Cassandra Award Goes to ...

Cassandra n. Greek Mythology. A daughter of Priam, the king of Troy, endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated by Apollo never to be believed. American Heritage Dictionary


Marilyn Young: Iraq Is Vietnam on Crack Cocaine (posted 8-24-05)

Marilyn Young, in the course of a roundtable at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) in March 2003:

If Vietnam was Korea in slow motion, then Operation Iraqi Freedom is Vietnam on crack cocaine. In less then two weeks a 30 year old vocabulary is back: credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics, winning, or more often, losing hearts and minds."Marines Losing the Battle for Hearts and Minds," read a Guardian headline on March 25, 2003. No one has yet counted the dead. Asked if there were enemy forces were in the village of Kifl, Capt. Darren A. Rapaport replied:"It sort of depends on how you define enemy." In Nassiriya, where cluster bombs were dropped, a surgical assistant in the town's only hospital, told the British reporter he understood the effort to reach Baghdad and drive Saddam Hussein from power. But he was"outraged" at the attack on his city."There's no room in the Saddam hospital because of the wounded. ... When I saw the dead Americans I cheered in my heart"

Daniel Pipes: Syria Out of Lebanon (posted 2-23-05)

From Daniel Pipes's blog (2-23-05):

At a panel,"Syria-Lebanon-Israel Triangle: The End of The Status Quo?" hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on May 19, 2000 – just 4 days before the unexpected Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and 22 days before the death of Syrian dictator Hafiz al-Asad – I had the following exchange with the institute's director, Robert Satloff:

SATLOFF: When do Syrian troops leave Lebanon?
PIPES: I would say in five years. I'm an optimist.
SATLOFF: Mark that down, 2005. (Laughter.)
PIPES: I don't think the president of Syria is going to live much longer. I think there will be a rapid diminution of Syrian power, Syrian will to control the country, Syrian ability to control the country. I think the Lebanese will take heart and will make efforts to push out the Syrians--I don't think it's for very long. It's for as long as Asad lives plus, you know, four or five years.

Daniel Pipes: It's a War (posted 7-24-04)

Daniel Pipes, in an article co-authored with Steve Emerson in May 2001, as quoted by MSNBC in July 2004:

In conceptualizing the al Qaeda problem only in terms of law enforcement, the U.S. government misses the larger point. Yes, the operatives engage in crimes, but they’re better thought of as soldiers, not criminals. To fight Qaeda and other terrorist groups requires an understanding that they have silently declared war on the U.S. In turn, we must fight them as we would in a war.

James Matray:"This Will Be Just the Beginning of the Story" (posted 6-20-04)

James Matray, in H-Diplo on March 19, 2003:

George W. Bush made it clear in his 17 March ultimatum speech that his war against Iraq seeks regime change as its exclusive goal. . . . Absolutely nothing that the UN inspectors accomplished would have satisfied the Bush administration, which, to repeat, has had as its sole aim to oust Saddam Hussein, regardless of the consequences. . . . Just yesterday I recalled what Madame Nhu said in November 1963 after the assassination of her husband and brother-in-law in South Vietnam:"This will be just the beginning of the story." Americans should know that dictating what sorts of governments people should have is a dangerous business that can have unexpected and disastrous results.

David Greenberg: Why Occupying Iraq Won't Be Like Japan (posted 4-20-04)

David Greenberg, in HNN on November 4, 2002:

Over the last few weeks, Iraq war talk has suddenly leapfrogged over the prospective combat itself to how to remake the country after we win. The New York Times reports that the White House is considering a military occupation, and a recent Atlantic features a James Fallows thinkpiece on how nation-building might play out. Both accounts cite one particular historical case as a model: post-World War II Japan, in which Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as Supreme Commander for Allied Powers, seized control of Japanese institutions to turn the militarized nation into a peaceful, liberal, and capitalist democracy.

The focus on Japan stems partly from the difficulties of stabilizing post-Taliban Afghanistan. A heavy American hand in Iraq, it's hoped, might prevent the sort of in-fighting and power-jockeying that has beset President Hamid Karzai and his countrymen. Yet if officials are looking to post-World War II Japan for pointers on running the Saddam-less pit of postwar Iraq, they should study not just the similarities between the two situations but also the signal differences.

The first precondition of success in Japan was America's total victory. Even before the intense air campaign of 1945, when American planes firebombed Tokyo and dozens of other cities, Japan's morale was depleted. The unspeakable toll of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only heightened the people's craving for an end to the bloodshed. By 1945, about 3 million Japanese had died, and many had grown angry at the military men who had led them into war. The Japanese were ready to refute and punish their own leaders and to "embrace defeat," in the pithy phrase of MIT historian John Dower—whose definitive book on the occupation should be read by every Bush official taken with the Japanese example.

This acceptance of defeat meant that the Japanese, having surrendered unconditionally, didn't balk at American demands for demilitarization. MacArthur curtailed the powerful secret police and propaganda bureaus, dismantled Japan's weapons industries, and made sure that the new constitution renounced war. An international war-crimes tribunal executed seven of the worst militarists, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, and imprisoned another 16 for life—all with little resistance.

No outsider knows how Iraqis will view an occupation. They may welcome demilitarization like the Japanese or rejoice like the Afghans after the Taliban's overthrow (although the Taliban, who had seized power much more recently than Saddam's Baath Party, hadn't eradicated pre-existing institutions and habits as thoroughly as Saddam has). On the other hand, the Iraqis might take up arms against their American occupiers, as did the Filipinos after the Spanish-American War.

John Dower has written that if Japan's Emperor Hirohito had surrendered in early 1945, as some advisers wanted, he might have spared his country not only a million deaths but also the sweeping nature of the postwar reconstruction. This conclusion points up a perversity of today's situation: The greater the devastation, the more "fabulous" the prospects (to use Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's word) for remaking Iraq. But while most of the West would welcome democracy in Baghdad, few would argue that we should go to war for the purpose of imposing it—and even fewer would favor wreaking the most ruinous damage possible in order to pave the way (literally) for a smoother post-Saddam reconstruction.

Charles Tripp: Predicting What Has Happened in Iraq (posted 4-15-04)

Bruce Garvey, in the Ottawa Citizen, commenting on the foresight of historian Charles Tripp, author of a history of Iraq (April 10, 2004):

There was Cyrus the Great and Alexander the Great; the Persians, Greeks and Macedonians, the Assyrians, Arabs, Turks and the British. Now there is George W. Bush and the Americans. And history says that, like all the rest, he will lose the battle for Iraq.

Eminently conquerable, but always ungovernable, Iraq teeters today on the brink of a generalized revolt typical of the uprisings that have confounded its occupiers over the ages.

Desperate for an exit strategy as casualties mount and the deadline to hand over sovereignty on June 30 looms, Mr. Bush faces the same dilemma that confronted so many conquerors past -- how to get out without leaving behind a civil war among the hopelessly incompatible mix of religious factions and ethnic groups the British carved into an almost impossible nation from the Mesopotamian remnants of the Turks' Ottoman empire.

With hindsight, it all seems so predictable.

Today, British historian Charles Tripp, author of A History of Iraq, sounds amazingly prophetic in an interview with the Citizen two years ago, and a full year before the U.S. invaded.

"The Americans have to think about what might happen if they dispose of Saddam Hussein," he said. "There is this notion that however diabolical Saddam might be, if you remove the strong power from the centre, then terrible things start to happen in Iraqi society -- conflict on a large scale between people with terrible histories against each other. There is a real fear that civil war will engulf the region.

"There is a strong possibility that the Americans will do the same as the British and hand over power to whoever can maintain order and put on a friendly face to the Americans. There will be a lot of people lining up for that who won't necessarily have very strong democratic credentials."

That's almost precisely the situation Mr. Bush faces as the revolt of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr grows, along with the daily American body count amid the fiercest fighting since the invasion, with the clock ticking down to November's U.S. presidential election.

Yet it's a rushed American withdrawal that experts say the Americans must avoid at all costs. So far, Mr. Bush's stay-the-course resolve remains undiminished, but as domestic political pressure mounts and the election nears, so will demands for withdrawal.

Jonathan Dresner: Of Course the Economy Is Stagnating (posted 10-2-03)

A week before 9-11 historian Jonathan Dresner predicted in the pages of HNN that our economy would not be recovering anytime soon, contrary to the prognostications of most pundits. Two years later the economy is still struggling, and not because of 9-11. In his article Dresner explained that the problem is that the United States is caught in a new economic revolution. Click here to read his full article, which is excerpted below.

The manufacturing sector has suffered twelve full months of stagnation or decline in production. Of course it has! We are in the midst of an economic shift of historic proportions, driven by changes in technology and booms in the information, entertainment and service sectors. This is generally considered great, the "New Economy"! But every major production revolution has produced an economic downturn in lower value-added sectors. This time the shift from service to information is putting pressure on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors; even the service sector, once the hallmark of a truly advanced economy, is seeing its share of the pie shrink. Let's look at some of the great economic dislocations created by changes in productive technology, and how this really works. ...

What goes around comes around: The rise of true information industries is creating both agricultural and manufacturing crises. The increase in the share of the economy occupied by service and information activities has raised the bar for manufacturers, who have responded by increasing productivity (and escaping inflationary wage increases). Increases in productivity, though, almost inevitably produce unemployment in the short term, and increases like those created by electronics and computerization are likely to produce medium to long term unemployment. Unless there is a massive increase in demand, there is no reason for employment to increase. The sectors experiencing growth are going to stagnate until the rest of the economy stabilizes and enough labor has moved into new high-wage areas to create new demand.

The boom in Internet and technology stocks was an expression of historical faith: the only real growth in the US economy is going to be in high-value-added information services. The "bust" is a transient phenomenon, a speculative bubble much like the 1929 crash. The problem with technological change is that it always comes with economic and social changes. If we are aware of that, we can try to manage the transition, emphasizing education, high-wage jobs, and steadily raising the international standard of living along with our own.

Dean Baker: Predicting the Stock Market Bubble (posted 9-22-03)

Economist Dean Baker notes in his Sept. 22, 2003 newsletter that it is inaccurate to say, as reporter David Firestone did in a rcent article in the NYT, that the current budget mess was"hard to imagine" a few years ago when budget surpluses were soaring.

Actually, that surpluses would turn to deficits was entirely predictable. Dean Baker predicted it.

On January 31, 2001--when the surplus was piling up at an astounding rate-- Baker foresaw that government revenues were unsustainable at present levels given that they were based on capital gains inflated by a bubble in the stock market. Baker's analysis rested on numbers provided in a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO):

The CBO projections continue to show a rather negative picture for corporate profits. The new projections show that corporate profits will be approximately 10 percent higher in 2011 than they were in 2000, after adjusting for inflation (using the CPI). This modest pace of profit growth could have dismal implications for the stock market, if it proves correct. If stock prices grow at the same pace as corporate earnings, a long-term pattern generally accepted by economists, then the CBO numbers imply that real stock prices will increase by an average of just 1.0 percent a year over the next decade. Since the average dividend yield is currently 2.0 percent, this implies a total real return on stock of just 3.0 percent. By contrast, CBO projects that ten-year government bonds will have an average real return of 3.3 percent.

It is worth noting that CBO does not use a separate projection for the stock market to derive its capital gains tax projections. Rather, it assumes that capital gains tax revenue will maintain a relatively fixed relationship to GDP. This method will overestimate capital gains tax revenue in periods where the stock market is performing poorly. CBO has projected a cumulative total of $1.1 trillion in capital gains revenue over the next decade.

Two months earlier Baker had flat-out predicted that the stock market boom was about to turn into a bust:

Most economists who have examined the run-up in stock prices over the last four years have concluded that it is experiencing a bubble which cannot be sustained. The ratio of stock prices to corporate earnings peaked earlier this year at more than thirty to one. This ratio is more than twice the historic average, which has been approximately 14.5 to 1 over the last fifty years. The record high price-to-earnings ratio appears even less justifiable given that most mid-term projections show very weak profit growth....

If this CBO projection is anywhere close to being accurate, then it implies that the stock market is hugely over-valued. Using a variety of assumptions on future profit growth and long-term equity premiums for stocks relative to government bonds, this paper shows the extent of the over-valuation to be in the range of $8-13 trillion. An over-valuation in the stock market of this magnitude is going to have very serious consequences for the rest of the economy.

McGuire Gibson: I Worry Most About the Possibility of Looting (Posted 4-28-03)

Brian Handwerk, writing in National Georgraphic on March 21, 2003, two days after President Bush declared the beginning of the war with Iraq:

"We're not so worried about errant bombing," explained McGuire Gibson, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute."It could happen, but it's that period of uncertainty that would come with the war that would be a problem."

Gibson and many other prominent archaeologists are most concerned about looting. It's been an ongoing problem in Iraq since the first Gulf War, when Iraq's formerly robust Department of Antiquities began to decline. In the event of combat and/or unrest, looting could become much worse.

"The regime has made use of Iraq's ancient past and great traditions," Gibson explained, "so they are very conscious of such things." "Saddam Hussein has identified himself with the glories of ancient Iraq, trying to get the Iraqis to think of themselves a single people. Before the Gulf War they were the best department of antiquities in the Middle East. They used to have multimillion dollar budgets."

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the sanctions placed on Iraq limited government funds and sent the currency into a downward spiral. As money became scarce, what was once a very favorable climate for science began to deteriorate.

But the war put a serious damper on international and domestic research in Iraq, and the department's budgets were slashed. That was followed by a costly "brain drain" of qualified Iraqi academics. "In the early 1990s they lost a lot of their trained personnel, their Ph.D.'s, restoration and museum staff," Gibson said. "Many of them couldn't make a living so they retired and went to Yemen, Jordan, Libya, or other countries in the region."

The biggest loss so far as the artifacts themselves were concerned, however, was the dismissal of many armed guards that once numbered in the hundreds and firmly controlled important sites from local looting. That left valuable items within much easier reach of people who were themselves feeling an economic pinch.

Ominous signs testify to the problem. Iraqi artifacts now appear in foreign antiquities markets, a trade that did not exist prior to the Gulf War.

The illicit activity in some areas is surprisingly extensive, as the government simply doesn't have the money to enforce protections.

In one instance, Gibson described the sacking of an ancient city gateway, which featured two 20-foot-tall statues of human-headed bulls.

"They hacked away the head and got it as far as Lebanon," he said. "That statue head must have weighed 2 or 3 tons. It was brazen and big-scale looting. Fortunately, they weren't able to sell it because Interpol had photos and it became too hot to handle. It was eventually returned—in 13 pieces."

With war in Iraq perhaps only hours away, archaeological professionals both within and outside of Iraq are doing all they can to prepare for it.

From Yemen, Selma Radhi reports that "the National Museum has been shut for a while, and this is a necessary precaution. They'll remove all the objects and put them in secure vaults; they did the same in the previous war. The staff is very professional and are perfectly capable of taking care of everything."

Gibson concurs that his Iraqi counterparts will do all they can, but he also fears for their safety. "Our colleagues at the museum lived [in the building] for the duration of the Gulf War to guard it," he said. "They were out of contact with their families because they were ready to defend the collections. If it happens this time, they may die."

Such concerns have led individuals like Gibson and groups like the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) to pressure the U.S. government and its allies to proactively protect Iraq's cultural legacy in the event of war.

"This cultural heritage is of great value to the people of Iraq (as well as people throughout the world)," AIA said in an official statement, "and plays an important role within civil society. The preservation of this heritage is also of long-term economic benefit to the nation and to the region."

According to McGuire Gibson, that preservation will require quick and concerted effort to bolster the skeleton staff and protective measures that the Iraqi government has in place. "If there is a period of even a day of chaos, without firm control, there is a very good chance that the Iraq Museum, or other sites, could be looted," he said.

"They have to rehire the guards immediately," Gibson added, "bring them back up to strength. That's necessary to drive off looters whose desperation has made them all the more daring."

An Abundance of Cassandras (posted 2-25-03)

Mary McNamara, writing in the Los Angeles Times (February 17, 2003):

Cassandra, according to Greek myth, was the most beautiful daughter of King Priam, so beautiful that the god Apollo granted her the gift of prophesy in return for sexual favors. Cassandra accepted the gift but reneged on the bargain, so Apollo took away her power of persuasion: She could speak only the truth but no one would ever believe her. When she tried to warn her fellow Trojans of impending disaster -- that the wooden horse they had just wheeled into the city was full of enemy soldiers -- everyone thought she was crazy. And so fell Troy.

Nowadays, rounding up those who issued warnings has become as predictable a portion of the disaster news arc as instant replay. From the fall of Troy to the fall of the World Trade Center to the fall of Enron, there is inevitably someone who predicted it all.

This year, among Time magazine's three People of the Year were Sherron Watkins and Coleen Rowley. Enron employee Watkins wrote an internal memo warning that the company was about to fall apart like a house of cards. FBI Agent Rowley wrote a damning letter about how politics at the agency thwarted her attempts to investigate a suspect who turned out to be a key player in the Sept. 11 attacks. Newfound seer status has helped former Sen. Gary Hart return from exile. As co-chair of a commission on national security, he warned in January 2001 that the U.S. would be attacked catastrophically on its own soil. The prediction, largely ignored at the time, has given him so much political juice he might just run for president again.

The Cassandra figure permeates history -- she is Nicias trying to talk Alcibiades out of the doomed Spartan expedition to Syracuse; James Longstreet advising Robert E. Lee to keep moving past Gettysburg; Albert Einstein warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt against pursuing experiments with the potentially lethal nuclear reaction in uranium.

And, perhaps more important, she is an inexhaustible literary thread -- from her own theatrical debut in Aeschylus' "Agamemnon" to the soothsayer in "Julius Caesar" to Carol in "Oedipus Rising" to Richard Dreyfuss looking up from his grisly calculations in "Jaws" to insist to disbelieving officials that "this was no boating accident." Cassandra might have saved us had we but listened.

"Cassandra brings the fall of Troy into the realm of high tragedy," said Katherine King, associate professor of comparative literature at UCLA. "Now it's not just a bad thing has happened, it's that they've made a tragic choice."

Cassandra is used throughout literature in many ways. In Homer, King said, she is just one of Priam's daughters; in Euripides, she is half mad. Marion Zimmer Bradley, a famous feminist re-teller of myth, wrote a novel from Cassandra's perspective called "The Firebrand," and the most oft-mentioned modernization of the character is "Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays" in which East German writer Christa Wolf uses her to speak out against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

"Cassandra should always be talking about immense important disaster, not little things," said King. "She's very political."

This is exactly why [professor Charles Bosk, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who teaches a class called "Mistakes, Errors, Accidents and Disasters"] believes we have to be careful about labeling someone a true Cassandra. As terrible as the destruction of the Columbia was, he said, it doesn't necessarily indicate a decision to ignore the truth. "Sometimes things will line up just so to create a disaster," he said. This doesn't necessarily mean a mistake was made. "But it's hard for us to look back and judge the process when we already know the outcome, especially when the outcome is disastrous. It seems ridiculous to think the process worked."

Dean Baker: Bush and the Stock Market (posted 7-23-02)

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in HNN (12-24-01):

The real story of the new economy was a consumption boom, as the consumption share of GDP hit record levels. This consumption boom was in turn supported by the next big actor in this drama, the stock market boom. At its peak in early 2000, the total value of stock in the United States was close to $18 trillion, approximately 1.8 times total output. This was due to the fact that the ratio of stock prices to corporate earnings was at more than twice its historic average. If you think this is good news, remember the United States also had a booming stock market in 1929, as did Japan in 1989. Only someone with a bad sense of humor -- or a smart speculator -- would like to see the stock market rise to levels that can't be justified by economic fundamentals.

This is important to remember as we wallow in the new economy bust. Even with its recent declines, the stock market remains over-valued. The full adjustment process will prove painful for many investors, who will lose much of their retirement income, and the economy as a whole. Also, the country cannot continue its extraordinary rate of foreign borrowing indefinitely. At some point the dollar will decline, which will lead to higher prices and lower living standards. In short, we are experiencing bad economic times, with trouble on the horizon. Before long, the"new economy" will be just a bad memory.

Bernard Weisberger: Government in the Red--Again! (posted 7-23-02)

Bernard Weisberger, in HNN (6-10-01):

For good or ill, the great 2001 tax cut is an accomplished fact. Congress has chosen to believe the rosy projections of future surpluses piling up in the Treasury for years to come, and has taken the ax to the revenue codes.

It was ever thus. A year-end excess of government collections over government outlays has always been gratifying, and likewise troublesome. And why troublesome? Because"surplus" money kept on the government's books is money taken out of circulation, and nothing makes taxpayers--and voters--unhappier than"buying" more government service than they think they need. The various ways of dealing with this dilemma offer controversial choices. Congress can use the money to finance long-range investments in the national future or to pay off past debts--sensible but not appetizing decisions. The politically more attractive options are to cut or rebate taxes, and/or to undertake large giveaway programs. It is those routes that have almost always been followed when there were surpluses in the past, with the major parties battling over which interest groups got the choicest cuts and handouts. And as it turned out, the decisions were often hurtful to the country. For budgeting on the basis of anticipated surpluses is a high-risk venture, and almost invariably, good times have been followed by crises that turned black ink to red.


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