Historians' Take on the News: Archives 4-15-03 to 7-11-03
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 fascist beast. You could only trust the Soviet Union, which, it will be recalled, signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, thus betraying the fight against fascism.
Two incidents in the so-called documentary are shown in order to underline why the Cambridge Four became communist spies. In one of them, a drink in the hand of Philby's Jewish girl friend is knocked over by some Cambridge right-wing lout who refuses to apologize for his fascist behavior. Never happened. In the other, right-wing undergraduates are shown beating up striking college waiters at Cambridge. C'mon now, how can you blame Philby for turning traitor?
An even more dramatic incident that never happened shows a KGB plot to assassinate Generalissimo Francisco Franco that fails because Philby, writes Mr. Gross, "decent and humane fellow that he is, can't bring himself to pull the trigger." Mr. Gross calls these nonevents "fabrications." I prefer a simpler word "lies."
How does BBC explain the inexplicable? Listen to Janet Tranter, the BBC executive who commissioned the miniseries:
"It would be a very boring drama indeed if it didn't provoke a divided opinion. Otherwise, we are going to have a drama saying, 'What ho. These chaps are traitors and we hate them.' It is much more complicated than that. ... We are trying to put their treachery into perspective."
Oleg Gordievsky, the former KGB colonel who spied for Britain while he was the KGB station chief in London, was commissioned by the London Daily Telegraph to vet the docudrama. His conclusion was that the BBC film "resembled an official KGB textbook." He told the Telegraph:
"The films present so distorted a version of the history they claim to portray that they do not tell the story of the Cambridge spies. What they portray is more akin to a piece of propaganda. In true KGB fashion, the programs treat the Cambridge spies as heroes. ... Most of the dramatically powerful moments are not based on fact. They are fictional."
Martin Kramer, writing in his blog (July 2, 2003):
In the debate over U.S. government funding for Middle East centers, supporters of the subsidies claim that evidence for bias in the centers is anecdotal. But collect enough anecdotes and you have a pattern. Centers that receive subsidies--National Resource Centers funded under Title VI of the Higher Education Act--are required to engage in "outreach" to the wider community, and they receive funds for that purpose. It's precisely here that the anecdotes are easiest to collect, because it's here that the bias reveals itself to outsiders.
Consider Georgetown University's Title VI Middle East center, the "core" of which is its Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). In the May issue of the CCAS News, the center's "outreach" director, Zeina Seikaly, offers a report on her program's spring workshop for teachers. Some 140 Washington area K-12 teachers participated in the April 9 event, entitled "Crisis with Iraq." (That very day, Saddam's statue came toppling down in central Baghdad.) The "outreach" program lined up five speakers to address the teachers:
* Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the "progressive" Institute for Policy Studies and prolific antiwar activist. Her "talking points" on the war: it "is among the most dangerous and reckless actions ever taken by a U.S. president," it "threatens our Constitution," and it "stands in violation of the UN Charter and international law."
* Edmund Ghareeb, journalist and Georgetown adjunct professor. Prior to the war, Ghareeb claimed that Saddam had been wrongly "demonized," called for the "immediate lifting of the embargo," and proposed a "Marshall plan" to rebuild Iraq--without removing Saddam. He also joined sanctions critic Denis Halliday in an antiwar briefing for Congress.
* Kalee Kreider, a public relations consultant and environmental activist (formerly with Greenpeace). She travelled to Iraq in December to handle "media liason" for an antiwar mission of the National Council of Churches.
* Anas Shallal, founder of Iraqi Americans for Peaceful Alternatives--"a non-partisan, ad hoc organization whose primary aim is to stop the war against Iraq and its people." Once asked about Saddam's repression, he answered that it "really took place years ago,"and that the regime's tyranny "is, in no small part, due to our involvement in the Middle East and Iraq for many, many years."
* Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown. After a visit to Iraq in December, he wrote a page-one report for the CCAS News, determining that the "sanctions regime against Iraq constitutes a 'Weapon of Mass Destruction' and a crime against humanity." The report did not mention Saddam. "This war is about empire, oil, and unfinished business," he told 1,000 educators when Operation Iraqi Freedom began. (He also told them that "the reason [the 9/11 attacks] were directed at the United States is because our policies in the Middle East stink.")
In academe, this panel would be described as "diverse"--Arabs and Americans, men and women, academics and activists. In the real world, this is called a stacked deck. Georgetown's "outreach" program employed five people, three of them with no connection to the university, to hammer area schoolteachers with five varieties of the antiwar message. Imagine what an incredible machine it must take to translate your tax dollars into an event such as this. Well, you don't have to imagine it. It's called Title VI.
On June 19, the House Subcommittee on Select Education held a hearing on reports of bias in the Title VI-funded programs at universities. That evening, MSNBC's program "Scarborough Country" devoted a segment to the controversy. Stanley Kurtz, who had testified earlier in the day, presented the case against Title VI abuse. And who appeared to defend the program? Perhaps the president of the Middle East Studies Association? Perhaps a director of one of the fourteen Title VI Middle East centers? Perhaps the director of Georgetown's center? No: Title VI was defended by Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Why should Ibish, who is not an academic, accept an invitation to defend a government program for university-based Middle East centers? Precisely because of the sort of event held by Georgetown on April 9. Title VI "outreach" allows biased academics bring in off-campus activists, and pay them lecture fees to propagandize teachers and the general public. All at the taxpayers' expense.
I don't want to be misunderstood. Title VI support is not abused by all area studies centers, or even by all Middle East centers. The problem is that there is no effective mechanism for identifying abuse and rectifying it in real time. Unless someone lodges a complaint, the Department of Education doesn't even know about the content of events like the "Crisis with Iraq" workshop. In any case, its staff is in no position to analyze a speakers' list for bias. So Georgetown continues to run grossly unbalanced programs, and no one calls it to account. Indeed, Georgetown's Title VI Middle East grant has just been renewed for another three years.
This is why Title VI needs a supervisory board, as proposed by Kurtz. The board would provide ongoing oversight to these programs, supervise the work of review panels, investigate complaints of abuse, and reprimand or defund centers that have turned themselves into propaganda outlets. Title VI is under scrutiny because the Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization, so this is the time to make your views known. E-mail the chair of the Subcommittee on Select Education, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan), at this address:
You can write him at this address:
Committee on Education and the Workforce
U. S. House of Representatives
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
And you can fax him at this number: (202) 226-0779.
Cecilia O'Leary, associate professor of history at California State University (June 30, 2003):
Under the banner of patriotism, the right has successfully institutionalized repressive policies and justified an occupation of Iraq with no end in sight. Aspirations for American empire are not new, nor is the use of state-sponsored campaigns to limit political dissent. At the previous turn-of-the-century, the U.S. became a colonial power on the world stage when it occupied the Philippines. Less than 20 years later, during World War I, a 'my country right or wrong' brand of patriotism -- fueled by a federal agency set up to influence public opinion -- criminalized dissent. It was during this period that the institutional and ideological basis for what later became the national-security state assumed its modern shape. A form of patriotism, born of the fight against slavery and based in the U.S. living up to its professed ideals, was all but driven out. Now, at this new turn-of-the-century, the need to reflect on what kind of country the U.S. is becoming is all the more urgent. As Frederick Douglass asked when slavery still defined what it meant to be an American, 'What is the fourth of July to me?' -- so too we need to ask what does it mean for our government to subvert the very ideals we celebrate in the Declaration of Independence?
Diane Ravitch, writing in the Wall Street Journal (July 1, 2003):
Students across the state of New York recently took their Regents' examinations, the tests that they must pass in order to get a high school diploma. A year ago, the state education department was embarrassed when Jeanne Heifetz, a vigilant parent in Brooklyn, announced her discovery that state officials had expurgated literary selections on the English examination. Words and sentences that might offend anyone had been quietly deleted from passages by writers such as Elie Wiesel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Franz Kafka.
New York's penchant for bowdlerizing literature, it turns out, was not unique to the Empire State. The educational publishing industry follows very specific guidelines to ensure that school children are not exposed to words or topics that might be controversial, especially those that are related to gender, race, religion, or sex. I compiled a list of over 500 words that are banned by one or more publishers. Some are relatively obsolete, like "authoress" or "geezer," but others are everyday words that one is likely to encounter in the newspaper, like "landlord," "senior citizen," "dogma," "yacht" or "actress" (what would the late Katherine Hepburn have made of that?).
Since my book appeared, I have received a large number of letters from people in the educational publishing industry, offering fresh material about the sanitizing that occurs on a regular basis. In Michigan, the state does not allow mention of flying saucers or extraterrestrials on its test, because those subjects might imply the forbidden topic of evolution. A text illustrator wrote to say that she was not permitted to portray a birthday party because Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in celebrating birthdays. Another illustrator told me that he was directed to airbrush the udder from his drawing of a cow because that body part was "too sexual."
A review of my book in the Scotsman, an Edinburgh newspaper, said that a well-known local writer for children sold a story to an American textbook company, along with illustrations. The U.S. publisher, however, informed her that she could not show a little girl sitting on her grandfather's lap, as the drawing implied incest. So, the author changed the adult's face, so that the little girl was sitting on her grandmother's lap instead. A contributor to a major textbook series prepared a story comparing the great floods in 1889 in Johnstown, Pa., with those in 1993 in the Midwest, but was unable to find an acceptable photograph. The publisher insisted that everyone in the rowboats must be wearing a lifevest to demonstrate safety procedures.
A freelance writer sent me the "bias guidelines" for a major publisher of texts and tests. The "bias guidelines" consist of advice to writers and editors about words and topics that must be avoided, as well as specifications for illustrations. Like other publishers, this one requires adherence to gender and ethnic balance. All lessons, test questions, and illustrations must reflect the following ratios: 50-50 male-female; 45% Caucasian; 25% African American; 22% Hispanic American; 5% Asian American; 5% American Indian and others; and 3% "persons with disabilities." These figures do not total 100%, nor do they represent actual U.S. Census numbers, but the principle of representation is well understood by writers and editors. American society, as represented in the textbooks, is perfectly integrated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, and disability.
Arthur Schlsinger, Jr., writing in the Washington Post (June 28, 2003):
The weapons-of-mass-destruction issue -- where are they? -- will not subside and disappear, as the administration supposes (and hopes).
The issue will build because many Americans do not like to be manipulated and deceived....
The strategy that won us the Cold War was a combination of containment and deterrence carried out through multilateral agencies. The Bush doctrine reverses all that. The essence of the Bush doctrine is "anticipatory self-defense," a fancy name for preventive war. Our new policy is to strike an enemy, unilaterally if necessary, before it has a chance to strike us.
Whatever legitimacy preventive war may claim derives from intelligence reliable enough to persuade responsible people, including allies, that the supposed enemy is really about to strike the United States. If no WMD turn up in Iraq, President Bush will lose a lot of credibility. It seems doubtful that he would be able to lead the American people into wars against Iran or North Korea simply on his presidential say-so. The credibility gap may well nullify the preventive-war policy.
And if a cache of WMD is found buried somewhere in Iraq, that is not sufficient to rescue the president. The bottom-line question is: Why were the WMD not deployed? When Saddam Hussein was fighting for his regime, his power and his life, why in the world did he not use his WMD against the U.S. invasion? Heaven knows, he had plenty of warning.
Unearthing buried WMD would not establish Iraq as a clear and present danger to the United States. Deployment of WMD would have come much closer to convincing people that Iraq was a mortal threat.
Retreat from the preventive-war policy is all to the good, because the Bush doctrine transfers excessive power to the president. Abraham Lincoln long ago foresaw the constitutional implications of the preventive-war policy. On Feb. 15, 1848, he denounced the proposition "that if it shall become necessary to repel invasion, the President may, without violation of the Constitution, cross the line, and invade the territory of another country; and that whether such necessity exists in given case, the President is to be the sole judge."
Lincoln continued: "Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion . . . and you allow him to make war at pleasure. . . . If to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us' but he will say to you 'be silent; I see it, if you don't.'
"The Founding Fathers," Lincoln said, "resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us."
If the Bush doctrine prevails, the imperial presidency will sure be redux.
Howard Zinn, writing in TomPaine.com (June 25, 2003):
The war in Iraq is different in so many ways from the war waged by the United States in Vietnam that we wonder why, like the telltale heart beating behind the murderer's wall in Edgar Allan Poe's story, the drumbeat of Vietnam can still be heard.
The Vietnam war lasted eight years, the Iraq war three weeks. In Vietnam there were 58,000 U.S. combat casualties, in Iraq a few hundred. Our enemy in Vietnam was a popular national figure -- Ho Chin Minh. Our enemy in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was hated by most of his people. One war was fought in jungles and mountains with a largely draftee army, the other in a sandy desert with volunteer soldiers. The United States was defeated in Vietnam. It was victorious in Iraq.
The elder President Bush in 1991, after the first war against Iraq, announced proudly: "The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula."
But is the "Vietnam syndrome" really gone from the national consciousness? Is there not a fundamental similarity -- that in both instances we see the most powerful country in the world sending its armies, ships and planes halfway around the world to invade and bomb a small country for reasons which become harder and harder to justify?
The justifications were created, in both situations, by lying to the American public. Congress gave Lyndon Johnson the power to make war in Vietnam after his administration announced that U.S. ships, on "routine patrol" had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin. Every element of this claim was later shown to be false.
Similarly, the reason initially given for going to war in Iraq -- that Saddam Hussein had "weapons of mass destruction," turns out to be a fabrication. None have been found, either by a small army of U.N. inspectors, or a large American army searching the entire country.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had told the nation: "We know for a fact that there are weapons there." Astonishingly, after the war Bush said on Polish TV, "We've found the weapons of mass destruction."
The "documents" Bush cited in his State of the Union address to "prove" that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction turned out to be forged. The so-called "drones of death" turned out to be model airplanes. What Colin Powell called "decontamination trucks" were found to be fire trucks. What U.S. leaders called "mobile germ labs" were found by an official British inspection team to be used for inflating artillery balloons.
Furthermore, the Bush administration deceived the American public into believing, as a majority still do, that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaeda terrorists who planned the attack on 9/11. Not an iota of evidence has been produced to support that.
Both a Communist Vietnam and an Iraq ruled by Saddam Hussein were presented as imminent threats to American national security. There was no solid basis for this fear in either case; indeed Iraq was a country devastated by two wars and 10 years of sanctions, but the claim was useful for an administration bringing its people into a deadly war.
What was not talked about publicly at the time of the Vietnam War was something said secretly in intra-governmental memoranda -- that the interest of the United States in Southeast Asia was not the establishment of democracy, but the protection of access to the oil, tin and rubber of that region. In the Iraqi case, the obvious crucial role of oil in U.S. policy has been whisked out of sight, lest it reveal less than noble motives in the drive to war.
Gil Troy, writing in frontpagemag.com (June 25, 2003):
The looming confrontation between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over Israeli latitude in fighting Palestinian violence highlights a central contradiction in Bush's war against terror. While, President Bush recognizes Palestinian terrorism as intertwined with "international terror" more than most world leaders, he does not equate the two. To Bush, "international terror" (Bush-speak for Islamic fundamentalist terror) is completely irrational and must be crushed. However, according to Bush, Palestinian terror is rooted in Palestinian suffering and thus can be addressed diplomatically, as well as militarily.
Americans made this distinction clear earlier in the month when they signed off, with no public protest, on the Group of Eight leaders' statement condemning "international terrorism." The statement recognized that "The threat of terrorism remains serious, as has been seen in a series of terrorist incidents including in Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen over the past year." It was a stunning omission; on the eve of Bush's Middle Eastern summit, Israel - the home of the most violent terrorist attacks in the world - did not even merit a mention on the list of countries that suffered from terrorism last year.
This oversight recalls a statement from the Moscow Conference signed nearly 60 years ago by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet premier Josef Stalin. In October 1943, the Allies had finally issued a "Statement on Atrocities" responding to "evidence of atrocities, massacres and cold-blooded mass executions which are being perpetrated by Hitlerite forces." The Allied leaders vowed to punish "Germans who take part in wholesale shooting of Polish officers or in the execution of French, Dutch, Belgian or Norwegian hostages or Cretan peasants, or who have shared in slaughters inflicted on the people of Poland or in territories of the Soviet Union."
Back then the Allied powers could not unite in recognizing the special sufferings.imposed on Europe's Jews, just as today admitting that Jews are being targeted would prove divisive. Although the situations obviously differ, then, as now, Jews doubly suffered from being singled out by their enemies and overlooked by potential friends. This is the peculiar double-whammy of bigotry against Jews and others making the victim all too visible as a target to the haters and all too invisible to the supposedly innocent bystanders.
And yet, Bush, like most Israelis, treats Palestinian terrorism differently. While al-Qaida terrorism strikes him as so irrational that he and his supporters dismiss any discussion of "root causes" (let alone grievances) Bush wavers between treating Palestinian terror as unreasonable and reasonable, and thus unsolvable or solvable by peaceful means.
Fiachra Gibbons, writing in the Guardian (June 25, 2003):
Professor Norman Mackenzie, now 82 - and the only known surviving member of the 38 "crypto-communists and fellow travellers" who Orwell claimed should not be trusted - said the writer was gravely ill with TB and "losing his grip on himself" when he handed over the list to a murky Foreign Office propaganda unit in 1949.
Orwell died within the year, but the list has stained his legend. The author of Animal Farm handed over the names to the beautiful IRD operative Celia Kirwan, one of three women the widower proposed to in his last days in the hope of finding a mother for his son. But yesterday Professor Mackenzie, who knew for some time he had been fingered, described the list as "the sort of tittle-tattle you often heard in Red Lion Square. . . It's a very shaky list. He was definitely right about Peter Smollett (aka Smolka, who worked for the Daily Express) and Commander Edgar Young, both of whom were nasty shits, but he is wildly off the mark elsewhere," the historian said.
"Tubercular people often could get very strange towards the end. I'm an Orwell man, I agreed with him on the Soviet Union, but he went partly ga-ga I think. He let his dislike of the New Statesman crowd, of what he saw as leftish, dilettante, sentimental socialists who covered up for the Popular Front in Spain (after it became communist-controlled) get the better of him."
The fact that the magazine's editor was Kingsley Martin, who rejected Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's dispatches from Spain, where he survived being shot in the neck, may have been the root of his loathing. "(The list) represents everything he hated about the New Statesman - that it was full of fluffy-headed fellow travellers and that it was intellectually dis honest, which is probably true."
While Orwell only queried whether Mackenzie was a communist, the academic yesterday confirmed that he had been a party member until he joined Labour in 1943.
The author and former Guardian journalist Ian Aitken, who worked on Tribune magazine, the home of some of Orwell's best journalism, said it was "preposterous and utterly ridiculous to think that Mackenzie was a danger. My eyebrows went up when I saw Norman's name and poor Margaret Stewart's. When I knew her she was very rightwing Labour. I can't think why Orwell did it. I think his brain must have been addled."
Nicholas Farrell, writing in the London Independent (June 25, 2003):
Benito Mussolini was born and is buried in the Apennine village of Predappio, between Bologna and Florence. It is here, in this Fascist Bethlehem, where I have spent the past five years working on my biography of the dictator.
Every now and again, as I wander about town, my mind drifts from Mussolini and Fascism, the subject in hand, to another matter: Tony Blair and New Labour. Odd, but I cannot help noticing that Blair and Mussolini have rather a lot in common. I am not saying that Blair has consciously copied Mussolini. But Blair, probably without even realising it, does seem to have imbibed quite a few things from the Duce.
For a start, Blair extols the virtues of the Third Way, which was the phrase coined by the Fascists, no less, to describe their alternative to capitalism and communism. Blair began as a left-wing pacifist and became a right-wing warmonger. He is dictatorial and ignores Parliament if he can and he is a master of propaganda (spin). He is also a bit of a musician - always a dangerous sign in a politician - and plays the electric guitar. So was Mussolini. He played the violin. Before Mussolini, the region where I live - the Red Romagna - was left- wing and it reverted to type after its most famous son had gone. Left- wing politics is in the blood around here and it did not take my left- wing Italian friends long to figure Blair out. "Blair is not one of us. He is our enemy," they say.
On the face of it, though, Blair and Mussolini would appear to have little in common: Mussolini was a serial womaniser who fought duels. He was also a serious intellectual and historian, even though he was from a poor family and did not go to university. Blair, on the other hand, is a pious, church-going family man who, though middle-class and Oxford-educated, does not know his history. Blair is called Tony - which hardly matches up to Benito as a name for a dictator.
Let the facts speak for themselves. Both men started out as left-wingers but to get power both moved right. Then, to keep power, they both moved righter still. Both marketed themselves as of the left. But their product was not of the left. It was something else.
People, especially people on the left, tend to forget - presumably because it is inconvenient to remember - that Mussolini was a revolutionary socialist before he was anything else. They forget, too, that he founded Fascism not as a right-wing dictatorship but as a left-wing revolutionary movement that provided an alternative first to socialism then to communism.
When, during the second Bill Clinton presidency, Blair and Clinton started holding summits on the Third Way, they really were verging on the truly Fascist. The Fascist Third Way between capitalism and communism aimed to abolish class war and replace it with class collaboration. This meant the promotion of the productive elements in society from whatever class and the abolition of the parasitical elements from whatever class.
Jamie Glazov, Frontpage Magazine's managing editor, holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Soviet Studies. On June 21, 2003 he conducted a symposium in which he made the following observation:
I am a Russian émigré and I continue to be unceasingly baffled when I run into most Russians. Almost all of them hate Blacks, Jews and, to be truthful, almost anyone and everyone I can think of. Anyone that visits Russia can tell you that there is a great disapproval, to say the least, of foreigners. I find especially humorous how Russians I know go into a state of tragic and dreadful shock when they find out that some Russian émigré’s son or daughter doesn’t speak Russian. They always say “kakoy ooszhas” (how tragically terrible).
What I can’t figure out about all of this is, like what exactly is it that you are trying to hold on to? So some émigré kids don’t speak Russian. And? News flash: Western civilization has done quite well without the Russian language, and I think it would be safe to say that it will continue to do so. Another news flash: I know a lot of Russians in the West who don’t even bother speaking Russian, and have lost most of it, and guess what? They live very successful and happy lives and don’t suffer the miserable existence, including the non-stop chain-smoking and vodka-guzzling, that most Russian-speaking people do in the nation that has been built by Russian speakers.
“You don’t speak Russian with your brother?” one horrified Russian once asked me. “Ah, no, usually not,” I answered. But I couldn’t help wondering after:
“buddy, you don’t even have a job, you have no money in the bank, you have no girlfriend, you clearly aren’t happy, and, in terms of the clothes you wear, you look like a derelict on the street at worst and a loser with no fashion sense or color co-ordination at best. You have no concept of what the individual is, let alone what individual happiness is -- or the right to it. Maybe shift your concern about what language I speak with my brother to worrying about where speaking this language has gotten you -- and your country. Think it over.”
Look, of course I love my language and the beautiful breadth and depth of spirit within my native culture. And of course I do not think that a good material life is all that matters. But my point and question is: what is this pathological and hilarious hatred of everyone and everything outside of being Russian when Russia is, aside from the beauty of the Russian soul and its literature, a complete and utter political, social and economic basketcase? It’s Russia that fertilized the genocidal Soviet regime, not the West. It’s Russia where Russian-speaking people had to stand in 4-hour lines just to buy bread throughout the 20th century, not America.
Alexander Keyssar, writing in the Washington Post (June 24, 2003):
Last week, in a speech to business leaders in Elizabeth, N.J., President Bush dismissed as "revisionist historians" those critics who have begun to question the administration's rationale for invading Iraq. His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, made a similar claim a few days earlier. They both seem to think there is something suspect or illegitimate about revisionist history.
Yet revising prevailing interpretations of historical events is precisely what historians do. As new evidence becomes available, or new research methods are developed, or the passage of time shifts our perspective, historians revise their accounts of the past and their explanations of key trends and developments: The writing of history is a continuing, collective effort to attain closer approximations of the truth.
Indeed, revisionist history has a proud tradition in the United States -- despite the brief and ugly effort of Holocaust deniers to label themselves "revisionists." In the past 40 years, for example, self-consciously revisionist historians have profoundly recast our understanding of Reconstruction. Older, white supremacist histories that depicted that critical era as a struggle between heroic, well-meaning white southerners and ignorant ex-slaves, unscrupulous carpetbaggers and vengeful northern Republicans have been debunked by masses of evidence. In their place, we find more accurate, if even less pretty, chronicles of blacks and their allies struggling unsuccessfully to hold on to the rights that they were supposed to have acquired through the 14th and 15th amendments.
Similarly, historians using new data have revised our knowledge of the history of social mobility in the United States, of the dynamics leading up to the Spanish-American War and of the personal lives of presidents from Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy. The Pentagon Papers, as well as other documents and memoirs, have contributed to revisionist histories of the war in Vietnam. For the past 10 years, the history of the Cold War has been rewritten thanks to the opening of Soviet archives after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The issue here is not that President Bush has an inadequate appreciation of the historian's craft. (This may be true, but it matters to only a few of us.) It is, rather, that the president and his advisers want to promulgate an official version of history and to deride as untrustworthy any challenges to their account. This is not unusual: Participants in historical events always have a stake in the way the story gets told, and they are quick to usher their versions into the spotlight.
Marvin Hier (founder and dean of the Simon, Wiesenthal Center) and Harold Brackman (a historian and consultant to the Wiesenthal Center), writing in the LA Times (June 23, 2003):
Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 biblical epic, "The King of Kings" offended American Jews by portraying the Jewish people -- rather than the Romans -- as responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. DeMille dismissed criticism, insisting that "if Jesus were alive today, these Jews I speak of might crucify him again."
But whether DeMille admitted it or not, the film did fuel anti-Semitism. Consider the following note, passed between two fourth-grade girls, that found its way into the files of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise: "Martha, I found out who killed our God. The Jews did it. I went to see King of Kings. It showed how the Jews killed him."
Now comes Mel Gibson, who insists Jews and Catholics will have nothing to worry about in his new, self-financed, $25-million film, "The Passion." It's true that the final script hasn't been made available, and there is currently no release date, or even distributor, for the film. Still, there are reasons for concern.
The passion of Christ -- the crucifixion and hours leading up to it -- has been used by bigots, including popes and kings, to inflame anti-Semitism through the ages. A belief that Jews were responsible for crucifying the son of God led Pope Innocent III to conclude in the early 13th century that Jews should be consigned to a state of "perpetual subservience" as wanderers and fugitives, and made to wear a mark on their clothing identifying them as Jews. His pronouncement reinforced widespread anti-Semitism that led over the centuries to millions of Jews being burned at the stake and murdered in pogroms throughout Christian Europe.
Any film about such a sensitive subject would set off alarm bells. But a film by Gibson is particularly alarming. A New York Times Magazine story in March revealed that the actor's father questions many commonly accepted views of the Holocaust, including whether 6 million Jews were killed. Also revealed in the article was that Gibson himself has funded a Catholic splinter group that rejects the three popes elected since John XXIII died in 1963 and the reforms of Vatican II. Rejecting the accomplishments of Vatican II raises particular concerns for Jews, in that one of its significant achievements was the church's declaration that "the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God." It was that milestone that made possible the election of Pope John Paul II, who has done more for Catholic-Jewish relations then any of his predecessors.
Gibson, who co-wrote the script for his film, has said he relied on three sources: the New Testament and two nuns. One of the nuns, Mary of Agreda, a 17th century Spanish aristocrat, wrote of the Jews involved in Christ's death: "Although they did not die [they] were chastised with intense pains... These disorders consequently upon shedding the blood of Christ descended to their posterity and even to this day continue to afflict this group with horrible impurities." The other, Anne Catherine Emmerich, was an early 19th century German stigmatic who often described Jews as having hooked noses and who told of a vision she had in which she rescued from purgatory an old Jewish woman who confessed to her that Jews strangled Christian children and used their blood in the observance of their rituals. She claimed the woman in her vision told her that this practice was kept secret so it would not interfere with the Jews' commercial intercourse with Gentiles.
Johanna Neuman, writing in the LA Times (June 22, 2003):
In the ambush at Nasiriyah, there was another woman captured by the Iraqis. Shoshana Johnson received a fair amount of attention but not nearly the star treatment accorded Lynch.
A 30-year-old single mother, Johnson left the University of Texas at El Paso four years ago to enlist in the Army and pursue her dream of becoming a professional chef. A cook attached to the 507th, she was shot in both ankles; on video footage aired by Al Jazeera television, she looked terrified of her interrogators. Once released, Johnson got an offer of a scholarship at a culinary school, a call from Oprah Winfrey and a reception by the Congressional Black Caucus.
"The initial stories had Lynch fighting to the last bullet, which makes her useful as a symbol of the new figure in our 'ethnic platoon' of American soldiers -- the Woman Warrior," said Richard Slotkin, a novelist and historian at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He also said he thinks Johnson, who is African American, was less of a media draw because "her race makes her less eligible for the 'white captive' role." And, he added, she was not rescued first.
This illustration is by Joshua Brown, Executive Director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York Graduate Center:
Martin Kramer, writing in his blog (June 23, 2003):
In a work published in 1978, [Edward Said] argued that Western meddling in the Middle East throughout much of the 20th Century produced the conflict and turbulence that continues to plague that region of the world....This theory reached its apex of popularity more than a decade ago and has been waning ever since. Even a cursory review of the syllabi of the Middle East Centers clearly shows this work only occasionally appears as an assigned reading or on a resource list. Indeed, historians and political scientists rarely find this theory useful.
Hands on hearts, fellow academics: is this assessment even remotely accurate? Has Edward Said's influence been in a decade-long decline? Is his 1978 book Orientalism only "occasionally" assigned or listed as a resource? Is he "rarely" invoked by scholars in the field?
The claim is absolute nonsense, as anyone who inhabits academe knows. Said is one of only two academics today (the other is Noam Chomsky) who draws an overflow crowd on any campus he visits and who always gets a standing ovation. (It happened again this spring at Berkeley and UCLA.) Just this past fall, on the anniversary of 9/11, American and European scholars of the Middle East, meeting in their first "world congress," honored Said (and only Said) with their first-ever award for "outstanding contributions to Middle Eastern studies." And needless to say, you cannot finish an undergraduate education in Middle Eastern studies without being assigned Orientalism several times over.
So who is the fellow making this absurd assertion about Said, and why is he making it?
His name is Terry Hartle, he's a top lobbyist at the American Council on Education, and he made his claim in testimony last Thursday before the House Subcommittee on Select Education. His purpose: to absolve Middle Eastern studies of the charge that they remain under the spell of academe's most virulent critic of American power and policy in the Middle East. Why should this interest Congress? Because there are people who are beginning to ask why American taxpayers should subsidize the activities of Edward Said's acolytes, to the tune of several millions of dollars a year.
Poor Dr. Hartle. The Subcommittee, with very little notice, decided to conduct a hearing on Title VI, the federal program that subsidizes area studies, including Middle Eastern studies, at American universities. Since 9/11, higher education lobbyists like Hartle have been pushing for more Title VI funding, citing the threats emanating from the Middle East. The paradox is that the very Middle East "experts" who have been getting Title VI money for decades have been anything but prescient about changes in the Middle East. Even worse, a lot of them subscribe to Edward Said's notion that the proper role of American scholars is to agitate against the alleged excesses of American neo-imperialism, both in the classroom and outside of it. The most brazen abusers have done this on the government's nickle.
So Dr. Hartle was very busy on Thursday, covering up the sins of Middle Eastern studies. His job wasn't made any easier by Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution, an indefatigable critic of the excesses of Title VI-subsidized centers and scholars.
Wesley Yang, writing on H-Diplo about the belief that Straussians have taken over the government (June 2003):
The neoconservative foreign policy began with opposition to detente, opposition to arms control, support for missile defense and a crusading moralism toward totalitarian states supported by the Soviets, essentially inverting Carters human rights moralism and seizing it as a stick to beat Communists with. (Carter applied his doctrine to right wing authoritarian dictatorships such as the Shah and the Somoza regime in Nicaragua; Reagan crusaded against the Soviets and Sandinistas.) There is no Straussian influence here or in the Neo Reaganite Foreign Policy of William Kristol and Robert Kagan.
This is to say that in the effort to prise out insights into our foreign policy shift a shift that Wolfowitz numbered among the 10 most significant of the last 100 years in a recent Vanity Fair interview the works of Leo Strauss are probably a red herring. It matters less that a handful of ideologues pressed the administration to wage the war than that George W. Bush, a born again Christian President who campaigned as a non-interventionist, decided to act on those counsels. Because of Sept. 11, and because he came to accept a theory about the best way to drain the swamp of terrorism that involved a resumption of a kind of neo-Reaganite crusading. This theory seems to me a dangerous fantasy; but it is, nonetheless, grounded in an analysis of a volatile world situation that focuses on questions of power, stability, legitimacy, and order.
Strauss, then is not a useful guide into any of the specifics of the neoconservative foreign policy.
The neoconservative domestic agenda is based on opposition to the extension of the welfare state beyond the New Deal (into affirmative action) and the excesses of the liberal adversary culture. It has helped promote the broken windows theory of crime, (arguably the single most successful instance of a sociological theory applied to actual practice), and is behind worthy ideas like school choice, none of them rooted in any significant way, in Strauss.
So is it pointless to talk about Strauss?
The answer I proposed is: not entirely. Strauss has a role to play. He is a kind of secret handshake for some (not all) self identified neonservatives. He makes a doctrine of the role of intellectuals and the tactics they should use in their effort to exercise influence that are a part of the amour propre of intellectuals anyway (the elitism, the desire for influence, the Machiavellian virtues) .....But the significant point about all neoconservatives (which Leo Strausss philosophy distills in a highly concentrated form) is their shared sense of opposition toward and collective grievance against the so-called adversary culture.
More than anything else, this defines neoconservatism, at home and abroad. The blame America first (Jeanne Kirkpatricks phrase) left embraced the Third World (including the Palestinian cause) in the late 1960s, turned violently against the Cold War, endorsed a massive extension of the welfare state through the Great Society that pressed for equality of result instead of equality of opportunity, and presided over an anti-intellectual current that debased the university curriculum in favor of multiculturalism and moral relativism. All of these signs of weakness, degeneration, and decline are, to the neoconservative, a part of the same malaise. Strauss is one especially striking node through which these complaints are articulated. He is one dramatic rallying point establishing us against them.
The other important thing to realize about Strauss is his curious relationship to religion. For Strauss, religion is fraud, while philosophy is the truth that necessarily destroys the foundation of any belief in revealed truth. The trouble, as Strauss sees it, is that only religion can provide the glue to hold society together. The Enlightenment notion that all men can become enlightened is, to Strauss, a dangerous fantasy, and indeed the cause of the degeneration of modern culture. For the hard truths about the absence of any absolutes that the philosopher delights in will crush the mass man who is not equipped for it. He will inevitably succumb to nihilism and moral relativism, while the philosopher will, through an act of superhuman nobility, live with the truth.
It is easy to see how Strausss view is an effective vehicle for the neoconservative complaint against the adversary culture of the 1960s, with its aesthetic of shock and spectacle, and its loud, monotous rock music. But further, it is the recognition that, though fraudulent, religion remains a necessary and noble lie, that helps explain the curious alliance between secular, cosmopolitan, elitist, Eastern, new class, predominantly Jewish neocons with the fundamentalist, provincial, Southern, populist, isolationist wing of the Republican Party that George W. represents. It is an alliance that seems otherwise impossible. Yet, it can be explained with reference to a coalescence of several distinct tendencies in the two approaches; Christian Apocalypticism, the Jacksonian tendency of the Southern right wing to favor strong military action when America is attacked, matched by the Likudnik commitment to hardline Israeli policies (present among some leading neocons) and a Straussian belief in religion as a necessary lie.
Sean McMeekin, who teaches international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, writing in the Weekly Standard (June 23, 2003):
SO NIALL FERGUSON, nostalgic neoimperialist historian from the mother country, has moved to America. And in a flurry of essays in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, he has announced his mission: giving "lessons" to yellow Yanks in the arts of "Empire," as he titled his most recent book.
He's not the first. Ever since Rudyard Kipling urged Americans to take up the White Man's Burden, pained prophets of Britain's declining global influence have been projecting their imperial fantasies onto America, only to be disappointed by our perennial reluctance to carry them out. Already the chorus has begun over Washington's presumed desire to abandon Baghdad soon after conquering it. As Ferguson, now teaching at New York University's Stern school of business, recently declaimed in the New York Times Magazine with characteristic condescension, "today's 'wannabe' imperialists in the United States" are already asking, "'So--can we, like, go home now?'" By contrast, he continued, "when the British went into Iraq, they stuck around."
Well, pardon my English, but why exactly should Americans colonize Iraq in the same way the British did? Last time I checked, London seemed to have botched the job up pretty good there, playing footsie-for-oil with corrupt Sunni minority tyrants only too eager to lord it over majority Shias, plus the Kurds, Christians, and Turkmen. This is not to mention the festering geopolitical sores of Cyprus, Kashmir, Palestine, Northern Ireland, and much of contemporary Africa, which seem likewise to have British colonial footprints all over them.
Without going too deeply into the tragic fallout of London's policy of "divide and quit" (a phrase recently given new currency by a more sanguine English expatriate, journalist Christopher Hitchens), let us at least agree that the legacy of the British Foreign Office around the world is mixed. Cricket and common law caught on fairly well in a few Commonwealth countries in Asia and the Americas, but conspicuously less so in the more volatile regions of Africa and the Middle East, where the Brits are not always remembered so fondly.
The postwar American world order, meanwhile, now nearing the end of its sixth decade, seems to be plodding along pretty well, despite Americans' lackadaisical approach to global governance. And this seems to drive Britcons like Ferguson crazy. Unlike the Oxbridge scions of old, he laments, "America's brightest and best aspire not to govern Mesopotamia, but to manage MTV." Surveying the halls of the Ivy League, he finds no stirrings, even post-9/11, of a "new imperial elite" in the making. Who will govern Iraq? "You simply cannot have an empire," he concludes, "without imperialists."
ET TU, Britannicus? Does America really require a colonial service? Need we design sharp khaki uniforms, snappy salutes, punchy titles? Should we ask universities to close down study-abroad centers in friendly, rich countries and give credits only to students who learn the art of the cold shower and the stiff upper lip in difficult Third World climates? Must our values become Victorian, so that we truly civilize the world's backward regions, instead of merely flooding them with mass-marketed pop culture?
As a fairly highbrow American expat academic myself who speaks a number of foreign languages, I am not so sure this is a good idea. Americans are already quite recognizable enough around the world in their casual approach to fashion, their assertive style of speech, not to mention their accents. The last thing we need is to draw more attention to ourselves. Like most unassuming American expat legionnaires--businessmen, economists, lawyers, English teachers, missionaries, Peace Corps activists, free-weekly editors, NGO staffers, and so on--I do not require an imperial uniform to promote American values abroad. Nor did I pass through a civil service feeder.
Bruce Craig, writing in his weekly newsletter for the Coalition for History (June 19, 2003):
PRESIDENT INVOKES "REVISIONIST HISTORY" IN REMARKS ON IRAQ President Bush has given a new twist to words in Carl L. Becker's American Historical Association 1931 keynote address "Everyman His Own Historian." For two days in a row now, President Bush has expressed his escalating impatience and frustration with criticism from members of Congress and other skeptics who question whether there ever were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He has invoked what appears to be a new derogatory term for those who question the existence of such weapons -- "revisionist historians."
In recent remarks at both Northern Virginia Community College and in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the President took issue with those who question the existence of Hussein's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and suggested that the existence of such weapons was already settled; two Congressional investigatory committees and a Parliamentary panel in Britain, however, have yet to reach their conclusions. On Monday in New Jersey the President stated, "There are some who would like to rewrite history -- revisionist historians is what I like to call them...Saddam Hussein was a threat to America and the free world." And on Tuesday before an audience in Northern Virginia the President stated, "I know there's a lot of revisionist history now going on, but one thing is certain. He [Saddam Hussein] is not longer a threat to the Free World, and the people of Iraq are free."
Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America" program, Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clark stated that the administration's case is not based entirely on direct evidence, and the decision to go to war was based on the knowledge that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had previously used them. The President's frustration involved in the ongoing search for weapons of mass destruction reflects Hussein's history of "denying and deceiving every country around the world." Clark said, "It's going to take some time [to locate them]...but we'll get there."
Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University, writing in The Historical Society (April 2003):
Niall Ferguson advances at least a prima facie case that the British Empire was economically beneficial, not only to Britain herself, but also to her empireperhaps even to the world economy as a whole. For the most part, that is, Anglobalization paid, producing results that were in many ways astounding. Where results fell short of that standard, the culprit was insufficient exertion. Britains imperial sins were those of omission rather than commission. Indeed, when, the sun finally set on Britain s empire, independence in all too many cases left the Crowns former subjects worse off.
In offering this argument at this particular moment, Ferguson adds his voiceknowingly, one assumesto a swelling chorus heard throughout much of the Anglo-American world. Already discernible before the terrorist attack of September 11, these voices have become altogether insistent since. Empire, they argue, has gotten something of a bum rap. Indeed, if a planet awash with religious fanatics and rogue regimes is to have any hope of enjoying order and predictabilityand by extension, prosperity and civilitya little dose of empire might be just what the doctor ordered.
Among those former colonials who were the very first to throw off British rule, this idea has met with growing favor. In public discourse, a preference for rhetorical evasions persistsglobal leadership being the euphemism of choicebut the truth is that especially since September 11 more and more Americans have warmed to the notion that as the sole remaining superpower the United States ought to call the shots.
In words and actions, the present Bush administration has with alacrity seized upon this imperial moment. The administrations National Security Strategy, published precisely one year into the so-called war on terror, offered a breathtaking assertion of American primacy. More telling still, the battle dress-clad legionnaires sweeping into such formerly British imperial precincts as Central Asia and the Persian Gulfand settling in for what promises to be a protracted staytestify in ways both symbolic and real to this administrations willingness to don the mantle of empire. Although not quite willing to say so out loud, Washington and Wall Street have laid claim to the prerogatives once reserved for London and its City.
A new variant of globalization, informed by American values and American aspirations, has emerged, a successor of sorts to the Anglobalization that made life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries comparatively tolerable. Noting the resemblance between todays Washington consensus and the Londonconsensus of that earlier age, Ferguson finds hopeful similarities between the two projects. When it comes to economic and political ground rules, the United Statesarguably stands today as the true successor of Great Britain in its imperial heyday.
Implied but not stated is the suggestion that by following the wise example of their cousins across the pond, the architects of todays American Empire just might manage to create a global imperium approaching Britains in durability and (by Fergusons measure) decency, to the benefit of all.
A nice thought but dont count on itat least not without Americans having to pay a helluva price.
Fergusons empire is a business proposition, its success measured in terms of capital flows, advances in per capita GDP, and the anticipated vs. actual return on government bonds. In that empire, the practitioner of gentlemanly capitalism occupies center stage. (Rudyard Kipling, T. E. Lawrence, and Winston Churchill, meanwhile, are nowhere to be seen). It is an empire devoid of grandeur and, seemingly, of moral purpose.
To be sure, the American Empire is also a business proposition. But it is not only just that. When any modern president describes Americas purposeand here George W. Bush differs little from his immediate (and now all but forgotten) predecessorhe speaks the language not of the corporate CEO or accountant but of the prophet and revolutionary. It is not gentlemanly capitalism that informs the American Empire but a conviction that providence has charged America with the salvation of the world. The patron saint of the American Empire is not J. P. Morgan; it is Woodrow Wilson.
Do sophisticated, worldly American statesmenpeople like Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeldreally believe all of the Wilsonian blather about democracy, freedom, and world peace that routinely washes across the top of the bully pulpit? Maybe, maybe not. But in either case they cant stop pretending that they do, and thats what counts. The continuing legitimacy of the empire prohibits them (and us) from admitting any doubts about America s responsibility (and capacity) to steer history to its intended destination.
Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writing in The Historical Society (April, 2003):
The best book on terrorism is Walter Laqueurs A History of Terrorism, written some twenty-odd years ago, because it puts terrorism in its proper historical context, and thus avoids an intellectual blunder very common nowadays: the assumption that we are dealing with something quite new and unique. The word terror itself goes back to the French Revolution, and was then taken on by various killers, anarchists, assassins, intellectuals, and leaders of large and small political and religious movements. All of themfrom Robespierre to the 19th-century Russian anarchists, from Sorel to Yasser Arafatbelieved that it was possible to frighten and intimidate their enemies in order to achieve political objectives that were impossible by normal political means. So terrorism isnt new and isnt all that rare.
Laqueur also took pains to point out that terrorism was not, as it is often described, a desperate act fueled by misery and poverty. Most terrorist leaders have been well educated (with a surprisingly high percentage of medical doctors), and the September 11 killers fit the model. They came from good families with plenty of money, and they had excellent opportunities to become successful: they were well educated, traveled abroad, spoke foreign languages, and had no trouble finding work. As Thomas Friedman has pointed out, there is obviously an important connection between this generation of Islamic terrorists and significant strains in European culture. Students of fin de siècle France and Germany should recognize some of these strainswhich run from Nietzsche to Hermann Hesseand its a bit disappointing that very few scholars have noticed the connection.
David Wise, author of The Politics of Lying (1973), writing in the Washington Post (June 15, 2003):
The sign on the White House these days might well read "Welcome to Credibility Gap."
Sooner or later, every modern administration has fallen into this unwelcome gulch, a disaster that happens when the gap between the government's words and the known facts becomes discernible to the voters. The phrase "credibility gap" came into use during the Democratic administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, but deception as an instrument of national policy began long before that. Misleading official statements, "spin" and, at times, outright lies are an all-too-familiar part of the White House landscape. Government lying has become as American as apple pie....
For the modern presidency, the U-2 affair in 1960 was the watershed event that marked the start of a long train of fibs, lies and artful dodging. When CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down inside Soviet territory, the State Department denied that there had been any deliberate attempt to violate Soviet air space. It was a bald-faced lie, and when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev produced the live pilot, President Dwight Eisenhower was forced to admit the spy flight. The truth came as a shock to most Americans -- Eisenhower was a revered father figure and war hero.
During the Kennedy administration, Arthur Sylvester, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, gave a speech defending the government's "right, if necessary, to lie . . ." He did add, "when it is going up into a nuclear war," but even qualified, it was an unprecedented display of candor that caused a firestorm. Sylvester's mistake was to say out loud what many officials thought. And the Kennedy administration did lie in 1961 during the CIA-backed invasion of Cuba, falsely insisting that the United States was not behind the attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro.
Lyndon Johnson claimed that his great-great-grandfather had died at the Alamo, which was total fiction. The joke that went around Washington during the LBJ years had someone asking, "How can you tell when Lyndon is lying?" The answer: "When his lips move." That was perhaps unkind and certainly untrue. But it was under Johnson that a credibility gap turned into a political Death Valley for Oval Office occupants.
Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing Johnson to use force in southeast Asia, because Johnson assured Congress and the public that American destroyers had been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the gulf on Aug. 4, 1964. It wasn't true.
What Johnson did not say when he addressed the nation just before midnight that day was that 10 hours earlier, the Pentagon had received a cable from the commander of the Maddox, one of two destroyers supposedly attacked, warning that reports of "torpedoes fired appear doubtful," the work of an "overeager sonarman." Nor did the public know that half an hour before the president went on the air, the Pentagon was still frantically cabling for confirmation of an attack.
Nine years later, more than 58,000 Americans had died in Vietnam, including 47,000 on the battlefield, and more than 303,000 were wounded. Only much later did a divided nation learn the truth about the incident in the gulf. ". . . we concluded maybe they hadn't fired at all," Johnson says to Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara on one of the LBJ audio tapes edited by historian Michael Beschloss. "Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish," Johnson is quoted as saying by Stanley Karnow in "Vietnam: A History." Public mistrust of Johnson, especially over the Vietnam war, led to his decision not to run for reelection in 1968.
Richard Nixon, as a result of the Watergate scandal, was the first president to resign because of his lies. The temptation of chief executives to cover up political embarrassment by invoking national security was never better illustrated than during that saga. In one exchange, captured on Nixon's taped conversations, Nixon and two aides, John Dean and H.R. Haldeman, are scrambling to come up with an explanation for the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press. The illegal break-in was the work of the White House "plumbers," a secret group created to plug such leaks:
Dean: You might put it on a national security grounds basis.
Haldeman: It absolutely was.
Nixon: National security. We had to get information for national security grounds . . . the whole thing was national security.
Dean: I think we could get by on that.
Governments lie for a variety of reasons. The United States emerged from World War II as a superpower. As a result, a vast national security bureaucracy was created, including the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. The CIA ran hundreds of covert operations, and cover stories were prepared to explain them in case of exposure. The test was not truth, but whether a cover story would withstand scrutiny and be accepted as "plausible denial." Many of the now-celebrated government fabrications -- from the Gary Powers U-2 flight, to the Bay of Pigs, to the Iran-contra affair -- fall into this category.
Of course, political leaders also lie to try to save themselves from personal embarrassment. Bill Clinton insisted he never had sex with "that woman," a deceit that led to his impeachment and tarnished his presidency, even if it will help to sell large numbers of books for his wife. (And for him as well, when he will no doubt rehash the Monica Lewinsky affair in his own memoir due out next year.)
Sometimes the falsehoods are designed to protect a military operation. On the eve of President Reagan's invasion of Grenada in October 1983, White House spokesman Larry Speakes called a network report of the invasion "preposterous." The next day, U.S. forces landed on the Caribbean island.
Deception in battle -- to mask the site of the Normandy invasion in World War II, for example -- is defensible. Official, institutional lying as an ongoing instrument of foreign policy cannot be justified.
Six years ago, the CIA admitted that the Air Force lied for years about flights of high-altitude spy planes during the Cold War. The secrecy about the flights and bogus official explanations -- the Air Force said people were seeing "ice crystals" -- gave rise to the belief by some citizens that the government was covering up the existence of UFOs.
And that is the problem. Official lies erode the public's confidence in its leaders and inspire conspiracy theories. Public trust between the government and the electorate is the bedrock of a democracy that ultimately rests on the informed consent of the governed. Ethics professor Sissela Bok has written of "the presumption against lying" that forms the basis of trust, without which "institutions collapse." Official lying destroys that bond.
There is an alternative to government lying. It is to tell the truth. Or, if need be, to remain silent.
Eric Alterman, writing in his MSNBC blog (June 17, 2003):
I hate stories like this one. I know Bush is not a moron by virtue of his ability to achieve what he wants to achieve despite what often look like unbeatable odds. And I know that his desire to be thought of as a moron by his adversaries is a big part of his strength. But the man does definitely talk like a moron. There’s no getting around it. In this story, he accuses critics of his dishonest campaign to fool the country into war as “revisionist historians.” In doing so, he misuses both the term “revisionist” and “historian,” to say nothing of making no sense whatever in any case. Eric Rauchway says he thinks Bush might be trying to associate his critics with so-called “Holocaust revisionism” — another misuse of the term, by the way. But who the hell knows? You could go crazy trying to figure it out. I say just ignore these moron stories. Even if they’re true, and the president is the idiot he sometimes appears to be, what does that make us? I mean, the man kicks liberal ass just about every day and nobody seems to know what to do about it. If that’s moronic, well, help…
Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust, writing in Newsday (June 18, 2003):
Israel is now completely at war with Palestinian terror groups, no less than America is at war with Al Qaeda worldwide and Saddam loyalists in Iraq. Hence, Israel must escalate its rules of engagement, mimicking those recently established by American forces in our own war against terror waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, Israel should preemptively and unrelentingly eliminate Hamas and company where they stand as soon as they are identified or self-identify.
By "eliminate," I mean kill. By "as soon as they self-identify," I mean as soon as parading militants don the green-masked and explosive-bedecked uniform of a suicide bomber, or publicly proclaim themselves as waiting for orders to do so, whether the militant is beating his chest in a rally or cradling a megaphone in a press conference. By "where they stand," I mean wherever they are located--in a car, in a training camp, or in a public protest procession. Israel must hit Hamas members while marching in uniform in the West Bank and Gaza before they change clothes into Hassidic garb and Israeli pop attire and then board buses in Jerusalem.
For precedent, we need only look to recent tactics employed by our own military and coalition forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Within recent days, American forces in Iraq launched Operation Peninsula Strike, which chased down and killed a group of Saddam loyalist ambushers, first reported as 27 but then adjusted downward to just 7. The day before, Americans located and utterly destroyed a loyalist training camp, killing 70, and detaining about 400 other suspects. Even as I type, these successes are being repeated in a new sweep across the width of Iraq, locking down towns as U.S. troops go door-to-door hunting for Saddam loyalists and arm caches. And of course everyone remembers the first shot of the Iraq War-a precision "decapitation strike" in the heart of a residential neighborhood. "Decapitation" is military lingo for pre-emptive assassination of top leadership.
Tom Engelhardt, writing in Mother Jones (June 16, 2003):
Do you remember when, in the wake of Gulf War I, our then president, Bush the Father, exulted that we had finally kicked the "Vietnam thing," that heinous "Vietnam syndrome," that seemed to be all that was left of America's staggering defeat? Well, here's the strange thing -- now, we've supposedly kicked it all over again in the wake of Gulf War II. You know, quick war, low casualties, no quagmire, stupid critics who predicted otherwise (although most didn't) disarmed, the press well embedded, and so on, and so forth.
But "Vietnam," which like some deadly virus morphs and morphs, seems unwilling to perform the disappearing act our leaders have long prepared for it. And there are reasons for that. I've been carefully watching recent coverage of the upsurge of fighting in Iraq, and the Vietnam analogy is buried deep not just in the reportorial mind, but in the military and governmental mind as well.
On Saturday, for instance, Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times wrote a think piece that had these all-too-familiar, if slightly shocked, lines: "Unlike the rush to Baghdad, this fight will not be measured in days, but in months, if not years... For the Americans, this is a campaign of raids, bombing strikes and dragnets, as American commanders try to isolate and destroy remnants of the old older. It is more like a counterinsurgency than an invasion."
I mark that as the first appearance of "counterinsurgency" in the recent record. Here then are a few other startling appearances:
Vietnam had its "triangles." (Remember the "Iron Triangle"?) Now Iraq has its own "Sunni Triangle," as our military are calling it. Remember the various military statements in Gulf Wars I and II that we weren't about to count the enemy dead? (One post-Vietnam no-no was reviving the feared "body count" which became the way the military measured the Vietnam War and then a target of critics.) Well, this week, in operations in that "Sunni Triangle," the body count was revived, along with the weapons count. There were a series of official US military announcements of how many enemy (often identified as Ba'athist "remnants" or "Arab" fighters) our troops had killed in various operations, the numbers in some cases exceedingly precise, all clearly meant to provide concrete indicators of success in a not-quite-war in which taking territory has no particular meaning. Along with the body count came another old classic of Vietnam, the weapons count (how many we captured), and on the heels of these, another classic Vietnam tradition, the revised body count. See, for instance, the front-page Washington Post piece by William Booth, which begins:
An attack on Iraqis here by U.S. troops after an American tank patrol was ambushed Friday morning killed seven people, not 27 as initially reported, U.S. military officials said today, and Iraqi witnesses said five of the dead were not involved in the ambush.
Another phrase to make a remarkably early appearance in coverage, again attributed to the military, is "hearts and minds," a notorious Vietnam-era phrase. I found it in a Saturday Los Angeles Times piece by Paul Richter and Michael Slackman:
The peninsula operation was over by Tuesday, and U.S. Army officers at the scene two days later said the Army was trying to shift into a hearts-and-minds campaign to win over local support. But it was fighting rumors that it had killed two civilians. The Army denied any responsibility for the deaths, attributing both to heart attacks, but there was a lot of skepticism among residents.
The piece also had passages of a sort appearing more frequently these days that rang with a familiar Vietnam-era conundrum -- how do you carry out brutal assaults on hard to find guerrilla forces in civilian areas without knowing the language, area or culture without alienating that population when some of them die, others are mistreated, and many are humiliated?...
Now, none of this is likely to have an immediate effect here. After all, according to recent polls, large numbers of Americans believe we already found WMD in Iraq....
Finally, David Wise, who has been writing about the intelligence community since perhaps Neolithic times, reviews the recent WMD record in The Washington Post's Outlook section. Wise considers the striking on-the-record statements of this administration on the subject, and a far longer record of lying in Washington, and then reminds us of another Vietnam-era phrase, "credibility gap." And Eric Margolis, in his weekly column in the Toronto Sun, coins a new phrase based on an older one that might soon gain traction, "Weaponsgate," as he considers why Americans seem to care so little about administration lies.
Roger Kimball, editor of the New Criterion, writing in the Wall Street Journal (June 12, 2003):
It was horrible. An outrage. A tragedy. "Iraqi looting 'a loss to mankind'" said the BBC. "U.S. Army ignored alert on museum looting risk," ABC reported.
In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd skirled about coalition forces "guarding the Iraqi Oil Ministry building while hundreds of Iraqis ransacked and ran off with precious heirlooms and artifacts from a 7,000-year-old civilization." Oh dear. Everywhere one turned, the major media had the same story: Thousands upon thousands of rare, priceless, irreplaceable artifacts had been "taken or destroyed by looters." One-hundred thousand objects, according to some reports; 270,000, according to one story in the London Observer.....
"Why" is exactly the question that needs to be asked. Not "Why did they do this?" but "Why is the press so gullible?" A few weeks ago the collective countenance of the fourth estate was, like Hamlet's Denmark, contracted in one brow of woe. Oh, those savage Americans: What they didn't bomb they stole, or allowed others to smash and steal.....
But wait: That story plays brilliantly but, as the London Guardian reported June 10, "it's nonsense. It isn't true. It's made up. It's bollocks." It wasn't the crazed Iraqi populace that denuded the museums but careful Iraqi curators, who spirited the swag away into vaults and secret storerooms before the war even began. Yes, there have been a few important losses. But there weren't 270,000 items missing, or (the most frequently reported number) 170,000. One museum official put the number at 47 items, but that was later revised down to 33. Meanwhile, the museum that was supposed to have been destroyed is scheduled to reopen next week. Stay tuned for further reductions....
Fifteen minutes ago, when recriminations about an unprecedented historical loss were all the rage, it was all the fault of the Yanks and in particular the administration of George W. Bush. Quoth Prof. Zinab Bahrani from Columbia University: "Blame must be placed with the Bush administration for a catastrophic destruction of culture unparalleled in modern history."
Where do you suppose Prof. Bahrani is now? Busy writing an apology? Don't hold your breath. Columbia University is the institution that also gave us Nicholas de Genova, the prof who publicly said he hoped the Iraq war would result in "a million Mogadishus" -- i.e., a million American soldiers dead and dragged naked through the streets.
But don't single out Columbia. That's what establishment academic culture is like in America and Europe today. It's the received opinion -- not the only opinion, but the dominant one, the agenda-setter. Go to virtually any college or university in America or Western Europe: Anti-Americanism is a growth industry, so thriving that it is simply taken for granted: It's the state of nature.
Michael Oren, writing in the Wall Street Journal (June 9, 2003):
Few people in June 1967 would have imagined that, 36 years later, controversy would still engulf the territories won by Israel in the Six-Day War. Numerous peace plans have sought to resolve the status of the West Bank and Gaza, but without success. Now, on the anniversary of that war, George W. Bush is trying again.
In Aqaba last week, the president urged the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers to put aside "humiliation, killing and mourning," and to follow his "road map" to peace. Mr. Bush has placed his prestige behind the initiative, though presidents have done so previously and failed. Ultimately, his success will depend not only on his commitment to the process, but on his determination to face the core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These are the issues that triggered the 1967 war, and which have pitted Palestinians against Israelis ever since.
Over the years, Israel's attitude toward the Palestinians has transformed radically. Less than a decade after Labor Prime Minister Golda Meir declared "there is no Palestine," hard-liner Menachem Begin signed the 1979 Camp David Accords recognizing the Palestinians' right to political autonomy. Then, in the Oslo Agreements of 1993, Yitzhak Rabin acknowledged the existence of a Palestinian people and its just demand for self-determination -- a commitment upheld by Rabin's Likud successor, Benjamin Netanyahu. Israelis were also busy settling the territories during this period, but in 2000, Ehud Barak offered to uproot or concentrate the settlements, even to redivide Jerusalem, to accommodate Palestinian sovereignty. Finally, at Aqaba, Ariel Sharon, the former architect of the settlement movement, vowed to help create a territorially-contiguous Palestinian state to "live side-by-side with Israel in peace and security."
Yet would the establishment of that state guarantee a secure peace? Palestinian thinking on Israel also evolved after 1967. A year after the war, the Palestine Liberation Organization adopted its National Charter that denied the existence of a Jewish people and envisioned Israel's destruction through armed struggle. By 1974, however, the PLO enacted the "Phases Plan" calling for the creation of a state on any part of Palestine by any means, including diplomacy, as the first step toward regaining the entire country. While PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat later accepted U.N. Resolution 242 and, at Oslo, affirmed Israel's existence, in practice he never abandoned the goal of annihilating the Jewish state. To Arabic-speaking audiences, he justified Oslo as the first stage in the Phases Plan. The Palestinian media and educational system, meanwhile, rejected the idea of Israel even in its pre-1967 borders, and glorified acts of "martyrdom" against it. By insisting on returning millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel, Arafat aimed at turning it into Palestine in all but name.
Unlike the fundamental shifts in Israeli attitudes on the Palestinian issue, the changes in Palestinian policies regarding Israel were merely tactical. The Israeli government today accepts the fact that a Palestinian people exists, that it has suffered in the past and should now have a state. By contrast, the Palestinian leadership still refuses to recognize a permanent and legitimate Jewish state. In his Aqaba speech, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas indeed cited the "suffering of the Jews throughout history," renounced terrorism and a "military solution for the conflict," but objected strongly to any mention of a Jewish people with historic ties to its homeland. The prime minister, however, represents only about 3% of the Palestinian public, and his pledges were instantly repudiated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even Mr. Abbas's own al-Fatah faction, all of which claimed responsibility for the murder of six Israelis since the summit. Incitement in the Palestinian press and schools continues, meanwhile, undiminished.
In order for the road map to succeed, President Bush must confront the profound asymmetry between the Palestinian and Israeli concepts of peace. While he may press Mr. Sharon to fulfill his promised "painful concessions" for peace, and assure the Palestinians of statehood, the president must first insist that the Palestinians abandon their hope of overwhelming Israel by demographic or other means. The alternative is a Palestinian state that will not co-exist peacefully with Israel, but will persistently strive to supplant it.
Richard Pipes, writing in Commentary (June 9, 2003):
ANYONE WHO has been a lifelong Communist has a great deal to answer for: at least for the implicit endorsement of Lenin's "Red Terror," which initiated the 20th century's mass murder of civilians; the man-made famine of 1932-33 that killed between 7 and 9 million Ukrainians; Stalin's massacres ("purges") of 1937-38; the Gulag empire; the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939, which unleashed World War II; Mao's "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution," which caused tens of millions of deaths; and Pol Pot's systematic slaughter of one-quarter of Cambodia's population. All this and much more lies on the conscience of an unrepentant Communist: by recent estimates, Communist regimes in the 20th century claimed between 85 and 100 million lives. On the survivors, they inflicted unprecedented misery, the dimensions of which are only now coming to light.
Eric Hobsbawm (originally Hobsbaum), the English historian who, until his retirement, taught at Birkbeck College of the University of London, is such an unrepentant Communist. The author of numerous books, mostly on modern history, and a man with a worldwide reputation, he is also a man of immense ego, for whom Communism is not so much a blueprint for a better world as a personal creed that exists apart from its reality and is validated by its intent rather than by its performance. Interesting Times, published in England last year and to be released here by Knopf in August, is his autobiography.
BORN IN 1917 in Egypt, the son of a Jewish cabinet-maker from London, Hobsbawm spent his childhood and adolescence in Austria and Germany. He witnessed Hitler's rise to power and reacted to it by turning Communist. His memoirs suggest that he knew little about Marx and Lenin, but found attractive, as did many others before him and since, the certitude that Marx's doctrine claimed to supply to perplexed spirits:
What made Marxism so irresistible was its comprehensiveness. "Dialectical materialism" provided, if not a "theory of everything," then at least a "framework of everything," linking inorganic and organic nature with human affairs, collective and individual, and providing a guide to the nature of all interactions in a world in constant flux.
As these recollections make clear, he also found in Communism a means of gaining acceptance, within the tightly-knit brotherhood of its devotees, in a world that treated him as an outsider-a foreign Jew in Nazi Germany, and then a German-Jewish refugee in England. Such self-centered motivation alone explains his otherwise inexplicable lack of interest in what in the Soviet Union came to be known as "real socialism."
Hobsbawm formally joined the Communist party in 1936 while a student at Cambridge, when the USSR stood on the brink of Stalin's Great Terror. Yet there is no evidence in his memoirs that he had any inkling of what was happening there: thus, he ignores the show trials of the mid-1930's, never alludes to the fate of Lenin's close associates Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, and indeed has no entry in his index for either the Cheka or the KGB. The horrors of Stalinist Russia seem to have been irrelevant to one who treated Communism as a kind of private religion that required not knowledge but only total faith and commitment.
Hobsbawm remained a Communist through thick and thin, refusing to opt out, as did many other intellectuals, whether in reaction to the Nazi-Soviet pact (which goes unmentioned in his memoirs), Khrushchev's revelations of Stalin's crimes in the 1956 "secret speech" (which, Hobsbawm relates, had a shattering effect on him), the crushing of the Hungarian uprising, or any other outrage. He spent his life in a world populated by other Communists or fellow-travelers and felt at home only in their company. He confesses that in his youth he could not conceive of marrying a woman who did not share his political faith, adding that when, later in life, he arrived at the point where he could contemplate "a real relationship" with a person who was not a potential recruit for the party, he realized he was no longer a true Communist.
And yet he seems to have concluded some time ago that Communism had no future. "Communism is now dead," he writes at one point, leaving behind "a landscape of material and moral ruin." It has "collapsed so completely . . . that it must now be obvious that failure was built into this enterprise from the start." In The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 19141991, his most popular work of history, published in 1994, Hobsbawm goes even further, saying that the tragedy of the revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power was "that it could only produce its kind of ruthless, brutal, command socialism." In Interesting Times, he hails Gorbachev for destroying the Soviet Union.
Sean Wilentz, writing in Salon (June 9, 2003):
Five years ago, I testified before Congress that history would harshly judge the unconstitutional impeachment drive against President Clinton. My position was fairly mainstream among American historians. By the time I testified, nearly 500 had signed a letter I helped to write with the distinguished scholars Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and C. Vann Woodward, deploring the impeachment on historical and constitutional grounds. Soon thereafter, a group of more than 400 leading legal scholars, including Cass Sunstein and Laurence Tribe, issued a similar statement.
Not surprisingly, Republicans lambasted both the historians' letter and my testimony, as did journalists and pundits playing amateur historians inside the right-wing media echo chamber. The historians' verdict was clear: The impeachment drive against President Clinton lacked constitutional and political legitimacy. The media's opinion was equally clear: The impeachment was legitimate, and the historians were a fusty collection of liberal elitists who had no business sticking their noses into public affairs.
Now an extraordinary thing has happened. Journalists from across the political spectrum are finally acknowledging that impeachment actually was a partisan crusade on trumped-up charges to bring down a popular president. But they're attacking the book that proves it as ancient history.
On May 31, 2003 Historians Against the War, meeting in New York City, agreed to the following 3 goals:
We did not endeavor to write a mission statement or a set of unifying principles (something we will need to do as we develop), but we did agree on several broad purposes that might be summarized as follows:
1. We are a network of historians who are opposed to the current empire-building and war-making activities of the United States government at home and abroad; we stand for global justice.
2. As historians (broadly defined to include historically-oriented intellectuals), our principal concerns are historical knowledge and historical education; as HAW, we seek to be active both in the formal educational system (primary, secondary, and higher), in the professional associations, and in the broader arena of public discourse.
3. We will focus on both the domestic/national sphere and on the international sphere, and on the links between the two.
Mark J. Rozell, writing in the Duke Law Journal (November 2002):
In the early stages of the Bush presidency, the administration was involved in three policy disputes that either had implications for the development of executive privilege or had a direct claim of privilege by the president. It became clear early in President Bush's term that the president was committed to regaining lost ground on executive privilege. President Bush wanted to both revitalize executive privilege and expand the scope of that power substantially. President Bush's actions appear motivated by his belief in the sovereignty of the executive branch.
Nonetheless, President Bush chose some very nontraditional cases for reestablishing executive privilege. In one case, he tried to expand the scope of executive privilege for former presidents, and even to allow them to transfer this constitutional authority under Article II to designated representatives. In another case, the Bush administration tried to expand executive privilege to protect Department of Justice (DOJ) documents from investigations long ago closed. To date, the common thread in the Bush administration cases is the use of executive privilege in circumstances where there is little precedent for such action. In so doing, President Bush has contributed to the further downgrading of executive privilege rather than achieving his purpose of reaffirming this constitutional principle.
Carl Hulse, writing in the NYT (June 5, 2003):
As the Senate prepares to consider a Republican plan to make it easier to break filibusters over presidential nominations, one leading Senate authority has weighed in against the change.
In a letter sent this week, Robert A. Caro, a biographer of Lyndon Baines Johnson and author of "Master of the Senate," which won a Pulitzer Prize this year, warned lawmakers against diluting the rights of the minority even as he noted the filibuster was a potent tool used against the civil rights legislation championed by Senator Johnson.
Mr. Caro, who met recently with a group of Senate Democrats, said he was not unalterably opposed to reining in unlimited debate. But, he added, "senators should realize that they are not dealing with the particular dispute of the moment, but the fundamental character of the United States Senate."
The letter was sought by Democratic opponents to the rules change that has been proposed by Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader. Dr. Frist, of Tennessee, has been frustrated by Democratic filibusters against two of President Bush's nominations to the federal judiciary.
Mr. Caro noted that a filibuster cuts both ways. "If it is being used against you, it is a vicious weapon of obstruction, whose use in a democracy is unconscionable," he wrote. "If it is you who are using that weapon, it is a great one to have in your arsenal."
Members of the Senate Rules Committee are scheduled to hear from lawmakers and academics on Thursday as they consider the plan Dr. Frist made in response to rising Republican anger over the Democrats' use of the filibuster to thwart votes on the two judges. Republicans say the tactic, which can be overcome only with 60 or more votes, was not meant to be used in confirmation fights....
In his letter, Mr. Caro noted that for the first century of its existence, the Senate required unanimous agreement to shut debate and that the two-thirds requirement for legislation was adopted in 1917, with nominations brought under it in 1949.
"In short, two centuries of history rebuts any suggestion that either the language or the intent of the Constitution prohibits or counsels against the use of extended debate to resist presidential authority," he wrote. "To the contrary, the nation's founders depended on the Senate's members to stand up to a popular and powerful president."
Senate Republican officials said they admired Mr. Caro's abilities as an author, but doubted his arguments would be persuasive.
"He is a fine writer and a fine historian, but I will bet that if he was nominated for a judgeship and being filibustered, his views would be different," Bob Stevenson, a spokesman for Dr. Frist, said.
Fiachra Gibbons, writing in the Guardian (June 2, 2003):
The United States is a "danger to the world" because of its denial that it is a military and economic empire, according to Niall Ferguson, historian and new-found darling of the American right.
Prof Ferguson is author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, the book whose tie-in TV series controversially concentrated on the liberalising latter days of the British empire. He said that America's refusal to admit to "what it was" meant it risked never learning the lessons of British expansionism.
"The United States is the empire that dare not speak its name. It is an empire in denial, and US denial of this poses a real danger to the world. An empire that doesn't recognise its own power is a dangerous one." Prof Ferguson passed up a dinner invitation from the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, to address the Guardian Hay Festival.
He told his audience that, with military bases in three-quarters of the countries of the world, and 31% of all wealth, America made the British empire at its zenith in 1920, when a quarter of the globe was pink, look "like a half-baked thing".
But he warned that America was too much of a military empire to last, too fond of short-term interventions in Haiti, Lebanon and now Iraq that lacked "sustained commitment to the dirty work of rebuilding".
"As Iraq is showing, military commands cannot create law and order. Their job is to kill people. The British empire learned that the military must be subservient to civilian power if you are to build civil administrations."
America's critical weakness, however, was its fatal lack of self-knowledge, he said. "When you talk to Americans about empire they say, 'but we came into existence to fight imperialism.'
"US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously told al-Jazeera 'we don't do empire'. But how can you not be an empire and maintain 750 military bases in three-quarters of the countries on earth?" He argued that "Britain had an amazing capacity for self-criticism, even when the empire was at its height.
"The Americans simply don't believe they are there. But since they annexed the Philippines in 1898, they have acted as an imperial power."
Furthermore, he insisted, the people who were "now in charge of the defence department have grabbed September 11 as a chance to push through the imperial agenda". But only a few, on the neo-conservative right, were prepared to use the e-word publicly.
Prof Ferguson, professor of economics at New York University after leaving Oxford, said he did not see the concept of empire as necessarily a bad thing. "In all kinds of ways the British empire from the 1850s onwards was an incredibly liberal one. For all the warts on its face it created a free enterprise global economy, protected women and stopped infanticide in India, and ultimately brought representative democracy. I believe a liberal empire can do good."
"Excerpts from a conversation yesterday between former president Bill Clinton and presidential historian Michael J. Beschloss at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, as recorded and transcribed by [Boston] Globe staff writer Michael S. Rosenwald" (May 29, 2003):
Beschloss: When John Kennedy ran in 1960 he was in a nominating process that took about seven months . . . The process next year will probably take about four weeks - it will be very front-loaded. Do you think the new process is better to choose a president?
Clinton: I would like to see the old one. . . . I know you can say this is my bias because I'm from a small state. I've watched Senator Kennedy here in Massachusetts, and this is not a small state. He does a lot of what I'd call retail politics. He knows the names of most of the people in this room . . . One of the things that bothers me about the whole presidential nominating process is that more you front-load it and put it into big primaries, the more you consign these candidates to spend all their time raising money . . . But the presidential campaigning is supposed to be for the candidate as well as for the voters. It was good for John Kennedy to have to go to West Virginia to see all those white poor people - all those Protestants living in the hills and hallows. Good for him to have to go in to the inner city. Good to have the time and obligation to go and listen to the stories of people who were different from you. That's the thing I loved about New Hampshire. For its quirkiness, it's a beautiful place, because they had a sense that they owed the country something. They owed the country a good decision and they were determined to give everybody a listen.
Beschloss: One thing that John Kennedy said . . . "You never really understand politics until you're defeated." Did you find that?
Clinton: I sorta agree with Bear Bryant. He said, "I've won and lost and I like winning better." But I think there's something to that. I lost two elections . . . In defeat, if you care, you can learn a lot . . . I think there's a rhythm in public life - particularly if you're a Democrat or you're a progressive and you want to change things. You have to have a sure sense of how much you can change. If you stop pushing you will betray the purpose of your mission. And if you push too hard, the thing will come down around your ears.
Beschloss: You were once quoted as saying, "In a certain way I wish I was president in World War II." What were you thinking there?
Clinton: Some presidents are particularly well-suited for the times in wish they serve. Lincoln was especially well-suited for the time in which he served. Lincoln had serious depression problems . . . something happened to him that is very rare for human beings who suffered the way he did. He got stronger . . . and because he had himself suffered, he had an uncommon feel for human frailty . . . He was psychologically and intellectually perfect for the moment in which he served. He was an astonishing fit in history . . . I was raised in the backwater of World War II. I got it. I got that . . . There's good guys and bad guys. It was both a black and white problem for the world, and yet a set of complex intellectual problems . . . I just thought it was a time that the kind of mind I have might have worked pretty well.
Beschloss: Can you write a president's official life without thinking about [their private life]?
Clinton: I think you do have to deal with it to some extent if you're a historian, and if things that you know and you believe they will have some bearing . . . Or you're trying to tell the story of a life, a person's life is a lot . . . There's a whole lot of difference in writing a retrospective biography of somebody, when all the records are in, than just essentially feasting on them under the guise of trying to enlighten the public when it has nothing to do with enlightening the public - it's a grab for power, or ratings, or position.
Jack Snyder, Robert & Renee Belfer Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, writing in the National Interest (Spring 2003):
Every major historical instance of imperial overstretch has been propelled by arguments that security could best be achieved through further expansion-"myths of empire", I have called them.3 Since many of these myths are echoed eerily in the Bush Administration's strategic rhetoric, it is worthwhile recalling how those earlier advocates of imperial overstretch tried to make their dubious cases. Eight themes deserve mention.
The most general of the myths of empire is that the attacker has an inherent advantage. Sometimes this is explained in terms of the advantages of surprise. More often, it relies on the broader notion that seizing the initiative allows the attacker to impose a plan on a passive enemy and to choose a propitious time and circumstance for the fight. Even if the political objective is self-defense, in this view, attacking is still the best strategy. As the NSS says, "our best defense is a good offense."
Throughout history, strategists who have blundered into imperial overstretch have shared this view. For example, General Alfred von Schlieffen, the author of Germany's misbegotten plan for a quick, decisive offensive in France in 1914, used to say that "if one is too weak to attack the whole" of the other side's army, "one should attack a section."4 This idea defies elementary military common sense. In war, the weaker side normally remains on the defensive precisely because defending its home ground is typically easier than attacking the other side's strongholds.
The idea of offensive advantage also runs counter to the most typical patterns of deterrence and coercion. Sometimes the purpose of a military operation is not to take or hold territory but to influence an adversary by inflicting pain. This is especially true when weapons of mass destruction are involved. In that case, war may resemble a competition in the willingness to endure pain. Here too, however, the defender normally has the advantage, because the side defending its own homeland and the survival of its regime typically cares more about the stakes of the conflict than does a would-be attacker. It is difficult to imagine North Korea using nuclear weapons or mounting a conventional artillery barrage on the South Korean capital of Seoul for purposes of conquest, but it is much easier to envision such desperate measures in response to "preventive" U.S. attacks on the core power resources of the regime. Because the Bush Administration saw such retaliation as feasible and credible, it was deterred from undertaking preventive strikes when the North Koreans unsealed a nuclear reactor in December. Indeed, deterring any country from attacking is almost always easier than compelling it to disarm, surrender territory or change its regime. Once stated, this point seems obvious, but the logic of the Bush strategy document implies the opposite.
One reason that blundering empires have been keen on offensive strategies is that they have relied on preventive attacks to forestall unfavorable shifts in the balance of power. In both World War I and II, for example, Germany's leaders sought war with Russia in the short run because they expected the Russian army to gain relative strength over time.5 But the tactic backfired badly. Preventive aggression not only turned a possible enemy into a certain one, but in the long run it helped bring other powers into the fight to prevent Germany from gaining hegemony over all of them. This reflects a fundamental realist principle of the balance of power: In the international system, states and other powerful actors tend to form alliances against the expansionist state that most threatens them. Attackers provoke fears that drive their potential victims to cooperate with each other.
Astute strategists learn to anticipate such cooperation and try to use it to their advantage. For example, one of the most successful diplomats in European history, Otto von Bismarck, achieved the unification of Germany by always putting the other side in the wrong and, whenever possible, maneuvering the opponent into attacking first. As a result, Prussia expanded its control over the German lands without provoking excessive fears or resistance. Pressed by his generals on several occasions to authorize preventive attacks, Bismarck said that preventive war is like committing suicide from fear of death; it would "put the full weight of the imponderables . . . on the side of the enemies we have attacked."6 Instead, he demanded patience: "I have often had to stand for long periods of time in the hunting blind and let myself be covered and stung by insects before the moment came to shoot."7 Germany fared poorly under Bismarck's less-able successors, who shared his ruthlessness but lacked his understanding of the balance of power.
Because Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, the elder Bush enjoyed a diplomatic advantage in the 1991 war. That's why the coalition against Iraq was so large and willing. This advantage is vastly and inherently more difficult to achieve in a strategy of preventive attack, as the younger Bush has learned over the past year. Especially when an adverse power shift is merely hypothetical and not imminent, it hardly seems worthwhile to incur the substantial diplomatic disadvantages of a preventive attack.
Paper Tiger Enemies
Empires also become overstretched when they view their enemies as paper tigers, capable of becoming fiercely threatening if appeased, but easily crumpled by a resolute attack. These images are often not only wrong, but self-contradictory. For example, Japanese militarists saw the United States as so strong and insatiably aggressive that Japan would have to conquer a huge, self-sufficient empire to get the resources to defend itself; yet at the same time, the Japanese regime saw the United States as so vulnerable and irresolute that a sharp rap against Pearl Harbor would discourage it from fighting back.
Similarly, the Bush Administration's arguments for preventive war against Iraq have portrayed Saddam Hussein as being completely undeterrable from using weapons of mass destruction, yet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he expected that Iraq would not use them even if attacked because "wise Iraqis will not obey his orders to use wmd." In other words, administration strategists think that deterrence is impossible even in situations in which Saddam lacks a motive to use weapons of mass destruction, but they think deterrence will succeed when a U.S. attack provides Iraq the strongest imaginable motive to use its weapons. The NSS says "the greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction"; but this is a rationale for preventive attack only if we accept a paper tiger image of the enemy.
Another myth of empire is that states tend to jump on the bandwagon with threatening or forceful powers. During the Cold War, for example, the Soviet Union thought that forceful action in Berlin, Cuba and the developing world would demonstrate its political and military strength, encourage so-called progressive forces to ally actively with Moscow, and thereby shift the balance of forces still further in the favor of the communist bloc. The Soviets called this the "correlation of forces" theory. In fact, the balance of power effect far outweighed and erased the bandwagon effect. The Soviet Union was left far weaker in relative terms as a result of its pressing for unilateral advantage. As Churchill said of the Soviets in the wake of the first Berlin Crisis, "Why have they deliberately acted for three long years so as to unite the free world against them?"
During the 1991 Gulf War, the earlier Bush Administration argued that rolling back Saddam Hussein's conquest of Kuwait was essential to discourage Arabs throughout the Middle East from jumping on the Iraqi bandwagon. Now the current Bush Administration hopes that bandwagon dynamics can be made to work in its own favor. Despite the difficulties that the United States has had in lining up support for an invasion of Iraq, the administration nonetheless asserts that its strategy of preventive war will lead others to jump on the U.S. bandwagon. Secretary Rumsfeld has said that "if our leaders do the right thing, others will follow and support our just cause-just as they have in the global war against terror."
At the same time, some self-styled realists in the administration also argue that their policy is consistent with the concept of the balance of power, but the rhetoric of the NSS pulls this concept inside out: "Through our willingness to use force in our own defense and in the defense of others, the United States demonstrates its resolve to maintain a balance of power that favors freedom." What this Orwellian statement really seems to mean is that preventive war will attract a bandwagon of support that creates an imbalance of power in America's favor, a conception that is logically the same as the wrongheaded Soviet theory of the "correlation of forces." Administration strategists like to use the terminology of the balance of power, but they understand that concept exactly backwards.
Big Stick Diplomacy
A closely related myth is the big stick theory of making friends by threatening them. Before World War I, Germany's leaders found that its rising power and belligerent diplomacy had pushed France, Russia and Britain into a loose alliance against it. In the backwards reasoning of German diplomacy, they decided to try to break apart this encirclement by trumping up a crisis over claims to Morocco, threatening France with an attack and hoping to prove to French leaders that its allies would not come to its rescue. In fact, Britain did support France, and the noose around Germany grew tighter.
How does the United States today seek to win friends abroad? The NSS offers some reassuring language about the need to work with allies. Unlike President Bill Clinton in the Kosovo war, President Bush worked very hard for a UN resolution to authorize an attack on Iraq. Nonetheless, on the Iraq issue and a series of others, the administration has extorted cooperation primarily by threats to act unilaterally, not gained it by persuasion or concessions. Russia was forced to accept a new strategic arms control regime on take-it-or-leave-it American terms. EU member states were similarly compelled to accept an exemption for U.S. officials from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. Germany was snubbed for resisting the war against Iraq. Multilateral initiatives on the environment were summarily rejected. Secretary Rumsfeld, in his personal jottings on strategy, has raised to the level of principle the dictum that the United States should "avoid trying so hard to persuade others to join a coalition that we compromise on our goals." Either the administration believes allies are dispensable, or a powerful faction within it adheres to the Kaiser Wilhelm theory of diplomacy.
Another common myth of empire is the famous domino theory. According to this conception, small setbacks at the periphery of the empire will tend to snowball into an unstoppable chain of defeats that will ultimately threaten the imperial core. Consequently, empires must fight hard to prevent even the most trivial setbacks. Various causal mechanisms are imagined that might trigger such cascades: The opponent will seize ever more strategic resources from these victories, tipping the balance of forces and making further conquests easier. Vulnerable defenders will lose heart. Allies and enemies alike will come to doubt the empire's resolve to fight for its commitments. An empire's domestic political support will be undermined. Above all, lost credibility is the ultimate domino.
Such reasoning has been nearly universal among overstretched empires. For example, in 1898 the British and the French both believed that if a French scouting party could claim a tributary of the Upper Nile-at a place called Fashoda-France could build a dam there, block the flow of the Nile, trigger chaos in Egypt that would force Britain out of the Suez Canal, cut Britain's strategic lifeline to India, and thus topple the empire that depended on India's wealth and manpower. Britain and France, both democracies, nearly went to war because of this chimera. Similarly, Cold War America believed that if Vietnam fell to communism, then the credibility of its commitment to defend Taiwan, Japan and Berlin would be debased. Arguably, the peripheral setback in Vietnam tarnished American deterrent credibility only because we so often and so insistenly said it would.
Similar arguments, especially ones that hinge on lost credibility, have informed Secretary Rumsfeld's brief for preventive war against Iraq. In a nice rhetorical move, he quoted former President Clinton to the effect that if "we fail to act" against Saddam's non-compliance with inspections, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. . . . Some day, some way, I guarantee you he will use that arsenal.
Rumsfeld could have added (but didn't) that the Clinton Administration made the same argument even more strongly about the dire precedent that would be set by permitting the further expansion of North Korea's nuclear weapons capability. Ironically, the credibility of the United States is on the line in such cases mainly because of its own rhetoric.
And yet it may be that the threat of an American attack is all too credible. The main motivation for North Korea to break out of the 1994 agreement constraining its nuclear program was apparently its perceived need, in light of the Bush Administration's preventive war doctrine and reluctance to negotiate, for more powerful weapons to deter the United States.
A ubiquitous corollary of the domino theory holds that it is cheap and easy to stop aggressors if it is done early on. Secretary Rumsfeld has made this kind of argument to justify a preventive attack on Iraq. Between 35 and 60 million people died needlessly, he claimed, because the world didn't attack Hitler preventively: "He might have been stopped early-at minimal cost in lives-had the vast majority of the world's leaders not decided at the time that the risks of acting were greater than the risks of not acting." Apart from its questionable relevance to the case of Iraq, the historical point is itself debatable: Britain and France were militarily ill-prepared to launch a preventive attack at the time of the Munich crisis, and if they had, they probably would have had to fight Germany without the Soviet Union and the United States as allies. As Bismarck had understood, preventive war is bad strategy in part because it often leads to diplomatic isolation.
El Dorado and Manifest Destiny
Most of the central myths of empire focus on a comparison of the alleged costs of offensive versus defensive strategies. In addition, myths that exaggerate the benefits of imperial expansion sometimes play an important role in strategic debates. For example, German imperialism before World War I was fueled in part by the false idea that Central Africa would be an El Dorado of resources that would strengthen Germany's strategic position in the same way that India had supposedly strengthened Britain's. In debates about preventive war in Iraq, some commentators have portrayed an anticipated oil windfall as a comparable El Dorado. Astutely, the Bush Administration has refrained from rhetoric about this potential boon, realizing that it would be counterproductive and unnecessary to dwell on it. Such a windfall could turn out to be a curse in any event, since pumping massive amounts of oil to pay for an occupation of Iraq could undercut Saudi oil revenues and destabilize the political system there.
Sometimes the promised benefits of imperial expansion are also ideological-for example, France's civilizing mission or America's mission to make the world safe for democracy. In a surprising moment of candor, John Foster Dulles, a decade before he became Dwight Eisenhower's Secretary of State, wrote that all empires had been "imbued with and radiated great faiths [like] Manifest Destiny [and] The White Man's Burden." We Americans "need a faith", said Dulles, "that will make us strong, a faith so pronounced that we, too, will feel that we have a mission to spread throughout the world." An idealistic goal is patently invoked here for its instrumental value in mobilizing support for the imperial enterprise.
The idealistic notes that grace the Bush Administration's strategy paper have the same hollow ring. The document is chock full of high-sounding prose about the goal of spreading democracy to Iraq and other countries living under the yoke of repression. President Bush's preface to the strategy document asserts that "the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength", which creates "a moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe. We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world." This sounds like insincere public relations in light of candidate Bush's warnings against the temptations of nation-building abroad. The theme of promoting democracy is rare in Secretary Rumsfeld's statements, which may turn out to be a better index of the administration's underlying views.
A final myth of empire is that in strategy there are no tradeoffs. Proponents of imperial expansion tend to pile on every argument from the whole list of myths of empire. It is not enough to argue that the opponent is a paper tiger, or that dominoes tend to fall, or that big stick diplomacy will make friends, or that a preventive attack will help to civilize the natives. Rather, proponents of offensive self-defense inhabit a rhetorical world in which all of these things are simultaneously true, and thus all considerations point in the same direction.
The Bush Administration's strategic rhetoric about Iraq in late 2002 did not disappoint in this regard. Saddam was portrayed as undeterrable, as getting nuclear weapons unless deposed and giving them to terrorists, the war against him would be cheap and easy, grumbling allies would jump on our bandwagon, Iraq would become a democracy, and the Arab street would thank the United States for liberating it. In real life, as opposed to the world of imperial rhetoric, it is surprising when every conceivable consideration supports the preferred strategy. As is so often the case with the myths of empire, this piling on of reinforcing claims smacks of ex post facto justification rather than serious strategic assessment.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Condoleezza Rice wrote of Iraq that "the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence-if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration." Two years later, however, the possibility of deterrence has become unthinkable as administration rhetoric regarding Iraq has been piled higher and higher. "Given the goals of rogue states [and] the inability to deter a potential attacker" of this kind, says the NSS, "we cannot let our enemies strike first." Administration dogma left no room for any assessment of Iraq that did not reinforce the logic of the prevailing preventive strategy.
Eliot Cohen, in the course of an interview with Insight Magazine (May 26, 2003):
Q: How did the George W. Bush administration fare during the war with Iraq when it came to the civilian and military dialogue?
A: As a historian, I'm here to tell you that I have a healthy respect for all we don't yet know what we don't know abut the origins of the plan, what we don't know about Donald Rumsfeld, who I think is the key figure, and what we don't know about the president and the vice president, Dick Cheney, and the roles they played in the development of the plan.
What did Rumsfeld really think of Gen. Tommy Franks? Where did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff fit into the planning and execution? We may not know for years, if ever. But that said, if I can believe what I see in the media and I take it all with a grain of salt it appears that Rumsfeld is a very active secretary of defense, rather along the lines essential for a good civil-miliary dialogue: pushing, probing, querying. But not, I think, dictating in detail what the military should do.
The Bush administration was engaged in what was a very intensive dialogue with senior military leadership, and I think that was right. You certainly get the strong sense that some key decisions were political and that Bush made them the decision, for example, to begin the war with that aerial attack on Saddam's bunker.
Q: You referred to "World War IV" in a November 2001 Wall Street Journal column. World Wars I and II we know about. World War III was the Cold War. What is World War IV?
A: I did that tongue-in-cheek as a way of getting people to think about the current conflict as something bigger than the Afghanistan war. It's something that could last a long time.
I think Iraq is part of that overall conflict in several ways. First, it's part of the post-9/11 sensibility. The one thing neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to admit is that the war in which we just engaged represents the logical continuation of Clinton administration policy. By 1998 the Clinton administration was saying Saddam Hussein was out to get weapons of mass destruction, that this would be a disaster and that we had to get rid of him.
After the attacks of 9/11 changed national sensibilities, the Bush administration went out and did it. Although the war was primarily about the menace of the regime there is hope that this victory will help change some of the underlying circumstances that gave rise to the events of Sept. 11.
Q: What are some of the underlying circumstances that may be changed as a result of the war?
A: It may be that this war will allow us to get out of Saudi Arabia, for example. We're there because of Saddam Hussein. If we go back to Osama bin Laden's February 1998 platform, what's the first thing that's bothering him? That U.S. forces are on the holy ground of Saudi Arabia. We should take that stuff seriously.
And I think there are likely to be long-term consequences of the war. If we can help create in Iraq a responsible government, a continuing better place from the point of civil liberties and just government, that would be a huge step forward and a great example. The victory already is beginning to create a certain kind of conversation that may yield something positive.
Q: Does George W. Bush rank up there with Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion as a wartime leader?
A: He is an authentically modest man, and I don't think he would claim to be in that league. But I give him pretty high marks, first and foremost for sheer determination. That's a very important characteristic, and all four of them had it. All four had some very, very dark moments. Each of these men was, in some measure, melancholic. All of them persevered.
Bush has been tested since 9/11 and has persevered despite internal opposition. All of these men faced internal opposition. All of them persisted, too, in the face of a difficult international diplomatic environment. Bush has done that as well.
I think President Bush's most authentic and important characteristic is his faith, and I think that has had a profound impact.
Mark Mazower, professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, writing in the Financial Times (London) (May 29, 2003):
What has happened to the idea of the west? The transatlantic community, whose rise and eventual triumph was charted by postwar historians and routinely evoked by cold war politicians, has emerged in tatters from the crisis provoked by the war on Iraq. The rift between Washington and Donald Rumsfeld's "old Europe" has not yet been bridged. But does this mean the west is dead and, if so, does it really matter?
In truth there was always something a little self-righteous about the concept. In the second half of the 20th century it evoked a community of values, a shared inheritance of Judaeo-Christian and Roman traditions that had, supposedly, bred in the peoples of the Atlantic seaboard a special attachment to liberty, democracy and parliamentary institutions. Never mind that this made for some bad history: the ideology provided a justification for American commitment to European affairs and defined the common cause against the threat of Soviet communism. And there were convergent political and strategic interests, as Nato partners concurred in seeing Europe as the chief battleground of the cold war.
But, as the near-paralysis of Nato itself indicates, the geopolitical interests of America and Europe are no longer defined in such similar ways. The US, now a world power of unprecedented military predominance, has militarised its diplomacy. The rise of the Pentagon and decline of the State Department began under Bill Clinton and has accelerated under the present administration. In which other country during the Iraq war was policy so evidently made by its secretary of defence? At the same time, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Europe has lost its centrality for US strategic planners: the Gulf-based Central Command now controls the most important theatre of war, while the new national security strategy foresees a variety of potential global conflicts ahead. Underlying all these developments is the open-ended war on terror....
If the west turns out to have been an idea that shielded Europeans from the consciousness of their own decline, the disappearance of the west may not be a bad thing. It should certainly not be assumed that without it, the US and Europe are destined for either collision or divorce. An enduring adult relationship requires space for divergent viewpoints. When the two sides can disagree without seeing this as the end of civilisation, we shall know they have both grown up.
Jonathan Clark, visiting professor at the University of Northumbria, writing in the London Times:
Jean Monnet, the father of the European Union, symbolically displayed on his desk a copy of The Federalist, that classic of American political writing, produced in a successful campaign to secure the adoption of the Constitution just drafted at Philadelphia in 1787. It was not widely known at the time that -as historians now report -Monnet received funds from the CIA to promote the cause of European unification.
Conspiracy theorists should not be allowed to monopolise this fact. From a US perspective, two world wars pointed to just such an arrangement as the rational solution to Europe's problems, and many Europeans were to agree. What better than a United States of Europe to ensure "never again"?
Europhobes and Europhiles equally deplore the quality of debate on the EU's constitutional arrangements, but the literature on the EU's founding and development shares an assumption: the real debate was conducted, and concluded, long ago. The real debate on the merits of federalism was in 1787-88, on whether to ratify the US Constitution. That debate rehearsed the key issues, say the political scientists, and the citizens of the new American republic gave the correct answer. The track record of the US shows that Americans invented federalism in its modern form, and that it works. There is now a vast body of writing on European politics that holds up federalism as a timeless magic answer.
The key text in securing the adoption of the Constitution and in placing an interpretation on its meaning was The Federalist. As a central component of the US "myth of origins", it is still more revered than scrutinised. Read critically, however, it reveals that all was not as it seemed. Its authors, those Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, were brilliant spin-doctors. Yet even they sometimes failed to cover their tracks.
Their first coup was to steal a title. "Confederal" and "federal" initially meant the same thing: weak central government, divided sovereignty, strong states. The Federalist stole the label to describe a regime that its authors intended to be just the opposite. Their next coup was credibly to write as if they spoke for "the people". Far from the US still being a diverse alliance of sovereign states, the authors created the impression that the republic was already the unified (if imperfect) creation of a single people. Indeed, on "the consent of the people" rested no less than "the fabric of the American Empire": a manifest destiny beckoned.
The Federalist, read closely, had two contradictory ways of explaining why the existing constitution, the Articles of Confederation, had to go. One was to argue that the proposed amendments would make no real difference -the American people had agreed to their substance. All that was now proposed was "a partial union".
Hamilton said the distinction between "a confederacy and a consolidation of the states" was "more subtle than accurate". The states would still be intact, becoming "constituent parts of the national sovereignty". But he also argued the opposite: a unifying government would make a big difference. Without it, there would be "frequent and violent conflicts" among states.
A unified sovereignty might be an alarming prospect: what checks and balances, what divisions of powers, would restrain such a polity? Hamilton's argument was that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary, since "the people" retained all their individual rights. He added that the states would still possess all the rights not given by "exclusive delegation" to the federal government.
But he explained states' rights not as inherent in them but as only "a theoretical consequence" of his fictional division of sovereignty. If so, could sovereignty be divided at all if the ultimate sovereign was "we, the people"?
So was the proposed constitution really "federal" (ie, decentralised) or "national" (ie, unified)? In The Federalist No 39, Madison gave a series of sophistical answers: federal, not national, in the source of its authority; national rather than federal in the operations of its powers.
Madison claimed that the Constitution would be ratified by people as members of "the distinct and independent states to which they respectively belong", so that the states would really create the federal government; but Hamilton had already conceded that the federal government would deal with individual citizens directly, not via their states. That was what he claimed justified the Philadelphia Convention in drafting a new Constitution when that body had a mandate only to revise the Articles of Confederation.
Whatever orators said about the tyranny of George III, Hamilton's preoccupation was the "propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon the rights and absorb the powers of the other departments". Madison urged "the danger from legislative usurpations". So the Constitution provided effective barriers against legislatures, especially those of the states, and failed to provide against the rise of an overmighty Executive that has come to characterise the modern US.
Niall Ferguson, writing in the New Republic (June 2, 2003):
What a screwup. One month after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq looks a lot closer to anarchy than to democracy. Looting is endemic because there are too few American troops to impose order. This week, 10,000 Shia took to the streets of Baghdad, exhorting the United States to quit the country altogether. And it is not only Iraqis who want the Yanks to go home. The other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council appear in no mood to give their blessing to a protracted U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Somehow, then, the United States needs to impose order in Iraq while at the same time relinquishing power there. The good news is that there is a tried-and-tested way to accomplish this. The experience of the last anglophone empire in the Middle East offers a road map for the beleaguered American occupiers. But it is not Britain's occupation of Iraq that teaches valuable lessons; it is Britain's occupation of Egypt. Iraq was a relatively late addition to the British Empire, run only for a brief period during the 1920s as a League of Nations mandate. Egypt, acquired at the height of British power in the 1880s, was different. The resemblances between Britain's occupation of Egypt 121 years ago, touted at the time as the model of what a liberalizing imperial power could accomplish, and America's current occupation of Iraq are uncannily close, and Britain's Egyptian experience contains critical insights for the United States today. Most important, the Bush administrationand the American peopleneed to understand that successful imperialism (sorry, "nation-building") requires a kind of willful hypocrisy: The United States must stay in Iraq for a long time, but never stop promising to leave.
In 1882, a nationalist army officer named Said Ahmed Arabi seized power in Egypt, overthrowing the pro-British Khedive Tewfik. Arabi was no Saddam. And the pretext for foreign intervention was not the same as in Iraq today: violence against European residents in Alexandria as opposed to noncompliance with international calls for disarmament. However, the deeper causes for intervention are strikingly similar.
For a start, like George W. Bush on the 2000 campaign trail, the newly elected British government had pledged during the 1879 election campaign not to behave imperially. Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone had condemned arch rival Benjamin Disraeli for meddling in Egypt and had made the avoidance of needless overseas entanglements a cornerstone of Liberal foreign policy. As late as January 1882, Gladstone was still advocating a policy of "Egypt for the Egyptians." But, like the United States in the Middle East today, Britain also had substantial economic interests in Egypt. More than 80 percent of the traffic going through the Suez Canal was British, and, in 1876, Britain had acquired a substantial shareholding in the Canal Company itself. What's more, a large chunk of Egypt's debt was owned by British bondholdersincluding the new prime minister himself....
Promising to go while not actually doing so is of course a form of hypocrisy, and it is something all empires require. Indeed, only hypocrisy will solve America's current dilemma.
First, the United States must make it look like Iraqis are running the country. Indeed, L. Paul Bremer could learn from his Victorian predecessor Lord Cromer that it's quite all right to set up an interim ruling council of Iraqi notables and even to plan for a local national assembly in order to mollify local elites. But he has to ensure that ultimate control of military, fiscal, and monetary affairs remains firmly in American hands. This will not be easy. Repeatedly during their time in Egypt, the British had to resist the efforts of the country's nominal rulers to go it alone. In 1884, 1888, 1891, and 1919, the British were forced to sack recalcitrant Egyptian ministers. Anti-British forces sometimes fought back, and, in 1924, the British military commander in Egypt was assassinated. But the British remained in charge. In other words, it can be done....
Asked recently if he was worried about giving the impression that "the United States is becoming an imperial, colonial power," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld retorted indignantly, "That's just not what the United States does. We never have, and we never will. That's not how democracies behave." Gladstone would have approved. Saying one thing and doing another is precisely how imperial democracies behave.
Arnold Beichman, writing in the Weekly Standard (June 2, 2003):
[T]here is a reason that responsible historians will be unable to avoid discussing President Kennedy's reckless sex life. It was a significant factor in how his peers sized him up.
So far as we know, there was no blackmail or scandal during the Kennedy years. The historian [Michael Beschloss] quotes from the diary of Hervé Alphand, then French ambassador, that President Kennedy's "desires are difficult to satisfy without raising fears of scandal and its use by his political enemies. This might happen one day, because he does not take sufficient precautions in this Puritan country." Prime Minister Macmillan felt that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty had been badly negotiated with Chairman Khrushchev by President Kennedy because he was "weakened by constantly having all those girls, every day."
I can add something from personal knowledge--as told to me by the late Arthur J. Goldberg, then secretary of labor. Kennedy's sex exploits often occurred in New York's Carlyle Hotel on Madison Ave. and East 76th Street, where he could enjoy the privacy not available at the White House. Kennedy stayed in the Carlyle's huge penthouse with a magnificent view of Central Park from its wall-sized picture window. The lady of choice would arrive--perhaps after a cocktail party hosted by Henry Fonda at an East Side brownstone. The entourage of White House correspondents who traveled with the president would be informed at a late afternoon briefing by Pierre Salinger that "the lid was on," and they were free to disport themselves as they pleased because there would be no breaking news or official announcements. The assignation would actually take place in rooms on the floor below the penthouse, where the chosen lady could arrive unseen by the Secret Service guards stationed outside the penthouse doors. Kennedy would then pop down a back staircase and return at his leisure to the presidential bedroom in the penthouse.
The full story of Kennedy the priapist will never be known, because those who know rarely talk, and those who talk do not know the whole story.
Gore Vidal, in the course of an interview posted by Democracy Now! (May 13, 2003):
Well, the election of 2000 was the end of the republic. It was the second time that it happened that somebody who got the popular vote did not get the election. 1876, when Governor Tilden, a Democrat of New York, won the election. But they were able -- we still had troops in the south -- they were able to turn the election around, the electoral college, Tilden didn't want another Civil War, so he just withdrew, but there was no sinister group taking charge, it was just a party group of Republicans who wanted to continue the reign of General Grant. That was mildly sleazy. This is major corruption. This is corporate America, as one, putting in place a president who was not elected. Getting the Supreme Court to delay and delay, when under the 10th amendment, every decision about the voting in Florida, should be made by the Florida Supreme Court. Not the U.S. Supreme Court, which the Constitution rules out in matters of election. ...
Let¹s clear up one thing. The right wing has been desperate to explain to Americans that I live in Italy, that I¹m an ex-patriot. "He hates America." Just because I dislike them. I¹ve had a house in California for 30 years. I¹ve had a house in Southern Italy for 30 years. Sometimes I¹m there when I'm working, but I¹ve always been involved in American politics, and American history. That's a fact that you can look at a long line of books, to attest to that fact. The idea of geography is very exciting to people, because I think it¹s only 7% of the American people have passports, only 7% have been abroad. Not counting the ones who were sent in the military of course, but 7% have voluntarily gone abroad. It's a tiny percent of those in congress who¹ve been abroad. Bush had never set foot in Europe before he became President. He had spent 10 minutes in China when his father was Ambassador there, and obviously never went outside of the compound. What I have to do lot of times in Europe is explain to them that Americans are not stupid, when they meet them, they think they¹re very stupid because they don't know anything, I have to explain the them that we're not stupid, I think we¹re rather brighter then the average, but we¹re ignorant, which means not knowing, we have no information because it isn't given to us. Our public schools are a scandal, they stopped teaching geography in 1950 in most of the public schools, by which time we were a global empire, we have a global empire and nobody knows where anything is, nobody knows any languages, so our statesmen go abroad and people laugh at them, because they are so dumb, or seem to be so dumb.
Donald Rumsfeld, writing in the Wall Street Journal (May 27, 2003):
There are still difficulties in Iraq, to be sure -- crime, inflation, gas lines, unemployment. But the fact that such difficulties exist should come as no surprise: No nation that has made the transition from tyranny to a free society has been immune to the difficulties and challenges of taking that path -- not even our own.
The years after our war of independence involved a good deal of chaos and confusion. There were uprisings such as Shays' Rebellion, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There was rampant inflation caused by the lack of a stable currency and the issue of competing paper monies by the various states. There were regional tensions between mercantile New England and the agrarian South. There was looting and crime and a lack of an organized police force. There were supporters of the former regime whose fate had to be determined. Our first effort at a governing charter -- the Articles of Confederation -- failed miserably, and it took eight years of contentious debate before we finally adopted our Constitution and inaugurated our first president. And, unlike the people of Iraq, we did not face the added challenge of recovering from the trauma of decades of brutal rule by a dictator like Saddam Hussein.
The point is this: It is now just seven weeks since Iraq's liberation -- and the challenges are there. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "we are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed." It took time and patience, but eventually our Founders got it right -- and we hope so will the people of Iraq, over time.
Andrew Billen, writing in the London Times (May 20, 2003):
"I do believe there were horrible things lurking in Iraq even if we haven't found them, and I do think the pond needed to be drained. It was entirely likely that they would get into the hands of people like al-Qaeda - and even if they hadn't, it was absolutely clear that Saddam, over a period of time, wanted to be the extortionate lever in that part of the region."
Although he regards the God-botherers Bush and Blair as "not very good people to defend the Voltaire XI", he does see the "war on terror" in their terms: as a fight between theocratic fanaticism and the values of the Enlightenment. I have to tell him that the British Left sees it differently. It asks how else you expect the dispossessed of the world to react against a great big bullying US super-power.
"That's really defeatism. Almost insulting defeatism. I think it's hideous. It's like democracy can never, ever take root in places where people's skins are brown.
Why the f*** not?"
What he does find "unconscionable" about the Bush Administration is its aversion to spelling out the cost. He means this financially, rather than the "human cost" (although he notes that Ali Ismail Abbas, the child who lost his arms during the coalition bombing, is scarcely known in the America media).
"No, not in terms of the war, but of what we are up for now: that it may be a little difficult to have however many tens of thousands, maybe a hundred thousand, people policing and stabilising this part of the world over the next five years while you cut every single tax you can think of and fund social security and prevent Medicare from completely collapsing. There's an amazing Wizard of Oz craziness about basic sums.
"Almost every single state in the US is close to bankruptcy; not only that, but the level of subsidy they receive from central government revenues is going down and down. Whether you can finance that and be an empire is deeply moot.
"It's traditionally what breaks all empires. We really couldn't run the First and Second World Wars and stay as an imperial power. The Dutch could not fight Louis XIV and the Spanish and Portuguese out there in the East Indies, even though they'd been overwhelmingly the richest country in the world. It broke them."
In any case, Americans have little inclination for empire. "America is deeply about tourism, going there and coming back to air-conditioning. Britain wasn't.
Stanley Kutler, writing in the Chicago Tribune (May 22, 2003):
Thirty years ago this week, the Senate Select Committee on Watergate began momentous hearings into the Watergate break-in and the connections with the Committee to Re-elect the President. The hearings exposed wide-ranging wrongdoing by President Richard Nixon's men, as well as heightening suspicions that Nixon himself was deeply involved in a coverup.
Never before had alleged White House criminal activities been so scrutinzied. The Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s offers some parallels, but President Warren G. Harding's death in 1923 largely mooted any implication of him. The Senate committee in 1973, however, raised profound suspicion about Nixon's behavior. Numerous individuals and institutions contributed to Nixon's downfall--not least of whom was Richard Nixon himself. The committee, however, basically developed the case subsequently made in impeachment proceedings, and which proved overwhelming.
The committee's final report dismissed the White House claim that Watergate was merely a third-rate burglary, and meticulously pointed to the break-in as but one piece in a larger pattern of abuse of powers, obstruction of justice and "White House horrors" that former Atty. Gen. John Mitchell revealed in his testimony.
The first 37 days of the hearings offer a rare model for congressional investigations. Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) headed the committee. The North Carolinian long had been a Senate insider and no stranger to such sensitive proceedings. He had served on the Senate's investigation of its own Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), playing a leading role in McCarthy's censure and downfall. ...
"Payback" is the law of life in Washington. Republicans labored mightily in the 1990s to draw analogies between President Bill Clinton's actions and Nixon's. Unlike the Senate Committee of 1973, their investigations proved sharply partisan, poorly prepared and tenuously argued.
They failed, of course.
James McPherson, writing as president of the American Historical Association in Perspectives (May 2003):
The United States has been involved in two previous wars of this nature in which it was the target instead of the instigator of a preventive attack: the Civil War and World War II. The fate of the nations that launched these attacks was not a happy one.
The secession of seven southern states in 186061 was a preemptive act to forestall the anticipated threat to slavery and white supremacy presented by the incoming Republican administration of Abraham Lincoln. The election of Lincoln, declared an Alabama newspaper, "shows that the North [intends] to free the negroes and force amalgamation between them and the children of the poor men of the South." If Georgia remained in a Union "ruled by Lincoln and his crew," warned a secessionist from that state, "in TEN years or less our CHILDREN will be the slaves of negroes." Jefferson Davis insisted that Confederate states had seceded "to save ourselves from a revolution" that threatened to make "property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless."
Southern moderates tried in vain to persuade their hotheaded colleagues to give the Lincoln administration a chance to fulfill its promise of nonintervention toward slavery in the states. Wait for an "overt act" against southern rights before taking the drastic step of secession with its risk of civil war, they implored. But fire-eaters insisted that the South could not afford to wait until the North loosed another John Brown or other weapons of mass destruction. "If I find a coiled rattlesnake in my path," asked an Alabama editor, "do I wait for an 'overt act' or do I smite him in his coil?" When moderates pointed out that "it will be several years before Lincoln will have control of the sword and the purse through the instrumentality of Congress," that only "furnishes additional arguments for action NOW," maintained a Mississippian. "Let us rally before the enemy can make good his promise to overwhelm us. Delay is dangerous. Now is the time to strike."...
Less than four years later, the empire of this master race lay in ruins. One-fourth of the white men of military age in the Confederate states had died. Two-thirds of southern wealth had been destroyed, including the value of four million slaves who now owned themselves. Burned-out plantations, fields growing up in weeds, and railroads without tracks, bridges, or rolling stock marked the trail of conquering Union armies.
If George Santayana was right when he said that those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it, Japanese military leaders in 1941 should have paid more attention to the Confederate experiment in preventive war. Just as Jefferson Davis had considered Lincoln's effort to reprovision Fort Sumter an act justifying a preemptive strike, so the Japanese government 80 years later considered the American oil embargo an act justifying the attack on Pearl Harbor. "A nation which does not fight in this plight," Admiral Osami Nagano told the emperor, "has lost its spirit and is already a doomed nation." When the novelist Dazai Osamu heard the news of Pearl Harbor, he exclaimed that he was "itching to beat the bestial, insensitive Americans to a pulp." ...
For almost six months Japanese forces enjoyed almost uninterrupted success, gobbling up the Asian colonies of Britain, France, and the Netherlands as well as of the United States. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere seemed a permanent fact. But less than four years later, two million Japanese had died in the war, Japanese cities lay in ashes, and mushroom clouds rose above Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan in 1945 was even more devastated than the American South in 1865. Such were the fruits of preventive war.
In his Gadfly newsletter (May 15, 2003), Chester Finn conducts a debate with himself about the No Child Left Behind Act, pointing out its pros and cons. This was one of the cons:
It’s a fantasy to say schools are welcome to add history, art, music, or geography to the NCLB subjects. If there’s any certainty in education, it’s that what gets tested is what gets taught. Schools will focus on the things they’re accountable for. All of NCLB’s pressure is concentrated on reading and math and, a few years hence, science. It doesn’t even talk about writing, history, or geography. In theory, a school could meet all its requirements and still graduate students who couldn’t compose a paragraph, find North America on a map, or identify Abe Lincoln. With all the attention placed on a school’s performance in just three subjects, nobody will even notice if the rest of the curriculum gets short shrift. And it doesn’t help to say, “We’ll get to these other subjects later.” What about the millions of sixth graders who will pass through while we’re waiting? This could lead to the worst curricular distortion ever.
From the newsletter of the American Revolution Round Table (June 2003):
A much less amusing story has been making waves in Philadelphia in recent months -- a hubbub about the way the National Park Service has tried to obscure the fact that President George Washington brought eight slaves to staff his executive mansion on the south side of Market Street, about 500 feet north of Independence Hall. The house was torn down decades ago. For almost fifty years, the site has been occupied by a public bathroom for tourists. Now, a new building to house the Liberty Bell is going up nearby. This Liberty Bell Center will partially occupy the backbuildings of Washington's executive mansion. Recently black activists began asking why the Park Service has not mentioned the existence of the slaves in the interpretive panels near the public bathroom and wanted to know if they would be mentioned in the new site of the Liberty Bell. The INHP officials claimed that there was no proof that the"stable people" in the back of Washington's mansion were slaves, and described them as"servants." They ignored a twenty five year old report that confirmed the servants were slaves, at least from 1790 to 1792, when Washington decided to return the blacks to Mount Vernon and replace them with Germans. Only after 500 protestors demonstrated last July 3 did the Park Service back down and admit that Washington had slaves in his mansion. To say INHP handled this matter badly is an understatement. It is time to state frankly and unashamedly that slavery was widespread, both in the North and in the South, during the Revolution and for several decades after it. There is no reason to allow anyone to lay a guilt trip on contemporary Americans about this -- unless we imitate the INHP's furtive, evasive approach to the problem.
Iris Chang, writing in the NYT (May 21, 2003):
There is no question that precautions should be taken to protect people from SARS: after all, scientists have not yet found a cure for the disease or a vaccination to prevent it. But without the mitigating influence of sound thinking, excessive fear of this new disease can lead to discrimination against Asians, something that is not without precedent in this country.
In the late 19th century, anti-Chinese sentiment arose, fueled by a bad economy and workers threatened by an influx of cheap Chinese labor. Anti-Chinese propaganda tended to focus on issues of health and disease. In 1875, the American Medical Association sponsored a study to investigate assertions that Chinese women were spreading a unique, "Chinese" strain of syphilis. Though the study found no evidence to support the claim, one medical publication, The Medico-Literary Journal, nevertheless accused the Chinese of "infusing a poison in the Anglo-Saxon blood."
Elements of the American press helped fan the flames, portraying the Chinese as an unsanitary and dangerous race. An editorial in The Santa Cruz Sentinel in 1879, for example, described the Chinese as "half-human, half-devil, rat-eating, rag-wearing, law-ignoring, Christian-civilization-hating, opium-smoking, labor-degrading, entrail-sucking Celestials."
Another California newspaper, The Dutch Flat Forum, struck a similar chord at the time. "Women of California," it asked, "why do you persist in having your dirty linen fouled by unclean hands, under the pretense of having it cleansed? Do you not know that (in these exciting times when the Chinese are losing employment, and naturally mad at the white race) you are taking desperate chances of having disease introduced among us that will render desolate our firesides? And in fact we don't know but that the diseases among our children during the past year, which have baffled the skill of our most eminent physicians, and depopulated many households, have emanated from the Chinese."
Sensational news accounts of Chinese men luring innocent young white women into opium dens were complemented by advertising. For instance, ads for "Rough on Rats," a pest control product, featured a picture of a pigtailed Chinese man with his head tilted back, devouring a live rodent. The image was accompanied, not so subtly, by the anti-Chinese slogan of the era: "They must go."...
Suspicion of Chinese-Americans has waxed and waned over the 20th century, but it has never completely gone away. It is no wonder, then, that given this not-so-distant history Chinese-Americans are uneasy about the way in which people have responded to the threat of SARS. While we are right to expect the government to take all necessary steps to slow the spread of the disease, we are also right to demand more careful reasoning from American institutions.
Edward Said, writing in Counterpunch.org (May 20, 2003):
There is a clear line of imperial continuity that begins with Ottoman rule over the Arabs in the 16th century until our own time. After the Ottomans in World War One came the British and the French, and after them, in the period following World War Two, came America and Israel. One of the most insidiously influential strands of thought in recent American and Israeli Orientalism, and evident in American and Israeli policy since the late '40s, is a virulent, extremely deep-seated hostility to Arab nationalism and a political will to oppose and fight it in every possible way. The basic premise of Arab nationalism in the broad sense is that, with all their diversity and pluralism of substance and style, the people whose language and culture are Arab and Muslim (call them the Arab-speaking peoples, as Albert Hourani did in his last book) constitute a nation and not just a collection of states scattered between North Africa and the western boundaries of Iran. Any independent articulation of that premise was openly attacked, as in the 1956 Suez War, the French colonial war against Algeria, the Israeli wars of occupation and dispossession, and the campaign against Iraq, a war whose stated purpose was to topple a specific regime but whose real goal was the devastation of the most powerful Arab country. And just as the French, British, Israeli and American campaign against Abdel Nasser was designed to bring down a force that openly stated as its ambition the unification of the Arabs into a very powerful independent political force, the American goal today is to redraw the map of the Arab world to suit American, and not Arab, interests. US policy thrives on Arab fragmentation, collective inaction, and military and economic weakness.
One would have to be foolish to argue that the nationalism and doctrinaire separateness of individual Arab states, whether the state is Egypt, Syria, Kuwait or Jordan, is a better thing, a more useful political actuality than some scheme of inter-Arab cooperation in economic, political and cultural spheres. Certainly, I see no need for total integration, but any form of useful cooperation and planning would be better than the disgraceful summits that have disfigured our national life, say, during the Iraq crisis. Every Arab asks the question, as does every foreigner: why do the Arabs never pool their resources to fight for the causes which officially, at least, they claim to support, and which, in the case of the Palestinians, their people actively, indeed passionately believe in?
Richard Norton Smith, writing in the NYT (May 7, 2003):
For the condemned man in the neoconservative revolution, Secretary of State Colin Powell is having a pretty good week. Syria is safe from invasion for the time being, President Bush is talking to the prime minister of South Korea about negotiating with the North, and the road map to Middle East peace is back on the table. It seems like just yesterday that Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle were on the verge of an American Empire. So who really has the upper hand in this administration? A look at history gives a pretty convincing answer: the man in the Oval Office.
It wasn't so long ago that George W. Bush was commonly portrayed as an extension of his vice president. But since 9/11, the facile comparison between the nation's first M.B.A. president and a detached chairman of the board has lost its currency. In fact, he may be on the verge of joining a small group of presidents, all now thought of as great, who pitted their top aides against each other, fashioning an agenda from above the fray.
Consider the 1790's, when a raw republic was convulsed by foreign turmoil and the president's cabinet was polarized around two secretaries. Then it was a pro-French secretary of state and the Anglophile secretary of the Treasury: the former a slave-owning aristocrat who lived on a mountaintop and proclaimed himself a friend to humanity; the other a self-made elitist with a Calvinist belief in original sin, and no shortage of personal experience to vindicate his faith. Like fire and frost, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were temperamental opposites whom not even George Washington could reconcile.
Practicing negative politics long before it had a name, each man enlisted journalistic proxies to take his case public. To edit The National Gazette, Jefferson drafted Philip Freneau, a minor poet whose verse held less appeal than his polemics. Ostensibly hired as a State Department clerk, Jefferson's mouthpiece converted his newspaper into a battering ram directed at the administration that employed him.
Not to be outdone, Hamilton served as midwife to The Gazette of the United States. Using a variety of pseudonyms, the government's chief fiscal officer savaged his cabinet rival, whose popular image as ''the great, modest, retiring philosopher'' masked ''the intriguing incendiary, the aspiring turbulent competitor.''
President Washington paid three dollars a year for the privilege of seeing himself vilified in Freneau's paper as a dupe of King George III and a captive of Hamilton. He may have been the first, but Washington is hardly the last American chief executive to be depicted as a bit player in the drama of his own presidency, shunted to the wings by more dynamic actors.
In truth, of course, he was anything but. Only a leader of Washington's self-assurance would have permitted Hamilton and Jefferson their street brawl. Desperate to buy time for the new nation to attain a position from which to defy Old World powers, Washington wanted above all to stay out of Europe's murderous quarrels. By humoring his fractious ministers, he not only got two opinions on every issue, he also delayed the formal onset of party warfare, keeping both men in his official family long after they wished to be free. The political general had not lost his touch.
Likewise, in the spring of 1861 Abraham Lincoln arrived in the capital as an untested prairie politician forced to shadowbox with his secretary of state-designate, William Seward. Imagining himself president in all but name, Seward took offense over Lincoln's appointment of Salmon P. Chase to the Treasury. Seward tendered his resignation before he could even be sworn into office. Declaring that ''I can't afford to let Seward take the first trick,'' Lincoln shrewdly let it be known that the replacement at state would be more to Chase's liking. Seward tore up his resignation.
Eighty years later Franklin D. Roosevelt welcomed the clash of ideas and personalities that attend duplication and overlapping responsibilities. With a touch of perversity, Roosevelt encouraged parallel lines of command, not only between departments, but within them. Few men have so thoroughly detested one another as Cordell Hull and Sumner Welles, the secretary and under secretary of state respectively.
At the height of World War II the two men clashed repeatedly over policy toward the Soviet Union and Latin America. Denied access to the minutes of the Casablanca conference, Hull retaliated by spreading poisonous gossip about Welles's sexual conduct. By evading standard lines of authority, Roosevelt guaranteed himself competing sources of information, while injecting a healthy dose of creative tension (albeit some unhealthy paranoia as well).
A man of modest demeanor, Dwight D. Eisenhower took shelter behind a small army of surrogates as presidential lightning rods. The most effective of these, White House chief of staff Sherman Adams, was also the most imperious. After Eisenhower's heart attack in September 1955, Washington insiders mused on how terrible it would be if the president were to die, and be succeeded by Vice President Richard Nixon. The only thing worse, the joke went, would be for Sherman Adams to die and Eisenhower to become president.
Ronald Reagan, no slave to administrative theory, had six national security advisers. At one point he joked about the controlled chaos in his administration, claiming that its right hand didn't know what its far right hand was up to. Yet a generation later, Mr. Reagan's triumph in the cold war has relegated the fierce rivalry of Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to footnote status.
Zachary Shore, a fellow at the American Institute for, Contemporary German Studies and recently on the State Department's, policy planning staff, is author of What Hitler Knew: The Battle for, Information in Nazi Foreign Policy; wiriting in the LA Times (May 1, 2003):
Most people think that dictators are always obeyed. They issue orders and their lackeys diligently carry them out. But although most dictators surround themselves with yes-men, these subordinates are not always as compliant as believed.
In Nazi Germany, for example, Hitler's advisors exerted surprising influence over their leader. Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, put it best in his postwar memoirs: "He had one extraordinary deficiency... He had no understanding of, no feeling for the game of manipulation, indeed no suspicion that anyone could slowly, steadily work on him and manipulate him."
As the climate of fear in Hitler's Reich intensified, the advisors sought to protect themselves by tightening their control over the information flow. They often waylaid, altered and even withheld information from the Fuhrer altogether. And their actions had implications for war and peace.
Saddam Hussein's yes-men also operated within a climate of uncertainty and fear, where those who fell from favor could be tortured, executed or simply made to disappear. To defend their positions and their personal safety, they too probably exerted intensive control over their information arsenal.
Americans have ridiculed Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said Sahaf for his outlandish assertions, but Sahaf's behavior was not uncommon for violent regimes. Do not assume that he was any more truthful with Hussein.
Military leaders often play the same game. The New York Times reported that Iraqi generals were feeding Hussein's son Qusai reports of high American casualties and defeats even as U.S. forces were entering Baghdad. Eventually, American and British forces may capture something even more significant than Hussein himself: the documents from which historians will learn how Hussein's regime truly functioned. As those are combed, we may find that the Iraqi leader was as much the manipulated as the manipulator.
Drawing on the lessons from past dictatorships, U.S. negotiators who deal with North Korea must accomplish at least two critical tasks.
First, they must gauge the extent of influence that Kim's advisors wield and estimate the nature of information flow to the leader. This will, at best, involve guessing.
Second, they need to ensure that any essential messages and signals intended for Kim are given directly to him without the intercession of his subordinates.
Kim's advisors may have agendas about which we cannot guess. His subordinates' personal machinations must not be allowed to manipulate international relations. Too much is at stake on a nuclear peninsula. The U.S. must neither forge new agreements nor act aggressively without absolute certainty that Kim has received all its intended messages.
To avoid future wars, we must win the battle for information.
Report by the Cold War International History Project (May 1, 2003):
[T]he Korea Initiative of the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project has been mining the archives of North Korea's former allies for insights into their decision-making. On March 8, the project hosted a daylong workshop that convened a select group of leading Korea specialists from academia, research centers, and government agencies in the United States, the Republic of Korea and Eastern Europe. ...
Based on the new sources, scholars have concluded that, while North Korea has received vital support from its allies within the communist camp, its relations with those allies nonetheless have always been highly contentious. London-based Russian scholar Sergey Radchenko concluded from his examination of Russian documents that North Korea always was as wary of Soviet great power chauvinism and Chinese nationalism as it was of American imperialism. Kim Il Sung needed Soviet diplomatic, economic, and military aid but, while accepting that assistance, he consistently resisted and frustrated Soviet attempts to influence North Korean politics and foreign policy.
Moscow had to tolerate Pyongyang's open opposition to many of its foreign policy goals and its dangerous provocations against South Korea, for fear that North Korea would otherwise join China's side in the bitter Sino-Soviet rivalry. In exchange for ever greater amounts of aid and diplomatic support, Moscow received merely the consolation that North Korea was at least not completely in the Chinese camp.
German scholar Bernd Schaefer analyzed Pyongyang's delicate relations with Beijing based on extensive records available in former East German archives. In 1984, Kim Il Sung vividly described to East German leader Erich Honecker the serious threat China's Cultural Revolution in the late 1960's posed to his regime. With Chinese armed forces amassing along the lengthy border with North Korea and Red Guards denouncing Korean "revisionism," the North Korean leader felt squeezed between the Americans in the South and his giant neighbor to the North. Kim thus avoided an open rupture with Beijing, but at the same time attempted to take over from Chinese leader Mao Zedong the position of leader of the Asian revolutionary movement. Making use of the power vacuum created by Mao's preoccupation with internal affairs, Kim also began to claim the mantle of leader of embattled "small states" worldwide. China mended its relations with North Korea before turning toward rapprochement with the United States but, in the process, Kim Il Sung was able to portray himself as being on almost equal footing with Mao....
The North Korean commitment to eventual victory over South Korea has never wavered, but, as [Hungarian scholar Balazs] Szalontai concluded from his examination of Hungarian documents, the Pyongyang leadership understood they could not start a war without international support. In order to gain such support, North Korea tried to provoke the South into initiating hostilities. However, since the Soviets constantly reminded the Koreans that they would not support them if they mounted an offensive action and did not believe the South would attack, in the end the North Korean leadership decided not to attempt a military conflict.
From his study of East German records, Bernd Schaefer concluded that North Korea's commando raid to assassinate President Park Chung Hee at the South Korean presidential residence in January 1968 was designed to trigger an uprising and/or a military coup in the South. Such a move would lead to an appeal to the North for assistance in overthrowing the regime in Seoul. The seizure later that month of the U.S. intelligence ship, the Pueblo, was an attempt to publicize alleged U.S. aggression against North Korea to divert attention from the failed attack on the Blue House. Szalontai noted that the seizure of the Pueblo was also designed to demonstrate to potential supporters and to the North Korean people that the United States was not as powerful as it claimed to be.
This illustration is by Joshua Brown, Executive Director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York Graduate Center:
Judith Klinghoffer, in an email message sent to HNN and others (May 1, 2003):
The same"experts" who urged the US to engage in bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang, are now urging Washington to provide a regime which starves its people with security guarantees. I cannot imagine a better incentive for murderous regimes to focus on developing nuclear weapons than such guarantees. This is even more obvious after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. By all means, give the North Koreans food, fuel, medicine, warm cloths and even DVDs but do not give their regime a security guarantee.
Let's remember that if Castro is still executing his citizens, fermenting trouble in Latin American and convincing his fellow Human Rights Commission members to make a mockery of the United Nations, it is because Kennedy gave him a security guarantee in 1962. Moreover, one of the reasons the North Vietnam felt free to fight so relentlessly, it is because at the Glassboro summit Lyndon Johnson assured a worried Nikolai Kosygin that the US will not invade North Vietnam. While fear of a nuclear holocaust at the height of the cold war may have justified those guarantees, I know of nothing similar to justify one to the North Asian member of the axis of evil. So, please, don't!
Max Boot, writing in the Weekly Standard (May 5, 2003):
IMPORTANT as allies are, they matter less in a world in which America wields unrivaled power. Our primary goal should be to preserve and extend what Charles Krauthammer called the "unipolar moment." That moment has now stretched into a decade and shows no sign of waning. This confounds the confident prediction of academic theorists that any hegemon will call into being an opposing coalition. It happened to Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany. It hasn't happened to America. Why not? The reason should be obvious to anyone without a Ph.D.: America isn't like the empires of old. It does not seek to enslave other peoples and steal their lands. It spreads freedom and opportunity. The American security umbrella, which shields a large chunk of the world, offers protection not only to the United States but to all democratic governments. The fundamental reason why you won't see France, Germany, Russia, and other jealous states ganging up on America militarily is that they know America presents no security threat to them. Whether they admit it or not, we actually serve their security interests by dispatching potential threats like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Some of our allies even acknowledge their reliance upon us. Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi recently said, "The United States is the only ally providing Tokyo with deterrent power against any foreign country that could threaten regional security, such as North Korea, and the Japanese people should never forget it."
Having seen that the world is not ganging up on America, some political scientists posit that "soft" balancing is going on instead. By this they mean that other nations seek to use their diplomatic, cultural, and economic influence to contain U.S. power. There is some evidence of this phenomenon--witness the recent debate over Iraq at the United Nations, where France, Germany, Russia, and China combined against us. The limits of this strategy were also revealed at the U.N. All those states blocked an eighteenth resolution on Iraq--and Britain and America acted anyway. "Soft power" is an interesting concept for academic discussion; it is not a serious threat to American security.
The greatest threat to American power comes not from without but from within: Only if we lose our confidence and our resolve, at this moment of supreme opportunity and imminent danger, will our security be imperiled. To preserve and extend the Pax Americana, we will need to increase our defense spending. We already have the most magnificent military in history, but it is stretched thin by all the assignments thrown its way. The army is deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, South Korea, Afghanistan, and now Iraq. The Marines are filling some of the gap, but they're stretched thin, too. And successful as the armed forces have been in Iraq, it's alarming to see how old a lot of their equipment is--many helicopters date back to the Vietnam War, and the B-52 bombers are even older than that.
Michael Burleigh, writing in the Sunday Times (London) (April 27, 2003):
Next month the BBC will broadcast a four-part series about the Cambridge spies of the 1930s: Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby and Donald Maclean. For there were more Bolsheviks in Britain's ancient universities than in her factories.
The cast is drawn from the dynasties that make up the British luvvie establishment. Sam West, son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, plays Anthony Blunt; Toby Stephens, son of Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, takes on Kim Philby. Blunt simpers while Philby blubs a lot, especially when someone he has betrayed gets the chop.
Tom Hollander as Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess swigs whisky and buggers lower-class lads, his inverted notion of being in the vanguard of the working class. James Fox does Lord Halifax as an upper-class buffoon, while Anthony "Sebastian" Andrews renders King George VI as a "nice but dim" toff.
Edward VIII appears as a fascist sympathiser, making cryptic utterances about "bweeding", conveniently overlooking the eugenic enthusiasms of the European left during the 1920s and 1930s.
Experts on espionage such as Oleg Gordievsky, the former Soviet double agent, have had a field day with the BBC's whimsical way with facts. But merely picking apart historical errors does not do this despicable enterprise justice. The assumptions that the drama reveals in the present-day BBC are more troubling - as is the failure to address the motivation of these men in an intelligent way.
No member of the British elite is depicted in anything other than grotesque terms.
They are shown as anti-semitic, corrupt, decadent, snobbish and bound together in something called "the club", which is spoken about so leadenly that it might have been taken over wholesale from any anti-British Nazi or Soviet propaganda film of that era.
Britain's individualistic and spirited working classes are reduced to the college lackeys whom Blunt, Burgess and their ilk bugger. All Jews are victims, never NKVD agents like Arnold "Otto" Deutsch, one of the quartet's Soviet field controllers, who is depicted here as a saintly father-confessor figure.
The marginal significance of fascism in 1930s Britain is supposed to explain why the Cambridge spies progressed via Comintern into becoming NKVD agents. European history is squeezed into this crude "anti-fascist" template to explain their treason. "To fight fascism you had to be a communist," as one character explains.
The BBC drama thenceforth dispenses with explanations.
The history of small countries is not the producer's strong suit. We get a parody of the bombing of Guernica but no mention of the torture chambers and execution squads that the NKVD employed to extend the Stalinist purges (of the left) onto Spanish soil.
The Cambridge Stalinists (for that is what they were) are never viewed through the prism of dissident leftists, such as George Orwell or Arthur Koestler, let alone anyone with mainstream socialist, liberal or conservative sympathies.
We are asked to believe that these adepts at Marxist-Leninism, with its casuistries of objective and subjective reality, would have been shocked by the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. (Good heavens, chaps, Stalin has cut a deal with that wicked Hitler!) The drama "explains" this away as Stalin "buying time", whereas in reality the pact contained a secret appendix under which Hitler and Stalin grabbed the Baltic states and Poland, using the SS and NKVD to murder the elites of those unfortunate countries. For the next 18 months the SS and NKVD co- operated in a massive programme of population transfers, what we would now call ethnic cleansing, congratulating each other on their "professionalism".
The friendship between the spies is more than a little overstated; the actors are perpetually hugging or stroking each other. In fact, when another British spy, Goronwy Rees, chucked in espionage - disgusted by the 1939 pact - that delightful diminutive drunken faun Burgess tried to have him assassinated. The NKVD declined.
There is the briefest intimation that the Cambridge spies worked for a "cause" whose global toll of victims (say 120m people) exceeded those murdered by Hitler and every other fascist regime combined. When a Soviet defector threatens to unmask Maclean, Philby betrays his whereabouts to the NKVD who arrange his "suicide" in a Washington hotel. Sprawled on a lavatory floor, Burgess taunts a Soviet bagman who retrieves a secret document that the intelligence therein will result in much "bumpity bump" - as they charmingly call assassinations - for agents that Britain had inserted behind the iron curtain. And that is that.
There is no intimation of the vast concentration camp empire that Lenin and Stalin built across the red empire, nor that two of the quartet's NKVD controllers were recalled and shot, as indeed a third would have been had he not managed to flee in time.
Every opportunity is taken to depict our American wartime and cold war allies as dense and humourless, or as racist madmen about to blow the benign USSR and the rest of us to smithereens. Burgess delivers an outrageous attack upon the United States as the Ku Klux Klan writ large.
John Brady Kiesling, the political counselor at the US Embassy in Athens who resigned over President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, writing in the Boston Globe (April 27, 2003):
I was briefly a historian, afterward a diplomat, and perhaps in the future a historian again. As a historian, I learned that power is ultimately self-limiting. As a diplomat, I learned that the United States is a mirror for the world. Our endless diversity allows outsiders to pick and choose a version of the United States that suits their hopes or their fears. The world's role models for the exercise of power are mostly ugly ones. We have better models to offer. But we must recognize that, unless we show this softer face of American power, we inspire fear more than respect, obedience more than cooperation, and a level of anger and humiliation that will continue to haunt us.
Athenian taxi drivers sneer that Americans have no history, at least compared to their own. I no longer can take pleasure in my scholarly rebuttal, that history belongs to those that learn from it. Going into Iraq we forgot not only the history of the overreaching, doomed Athenian Empire of the fifth century BC, but even our own recent history. Let us see whether it is too late to go back to the history books one more time.
Shelby Steele, writing in the Wall Street Journal (April 29, 2003):
One hundred years ago this month, W.E.B. DuBois -- one of 20th-century America's leading intellectuals -- published what may be the most prophetic book written on the subject of race: "The Souls of Black Folk." Its most famous prophecy was simply that the 20th century would be the century of the "color-line." If this prediction was ultimately qualified by the great ideological struggles against communism and fascism, it was also borne out by the struggles against segregation, apartheid, caste and world-wide colonialism. So, for its prescience alone, this book deserves the many centennial celebrations it is now receiving around the nation.
But "Souls" did more than predict. It gave the 20th century its first encounter with unapologetic black protest. Just beneath its eloquent King Jamesian surface was a brittle indignation that anticipated the unequivocal racial anger of later protest writers like Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Most importantly, "Souls" was an impassioned reaction against a black racial ideology of accommodation and humility. It introduced moral accountability into the racial debate in a way that asserted white responsibility for racial reform and justified black protest. Today, 100 years after its first appearance -- and even after the great civil-rights victories of the '60s -- we still understand race by the protest framework laid out in "Souls."
But this last point -- that a 100-year-old book on race is not essentially dated -- is more a statement about America today than about the book. In 1903, DuBois was nothing less than heroic, and as the century unfolded his protest ideology transformed America's social conscience. But shouldn't we be beyond it now? Why is it that most any American commenting publicly on a racial issue in 2003 will drop right into the comfort zone of DuBoisian protest where whites are always responsible and blacks are always victims?...
The man DuBois attacked most fiercely in "Souls" was Booker T. Washington, the great accommodationist who believed blacks should develop in the trades, practice entrepreneurialism, and win admiration through the achievement of excellence. This outraged a protester like DuBois, who believed black dignity had to be a given under the law. Washington, he said, was allowing whites to "shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro's shoulders . . . when in fact the burden belongs to the nation." But Washington believed black dignity was an outgrowth of achievement, ownership and success in commerce despite the restrictions of Jim Crow. He believed, in effect, that emergence and the self-development it required were not tied to a civil-rights kind of freedom. To read his "Up From Slavery," published three years before "Souls," is to encounter a true understanding of slavery's human desolation, and to learn how simple achievements compiled over time, and through the mastery of ever more complex skills, could transform the slave into a responsible citizen.
His genius was not to give away responsibility, not to let others carry the burden of one's uplift. Responsibility, he knew, was the transformative agent, the only power that could change a slave into an individual who could know himself as the true equal of others. Washington did not deny black inferiority; he started his work there.
But, of course, he lost the debate to DuBois. People who have been oppressed are not always eager for struggle. So the socialist dreams of protest, the easy dignity of racial militancy, the promise of benevolent intervention will all touch a deep longing. Today we live in a DuBoisian age. And today there is even a new competitor for responsibility over black uplift: white guilt.
Robert J. Lieber, professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (April 29, 2003):
The ruins of Saddam Hussein's shattered tyranny may provide additional evidence of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, but one poisonous by-product has already begun to seep from under the rubble. It is a conspiracy theory purporting to explain how the foreign policy of the world's greatest power, the United States, has been captured by a sinister and hitherto little-known cabal.
A small band of neoconservative (read, Jewish) defense intellectuals, led by the "mastermind," Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (according to Michael Lind, writing in the New Statesman), has taken advantage of 9/11 to put their ideas over on an ignorant, inexperienced, and "easily manipulated" president (Eric Alterman in The Nation), his "elderly figurehead" Defense Secretary (as Lind put it), and the "dutiful servant of power" who is our secretary of state (Edward Said, London Review of Books).
Thus empowered, this neoconservative conspiracy, "a product of the influential Jewish-American faction of the Trotskyist movement of the '30s and '40s" (Lind), with its own "fanatic" and "totalitarian morality" (William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune) has fomented war with Iraq -- not in the interest of the United States, but in the service of Israel's Likud government (Patrick J. Buchanan and Alterman).
This sinister mythology is worthy of the Iraqi information minister, Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who became notorious for telling Western journalists not to believe their own eyes as American tanks rolled into view just across the Tigris River. And indeed versions of it do circulate in the Arab world. (For example, a prominent Saudi professor from King Faisal University, Umaya Jalahma, speaking at a prestigious think tank of the Arab League, has revealed that the U.S. attack on Iraq was actually timed to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Purim.) But the neocon-conspiracy notion is especially conspicuous in writing by leftist authors in the pages of journals like The Washington Monthly and those cited above, as well as in the arguments of paleoconservatives like Buchanan and his magazine, The American Conservative....
[E]xtreme versions of the argument are readily available. For example, Alterman writes that "the war has put Jews in the showcase as never before. Its primary intellectual architects -- Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle (former aide to Senator Henry M. 'Scoop' Jackson; assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration; now a member of the Defense Policy Board, an unpaid body advising Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld), and Douglas J. Feith (the No. 3 official at Defense) -- are all Jewish neoconservatives. So, too, are many of its prominent media cheerleaders, including William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Marty Peretz. Joe Lieberman, the nation's most conspicuous Jewish politician, has been an avid booster."
Alterman adds, "Then there's the 'Jews control the media' problem. ... Many of these same Jews joined Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard B. Cheney in underselling the difficulty of the war, in what may have been a deliberate ruse designed to embroil America in a broad military conflagration that would help smite Israel's enemies."
Michael Lind's language is more overtly conspiratorial. In an essay appearing in London's New Statesman and in Salon, after dismissing the columnist Robert Kagan as a "neoconservative propagandist," Lind confides the "alarming" truth that "the foreign policy of the world's only global power is being made by a small clique." They are "neoconservative defense intellectuals," among whom he cites Wolfowitz; Feith; Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff; John Bolton at the State Department; and Elliott Abrams on the National Security Council. ...
A dispassionate dissection of the neocon-conspiracy arguments is not difficult to undertake. For one thing, the Bush administration actually has very few Jews in senior policy positions and none among the very top foreign-policy decision makers: the president, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice -- all of whom are Protestants. (British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the most influential non-American, is also Protestant.)
But even identifying policy makers in this way carries the insidious implication that religious affiliation by itself is all-controlling. In reality, Americans of all persuasions have exhibited deep differences about foreign policy and war with Iraq. Before the war, public-opinion polls consistently showed Jews about as divided as the public at large, or even slightly less in favor of the war, and Jewish intellectual and political figures could be found in both pro- and antiwar camps. For example, the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, the professor and author Eliot Cohen of the Johns Hopkins University, and Senator Lieberman of Connecticut supported the president, while opposition came from a range of voices, including the radically anti-American Noam Chomsky, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the moderate-left philosopher Michael Walzer, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.; Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan; and a bevy of leftist Berkeley and New York intellectuals -- Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine; Norman Mailer; Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University; and many others.
Galina Schneider, writing in H-Diplo (April 23, 2003):
Actually, since this war was planned for a year before the invasion, many astute curators and art historians had cautioned in advance the necessity to save Iraq's cultural heritage, providing the Bush government with as much detail as possible to help them guard against such losses.. And lest anyone place particular responsibility on the attitudes of Rumsfeld or the Bush administration, recall that much of Bosnia's cultural heritage was lost partly through policy error and partly through inaction.
It was also under the Clinton Administration that looting and destruction in Kosovo occurred. There, thousands of troops and the presence of CIVPOL in the field did not prevent massive destruction of Serbian Orthodox heritage, for which see http://www.kosovo.com/crucified/default.htm, nor, by this time on Bush's watch, an invasion of Macedonia and destruction of 30 churches and monasteries there, some blown up twice. I'm currently finishing an article on the political manipulation abroad of the history and importance of one monastery blown up twice in the past couple of years. This year a third attempt was thwarted , to blow up the remains of the already damaged relics of the monastery's 19th century renovator who had the audacity to have written a poem in a language he himself not so illuminatingly and stiltedly characterized as"the unliterary very simple language of Lower Moesia".
What separates the destruction of the Iraqi museum was that there was no coherent propaganda purpose for looting and destruction as is usual but rather mayhem, the"boys will be boys" with pent up emotions rationale often given as an excuse for"force protection", simply that someone wanted the boys to have their fun and didn't want to put"our boys" in expected harm's way. This excuse is still being given for after war Kosovo destruction. Some military decisions in the past twenty years seem to have become peacekeeping dictums. Beyond those pent up emotions being let off, there is a fiction that it is possible to effectively vet both enemy and helpful paramilitaries as policemen and another fiction that so doing allows early withdrawal of peacekeepers without leaving a security vacuum. Often the only security vacuum filled in an ethical lapse is a hand-off to an intolerant regime. See no evil.
Sally L. Todd, writing in H-Diplo (April 28, 2003):
A few years ago a non-fiction best seller for several weeks on the NYTimes list was Lynn H. Nicholas, "The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War." (Random House, 1994). In essence what Nicholas did was trace the history of MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives), from its origins in a set of informal committees and commissions Franklin Roosevelt personally established in 1937, through to the completion of its work in 1951.
There are many points of contrast and comparison with the lack of effective planning and execution we have just witnessed in the case of Iraq. FDR's personal introduction to the vast issues probably began with his visit to the Museum of Modern Art for the dedication of the new building in 1937, at which time he was briefed on the "degenerate art" issue, and the debate over whether American Collectors should "save" work being stripped from German Museums for racial or ideological reasons, if the purchase price went into the Nazi coffers. Shortly thereafter FDR put together one of his famous committee-commissions with an elastic purpose to consider arts and monument questions. He recruited the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Harlan Stone, to chair it, he filled the commission with quite junior art historians and wealthy donors such as Paul Mellon, and in 1940 he appointed George Marshall as a member. In 1939 he sent members to Paris and London to learn the basic of wartime security, preservation and particularly advanced planning. After June of 1940 FDR sent personal representatives into Vichy to gather intelligence not only on German Looting, but locations where French and Dutch collections were secreted. When word came that the Dutch Rembrants were getting mold in the dunes, he called for a sample to be sent to curators, and caused a cleaner to be sent underground to the Dutch. To put it mildly, FDR took a very personal interest in all aspects of the issues, even though his personal taste in art went fairly exclusively to the subject of sailing ships.
James Lindgren, professor at Northwestern University School of Law, writing in the Chicago Tribune (April 27, 2003):
A few days ago Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to the continuing confusion and death in Iraq as "untidiness"--a euphemism for something far more serious. Yet community upheavals can be deadly--even in the absence of war, cruise missiles, and attack helicopters.
Just last year, more than 200 people died in riots in Nigeria over newspaper comments about the Miss World contest. In the three days of burning and looting in the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, 52 people died and 1,200 businesses were destroyed. Looting was also a big part of the 1990 Detroit Pistons riots, which killed 7 people. In the 1993 Chicago Bulls riots, our fellow Chicagoans killed 3, shot 20 more people, looted 197 businesses, and damaged more police cars than the chase scenes in "The Blues Brothers" movie--139 cruisers in all.
These numbers, of course, are mere shadows of what can happen when a people are freed from colonial rule and millions are forced to relocate, as happened in 1947 with the partition of India and Pakistan. In a recent issue of the scholarly journal Asian Ethnicity, professor Ishtiag Ahmed offers estimates that 2 million people were killed and 750,000 women raped in the violence accompanying the partition....
People are asking what we should be doing in Iraq and why aren't we doing it faster.
There are calls for a Marshall Plan for Iraq. Yet the historical analogy is more revealing than people realize. The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945. In 1947, over two years after the war, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed a plan of economic recovery for Europe. By the time Congress passed Marshall's proposal and President Truman signed it into law, nearly three years had passed since VE Day.
Over the following four years, Washington poured a then-staggering $13.3 billion into Europe's recovery. Of course, the U.S. was very much involved in the reconstruction of both Europe and Japan long before the Marshall Plan was a gleam in the secretary of state's eye.
Nor was the U.S. concern in 1948 merely humanitarian; the U.S. was worried about containing communism and the Soviet bloc. Today, the U.S. is again animated by more than charity toward those in need--a successful recovery in Iraq increases stability and reduces terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass horror.
What `civilized' people do
The French were so angry after only four brutal years of Nazi occupation that more than 9,000 collaborators were summarily killed at the end of the war, according to standard academic accounts. And these vigilantes were the oh-so-civilized French.
The evolving process of reform after World War II was slow. Britain's wartime rationing continued until 1954--and, remember, Britain was bombed but not invaded, and it won that war. Sometimes I wonder whether the English might still be under wartime rationing if they hadn't kicked out the Labor government for a few years in the 1950s and brought Winston Churchill back in....
We need more historical perspective brought to bear on our public debate over the Iraq war and its aftermath, so that our expectations are more reasonable. There is one thing we can all be thankful for: Neither the press nor my equally insightful fellow academics were running the war--or are now running the reconstruction of Iraq.
James Hershberg, associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University, writing in Salon (April 19, 2003):
As a historian involved over the past decade with various efforts to work with scholars and archives from former communist dictatorships, I would suggest a few potentially useful steps.
First, the United States should support the establishment of an Iraqi "truth commission" of the sort that has worked so effectively in uncovering, documenting and presenting the abuses of the former regime in dictatorships ranging from South Africa to East Germany to several military regimes in Central and South America. The U.S. should also pledge to provide all documentation at its disposal as evidence. Such inquests can gather not only government, military and police documents but also personal testimonies in the form of interviews, letters and diaries. (Kanan Makiya's book "Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World" provides examples of how powerful this evidence can be.)
Second, the U.S. should publicly commit itself to returning all captured Iraqi archives to Iraq, and to opening archives for scholarly research both in Washington and Baghdad. Although vast quantities of such materials were undoubtedly removed from Iraqi ministries and Baath headquarters before the war started, and much was destroyed or lost in the bombing, burning and looting, it is clear that both U.S. military and intelligence forces have seized and continue to acquire historically important records and files as they consolidate control over the country.
Obviously, it will take some time before those who control such documents are finished exploiting them for immediate operational purposes. But rather than letting them disappear into classified oblivion, it would be a gesture of goodwill for Washington to state, as a matter of principle, that they will be released for study as soon as feasible.
Third, in addition to the humanitarian aid that is obviously the first priority, U.S. and coalition governments, together with the United Nations and philanthropic organizations, should aid devastated Iraqi educational institutions in acquiring Internet capabilities and other resources, and in participating in international scholarly activities -- so that students and scholars, especially younger ones, can gain access to a wider array of information sources and begin international exchanges with colleagues that were until now politically impossible. (The situation in Iraq now is in some ways reminiscent of post-communist Russia and Eastern Europe, when economic and social hurdles rose up to cripple academic institutions just as censorship and "party line" barriers to free inquiry were falling.)
Fourth, now that the Saddam and Baath regime are gone and the war against them is essentially won, there is no plausible national security reason (or excuse) for Washington to keep secret most of the thousands of records documenting the quarter-century of relations with Saddam -- including those dating from the Iran-Iraq war, when U.S. officials supported Baghdad as a bulwark against the spread of Khomeini-ism.
As ever, the Arab world (not to mention much of Europe) is filled with conspiracy theories about America's motives for and conduct of the war, many revolving around its past relationship with Saddam (for example, Donald Rumsfeld's role in 1983 as a Reagan administration emissary to the dictator). That relationship, it seems clear, was hardly as innocent as many Americans presume, nor quite as sinister as many Arabs fervently believe (or at least no more cynical and realpolitik than the policies of other Western countries). Bt a wholesale, expedited declassification of important documentation, including materials from intelligence agencies normally exempt from rapid disclosure, need not endanger the few technical or operational details that genuinely require secrecy -- and such a release would be the best antidote to uninformed speculation. It would also help American and other scholars more accurately examine the origins and evolution of the U.S.-Iraqi confrontation.
The Bush administration has espoused a vision of the new Iraq as an Arab analogue of a post-World War II Germany or Japan, whose democratic emergence might have a positive ripple effect throughout a deeply skeptical Arab world. But for that to happen, Iraqis themselves -- not American spinmeisters, propagandists or civil servants -- must be able to discover, dissect and disseminate, in Arabic, the stories and lessons of the Saddam era, in a plausible, documented and convincing way. And that will require evidence and support that only the United States can provide.
An exchange on MSNBC's"Buchanan & Press" (April 23, 2003):
PAT BUCHANAN: All right, folks, there's something like, maybe one to two million Shiites in Karbala now, and their demonstrations are very militant and increasingly anti-American. It raises questions. "The Washington Post" today said the United States seemed ill-prepared for the strength of the Shia movement and also its politicization, and also that Iran may be moving agents into southern Iraq. Here to discuss all this and the roadmap to Middle East peace is Daniel Pipes, who's is the director of the Middle East Forum, and he's the book onwrote a book called "Militant Islam...
BILL PRESS: Reaches America.
BUCHANAN: ... Reaches America". It's not yet in America politically right now, Daniel Pipes, but let me ask you this. You have seen these demonstrations, these religious in Karbala and increasingly they seem to be anti-American. Many of their leaders seem to be anti-American. First, do you anticipate an effort to set up an Islamic republic in Iraq or in southern Iraq, and, secondly, if that effort is made, should the United States, if necessary, resist it with military force?
DANIEL PIPES, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: Well, first, yes. The Iranian regime, which is faltering ideologically, is losing support domestically. I call it the Brezhnevite era in Iran. It's a strong state, but a hollow state because fewer and fewer people believed in the ideology.
Suddenly, they have this opportunity next door. There's a substantial population of similar-mindedor similarlysimilar people of similar religion who are very interested in what they have to offer, and it has, as you just accurately described, real potential in Iraq of the sort that it doesn't in Iran.
What should the United States do? Well, that's a tough question. My feeling is that we should not stay there long. That we should, as much as possible, hand over power to an Iraqi strongman. I think the record shows that it takes time to go from the totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein to democracy, and we can't be there for 10, 20 years. It has to be someone indigenous who is strong...
PIPES: ... and who can make this transition.
BUCHANAN: That makes a lot of sense to me, quite frankly, but the president has indicated we're going to have democracy and it's going to be sort of one man, one vote. They're going to decide.
BUCHANAN: Clearly the majority in the south is Shia. It is increasingly militant. Again, what does the United States do if they choose a leader, an ayatollah of some kind in there? Do we just get out and just say we did our best, we got rid of the weapons, Saddam is gone, now we have to live with this the way we live with Iran.
PIPES: Oh I hope not. I mean, I hope we do try something else. But, you're right, that the present U.S. idea is to go forward with democracy as quickly as possible. I'm wondering if that is necessarily the thing we have to do. We might want to hold off a bit, go slower. You know, it takes time. You need institutions. You need mentalities. You need customs. Democracy just doesn't happen instantly.
PRESS: Daniel, Bill Press here. Let me ask you about the war overall because in this country we seemost people see the war in Iraq as a very successful war of liberation. How is it seen to people you talk to in the Arab world, the same way?
PIPES: Well no, Bill. There is deep suspicion of the United States. There is fundamentally a very poor understanding of what the United States is and what it aspires to, and there's a widespread conviction that the United States is in Iraq either for the oil or in some fashion on Israel's behalf. But very little willingness to see the United States as a party that goes in, fix things, and leaves, which, of course, is our record. We have a very, very good record.
PRESS: Now, if the president tried to forestall anya lot of criticism in the Arab world very early on by saying that Islam is a peaceful religion. A headline in "The Washington Post" this morning caught my attention. "Scholar criticizes Bush's characterization of Islam"it happens to be you where you say that the president was wrong, should not have characterized Islam as a peaceful religion. Are you saying that Islam, like Franklin Graham said, maybe is an evil or a violent religion?
PIPES: Well first of all, I did several times with the producers try and establish that I would not discuss this on this program.
PRESS: It's in "The Washington Post" this morning. That's why I asked you about it.
PIPES: It is, indeed, but I did say I didn't want to discuss it, but let me just clarify, no, I'm not saying Islam is evil. If you look a sentence further in that article, it says I never talk about Islam is this or Islam is that. It's like saying United States is this or Americans are that. It's too big. You can't just characterize it in a single word.
Eric Alterman, writing in his blog:
The analogy, dismissed in an overly hasty fashion by my friend Mike Tomasky, is not about an unwinnable war, but an unwinnable peace. And whether our troops were greeted as “liberators” or not-and that remains an open question given the small crowds portrayed on television compared to the enormous protests spawned just a day or two later-and whether Iraq had a few WMDs hidden somewhere, does not bear on that question. What does bear on it is the fateful hubris of the Bush administration and their Neocon intellectual supporters who, like the Kennedy/Johnson liberals of lore, believed themselves able to remake an entire culture with no experience of democracy, thousands of years of brutal history, multiple factions who hate one another, and precious little reason to trust our alleged best intentions. These were all good strong reasons to think this war would ultimately be an expensive catastrophe, and they are just about all looking stronger today.
Adam Goodheart, fellow at Washington College in Maryland, writing in the NYT (April 20, 2003):
Carved across smooth alabaster, a row of leafy plants wave above a stylized river. Above that, rams and ewes march two by two, male and female, followed by men in procession. A goddess rules over the scene, accepting tribute with a gracefully raised hand.
These are some images on the Warka Vase, sculpted in ancient Sumer more than 5,000 years ago, excavated in the 1930's and missing last week after the looting of the National Museum of Iraq.
"It is one of the great treasures of world art," said Irene J. Winter, an art history professor at Harvard. "It sings its period of history as a Gothic cathedral sings the history of France in the Middle Ages."
Last week, as archaeologists and art historians struggled to interpret conflicting reports from Baghdad about the fate of Iraq's national treasures, many spoke of particular pieces with regret, anger and even tears. Collectively, they said, the hundreds of thousands of artifacts and texts add up to a repository of world culture that can never be replaced. But it is by considering the objects individually, they noted, that the loss can best be understood.
The Warka Vase, for example, is not only the earliest known depiction of religious worship, it also portrays how the fertility of Mesopotamia gave rise to the first sophisticated cultures. "The vase shows almost a hierarchy from water to plants to animals to people to the goddess," Dr. Winter said.
The few Western scholars who had visited the national museum in recent decades said its holdings were unparalleled. "It contained the full archive of 10,000 years of human history," said John Malcolm Russell, a specialist in Mesopotamian archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art who visited several times shortly before the 1991 gulf war. "If you wanted to see everything from the first villages in 8,000 B.C. to the Mongol invasion in 1258 A.D., the only place in the world you could get it all, and in incredible depth, was Baghdad."
The ancient civilizations that rose and fell in the region Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian each left its mark. But in contrast to Egypt, with its tombs and pyramids, Mesopotamia has seen its architectural monuments, which were built of mud bricks, largely vanish, noted Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "What's left of those cultures is essentially their portable objects: jewelry, sculpture, tablets," he said. "So if a great deal of those are lost, then the proportionate loss is much more."
Steven Garfinkle, assistant professor of ancient history at Western Washington University in Bellingham, writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (April 21, 2003):
The 48 hours that it took to empty the museum are still measured according to the sexagesimal system (base 60) devised by ancient Mesopotamian mathematicians. The sculpture and pottery that lie in ruin on the floor of the museum represent some of the first efforts in the plastic arts. The broken lyre from the royal cemetery of Ur was played by an early musician. The words of early poets and jurists have been stolen with the versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Laws of Hammurabi that disappeared from the collection. From scientists to artists, this loss affects us all.
The study of the past has been a remarkable constant in human societies. Our fascination for history cuts across political and cultural boundaries. With the destruction of the museum holdings, a great deal of our direct link to the past has disappeared.
Parts of the collection will resurface, but the illicit market in antiquities has a long history of making objects disappear from public view. It will be difficult to prove that many of the stolen objects came from the museum collection. Given that much of the collection in Baghdad had never been fully catalogued or published, the real extent of the loss may never be known.
Martin Kramer, writing in his blog (April 22, 2003):
We now have a fairly full account of the efforts made by American archaeologists, professors, and curators to safeguard the "heritage" sites and museums of Iraq. They wrote a lot of letters and e-mails. They placed some op-eds. A group visited Washington, and met with low-level officials at the Pentagon. Their best-known member, McGuire ("Mac") Gibson of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, presented the Pentagon with a bewildering list of 5,000 "no-strike" sites to be avoided by the U.S. military--one for every year since the first cuneiform tablet. There was a follow-up meeting at the State Department. All of this was eventually distilled into a March memo by the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). It gave high priority to protecting the Iraq Museum, but U.S. commanders in Baghdad never read it.
Archaeologists have sustained a tangible loss. For as long as living archaeologists have been digging, there has been no legal export of finds from Iraq. All the artifacts discovered by American achaeologists--before the embargo suspended their digs in 1990--rested in Iraq's museums.
Now listening to the scholars, you might be persuaded that the looting of the Iraq Museum is the greatest loss to human knowledge since the Library of Alexandria burned down. Gibson has compared the stolen artifacts to the most famous archaeological treasures in the world: "The Baghdad museum is the equivalent of the Cairo museum. It would be like having American soldiers 200 feet outside the Cairo museum watching people carry away treasures from King Tut's tomb or carting away mummies." All of these comparisons are pure hyperbole, much of it self-serving, all of it lapped up by anti-war activists, and some of it believed by editorial writers. Still, for archaeologists and students of later periods of Iraq's history, this has been an unmitigated catastrophe.
But since Egypt has been cited as a metaphor for Iraq, let's take it one step further. Napoleon set out to conquer and occupy Egypt in 1798. There were no journalists, but his ships did carry 167 savants: physicists, chemists, engineers, botanists, zoologists, geologists, physicians and pharmacologists, architects, painters, poets, musicians, and antiquarians. Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence tells their story in a few evocative pages. Their prime mission was the careful study of Egypt as they encountered it. Conditions were difficult: not only did the savants have to march like soldiers, but they had to endure the mockery of soldiers, who couldn't fathom their obsession with Egypt's ancient sites and modern customs. Napoleon's campaign was a military failure, writes Barzun, but it was a cultural success, "the Enlightenment in action." Its ultimate legacy was the monumental Description de l'Égypte: twenty volumes that put Europe's fascination with ancient Egypt on a sound scholarly footing.
It's a pity that some of America's savants weren't along for the ride to Baghdad. Their presence, like that of embedded journalists, would have reminded field commanders of the need to respect and pursue goals deemed important by influential constituencies at home. But our savants didn't propose it. Indeed, they would have found the idea preposterous.
Why? Imagine you operate in an academic environment of alienation from American power and its masters. Imagine that your discipline is increasingly subject to post-colonial commissars, who warn that even the idea of Mesopotamia is an imperialist construct, and that scholars will be banished on the mere suspicion of association with the imperium's legions. Add the fact that your personal access to archaeology, art, and architecture requires that you kowtow to third-world despots. You are more likely to know Tariq Aziz than Paul Wolfowitz. Are you going to don a flak jacket and jump into a Humvee, even to prevent a predictable cultural disaster? We know the answer.
And so the role of alerting American forces on the ground fell to... Robert Fisk of The Independent, who saw the Quran library go up in flames.
I raced to the offices of the occupying power, the US Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a colleague that "this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire." I gave the map location, the precise name--in Arabic and English. I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn't an American at the scene--and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air.
Before you judge the Marines, I ask you: when was the last time you believed Robert Fisk?
Following is an excerpt from a statement approved by the Society of American Archivists (April 21, 2003):
When a society allows its government to operate in secret, basic freedoms are gradually eroded. In South Africa, records of the apartheid regime were consciously destroyed in order to hide evidence of wrongdoing. In the former Yugoslavia, many documents were destroyed in the process of"ethnic cleansing," making it almost impossible for rightful owners to assert their claim to property. The rights of every Iraqi are at risk today and long into the future by the loss of records.
We all share Iraq's culture and history. Written records first appeared in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, the cradle of Western civilization. The loss of this heritage would not only hurt the Iraq people; it would also make it harder for Americans to understand our culture and values.
Every effort should be made to locate and preserve in secure custody all documents and archives relating to the Iraqi state, its security forces, the daily operation of the government, and the history of the nation. Emergency measures should be taken to recover records that may have been discarded, abandoned, looted, or abused. Such an effort will assist in the prosecution of former officers of the Iraqi regime as well as provide a firm legal foundation for future economic development.
Stephen Hess and James Pfiffner, as quoted by the White House Bulletin (April 18, 2003):
Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution told the Bulletin, "Clinton would be a great teacher. He is interesting. He's provocative. He is broadly gauged. He's creative. He's well read. His problem is he doesn't know when to shut up. In other words, he gave what I gather was a truly state of the world, far- ranging conversation in which there was considerable erudition and considerable knowledge of all sorts of modern literature and yet somehow he said a lot of interesting things at the wrong time. And my hunch is that that's going to be his pattern. He is going to be a former president for many years actuarially. He is young. He wants to be involved and he loves to talk and he will have interesting things to say and he will often be accused of putting his foot in his mouth. Strangely I think it was more saying things at the wrong time than malicious intent."
He continued, "To me, this contrasts very distinctly with Jimmy Carter, who strangely has been getting kudos as our best ex-president and indeed he does a lot of useful humanitarian work. But at the same time, consistently, for president after president -- presidents of his party, presidents of the opposition party -- he propounds and advocates what is often a parallel foreign policy. He did this to the degree of actively campaigning against President George Bush in December '91 when he was trying to get a UN resolution passed on the Kuwait situation. Now that to me borders on malicious. That is the distinction I want to make. The irony of it all is that he gets a Nobel Prize not really for his good works but, as we are to gather from remarks in Sweden, because he opposed American policy or opposed an American president."
Hess concluded, "There is nothing wrong with criticizing the president. That is a game anyone can play. The problem is criticizing the president when American troops are in harm's way. That really is what the recent brouhaha was all about. As to Clinton's place in history, frankly I find that presidents have a place in history for the years that they are in office. Everything else after the presidency is a footnote. Obviously a Grant or Eisenhower had a massive role before they came to the White House. William Howard Taft had a massive role after he left office and became Chief Justice of the United States and John Quincy Adams went back to the House of Representatives. Generally, past presidents retire and what happens by-and-large is that they play golf and write their memoirs because they are of an advanced age. The problem with that, and I am putting problem in quotes, is that both Clinton and Carter became ex-presidents too young."
James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University and scholar at the Center for the Study of the Presidency told the Bulletin, "Usually former presidents are guarded in their criticism of incumbents and usually they would wait until a certain period of time has elapsed before talking publicly. I guess he (Clinton) must be seeing himself as the leader of the opposition. He is sort of acting like that. I am trying to think of other presidents who have done this. Now, Eisenhower said some unflattering things about Kennedy, but I don't think they were made in public, but became public anyway. I can't remember (the first President) Bush saying much about Bill Clinton. There may have been something, but nothing quite like this."
He continued, "I think Bush 43 has this personal kind of contempt for Clinton, which may be in part why Clinton is willing to do this. Although President Bush doesn't say things publicly, from a number of books people know that he has this contempt for Clinton personally and seems to do a number of things because they have to be different from what Clinton was. So this may be in part what Clinton was reacting to. I guess I do think it is unusual in quite those tones for a former president to criticize someone who is in office and about ongoing policies, but I would suspect that it, in part, has to do with this personal animosity between the two men."
Paul Kennedy, professor of history and the director of International Security Studies at Yale University, writing in the Washington Post (April 18, 2003):
Eighty-six years ago, another powerful invading army had just entered Baghdad. At the same time, other divisions driving north-eastwards from Egypt were occupying Palestine. Urged on by their own strategists and intellectuals, these forces would soon advance upon Damascus. They would exercise great influence upon Iran and the Persian Gulf states. Donning the mantle of liberators, they would encourage regime change in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They would send out messages of hope that "the entire Arab world may rise once more to greatness and renown" now that its oppressors were defeated. These were folks determined to make the entire Middle East secure and stable -- a blessing to the world, no doubt, but a particular blessing to their own hegemonic nation, and that nation was Great Britain.
This story was told years ago by the formidable Oxford scholar Elizabeth Monroe in her classic work, "Britain's Moment in the Middle East." The title was very deliberate. As she put it, the period of British dominance "is only a moment in the life of a region with a recorded history of four millennia." Forty years after its publication, with the arrival of the American moment in the Middle East, the book makes for eerie reading. The ideas of World War I-era imperialist intellectuals such as Mark Sykes and Leo Amery bear an uncanny resemblance to those of today's American neo-conservatives and provided their political masters with similar justifications for an expansionist policy. They, too, wanted to diminish French, Russian and German influence in the region. They sought secure access to Middle East oil, and to sites for staging-posts and air bases. They also believed that British genius could reconcile Arab and Jewish interests in Palestine. Does this sound familiar?
As readers know, all this turned out to be a romantic delusion. The years following
Britain's military victories in the region were relatively easy, but then the tide turned. Monroe's later chapters have titles such as "The Spectrum of Middle East Resistance," "The Decline of British Nerve," "The Years of Impotence" and "The Fragmentation of Power." In Iraq, tribal leaders quarreled. The Kurds simmered, though the British mandate was better than direct rule from Baghdad. Sunnis and Shiites nursed their ancient differences. Arab and Zionist fears and militancy grew steadily. Nationalist, anti-Western intellectuals arose. Socioeconomic measures such as clearing waterways or planting trees could not assuage these emotions.
Will the American artificers of change do better in today's Middle East? Perhaps. But the odds are not good. Even if the United States manages to impose order in the next few weeks or months, it has embarked on a difficult and dangerous enterprise.
The region is still criss-crossed with rivalries and blood feuds between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Conservative sheiks sit uneasily upon their precarious thrones. The Kurds and other minorities are bursting to get free. Hatred of Israel is intense, and constantly inflamed by the media and the clerics. The city streets are full of unemployed, restless young men, and the populations of the Muslim world are still soaring. Bringing "democracy" to the Middle East -- if that simply means one person, one vote -- could easily produce majority mistreatment of minorities. Anyone who has read the Arab Human Development Report put out last year by the U.N. Development Program can only be depressed by its unflinching account of undemocratic governance, corruption, economic failures and dire social needs. Were a British administrator from the 1920s restored to life, he would find things all too familiar.
Allan M. Winkler, professor of history at Miami University of Ohio, recounting a trip he took with his students to Vietnam on the eve of the war with Iraq; in the Chronicle of Higher Education (April 18, 2003):
As our trip came to an end, we were all struck by how much Americans had misunderstood the Vietnamese during the war itself. Lyndon Johnson assumed that Ho Chi Minh was just like an American political leader who could be bullied or cajoled into doing whatever the United States wanted. Many Americans were mystified by the losses the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were willing to absorb to achieve their ends. How much, my students asked, do we misunderstand Iraqis today?
One point divided us, however. The war in Vietnam fractured my faith -- and the faith of many of my contemporaries -- in government. Some of that skepticism still remains, particularly among people of my generation, but the students were more willing to assume that Father Knows Best and deserves our support.
I had no agenda in teaching the course, other than to ask that we all try to understand that other people, in a far-off corner of the world, can live differently from the way we do. The papers and Web sites students have been working on since our return -- on different attitudes toward death, different ways of dealing with sacred space, and different experiences in war -- show that they have, indeed, come to see the world in a more expansive way. The experience of studying about the war, of looking at the consequences firsthand, has given them the tools to ask honest and penetrating questions about the issues that face us today -- just as it has made me more aware of how long Vietnam has been on my mind.
For all our differences, I also came to realize how much that war has been on America's mind. For a time we tried to forget; for too long we ignored the pain of our returning veterans. But our recollections of Vietnam have refused to go away. As the class began, I was surprised to realize that our students, even the youngest, were also preoccupied with the conflict, even if without some of my prejudices. Somehow, a collective concern has been passed down, through the books and films that continue to appear, and through visits to the stark, black, riveting Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Do American policy makers, I wonder, fully realize the depth of the emotional currents still swirling today?
It was also instructive -- perhaps a relief -- for all of us to learn that Vietnam itself is not obsessed by the war. For the people we met, what they called the American War was a blip on the radar screen. They had fought the Chinese for a thousand years, the French for a hundred years, the Japanese for the duration of World War II, and finally the Americans. More important, they told us, they had won all those wars. What reason did they have to worry about how we felt? They had more pressing concerns of their own.
The class talked about the irony that the United States could now interact with a country that was healthy, vital, and secure. Those qualities, which we had fought so desperately to achieve in the 1960s and '70s, were, in the end, only possible to gain after we lost the war. As we watched fearfully what was happening in Iraq, that lesson seemed more haunting than ever before. Could we, I wondered, absorb it without the same fearful loss of life we, and the Vietnamese, had suffered those decades ago? Could we finally understand -- perhaps through courses and trips like this -- that everyone in the world is not like us?
Doyle McManus, writing in the LA Times (April 13, 2003):
Paul Kennedy, the Yale historian who predicted a U.S. decline in his 1987 bestseller, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," now says his forecast turned out to be premature.
"Boy, are we powerful," Kennedy said. "I checked all the way back in history, and I just can't find a parallel to one country that spends more on its military than the combined total of the next 14 biggest powers."
Even ancient Rome had to share the globe with a Persian empire and a Chinese empire, Kennedy noted; the United States today faces no comparable counterweight.
"Chancellor Schroeder said last week that, in his view, military power is not the central issue," he said. "That seems to me to be a kind of flight from reality."
But over the long run, Kennedy said, the U.S. may find it impossible to sustain its military dominance if it does not also maintain a healthy economy and wage some careful diplomacy.
"Voltaire asked, 'If Carthage and Rome could not survive, who then is eternal?' " he said. "We spend 50% of the world's military expenditures. Is that sustainable over the long term? My instinct tells me it isn't.
"It depends on our economic power, and that stands on shakier foundations," he said. "Unless we see some reconciliation with other countries, we may have to pay not only the military cost of this war, but also the greater part of the tab for rebuilding Iraq -- at a time when the economy is weakening.
"The flip side is not just that there's unease in other countries and unhappiness that we've become too big for our boots ... [but] that there will be more groups of individuals who loathe America, and who will try to attack American embassies and American citizens abroad," he said. "I'd like to see the world's most powerful country respected and liked, as well. But that is not the case today."
David Martin Jones, writing in the Australian Financial Review (April 11, 2003):
Whenever centralising, secular authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world have experienced rapid growth and attendant social change, they have invariably been confronted by a fundamentalist challenge. That challenge is everywhere accompanied by a significant middle-class retreat into a closed world of sectarian identity. Progressive secularism fails to thrive in the modernisation processes of late-developing Muslim-majority states. In some cases, as in Iran, fundamentalism achieves power. In others, it achieves a capacity to blunt the power and programs of the secular state, and to retard the liberalisation of civil society. Even apparent long-term successes are not immune from such challenges, as the recent political sociology of Turkey suggests.
If standard Western theories of modernisation are powerless to explain such broad phenomena, where else might we look for help? It is tempting to join the queue of those who would cast Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis against Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilisations" argument, but it is a temptation well worth resisting.3 Fukuyama, much vulgarised by his epigoni, pointedly identified the Muslim world as the likeliest source of long-term resistance to his vision. As for Huntington's "clash", it focuses on Islam's relations with the non-Islamic world, not on the sociology of Islam itself.
It is a little hard to see why so many turn for guidance to two approaches, neither of which centres on the puzzle at hand. Besides, grand theorising is vulnerable, almost inevitably, to a form of reductionism that suffers as Pieter Geyl observed in the first proponents of civilisational history, Otto Spengler and Arnold Toynbee from "fallacious arguments and spurious demonstrations".4 It is therefore somewhat crude and misleading to ask if the South-East Asian case merely indicates a temporary subsidence on the path to polyarchy at the "end of history", or rather foreshadows an inexorable "clash of civilisations" in a global order permanently dichotomised (to be more vulgar still) between Benjamin Barber's McWorld and Jihad, or Thomas Friedman's Lexus and the Olive Tree.
If one nevertheless wishes to engage in a thought experiment in which the sociology of Islam in South-East Asia is constituted as a test between Whiggish optimism and Spenglarian pessimism, one does not need Fukuyama or Huntington to proceed. Such thinking has an old (and curiously neglected) pedigree. Take the former, for example. Analysing the decline and fall of the Roman Empire from the security of a politically liberal, rapidly developing if hardly democratic London in 1776, Edward Gibbon concluded that modern Europe possessed a prophylactic that Rome had lacked. Rome, as every schoolgirl once knew, fell to a combination of barbarians without and a loss of belief within. Thus, the glory that was Rome "insensibly declined with their laws and manners". By contrast, Gibbon considered that the threat posed by barbarism to modernising 18th-century Europe had "contracted to a narrow span". This was for two reasons.
First, in the spirit of liberal 20th-century modernisation theory avant la lettre, Gibbon contended that Europe was "secure from any future irruption of barbarians; since before they can conquer, they must cease to be barbarous". Gibbon, and the British Enlightenment generally, believed that they had identified a serendipitous developmental paradox: Civilisation's schooling of the passions generated a scientific and technological advantage that could be learned only by adopting the soft civilised ways of the modern city. The Highland clan and the Bedouin tribe alike had to abandon simple traditional values, brush their hair, trim their beards and go to school lest they be permanently entrapped in a cake of backward custom. In earlier form, this is essentially the same notion of process that stands at the centre of Fukuyama's thesis.
Somewhat differently, Gibbon argued, second, that both Europe and the new world of America what we nowadays term "the West" enjoyed an unassailable technological edge unknown to Rome: "mathematics, chemistry, mechanics, architecture have been applied to the service of war". Modern cannon and fortification, Gibbon contended, "now form an impregnable barrier against the Tartar horse".
That barrier stood firm for a long time, but Gibbon's analysis has broken down in our time. We have no impermeable barrier against the contemporary Islamist equivalent of the Tartar horse. By a little analysed or understood process, the Islamist warriors of our day have managed to circumvent the "civilising" process to which Gibbon (and subsequently Fukuyama) pointed: they use Western technology against us, being adept with our tools, but without having imbibed the values of the society that produced them.
How could such a thing happen? Ernest Gellner, a pioneer of what one can fairly call a clash theory of Western versus Islamic civilisations, proposed an answer many years before Huntington began asking such questions.5 As anthropologist and sociologist, Gellner was acutely aware of the main economistic tenets and tendencies of Western thinking about modernisation. But he was also acutely sensitive to the fact that these tenets could not explain the modern Muslim world. In his view, coming at the subject from cultural anthropology, Western civil society differed from traditional societies in that it required what he called modularity: a distinctive capacity to combine in effective associations with others, but without any one of these associations subsuming or defining the rest. Traditional society was stable, but also immobile, because external strictures fixed people's definitions of their own identity, and then, for lack of any alternative point of reference, those definitions were internalised. Western man, however, could adopt a variety of roles in society (religious, ethnic, political, occupational), and these could define his identity instead of characteristics assigned at birth.
While observing that a vast chasm separated modern flexibility from traditional immobility, Gellner recognised, contra Gibbon and most American political scientists, that modernisation what he called "the deadly angel who spells death to economic inefficiency" was "not always at the service of liberty". Gellner observed that Islam's encounter with modernity had led it to grow both stronger and purer in the past century.6 Islamic societies seemed to be secularisation-resistant; they side-stepped the development of modularity even as they assimilated many modern modes of behaviour. This defied the essence of Western modernisation theory, and Gellner's struggle to understand why led him to develop a sociology of Islamic neo-orthodoxy, which describes precisely what we see developing today in South-East Asia.
Gellner observed the macro-social realities of the 20th-century Muslim world and saw a massive movement from the illiterate folk Islam of the countryside to the "high" literate Islam of the city. Urbanisation and increased literacy led from a mimetic form of learning to an analogic process defined by abstractions available only to those who could reason through symbols i e those who could read. Gellner saw that neo-orthodox Muslims associated greater piety with upward mobility. This involved a process in which the authority defining Islamic piety passed from the clan elder to the literate cleric at the school or the urban mosque, and in which standards of conduct were learned from the printed page rather than through oral instruction. In their own cultural framework, this was advancement indeed, it was modernisation and it applied with special power to the role and status of women.7
If, in the postmodern, postcolonial world, identification with scripturalist high culture becomes the hallmark of Islamic urban sophistication, then it follows that the bourgeois Muslim woman in Jakarta or in London, Karachi or Sydney, for that matter wears the veil or the headscarf not because her mother did so, but precisely because she did not. The way "up" for women is within a newly mobile traditionalism, not outside it....
At least since September 11, 2001, if not before we should be allowed to wonder whether Western values have any natural or universal constituency. History, it would seem, is not quite at its End, and the historical dialectic is meanwhile bound to remain in a somewhat capricious state that does not always lean to the side of freedom. That, surely, is the burden of the evidence from Bali, and from South-East Asia more generally.
More radically, we must at least entertain the possibility that History might not have an End at all, a possibility that confronts us with a serious philosophical problem. We may be fated to learn to live with our own particularity, yet still have the need to exalt in it if we are to preserve it. But how can secular liberal societies like those of the contemporary West learn such a task when the Enlightenment values that define and sustain them insist not on the particular but the universal? If we must suspend hope, whether for a long time or forever, for the universal reconciliation of human history that is the essence of Enlightenment eschatology, where will our justifications come from? In a more traditionally religious era in the West, Pascal famously said that if God did not exist, we would have to invent Him. Maybe the same is true, these days, of our faith in the End of History.
Scott Burchill, writing in the Australian Financial Review (April 11, 2003):
Despite its recent association with the war against Iraq, the United States has been addicted to "regime change" around the world since the end of World War II. From Syria in 1948 to Afghanistan in 2002, the list of countries subject to various forms of intervention by the US is staggeringly long (Blum, 2002).
In the past, Washington's habitual interference in the affairs of other states has rarely been successful (e g Vietnam, Iran and Somalia), and has often been disastrous for those who have felt its full force (e g Indonesia, Angola and Nicaragua).
Although in recent years the pretexts have varied humanitarian crisis (Serbia, 1999), harbouring terrorists (Afghanistan, 2001), weapons of mass destruction/links to terrorism/humanitarian relief (Iraq, 2003) the pattern is well established and certain to continue.
However, what is striking today is the rehabilitation of war as an acceptable instrument of state policy. The US "no longer views force as something to be used reluctantly or as a last resort" (Bacevich, 2003), but instead as the means to maintain its "full spectrum dominance" a determination to rule the world by force and crush all challenges to this domination. This policy has an ominous trajectory and an uncertain destination.
Two events have encouraged Washington to favour force as the preferred means of solving its global problems by unilateral intervention in the internal affairs of other states. The first was the collapse of bipolarity at the end of the Cold War. The second was September 11, 2001. The unipolar temptation For liberals, the end of Soviet communism in the early 1990s was a cause of celebration as the spread of democratic politics and market capitalism no longer faced any serious rivals or obstacles. Their long-held views about the pacifying effects of liberal democracy and free trade unfashionable for the previous half-century suddenly seemed close to fruition....
For those on the left who have been critical of America's "promiscuous, cynical interventionism" since the 1950s, the danger signs were obvious during the Cold War. According to historian Gabriel Kolko, "after fifty years of intervention in the affairs of dozens of nations on every continent, interventions that varied from training police and armies to supplying them with lethal equipment and advisers to teach them how to use it, after two major wars involving its own manpower for years, America's sustained, intense and costly efforts have only culminated in greater risks to itself". Washington "does not leave stability in the wake of its interventions" (Kolko, 2002).
A paradox of the modern era, argues Kolko, is that at a time when the US has never been more militarily powerful and undeterred, it has never felt less secure. "There is more instability and violence in the world than ever," he argues. Far from exploiting its natural advantages, US foreign policy has pursued a "vainglorious but irrational ambition to rule the world". It is a policy which "is neither realistic nor ethical. It is a shambles of confusions and contradictions, pious, superficial morality combined with cynical adventurism, all of which has undermined, not strengthened, the safety of the American people and left the world more dangerous than ever" (Kolko, 2002). For Kolko, Washington's greatest mistake has been its recurrent failure to recognise the limits of its own power. In this respect, the temptations of unipolarity have brought with them new dangers. Terrorism It was not politically or culturally motivated violence that was inaugurated on September 11, 2001, as those with an intimate experience of such violence in Turkey, Palestine, Nicaragua and Columbia, to cite only a sample of targets of Western state terrorism, can attest to. Rather, it was the choice of victims that changed. As two observers noted, "the subjects of the Empire had struck back" (Ali, 2002) and "for the first time in modern history, Europe and its offshoots were subjected, on home soil, to the kind of atrocity that they have routinely carried out elsewhere" (Chomsky, 2002).
Despite official pronouncements that "everything had changed", according to both Marxists and realists, September 11 and subsequent attacks in Yemen, Bali and Kenya have had negligible effects on both the structure and the state of international politics. If anything, these events have enhanced an existing trend.
The historian Eric Hobsbawm argues that "the basic element to understanding the present situation is that 9/11 did not threaten the US. It was a terrible human tragedy which humiliated the US, but in no sense was it any weaker after those attacks. Three, four or five attacks will not change the position of the US or its relative power in the world" (Hobsbawm, 2002).
McGuire Gibson, president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad and professor of Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Chicago, writing in the Guardian (April 17, 2003):
The number of archaeological sites in Iraq is almost impossible to estimate. The Department of Antiquities has a file of about 10,000 sites, but these are only the ones that have been excavated or have yielded significant artefacts from their surfaces. There are, as a conservative estimate, probably 25,000 major mounded sites, and each of them is surrounded by dozens of small villages and towns.
In only a small portion, something like 15%, of the country has any archaeological survey been conducted, mostly in the central region. Whenever more intensive surveys are done, anywhere from 10 to 50 additional sites are found within a 10km radius of any major site. The western desert has had almost no survey, but enough has been done to estimate that there are thousands of Paleolithic and Neolithic sites there. Overall, it is reasonable to estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites in Iraq. Included in this estimate would be hundreds of standing monuments, mostly from the Islamic periods, that are part of modern urban settings.
From the founding of the modern state of Iraq until 1990, Iraq had an enviable record of protecting its antiquities and cultural heritage. The Department of Antiquities, backed by an exemplary Antiquities Law, had control of all archaeological sites and artefacts. The department, from its inception in the early 1920s, developed a well-trained academic, museological, and security staff. As early as the 1930s, students were sent abroad for advanced degrees, and some became the mentors of new generations of archeologists and epigraphers.
During the 1980s, there were more than 25 foreign-trained Iraqi PhDs working in the antiquities service or the universities in the country. Archaeology programmes at the universities allowed the Department of Antiquities to assemble a staff of thousands for its 20 museums, for supervision of excavations, and other purposes. An important component of the staff was for security: hundreds of guards who were responsible for individual sites. Dozens of Department of Antiquities representatives, residing in towns throughout the country, were responsible for the protection of all sites in large regions, including the deserts.
The result of this evolution of trained staff was that, before 1990, there was virtually no illegal excavation on archaeological sites and no illicit trade in antiquities. The uprising at the end of the 1991 Gulf War brought an end to that record. Nine of the 13 regional museums in the south and north of the country were raided by mobs, who smashed exhibits, stole antiquities, and sometimes set fire to the buildings. More than 3,000 objects were lost, almost none of which have been recovered.
As far as can be determined, the damage to archeological sites and standing monuments caused by the 1991 Gulf War itself was apparently relatively minor. Attempts to send in Unesco teams to assess damage in the war zone were vetoed in the Security Council. We do know of damage to a few mounded sites in the south (Ur of the Chaldees, Tell al-Lahm). Armies dig in on high ground, and in southern Iraq, almost all hills are archeological sites. More damage would have been done had the war not ended before the fighting reached the core area of ancient Sumer.
If the war itself did relatively little damage, the economic embargo against Iraq imposed by the United Nations has been devastating. The last 13 years have witnessed drastic losses of staff and funding at the Department of Antiquities. There has also been an increasing pace of looting of archeological sites followed by largescale smuggling of objects to feed the voracious international antiquities market. Only three doctors remain in the department. The department has been forced to lay off its guards at many sites; and even where some have been retained, such as at the major sites of Babylon, Nineveh, Khorsabad, and Nimrud, thieves have succeeded in removing surprisingly large objects (weighing several tonnes).
In the countryside, especially in the alluvial desert between the Tigris and Euphrates in southern Iraq, central government control weakened. In this area, which was the heartland of ancient Sumer, the illicit digging started as attempts by individuals to find something to sell to feed their families. This work soon grew to an industry, financed from abroad and engaging hundreds of diggers at some sites. The most sought-after objects were cylinder seals, statues, and especially clay tablets with cuneiform writing. A few pickup trucks have been intercepted by Iraqi border patrols, but most shipments have got through and end up in London or other centres of the trade. Collectors who seem to consider this a "golden age for collecting" do not worry that they are breaking international laws on cultural property and are violating the economic embargo on Iraqi goods.
When made aware of the extensive looting of the sites of Umma, Adab, and Umm al-Aqarib, the Department of Antiquities was able to gain emergency funding and send out teams to excavate them. An army unit drove off the looters, and the Department of Antiquities established as many as 18 guards on a site. The department's excavations have yielded important information on the development of architecture, as well as major groups of artefacts, including inscribed items. These finds are the only ones, among the many thousands of objects from these sites, that have come from recorded archeological contexts. All others, which now reside in museums and private collections around the world, lack context and are of far less value as information sources.
Ken Burns, letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (April 15, 2003):
Budget cuts shouldn't destroy national treasure
I wish to add my voice to those supporting the work of the Wisconsin Historical Society in the face of proposed budget cuts that threaten to devastate the work of this vital repository of our national memory. I do so wholeheartedly.
As Vartan Gregorian, the former director of the New York Public Library, said to me once, "These archives and libraries are the DNA of our civilization." What I think he meant is that it is imperative that we create a repository, a genetic memory if you will, of what we value most in our society, a legacy of excellence and intention that can serve us and our posterity for generations.
The Wisconsin Historical Society is nothing less than a national treasure. It has spent the past century and a half collecting books, manuscripts, photographs and other documents that represent an indispensable record of the American experience. The films I make wouldn't be possible without such materials.
We are all in debt to the people of Wisconsin for supporting this great institution, and I hope they'll do everything they can to protect it in these difficult financial times.
I know things are tight - they are everywhere - and quite often cultural resources are the first to feel the budgetary ax, as if these critical institutions aren't as important as other more "obvious" groups essential to our safety, such as the fire department or the National Guard. I know, too, that the Wisconsin Historical Society has nothing to do with the actual defense of our land. It only makes our land worth defending. To gut these programs is to erase our past. Without a past, we have no future. It's as simple as that.
It is time for all of us to join together in defense of this precious institution. This is the good fight we're always talking about.
Editor's Note To follow the campaign to save the funding of the historical society, click here.
Robert Dallek, as quoted in the Boston Globe (April 10, 2003):
Dwight Eisenhower said as World War II was coming to an end, 'We won't know the results of all this for 50 years,' and I think there's a lot of truth to that in relation to this episode, as well. Obviously, Bush isn't going to hang back for 50 years to wait to proclaim victory, but I think in the short term, they want to be clear about what today's events add up to. [Keeping a low profile is] a wise proposition, because who knows what lies around the corner.
Juan Cole, writing on H-Diplo (April 16, 2003):
The US government was advised repeatedly by scholars of Iraq about the need to protect the Museum and archives, and this advice was received at the highest levels. The Museum had been partially looted in the 1991 uprising, so this was not a surprise. I know for a fact that the uniformed side of the Pentagon was deeply concerned about the prospect of urban disorder, looting and reprisal killings when the time came for the regime to collapse.
One problem was that the US military has no mobile gendarmerie that could be inserted into such situations. Some European allies do, but most of them either were not on board with the war or were not invited to coordinate with the Anglo-British forces in this way.
But, even with this handicap, the US forces were perfectly capable of guarding the *Oil Ministry* buildings, just by stationing a tank outside them. At one point for two hours looting of the Museum was deterred in a similar manner, but then the tank was inexplicably called back. It was not that the US military could not have performed this task because of continued insecurity. Some sort of decision was taken about what was important and what was not.
I personally cannot escape the conclusion that this monumental tragedy for Iraq's national history was the result of Rumsfeld's willful ignoring of all the warnings received and the unilateralism with which the Anglo-American forces proceeded. I put most of the blame on the civilians at the head of the Department of Defense.
I do not think any American can fully understand the emotional shock of it. Not only are thousands of antiquities gone, but so too are all the manuscripts and archival documents on which early modern and modern Iraqi history writing could have been based. Nor do I think the Iraqi intellectual class will soon forget or forgive this travesty.
I suspect for the US to allow the looting of Iraq's archeological and manuscript heritage was in fact a contravention of the Fourth Geneval Convention of 1949. The US was the occupying power when the looting occurred, even if there were pockets of resistance (none to my knowledge have been alleged at the Museum site). It is certainly is a contravention of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict ( http://www.icomos.org/hague/ ).
In short, we can say of the complete loss of Iraqi national history: It was foreseen; it was preventable; it was horribly stupid and tragic; it will have long-term negative effects on the Iraqi perception of the US role; and it contravened international law.
David Freedberg, professor of art history at Columbia University, writing in the Wall Street Journal (April 16, 2003):
People spat on it, and smacked its face with their shoes as it was dragged through the streets of the city. Even the children joined in the frenzy of insult. But it was not the once-proud and arrogant Saddam himself. It was simply a statue of Saddam, one of many. Why should we ourselves have been so engaged? Is it just that the statue is the symbol of a hated leader, or is it more?
The history of art and the history of all images is punctuated by events of this kind. It happened in the French Revolution, in the Russian Revolution, in the wake of the fall of Nazism, in the months following the expulsion of the Shah of Iran, and at the time of the dismantling of the regimes of Eastern Europe in 1989-92. It happened long before too, over and over again: repeatedly with regime change in Ancient Egypt, and often enough during the Roman Empire.
Throughout the Roman Empire statues were erected in cities and colonies, and held to be stand-ins for the emperor himself; they had to be treated with respect. One had to respond to the image of the emperor as if the emperor himself were present. Images of Roman emperors were submitted to the insult known as the damnatio memoriae, the attempt to eliminate even the memory of the past by removing its symbols.
Then, of course, came the many instances of religious iconoclasm, from the Byzantine iconoclasm of the eighth and ninth centuries, through the great iconoclastic movements of the 16th and 17th centuries (when more objects of artistic value were destroyed than on any other occasion) up until the dramatic destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan last year.
Religious statues are removed not just because they are images of the infidel, not just because they are cult statues worshipped by opponents of the victors, but because some of the life of the gods they represent is believed to inhere in them. And when they are pulled down, well, are they not just pieces of dead wood and stone, powerless and ineffectual, just like the statues of Saddam?
The history of art, just like the history of image destruction, provides one example after another in which images are treated as if they are living. To pull them down is not just to exhaust them of all the life and power we habitually attribute to them -- it is to assert our own triumph over the people they represent.
Last week's events in Baghdad revealed all this, every step of the way. So does the continuing destruction of statues and ripping of photographs and posters all over Iraq. The headlines read "Saddam toppled"; the photos show the statues of Saddam toppled. Thus do the very metaphors illustrate the conflation of image and prototype. Everyone spoke of the "head of state" being treated with new indignities, as people put the boot in his face. The statue was down, and yet people felt compelled to hit and spit. They did not just tear the photographs, they stamped on them -- the ultimate Islamic indignity.
We ourselves watched compulsively not only because of glee at the toppling of the regime, but because the treatment of a statue as if it were human was in itself peculiarly compelling, as if we were watching such gruesome treatment visited upon a human being. And the covering of the face with the U.S. flag had particular force because it entailed the elimination of the very signs of vitality in an image: the features of the face, and the eyes in particular (the first thing iconoclasts often do is to take out the eyes of an image, to make clear that it has finally been drained of its supposed life). To see a face mutilated or covered is to be forced to think about the obliteration of life itself.
The lesson of all this is not just the political one. It is not only about the pleasure to be derived from the deposition of a tyrant. It is also about our relations with images in general, and about the power all images, whether good or bad, have over us.
For years it has been fashionable to claim that the modern multiplication of images by photography, by the computer, and now on the Web, have drained images of their force. The German cultural critic Walter Benjamin once implied that in the age of mechanical reproduction images lose the aura they had when they were at the center of religion and ritual.
Susan Sontag implied this too in a famous essay on photography. Not surprisingly, especially in the light of the strength of our reactions to images of atrocity, even when multiplied by the million, she has revised her views. She too has come to recognize something about images that we all know in our bones: that statues, like pictures and photographs, become compelling because of our inescapable tendency to invest images of people (and sometimes things too) with the lives of those whom they represent.
Hence our fascination with the events of last week.
Norman Hammond, professor of archaeology at Boston University, writing in the Wall Street Journal (April 16, 2003):
The Pentagon has coined a term for what happened: catastrophic success. Victory comes so swiftly that the victor is overwhelmed. In Iraq, the breakdown of civil administration created a vacuum that was rapidly filled by gleeful anarchy. Unfortunately, it was not just the symbols of Saddam's bloated regime that suffered: Like Cronos devouring his children, Iraqi looters destroyed the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and thus their own past.
But it is our past, too: Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, saw the birth of civilization -- the first cities at Eridu, Ur and Uruk, the emergence of writing as a means of recording tax and tribute, the first palaces of kings and temples of their gods. Much earlier, the cave of Shanidar in the hills of Iraqi Kurdistan yielded the first evidence for human feelings: More than 70,000 years ago a crippled Neanderthal man was sustained into old age by his companions, and burials were accompanied by bright spring flowers.
Sixty millennia later but close by the cave, the shepherds of Zawi Chemi Shanidar were among those who ushered in the beginnings of an agricultural self-sufficiency that eventually underpinned the rise of Sumerian civilization and spread east to India and west around the Mediterranean and through Europe.
Two centuries of increasingly sophisticated research documented these distant roots of Western culture, and the museum in Baghdad became the repository of much of the evidence. While 19th-century pioneers such as Austen Henry Layard and Paul-Emile Botta had hauled away the great winged bulls of ancient Assyria to the British Museum and the Louvre, the new antiquities laws put in place by Gertrude Bell after World War I ensured that the new Kingdom of Iraq retained much of its heritage. Foreign expeditions continued to work, and to receive a good share of the finds: The Oriental Institute in Chicago and the University Museum in Philadelphia both have impressive collections of well-excavated and legally acquired objects. After what has happened in Baghdad, they become an even more precious resource.
Antony Beevor, co-author of Paris After the Liberation 1944-1949, writing in the NYT (April 13, 2003:
In Iraq, we should assume that the tensions of reconstruction will be formidable, magnified by the religious, ethnic and cultural differences that separate the West from the Middle East. In addition, the mutual recriminations will likely be intense. Honest citizens will hang their heads in shame at what happened to their society. Yet they won't be able to stop themselves from subconsciously blaming their liberators for having forced their country's dirty laundry into such a public display. In Iraq, this may be doubly galling, as its citizens had been told for years that they were symbols of anti-American resistance for the whole Arab world.
Creating a new national mythology will not be easy. As France emerged from the war, de Gaulle perceived that a heroic and highly inaccurate myth — that France liberated itself — was essential to bind his country's wounds. A patchy resistance movement against the German occupiers gave him just enough material to make his case. In Iraq, however, where the opposition was terrorized for years, there is, lamentably, far less material for myth-making.
A liberator, however generous, should never expect gratitude, at least not for long. According to Isaiah Berlin, who was a member of Britain's Marshall Plan delegation, the European attitude in 1947 toward America's postwar generosity was that of"lofty and demanding beggars approaching an apprehensive millionaire." Some member states of the United Nations uphold this tradition proudly, and from time to time berate their largest paymaster in the bargain.
But that should not surprise anybody. We have to accept that the ingratitude of a borrower, both within a real family and the so-called family of nations, is simply one of humanity's many illiberal traits. Liberation is probably the most awkward debt of all. You can never pay it off to your own satisfaction.
John Lukacs, author of Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian, writing in the NYT (April 14, 2003):
Soon after Ronald Reagan assumed his presidency, something new appeared with his image on the television screen. When given a salute by uniformed military personnel, Mr. Reagan would return it, shooting his right hand up to his bare head, his smile suggesting that this was something he liked to do. This unnecessary and unseemly habit was adopted by Mr. Reagan's successors, including Bill Clinton and especially George W. Bush, who steps off his plane and cocks a jaunty salute.
This gesture is of course quite wrong: such a salute has always required the wearing of a uniform. But there is more to this than a decline in military manners. There is something puerile in the Reagan (and now Bush) salute. It is the joyful gesture of someone who likes playing soldier. It also represents an exaggeration of the president's military role.
In the past, even presidents who had once been generals employed civilian manners. They chose not to emphasize their military achievements during their presidential tenure in accord with the American tradition of the primacy of civilian over military rule. Of their constitutional prerogatives these men were of course aware. Lincoln would dismiss and appoint generals, and Truman knew that he had the right to fire MacArthur. During World War II, while Churchill often wore a uniform or at least a military cap, Roosevelt remained determinedly in his civilian clothes. Indeed, none of the presidents who governed this country during its great wars defined themselves as commanders in chief not Washington, not Lincoln, not Wilson, not Roosevelt.
Yes, Section 2 of Article II of the Constitution says: "The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States . . ." Thereafter that very paragraph lists other presidential powers that have nothing to do with military matters. The brevity of the mention of a commander in chief it is not even a full sentence suggests that the country's founders did not attach very great importance to this role.
But about 20 years ago the militarization of the image of the presidency began. It started with Mr. Reagan, who had no record of military service and who spent World War II in Hollywood (something that he tried on occasion to obscure). There were his fervent, sentimental and sometimes tearful expressions when meeting or speaking to American soldiers, sailors and airmen. There was, too, his easy and self-satisfying willingness to employ the armed forces of the United States in rapid and spectacular military operations against minuscule targets and "enemies" like Grenada, Nicaragua and Libya. President Bush, too, enjoys immersing himself in the warm bath of jubilant approbation at large gatherings of soldiers.
Like the boy soldier salute, the sentimentalization of the military is juvenile.
Eric Foner, writing in the NYT (April 13, 2003):
Desire for freedom certainly seems to be universal. Even those who wish it had been accomplished without weakening international institutions cannot lament the fall of Saddam Hussein's bloody dictatorship. But as the United States embarks on the project of bringing freedom to Iraq, history suggests two notes of caution.
One is that far from being timeless and universal, our own definition of freedom has changed many times. The story of freedom is one of debates, disagreements and struggles rather than fixed definitions or uninterrupted progress toward a preordained goal.
Nineteenth-century Americans, for example, defined freedom in part as economic autonomy, achieved through owning a farm or small business. This was perfectly compatible with lack of freedom for those dependent on the male head of household, including the women in a family and, in the South, slaves. For much of the 20th century, many Americans thought economic security for ordinary citizens essential to freedom. In the 1960's, the civil rights and feminist movements redefined freedom as equality for those long held down by the larger society, and the counterculture called for freedom in lifestyle and culture.
In the last 20 years, in a kind of marriage of 60's personal liberation and free-market economics, the dominant meanings of freedom have centered on political democracy, unregulated free enterprise, low taxes, limited government and individual choice in matters like dress, leisure activities and sexual orientation. Rather than a set of universal principles, this constellation of values is the product of a particular moment and a specific historical experience.
A second point to remember is that freedom is more than a set of ideas. It must be embodied in institutions, popular values, and the law, and these only develop over time.
"How is it," asked Dr. Samuel Johnson during the American Revolution, "that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?" Despite all the paeans to American freedom, equality before the law regardless of race is a recent and still fragile accomplishment. So too are strong legal and cultural supports for civil liberties, and these have been significantly weakened since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Current American ideas about freedom certainly resonate abroad. Eastern Europeans embraced them after the collapse of Communist rule. Indeed, the years since 1989 have witnessed an unprecedented internationalization of current American concepts of freedom. The "free world" triumphed over its Communist rival, the "free market" over the idea of a planned economy, and the "free individual" over the ethic of social citizenship.
The prevailing ideology of global free enterprise one element of freedom identified as timeless and universal in the National Security Strategy assumes that the economic life of all countries can and should be refashioned in the American image. This is the latest version of the nation's self-definition as a model for the entire world.
Nonetheless, other societies have their own historically developed definitions of freedom and ways of thinking about the social order, which may not exactly match ours. The unregulated free market, for example, can be profoundly destabilizing in societies organized on traditional lines of kinship, ethnicity or community.
At the height of the cold war, in his brilliant and sardonic survey of American political thought, "The Liberal Tradition in America," Louis Hartz observed that despite its deepened worldwide involvement, the United States was becoming more isolated intellectually. Prevailing ideas of freedom in the United States, he noted, had become so rigid that Americans could no longer appreciate definitions of freedom, common in other countries, related to social justice and economic equality, "and hence are baffled by their use."
Today, if Americans hope to cultivate the growth of liberty in Iraq, Hartz's call for them to engage in a dialogue with the rest of the world about the meaning of freedom seems more relevant than ever.
Max Boot, writing in the Weekly Standard (April 15, 2003):
This is the most successful U.S. military intervention since 1945. This was no half victory like Kosovo, in which U.S. forces liberated only one province, or Afghanistan, where the U.S. left warlords in control of much of the country. This was the real deal: marching to the enemy capital and imposing peace on our terms. This calls for champagne and tickertape. Instead the press, and opponents of the war, are moving the goalposts.
It's not enough to win a smashing military victory at small cost. To listen to the critics, if Iraq doesn't suddenly become as law-abiding and peaceful as Switzerland, then we haven't really won.
A little perspective is in order here. The French, after their liberation in 1944, took a cruel revenge on many of those who had collaborated with the Nazis who had occupied their country for just four years. It would be unnatural if Iraqis were not bent on revenge against those who had oppressed them for three decades. It is hard to be overly troubled by the sight of Iraqis looting the homes and offices of leading Baathists. Why shouldn't the people take back a few of the regime's ill-gotten gains? To add a touch of poetic justice, Iraqis also cleaned out the German embassy and the French cultural center in east Baghdad, well aware that Germany and France tried to block their liberation.
There are, to be sure, some more troubling events going on, such as the looting of the national museum and hospitals, along with some scattered violence. Those events are regrettable, but also inevitable when one force suddenly collapses and another is just arriving. Given how few casualties have been inflicted so far on either Iraqi civilians or coalition forces, a few more tragic losses at this point are hardly cause to declare the entire mission less than a complete success.
Martin Kramer, writing in his blog (April 14, 2003):
A lot is being written these days about Iraq's Shiites, and the media avidly pursue anyone who seems like an expert. When demand exceeds supply, expect tendentious analysis.
Consider, for example, Professor Hamid Dabashi, head of the department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) at Columbia. The other day, a correspondent from the Boston Globe asked him about the mood among the Shiites. "The Shi'ites are horrified," announced Dabashi.
Not only are their fellow Shiites and, in fact, their fellow Muslims maimed and murdered right in front of their eyes by the Americans, but the most sacrosanct sites in their collective faith are now invaded by foreign armies. The next time the British and Americans ask themselves, "Why do they hate us?," they better remember the horrid scenes of their armies trampling on the sacred sites.
What in the world is Dabashi talking about? Coalition forces have been absolutely scrupulous about avoiding the sacred Shiite shrines in Najaf, Karbala, Kazimayn, and elsewhere. There have been no "horrid scenes" of coalition forces "trampling" on these sites. As for "murder," the really horrid scene so far has been the brutal murder of two Shiite clerics--by their "fellow Shiites"--inside the shrine-tomb of the Imam Ali in Najaf. "They cut his body to pieces!" another Shiite leader said about one of the victims. "To pieces!" And if the Shiites are so "horrified" by this war, why did so many of them turn out in Najaf to greet the 101st Airborne as liberators? And how is it that even Robert Fisk reports that, "for the moment," the massive Shiite slum in Baghdad "smiles at the West"?
Dabashi, of course, doesn't have a clue as to what "the Shiites" think. He simply knows what he thinks. Dabashi has been a militant opponent of the war from day one. Most recently, he participated in that infamous "teach-in" at Columbia, in which one professor-participant called for "a million Mogadishus." Dabashi's contribution to the festival:
Because there are no answers to our questions about this war, we just get angrier and angrier. But this is where the blessed thing called "teach-in" comes in handy. Tonight, we think for ourselves. Revenge of the nerdy "A" students against the stupid "C" students with their stupid fingers on the trigger.
Again, one is left wondering just what Dabashi is talking about. And just what are Columbia students to conclude from such a quote in their campus newspaper? That a pro-war position might drop them to a "C"? That's why professors (especially departmental chairs) have no business suggesting even the most tenuous correlation between grades and politics. It's just one more example of Dabashi's egregiously flawed judgment.
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