1968, Republican strategist Kevin Phillips conceived his party's southern strategy -- combining its traditional base with segregationist Democrats to form a national majority -- and inaugurated 35 years of GOP dominance that continues to this day. By littering their politics with thinly veiled racial rhetoric ("silent majority," "law and order," "welfare queens," "Willie Horton" and the rest) Republicans have done an outstanding job of driving -- and keeping -- much of the white working-class out of the Democratic Party.

Before the Civil Rights Act, however, the white, southern working class was primarily Democratic, not simply because of segregation but also because of the party's progressive economic policies. Poor, southern whites, as Thomas and Mary Edsall wrote in their 1992 book, Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, were "among the nation's most liberal constituencies on non-racial economic issues, supportive of government intervention on behalf of full employment, improved education, and low-cost medical care." White, working southerners were, in fact, outflanked on the left by only the most liberal elements of the Democratic Party -- Jews and blacks.

Those days, of course, are long gone....

... [But a] frank confrontation with the recent political history of race and class might just deliver Dean's mythic truck driver, along with the whole of American politics, to a more sincere discussion about equality.

Click here to return to top of page.

Juan Cole: How Iraq Is Hurting Bush's Poll Numbers

From the blog of Juan Cole (Nov. 3, 2003):

An ABC News-Washington Post poll released Sunday:

Percentage of Americans who disapprove of Bush administation policy in Iraq: 51
Percentage who approve: 47
Percentage who think Bush has made the US more prosperous: less than 10
Percentage who say Bush cannot understand their problems: 58
Percentage who disapprove of Bush's handling of the economy: 53
Percentage who think the economy is more important than terrorism as an issue: 62

I think the most important statistic in this set is that 58% say Bush cannot understand their problems. All the folksy Texas malapropisms in the world have not been able to convince ordinary Americans that this prince from a Northeast finance and political dynasty is one of them. What gave it away? It wasn't the huge tax giveaways to the rich. Americans seldom mind rich people getting breaks, since they all plan on being rich themselves one day. It was that princes can get consumed by foreign wars in distant places, but ordinary Americans can seldom focus on such things longer than a year or two, more especially when their economic situation is faltering. Bush is giving away their money to foreigners, and sacrificing their boys to a foreign adventure. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction has demonstrated to people that it hadn't been necessary to the country's defense. And there is only one word in the lexicon of ordinary Americans for an expensive foreign war that didn't need to be fought, and that is boondoggle.

Click here to return to top of page.

Sam Tanenhaus: Is Richard Pipes the Godfather of the War on Terrorism?

Sam Tanenhaus, writing in the Boston Globe (Nov. 2, 2003):

Over the past two years, the Bush administration has inspired one of the more stimulating scavenger hunts in recent memory -- the search for the Ur-theorist of its bold foreign policy initiatives. With each new turn another name has emerged. "Regime change" gave us the political philosopher Leo Strauss. The "shock and awe" campaign brought forth the Cold War calculations of military strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Hints of follow-up aggression against Syria and North Korea had some consulting Trotsky's writings on "permanent revolution."

A likelier candidate might be Richard Pipes, the eminent historian of Russia who two decades ago interrupted a thriving career as a Harvard professor to help the Reagan administration articulate an assertive foreign policy that strikingly prefigured the "Bush doctrine" of today.

Drawing on themes he first explored as a scholar in the 1950s and `60s -- in particular, the brutal top-down nature of Russian power and its ultimate fragility -- Pipes wrote hardline policy memos that gave impetus to the "second Cold War" of the late 1970s and `80s in which negotiation with the USSR was replaced by political confrontation. His influence peaked in 1981-82 when, as an official at the National Security Council, he helped steer Ronald Reagan toward the belief that the Soviet regime could and must be defeated....

All this history seems to point in one direction. Does Pipes mean to say the "second Cold War" was in fact a rehearsal for the "war on terror"?

He is carefully agnostic on the matter. But the connection is hard to ignore. "If your view is that the problems the United States faces today are analogous to those of the Cold War, that you face an organized opponent with a radically different worldview," says [Russian expert Stephen] Sestanovich, "you can then see some similarities between a comprehensive strategy to get at that worldview that was developed by Pipes during the Cold War and the strategy the Bush administration has developed since 9/ 11."

It is all the more remarkable, then, that Pipes has some misgivings about the most recent application, in Iraq, of the approach he helped formulate. "I think the war was correct -- destroying this invasive evil. But beyond this I think they're too ambitious," he says.

He bluntly dismisses the promise of a democratic Iraq -- "impossible, a fantasy" -- citing obstacles similar to Russia's. "Democracy requires, among other things, individualism -- the breakdown of old clannish, tribal organizations, the individual standing face-to-face with the state. You don't have that in the Middle East. Iraq is tribally run."

What about the constitution soon to be written in Baghdad? Pipes laughs. "Stalin had a wonderful constitution, the most perfect constitution in the world. There's a lot of naivete in that. I should think we'd be satisfied with some kind of stability, preventing Saddam Hussein from coming back. It's fantastic that we haven't caught this man. He sits there somewhere."

It is not lost on Pipes that his criticism goes directly to the judgment of the Bush team, conservatives like himself, in some cases former colleagues, most prominently Team B's own Wolfowitz. "Paul didn't have much education in history," Pipes says. "It's not his field. He was educated as a military specialist, a nuclear weapons specialist. Like most scientists, he doesn't have a particular understanding of other cultures."

The administration official with whom Pipes is most in sympathy is its resident Russian expert, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. "She came to see me after I left Washington in 1983," Pipes says, though he has not heard from her since. Perhaps now that her portfolio has been expanded, the call will come.

Click here to return to top of page.

Iraq: Lessons from Reconstruction (posted 10-31-03)

Sanford V. Levinson, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

[What Book Most Richly Deserves Greater Attention?] For me this is an easy question. The answer is The Great South Carolina Ku Klux Klan Trials, 1871-1872, by Lou Falkner Williams. Published in 1996 by the University of Georgia Press, it is already out of print, perhaps because readers think it a narrow book interesting only to specialists. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, essential reading, especially at the present time.

Its topic is the difficulties of Reconstruction in South Carolina and how, basically, the terrorist Ku Klux Klan was able to defeat the well-motivated efforts of state and federal officials to bring about a new day in that state. Given the U.S. Supreme Court's almost willful amnesia about the realities of Reconstruction, it would be helpful if all lawyers and judges brushed up on this facet of our history. But the reason I find it so important at this very instant is for the light it casts on what is involved if one is serious about "regime change." To put it mildly, such change is difficult and expensive. Even if one has defeated an enemy on the field of battle and attained unconditional surrender, one will still have to invest immense time, political energy, and money in changing the society that has ostensibly been defeated.

This doesn't mean that "regime change" should never be tried; the United States would have been far better off had Reconstruction worked (though it would have required far, far more than the North was ever willing to spend in order to achieve that victory). But one ought never undertake a process of regime change while being almost willfully ignorant of its likely costs. This 147-page book by a professor of history on an ostensibly narrow topic provides far more food for thought about both past and present than many far-longer tomes written by the most famous of professors. I do feel very strongly that -- in the words of 7th graders everywhere when delivering book reports -- "everyone should read this book!"

Click here to return to top of page.

Nicolas Baverez: France Needs to Reform (posted 10-31-03)

Sebastian Rotella, writing in the LA Times (Oct. 26, 2003):

The France-bashers are at it again.

This time, however, they don't work for the Pentagon or the British tabloids. They aren't emptying bottles of Bordeaux into American gutters or canceling tours of the Riviera.

This time, the people announcing that France is going to the dogs are respected and influential French intellectuals. This country enjoys a good old rip-snorting, two-fisted theoretical debate, so the outburst of lament over France's supposed decline has reverberated far and wide.

Nicolas Baverez, a historian and economist, has led this fall's doom-and-gloom pack of books and essays. His manifesto: a 135-page bestseller titled "France Is Falling." His thesis: The country's economy, politics and society have sunk into paralysis because leaders have consistently and self-destructively resisted change and refused to accept the realities of a modernizing, globalizing world.

Baverez blames an antiquated, statist mentality for unemployment mired at near 10%, economic growth near zero, crippling strikes, the deaths of almost 15,000 people during an August heat wave that overwhelmed a health system on vacation, and other maladies both tangible and existential.

In contrast to the United States, Baverez writes, French leaders believe "the more things change, the more must be done to change nothing... This political, economic and social immobility, which is also intellectual and moral, has plunged France into decline.

"The autism of a political class moored to the models of the 1960s and 1970s has ... [degraded] the nation."

Those are fighting words. And the French take them seriously because they don't come from a chauvinist of the kind seen prowling the American heartland lately....

"France finds itself in complete isolation in the world and in Europe," Baverez writes.

Such sweeping statements are hard to prove and give ammunition to critics. But they make for spirited discussion, especially in an intellectual culture that loves a provocative theory.

Another cultural factor also may be at work. The French devotion to the glories of the past often goes hand-in-hand with pessimism about the future. In a recent commentary on the crop of France-is-fading books, the editor of Le Monde said that the authors are bright and talented, but offer only one slanted way of seeing the country.

Their analyses suffer from ingrained negativism, said the editor, Jean-Marie Colombani. This tinges even apparent good news, such as the announcement that Air France would absorb Dutch airline KLM, a deal that would create a new airline juggernaut, Colombani wrote.

"Instead of saluting the brio of the owner of Air France and the perspectives for development that have been created, voices from all sides raise warnings, denounce the risks of the operation, announce a social catastrophe," Colombani wrote.

"Whether bad, medium or really good news, we lament. As if we were destined for decline."

Click here to return to top of page.

Irfan Khawaja: On the Necessity of Getting Jews and Muslims to Acknowledge Hard Truths (posted 10-28-03)

Irfan Khawaja, writing in the online edition of Tikkun (Nov. 2003):

The Zionist ideal is perhaps best captured in a slogan of Israel Zangwill, an early Zionist, who described Palestine as "a land without a people for a people without a land." The idea is that the Jews were a "people without a land" in the sense of being a minority wherever they lived, hence vulnerable to persecution. Palestine, in turn, was a "land without a people" in the sense of being a barren land without significant population, hence open to redemption by Jewish settlement and labor. Zionism, then, aimed to secure Jewish ownership of and sovereignty over Palestine, thereby saving the Jews from destruction, and facilitating their return to their ancestral homeland. The consummation of this wish was the establishment in May 1948 of the State of Israel.

The crucial claim at the center of Said's work is that for all of its redemptive power in Western eyes, Zionism was in fact a form of Orientalism-that is, an ideology of conquest and dispossession. For contrary to Zionist convictions, Palestine was not a "land without a people," but a land with one-namely the Palestinians, who outnumbered and out-owned the Zionist settlers until the very eve of Israel's creation. Given this, the project of creating a specifically Jewish state in (or throughout) Palestine was bound to lead to the dispossession or even destruction of the Palestinians, a fact that indicts Zionism of a grave injustice. On this view, the relationship between Orientalism, the Zionists and the Palestinians is analogous to that between Manifest Destiny, the American settlers, and the destruction of the Native Americans. In both cases, a messianic religious vision derived from the Old Testament justified the conquest and dispossession of an indigenous ethnic group, relegating them to the status of second-class citizens, refugees, and in the worst case, death. And in both cases, the conquerors engaged in conquest while cynically playing the role of victims: in the American case by exploiting the "Buffalo Bill" mythology; in the Zionist case by "playing the Holocaust card." The complex interaction of Zionism and Orientalism in this thesis is what I'm calling Zionist Orientalism.

The Zionist Orientalist thesis involves a complex and controversial set of claims, almost every one of which may legitimately be disputed. Precisely because it is complex, however, and difficult to dispute in a soundbite culture, defenders of Israel have often (in fact, typically) taken the path of least resistance in dealing with it, making reflexive charges of "anti-Semitism" against its proponents in lieu of dealing with their arguments. We see a succinct example of this in a recent essay by the Israeli writer Hillel Halkin:

One cannot be against Israel or Zionism, as opposed to this or that Israeli policy or Zionist position, without being anti-Semitic. Israel is the state of the Jews. Zionism is the belief that the Jews should have a state. To defame Israel is to defame the Jews. To wish it never existed, or would cease to exist, is to wish to destroy the Jews.

Despite its syllogism-like appearance, Halkin's argument is little more than an exercise in obfuscation. First, Zionism is not merely "the belief that the Jews should have a state"; it is the belief that the Jews should have had a Jewish state in a place where the majority population was not Jewish-a difficulty Halkin neither addresses nor even acknowledges. Secondly, to reject Zionism is not to "defame" anyone or anything; it is to reject its principles, something that can surely come from a well-intentioned commitment to incompatible principles. (Nor in any case is "Israel" to be so blithely equated with "the Jews.") Thirdly, "to wish Israel never to have existed" is not "to wish to destroy the Jews" so long as one thinks that there were other viable options for saving them. And it's an open question whether there were. Finally, "to wish that Israel cease to exist" is ambiguous. In its non-malevolent sense, it refers not to a wish to harm Jews, but to a wish to do away with the specifically Jewish character of the Israeli legal system so as to promote a secular as opposed to sectarian conception of citizenship. In short, whatever the merits or demerits of the anti-Zionist position, no argument like Halkin's counts as a legitimate response to it. The deficiencies of the argument, however, have done nothing to weaken its currency, and one regularly finds pro-Israeli polemicists using it in brazen attempts at insult and defamation.

As with the Arab/Muslim case, the "highbrow" Zionist literature finds its debased counterpart at the middle- and low-brow levels, where we find habitual comparisons of Arabs and Muslims to predatory and scavenging animals, wild rumor and innuendo about Arab/Muslim treachery, and casual proposals made for the forcible expulsion and even extermination of the Palestinians. Here, too, the connection between "high-brow" and "low-brow" is attenuated but real, as is the need for the corresponding moral judgment.

So: On the one hand, we have the very real and menacing phenomenon of Muslim anti-Semitism, discussed principally by the Jews targeted by it, but ignored or even brusquely dismissed as a Zionist ploy by the wider Arab/Muslim community. On the other hand, we have the equally real and dehumanizing phenomenon of Orientalism, discussed principally by Arabs and Muslims, but contemptuously dismissed as a fig-leaf for anti-Semitism by pro-Israeli Jews. Each side stands indicted by the other, and each side uses its indictment-fallaciously-to discredit the claims of the other. Further, each side has a powerful investment in the evasion of facts identified by the other side. And each resists, with furious vehemence, the attempt to integrate both sets of facts into a single coherent account. Finally, each side uses supercharged moral rhetoric to discredit and disarm opponents, while seeking to coerce the assent of the as-yet uncommitted.

The key to understanding the vicious cycle at work here, I think, is to see that the mechanism behind it is each side's fear of discovering that its most cherished beliefs might be "stained in sin." What Arabs and Muslims fear is the discovery that anti-Semitism might really turn out to be an intrinsic feature of Islamic theology rather than a Christian import. What Zionists fear is the discovery that Zionism might really be an ideology of conquest and dispossession on par with Manifest Destiny-that the Palestinians are, to put it somewhat perversely, the Cherokees of Israel (perverse because the Cherokees were thought by the American settlers to be one of the lost tribes of Israel!). The fear in both cases speaks to deep questions of identity. Arabs and Muslims, even relatively secular ones, have for decades invested their moral identities in mythologies about the "glories of Islam." And Jews, even apolitical non-Israelis, have equally invested themselves in mythologies about Zionism and Israel. Each side sees the very thought of public discussion of its "sore points" as an existential threat to identity. The result is a discourse structured by evasion and fear, compensated for by blackmail and recrimination.

If I'm right about this, the key to breaking the cycle may well be to press each issue against the side that least wants to deal with it, demanding that each side cease its evasions of fundamental issues.

Click here to return to top of page.

Victory in Iraq, One Tribe at a Time (posted 10-28-03)

Amatzia Baram, professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Haifa, writing in the NYT (Oct. 28, 2003):

A letter earlier this month signed by Saddam Hussein and addressed to the sheiks of the Arab tribes in the Sunni Triangle insisted that Iraq "has been a poison" to the American soldiers and that "victory is near." It was one more sign that the former dictator understands that the tribal values of Iraq are ripe for exploitation.

But what works for Saddam Hussein can also be made to work against him. The coalition is eminently capable of winning over many tribes. An old saying in Iraq has it that you cannot buy a tribe, but you can certainly hire one.

And the nation's Sunni minority is open to offers. With Saddam Hussein's downfall, Sunnis, who make up only 15 percent of the population, were deprived of their long-standing political hegemony. The Sunnis from the triangle lost their prestigious and well-paying jobs in the armed forces and internal security apparatus. They were humiliated in the conflict and have had their homes and communities searched in its aftermath. Last but not least: they have been largely frozen out of the Governing Council and the senior bureacracy.

The Sunni network was held together by a web of patronage, perks and favors that filtered down from the presidential palace to the tribal sheik to the "tribesman in the field." Of course, retribution played a role, too. Tribes were severely punished for transgressions (like refusing to abide by the whims of Baathist officials or allowing illicit traffic across borders without the dictator's permission), with the sheiks occasionally deposed and sometimes executed. In the south, whole villages were razed. But much more often the tribes were handsomely rewarded for cooperation — with money, weapons, state lands or even the property of rival clans.

While this network has been fractured, many of the older tenets of tribal life linger, and help to fuel the pattern of violence in the triangle today. Attacks on coalition troops should be viewed through the prism of tribal warfare. This is a world defined in large measure by avenging the blood of a relative (al-tha'r); demonstrating one's manly courage in battle (al-muruwwah); generally upholding one's manly honor (al-sharaf). For some of these young men, killing American soldiers is a political act, but it is also not unlike what hunting lions was to British colonial officers in 19th-century Africa: it involves a certain risk, but the reward is great.

Yes, religious fanaticism may also serve as a motivation, but in Iraq the rural tribes have generally been less inclined toward religious fanaticism than the city dwellers. The problem for the coalition is that religious fanaticism and tribal values are now working in the same direction. The coalition leaders must bear in mind that while the violence is endemic, it is not unstoppable — in large part, we are dealing with people who are open to persuasion.

Specifically, the Governing Council and its American supporters must come up with a coherent tribal policy. Certainly they can be excused for not having one — they've racked up many other achievements while focusing on more pressing problems. Moreover, the hesitation to give power to tribal leaders has been understandable: cultivating the tribes and the sheiks might be seen as a contradiction of the new leaders' stated goal of forming a democratic Iraqi civil society in a modern way. But to avoid increasing violence in the Sunni Triangle, there is a need to rethink that approach.

Click here to return to top of page.

Arnold Beichman: Why I Miss the Cold War (posted 10-28-03)

Arnold Beichman, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 28, 2003) (subscribers only):

Am I being wholly rational when I say that I miss the Cold War?

There was a time, say a decade ago, when I wouldn't have hesitated for a minute to answer that I most certainly do not miss the Cold War. But as I pull my shoes back on at Sea-Tac airport, rebuckle by belt, repack my laptop, mourn the confiscation of my metal money clip (with a tiny, hidden knife blade) and watch female airport security agents pass their wands over the bras of female passengers, I have a curious thought: In the worst days of the Cold War, even during the Cuban missile crisis, you simply showed your ticket and marched onto the plane. And if your plane was hijacked to Cuba, it might only mean a short delay for refueling and back home without a scratch.

 

To put it simply, I never thought I'd look back on the Cold War with a rash of rather kindly, if awkward, memories. Admittedly, most people who live in Russia, Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and the Baltic states wouldn't feel quite the same way. Yet today, even these liberated countries have to worry about Islamist terrorism because they all have Western embassies in their midst. The Cold War world of the 20th century is not the world of the 21st. To amend Hobbes's "Leviathan": It is a condition of war of some against all, a universal vulnerability. We have gone from a world of bipolar quasi-stability to a world of bipolar anarchy. That transformation has affected our quality of life as the Cold War never did to those of us fortunate enough to have lived beyond the Iron Curtain and outside the Berlin Wall.

Totalitarian Russia in the Stalin-Khrushchev-Brezhnev-Andropov era was a horrifying example of socialism at work. The Cold War had many frightening moments -- the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and even the aberrant Soviet shootdown of Korean Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983 -- but we never had to worry about anybody else's shoes. Despite the ferocity of Soviet diplomacy, the West still engaged in cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union. And we managed to carve out with it a Helsinki agreement on human rights. Can it be that the Kremlin was more civilized outside its own borders than Osama bin Laden is outside his mosque?....

Soviet history is replete with courageous opponents among its own people: Sakharov, Solzhenytsin, Bukovsky, Ginsberg, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Bulgakov, Zamyatin, Zoshchenko and others. Where is the anti-Osama opposition in the Islamic world?

The story is far different with bin Laden and his single-minded followers. All one need do is read the mosque sermons. The Islamist jihadists have no immediate desire to convert the West to Islam. They are not interested in WHAM'ing ("winning the hearts and minds," as it used to be called in the days of the Vietnam War). They are not interested in negotiations, summit meetings, detente agreements, cultural exchanges or non-aggression pacts, as we all were during the Cold War. As an ultra-state, ultra-government, ultra-treasury, ultra-supreme court legitimized, in its own eyes, by the Koran, al Qaeda decides who lives and who dies.

Click here to return to top of page.

Steven Weinberg: Why the Pentagon Failed to Prepare for Postwar Iraq (posted 10-27-03)

Steven Weinberg, professor of science at the University of Texas and winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, writing in the NY Review of Books (Nov. 6, 2003):

Though there always will be soldiers and sailors"seeking the bubble reputation, even in the cannon's mouth," it seems that the vainglory of individual commanders has lately become less dangerous in war, as improvements in the technology of communications and surveillance have increased the ability of commanders to control subordinates. But there is a continuing danger from an institutionalized vainglory. Sometimes a branch of the military may try to maximize its opportunity for glory, turning its back on other less glamorous tasks that are really needed....

Just as the Royal Navy preferred "hunting" to convoy duty in World War I, and the Allied air forces preferred strategic bombing to ground support in World War II, and the cavalry preferred independent action to the support of infantry in the Civil War, so in recent years the United States Army has preferred to plan for fighting battles without worrying about how to govern conquered territory. The Army in World War II had an effective Division of Military Government. It was established in the Office of the Provost Marshall in July 1942, long before there were any captured Axis territories to govern. It was this division and the personnel whom it trained at the Charlottesville School of Military Government that made it possible for the United States later to govern Japan and parts of Germany and Italy in an orderly way, without encountering widespread looting, rioting, or guerrilla attacks.

In the years after the war, responsibility for military government was relocated in the Civil Affairs branch of the Army. Support for this branch was allowed to dwindle, and Civil Affairs survived several attempts to disband it as a separate unit, until in 1987 it finally found a home in the Special Operations Command. There it had to fight off attempts to divert its remaining funds and personnel slots to Special Forces. At the end of the 1980s, an Army-commissioned report, in a chapter called "Pruning Non-Essentials," asked the questions "Should 7,000 reservists continue to be trained to govern occupied nations? Is there a need for those trained in the administration of art, archives, and monuments to preserve the culture of occupied territories?"[3] Civil Affairs became known as a dead end for career officers.

There is now just one active-duty Civil Affairs unit, the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), headquartered at Fort Bragg; the remaining 95 percent of Civil Affairs personnel are reservists. In Afghanistan there are now only about two hundred Civil Affairs personnel, as compared with about 15,000 military government soldiers in the American Zone of Germany soon after the German surrender in World War II. A colonel (not in Civil Affairs) who is just back from Iraq tells me that there are about two thousand Civil Affairs officers there (not all in military government), leaving few anywhere else, and that although they are doing good work, there are not nearly enough of them. Unfortunately the Defense Department's priorities do not seem to have changed. Later this year it plans to close the ten-year-old Peacekeeping Institute of the Army War College

Click here to return to top of page.

Rick Perlstein: How Joe Lieberman Could Ruin the Democrats' Chances (posted 10-27-03)

Rick Perlstein, writing in the Village Voice (Oct. 27, 2003):

[I]t's not too early to predict that if the Democrats lose the presidential election next November, Lieberman will be the one to blame. That will certainly be so if he ends up becoming the nominee—in which case the Democratic Party will be left without an activist base.... Perversely, it might even be worse for the Democratic Party if he fails.

... as his star fades, he'll have only one viable strategy left, a manic, all-or-nothing strategy: trying to convince Democrats that the front-runner must be dumped altogether, using the dark arts of opposition research, trying to dig up something purportedly embarrassing from the front-runner's past that the jubilant Republicans might even have missed if left to their own devices....

The year was 1987, an October much like this one, with a crowded Democratic field usefully united on many, if not most, issues, but for a single irritant: Al Gore, who, determined to distinguish himself from the field by a supposedly sage and mature moderate conservatism, stepped up to the microphone at the National Press Club and read his fellow Democratic candidates clear out of the United States of America. "The politics of retreat, complacency, and doubt may appeal to others," he said, "but it will not do for me or for my country." He had already bragged in a Des Moines debate about his support for the Reagan administration's position on the B-1 bomber and the MX missile, even on chemical weapons, accusing his opponents of being "against every weapons system that is suggested"; at the next forum, he lectured his fellows on the imperative of invading Grenada and supporting the Contras. For that, some Democratic insiders were whispering, was just what it would take to be electable.

And even though the message hardly took with voters—party conservatives had scheduled a cluster of Southern primaries early in 1988 specifically to favor a candidate like Gore, but the dead-fish Tennesseean still got skunked on "Super Tuesday" by the most liberal candidate, Jesse Jackson—Gore stuck around just long enough to run a vicious campaign in the late-inning New York primary, in which he grilled front-runner Michael Dukakis for his apparent support of "weekend passes for convicted criminals."

In Washington, opposition researchers for the Republican front-runner, George Herbert Walker Bush, were taking notes.

"I thought to myself, 'This is incredible,' " Bush staffer Jim Pinkerton recalled of Gore's tarring the Massachusetts prisoner furlough program as if it were the idea of Michael Dukakis, when in actuality the program had been initiated by the Republican governor who preceded him. "It totally fell into our lap." Dukakis emerged from the convention that nominated him with a 17-point lead. Then Gore's million-dollar lines, so self-consciously crafted to make himself "electable," began finding their way into George H.W. Bush's mouth. Bush was able to successfully paint Dukakis as a dangerous radical. Al Gore had provided the palette—his smears having had nearly a year to sink into the American psyche.

Think about that next time you're watching one of the Democratic debates and hear Joe Lieberman say, as he did at one, that if Vermont's former governor won the presidential election, "the Bush recession would be followed by the Dean depression." Or say, as Lieberman did at his own National Press Club policy address this year, that his opponents disastrously "prefer the old, big-government solutions to our problems," even though "with record deficits, a stalled economy, and Social Security in danger, we can't afford that."

Click here to return to top of page.

Richard Reeves: Bush Should Study Up on the History of the Philippines (posted 10-23-03)

Richard Reeves, writing on Yahoo.com (Oct. 23, 2003):

"America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people," said President Bush (news - web sites) to a joint session of the Congress of the Philippines last week. "Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule."

Unfortunately, we then killed more than 200,000 Filipinos. Almost all of the dead were civilians, killed in the two years after we liberated them from the Spanish in 1898. One of our generals there, a cranky Civil War veteran named Jacob Smith, told his men: "I wish you to kill and burn ... I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States."

"How young?" asked Maj. Waller Tazewell Waller (cq) of the U.S. Marines. "Ten years and up," said Gen. Smith.

None of this was secret at the time. American soldiers -- we sent 70,000 there after the Spanish colonial authority surrendered when Commodore George Dewey's fleet sailed into Manila Harbor -- wrote of the details in letters to hometown newspapers. Here are samples quoted in a new book, "Flyboys," by James Bradley:

"We bombarded a place called Malabon, and then went in and killed every native we met, men, women and children" ... "This shooting human beings is a 'hot game' and beats rabbit hunting all to pieces" ... "Picking off niggers in the water is more fun than a turkey shoot" ... "I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger. Tell all my inquiring friends that I am doing everything I can for Old Glory and for America I love so well."

Back in Washington, President Theodore Roosevelt was calling that "the most glorious war in our nation's history." The Filipino victims he dismissed as "a syndicate of Chinese half-breeds."

George W. Bush knows all this. At Yale, he got a B in History 35, a study of that era, taught by John Morton Blum, a biographer of Theodore Roosevelt. And if he has forgotten, he could look up some of it in Bradley's book. This president's father, Lt. George H.W. Bush, U.S. Navy (news - web sites), is a hero of "Flyboys" (and of a CNN documentary with the same title), which includes a frightening section on American anti-Asian attitudes and Japanese anti-American and anti-Christian attitudes that fed slaughter, massacre and even cannibalism in World War II.

We are, more often than not, relatively decent people in war and occupation. The Spanish rulers of the 7,000 islands of the Philippines were worse than the Americans, and there was a significant anti-war movement at home between 1899 and 1902. On July Fourth of that year, Roosevelt declared victory, after 4,234 Americans were killed in guerrilla attacks during the first three years of occupation. Mark Twain proposed that the stripes of Old Glory should be black and red. Gen. Smith was court-martialed and Maj. Waller tried (and acquitted) on murder charges. During Smith's court-martial, one of his aides said, "If people know what a thieving, treacherous, worthless bunch of scoundrels these Filipinos are, they would think differently."

That quote, in Stanley Karnow's 1989 book, "In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines," illustrates one of the more important historical lessons of occupation: Not only do the occupied inevitably come to hate the occupiers, the occupiers come to hate the occupied. Last Wednesday, a New York Times story by John Tierney -- the headline began "Baffled Occupiers ..." -- quoted a GI watching over a Baghdad market as saying: "If you really want to know, I'm sick of being in a country where lying is the national pastime."

Click here to return to top of page.

James Miller: The Weather Underground, RIP? (posted 10-23-03)

James Miller, professor of political science at the New School for Social Research and editor of the journal Daedalus, writing in the Boston Globe (Oct. 19, 2003):

THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO this fall, a small band of well-educated young Americans hell-bent on storming heaven steeled themselves to commit an act of spectacularly gratuitous violence. A militant breakaway faction of Students for a Democratic Society, they called themselves the Weathermen. Their strategy, such as it was, blended theatrical bravado with puritanical zeal -- Bonnie and Clyde meet John Brown. Wearing crash helmets and wielding baseball bats, ululating like the revolutionaries they had studied on screen in "The Battle of Algiers," they would run wild in the streets of Chicago, lashing out at any available symbol of privilege and power: police, parked cars, affluent bystanders.

Now, more than a generation later, the Weathermen are back in the news. This summer, a new documentary, "The Weather Underground," directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, brought the group's story into movie theaters. In September, one of the group's most famous members, Kathy Boudin, was released on parole from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where she had spent more than two decades after pleading guilty to a felony charge connected to a murder in the robbery of a Brink's truck in 1981. Boudin's release has in turn prompted the early release of Susan Braudy's book "Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left" (Knopf).

Braudy, a former classmate of Boudin's at Bryn Mawr College, argues that Boudin's violent acts were part of a ploy to get her father's attention. But the book's own evidence suggests no such Oedipal melodrama. Instead, we catch a glimpse of an intelligent young woman blindly driven into tragic violence by overpowering moral hubris. Though it contains some new information gleaned from access to Boudin's mother, Jean Boudin, and her private papers, Braudy's study has more in common with tabloid journalism than serious history. (Caveat lector: Michael Boudin, chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston and Kathy's older brother, is a personal friend.)

The Weathermen's 1969 melee in Chicago, billed "The Days of Rage," was meant to inspire working-class youth to commit similarly gratuitous acts, and to prove the group's revolutionary macho to the Black Panthers. But the Panthers spurned them, and there was no evidence that working-class youth were ready to run wild in the streets. So the group changed its tactics, with deadly results. Early in 1970, a group of Weathermen inadvertently blew up three of their members along with a townhouse on Eleventh Street in New York's Greenwich Village. The group was trying to build an anti-personnel bomb, in order to give Americans a taste of the kind of cruel weaponry their government was using in Vietnam.

Now the object of a national manhunt, and rechristened the Weather Underground, the fugitives -- several dozen militants in a handful of American cities -- established guerilla "focos," secret cells in which members learned how to build bigger and better bombs, to be detonated in acts of "strategic sabotage." Besides issuing a stream of turgid communiques denouncing racism and sexism and proclaiming sympathy for fellow revolutionaries such as Ho Chi Minh, the group succeeded in bombing several symbolic targets, including the Pentagon and the Capitol building. Though the group issued warnings to evacuate their targets, inevitably some bystanders were injured. Against all odds, the most notorious Weathermen -- Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, Kathy Boudin -- all managed to elude the FBI....

In the years to come, will the violence of the Weathermen be regarded with similar forbearance?

I think not. Although they imagined themselves paragons of political courage, the Weathermen were too divorced from political reality to have an impact even remotely analogous to John Brown's.

Moreover, many of the Weathermen today seem small, self-absorbed, stunningly complacent. It is hard to say which is more dispiriting: Kathy Boudin's wooden self-criticism or Bill Ayers' imperturbable self-regard. It is as if self-examination had devolved into a form of self-righteous narcissism, and the Puritan strand in American radicalism had become a farcical parody of itself. And without a modicum of saving self-knowledge, the self-sacrifice of these men and women now seems as pointless as the violence and suffering that they deliberately inflicted on others.

Click here to return to top of page.

Ann Applebaum: Germans as Victims ... Fallout from 9-11? (posted 10-23-03)

Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History, writing in the Jewish World Review (Oct. 16, 2003):

As in the United States, many of the books that have recently found their way to the top of German bestseller lists concern Sept. 11, 2001. Unlike those in the United States, many of them also argue that the Bush administration was responsible for Sept. 11. One book, by a former German government minister, argues that the planes that hit the World Trade Center may have been secretly steered from the ground. Another — translated from the French and titled "The Appalling Lie" — says that the Pentagon was never hit by a plane at all but was instead deliberately blown up with a bomb. Germany's establishment press has studiously debunked these theories, to little avail: Recently, an opinion poll showed that one in five Germans believe them.

But if German bestseller lists reveal a German reassessment of the United States, they have also in recent years revealed an even more vigorous German reassessment of Germany. Not one but two books have become popular through their descriptions of the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, which resulted in fires that caused tens of thousands of deaths. One of the authors used the word "crematoria" to describe the burning buildings, described the Allied bomber pilots as the equivalents of Nazi police units that murdered Jews and concluded by wondering whether Winston Churchill, who ordered the bombings, ought to have been condemned as a war criminal.

These books have also been effective: According to another opinion poll, more than a third of the Germans now think of themselves as "victims" of the Second World War — just like the Jews. Nor has this new interpretation of history remained limited to books. Lately momentum has gathered behind a movement to build a new museum in Berlin dedicated to Germans expelled from their homes at the end of the war — just like the Holocaust museum. It's not wrong for Germans to remember their relatives who suffered, but the tone of the campaigners is disturbing, because they seem, at times, almost to forget why the war started in the first place. Their leader, for example, is the daughter of a Wehrmacht officer, and was born in occupied Poland. Tragically, she was expelled from her childhood home when German troops were defeated — the adverb "tragically" representing a certain point of view here, not an objective observation.

That point of view, always popular on the far right of the German political spectrum, has spread rapidly leftward in recent years, attracting supporters among Social Democrats, bank presidents and others. Not everybody agrees by any means, but the subject is shockingly raw, even difficult to discuss politely. As I can attest, there are German politicians who will shout down other guests at dinner parties if their right to victimhood is questioned too harshly.

It is my guess that these things are related: It cannot be an accident that a wave of unusually virulent, even irrational anti-Americanism has peaked just as Germans have begun, for the first time since the war, to talk about their past in a new way. Germany is reassessing its place in Europe, its role in the world, its postwar subordination to the United States. Some of the recalcitrance we've seen in Germany during the past year has been genuine opposition to the war in Iraq and genuine dislike of President Bush and what he is thought to stand for. But some reflects a deeper change. Germans, or at least some of them, no longer want to apologize for the 20th century. Germans, or at least some of them, no longer want to accept the political leadership of the United States. Just look at the bestseller lists for proof.

Click here to return to top of page.

Mark Essig: Searching for More Humane Ways to Execute People (posted 10-22-03)

Mark Essig, author of Edison and the Electric Chair: The Story of Light and Death, writing in the NYT (Oct. 21, 2003):

For the past century and a half, America's capital punishment debate has resembled a strange game of leapfrog: opponents of the death penalty claim that the current method, whatever it may be, is barbaric, which prompts capital-punishment supporters to refine that method or develop a new one.

Although 19th-century Americans tended to believe that justice and order demanded the ultimate sanction, they were often shaken by graphic accounts of the pain suffered by hanged men. In 1876, after an especially gruesome hanging, Maine abolished capital punishment. Inspired by this victory, opponents of the death penalty began to emphasize the cruelty of the gallows. But their effort was self-defeating: by claiming that the problem with hanging was the suffering of the condemned, they simply challenged death penalty advocates to find a better way to kill.

First came adjustments to the gallows. Hangmen created a formula in which rope length was a function of the prisoner's weight — the heavier the victim, the shorter the drop. But such delicate calculations of anatomy and gravity often failed to add up, and many prisoners slowly strangled to death. To dull the pain, Brooklyn officials in 1847 knocked a murderer cold with ether before hanging him, but this simply highlighted the deficiencies of the gallows.

Then, in 1889, New York State built the first electric chair, a device championed by Thomas Edison. Edison's advocacy was inspired in part by a wicked plan to hurt his business rival, George Westinghouse — the chair was powered by Westinghouse's alternating current, and Edison hoped consumers would begin to associate AC with danger and death. But Edison had less cynical reasons as well: he was an opponent of the death penalty — "an act of foolish barbarity," he called it — and he believed that electrocution would be less barbaric than the noose. Many others agreed, and eventually 25 states and the District of Columbia installed electric chairs.

Electrocution remained the state of the art for three decades, until the public grew dismayed by bungled executions that required several shocks or set the prisoner on fire. Before long there was another scientific option: an airtight chamber filled with poison gas, adopted by Nevada in 1924 and then by 10 more states in the coming decades. Like all complex machines, however, these execution devices were prone to malfunction, and prisoners suffered the consequences.

So in 1977 Oklahoma began to poison condemned prisoners with a three-drug cocktail: sodium thiopental (to produce unconsciousness), pancuronium bromide (to paralyze the muscles) and potassium chloride (to stop the heart). Promising a clean, painless death, this protocol quickly gained widespread acceptance.

Until now, that is. The next step seems obvious: states will adopt a different drug regimen, which, no doubt, will soon gain critics of its own.

Click here to return to top of page.

Confronting Our Eugenic Past and Genetic Future (posted 10-21-03)

Edwin Black, writing in Newsday (Oct. 2003):

On October 14, the Senate unanimously passed America's first serious anti-genetic discrimination bill, which now goes to the House for consideration. The measure would forbid discrimination by insurers, employers and others based on genetic background or identity, just as current protections cover workplace or financial bias because of race, religion and national origin.

All eyes are now on the House. If the bill does pass the House, it is expected to receive an enthusiastic signature from President George Bush. If anti-gene-lining legislation succeeds, it would mark the first time America has preemptively checked an entire category of discrimination before society accumulates thousands of victims. As such, we are confronting our future before a dismal new legacy is created.

In so doing, our nation must also confront the dismal legacy of American eugenics, where genetic information was twisted and distorted into an official crusade to create a white, master blond-haired and blue-eyed Nordic race. In the process, the reproductive ability of all other peoples who did not resemble this Nordic ideal would be eliminated.

It took me and some fifty researchers two years, delving through dozens of archives to retrieve some 50,000 pages of documentation to connect the dots for my book War Against the Weak, Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. The story is an ugly one.

In the first three decades of the 20th Century, American corporate philanthropy combined with prestigious academic fraud to create the pseudoscience eugenics that institutionalized race politics enshrined as national policy with enabling legislation in 27 states. These laws were ruled constitutional and the law of the land by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The method? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to legislated segregation and sterilization programs. But eugenicists also talked about public gas chambers and medicalized euthanasia. Indeed, doctor-organized euthanasia was sporadically practiced.

The victims: poor people, brown-haired white people, African Americans, immigrants, Indians, Eastern Europeans, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the superior genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists. The main culprits were the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune, in league with America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, operating out of a complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island....

[W]hile the House ponders the anti-genetic discrimination bill to guard our future, America must also explore its own biological crimes. Society must ensure that the much needed, long overdue genie of human genetics will never return to the black days of eugenics--from whence it came.

Click here to return to top of page.

Richard Wolin: Suicide Bombing Shouldn't Be Defended (posted 10-20-03)

Richard Wolin, professor of history and comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, writing on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education (Oct. 20, 2003):

In recent weeks a publishing scandal involving charges of anti-Semitism has dominated the feuilleton sections of leading German dailies. The debate has embroiled one of the nation's most respected publishing houses, the Frankfurt-based, left-liberal firm of Suhrkamp Verlag. It has also implicated the world-renowned philosopher Jürgen Habermas for having made a controversial publishing recommendation. More generally, the dispute raises an issue of fundamental importance concerning the ground rules of the continuing, fractious debate over Middle East politics -- an issue familiar to American academics: At what point does vigorous criticism of Israeli policy dovetail with rank anti-Semitism?

At the center of the maelstrom in Germany is a slim volume by the philosopher Ted Honderich, who until his retirement taught at University College London. The book, After the Terror, is an attempt to reassess global politics in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Written in an offhand, chatty style, its main point -- unarguable, as far as it goes -- is that first-world nations bear responsibility for third-world nations' impoverishment. Yet the lines of clarity -- and reasonability -- quickly blur when Honderich attempts to define the nature of that responsibility and its consequences. At issue, in his view, is not just political responsibility for the deleterious economic consequences of American-backed globalization policies on the part of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, but also a direct moral responsibility allegedly shared by all Westerners. What makes that argument problematic is its blanket refusal to acknowledge any indigenous causes of third-world poverty, be they geographic, climatological, regional, sociological, or political. Rather than promote intelligent reflection on the causes of global social injustice, Honderich is interested in playing a simple blame game. Because Westerners (or at least a good number of them) live affluently, while most third-world denizens languish in squalor, the former are by definition morally culpable exploiters....

Honderich does not, as one might expect of a philosopher, evaluate such rhetoric. In fact, he seems strangely unaware of, or uninterested in, the continuing dialogue regarding Palestinian terrorist tactics. Rather than offer a considered analysis of the dominant arguments on both sides, he shoots from the hip, his endorsement of political terrorism seemingly designed merely to provoke.

Dating back to the Hague Conventions of 1898 and 1907, one of the mainstays of international law is the imperative that warring parties distinguish between combatants and civilians. Those precepts were vigorously reaffirmed by Additional Protocol I to the 1977 Geneva Convention, which representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization attended. The distinction is widely recognized as a linchpin of international human-rights law. By intentionally targeting civilians, suicide bombings deliberately contravene those precedents. More insidious still, some of the recent bombings seem to have intentionally targeted young Israelis -- to wit, a June 1, 2001, bombing at a Tel Aviv discoth`eque that killed 21 and wounded 120, and an August 19, 2003, Jerusalem bus bombing that killed 5 children among the 18 dead, and wounded 40 children among the 100 wounded.

According to an October 2002 report by Human Rights Watch, "Erased in a Moment: Suicide Bombing Attacks Against Israeli Civilians," which condemned the intentional and systematic massacre of innocents, the suicide bombings qualify as a crime against humanity. In international human-rights law, the fundamental precedent was set by the 1945 Nuremberg Charter. The Nuremberg precepts were recently reaffirmed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines crimes against humanity as the "participation in and knowledge of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population," and "the multiple commission of [such] acts ... against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack." According to the Rome Statute, both individual perpetrators and the organizations that sponsor them bear criminal accountability for such acts. They are crimes of universal jurisdiction and are subject to no statute of limitations.

Are the bombings morally or politically defensible? The attempt to morally justify suicide bombing seems especially specious. One of the cardinal precepts of the just-war doctrine, dating back to the days of early Christianity, has been the prohibition against the massacre of innocents. In the 2,500-year-old canon of Western moral philosophy, I am hard pressed to find a single thinker who accepts the taking of innocent life to further political aims. Moreover, experts on the Middle East have frequently pointed out that suicide bombing explicitly contravenes three cardinal precepts of Islamic law: the prohibition against killing civilians; the prohibition against suicide; and the protected status of Jews and Christians. Here, too, the burden of proof is squarely on Honderich's shoulders.

Click here to return to top of page.

Eric Alterman: Novak's No Journalist (posted 10-17-03)

Eric Alterman, writing in the Nation (Oct. 16, 2003):

The second great fiction of this story is the notion that Robert Novak is a "journalist." Nobody else published this story, because all six of the other reporters given the leak weighed the perceived motives of the leaker and the likely cost of publication to the country and to Plame and Wilson against the value of this hand-delivered scoop. The only person to take the bait was Novak--who published it in the Washington Post unedited, because its editorial page apparently sends his copy to the printer without reading it first. In publishing what one "senior administration official" describes as a leak "meant purely and simply for revenge," Novak even refused a request from the CIA not to reveal Plame's identity.

Novak may have acted unpatriotically but not inconsistently. He has never made any bones about the fact that he is an ideological warrior first and a journalist second, if at all. To offer one small but revealing example from a previous decade that appears to have new relevance today, let's go back to October 5, 1986, when Sandinista soldiers shot down a C-123K cargo plane ferrying weapons to the contras in southern Nicaragua. Of the four-man crew, the two American pilots were killed, but its cargo kicker, Eugene Hasenfus, also an American, survived and was captured. He revealed to the world that his entire effort had been controlled by the CIA and sanctioned by the US government, sending both into a massive panic.

The contras' man in the State Department, Elliott Abrams, took to the airwaves on the Evans & Novak program on CNN. Asked whether he could offer "categorical assurance" that Hasenfus was not connected with the government, Abrams smirked, "Absolutely, that would be illegal.... This was not in any sense a US government operation. None." This performance was a part of Abrams's plea-bargained conviction for withholding information from Congress by Iran/contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.

I interviewed Novak not long after this for a too-kind profile I was writing and asked how he felt about being a pawn in Abrams's deception. His answer: He "admired" Abrams for lying to him on national television because the lie was told in the service of fighting Communism. "He had a tough job and there were lots of people out to get him," Novak averred, expressing zero regrets about misinforming his viewers. "Truth" did not even appear to enter into his calculations. There was his side and there were the other guys, period. That the Post and CNN willingly lend space to the man, knowing what they do, is another of the ongoing scandals involving journalistic standards and conservative ideological domination of the elite media.

Click here to return to top of page.

Fouad Ajami: How Oil Changed the Politics of the Middle East (posted 10-17-03)

Fouad Ajami, writing in the NYT (Oct. 17, 2003):

It was not so much the guns of Oct. 6, 1973, and the assault of the Egyptian and Syrian armies against Israel, that changed contemporary history and remade our world. It was the use 11 days later of the "oil weapon," and the price increases that followed, which tipped the scales of history.

By the time OPEC unsheathed the oil weapon, 30 years ago today, the tide of battle had turned. Israel had regained the initiative: its soldiers had crossed to the western side of the Suez Canal, and were within striking distance of Damascus as well. It was then, on the edge of yet another Arab calamity, that the Saudi monarch, King Faisal, broke with his American protectors and began what turned into a frontal assault on the very bases of the post-World War II international order.

On Oct. 17, 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries raised the price of oil to more than $5 a barrel from $3 a barrel; a day later it cut production by 5 percent a month; three days later, it imposed an embargo on petroleum exports to the United States. Then the shah of Iran struck with a rebellion of his own. In Tehran, just before Christmas, he secured the consent of the other oil-producing nations for yet another price increase, to $11.65 a barrel.

In the "Thousand and One Nights," the recurring theme is of the beggar becoming king and the king a beggar. So it was when OPEC imposed its embargo. It was an attempt to turn the stuff of fantasy into reality, to make the largest transfer of wealth in the annals of nations. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was among those who realized this. "Never before in history," he wrote in his memoirs, "has a group of such relatively weak nations been able to impose with so little protest such a dramatic change in the way of life of the overwhelming majority of the rest of mankind."

No tears were shed, though, for the old order of things in those countries rich with oil, or in the large stretches of the Arab-Muslim world on their periphery. The peoples of those lands had long dreamt of just such a moment. They hadn't quite foreseen how the dream would play out. Still, the modern nationalisms of the Arabs and the Iranians had always revolved around the use of oil; the grievances of these nationalisms were tales of how Western prospectors and explorers, and their powerful world-spanning companies, had worked their way on the politics of the Arab Middle East and brought about its subjugation.

These lands, it seemed, were now done with that history. Everywhere in the Arab world there was a palpable sense of excitement, of defeats avenged. Nothing was out of reach. New wealth would bring the latest technology and training and secure the withdrawal of Israel from the lands it occupied in 1967. Modern history itself could be short-circuited; poor, unskilled societies would be able to join the era of technology and industry.

Click here to return to top of page.

Juan Cole: Iraqi Shiites ... America's Would-Be Allies (posted 10-13-03)

Juan Cole, writin in the Boston Review (Oct./Nov. 2003):

The ambitious aim of the American war in Iraq—articulated by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and other neoconservative defense intellectuals—was to effect a fundamental transformation in Middle East politics. The war was not—or not principally—about finding weapons of mass destruction, or preventing alliances with al Qaeda, or protecting the Iraqi population from Saddam’s terror. For U.S. policy makers the importance of such a transformation was brought home by the events of September 11, which challenged U.S. strategy in the region by compromising the longstanding U.S. alliance with Saudi Wahhabis. In response to this challenge, the Bush administration saw the possibility of creating a new pillar for U.S. policy in the region: a post-Baathist Iraq, dominated by Iraqi Shiites, which would spark a wave of democratization across the Middle East.

But the Bush administration badly neglected the history of the group they wanted to claim as their new ally. Who are the Iraqi Shiites? And how likely are they to support democracy or U.S. goals in the region?...

From 1970 until the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy in the Middle East was based on three principles and two key alliances. The principles included fighting against Communist and other radical anti-American influences; supporting conservative religious and authoritarian political elites; and ensuring access to Middle Eastern petroleum supplies. The two principal allies were Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The centrality of the anti-Soviet pillar to regional policy is often ignored, but it helps explain the others. Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, was a crucial pivot of U.S. policy from the 1970s forward. U.S. officials viewed its deeply conservative Wahhabi form of Islam as a barricade against Communism and—after the 1979 Iranian Revolution—against Iran’s Shiite Khomeinism. Israel, too, battled leftist and pro-Soviet forces, though its determination to annex much or all of the territories it captured in 1967 made it a problematic partner for a United States seeking Arab friends. The United States could maintain an alliance with both the Zionist state and the Wahhabi kingdom, even though the two did not care very much for one another, because both disliked the Soviets and leftist Palestinians.

Because the Cold War was a contest of economic systems, winning it depended crucially on the prosperity of Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea. Inexpensive energy was essential to their prosperity. And the Saudi alliance was one key to inexpensive energy. Because of its small population and unusually large capacity, Saudi Arabia had enormous influence on the price of petroleum. By pumping extra oil, the Saudis kept the price lower than other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), such as Algeria and Iran, would have liked. Moreover, Riyadh supported Western European prosperity by investing (“recycling”) its petrodollars back into the West.

The Saudis also bolstered regional conservatism, in particular by aiding the anti-Communist Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt from the 1950s forward. In this period the Brotherhood—formed in 1928 and precursor to contemporary fundamentalism—was increasingly persecuted by Abdel Nasser’s secular Arab socialist state. With Egypt tilting toward the Soviet Union in the 1960s, Saudi support for the Brotherhood was implicated in the U.S.–Soviet struggle. In the 1970s dictator Anwar El Sadat shifted Egypt from the political left to the right and allied with the United States. With U.S. advice he sought a new, positive relationship with Saudi Arabia and with the Muslim Brotherhood. When Sadat made peace with Israel, key pieces of U.S. policy fell into place. (That Sadat was assassinated for taking this direction, by the very Sunni radicals he had unleashed, was irrelevant to the outcome, since his new foreign policy remained in effect).

Saudi Arabia remained central to U.S. policy in the 1980s. It took the lead in the Gulf in opposing Iran’s Khomeinist revolution and backed Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran, with Washington’s blessing. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan the United States pressured Saudi Arabia to support the efforts of the Muslim fundamentalist mujahidin (holy warriors) who volunteered to fight Moscow’s troops. In a breathtaking lapse of judgment, the Reagan administration gave billions of dollars to these groups. The administration misunderstood the difference between Muslim traditionalism and conservatism, and the virulent new strands of Sunni radicalism that were proliferating in the 1980s.

While the United States was consolidating an alliance with Saudi Arabia, policy toward Iraq fluctuated wildly—though here, too, anti-Communism was always the fundamental principle operating in the background. In the mid-1950s the United States and the British pushed the Baghdad Pact (signed in 1955), which grouped Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan in an anti-Soviet alliance. This strategy collapsed in 1958 when Colonel Abdel Karim Qasim staged a bloody coup in Iraq against the government of Nurias-Said. Washington saw Qasim, who had Communist allies, as a dangerous radical. It has been alleged that the United States supported the 1963 failed coup attempt by the Arab nationalist Baath Party against the officers, receiving guarantees in return that the Iraqi Communist Party would be disbanded.

The Baath Party finally came to power in 1968, and though it did ban the Communists it went on to have indifferent relations with the United States until the Iranian Revolution and the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980. During the 1980s the United States threw its support behind Saddam Hussein and the Baath to combat Khomeinist radicalism, whose rabid anti-Americanism it saw as aiding the Soviet Union. The U.S.–Saddam alliance, of course, ended with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Paul Wolfowitz and other national security hawks later grouped in the Project for a New American Century saw two principal security challenges to the United States: the remaining Communist powers in Asia, especially North Korea but also China, which they wished to see contained or, if possible, broken up; and the anti-American Middle Eastern states, including Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The two problems were linked because the East Asian Communists and the Middle Eastern radical states were suspected of proliferating missile and nuclear technologies to one another. Pakistan, for instance, is suspected of helping North Korea’s nuclear program. Wolfowitz likened Chinese sales of intermediate missiles to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s to the Cuban missile crisis. Many of them also saw threats to Israel’s power as necessarily menacing to U.S. security.

The attacks on September 11 should have made it clear that the hawks had been looking for threats in all the wrong places. Iran and Iraq had been effectively contained, and China was too busy making money off the West to think about harming its economies. At the same time—and in significant part as a result of U.S. support for Muslim fundamentalism as an anti-Communist bulwark—Sunni radicalism had emerged as a much more powerful threat than either East Asian Communism or Baathism and Khomeinism. Mujahidin who had trained in Afghanistan fanned back out to their home countries in 1989, victorious, and determined to establish Islamic states in places like Algeria and Yemen. Sunni radicals fought a virtual civil war in Algeria with the secular military government in the 1990s, waged a less bloody but still highly disruptive campaign against the Mubarak government in Egypt, and pioneered new militant political movements such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and the neo-Deobandis in Pakistan. Once the Soviets had fallen the Sunni radicals abandoned their alliance of convenience with Washington and turned against the United States, which they now saw as a bulwark of the secular governments that they were trying to overthrow, in addition to resenting its role in supporting Israeli expansionism. The more radical of these groups coalesced into al Qaeda and decided to hit the “far” enemy rather than only the “near” one.

After September 11 the national security hawks, many of whom who had actively fostered the jihadis in the 1980s, attempted to link new the forms of Muslim terrorism to their longstanding preoccupations with Iraq and Iran. The anti-American Middle Eastern states were now even more dangerous, they alleged, because they either had joined up with the terrorists already or might in the future share weapons of mass destruction with the jihadis for use against the United States. But the Iraqi Baathists were devoted to secular Arab nationalism, and the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran despised al Qaeda and the Taliban. It was implausible that Khomeinist Shiites, Baathist Arab nationalists, and Sunni al Qaeda would collaborate closely with one another and share deadly technology. Nor was there any good evidence for it, though plenty was manufactured by innuendo.

The pillars of policy were now trembling. Some within the Bush circles, especially Secretary of State Colin Powell, sought a reduced American tolerance for Israel’s expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories, among the main sources of Muslim anger at the United States. Fearful of this outcome, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused George Bush in October 2001 of trying to appease Arab countries by forsaking Israel in the way that Europe had tried to appease Hitler in 1938 by abandoning the Czech Sudetenland. Sharply rebuked, Sharon backed off quickly, and by late fall of 2001 the Bush administration had been convinced, by a combination of domestic political calculations and geopolitical judgments, to remain committed to acquiescing in substantial expropriations of Palestinian land by Israel.

But the other central pillar remained in doubt. Some analysts associated with the administration criticized the Saudi alliance of monarchy and Wahhabi Islam as dangerously unstable and destabilizing. At the very least, some wealthy Saudis had given monetary support to al Qaeda or al Qaeda–linked charities. Wahhabi missionizing in the Muslim world had spread the distinctively Wahhabi ideas that Muslims who are not strict in their observance are actually infidels and that non-Muslims are threats to Islam.

The hawks came to see an Americanized Iraq as a replacement for Saudi Arabia. The plan was risky, not least because the secular Baath government had been among the main ramparts against Sunni and Shiite religious radicalism in the Gulf. The hawks argued that a liberated Iraq would kick-start a wave of democratization in the Middle East, paralleling events in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union weakened and then fell. (They did not explain why the United States, if it wanted democratization, did not start with places like Egypt and Jordan, which were more plausible candidates, being allies, developed civil societies, and recipients of substantial aid). They believed, incorrectly, that Iraq’s petroleum-producing capacity—while not at Saudi levels—was significant enough to offset Saudi dominance of the oil markets. And unlike Saudi Arabia, Paul Wolfowitz thought, Iraq did not have holy cities such as Mecca and Medina that would make the stationing of U.S. troops there objectionable: Iraqis, he said, “don’t bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory.” (He apparently did not then know about the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala). The hawks were aware that a democratic Iraq would have a Shiite majority, but their client, Ahmad Chalabi (head of the expatriate Iraqi National Congress), convinced them that Iraqi Shiites were largely secular in mindset and uninterested in a Khomeinist theocracy. In the short term, they thought, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress would run Iraq in at least a semi-democratic fashion.

This plan proposed an almost complete reconfiguring of the old pillars of American Cold War policy in the region. The two key alliances were now to be with Israel and a Shiite-majority “secular” Iraq. Saudi Arabia would be marginalized and the allegedly pernicious effects of its Wahhabism fought. ...

It is a plan. And like other ambitious plans it makes many assumptions. But perhaps the largest is that the Iraqi Shiites are plausible allies....

In removing the Baath regime and eliminating constraints on Iraqi Islamism, the United States has unleashed a new political force in the Gulf: not the upsurge of civic organization and democratic sentiment fantasized by American neoconservatives, but the aspirations of Iraqi Shiites to build an Islamic republic. That result was an entirely predictable consequence of the past 30 years of political conflict between the Shiites and the Baathist regime, and American policy analysts have expected a different result only by ignoring that history.

To be sure, the dreams of a Shiite Islamic republic in Baghdad may be unrealistic: a plurality of the country is Sunni, and some proportion of the 14 million Shiites is secularist. In the months after the Anglo-American invasion, however, the religious Shiite parties demonstrated the clearest organizational skills and established political momentum. The Islamists are likely to be a powerful enough group in parliament that they may block the sort of close American-Iraqi cooperation that the neoconservatives had hoped for. The spectacle of Wolfowitz’s party heading out of Najaf just before the outbreak of a major demonstration of 10,000 angry Sadrists, inadvertently provoked by the Americans, may prove an apt symbol for the American adventure in Iraq. The August 29 bombing in Najaf deeply shook the confidence of Shiites in the American ability to provide them security, and provoked anger against the United States that will take some time to heal.

In addition, the Saudis cannot be pushed out of the oil picture so easily. It will be years before Iraq can produce much more than three to five million barrels a day. A good deal of that petroleum, and much of the profit from it, will be needed for internal reconstruction and debt servicing. It would take a decade and a half to two decades for Iraqi capacity to achieve parity with that of the Saudis (11 million barrels a day), and even then they will not have the Saudis’ low overhead and smaller native population. The Saudis can choose to produce only seven million of the 76 million barrels of petroleum pumped in the world every day, or they can produce 11 million. That flexibility, along with their clout in the OPEC cartel, lets them exercise a profound influence on the price, and Iraq will not be able to counterbalance it soon. Neoconservative fears about Saudi complicity with al Qaeda are also overdrawn, since the Saudi elite feels as threatened by the Sunni radicals as the United States does. High Saudi officials have even expressed regret about their past support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they now see as dangerous in a way that mainstream Wahhabism is not. (Would that Reaganite supporters of the mujahidin were similarly contrite!) So the U.S. alliance with the House of Saud, however badly shaken by September 11 and Wahhabi radicalism, will provide an essential foundation for world petroleum stability into the indefinite future.

For now, the United States is back to having two footstools in the Middle East: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iraq has proven too rickety, too unknown, too devastated to bear the weight of the strategic shift imagined by the hawks. And far from finally defeating Khomeinism, U.S. policy has given it millions of liberated Iraqi allies. Their new Iraqi Interim Governing Council has declined to recognize Israel, citing Iraq’s membership in the Arab League and lack of genuine progress toward a Palestinian state. Al Qaeda and allied terrorist threats were not countered by the invasion of Iraq.

Whether Iraq’s Sunnis will turn to radicalism and reinforce al Qaeda is as yet unknown. But what does seem clear is that the Iraq war has proved a detour in the War on Terror, drawing away key resources from the real threat of al Qaeda and continued instability in Afghanistan. The old pillars have proven more resilient than the hawks imagined. What really needs to be changed are U.S. support for political authoritarianism and Islamic conservatism, and acquiescence in Israeli land grabs on the West Bank. Those two, together, account for most of the trouble the United States has in the Muslim world. The Iraq war did nothing to change that.

Click here to read the article in full.

Click here to return to top of page.

Newspaper Editorial in Favor of Lamar Alexander's History Bill (posted 10-10-03)

Editorial in the Nashville City Paper (Oct. 9, 2003):

Imagine that a recent immigrant just granted American citizenship knows more about American history and civics than your college-aged son or daughter. According to a new report, that’s the reality.

The Albert Shanker Institute, a non-profit educational foundation, is worried many states have de-emphasized history and civics in favor of math and reading, and the facts are on its side. The most recent National Assessment of Education Progress found only 17 percent of eighth-graders scored at a proficient or above level in United States history courses. Most students did not know what countries the United States fought in World War II, many didn’t know what the Progressive Era was and less than 50 percent understood that the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of laws.

It’s no wonder. More than half the states don’t have a requirement to teach American government.

Of course, every new citizen of the United States has to demonstrate knowledge of how the federal government works, what the principles of the Declaration of Independence are, and other facts about the history and operation of the United States.

When Sen. Lamar Alexander pledged to introduce a bill to improve history and civics education in this country, some thought he had picked out a rather obscure issue. But Alexander’s vision is proving correct.

There are real tangible effects of a lack of civics and history education. Citizens don’t develop a national identity and long-term view of themselves in relation to their country without this information. Could that be why the number of people who vote has gone down over the last decade?

Alexander’s “American History and Civics Education Act” passed the Senate last summer.

The act creates two-week summer academies for teachers and students that will focus on the ideas, people and events that created our democratic heritage. It also creates a new National Alliance of Teachers of American History and Civics to encourage innovative teaching of history and civics.

Now, more than ever, as we redefine ourselves as Americans post Sept. 11, 2001, we need to make sure our identity is strong and that we know who we are as a nation.

Click here to return to top of page.

Walter Russell Mead: Neocons' Niche in American History (posted 10-10-03)

An interview with Walter Russell Mead published by the Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 2003):

Which leaders in US history would be neocons today?

It's possible that Teddy Roosevelt would be a neocon. I think it's almost certain he would have supported the war in Iraq. And he wouldn't have cared about the lack of a UN resolution. I'm not sure who else would be a neocon in foreign policy. In some ways [neocons] are very original.

Is there a particular point in the history of US foreign policy that reminds you of today's foreign policy environment?

In some ways, it reminds me of the period around 1946-47 when we were trying to figure out what the cold war was going to mean. The country realizes we have a challenge on our hands, but we're not quite yet sure how we're going to meet it ultimately.

There's also the period in the early part of the 20th century when it was clear that the British empire was not going to be as strong and the Unisted States was growing. And you had people like Teddy Roosevelt and others beginning to think ... "What if America is going to become an imperial nation? What does that look like?"

What makes neocons unique throughout the history of US foreign policy?

When we think of Wilsonianism now, we tend to think of secular, humanist ideas - building a world government - sort of a Europeanist foreign policy. If you went back a hundred years or so, Wilsonianism was carried out by people like missionaries who thought that the way to make America safe was to make the rest of the world believe the way we do and act the way we do. But they weren't as concerned about the institutional aspect.

The neocons of today have sort of revived this older Wilsonian tradition. They are no longer concerned, say, about the United Nations, which is what we think Wilsonians are mostly thinking about ... or the World Court. In fact, they think that stuff gets in the way to some degree. But they are more concerned about basic American values and spreading those.

So it's a different Wilsonianism from what we've all grown up thinking about. It's non-institutional and it's values-based. To some degree, it's a conservative Christian value base. Even though many conservatives are Jews, the sort of basic values that they are promoting are very much the sort of Protestant, Christian values that were dominant in 19th-century America.

Do you think neoconservatives have had their "moment in the sun" with their successful push for a preemptive war against Iraq? Do you think that the broad support they might enjoy now will wane?

I think they're still in business. The weak spot, obviously, for them, is that ... if we are taking 20 casualties a month in Iraq a year from now, there may not be a lot of people thanking them for this. But, on the other hand, we were in the [Vietnam War] for years before people really turned against it. And even then, I think ... other than elite opinion ... the thing that bothered most ordinary Americans wasn't that we were fighting or that our strategy was too hawkish, but they couldn't see that we had a strategy for victory ... that it looked like it was going to be a deadlock forever.

It may well be that if the American people remain convinced that the war in Iraq is necessary for national security ... and even if the war goes on for a long time ... if they feel that we have a strategy that will win and that is necessary, people may support it for a very long time. It's hard to say. If it goes well, even after a while, the neoconservatives will be strengthened.

Click here to return to top of page.

David M. Kennedy: More Democracy in California Has Led to Chronic Chaos (posted 10-10-03)

David M. Kennedy, writing in the NYT (Oct. 5, 2003):

On Jan. 25, 1787, 1,200 desperate farmers brandishing barrel staves and pitchforks attacked the federal arsenal in Springfield, Mass. They called themselves the Regulators. Led by a debt-plagued veteran of Bunker Hill and Saratoga named Daniel Shays, they sought firearms with which to enforce their threats to close the courts in western Massachusetts and compel the legislature to enact debt-relief measures, including an inflationary paper currency and an end to mortgage foreclosures.

A single cannon volley killed four of the embattled farmers. Then a Revolutionary War hero, Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, arrived with a militia that scattered the remaining rebels and relentlessly hunted them down through the heavy snow. Yet the Regulators' failed outburst had consequences that have shaped the character of American politics for more than two centuries, up to the current recall election in California.

The uprising was handily crushed. But it intimidated the Massachusetts legislature into enacting laws that menaced the interests of the monied class. Many leaders in the founding generation gagged on this apparently craven pandering to the popular will. Outright insurrection was one thing, but the state legislature's cavalier disregard for property rights was a far more insidious threat. "An elective despotism," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "was not the government we fought for."

Shays' Rebellion, in short, had demonstrated that America was not immune from the inherent affliction that theorists of democracy had warned against since the days of the ancient Greeks: that a government based on the will of the majority would inevitably yield to the demands of the "mob" and lead to a tyranny of the majority. Such a polity would be resentful toward excellence and callous toward minority rights. Worst of all, it would wield the power of the state against more prosperous members of society and confiscate their wealth.

To protect the United States from that unhappy fate, leaders like James Madison called for radically revising the Articles of Confederation, under whose rules the fledgling republic was then governed. The result was the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which convened four months after General Lincoln turned back the rebels. At the convention, Madison and others drafted a new fundamental law whose checks and balances and elaborate federal structure would, among other things, frustrate the confiscatory designs of future would-be Regulators. For better or worse, Daniel Shays thus deserves to be recognized as a founder.

Over time, many Americans came to believe that the Constitution's drafters had seen their duty — and overdone it. The framers had created a federal governmental apparatus too well insulated from the popular will, too difficult to mobilize for any common purpose, whether confiscatory or constructive, and too easily hijacked by special interests whose machinations eluded public scrutiny. At the dawn of the 20th century, that kind of thinking animated a host of so-called progressive reformers, conspicuously including a cantankerous California Republican named Hiram Johnson....

The initiative process that he championed has contributed to the near-fatal weakening of the legislature, and has created prodigious opportunities for manipulating and mismanaging the state's political business....

Proposition 13, for example, which passed in 1978, addressed a real problem — wildly rising property taxes — with an inept combination of inequitably defined tax limits and impossibly large supermajority requirements for any revisions in the law....

Proposition 13's untouchability, and Mr. Schwarzenegger's fierce commitment to it, suggest that something has happened in American society that would have mystified Daniel Shays — and Hiram Johnson as well. In their very different ways, they sought greater democracy as the means to a government that was more responsive to the masses.

But in California more democracy has produced not more attacks on the wealthy and big business but chronic chaos and even paralysis — a kind of political catatonia perversely sanctified by neoconservative and libertarian dogmas that assert, as another former governor of California put it, that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Click here to return to top of page.

Jonathan Coopersmith: We Must Finance this War (posted 10-9-03)

Jonathan Coopersmith, a historian at Texas A&M University, writing in the Dallas Morning News (Oct. 7, 2003):

confess I have a dog in this fight. I have two small children, and I am worried about the world we are creating for them. Perhaps my biggest concern is the mismanaged postwar occupation of Iraq.

My usual reaction when someone mentions national prestige is to guard my wallet. But regardless of what we think about the decision to invade Iraq, our country now is waist deep in that briar patch and can't leave until some serious semblance of order and sovereignty are restored.

The military occupation is costing about $1 billion a week – or roughly $50 billion for the year. That's a lot of money – nearly as much as all veterans' benefits ($58 billion), not quite twice the federal budget for public education ($34 billion), more than three times the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's budget ($15 billion) and 10 times the FBI's budget ($5 billion). That's how much the Iraq war is costing – on top of the nearly $400 billion defense budget.

How much money is $50 billion? Let's be cynical and assume the war was about oil. Since gasoline is our nation's main use of oil, let's put the burden of paying for the war on drivers. Americans consume 372 million gallons of gas daily. To pay that $1 billion a week would require a gas tax of 43 cents a gallon. To pay the entire $87 billion the president requested would demand a gas tax of 64 cents a gallon.

Historically, wars have been very expensive and usually force the imposition of new taxes to pay for them, such as the income tax, first used in the Civil War. Not paying for wars can have devastating financial consequences. Lyndon Johnson's "guns-and-butter" approach to Vietnam burdened the country with years of disastrous inflation.

So what is President Bush proposing?

Nothing.

Instead, he will increase the government's deficit to more than $500 billion this fiscal year, a record. And all of it will be repaid later. (Currently, we pay $171 billion in interest on the debt, a sum that will rise to more than $250 billion in five years.) I don't like the concept of paying additional taxes any more than the next person, but I dislike the idea of shoving the burden on to my children even more.

If Mr. Bush won't be fiscally responsible, Congress should.

As a first step, Congress should suspend or repeal the tax cut for taxpayers earning more than $200,000. That will raise many billions and at least provide a sense of sacrifice by those most able to afford it.

Second, Congress should raise the gas tax – not 38 cents but at least 5 cents or 10 cents a gallon, with future automatic increases. Call it the "defeat Osama bin Laden victory fund," dedicated to reducing American dependence on imported oil by encouraging more efficient driving.

Third, Congress should insist on strict financial accounting and openness in contracts to ensure the money is spent honestly and well. Contracts granted without bidding to Halliburton don't inspire confidence in the American overseers in Iraq. Nor does Joe Allbaugh's recent establishment of a consulting firm to help companies get an inside edge in obtaining Iraqi contracts; Mr. Allbaugh managed Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign and recently headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency

Reconstructing Iraq will be a long and expensive process. Restructuring Germany and Japan took a decade, and that was without a hostile and armed populace. Mr. Bush's request for $87 billion won't be his last request.

The only sacrifices Mr. Bush has asked for are from our children and the more than 300 American servicemen and servicewomen who have died in Iraq. And that isn't right.

Click here to return to top of page.

Michael Radu: Most Suicide Bombers Are Islamists (posted 10-9-03)

Michael Radu, Senior Fellow and Co-Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia (Oct. 9, 2003):

To most Westerners, especially Americans, the almost regular and predictable murder of Israeli civilians of all ages seems both incomprehensible and, precisely because of its regularity and frequency, unsurprising. The phenomenon has, however, stirred some interest in a media previously immune to serious analysis of terrorism in general and within American academia, which was traditionally uninterested in terrorism.

Since the early 1980s, when the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah (with Iranian Khomeinist funds and training) and the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam–LTTE (Marxists/Hindus/Tamil secessionists) initiated the routine use of suicide terrorists as an instrument of war, suicide bombers have been active in Sri Lanka, Turkey, Kashmir, India, Lebanon, Israel, Russia, the U.S., and Indonesia. Failed suicide bombing attempts ( including the use of aircraft ) are known from France, Spain and Turkey, and successful attempts have been made elsewhere by citizens or residents of Germany and the UK. A New York Times op-ed by Robert A. Pape, “Dying to kill us” (Sept. 22, 2003), therefore concludes that suicide terrorism transcends religious, ethnic, and political boundaries.

But with the exception of the LTTE’s acts, all other terrorist acts were committed by Muslims, and of those, all except those by the PKK/Kadek in Turkey and Arafat’s Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades were committed by members of openly Islamist groups. The LTTE/PKK cases led some to dismiss the role of religion in the motivation of suicide terrorists, but on further analysis, the exception indeed proves the rule.

The LTTE are Marxists, Hindus, and Tamil separatists; the PKK/KADEK are self proclaimed Marxists and Kurdish separatists; and Arafat’s Fatah is “secular.” But the religious element, properly and unconventionally understood, applies equally to these apparent exceptions. Indeed, the LTTE under Velupillai Prabhakaran (who has been involved in this year’s Norway-arranged peace talks between LTTE and Sri Lanka but remains wanted around the world) and the PKK under Abdullah Ocalan (who has been imprisoned in Turkey since his 1999 arrest) are groups that operate more like religious sects under the absolute control of a charismatic leader.

An excellent case could thus be made that the LTTE and PKK are in a sense “religious” despite their Marxist/separatist claims, inasmuch as they operate like sects (Jim Jones of Guyana fame was also mixing Marxism and religion) and the leaders are God-like figures of absolute political and spiritual authority. Ocalan was known as “Apo” (uncle), a mysteriously grand and omnipresent figure.


By contrast, “orthodox” Marxist-Leninist groups, including Sendero Luminoso and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), do not use suicide bombings, presumably because they claim a “scientific” ideological base, hence one critical of religious fanaticism. Al Aksa’s bombers, some of whom had been rejected by Hamas (!), operate in a political and cultural, not to mention educational environment increasingly dominated by Islamism, and thus are more the result of peer pressure than of secularist convictions. Chechens began to use suicide bombers only once they were infiltrated by Wahhabis.

And then there is suicide bombers’ targeting, again a religiously related variable. The LTTE targeted politicians—they murdered a former Indian prime minister and a Sri Lankan president—but not civilians, unless as “collateral damage”; the PKK suicide bombers also targeted Turkish military or jandarma, not civilians. By contrast, the Islamist terrorists have targeted civilians since the start: Jews if possible, Americans, Australians, Indians, or other Western “crusaders” and assorted “non-believers.”

The suicide bomber terrorist phenomenon is a growing element in international terrorists’ arsenal, but it remains a weapon with religious background. It was, and is everywhere, a weapon of the relatively educated: Tamil Hindu women who were able to mix well at Buddhist electoral meetings in Sri Lanka, Palestinian high school and university students posing as Israelis; and it was Western-educated Islamists who trained to murder thousands in America on 9/11, hundreds in Bali, many in Casablanca and Riyadh.

Ultimately, the suicide bomber is just another tool in the arsenal of the international terrorist groups. For the bomber, religion is the basic motivation or excuse. Their mission is legitimized by a supreme charismatic leader or Islamic cleric; special recruiters bring the suicide candidate together with the group. Eliminating the enablers—the recruiters and ideologists—wherever they are (mostly in London, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) must therefore be the first step in eliminating the problem.

Who, exactly are these suicide bombers, widely described as “martyrs” in Moslem, not just Islamist opinion? They are not certainly “martyrs: in the Christian sense - people who were killed for their faith, but murderers – people who killed themselves in order to murder others. Most choose innocent and defenseless victims simply for the psychological value of their actions – the “theater” aspect of terrorism. Most are relatively privileged, educated young people, and a growing number are women. A few (such as Chechnya’s “black widows”) have deeply personal reasons, primarily revenge for the loss of family members; others are simply lost souls who have lost all moral standards; but most are fanatics, products of well planned recruitment and indoctrination schemes. But what they all share is Roman philosopher Seneca's opinion that he who does not prize his own life threatens that of others. And suicide terrorism works – according to Israeli souces, during the past three years suicide bombers were responsible for 50% of Israeli fatalities, while making only 0.5 % of the total number of terrorist attacks.

Is there a “solution” to the suicide bomber phenomenon? If “solution” means putting a stop to it in absolute terms the answer has to be negative – precisely because Seneca was right. Could the incidence of such actions be limited and drastically reduced? Yes, and it has been done, in Algeria, Turkey and Israel. At the same time, we must provide support and understanding for, rather than persistent criticism of those Muslim regimes, whether in Cairo, Islamabad, Rabat or Algiers, undemocratic as they may be for the human rights fundamentalists of the UN and nongovernmental organizations, not just because perfection is often the enemy of good, but also because, being the first on the line of fire from terrorists, they have the motivation and the record of success against them. It remains a mystery why the World War II alliance between Western democracies and Stalin’s criminal and aggressive regime was and still is seen as acceptable, and the one between Washington, Riyadh, Cairo, and Islamabad should be rejected for human rights reasons. The war is similar in scope, the danger is similar in nature, and the future hard to predict, but the essential point for now is that the enemy is the same.

Click here to return to top of page.

Joshua Brown: Is Bush Standing in Nixon's Shadow? (posted 10-6-03)

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

Click here to return to top of page.

Francis Fukuyama: We Shouldn't Rush Reconstruction in Iraq (posted 10-1-03)

Francis Fukuyama, writing in the Wall Street Journal (October 1, 2003):

There is, of course, a perfectly respectable argument for accelerating the transition from U.S. to Iraqi authority that has been laid out in recent days both by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on this page and by Ahmed Chalabi, member of the Governing Council and head of the Iraqi National Congress. American forces are not good at doing police work; the faster they can be replaced by Iraqi counterparts the less hostility they will generate on the part of the Iraqi people. We do not want to create a situation of dependency in which our nation-building efforts crowd out those of the locals and stifle their initiative. Mr. Rumsfeld is arguing in effect for nation-building "lite," the counterpart to his small-force approach to winning the war itself.

But there are also some very important reasons for not making the turnover too rapid or skimping on resources. Any new Iraqi provisional government will be very weak, both because it lacks depth in administrative skills and because it will have serious problems of legitimacy. The former problem can be fixed as more Iraqis are recruited and trained, and as former officials with skills are vetted for Baathist loyalties, but this takes time. The problem of legitimacy will presumably ultimately be dealt with as a new constitution is drafted and the first democratic elections are held, but this again is a matter of years rather than months. Members of the Governing Council working on the constitution have warned that meeting Colin Powell's six-month deadline for a draft document will hand power to the Islamists, since they are the best organized political force today. It is right to warn against long-term dependency, but dependence is often born out of genuine weaknesses that cannot be easily remedied.

It is very important to understand that nation-building involves a lot more than training indigenous police and military forces to take over their coercive roles from the occupying power. Unless such forces are embedded in a broader structure of political parties, civilian administration, respect for individual rights, and rule of law more generally, they are subject to being hijacked or abused in the internal struggle for power. The U.S. has unfortunately made this mistake in earlier nation-building exercises. The U.S. created a modern national guard in Nicaragua during its late 1920s intervention there, only to see that institution hijacked by the dictator Anastasio Somoza once the Marines left in 1932. Abuses in past decades by U.S.-trained police forces from Central America to Vietnam explain why there are legal restrictions currently in place limiting our ability to provide this kind of training.

As we proceed down the reconstruction road, there will be calls to declare victory and use that as an excuse for drawing down troop levels and capping resource transfers. We have seen these kinds of exit strategies before: At the end of "Vietnamization" we left South Vietnam's president Thieu hanging on for two years before being overwhelmed by North Vietnam in 1975.

The Bush administration has always been schizophrenic on the subject of how much effort to invest in nation-building. Last February, when addressing the American Enterprise Institute, the president said that the U.S. would stay in Iraq "as long as necessary, and not a day more." The first part of the phrase represents the neoconservative position; the latter that of the traditionalist conservatives. Both could agree back before the beginning of the war that Iraq should be attacked and disarmed, but now that this has happened the self-contradictory nature of the statement is increasingly clear.

Click here to return to top of page.

Niall Ferguson: An Empire, If You Can Keep It (posted 9-30-03)

Niall Ferguson, writing in Foreign Affairs (Sept. 2003):

It is fast becoming conventional wisdom that the power of the United States today closely resembles that of the United Kingdom roughly a century ago. In the conclusion of my latest book, I attempted a brief comparison between British and American imperial rule, and I am far from the only historian to think along these lines: both Walter Russell Mead and Joseph Nye have also alluded to the continuities in their recent work.

Indeed, the two empires have many superficial similarities. Take Iraq. As the epigraphs show, President Bush, when he addressed the Iraqi people on television shortly after the United States seized Baghdad earlier this year, unmistakably (although no doubt unconsciously) echoed the rhetoric used by the British commander who occupied the city in 1917. And the similarities are not limited to language. In both cases, Anglophone troops swept from the south of Iraq to Baghdad in a matter of weeks. In both cases, their governments disclaimed any desire to rule Iraq directly and hastened to install a government with at least the appearance of popular legitimacy. In both cases, imposing law and order proved harder than achieving military victory (the British had to use air power to quell a major insurrection in the summer of 1920). And in both cases, the presence of substantial oil reserves -- confirmed by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1927 -- was not a wholly irrelevant factor, despite protestations to the contrary.

Nevertheless, whereas the British were generally quite open about the fact that they were running an empire, few American politicians today would use the "e" word as anything other than a term of abuse. As the military analyst Andrew Bacevich has noted, this goes for both Democrats and Republicans. Speaking in 1999, Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, declared that the United States is the "first global power in history that is not an imperial power." A year later, then candidate George W. Bush echoed his words, arguing, "America has never been an empire. ... We may be the only great power in history that had the chance, and refused." Reverting to this theme aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 1 this year, President Bush insisted, "Other nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home." A few days previously, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had picked up the refrain in an interview with al Jazeera, when he claimed, "We're not imperialistic. We never have been."

Americans, in short, don't "do" empire; they do "leadership" instead, or, in more academic parlance, "hegemony." That is the concept that needs to be employed, therefore, to make any systematic comparison between the British and the American experience of overseas power. Presciently, in 1997 the British economic historian Patrick O'Brien and the Luxembourg scholar Armand Clesse invited a collection of eminent scholars to undertake just such a comparison. The resulting book, belatedly published last year, has not received the attention it deserves. Among the 18 contributions are some of the most rigorous pieces of work yet published on a subject that is as important as it is topical.

Click here to return to top of page.

David Brooks: The Presidency Wars (posted 9-30-03)

David Brooks, writing in the NYT (Sept. 30, 2003):

ave you noticed that we've moved from the age of the culture wars to the age of the presidency wars? Have you noticed that the furious arguments we used to have about cultural and social issues have been displaced by furious arguments about the current occupant of the Oval Office?

During the 1980's, when the culture wars were going full bore, the Moral Majority clashed with the People for the American Way. Allan Bloom published "The Closing of the American Mind" and liberals and conservatives argued over the 1960's.

Those arguments have died down, and now the best-sellers lists are dotted with screeds against the president and his supporters. A cascade of Clinton-bashing books hit the lists in the 1990's, and now in the Bush years we've got "Shrub," "Stupid White Men" and "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them."

The culture warriors were passionate about abortion, feminism or prayer in schools. But with the presidency warrior, political disagreement, cultural resentment and personal antipathy blend to create a vitriol that is at once a descendant of the old conflicts, but also different.

"I hate President George W. Bush," Jonathan Chait writes in a candid piece in The New Republic. "He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school — the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks. . . . I hate the way he talks. . . . I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more."...

To the warrior, politics is no longer a clash of value systems, each of which is in some way valid. It's not a competition between basically well-intentioned people who see the world differently. It's not even a conflict of interests. Instead, it's the Florida post-election fight over and over, a brutal struggle for office in which each side believes the other is behaving despicably. The culture wars produced some intellectually serious books because there were principles involved. The presidency wars produce mostly terrible ones because the hatreds have left the animating ideas far behind and now romp about on their own.

The warriors have one other feature: ignorance. They have as much firsthand knowledge of their enemies as members of the K.K.K. had of the N.A.A.C.P. In fact, most people in the last two administrations were well-intentioned patriots doing the best they could. The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves.

Click here to return to top of page.

David Brooks: Colleges Slant Left (posted 9-30-03)

David Brooks, writing in the NYT (Sept. 27, 2003):

Most good universities have at least one conservative professor on campus. When, for example, some group at Harvard wants to hold a panel discussion on some political matter, it can bring out the political theorist Harvey Mansfield to hold up the rightward end. At Princeton it's Robert George. At Yale it's Donald Kagan.

These dissenters lead interesting lives. But there's one circumstance that causes true anguish: when a bright conservative student comes to them and says he or she is thinking about pursuing an academic career in the humanities or social sciences.

"This is one of the most difficult things," says Alan Kors, a rare conservative at Penn. "One is desperate to see people of independent mind willing to enter the academic world. On the other hand, it is simply the case they will be entering hostile and discriminatory territory."...

The most common advice conservative students get is to keep their views in the closet. Will Inboden was working on a master's degree in U.S. history at Yale when a liberal professor pulled him aside after class and said: "You're one of the best students I've got, and you could have an outstanding career. But I have to caution you: hiring committees are loath to hire political conservatives. You've got to be really quiet."

Conservative professors emphasize that most discrimination is not conscious. A person who voted for President Bush may be viewed as an oddity, but the main problem in finding a job is that the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate — say, diplomatic or military history — do not excite hiring committees. Professors are interested in the subjects they are already pursuing, and in a horrible job market it is easy to toss out applications from people who are doing something different.

As a result, faculties skew overwhelmingly to the left. Students often have no contact with adult conservatives, and many develop cartoonish impressions of how 40 percent of the country thinks. Hundreds of conservatives with Ph.D.'s end up working in Republican administrations, in think tanks and at magazines, often with some regrets. "Teaching is this really splendid thing. It would be great to teach Plato's `Republic,' " says Gary Rosen, a Harvard Ph.D. who works at Commentary magazine.

Response by Joyce Appleby, as published in the NYT (Sept. 30, 2003):

David Brooks ("Lonely Campus Voices," column, Sept. 27) should have consulted more widely before spreading the word that conservative students would encounter discrimination in graduate school.

I have had several conservative students, and they all received financial and moral support throughout their graduate careers — and landed good jobs to boot.

Because they knew that their views ran counter to the norm, these students did an excellent job defending their positions, and were eager to do so.

What a self-fulfilling prophecy to publicize a prejudice that doesn't exist and limit further the number of conservatives in the academy.

Click here to return to top of page.

Bush's Manichean Approach (posted 9-30-03)

Ehsan Ahrari, writing in Asia Times (Sept. 25, 2003):

Watching President George W Bush at the United Nations on September 20, I was reminded of the foreign policy behavior of two major personalities of the United States: John Foster Dulles and Lyndon B Johnson. Dulles, who served as secretary of state during the Eisenhower administration, viewed the Cold War as essentially a struggle between "good" and "evil".

In his worldview, the USSR epitomized the devil, while the United States symbolized everything virtuous and good. By so portraying the international struggle of the Cold War, he was scornful of the fence sitters (ie, the non-aligned nations) as essentially immoral for not joining the "good guys" in that epochal struggle. Even though president Johnson inherited the Vietnam War from John F Kennedy, the former's obsession of winning it, never mind the cost, became an albatross around his neck. He could not defeat the North Vietnamese because of domestic political reasons. The worsening Vietnamese imbroglio then drove him to the painful decision of not seeking re-election.

Regarding Iraq, Bush is manifesting the Dulles-Johnson complex in the following way. First, he continues to view his "war on terrorism" as a struggle between the good and the evil. The terrorists were described in the days and weeks following the September 11, 2001, attacks as the "evil-doers". Invoking the Manichean (extreme dualism) view of Dulles, Bush declared on September 21, 2001, "Every nation and every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Then, on January 29, 2002, he made his much publicized speech when he lumped Iraq, North Korea and Iran in the phrase "axis of evil".

Addressing the international community on September 23 this year, Bush posited the "clearest of the divides" along the following axiomatic lines, "... between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children without mercy or shame." Then he concluded, "Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground."

Second, since Bush's arguments are so heavily value-laden, he manifested no remorse or second thought about invading Iraq by blatantly ignoring the will of the international community. His September 2002 speech at the UN will be remembered for its admonishment of the world body that if it were not to support the then impending US invasion of Iraq, it risked becoming irrelevant. Ironically, the American president has returned to the same world body this September seeking for help.

Click here to return to top of page.

Gerald Posner: Conspiracy Theories and 9-11 (posted 9-29-03)

Gerald Posner (Sept. 29, 2003):

Andreas von Bulow's book has climbed the German bestseller list, his lectures are jammed and, after two years of mounting frustration, his ideas are gaining traction.

His thesis: The U.S. government staged the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a tentative theory, he admits, based mostly on his doubt that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group launched the attacks. "That's something that is simply 99% false," he said at a reading of his book on the second anniversary of the attacks.--Wall Street Journal (Sept. 29, 2003)

This is from the front page of today's Wall Street Journal and highlights a disturbing trend - the growth of outlandish conspiracy theories around 9.11. Most of them charge that the Bush administration was behind the attacks, and in this article, you will see that the proponents of these theories are not merely crackpots, but in this case a former German cabinet minister whose bestseller is published by one of Germany's most prestigious houses. There are also a potpourri of theories in the Arab world, most revolving around the idea that thousands of Jews received calls from the Mossad before the attack, warning them not to go the WTC on 9.11

Since I have been doing my book tour, I have fielded literally dozens of calls from Americans who adamantly believe that not only that the Bush administration pulled off the attacks so they could then go to war for oil, but there are bundles of "facts" that are repeatedly cited, and are getting wide dissemination on the internet - among these are that no plane wreckage was found at the Pentagon site, no body parts were found at the Pentagon, that explosive charges were found in the rubble of the WTC, and that a confiscated video from a French tourist shows the flashes of the explosives that were set throughout the building to bring it down. Even someone as prominent as Dr. Nicholas Perricone, the bestselling author of the Wrinkle Cure and the Acne Prescription, personally told me that he believes the planes were remote controlled to crash into the Towers and the hijackers had been used as patsies.

It is only two years after 9.11, and as today's article shows, these theories are getting hold as fast as the "who killed JFK" theories did after 1963. Maybe with the internet, they are spreading even quicker. Certainly the bad information accepted as "fact" is widespread.

I trust that with 3,000 victims from 9.11 being essentially mocked by these theories, you are as outraged by them as we are. Bin Laden must find it hysterical that he pulled off the attack and then some in the West, including America, blame Bush, the CIA, and the Mossad.

Click here to return to top of page.

Avi Shlaim: Arafat's Not the Obstacle to Peace, Sharon Is (posted 9-27-03)

Avi Shlaim, professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, writing in the International Herald Tribune (Sept. 24, 2003):

The Israeli cabinet's decision to exile Yasser Arafat, and the threats to assassinate him, have provoked a storm of international protest. A Security Council resolution demanding that Israel desist from deporting Arafat or threatening his safety was only defeated by a United States veto.

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio that killing Arafat "is definitely one of the options" under consideration by the government. So the debate in the government is not whether Arafat should be deported or not, but whether he should be deported or killed. There is thus a real risk that the American veto at the Security Council may be interpreted by the Israeli ministers as a tacit approval of their plan to move against the embattled Palestinian leader.

To the historian of the Arab-Israeli conflict, outrageous behavior by Israel's leaders, and American complicity in such behavior, are nothing new. British resentment toward the United States still smolders in the files of the Public Record Office. In a memorandum to Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin dated June 2, 1948, Sir John Troutbeck held the Americans responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders."...

Arafat is not a paragon of virtue. He has made serious mistakes and, like Sharon, he has the blood of countless innocent civilians on his hands. Yet Arafat has a fairly consistent record of political moderation going back to 1988, when he persuaded the Palestinian National Council to recognize Israel's legitimacy, to accept all relevant United Nations resolutions and to opt for a two-state solution.

In 1993, a decade ago, Arafat signed the Oslo accords and clinched the agreement with the historic handshake with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the lawn of the White House. The former guerrilla leader proved himself to be a reliable and effective partner to Israel on the road to peace. Security cooperation between the two sides paved the way to progress on the political front.

The unraveling of the Oslo accords began with the assassination of Rabin and the rise to power in May 1996 of a Likud Party government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Likud regarded the Oslo accords as incompatible with Israel's security and with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole of the land of Israel. Netanyahu spent his three years in power in a largely successful attempt to derail the Oslo process and to demonize its principal Palestinian architect....

The real obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is Ariel Sharon, not Yasser Arafat. Killing Arafat would not bring peace but ring the death knell of Palestinian moderation. It would also be a serious blot on the reputation of a country that prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East.

In 1948 Yitzhak Shamir, who later became leader of Likud and prime minister, conspired with his colleagues in the Stern Gang to assassinate Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN mediator, in Jerusalem. Likud thus has the dubious distinction of counting among its leaders a man who assassinated a UN peace envoy. It can now build on this reputation by assassinating the only democratically elected leader in the Arab world.

Click here to return to top of page.

Juan Cole: Bush's Hit List (posted 9-25-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Sept. 25, 2003):

A Malaysian newspaper claims to have gotten an advance peek at statements in the new book by Wesley Clark, excerpted in Newsweek. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the report, but here it is: "It quoted former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commander General Wesley Clark as saying that US President George W. Bush wanted to attack Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan." It says he found out about the plan in November 2001, and deeply disapproved of it, since it did not actually address the sources of terrorism against the US.

Iran is a Shiite country that hated the Taliban and al-Qaeda and strongly backed the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan; it almost went to war against the Taliban. Syria is a secular Baath Arab nationalist regime that killed 10,000 Sunni Muslim radicals in 1982 and has attempted to suppress the movement. It has also helped the US interrogate al-Qaeda operatives. Somalia is just a failed state. Sudan isn't much better. The main Islamic militants in Lebanon are the Hizbullah, most of whose energies now go into Lebanese politics, though they also played a key role in expelling the Israelis from Lebanese soil. (Why exactly should the US mind this? Doesn't it support Lebanon's national integrity)? Iraq was likewise a secular Arab nationalist state that attacked religious fundamentalists. Moammar Qadhafi of Libya is a desert messiah with heterodox views and is not related to al-Qaeda; he has been involved in terrorism in the past, but it is not clear he is now. There is not any al-Qaeda-related state on this list.


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Tina Braxton - 6/29/2003

Stephen;

You're right about the dystopic Workers' Paradise. But the crash came later, and there is plenty of reason to believe that post-Stalin Soviet leaders really thought they could build a paradise, and that government would then wither away. The economic reforms under Khruschev, continuous tinkering under Brezhnev, and drastic changes under Gorbachev all attest to that optimism. The people also embraced that hope, but they saw its futility sooner than their leaders did.

The Soviet Union was a re-do of the last of Europe's great empires. The rest of them bit the dust at the close of the Great War. Empire is simply too expensive to defend and too much trouble to keep together. Stalin managed to do both--at a human cost that defies the very notion of civilization.

Empires are not voluntary associations. Ultimately, they must either become ruinously oppressive (as most are, from the outset) or be dissolved.


Kent Haag - 4/12/2003

Still on the Kennedy payroll and still spouting the same nonsense.


Brian Gordon - 3/31/2003

Ruth Rosen claims that no one justified the Vietnam War in terms of tin or tungsten; actually, President Eisenhower invoked those very resources (rightly or wrongly) in an early explanation of the strategic significance of Southeast Asia to the U.S. Later, as the Vietnam War became a nearly all-American war, many of the war's opponents charged, just as is the case today for Iraq, that the "real (hidden, secret, "your-government-doesn't-want-you-to-know-this") reason for Vietnam was---oil. Never mind that the major oil companies had done preliminary exploration in the 1940s and determined that any oil near Vietnam was offshore and deep in the ocean---uneconomical to develop then (or since). A generation after Vietnam is over, there is still no meaningful oil industry in Vietnam, but the same conspiracy theories abound. At least there IS oil in Iraq, though their oil probably has more to do with the French position on Iraq than our own.


Rob Shearer - 3/30/2003

"1. Japan had several decades of experience with stable parliamentary government, however limited the franchise and the powers of parliament, before WWII. Iraq has none."

In name only - Japan from 1920 on collapsed into chaos dominated by the military branches. When the Navy and Army secretaries were crossed, they tended to assasinate the civilian members of the government (at one point they came close to killing a visiting Charlie Chaplin in the crossfire). I would refer you to a brilliant chapter in Johnson's Modern Times titled "A celestial chaos, an infernal theocracy" where he treats China and Japan between the wars.

What MacArthur did in Japan after WW2 is pretty close to ex nihilo.

-Rob Shearer
publisher, Greenleaf Press
(my dad went from Patton's 3rd army in Europe on VE day to serve on MacArthur's staff in Tokyo in the late 1940s)


Stephen - 3/28/2003

Hello Tina:

I've gotten so accustomed to insane tirades on this site that I seldom check responses, because I don't expect sanity.

Your response is to the point. I did leave out one alternative -- that of the mixed economy of Western Europe.

Your description of the causes of the fall of the Soviet empire is partly true, but you've omitted the most important causes. The Soviet empire was built on an absolute contempt for human life and dignity, and it also failed to deliver the goods. The Soviets created a Worker's Paradise of starvation and privation. And that's what really brought it down.


mark safranski - 3/28/2003

Kagan has in fact written a journal article on this very topic - I'm blanking out on the title unfortunately - I believe early 1990's.


Jacob Whittaker - 3/22/2003

Two comments about the application of Macarthur's rebuilding of Japan to the Iraq situation:

1. Japan had several decades of experience with stable parliamentary government, however limited the franchise and the powers of parliament, before WWII. Iraq has none.

2. Lots of people who were involved with the militarist enterprise at a high level were allowed back into high ranking posts not long after the occupation ended, and ultra-conservative forces have continued to prevent national leaders from acknowledging Japan's war guilt to this day. What makes us think we can silence that part of the Iraqi populace hostile to our values while still creating democratic institutions. What guarantees that a democratic Iraq will be friendly to our interests? (Unless, of course we plan to keep troops there infinitely, as we have with Japan.)

George Bush's crusade is not only unjustified and dangerous to world stability, it is incredibly naive!


Tristan Traviolia - 2/24/2003

"At Dawn We Slept" was written by Gordon W. Prange. Whoever is attributing the authorship of this fine volumen to Donald Goldstein needs to reserach their biographical information better.


Tina Braxton - 2/23/2003

Yes, war and terrorism are immoral. That is probably their most important characteristic. Thank you for asking that question--somebody needed to. Everyone else seems to be trying to evade that issue, but you have not let them get away with it.


Tina Braxton - 2/23/2003

The demise of the Soviet Union did not necessarily discredit socialism as a viable system, though some capitalists like to say it did. In fact, the problems that brought down the Soviet Union were largely problems of empire--corruption, ineffective administration of diverse regions, the high cost of defense, and the isolation of leadership from the common person's experience. All of these were exacerbated by *excessively* centralized planning, which extends the effects of errors (these are inevitible in any system) and makes them more difficult to correct.

A capitalistic hegemon has the same flaws, though a decentralized economy helps to contain breakdowns. However, the internal consolidation that precipitates empire will erode this protection, while simultaneously destroying social capital. We are in this phase now.

Empires, even ideologically based ones, can only exist by usurping the wealth of subordinate states, and this only temporarily. An American empire would be no different. The process of constructing an empire would put this process in motion.

From your argument, it appears you choose American empire reluctantly--the least objectionable of the three choices you name. You qualify your choice further, by referring to "the American democratic ideal," which is surely not the same as empire. I would agree with your choice, if the three options you name were the only possibilities, but they are not.

The option for a mixed economy on the western European model should not be ruled out. The present difficulties of democratic socialism in Europe have mainly to do with demographics. Most of the countries of Europe (and the continent as a whole) have had negative population growth for a long time, so there are not enough workers to support a growing number of long-living retirees (the Soviet block also had this problem). For us, immigration has always minimized this tendency. The dislocations in our economy, unlike those in European countries, have far more to do with maldistribution than with population patterns. So, a mixed economy would actually work even better here, than it does over there.

Getting back to your subject, I think most Americans are decent people, who would be horrified at what it would take to construct and maintain an empire. But it is not our only choice.




glory fe - 2/20/2003

PLEASE ANSWER MY QUESTIONS?

IS WAR AND TERRORISM IMMORAL?

WHY THERE'S HAPPEN WAR AND TERRORISM?


Stephen Thomas - 1/29/2003

With the demise of the Soviet Union, how could it work out otherwise than that the U.S. would become a worldwide empire. The vacuum created by the disintegration of socialism as a viable form of government made this inevitable. How could it be otherwise?

Only three theories of government remain: (1) the theocratic state; (2) the gangster state; and (3) the American democratic ideal. There isn't anything else, and the world must re-align itself to address this reality.

The U.S. will be sucked into the vacuum of empire, if it does not deliberately decide how to construct its empire.

The question is not whether the U.S. should or should not construct its empire. The U.S. has not choice. It's the only player in the game with answers.

Nothing else can happen. It's inevitable. The only question is how the empire should be managed


Terry Milligan - 12/5/2002

Herodotus wrote about the Persian Wars. Pelopenesian War is Thucydides. Just to keep the labels correct.


Terry Milligan - 12/5/2002

Herodotus wrote about eh Persina Wars. Pelopenesian War is Thucydides.


Bruce Loudin - 10/31/2002

i must ask the "experts"; "How do illiterates read pig
scratchings?" With all of your education and degrees; y`all
can not even walk and talk at the same time. Do you do
windows now, to?


Bruce Loudin - 10/31/2002

i must ask the "experts"; "How do illiterates read pig
scratchings?" With all of your education and degrees; y`all
can not even walk and talk at the same time. Do you do
windows now, to?


Herodotus - 10/26/2002

Or someone who has studied the past so intently can identify the point at which Athens went wrong and try to divert the United States from that inflection point.

Did it occur to you that this might be Athens before the Peloponnesian War? The Allies seemed to be reasonably happy then with the efforts of Athens to keep the spectre of Asianism at bay.

Anyone who suggests that Kagan might be 'pro-Spartan,' whatever that might mean, has failed to read his works.


Kevin m. Fitzpatrick - 10/11/2002

The result of Athenian adventurism in the Pelopenesian War was the destruction of the democracy and a dictatorship imposed by the victorious Spartans. One would think that somebody who wrote a history of this war would see this. Maybe he is pro-Spartan.


Steve Vinson - 10/4/2002

I think it's amazing that a classical historian -- from Yale University, no less -- would be advocating an American empire. Hasn't he read Thucydides? The fact that Athens was a democracy didn't prevent it from over-reaching, from trying to establish an empire, from treating its allies with contempt and its enemies with cruelty, and ultimately facing a combination of enemies that it couldn't defeat.

Subscribe to our mailing list