Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (4-26-11)
The writer is a professor of history at the University of Virginia. From 2005 to 2007 he was the counsellor of the US Department of State
The revolution in Syria is well under way. The revolution in Libya struggles on. The Middle East is alight, yet most of America’s military commitment, and the political attention associated with it, remains in Afghanistan. Every day that the US worries about events such as the escape of hundreds of painstakingly detained insurgents from an Afghan jail is a day in which America loses the power of initiative elsewhere.
Two months ago Robert Gates, defence secretary, gave a speech about the future of the US army at West Point, saying that “any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it”. Mr Gates, a principal architect of the present commitment in Afghanistan, has since complained through his spokesman that this line was “hijacked” by critics. Gen MacArthur, also a principal advocate of a large-scale war in Asia, may not have uttered the words, but it is worth reflecting on what both these men were saying about the troubles of American grand strategy....
Posted on: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 15:53
SOURCE: Bessette Pitney Text (Blog) (4-28-11)
President Obama is not the first chief executive who has had to deal with rumors about his ancestry. In the 1930s, there were stories that President Franklin Roosevelt was Jewish.
On March 7, 1935, FDR wrote to Philip Slomovitz, the editor of The Detroit Jewish Chronicle:
I am grateful to you for your interesting letter of March 4th. I have no idea as to the source of the story which you say came from my old friend, Chase Osborn. All I know about the origin of the Roosevelt family in this country is that all branches bearing the name are apparently descended from Claes Martenssen Van Roosevelt, who came from Holland sometime before 1648—even the year is uncertain. Where he came from in Holland I do not know, nor do I know who his parents were. There was a family of the same name on one of the Dutch Islands and some of the same name living in Holland as lately as thirty or forty years ago, but, frankly, I have never had either the time or the inclination to try to establish the line on the other side of the ocean before they came over here, nearly three hundred years ago.
In the dim distant past they may have been Jews or Catholics or Protestants. What I am more interested in is whether they were good citizens and believers in God. I hope they were both.
On March 15, The New York Times reported on the exchange:
Mr. Slomovitz's letter to Mr. Roosevelt quoted an article from "Civic Echo," which in turn quoted an interview in an unnamed newspaper in St. Petersburg, Fla., in which Chase Osborn, former Governor of Michigan, was said to have sketched a supposed version of the President's ancestry as Jewish.
Why did it matter? Anti-Semitism was far more widespread in the 1930s than today. In 1937, Gallup asked this question: "If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be Jewish, would you vote for that person?" Only 46 percent said yes, compared with 47 percent who said no.
Posted on: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 15:35
SOURCE: Truthout (4-28-11)
Posted on: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 15:26
SOURCE: openDemocracy (4-28-11)
David Nash is Professor of History at Oxford Brookes University, specialising in nineteenth and twentieth century Britain. He is a member of the History & Policy network and is also a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
The coming Royal Wedding is a useful reminder of how, since 1800, the monarchy has become a public institution. Some historians would have you believe that this was achieved by an astute monarchy, skilfully reforming its own practices – thereby saving itself from the tide of republicanism which reached a dangerously high watermark in the 1860s. The truth is more interesting than this, and it holds an important message for our own ‘Big Society’ in which we are, after all, all supposed to be in this together. Royal weddings historically remind us about middle class anxiety and related grievances caused by political and social threats to their existence – a theme that should not be lost on the Coalition government.
Since the first quarter of the nineteenth century the monarchy had been subject to the criticism of the middle classes – indeed, they defined their own version of polite and proper behaviour against the monarchy and its increasingly outrageous antics. Interestingly, many of these themes and issues turned around the phenomenon of Royal marriage and its consequences. The Queen Caroline affair of 1820 introduced 'public opinion' (itself a middle class creation) to the spectacle of an errant monarchy. Rumours of Caroline's own adultery and misbehaviour were dwarfed by the actions of her husband George IV who attempted to summarily divorce her through a public accusation of adultery. In a situation reminiscent of the last years of Diana, public opinion sided greatly with the Queen and through this middle class opinion defined what it considered to be proper standards of conduct within marriage alongside prudent and wise levels of conspicuous consumption which spectacularly eluded the monarchy.
In the 1860s republicans again seized the opportunity offered by a decaying monarchy. Victoria became a recluse after the death of her beloved Albert and she proved spectacularly poor value for money as her absence led to jibes about the ‘vacant throne’. These comments were all the more cutting because Victoria was seen to be retaining money from the Civil List whilst neglecting her duties – a middle class sin. The decade was also peppered with demands for money from Parliament to provide dowries for Victoria’s seemingly endless array of children. For the audiences watching Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas, the portrayal of a perpetual corps of 'on call' bridesmaids on stage provided a very clear commentary on matters closer to home....
Posted on: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 15:24
SOURCE: The American Interest (4-27-11)
Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.
President Obama is now passing through what one must hope for both his sake and ours are the worst moments of a presidency no longer young. Abroad, the intervention in Libya has not had the quick and clear results he had hoped. While things may still go well, and one devoutly hopes that they do, US prestige is deeply engaged in a confused civil war in which all NATO’s firepower has been unable to turn the tide. As British and French advisers on the ground struggle to mold the rebels into an effective force and the allies thrash around to develop a politically responsible and accountable rebel leadership, the military’s lack of confidence in the civilian strategy is palpable.
At home, the President has been wounded both by his successes and his failures. Colin Powell referred to the US victory against Saddam Hussein as a “catastrophic success”; President Obama now has a couple of those of his own. The economic stimulus package aroused a fear on the hustings and, increasingly, in the bond markets about the looming fiscal catastrophe. The health care bill, an achievement the President expected and believed would cement both his place in history and a new era of liberal Democratic hegemony in American politics, continues to weaken the administration; the patient is not (yet) accepting the transplant.
These successes would not be so damaging if it were not for the core failure to date of the Obama presidency: the failure to deliver what looks to most Americans like the promise of an improving economy. Part of the problem is international; the turmoil in the Middle East, the global surge in commodity prices and the waning credibility of the dollar combine to push gas prices to $4.00. For tens of millions of American families the price of gas is both an economic indicator and a key variable in their disposable income. Add to that the persisting weakness in the housing market, where millions of families have watched the value of their prime asset shrink or disappear, continuing weak growth in employment and stagnation in wages, and there is a pervasive national sense that life is not getting better on President Obama’s watch....
Posted on: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 15:17
SOURCE: Newsweek (4-24-11)
Copperfinger doesn’t have the same ring as Goldfinger. Nor would you be very impressed by a man with a copper gun.
Copper isn’t glamorous. Unlike gold, it is not likely to be recommended as an investment by Glenn Beck. Yet, before and after the financial crisis, copper has been one of the world economy’s star performers.
Sure, you were smart if you bought gold at the bottom of the financial crisis, back in February 2009. With gold touching a record $1,500 an ounce last week, you’re up 75 percent. But if you’d bought copper, you’d be up 181 percent.
Today the world’s copper mines are booming. I spent several hours last Tuesday sweltering nearly a mile underground at the huge Konkola mine near Chin-go-la in Zambia. It’s a powerful symbol of the new economic world order. The miners are Zambians. The technical guys are (white) South Africans. The owners and managers are Indians....
Posted on: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 15:13
SOURCE: LA Times (4-28-11)
Timothy Garton Ash, a contributing editor to Opinion, is professor of European studies at Oxford University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of "Facts are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name."
If things continue as they are and Britain's Prince Charles succeeds his mother to reign as king until his death at a ripe old age, then sometime around 2040 the young couple getting married in Westminster Abbey on Friday will be King William V and Queen Catherine. By sheer accident of birth, William will then be the head of state of whatever is left of today's United Kingdom. Would that be all right? My answer is: In theory, no; in practice, probably yes.If William and Kate behave themselves, unlike some of the gamier members of Britain's royal family, and contribute to the development of a modernized, slimmed-down constitutional monarchy, this can actually be better than the likely alternatives. As I look across Europe, I don't think countries such as Sweden, Holland, Denmark and Spain, all of which have monarchs, are worse off than those that have party politicians directly or indirectly elected to be president. Or would you rather have Buckingham Palace occupied by a President Tony Blair?
With one brief interlude in the 17th century, when English revolutionaries experimented with decapitating one of them, there have been kings and queens for more than 1,000 years. That is an amazing thing. It is the stuff of poetry. Imagine Shakespeare purged of all references to kingship. Before you abandon 1,000 years of poetry, you should be very certain that you will fare better in prose.
As we see again with the world media invasion of London for this week's royal wedding, this history, legend and mystique is also a significant contributor to Britain's soft power (the power to attract) and its earnings from tourism. I don't think anyone goes to Berlin to watch them changing guard at Bellevue Palace, or to catch a glimpse of President and Frau Wulff, and the little Wulffs. "President who?" is what most of the world would ask, if reference were made to the current head of state of Europe's most powerful country....
Posted on: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 14:37
SOURCE: History & Policy (UK) (4-27-11)
Ibrahim Al-Marashi is Assistant Professor of Contemporary History at IE University in Madrid, Spain. He is co-author of Iraq's Armed Forces: An Analytical History (Routledge, 2008).
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Syria and Libya became the two strongest mukhabarat or 'secret police' states. The longevity of the Al-Asad and Qaddafi regimes could be attributed to the ability of state security forces to project fear into the populace and quell anti-state protests whenever they emerged. Damascus used force to crush an uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood in the town of Hama in 1982 and Tripoli did the same to crush a Libyan Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.
Both Syria and Libya (and Saddam's Iraq) did not rule on fear alone. These states also depended on networks of patronage, a way of communicating to these 'in-groups' that if the regime would fall, so would their privileged socio-economic status. Defending this status could explain the tenacious resistance of military units around Qaddafi and Al-Asad.
While patronage can only benefit a few, the masses were seduced by their leadership with rhetorical campaigns to cement loyalty between the regime and public. As these besieged regimes defend their positions of power with armed force, they have also fallen back on systems of truth telling and conspiracy theories to legitimize their rule. Speeches delivered during the ongoing crises reveal how these leaders view themselves and the struggles that they are uniquely qualified to fight. If they were to fall, so would their struggles. Thus, using force against opponents is justified in the name of defending the regime engaged in struggles greater than the state itself. Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad's speech from the People's Assembly on 31 March provided a window into these dynamics.
Unlike the other countries facing domestic revolts, Syria is the only country that can tap into a 'resistance' discourse. It is the only frontline state (excluding Lebanon) that has not signed a peace treaty with Israel, and its support for Hizbullah allows Damascus to burnish its credentials for continuing this fight. From this perspective, any domestic disturbances can be blamed on foreign plans to undermine this national and pan-Arab struggle.
According to this reasoning, in March Al-Asad declared that Syria faced 'a great conspiracy, the webs of which spread from far away countries and close countries, and some of whose strings reach inside the country.' Al-Asad only mentioned Israel as a threat and placed the rest of the blame on unspecified 'satellite channels' and 'foreign conspiracies.' These enemies were 'smart' in choosing satellite television and text messaging to infiltrate the country but Syrians 'note their stupidity in that they chose the wrong country and people, as this kind of conspiracy does not work here.'
The global media characterized his statements as a delusional conspiracy theory. However the notion of a conspiracy theory is subjective. One person's conspiracy theory is another person's truth. What Al-Asad was explaining to a Syrian audience, and a global one at that, was the Ba'athist/Syrian interpretative schemata or framework for understanding its role in the Middle East.
The Syrian state could retort, 'Who are the foreign media to question our version of the truth?' As long as the Al-Asad and the Baath believe what he says is the truth, then it is the 'truth.' Has any state provided him with any evidence to counter his argument? Of course I do not argue that Al-Asad's speech should be taken at face value. Rather the speech should be analyzed by what it says and what it did not say at the same time.
Al-Asad declared that the protests were part of a plot 'to weaken Syria, for Syria to crumble ...' It followed a similar pattern throughout this season of revolts of blaming foreign powers for seeking to undermine incumbent regimes. The speeches made by leaders who are threatened by domestic uprisings from Benghazi to Damascus play upon a victimhood psychosis.
One of the legacies of European imperialism in the region is this self-victimization narrative, where the British, French, and Russian empires were seen as hidden hands manipulating the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries. After the Second World War, America, the Soviet Union, and Israel emerged as the source of these 'conspiracies,' theories of which abounded among Middle East publics, and in the 1970s was the subject of a popular book in Iran, My Uncle Napoleon, dealing with foreign intrigues in Teheran during the Second World War.
Foreign intrigue was a theme of a speech by Buythana Sha'aban, the de-facto spokeswoman of the Syrian state, to a Ba'ath Party conference in March. 'The second thing that is being targeted in Syria is the beautiful co-existence in this country. As you have seen, this region is targeted to make it a sectarian, parochial, and ethnic-based region, ' she said. Her fears express a sentiment that probably harks back to the French colonial era where exacerbating sectarian differences in Syria followed the colonial pattern of divide-and-rule. The Syrian mandate was carved up into mini-statelets for the Druze and Alawite communities, but this tactic did little to mollify anti-French sentiment among the Syrians.
This harking back to the past was also evident in Al-Asad's 31 March speech, when he reiterated the state's support for 'pan-Arab rights and independence, and supporting Arab resistance movements when there is occupation.' This statement is replete with nostalgia for Syria in the pan-Arab framework of the 1960s and for his father Hafez al-Asad's continued resistance to Israel following Egyptian President Sadat's bilateral peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Then, giving up personal freedoms seemed justified when Damascus was technically at war with Israel. That 'cold war' with Israel allowed Hafez to perpetuate the Emergency Law, the revocation of which being one of the key demands of protestors today.
Foreign plots. Antagonism towards Israel. Syria as the vanguard of Arabism. Those are the Syrian state's truths. What about the truths that Al-Asad failed to acknowledge?
In March Al-Asad deflected the issue of reforms arguing that these 'there are no obstacles [to reform], there is only procrastination, and there are no opponents - the opponents are those with personal interests and the corrupt, and as you know, this was a small group of people who are no longer around.'
However, in the eyes of critics this 'small group' of people remains. Systems of patronage have become one of the crucial pillars of regime survival in the region. Since the creation of the Arab states in the 1920s, ruling elites have sought to consolidate their powers by showering the largesse of the state on a narrow segment of society, whether military officers, a privileged tribe, or family relatives. The current season of revolutions is primarily provoked by and targeted against patronage.
Granting monopolies or state tenders to the regime's favoured groups transformed the state and its beneficiaries into villains and created resentment among publics across the Arab world. The revolts were not only directed at heads of state but numerous targets including the kleptocratic Tunisian Trabelsi clan (the in-laws of ousted President Zein al-Abidin), Qaddafi's sons and their extravagant lifestyles, and the pro-Mubarak supporters loyal to the National Democratic Party who amassed huge fortunes. A target of Syrian protestors in the southern town of Dera were the monopolies operated by Rami Makhluf, a cousin of Bashar.
What Al-Asad failed to acknowledge in March was that Syria is a mukhabarat state. The people behind the increasing number of demonstrators' deaths recently are members of the dizzying array of security apparatuses that maintain the regime. No amount of rhetoric or deflection could hide this.
A heavy-handed police state. Corruption and patronage among elites. Those are the pillars of state security and the truths for many Syrians. Addressing those truths would given Al-Asad more legitimacy than the jaded strategy of deflecting local problems on foreign enemies.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 15:56
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (4-27-11)
Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
With the horrid crackdowns on dissent in Syria and Bahrain and the vicious shelling by Qaddafi brigades of the port of Misrata in Libya on Tuesday, it would be easy to concentrate solely on the negative news. But the Arab Spring is still producing some positive reforms and questioning of past corrupt practices, and even major governmental change. Tuesday’s positive developments:
1. Yemeni opposition leaders and dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh will meet in Riyadh on Monday to sign an agreement stipulating that Saleh will step down within 30 days and there will be a peaceful transfer of power, with Saleh and those close to him granted amnesty. The compromise was negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises 6 Gulf nations, most of which have oil or natural gas riches. Yemenis hope that the deal will calm down the tense situation in the country, which has seen big demonstrations and sometimes vicious repression. The government intervened on Tuesday against a big demonstration in Taizz on Tuesday, with 1 killed and 12 wounded in the ensuing altercation.
2. One reason for Saleh’s sudden flexibility may be that many Yemeni troops have been joining the protest movement. Euronews has a video report....
Posted on: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 15:30
SOURCE: The American Interest (4-23-11)
Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.
The long-brewing crisis in Syria has entered a critical phase and it is changing the rules of the Middle East. If the people keep marching and the regime keeps shooting, the Obama administration could face its toughest Middle East choices yet. Will Samantha Power bomb yet another country in the region, or will she try to sleep nights with the blood of thousands of Syrians on her hands?
The bloody-minded and repressive Syrian regime — after Saddam Hussein, the slave-trading Sudanese and the gay-murdering and woman-stoning Iranians, the worst bunch of thugs in a nasty neighborhood — has ripped off the mask. An estimated 80 plus protesters were killed Friday; at least 6 more when relatives tried to bury Friday’s dead. The violence can easily escalate.
The outside world, preoccupied by the dramatic events unfolding across northern Africa and in Yemen, had not paid much attention to Syria until the last 36 hours. But now the scale of the protests and the brutal response have caught the world’s attention. Britain, France and the US have all condemned the latest violence, with the White House using some of its sharpest language yet.
This crisis could have legs. Although Syria is not an oil exporter, every moral and political argument that led to the intervention in Libya applies more strongly to Damascus. And while the political, national interest rationale for regime change in Libya is a little sketchy, the case for regime change in Damascus is close to ironclad....
Posted on: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 15:13
SOURCE: The American Interest (5-1-11)
Francis Fukuyama is chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest and author of the newly published The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) from which parts of this article are drawn.
political science has not had much to tell policymakers of late, there
is one book that stands out as being singularly relevant to the events
currently unfolding in Tunisia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern
countries: Samuel Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies, first published over forty years ago.
Huntington was one of the last social scientists to try to understand
the linkages between political, economic and social change in a
comprehensive way, and the weakness of subsequent efforts to maintain
this kind of large perspective is one reason we have such difficulties,
intellectually and in policy terms, in keeping up with our contemporary
Huntington, observing the high levels of political instability
plaguing countries in the developing world during the 1950s and 1960s,
noted that increasing levels of economic and social development often
led to coups, revolutions and military takeovers rather than a smooth
transition to modern liberal democracy. The reason, he pointed out, was
the gap that appeared between the hopes and expectations of newly
mobilized, educated and economically empowered people on the one hand,
and the existing political system, which did not offer them an
institutionalized mechanism for political participation, on the other.
He might have added that such poorly institutionalized regimes are also
often subject to crony capitalism, which fails to provide jobs and
incomes to the newly educated middle class. Attacks against the
existing political order, he noted, are seldom driven by the poorest of
the poor; they instead tend to be led by rising middle classes who are
frustrated by the lack of political and economic opportunity—a
phenomenon noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his masterful analysis of
the origins of the French Revolution and raised again in the early
1960s by James Davies’s well known “J-curve” theory of revolution.
Something like this Huntingtonian process has unfolded in recent
months in both Tunisia and Egypt. In both cases, anti-government
protests were led not by the urban poor or by an Islamist underground,
but by relatively well-educated middle-class young people used to
communicating with each other via Facebook and Twitter. It is no
accident that Wael Ghonim, Google’s regional head of marketing, emerged
as a symbol and leader of the new Egypt. The protesters’ grievances
centered around the fact that the authoritarian regimes of Ben Ali and
Mubarak offered them no meaningful pathway to political participation,
as well as failing to provide jobs befitting their social status. The
protests were then joined by other groups in both societies—trade
unionists, Islamists, peasants and virtually everyone else unhappy with
the old regimes—but the driving force remained the more modern segments
of Tunisian and Egyptian society...
While academic political science has not had much to tell policymakers of late, there is one book that stands out as being singularly relevant to the events currently unfolding in Tunisia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries: Samuel Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies, first published over forty years ago. Huntington was one of the last social scientists to try to understand the linkages between political, economic and social change in a comprehensive way, and the weakness of subsequent efforts to maintain this kind of large perspective is one reason we have such difficulties, intellectually and in policy terms, in keeping up with our contemporary world.
Huntington, observing the high levels of political instability plaguing countries in the developing world during the 1950s and 1960s, noted that increasing levels of economic and social development often led to coups, revolutions and military takeovers rather than a smooth transition to modern liberal democracy. The reason, he pointed out, was the gap that appeared between the hopes and expectations of newly mobilized, educated and economically empowered people on the one hand, and the existing political system, which did not offer them an institutionalized mechanism for political participation, on the other. He might have added that such poorly institutionalized regimes are also often subject to crony capitalism, which fails to provide jobs and incomes to the newly educated middle class. Attacks against the existing political order, he noted, are seldom driven by the poorest of the poor; they instead tend to be led by rising middle classes who are frustrated by the lack of political and economic opportunity—a phenomenon noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his masterful analysis of the origins of the French Revolution and raised again in the early 1960s by James Davies’s well known “J-curve” theory of revolution.
Something like this Huntingtonian process has unfolded in recent months in both Tunisia and Egypt. In both cases, anti-government protests were led not by the urban poor or by an Islamist underground, but by relatively well-educated middle-class young people used to communicating with each other via Facebook and Twitter. It is no accident that Wael Ghonim, Google’s regional head of marketing, emerged as a symbol and leader of the new Egypt. The protesters’ grievances centered around the fact that the authoritarian regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak offered them no meaningful pathway to political participation, as well as failing to provide jobs befitting their social status. The protests were then joined by other groups in both societies—trade unionists, Islamists, peasants and virtually everyone else unhappy with the old regimes—but the driving force remained the more modern segments of Tunisian and Egyptian society...
Posted on: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 15:06
SOURCE: National Review (4-27-11)
NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.
The security forces of Bashar Assad — a thug whom Hillary Clinton deemed a “reformer,” and with whom Barack Obama was determined to restore diplomatic relations — are slaughtering hundreds in the streets of Syria’s major cities. I know that the Turkish government will express no outrage. It will not help to sponsor a flotilla of private ships to sail into the port of Latakia to protest the government-sponsored barbarity. European “human rights” activists will not fly into any Arab city to board a freighter, Gaza-style, that would bring humanitarian assistance by sea to those being blown apart by the Assad regime. I know that.
Recently, Palestinian teenagers, in service to a Palestinian terrorist organization, massacred — in the literal sense of the word — the Fogel family of Israel, a savagery replete with the throat-slitting of toddlers and infants. The Palestinian police authority — U.S. trained and equipped — just shot down Jewish worshippers at Jacob’s Tomb. This comes amid the Palestinian Authority’s commemoration of the 2002 Passover Massacre of 30 Israeli civilians, apparently a national moment of honorific reflection on the West Bank. Yet I know that no one in Europe and few in America will protest to the Palestinian Authority, which the West subsidizes, that it seems to commemorate butchery in its midst....
We are living in another Soviet, a 21st-century sort in which we nod to official pieties and mouth politically correct banalities while in our private lives, for our safety, well-being — and sanity — we conduct ourselves according to altogether different premises. In the Soviet Union, the anonymous masses turned out to hear boilerplate praise for socialist comradeship, while those of them who were lucky enough to have a car took off the windshield wipers when they parked it — accepting both that their utopian state could not supply affordable replacement auto parts and that their comrades would steal almost anything they could from other suffering subjects.
In our version of the Soviet, we know that Israel is supposed to be culpable and that we are asked to praise the “aspirations” of the Palestinians, but if we were to go to the Middle East we most certainly would not stay in Gaza or the West Bank or visit unescorted a Christian shrine. We would wish to dine with people like the Fogels, but not their killers or the people who ordered them to kill. We are also to understand that the Arab and Turkish worlds abhor Israeli violence, and so we nod our assent; but privately we know that the issue is really Jews, not savagery per se, and that an Arab dictator can murder 1.000 Arabs with less worry about Western condemnation than an Israeli soldier can shoot one Arab on the West Bank in self-defense. Publicly we accept that tiny Israel, a country of 7 million, is an overdog, the foreign-policy equivalent of the demonized “them” here in America, the people who make over $200,000 a year — too successful, too Western, too unquestioning of their culture. Privately, we sort of admire Israel’s courage and understand that anti-Semitism, oil, fear of terrorism, and demographic calculus construct Arabs as sympathetic victims and Israelis as neo-colonialists....
Posted on: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 14:54
SOURCE: CS Monitor (4-26-11)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author, most recently, of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.
The Internet can be a scary place. Troll some of its darker corners, and you’ll find plenty of people who think that George W. Bush knew about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks before they happened. The Israelis were supposedly tipped off, too: That’s why Jews went to work late that day. And so on.
Now imagine that one of these conspiracy theorists announced that he was running for president. And suppose further that many other candidates and leading party figures said they didn’t believe the 9/11 plot, but that others were free to make up their own minds.
We would be outraged, of course. In the face of a fantastic lie, simply stating a personal preference – and leaving it at that – gives indirect confirmation to the lie itself. It becomes a matter of taste, like one’s favorite color or flavor of ice cream.
That’s the dirty little game that many Republicans have been playing with the so-called “birther” screed, which holds that President Obama was born in a foreign country or otherwise is not a “natural born citizen,” making him ineligible to be president. And they could get away with it, because no GOP presidential hopeful had personally endorsed the birther idea....
Posted on: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 10:14
SOURCE: The New Republic (4-26-11)
Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown University and co-editor of Dissent. His next book, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, will be published in August (Knopf).
No group in American politics gets more respect than independent voters. Pundits and reporters probe what these allegedly moderate citizens think about this issue and that candidate, major party strategists seek the golden mean of messaging that will attract independents to their camp and/or alienate them from the opposing one. Presidential nominees and aides struggle to come up with phrases and settings that will soothe or excite them. But what if millions of independents are really just a confused and clueless horde, whose interest in politics veers between the episodic and the non-existent?
That is certainly the impression one gets from dipping into the finer details of a mid-April survey of 1,000 likely, registered voters conducted by Democracy Corps, the outfit run by Stan Greenberg and James Carville. Beyond the usual questions about Obama’s job approval and that of House Republicans, this poll performed the valuable service of reading out each party’s talking points about the current budget debate and then asking respondents which ones they found convincing.
The results are mildly hilarious. By a margin of over 20 points, voters agree with these GOP lines: “Both Democrats and Republicans have run up deficits, but now they are out of control under President Obama and threatening our economy”; Paul Ryan’s plan “changes the reckless path of over-spending and borrowing”; and, “Over-regulation and high taxes punish companies for success.” At the same time, by slightly higher percentages, they also agree with the Democrats that Ryan’s budget would “eliminate guaranteed Medicare and Medicaid coverage”; “force seniors to negotiate with private insurance companies, which are free to raise rates and deny coverage”; and “decrease taxes for CEOs and big corporations, giving millionaires another huge tax break.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - 15:53
SOURCE: Irondequoit Post (NY) (4-24-11)
Sander A. Diamond is professor of history at Keuka College.
The acceleration of the march of history in the Islamic world has
presented a challenge. The streets of nearly every ancient city have
been filled with countless demonstrators demanding a new direction for
their nations and ending decades of repression.
As we peer into the future while in the midst of a still unfolding chain of interconnected events, an out-of-focus picture emerges. Given the region’s long history and the fact the landscape is filled with monarchies, iron-fisted leaders, secular reformers and Islamists, it is unlikely Western-style democracies will take root throughout the Arab world. However, there is much evidence to support the belief that when the dust settles, many of the states will remain in the Western orbit.
Concerns over the future of Egypt may be exaggerated. Unquestionably, the Muslim Brotherhood — which was founded as an Islamist party in 1928 with the aim of ousting the British from Egypt, and is still anti-Israel — is worrisome. But this does not mean that Egypt will emerge as an Islamic state along the lines of Iran, or that the “Cold Peace” with Israel will be thrown to the wind. Egypt’s long history has created an internal culture that favors stability....
Posted on: Monday, April 25, 2011 - 15:27
SOURCE: CNN.com (4-25-11)
Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter," published by Times Books, and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, published by Princeton University Press
Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- On a recent trip to England, I found that it was impossible to avoid seeing coasters, posters, books and other paraphernalia being sold to mark the royal wedding on April 29.
As you might expect, the wedding is drawing great interest among the British. But some Americans are following this wedding closely, too. Our fascination with royalty is not much different from our national obsession with Hollywood romances and peccadilloes.
The royal wedding also offers Americans an opportunity to revel in the glamour of leaders in a way that has been largely impossible in the post-Watergate era, in which cynicism and distrust have characterized the national outlook toward Washington.
Although there was a moment when Barack and Michelle Obama seemed to bring some of the appeal of Camelot back into the White House, that moment ended quickly as the media and political opponents sank their teeth into this president.
Posted on: Monday, April 25, 2011 - 15:14
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (4-22-11)
Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).
Reading the chronicle of the violence and death that have blanketed the western Libyan port city of Misurata during the last week, I couldn't help thinking of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1967 classic, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it... adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."
King understood the continued urgency of the struggle for equality. Similar to the situation today across the Arab world, promised reforms had yet to produce significant social change in 1967indeed, they were being undermined by the country's rapid descent into the darkness of the Vietnam War....
The region's youth-led protests have been inspired by the writings of King. But they have also been influenced by Lenin, whose seminal 1901 tract What is to be Done? forcefully argued that revolutions are won and lost in good measure on the depth and coherence of the strategies and tactics they develop, which were crucial to winning the support of a critical mass of the population to overthrow the system....
Posted on: Monday, April 25, 2011 - 13:49
SOURCE: WSJ (4-25-11)
Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is co-chair of the Hoover Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.
It was inevitable that the caravan of Arab freedom would make its appearance in Syria. It was there, three decades ago, that official terror hatched a monstrous state—and where practically everything Arabs would come to see in their politics in future decades was foreshadowed.
Hama was one of the principal cities of the Syrian plains. With a history of tumult and disputation, this Muslim Sunni stronghold rose against the military rule of Hafez Assad in 1982. The regime was at stake, and the drab, merciless ruler at its helm fought back and threw everything he had into the fight.
A good deal of the center of the inner city was demolished, no quarter was given. There are estimates that 20,000 people were killed.
After Hama, Hafez Assad would rule uncontested for two more decades. Prior to his ascendancy, 14 rulers came and went in a quarter-century. Many perished in prison or exile or fell to assassins. Not so with that man of stealth. He died in 2000, and in a most astonishing twist, he bequeathed power to his son Bashar, a young man not yet 35 years of age and an ophthalmologist at that....
Posted on: Monday, April 25, 2011 - 09:51
SOURCE: NYT (4-23-11)
IT is hard for liberals like me to find good news in the latest agreement to cut the federal budget, but there is at least one silver lining: subsidies for high-speed rail have been sharply reduced. Why is this good news?
In his State of the Union address, President Obama compared high-speed rail to the 19th-century transcontinental railroads as parallel examples of American innovation. I fear he may be right.
For the country as a whole, the Pacific Railway Act of 1864 and subsequent legislation subsidizing the transcontinental railroads — the lines that crossed the continent from the 98th meridian to the Pacific Coast — were the worst laws money could buy. By encouraging dumb growth, those laws sacrificed public good for private gain, and Americans came to regret it.
It is not that either transcontinental railroads or high-speed railroads are always bad ideas. A compelling case can be made for high-speed rail between Boston and Washington, for example, but the administration proposes building high-speed lines in places where there is no demonstrated demand. In California, construction of the new high-speed rail line from San Francisco to San Diego will begin with a line from Borden to Corcoran in California’s Central Valley. It is already being derided as the train to nowhere. The reduction of federal subsidies has not stopped the project, which now threatens to become a forlorn monument to hubris....
Posted on: Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 19:06
SOURCE: The American: Journal of the American Enterprise Institute (4-21-11)
Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Larry Summers is really, really smart. All discussions regarding Summers start with bloodlines: He’s the son of two distinguished economists, and the nephew of not one, but two Nobel laureates in economics (Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow). That said, Summers made the most of genetic good fortune, whizzing through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, becoming at the age of 28 one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard’s history. Working in a variety of fields in economics, he quickly rose to the top of the profession, and in 1993 was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded every two years by the American Economic Association to “that American economist under the age of forty who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.” Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that in 1987 Summers became the first social scientist to win the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award, made in recognition of “ the talent, creativity, and influence of a singular young researcher.”
This story isn’t intended as a paean to Summers—he hardly needs a testimonial from me—so I’ll not tarry over his long career in public service or his shorter career as president of Harvard. Suffice it to say that, all things considered, no economist in the world can match his résumé. In light of his background and achievements, it was hardly surprising that shortly after vacating the presidency at Harvard he assumed a part-time position with a financial house, in this case the D.E. Shaw investment group in New York. The surprising thing was the way he was recruited, which is what I’d like to focus on here.
First, a word or two about Shaw. Almost from the time of its establishment in 1988, D.E. Shaw has been pushing the boundaries of computational finance, in so doing, developing a reputation as perhaps the geekiest quantitative investment house in New York, a financial nerdistan populated by scores of brilliant PhDs in math, computer science, economics, and engineering. Since April 2009, when reports first surfaced that Summers pocketed over $5 million in his last year at D.E. Shaw before joining the Obama administration as director of the National Economic Council, the media, when mentioning Summers and Shaw in the same story, have seldom missed an opportunity to highlight the economist’s earnings at the firm. Louise Story’s April 6, 2009, piece in the New York Times, entitled “A Rich Education for Summers (After Harvard)” is somewhat exceptional in this regard, for she focuses as much or more on the knowledge and insights Summers gained by working in such a stimulating environment....
Posted on: Thursday, April 21, 2011 - 16:42