Historians' Take on the News: Archives 4-15-03 to 7-11-03Roundup
Liz Marlantes, writing in the Christian Science Monitor (July 11, 2003):
HISTORIANS note that all presidents struggle to balance foreign and domestic affairs. But that balance is often harder for those involved in major wars, since the conflict almost always becomes the defining aspect of their tenure. And while a successful war is typically a source of political strength, the aftermath can prove rockier for many presidents, as they face a public impatient with commitments abroad and demanding more attention at home.
"Bush's presidency is not going to be known for anything he does domestically," says Douglas Brinkley, a historian at the Eisenhower Center for American Studies in New Orleans. "Historically, it's going to be known for 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq. But when running for reelection, as his father well knows, you have to start trying to convince people that you're engaged in economic matters."
The difficulties chief executives often encounter in the wake of war can be measured by the fact that no US president has successfully served another full term in office after leading the country through a major conflict. From James Madison to Harry Truman to George H. W. Bush, most wartime presidents have either lost reelection bids or chosen not to run again (the few who have been successful, such as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, saw their terms cut short by illness or assassination).
"The notion that being commander in chief at a time of peril is some sort of rubber stamp to getting reelected is nonsense," says Mr. Brinkley.
Given the track record of some of his wartime predecessors, Bush's overall standing remains relatively strong. According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, the president's approval rating is a solid 60 percent, though it has dropped 14 points since the fall of Baghdad.
But the poll also found that 62 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the president's efforts on the economy, while 72 percent think he is not doing enough on healthcare.
Max Boot, writing in the NYT (July 6, 2003):
After a series of smashing military victories, the president declared the war over. Yet far from giving up, the forces resisting American occupation switched to guerrilla tactics. Isolated sentries were killed by assailants who pretended to be friendly civilians. Patrols in the countryside ran into booby traps. One carefully staged ambush wiped out half an infantry company. American forces responded with harsh countermeasures that led to charges of brutality.
That may sound like a portrait of today's Iraq, but it actually describes the Philippines a century ago. Having kicked out the Spanish in 1898, the United States decided to keep the archipelago for itself. Many Filipinos resisted American rule. President William McKinley thought the struggle was over by early 1900, when the regular Filipino armed forces were routed, but the resilient insurrectos proved him wrong.
The United States eventually won, but it was a long, hard, bloody slog that cost the lives of more than 4,200 American soldiers, 16,000 rebels and some 200,000 civilians. Even after the formal end of hostilities on July 4, 1902, sporadic resistance dragged on for years.
There is no reason to think that the current struggle in Iraq will be remotely as difficult. But the Philippine war is a useful reminder that Americans have a long history of fighting guerrillas and usually prevailing, though seldom quickly or easily.
Many lessons of those counterinsurgencies were set down in "The Small Wars Manual," written by a group of Marine Corps officers in the 1930's. This book, which was reprinted in the 1980's, was intended to draw on the experience of leathernecks who had battled "bandits" (as the authors preferred to call all resistance movements) in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and elsewhere during the early years of the 20th century.
In contrast to major wars, the manual warns, "in small wars no defined battle front exists and the theater of operations may be the whole length and breadth of the land. . . . In warfare of this kind, members of native forces will suddenly become innocent peasant workers when it suits their fancy and convenience." Confronted with such elusive foes, the manual counsels a two-pronged approach to "establish and maintain law and order."
On the one hand, occupying forces must stay on the offensive against rebel groups, hunting them down wherever they hide. "Delay in the use of force . . . will always be interpreted as weakness," the authors warn. On the other hand, the manual is keenly aware of the limits of firepower in an ambiguous environment.
"Peace and industry cannot be restored permanently without appropriate provisions for the economic welfare of the people," they write. They also warn that the "hatred of the enemy" usually inculcated among combat troops is entirely inappropriate during an occupation. Brutal repression of the kind carried out by some American soldiers who used a torture technique called the "water cure" to extract information from Filipino suspects only creates more recruits for the rebels. "In small wars, tolerance, sympathy and kindness should be the keynote to our relationship with the mass of the population."
However skillful they are in the application of carrots and sticks, the manual teaches, American troops cannot win a permanent victory by themselves: "Native troops, supported by marines, are increasingly employed as early as practicable in order that these native agencies may assume their proper responsibility for restoring law and order in their own country."
American troops followed this advice with a great deal of success in combating insurgencies from the Philippines to, in more recent years, countries like El Salvador. So did the British in postwar Malaya.
In Vietnam, by contrast, The Small Wars Manual was conspicuously neglected. Gen. William Westmoreland tried a conventional big-unit approach, with disastrous consequences. The relations of American soldiers with civilians were not, for the most part, characterized by "tolerance, sympathy and kindness." Nor did the Americans turn over the fight to "native troops . . . as early as practicable."
Daniel Pipes, writing in the NY Post (July 8, 2003):
In private conversations with Bush administration officials this past week, I was favorably impressed by their realism about the U.S.-sponsored "road map" plan to stop Palestinian-Israeli violence. But I worry nonetheless that things could go awry.
Those worries stem from the seven years (1993-2000) of the Oslo round of Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, when well-intentioned Israeli initiatives to resolve the conflict only worsened it. I learned two main lessons about Palestinian-Israel negotiations:
- Unless Palestinians accept the existence of Israel, the agreements they sign are scraps of paper.
- Unless Palestinians are held to their promise of renouncing violence, agreements with them reward terrorism and therefore spur more violence.
My caution today concerns both points. Palestinian ambitions to destroy the Jewish state remain alive. And the U.S. government's ability to enforce Palestinian compliance more effectively than did the Israelis remains in question.
Questioned again and again on these issues of Palestinian intentions and American monitoring, the senior officials I spoke with offered impressively hard-headed analyses:
- On Palestinian intentions to destroy Israel, they echo Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent statement, that he worries about "terrorist organizations that have not given up the quest to destroy the state of Israel."
- On the need to enforce signed agreements, both officials insist that the road-map diplomacy would screech to a halt if the Palestinians fail to keep their word. One of them also volunteered that Israel would not be expected to fulfill its promises if the Palestinians betrayed theirs.
I was especially pleased by the modesty of their aspirations. As one official puts it, "We have a shot at peace." He emphasized that the U.S. president cannot merely snap his fingers and expect Palestinians to do as summoned. He showed a reassuring awareness that this project is chancy and that the odds of its succeeding are not that good. All music to my skeptical ears.
Yet I worry. Won't human nature and governmental inertia combine to induce the Bush administration to push the road map through to completion, riding roughshod over the pesky details to keep things moving forward? Suppose Palestinian violence continues; won't there be a temptation to overlook it in favor of keeping to the diplomatic timetable?
Such has been the historic pattern whenever democracies negotiate with totalitarian enemies to close down their conflicts, starting with the British-French attempts to appease Nazi Germany in the 1930s, then the American-Soviet détente in the 70s, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the 90s and South Korea's sunshine policy with North Korea since 1998.
In each case, the delusion that sweetening the pot would bring about the desired results persisted until it was dashed by a major outbreak of violence (the German invasion of Poland, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the second Intifada).
In theory, American policymakers can break this pattern. Should Palestinian violence against Israel continue, they would announce something along the lines of: "Well, we did our best, but the Palestinians failed us. The road map, a good idea in principle, must be postponed until they are ready for it. We are giving up on it for now."
Can they do it? We'll probably find out soon enough, for the violence has continued despite signs that the Palestinian Authority has started cracking down since three Palestinian terrorist organizations agreed to a hudna ("temporary cease-fire") on June 29.
Victor Davis Hanson, writing in frontpagemag.com (July 4, 2003):
That after 100 days we have not found full evidence-as opposed to increasing anecdotal information about both WMD or al Qaeda-is not unusual. Japanese chemical weapons from WWII have only recently been unearthed in China, while Hitler's full arsenal was not completely known until months after the surrender. The secrets of totalitarian societies are uncovered incrementally and only when citizens gain confidence in coming forward-and each day (cf. yesterday's released information about both buried applied nuclear machinery and more allegations about al Qaedists in Iraq) more will emerge. I suppose by the logic of critics, that because we have not yet found Saddam alive or dead after 100 days, it is prima facie evidence that he never existed and thus we fabricated the entire casus belli of his own tyrannical personnage.
But all this angst is premature and academic; within a year the full picture will emerge, well beyond the ability of our government to spin or contain it, and we all shall see to what degree there were WMD programs in existence and the full extent of al Qaeda associations. The present hysteria is also not new-but eerily reminiscent of the "pause" and "quagmire" allegations in the first week of the war, followed by exaggerated reports of the looting of the museum and American complicity in it, and so on.
The fact is one of the world's great monsters is gone, millions of Iraqis will not die as was the case the last 30 years, no subsidies will be sent to terrorists, oil money will not be diverted to acquiring nightmarish weapons, and pilots and troops can slowly be withdrawn from the Gulf-as is already happening in Saudi Arabia. All this talk of "hegemony", "geogstrategic competition," and "encirclement" is odd when for the first time in 50 years American troops are slated to start leaving or being redeployed from Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia-for starters.
As far as preemptive war, we already were at war-whether we gauge that by Saddam's unilateral dismissal of the 1991 armistice agreements, President Clinton's 4-day bombing of Iraq, or a 12-year, 350,000 sortie, 20 billion-dollar effort to take control of 2/3s of the airspace of a sovereign nation. War is not about easy choices, but tragically about Lincoln's terrible arithmetic; the minute we stopped flying hostile missions, for example, Kurds and Shiites were going to die. In that regard, 250,000 Muslims in Europe disappeared over the niceties of professors and diplomats debating preemptive war-until the Clinton administration preempted ( without either congressional or UN approval) and to its credit stopped the genocide in 72 days.
In fact, if one goes back and reviews the record there were a variety of reasons adduced by various administration officials to invade Iraq: the potential use of WMD, al Qaeda links, the dilemma of perpetual no-fly zones to ensure the survival of tens of thousands of Kurds who would otherwise be attacked, the violation of terms that ended the 1991 war, the systematic violation of UN decrees, and the worry in a post 9-11 world of allowing a dictator to persist with a record of mass murder, invasion of two of his neighbors and missile strikes against two others.
An excerpt from Eric Hobsbawm's autobiography, as reprinted in the Chronicle of Higher Education (July 4, 2003):
Looking back on 40 years of visiting and living in the United States, I think I learned as much about the country in the first summer I spent there as in the course of the next decades. With one exception: To know New York, or even Manhattan, one has to live there. For how long? I did so for four months every year between 1984 and 1997, but even though my wife, Marlene, joined me for the whole semester only three times, it was quite enough for both of us to feel like natives rather than visitors. I have spent a lot of time in the U.S.A. teaching, reading in its marvelous libraries, writing, or having a good time, or all together in the Getty Center in its days in Santa Monica, but what I learned from personal acquaintance with America was acquired in the course of a few weeks and months. Were I a de Tocqueville, that would have been quite enough. After all, his Democracy in America, the best book ever written about the U.S.A., was based on a journey of not more than nine months. Alas, I am not de Tocqueville, nor is my interest in the U.S.A. the same as his.
If written today, de Tocqueville's book would certainly be attacked as anti-American, since much of what he said about the U.S.A. was critical. Ever since it was founded, the U.S.A. has been a subject of attraction and fascination for the rest of the world, but also of detraction and disapproval. However, it is only since the start of the cold war that people's attitude to the U.S.A. has been judged essentially in terms of approval or disapproval, and not only by the sort of inhabitants who are also likely to seek out "un-American" behavior in their own fellow citizens, but also internationally. It substituted the question "Are you with the U.S.A.?" for the question "What do you think of the U.S.A.?" What is more, no other country expects or asks such a question about itself. Since America, having won the cold war against the U.S.S.R., implausibly decided on September 11, 2001, that the cause of freedom was again engaged in another life-and-death struggle against another evil, but this time spectacularly ill-defined enemy, any skeptical remarks about the United States and its policy are, once again, likely to meet with outrage.
And yet, how irrelevant, even absurd, is this insistence on approval! Internationally speaking, the U.S.A. was by any standards the success story among 20th-century states. Its economy became the world's largest, both pace- and pattern-setting; its capacity for technological achievement was unique; its research in both natural and social sciences, even its philosophers, became increasingly dominant; and its hegemony in global consumer civilization seemed beyond challenge. It ended the century as the only surviving global power and empire. What is more, as I have written elsewhere, "in some ways the United States represents the best of the 20th century." If opinion is measured not by pollsters but by migrants, almost certainly America would be the preferred destination of most human beings who must, or decide to, move to a country other than their own, certainly of those who know some English. As one of those who chose to work in the U.S.A., I illustrate the point. Admittedly, working in the U.S.A., or liking to live in the U.S.A. -- and especially in New York -- does not imply the wish to become American, although this is still difficult for many inhabitants of the United States to understand. It no longer implies a lasting choice for most people between one's own country and another, as it did before the Second World War, or even until the air-transport revolution in the 1960s, let alone the telephone and e-mail revolution of the 1990s. Binational or even multinational working and even bi- or multicultural lives have become common....
Foreign academics who discovered the U.S.A. in the 1960s were probably more immediately aware of its peculiarities than they would be today, for so many of them had not yet been integrated into the omnipresent language of globalized consumer society, which fits in well with the deeply entrenched egocentricity, even solipsism, of American culture. For, whatever was the case in de Tocqueville's day, not the passion for egalitarianism but individualist, that is anti-authoritarian, antinomian, though curiously legalistic, anarchism has become the core of the value system in the U.S.A. What survives of egalitarianism is chiefly the refusal of voluntary deference to hierarchic superiors, which may account for the -- by our standards -- everyday crudeness, even brutality with which power is used in and by the U.S.A. to establish who can command whom.
It seemed Americans were preoccupied with themselves and their country, in ways in which the inhabitants of other well-established states simply were not with their own. American reality was and remains the overwhelming subject of the creative arts in the U.S.A. The dream of somehow encompassing all of it haunted its creators. Nobody in Europe had set out to write "the great English novel" or "the great French novel," but authors in the United States still try their hand (nowadays in several volumes) at "the great American novel," even if they no longer use the phrase. Actually, the man who came closest to achieving such an aim was not a writer, but an apparently superficial image-maker of astonishingly durable power, of whose significance the British art critic David Sylvester persuaded me in New York in the 1970s. Where else except America could an oeuvre like Andy Warhol's have come into being, an enormously ambitious and specific, unending set of variations on the themes of living in the U.S.A., from its soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles to its mythologies, dreams, nightmares, heroes, and heroines? There is nothing like it in the visual-arts tradition of the old world. But, like the other attempts by the creative spirits of the U.S.A. to seize the totality of their country, Warhol's vision is not that of the successful pursuit of happiness, "the American dream" of American political jargon and psychobabble....
Curiously, the experience, what in the '60s they used to call "the vibes," of the U.S.A. has changed much less than that of other countries I have known in the past half-century. There is no comparison between living in the Paris, the Berlin, the London of my youth and those cities today; even Vienna, which deliberately hides its social and political transformation by turning itself into a theme park of a glorious past. Even physically the skyline of London, as it can be seen from where I live on the slopes of Parliament Hill, has changed -- Parliament is now barely visible -- and Paris has not been the same since Messieurs Pompidou and Mitterrand have left their marks on it. And yet, while New York has undergone the same kind of social and economic upheavals as other cities -- deindustrialization, gentrification, a massive influx from the Third World -- it neither feels nor looks like a city transformed. That is surprising when, as every New Yorker knows, the city changes every year. I myself have seen the arrival of fundamental innovations in New York life, such as the Korean fruit-and-vegetable store, the end of such basic New York lower-middle-class institutions as the Gimbel's department stores, and the transformation of Brighton Beach into Little Russia. And yet, New York has remained New York far more than London has remained London. Even the Manhattan skyline is still essentially that of the city of the 1930s, especially now that its most ambitious postwar addition, the World Trade Center, has disappeared....
Forced into the straitjacket of an 18th-century Constitution reinforced by two centuries of Talmudic exegesis by the lawyers, the theologians of the republic, the institutions of the U.S.A. are far more frozen into immobility than those of almost all other states. It has so far even postponed such minor changes as the election of an Italian, or Jew, let alone a woman, as head of government. But it has also made the government of the U.S.A. largely immune to great men, or indeed to anybody, taking great decisions, since rapid, effective national decision-making, not least by the president, is almost impossible. The United States, at least in its public life, is a country that is geared to operate with mediocrities, because it has to, and it has been rich and powerful enough to do so. It is the only country in my political lifetime where three able presidents (F.D.R., Kennedy, Nixon) have been replaced, at a moment's notice, by men neither qualified nor expected to do the job, without making any noticeable difference to the course of U.S. and world history. Historians who believe in the supremacy of high politics and great individuals have a hard case in America. That has created the foggy mechanisms of real government in Washington, made even more opaque by the sensational resources of corporate and pressure-group money, and the inability of the electoral process to distinguish between the real and the increasingly restricted political country. So, since the end of the U.S.S.R., the U.S.A. has quietly prepared to function as the world's only superpower. The problem is that its situation has no historical precedent, that its political system is geared to the ambitions and reactions of New Hampshire primaries and provincial protectionism, that it has no idea what to do with its power, and that almost certainly the world is too large and complicated to be dominated for any length of time by any single superpower, however great its military and economic resources. Megalomania is the occupational disease of global victors, unless controlled by fear. Nobody controls the U.S.A. today. That is why, as I write my autobiography, its enormous power can and obviously does destabilize the world.
Daniel Pipes, writing in his blog (June 5, 2003):
prime minister. n. Abbr. PM (1) A chief minister appointed by a ruler. (2) The head of the cabinet and often also the chief executive of a parliamentary democracy. (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Could some one explain to me how Mahmoud Abbas fits either of these definitions? And yet, he is universally known as "prime minister." Seeing a good thing, perhaps I should start calling myself prime minister of the Middle East Forum? (June 5, 2003)
Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (July 2, 2003):
The British Broadcasting Co., the BBC, in May premiered a four-part television documentary, titled the "Cambridge Spies." The film's episodes, each an hour long, purport to be the true story of the four British traitors, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald MacLean and Anthony Blunt. All four betrayed their country to Josef Stalin. The docudrama, which cost the British taxpayer $10 million, is a combination of lies and whitewash. So reports John Gross, the distinguished British critic in the June issue of the New Criterion. His judgment is irrefutable.
The miniseries has yet to be shown in the United States but undoubtedly some PBS station somewhere is negotiating with the BBC for the privilege of showing this film monstrosity in this country.
The BBC depends on PBS' "Masterpiece Theater" to help meet the expenses on BBC productions. And if PBS does plan to show it, I would hope Russell Baker, the "Masterpiece" host, would in this instance decline the honor of introducing it. Actually, PBS should reject buying this miniseries as it would reject a miniseries glorifying fascism or apartheid. The BBC has transformed treason on behalf of communism into an act of nobility. American public television should not be complicit in BBC's conspiracy against decency.
The most important count in the John Gross indictment is that the documentary gives "no idea of the nature of the regime which Philby and the others chose to serve." Why the cover-up? These so-called idealists were betraying their own democratic country to a Gulagian dictatorship headed by a mass murderer. Would BBC show a documentary about Nazi Germany and glorifying four British spies who sold out to the Nazis without indicating what the Hitler regime was like?
The docudrama portrays these traitors as loving innocents, misunderstood idealists "who were animated by their detestation of fascism," writes Mr. Gross. At some point in the film, one of the characters says, "To fight fascism, you have to be a communist." In other words, you couldn't trust the British government, the snobbish upper classes or the British Trades Union Congress to fight the
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