Media's Take on the News Archives 11-26-03 to 12-26-03

Media's Take on the News

This page includes excerpts from media stories about history related to current events. This page is updated constantly. Click here to access the archives.

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Strom Thurmond's Mercenary Character (posted 12-26-03)

Brent Staples, writing in the NYT (Dec. 26, 2003):

The Strom Thurmond who emerges from these recollections is a mercenary character. He had already been elected to the State Legislature and was laying the groundwork for the campaigns that would land him in the governor's office and lead him to the United States Senate. To see this plan through, he needed to prevent news of the black daughter, well known in the black community, from jumping into the white press.

When Ms. Washington-Williams said she wanted to go college, Mr. Thurmond naturally suggested South Carolina State, the segregated black college whose budget he would later control as governor. As a state official, he could visit there without fear of being outed. He ensured Ms. Washington-Williams' silence by manipulating her emotionally — and funneling to her the envelopes full of cash that allowed her to pay the tuition.

Ms. Washington-Williams sees the meetings and cash transactions as proof of affection. But while doling out the money, Mr. Thurmond sometimes asked how she felt about having to keep their relationship secret and how she was holding up under pressure from reporters who had gotten wind of the truth. As an abandoned child, Ms. Washington-Williams made an understandable calculation; she decided that a fraction of a father who met her in back rooms but disowned her in public was preferable to no father at all.

Since Mr. Thurmond's black daughter came forward to claim him, his descendants have been fretting about how people look at them in church — and whether they will be invited to the right parties. The tragedy of this case played out in the life of a needy child who was abandoned by her father and then misused for political purposes. If the Thurmonds are looking for something to be ashamed of, this is it.

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Strom Thurmond ... Was He Guilty of Rape? (posted 12-26-03)

Jeffrey Gettleman, writing in the NYT (Dec. 21, 2003):

There may not have been a more lowly and vulnerable position in Edgefield, S.C., in 1925 than that of a teenage black maid.

But that was how Essie Mae Washington-Williams's mother, Carrie Butler, was employed when she and a young Strom Thurmond, the scion of a powerful white family, had what Mrs. Williams described as"an affair."

Affair? That's the language many people have used to refer to the liaison after Mrs. Williams broke a lifetime of silence last week and revealed that she was the mixed-race daughter of one of the South's most powerful and segregationist politicians.

But some historians argue that the word"affair" makes it too simple - that intimidation was organic to that time and place, and therefore part of any relationship of this sort, whether consensual or not. South Carolina was an apartheid state in 1925, completely segregated, where the racial code was enforced. At the time, Mr. Thurmond was an unmarried teacher and a high school coach in the little town of Edgefield. Mrs. Williams's mother, swept floors and did dishes in the Thurmond family home.

"White men were king,'' said Valinda Littlefield, a professor of African-American history at the University of South Carolina."She was basically a child. He can do with her what he wants. She's more or less the family's slave."

No one is saying that Mr. Thurmond forced the teenager to have sex. But at the time, Dr. Littlefield said, many black families who sent their daughters off to work as maids equipped them with straight razors or tried to get them placed in homes without young men. The fear of rape was very real for blacks, while white men saw access to black women as a coming-of-age ritual, an unspoken custom of white men having early sexual experiences with black women.

"There was this uncontrollable, unconscious attraction to the otherness of black people," said Edward Ball, author of the memoir,"Slaves in the Family" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998)."I believe there was a little Strom Thurmond lurking in many white men's hearts."

Black men were powerless to stop these intrusions, knowing at the same time that if they even cast a glance toward a white woman, they could be swinging from the branches of the nearest magnolia tree.

Racial mixing was something that could never be acknowledged because Jim Crow society teetered on the shaky premise that blacks and whites were separate species, even if a look around proved otherwise.

"Everybody knew this was going on," said Jack Bass, co-author of"Ol Strom" (Atlanta: Longstreet, 1999), a biography of Mr. Thurmond."But what was talked about was the number of mulatto children on the next plantation, not those on your own."

There was another reason for the silence. The law. Often these"affairs" were illegal, under a number of provisions. And had Mr. Thurmond been caught and prosecuted, history might have been a little different. In 1925, a man convicted of illicit sex could have lost his right to vote - and hold office.

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Michael Novak: America Is Showing Its Spartan Side (posted 12-26-03)

Michael Novak, writing in his blog (Dec. 22, 2003):

During long periods, America looks too pacific to be a threat to the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. Too much like Athens gone soft. But at times such as the present--with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq--the Spartan dimension of our civilization becomes visible to all doubters. The biggest thing that most Europeans don't know about America is its Spartan side. Our founders chose the eagle as the symbol for the nation because the eagle is supreme in war, seeing unblinkingly and at great distances. Once fixed on its prey, the eagle is not easily deterred.

Our founders well knew that democracy of itself softens manners, tames--even coddles--the human spirit, and pulls great spirits down to a lower common level. No democracy will long survive, they knew, that does not toughen itself to face adversity, to raise up warriors, and to keep ready a warlike spirit. A democratic army should be small, under civilian control, they insisted, kept safely away from political power, but committed to keeping those who serve in it fearless and invincible.

In a word, in order to survive and to prosper, democracies need to infuse a Spartan spirit into their Athenian thinking. To maintain the peace, prepare for war. A democracy too soft will soon perish.

In this respect, TIME magazine was wise to choose as its"Man of the Year" this last week of 2003"The U.S. Soldier." What soldiers! Just two years ago, a mere one hundred of our best-trained"green-berets," dropped stealthily into Afghanistan to hook up with the Afghan resistance, brought down entrenched Taliban power in a matter of fifty days. They were aided by spectacular air power, but what made that air power so deadly were the direct aiming devices focused on targets by the green berets. At times these most advanced of warriors rode about the Afghan countryside on horseback, in rough nineteenth- century cloaks and scarves, directing the airplanes with radar and targeting beams focused on enemy forces hidden in the mountains.

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Bush Is the Most Irresponsible Steward of the American Economy Since Nixon (posted 12-22-03)

Noam Scheiber, writing in the New Republic (Dec. 22, 2003):

In the history of presidential politics, only Richard Nixon rivals George W. Bush's level of cynicism about the economy. Nixon used just about every economic trick in the book to ensure his 1972 reelection: Throughout 1971, he made good on the generous social spending he'd promised in that year's State of the Union address. Late that year, he took the dollar off the gold standard so the Fed could increase the money supply without restraint. By early 1972, Nixon was reportedly even ordering his Cabinet to spend money, which helped turn a $3 billion surplus into a $23 billion deficit in less than two years. The consequences were hard to miss once Nixon lifted wage and price controls in 1974: Inflation spiraled, and interest rates rocketed into the double digits. Before long, the United States was on the edge of one of the deepest recessions since the 1930s. 

But even Nixon's irresponsibility pales in comparison with Bush's. What makes W. qualitatively worse is the larger fiscal dynamic at work. That is, to ensure his own reelection, Nixon needed to focus on only one objective: buying off swing voters. But, thanks to the rise of the conservative movement, Bush actually has two objectives: He must buy off swing voters but also appease his conservative base--often the people most incensed by the policies used to accomplish goal number one. How does Bush square that apparent circle? With lavish, long-term tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. 

Politically, the effect is positive: Swing-state voters are happy because they have their manufacturing jobs and their farm subsidies. Conservatives are happy because they have their tax cuts. The problem is that, economically, each tactic reinforces the negative effects of the other: Monkeying around with the dollar the way Snow has drives up long-term interest rates; so do the massive long-term deficits caused by the administration's upper-income tax cuts. Meanwhile, tariffs and quotas drive up prices for consumers, which, among other things, leads to inflation and ultimately higher interest rates as well. Keep heading in that direction and don't be surprised if, not long after 2005, Bush's strong recovery turns anemic. Of course, he could always trot out John Snow to redefine the word"strong" again. 

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Dick Cheney Uses the E-Word (Empire) (posted 12-21-3)

Timothy Noah, writing in Slate (Dec. 17, 2003):

[Dick] Cheney violated the Bush administration's policy of never saying the e-word [empire] in a Christmas card he and his wife sent out to various supporters and important Washingtonians. (Chatterbox did not receive one.) Along with their best wishes for this holiday season, the Cheneys included the following quotation from Benjamin Franklin:

And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?

Franklin said this at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 by way of suggesting that the proceedings begin each day with a prayer. It is a favorite touchstone for those, like Cheney, who believe that the separation of church and state has become overly fastidious. (These people seldom go on to mention that Franklin's suggestion was rejected by the other delegates.) For Cheney, though, it was a twofer, because it also allowed him to state (using the words of another) that America need not be ashamed of its empire. Although Chatterbox fears that Cheney's motive—in blazing past whatever warnings his aides likely extended about using the e-word—was fanaticism, he can't help but applaud Cheney's honesty. It's time for America's empire to come out of the closet.

Pedant's corner . Why did Franklin use the word"empire," when he so easily could have said"nation" or"republic" or some such? A mere decade after the Revolutionary War, wasn't"empire" a dirty word? Chatterbox posed this question to Franklin biographer Edmund S. Morgan ."It didn't carry the kind of freight that the word carries today," Morgan explained, adding that Franklin's use of the term probably reflected his Anglophilia and his desire to spread the new nation's dominion westward. (Doing so, of course, would subject various Native American tribes to foreign rule, but people didn't think that way at the time.) Franklin, Morgan said, did not mean to indicate any desire to conquer foreign lands, a notion he would have found distasteful. Walter Isaacson , another Franklin biographer, said much the same when Chatterbox caught up with him a few hours later, and pointed out that the negative connotations we attach to"empire" were in that time attached to the word" colonial":

He was very opposed to colonialism. That was a bad word. He believed that any nation or"empire" that had territories should treat all inhabitants, in the far-flung territories as well as near the center, as equal citizens with equal democratic and legislative and governing rights. In other words, he was against" colonialism" but he never used"empire" in a pejorative manner.

Dick Cheney may be fully aware of what Franklin meant when he uttered the word"empire," but even so it can't have escaped his notice that the word's contemporary meaning is much more provocative.

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Strom Thurmond's Black Child No Shocker to African-Americans (posted 12-19-03)

Brent Staples, writing in the NYT (Dec. 18, 2003):

African-Americans and white Americans are so deeply entangled by blood that racial categories have become meaningless. When discussing the issue in public, I typically offer my own family as an example. We check "black" on the census and appear black to the naked eye, but we are also descended from white ancestors on both sides. Despite appearances, I told an audience not long ago, "I am as 'white' as anyone in this room."

White people -- mainly blank-faced and perplexed -- typically don't get it. But black people get it fine: they chuckle, cover their faces in mock embarrassment or nod in quiet agreement. Racial ambiguity is a theme they have heard discussed in their families and communities throughout their lives.

Black families have always talked openly about white ancestors and relatives. In hotbeds of race-mixing like New Orleans or Charleston , S.C. , black and white branches of a family sometimes lived so close at hand that they ran into one another on the street, and black children were warned that their pale relatives could react violently if approached. Black parents who passed on news of white ancestry to their offspring were not trying to arrange family reunions. They were debunking racism by showing their children that black families and white families were more closely connected by ancestry than racists liked to admit.

White families, by contrast, were terrified by blackness in the family tree. Relationships that could not simply be ignored were deliberately buried. The cover-up hatched 200 years ago by Thomas Jefferson's family was blown away a few years back after genetic evidence showed that Jefferson almost certainly fathered Sally Hemings's final son, Eston, born in 1808. This led historians to conclude that Jefferson fathered all of her children in a relationship that lasted more than 35 years.

The big lesson for historians in the Hemings-Jefferson case was that the oral histories passed down by slaves and their descendants were more reliable than the official written record. This put historians on notice that they should give the oral tradition more credence, especially when working on issues of interracial intimacy....

The biographer Nadine Cohodas dismissed [the Thurmond story] as a "legend in the black community" a decade ago in her book "Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change." Another writer of the South described it as apparently without foundation -- a phrase that is used all the time to dismiss the black oral tradition as apocryphal.

In the 1998 biography, "Ol' Strom," however, a journalism professor, Jack Bass, and a Washington Post reporter, Marilyn Thompson, went back to the oral stories of black South Carolinians, some of whom knew the household, as well as the accounts of a black elevator operator who recalled seeing a light-skinned black woman riding the elevator to visit Mr. Thurmond when he was governor.

How could Mr. Thurmond, who sought the presidency on a segregationist platform in 1948, have lived publicly as a racist while secretly helping to support a black daughter? This was a common practice in the South, where slaveholders and their descendants produced mulatto children. While some white fathers treated their mixed-race children like dirt, others supported and educated them. They refused to acknowledge them to keep the nonexistent barrier between the races firmly intact.

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In Indonesia It's the Suharto History Vs. Sukarno History (posted 12-19-03)

Devi Asmarani, writing in the Straits Times ( Singapore ) (Dec. 15, 2003):

Ideologically, next year's election in Indonesia is being viewed by some as a showdown between two recurring political forces in the country: the Old Order of Sukarno and the New Order of Suharto.

The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar - as well as a string of other smaller parties - represent the two major forces respectively.

But for families of the country's first two presidents, the competition may be a little more personal.

The daughters of Indonesia 's first two presidents are vying not just for power but also to maintain their family's political turf by keeping alive the legacies left by their fathers.

Their involvement in the upcoming elections reflects the deeply rooted oligarchic nature of Indonesia 's politics.

From the Sukarno clan, the trio of daughters dubbed 'Charlie's Angels' by the local media - comprising incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Ms Rachmawati Sukarnoputri and Ms Sukmawati Sukarnoputri - are competing next year.

The rival Suharto clan is represented by eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, better known as Tutut, who announced her political comeback last week.

The women lead four of the 24 political parties participating in next year's polls.

Except for Ms Sukmawati, they will likely run for the presidency but only Ms Megawati is not considered a political lightweight compared to contenders that include Cabinet Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former defence minister Wiranto and National Assembly Speaker Amien Rais.

But their presence in the poll reinforces the notion that when it comes to choosing their leaders, Indonesians are still drawn to familiar names from the past.

In the nearly four decades of Indonesia 's history, the battle for power has continued to involve the same family names. Historian Hermawan Sulistyo said that is hardly a surprise.

He told The Straits Times: 'Our elites are the result of years of political inbreeding; outsiders will have a hard time breaking in.

'If we look at the elites' family trees in the last half of the century, the core of it come from Menteng families,' he said, referring to the posh residential areas in Central Jakarta where most of the old money and power-holders live.

'The majority not only grew up with one another, they are related to one another possibly from long lines of marriages,' he said.

For example, former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who was impeached and replaced by Ms Megawati in 2001, is the son of Mr Sukarno's first religious minister as well as the grandson of the founder of the country's largest Islamic grouping, the Nahdlatul Ulama.

Now, one of his daughters Zannuba Arifah Wahid appears likely to follow in her father's footsteps in politics.

But although next year's election will be the first democratically held one involving the two clans, the Sukarno versus Suharto history stretches back to 1967, when then army general Suharto took over power from Mr Sukarno.

He then led Indonesia for the next 32 years, bringing economic prosperity and political stability while quashing political dissidents to maintain his power.

But his leadership was rife with allegations of corruption involving his children, abuse of power and human rights violation.

In May 1998, he quit in the midst of a reform movement led by students after his Cabinet ministers resigned en masse.

Analysts said Indonesians have a capacity to forget the sins of their former leaders once they become disillusioned with the current one.

The late Mr Sukarno is hailed as a visionary, a nation-builder and a captivating orator. But his leftist leanings resulted in a disastrous end to his career.

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How Howard Dean Is Changing the Democratic Party (posted 12-19-03)

Ronald Brownstein, writing in the LAT (Dec. 15, 2003):

As a political movement, Clintonism arguably was born on May 6, 1991, when Bill Clinton delivered a seminal speech on his "New Democratic" vision to a conference of the Democratic Leadership Council in Cleveland.

Political historians may conclude that Clintonism was eclipsed as the dominant set of ideas in the Democratic Party on Tuesday, when Al Gore, Clinton 's vice president, endorsed Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential race.

Dean has demonstrated many assets in his bid for the Democratic nomination. He's run a groundbreaking campaign that has changed forever the way candidates look at the Internet. He's shown the capacity to inspire great passion among Democratic activists. He speaks the way a boxer jabs, with sharp thrusts that strike many voters as heartfelt and uninfected by political calculation.

But whatever his other virtues, it's difficult to argue that Dean upholds the political philosophy that Clinton advanced. Indeed, Dean is probably the Democratic contender who most directly rejects Clinton 's vision.

By endorsing Dean, Gore has continued the journey away from Clinton that began in Gore's own 2000 presidential campaign. More important, the former vice president's endorsement suggests that just three years after Clinton left office, key portions of the Democratic establishment most associated with him are willing to acquiesce, if not to help, as Dean moves to redirect the party.

Clinton and Dean offer diametrical visions of how the Democrats can capture the White House.

Clinton 's overriding political assumption was that Democrats could not win solely by mobilizing their hard-core partisans. Instead, Clinton argued that Democrats had to craft policies that attracted swing voters while maintaining the allegiance of traditional Democrats.

In the central line of his 1991 speech, Clinton memorably declared that Democrats had to redesign their agenda to recapture middle-class voters who had abandoned the party since the 1960s. "Too many of the people who used to vote for us," he said, "the very burdened middle class we are talking about, have not trusted us in national elections to defend our national interests abroad, to put their values into social policy at home, or to take their tax money and spend it with discipline."

Dean starts from precisely the opposite perspective.

Throughout his campaign, he has disparaged the idea of targeting the Democratic message toward swing voters. Instead, he argues that Democrats must focus on mobilizing their base, and inspiring nonvoters, with language and an agenda that energizes traditional party constituencies such as labor, feminists and gay civil rights activists.

"We are going to take back the Democratic Party from the idea that the way to win elections is to neglect our base," Dean recently said.

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Paul Krugman: Growing Inequality (posted 12-19-03)

Paul Krugman, writing in the Nation (Jan. 5, 2004):

The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago.

The name of the leftist rag? Business Week, which published an article titled "Waking Up From the American Dream." The article summarizes recent research showing that social mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades. If you put that research together with other research that shows a drastic increase in income and wealth inequality, you reach an uncomfortable conclusion: America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

And guess what? Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality, while denouncing anyone who complains--or even points out what is happening--as a practitioner of "class warfare."

Let's talk first about the facts on income distribution. Thirty years ago we were a relatively middle-class nation. It had not always been thus: Gilded Age America was a highly unequal society, and it stayed that way through the 1920s. During the 1930s and '40s, however, America experienced what the economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have dubbed the Great Compression: a drastic narrowing of income gaps, probably as a result of New Deal policies. And the new economic order persisted for more than a generation: Strong unions; taxes on inherited wealth, corporate profits and high incomes; close public scrutiny of corporate management--all helped to keep income gaps relatively small. The economy was hardly egalitarian, but a generation ago the gross inequalities of the 1920s seemed very distant.

Now they're back. According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez--confirmed by data from the Congressional Budget Office--between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent rose by 148 percent, the income of the top 0.1 percent rose by 343 percent and the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent. (Those numbers exclude capital gains, so they're not an artifact of the stock-market bubble.) The distribution of income in the United States has gone right back to Gilded Age levels of inequality.

America was once a place of substantial intergenerational mobility: Sons often did much better than their fathers. A classic 1978 survey found that among adult men whose fathers were in the bottom 25 percent of the population as ranked by social and economic status, 23 percent had made it into the top 25 percent. In other words, during the first thirty years or so after World War II, the American dream of upward mobility was a real experience for many people.

Now for the shocker: The Business Week piece cites a new survey of today's adult men, which finds that this number has dropped to only 10 percent. That is, over the past generation upward mobility has fallen drastically. Very few children of the lower class are making their way to even moderate affluence. This goes along with other studies indicating that rags-to-riches stories have become vanishingly rare, and that the correlation between fathers' and sons' incomes has risen in recent decades. In modern America, it seems, you're quite likely to stay in the social and economic class into which you were born.

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The Pledge of Allegiance Is Constitutional (posted 12-18-03)

Gregg Abbott, the attorney general of Texas, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 18, 2003):

In a brief I will submit today to the Supreme Court, I argue on behalf of all 50 states that reciting"under God" in the Pledge in public schools is well within the confines of the First Amendment to the Constitution. In Texas, for example, schools must teach students to be"thoughtful, active citizens who understand the importance of patriotism." One way districts are accomplishing that goal is by having students voluntarily recite the Pledge each school day. Yet, an adverse ruling from the court would undermine that law and those of 42 other states that specifically provide for public-school children reciting the Pledge.

It's no secret that many founders of our nation and our states not only believed in God, but also sought divine guidance in fashioning our system of government. Many of our historical documents, speeches and even architecture acknowledge God. The Declaration of Independence alone contains four references to God, including its unambiguous statement that all persons are"endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." That sentiment also animated President Lincoln when he beseeched those gathered amid the carnage of Gettysburg to resolve"that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom."

The Pledge of Allegiance, too, is part of our common heritage. After an early form first appeared in a youth publication in 1892, it grew in acceptance and changed form until Congress officially adopted it in 1942. In 1954, Congress inserted the phrase"under God" to make the Pledge more reflective of the nation's character. Congressional committee reports from the time of that amendment echo the Declaration of Independence, noting that our government recognizes the importance of each person as being"endowed by [God] with certain inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp." The addition of"under God" meant that the Pledge was simply the latest historical and patriotic acknowledgment of our nation's undeniable religious heritage.

I am encouraged by the fact that virtually every reference to the Pledge by the Supreme Court and by at least 12 individual justices over the decades has agreed that the Pledge is consistent with the First Amendment. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, for example, expressed her view in Wallace v. Jaffree that the reference to God in the Pledge"serve[s] as an acknowledgment of religion with 'the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, [and] expressing confidence in the future.'" Justice William Brennan, one of the court's more liberal members, admitted in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp that"[t]he reference to divinity in the revised pledge of allegiance. . . may merely recognize the historical fact that our Nation was believed to have been founded 'under God.'"

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Zbigniew Brzezinski: The World Holds Us in Contempt (posted 12-17-03)

Zbigniew Brzezinski, writing in the Seattle Times (Dec. 14, 2003):

Forty years ago, an important emissary was sent to France by a beleaguered president of the United States. It was during the Cuban missile crisis, and the emissary was a tough-minded former secretary of state, Dean Acheson. His mission was to brief French President Charles de Gaulle and solicit his support in what could become a nuclear war involving not just the United States and the Soviet Union but the entire NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact.

At the end of the briefing, Acheson said to de Gaulle,"I would now like to show you the evidence, the photographs that we have of Soviet missiles armed with nuclear weapons." The French president responded,"I do not wish to see the photographs. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me. Please tell him that France stands with America."

Would any foreign leader today react the same way to an American emissary sent abroad to say that country X is armed with weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States? It is unlikely. The recent conduct of U.S. foreign policy, by distorting the threats facing America, has isolated the United States and undermined its credibility. It has damaged our ability to deal with issues in North Korea, Iran, Russia and the West Bank. If a case ever needs to be made for action against a truly imminent threat, will any nation take us seriously?

Fifty-three years ago, following the Soviet-sponsored assault by North Korea on South Korea, the Soviet Union boycotted a resolution in the U.N. Security Council for a collective response to North Korea's act. That left the Soviet Union alone in opposition, stamping it as a global pariah.

Today it is the United States that finds itself alone. In recent weeks, there were two votes on the Middle East in the U.N. General Assembly. In one, the vote was 133 to 4, and in the other, it was 144 to 4 — the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. Japan and all of our NATO allies, including Great Britain and the so-called"new" Europe, voted with the majority.

The loss of U.S. international credibility and the growing U.S. isolation are aspects of a troubling paradox: American power worldwide is at its historic zenith, but American global political standing is at its nadir. Maybe we are resented because we are rich, and we are, or because we are powerful, and we certainly are. But I think anyone who thinks that this is the full explanation is taking the easy way out and engaging in a self-serving justification.

Since the tragedy of 9-11, our government has embraced a paranoiac view of the world summarized in a phrase President Bush used on Sept. 20, 2001:"Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."

I suspect officials who have adopted the"with us or against us" formulation don't know its historical origins. It was used by Lenin to attack the social democrats as anti-Bolshevik and justify handling them accordingly. This phrase is part of our policymakers' defining focus, summed up by the words"war on terrorism." War on terrorism reflects, in my view, a rather narrow and extremist vision of foreign policy for a superpower and for a great democracy with genuinely idealistic traditions.

Our country suffers from another troubling condition, a fear that periodically verges on blind panic. As a result, we lack a clear perception of critical security issues such as the availability to our enemies of weapons of mass destruction. In recent months, we have experienced perhaps the most significant intelligence failure in U.S. history. That failure was fueled by a demagogy that emphasizes worst-case scenarios, stimulates fear and induces a dichotomous view of world reality.

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Robert Parry, outlining the history of US/Saddam ties in an article first published in February 2003 on the eve of war and republished by In These Times (Dec. 16, 2003):

This intersection of Saddam’s wars and U.S. foreign policy dates back at least to 1980 when Iran’s radical Islamic government held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran and the sheiks of the oil-rich Persian Gulf feared that Ruhollah Khomeini’s radical breed of Islam might sweep them from power just as it had the Shah of Iran a year earlier.

The Iranian government began its expansionist drive by putting pressure on the secular government of Iraq, instigating border clashes and encouraging Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish populations to rise up. Iranian operatives sought to destabilize Saddam’s government by assassinating Iraqi leaders. [For details, see “An Unnecessary War,” Foreign Policy, January/February 2003.]

On Aug. 5, 1980, as tensions mounted on the Iran-Iraq border, Saudi rulers welcomed Saddam to Riyadh for the first state visit ever by an Iraqi president to Saudi Arabia. During meetings at the kingdom’s ornate palaces, the Saudis feted Saddam whose formidable Soviet-supplied army was viewed as a bulwark against Iran.

Saudi leaders also say they urged Saddam to take the fight to Iran’s fundamentalist regime, advice that they say included a “green light” for the invasion from President Carter.

Less than two months after Saddam’s trip, with Carter still frustrated by his inability to win release of the 52 Americans imprisoned in Iran, Saddam invaded Iran on Sept. 22, 1980. The war would rage for eight years and kill an estimated one million people.

The claim of Carter’s “green light” for the invasion was made by senior Arab leaders, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, to President Reagan’s first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, when Haig traveled to the Middle East in April 1981, according to “top secret” talking points that Haig prepared for a post-trip briefing of Reagan.

Haig wrote that he was impressed with “bits of useful intelligence” that he had learned. “Both [Egypt’s Anwar] Sadat and [Saudi then-Prince] Fahd [explained that] Iran is receiving military spares for U.S. equipment from Israel,” Haig noted. “It was also interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd.”

Haig’s “talking points” were first disclosed at in 1995 after I discovered the document amid records from a congressional investigation into the early history of the Reagan administration’s contacts with Iran. At that time, Haig refused to answer questions about the “talking points” because they were still classified. Though not responding to direct questions about the “talking points,” Carter has pooh-poohed other claims that he gave Saddam encouragement for the invasion.

Click here to read the rest of the article, which covers the ongoing ties between Saddam and the US through the administrations of Reagan and Bush I and the attempt to hide that relationship during the presidencies of Clinton and Bush II .

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Earth to Lieberman: Betrayal Is Par for the Course in Politics (posted 12-16-03)

Todd Purdum, writing in the NYT (Dec. 14, 2003):

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman learned that he had been passed over by Al Gore for a presidential endorsement in precisely the same way he learned that he had been picked as Mr. Gore's running mate in the first place: from The Associated Press. That lapse in manners - and the message it conveyed - set off cries of "Betrayal!" from Mr. Lieberman's angry backers last week.

But from Judas to Brutus and beyond, limited loyalty has been an occupational hazard of leadership, never more so than in the Darwinian world of electoral politics. In a business in which strong ego, expediency and self-interest are virtually hard-wired into the practitioners' DNA, disloyalty is not only nothing new, it is an occasional necessity.

"Creative betrayal is the essence of successful statesmanship," said Richard Norton Smith, the director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill. "The other side of that coin is that loyalty is a very attractive quality, but it doesn't get you anything.'...

In politics, a little disloyalty sometimes goes a long way. Presidents have dumped running mates who looked to be a drag on the ticket for a second term (Franklin D. Roosevelt with John Nance Garner and Henry Wallace; Gerald Ford with Nelson Rockefeller). They have undermined loyal No. 2's who were striving to succeed them with mixed success (Harry Truman with Alben Barkley; Lyndon Johnson with Hubert Humphrey). After Richard M. Nixon salvaged his vice-presidential campaign from a slush-fund scandal with the "Checkers" speech in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower declared, "You're my boy!" But he had let Nixon dangle for days while he assessed public opinion.

By 1956, Eisenhower was sounding out Nixon about whether he wouldn't really rather be a cabinet member than vice president, and when asked in 1960 to cite an example of an important decision that Nixon had influenced in his eight years in office, Eisenhower replied, "If you give me a week, I might think of one."

Perhaps no feud between former patron and protégé was more bitter than Theodore Roosevelt's turning against his vice president and successor, William Howard Taft, in the campaign of 1912. Roosevelt believed that Taft had failed to uphold his progressive legacy, calling him "dumber than a guinea pig." Hurt and flummoxed at his mentor's taunts, Taft blurted out in self-defense: "Even a cornered rat will fight."

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McNamara's Views on Iraq (posted 12-16-03)

From Middle East Web Blog (Dec. 16, 2003):

In a recent interview with US News & World Report, Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara explained that he doesn't feel it that it's appropriate for him to comment on the conduct of the war in Iraq. But it's not too hard to guess what he probably thinks, based on his own experiences and the conclusions he has drawn about them. In his unique 1995 book In Retrospect, McNamara listed eleven lessons from Vietnam that are very much worth reflecting on.

McNamara wrote, It is sometimes said that the post-Cold War world will be so different from the world of the past that the lessons of Vietnam will be inapplicable or of no relevance to the twenty-first century. I disagree... There were eleven major major causes for our disaster in Vietnam:

  1. We misjudged then--as we have since--the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries... and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.
  2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience. We saw in them a thirst for--and a determination to fight for--freedom and democracy. We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.
  3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people... to fight and die for their beliefs and values--and we continue to do so today in many parts of the world.
  4. Our misjudgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders...
  5. We failed then--as we have since--to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology equipment, forces and doctrine in confronting unconventional, highly motivated people's movements. We failed as well to adapt our military forces to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.
  6. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale U.S. military involvement... before we initiated the action.
  7. After the action got underway and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course, we failed to retain popular support in part because we did not explain fully what was happening and why we were doing what we did. We had not prepared the public to understand the complex events we faced and how to react constructively to the need for changes in course as the nation confronted uncharted seas and an alien environment. A nation's deepest strength lies not in military prowess but, rather, in the the unity of its people. We failed to maintain it.
  8. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Where our own security is not directly at stake, our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our own image or as we choose.
  9. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action--other than in response to direct threats to our own security--should be carried out only in conjuction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.
  10. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions... at times, we may have to live an imperfect, untidy world.
  11. Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues...

These were our major failures, in their essence. Though set forth separately, they are all in some way linked: failure in one area contributed to or compounded failure in another. Each became a turn in a terrible knot.

Pointing out these mistakes allows us to map the lessons of Vietnam, and places us in a position to apply them to the post-Cold War world.

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Dean's Essentially a 3rd Party Candidate (posted 12-16-03)

Everett Ehrlich, writing in the Washington Post (Dec. 14, 2003):

Back in 1937, an economist named Ronald Coase realized something that helped explain the rise of modern corporations -- and which just might explain the coming decline of the American two-party political system.

Coase's insight was this: The cost of gathering information determines the size of organizations.

It sounds abstract, but in the past it meant that complex tasks undertaken on vast scales required organizational behemoths. This was as true for the Democratic and Republican parties as it was for General Motors. Choosing and marketing candidates isn't so different from designing, manufacturing and selling automobiles.

But the Internet has changed all that in one crucial respect that wouldn't surprise Coase one bit. To an economist, the"trick" of the Internet is that it drives the cost of information down to virtually zero. So according to Coase's theory, smaller information-gathering costs mean smaller organizations. And that's why the Internet has made it easier for small folks, whether small firms or dark-horse candidates such as Howard Dean, to take on the big ones.

For all Dean's talk about wanting to represent the truly"Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," the paradox is that he is essentially a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party. Other candidates -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark -- are competing to take control of the party's fundraising, organizational and media operations. But Dean is not interested in taking control of those depreciating assets. He is creating his own party, his own lists, his own money, his own organization. What he wants are the Democratic brand name and legacy, the party's last remaining assets of value, as part of his marketing strategy. Perhaps that's why former vice president Al Gore's endorsement of Dean last week felt so strange -- less like the traditional benediction of a fellow member of the party" club" than a senior executive welcoming the successful leveraged buyout specialist. And if Dean can do it this time around, so can others in future campaigns.

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What We Can Learn from Somalia (posted 12-16-03)

Garrett Jones, a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Army War College and retired case officer with the CIA in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, writing in the newsletter of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (Dec. 15, 2003):

Identify the following country: a mid-sized non-European country with a history going back to Biblical events. An ancient trading center, it figured in the works of ancient historians. It has an almost exclusively Muslim population, a troubled colonial history, and until recently was governed by an absolute dictator. The dictator, who ran a corrupt regime and aggressively attacked his neighbor, was ousted by force. The country, whose economy has since collapsed, is occupied by a multinational-armed force that is the frequent target of violent attacks--a mix of locally inspired efforts and actions planned or inspired by the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. It is believed to possess significant untapped oil reserves.

No, it is not Iraq. It is Somalia in 1993.

Somalia, about the size of Texas, was called the "Land of Punt" by ancient Egyptian writers. The frankincense referred to in Biblical narratives probably originated in the land that is now Somalia, which was visited and written about by Arab historian Ibn Battuta in 1331. Chinese historians record visits of Chinese fleets beginning in the eleventh century and continuing intermittently until the 1400s. The 2003 CIA World Factbook lists Somalia as almost exclusively Sunni Muslim. It was colonized into separate protectorates by the British in 1886-1960 and the Italians in 1889-1960. The dictator Muhammad Said Barre began a series of border wars starting in 1974 with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region. Barre was ousted in a 1991 coup. The attacks on the multinational forces of Operation Restore Hope include the infamous October 3, 1993 attack on Task Force Rangers in Mogadishu that was the subject of Mark Bowden's book Black Hawk Down (New York. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999), the best general account of the event. As of 2003, oil exploration rights to Somalia were still carried as an asset by ConocoPhillips in SEC filings; exploration operations had been suspended due to "force majeure."

While one would not want to overreach in drawing a comparison between Somalia in 1993 and the current situation in Iraq, our experience in Somalia may be instructive in important respects. When I was serving in Somalia in 1993 as chief of CIA operations, some of the attacks against both multinational and U.S. forces were inspired or at least assisted, by elements of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. At the time, we did not know that. We did know that "foreigners" who had served in the Afghanis' jihad against Soviet forces were assisting the Somalis in their attacks. In fact, we believed we knew the names of some of the individuals. However, in 1993, Al Qaeda was an unknown organization and Osama bin Laden was simply a "person of interest" in the terrorist world. Subsequently, we discovered that bin Laden had sent members of his organization to Somalia from Sudan to assist local Somali warlord Muhammad Farrah Aidid. According to statements allegedly made by bin Laden, he is doing the same thing in Iraq today.

Examining what happened in Somalia in 1993 may provide us with clues to how Al Qaeda is operating today in Iraq: its structure, personnel, and targeting criteria. For the capture of Saddam Hussein does not end the threats to our troops there. It also may, by exclusion, permit us to distinguish between Al Qaeda-inspired attacks and cases of local Iraqis' "venting" through armed actions. Much as we did not know exactly what we were up against in Somalia in 1993, in Iraq today we have been trying to "drain the Babylonian swamp" without always knowing the enemy.

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Iraq's Crumbling Cultural History (posted 12-15-03)

Nicolai Ouroussoff , writing in the LAT (Dec. 14, 2003):

Surveying post-Hussein Baghdad, one is apt to think of a battered child bracing himself against the next blow. Gloom, anger, despair are all part of the city's psychological makeup.

Standing in the Mustansiriya's courtyard, I am approached by a former Baathist military officer who rages about the looting of Baghdad's landmarks."Why do the Americans let this happen?" he asks."I believe they do this in order to erase Baghdad's identity."

I hear this accusation constantly. And it is understandable. The U.S. military was slow to respond to looting here. And confronted with the current guerrilla war, the occupying authority has not made cultural issues a priority.

Months after the American invasion began, the grounds of the former Ottoman headquarters, the Kushle, are littered with rubble. Broken glass crunches under my feet as I pass through the entry hall. The empty shell of a cluster bomb lies in an otherwise gutted second-floor room. Such images are typical of Baghdad. And one quickly gets used to them, as if stepping through a construction site.

A moment later, in the courtyard, I watch as a frail old man methodically loads bricks onto the back of a horse-drawn cart. The bricks are piled 10 courses high, and as the horse lurches forward they spill out of the cart, crashing back down into the courtyard.

The man is one of the many looters who have eaten away at the city's abandoned ministries, palaces and office buildings. But in this case, there is a particular irony: Built in the late 19th century as a testament to Ottoman power, the Kushle is partly constructed from bricks that the Ottomans themselves pillaged from the Rusafa district's ancient fortified wall.

This sort of cannibalism is a particularly grotesque legacy of the breakdown of a city's social fabric. But there are other, more subtle ways the past has been diminished. In the 20th century, for example, the brutality of war was joined by another destructive force: the myth of progress. This was particularly true of the developing world, where modern architecture was not only embraced as a sign of technological achievement, but older structures were often reviled as emblems of a primitive past.

The result was a form of historical amnesia. And in Baghdad, that problem was compounded by a lack of durability in traditional building materials. Cairo's great landmarks were built in stone; most of Baghdad's ancient buildings were constructed of mud bricks. As such, without constant care, they were apt to melt away over time. Termites often devoured what was left.

For centuries, these structures were patched up or rebuilt. But modern architects found another solution: concrete. Many of the traditional courtyard houses that once gave the city its character were bulldozed to make way for new development — especially during Hussein's rule.

In 1984, a government-sponsored survey listed 3,089 historic structures worth preserving in the Rusafa district alone. A decade later, that figure had been reduced to fewer than 1,000. Today, the examples of that tradition are virtually nonexistent.

The callous indifference to the past in a city once rich with history is particularly glaring along a segment of elevated freeway in northwest Baghdad. Built in the 1980s, the freeway carves through the center of an ancient cemetery. The stele of the Zubayda tomb — built for Haroun al Rashid's wife — rises among a number of lesser-known graves on one side. On the other, more tombs are scattered along the base of a mud-brick tower — one of the few remaining fragments of the ancient wall that defined Baghdad's historic core.

It's hard to find a more potent symbol of disrespect for the past in the name of progress. One immediately thinks of Rome, with its inexhaustible storehouse of architectural treasures and the cultural pride those layers inspire. At the other extreme, Los Angeles' lack of an architectural tradition has been a form of liberation, pointing the city toward the future.

Baghdad has neither the benefit of an unbroken history nor the freedom that comes with youth.

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Bush's Apocalyptic Mindset (posted 12-15-03)

Robert Jay Lifton, writing in the Nation (Dec. 22, 2003):

In important ways, the"war on terrorism" has represented an impulse to undo violently precisely the humiliation of 9/11. To be sure, the acts of that day had a warlike aspect. They were certainly committed by men convinced that they were at war with us. In post-Nuremberg terms they could undoubtedly be considered a" crime against humanity." Some kind of force used against their perpetrators was inevitable and appropriate. The humiliation caused, together with American world ambitions, however, precluded dealing with the attacks as what they were--terrorism by a small group of determined zealots, not war. A more focused, restrained, internationalized response to Al Qaeda could have been far more effective without being a stimulus to expanded terrorism.

Unfortunately, our response was inseparable from our superpower status and the syndrome that goes with it. Any nation attacked in that way would have felt itself humiliated. But for the United States, with our national sense of being overwhelmingly powerful and unchallengeable, to have its major institutions violently penetrated created an intolerable breakdown of superpower invulnerability that was never supposed to happen, a contradiction that fed our humiliation.

We know from history that collective humiliation can be a goad to various kinds of aggressive behavior--as has been true of bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It was also true of the Nazis. Nazi doctors told me of indelible scenes, which they either witnessed as young children or were told about by their fathers, of German soldiers returning home defeated after World War I. These beaten men, many of them wounded, engendered feelings of pathos, loss and embarrassment, all amid national misery and threatened revolution. Such scenes, associated with strong feelings of humiliation, were seized upon by the Nazis to the point where one could say that Hitler rose to power on the promise of avenging them.

With both Al Qaeda and the Nazis, humiliation could, through manipulation but also powerful self-conviction, be transformed into exaggerated expressions of violence. That psychological transformation of weakness and shame into a collective sense of pride and life-power, as well as power over others, can release enormous amounts of aggressive energy. Such dangerous potential has been present from the beginning in the American"war" on terrorism.

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It's 1973, Not 1929 (posted 12-12-03)

Martin Hutchinson, Business and Economics editor for UPI (Dec. 10, 2003):

The Federal Open Market Committee's decision Tuesday to keep the federal funds rate at 1 percent is symptomatic of the Fed's current problem with prices: it's looking in the wrong direction, worrying about deflation, not inflation. The Bureau of Economic Analysis' long-awaited revision of economic data to 2002 also tells us much about where we've been. Conclusion: they're right, it's not currently 1929. But it is 1973!

"The probability of an unwelcome fall in inflation has diminished in recent months, and now appears almost equal to that of a rise in inflation," said the official statement from the FOMC meeting. Almost equal is an interesting view -- with gold up 60 percent from its low at $406.60 per ounce at Wednesday's close, the market appears to be taking the view that inflation is very much more likely than deflation. Other commodities, too have risen sharply during 2003 while even the oil price, which was expected to drop following the partial return of Iraq production, has remained close to the levels prevailing before the Iraq war. In this context, a sharp drop in U.S. crude oil supplies to 275.7 million barrels, reported Wednesday morning, is a further indicator that the era of cheap oil is not about to return soon....

The overall unhealthiness of this position, at least in the United States, is demonstrated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis' revised gross domestic product data for the years to 2002. This is very difficult to interpret, because the BEA has made so many changes to the basis on which figures are calculated that it is impossible for analysts to determine the true picture. For example, a "statistical adjustment," modest in the late 1990s, balloons to $80 billion in 2001 and $120 billion in 2002, and, if deducted would wipe out the modest economic growth of 2001 and approximately halve that of 2002.

Even if we take the BEA's figures at face value, economic growth in 2002 has been revised down significantly from the figure first announced, and the recession has been significantly prolonged, with the first quarter of negative GDP growth having occurred as early as the third quarter of 2000. The size of the revisions produced by the BEA is indeed shown by that quarter; the figure initially announced for its growth, in October 2000, on which market reaction was based, was a sturdy 2.7 percent. A figure that is initially announced at 2.7 percent and finally (?) revised to MINUS 0.5 percent is needless to say NOT particularly useful in making coherent investment decisions. The third quarter 2003 growth, so loudly trumpeted by the administration at 8.2 percent, may similarly be revised down; indeed, it is likely to be so, since it is notable in the BEA's current revisions that it is the quarters of exuberant growth, such as the first quarter of 2002, that disappear when the arithmetic is done properly....

There is another period in U.S. history when retail sales dropped sharply, while commodity prices soared, and the dollar weakened; it is not 1929 but 1973. In the years following 1973, the U.S. went through quite a severe recession, accompanied by very substantial inflation, a sharp decline in productivity, a collapse in inflation-adjusted terms in the stock market, a rise in unemployment that did not begin to reverse for a decade and a sharp retraction in U.S. power and influence worldwide.

If 2003 looked like 1973, then 2004 must have every likelihood of looking like 1974. Adjust your strategies accordingly.

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Nicholas von Hoffman: Woodrow Wilson Was Cheered by Millions When He Traveled Abroad; Bush Is Heckled (posted Dec. 11, 2003)

Nicholas von Hoffman, writing inNewsday (Dec. 9, 2003):

Whenever President George W. Bush ventures abroad to meet foreign officials the question is not what will he get accomplished but whether or not he will be murdered. The man cannot set foot outside the United States without a bodyguard of thousands of armed men and women. He literally cannot make a public appearance for fear of his life.

No other world public figure rivals George W. Bush in low esteem. The man is despised everywhere. He is a universal hate object. You might think that distinction would have been conferred on Bush's friend, the thug-ugly Vladimir Putin, whose hands are red from his atrocities in Chechnya, but no, the globally reviled politician is the American president.

In his recent visit to England Bush's hosts did not dare even invite him to talk to the House of Commons lest he had been heckled into silence. The newspapers remarked that in this, only the second state visit by an American president, he made no public appearances, for fear the normally law-abiding English might have done something untoward to his presidential person.

For whatever reasons, no comparison between these two state visits was made, one by the least and one by the most popular American president, Woodrow Wilson. If Bush is the despair of most of the world, Wilson was its hope.

Wilson's bodyguard was the common people. "Everywhere he went he was the idol of the masses," wrote journalist Mark Sullivan. "Never since Peter the Hermit had Europe so blindly, so eagerly followed one leader. It was frequently said during late December 1918 that Wilson could overturn any government in Europe by an appeal to the people against their rulers." Millions turned out for him. Historian E. Dodd wrote, "The masses of European peasantry, shopkeepers and day laborers looked forward to his arrival as men looked in medieval times to the Second Coming of Christ."

Wilson, as no other president in our history, had the ability to talk to the people of the world in language that expressed their prayers for liberty, independence and dignity. As popular as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy were with the humble people of the Earth, it was nothing compared to Wilson's. When President Wilson spoke, he reached the world.

When George W. Bush says, as he did in England, "We seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings," nobody believes him.

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Why Jordan Is Different (posted 11-12-03)

James Pinkerton, writing in Newsday (Dec. 9, 2003):

[T]he mere fact that Jordan has a king who speaks English with an American accent - he was at Georgetown University for a year - makes it different from most Arab states. And, in fact, Jordan has carved out a separate identity. Within five minutes of meeting you, just about every Jordanian wants to know if you have visited Petra, the spectacular city-in-living-stone - seen in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" - built by the pre-Muslim Nabateans some 2,000 years ago. The remaining discussion typically turns to ancient Roman ruins. Anything Muslim comes much later.

As part of the same effort to "brand" the nation as unique, the technical name is the "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan." The Hashemites, of course, are the royal family of Jordan. But, as dynasties go, they don't have much of a history. The first king of Jordan, Abdullah, was born in Mecca and spent much of his early life in Istanbul. But he backed the winning side in World War I, and so, after the war, the victorious British rewarded him with the mostly empty territory that lay east of Palestine, beyond the Jordan River. As if to prove the area's afterthoughtness, the new entity was called "Trans-Jordan." It would be as if New Yorkers dubbed America west of the Hudson as simply, "Trans-Hudson."

Trans-Jordan fought against Israel in 1947-8. But as Israeli historian Avi Shlaim demonstrated in his 1988 book, "Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine," Abdullah's real goal was to grab as much of Palestine as he could, leaving the Israelis with the rest. Jordan lost its Palestinian turf - the West Bank - in 1967, and has since renounced any claim on the area.

Ever since, the Jordanians have posed as moderate conciliators. But what that really means is that the Jordanians tell the various sides what they want to hear. The government recently hosted a conference denouncing the Israeli "security wall" going up in the West Bank as an Apartheid-like abomination. Yet in a 1996 strategy document, a right-wing Israeli think tank, closely associated with both the Likud Party and American neoconservatives, Jordan was described as an ally that would work with Israel to "roll back" Syria and Iraq. So which is it? Probably both. Even more recently, King Abdullah traveled last week to Washington to bask in official acclaim and to collect still more American aid.

It's a tricky game for the Hashemites because many, if not most, of the 5.3 million people here hail from Palestine. Indeed, in a bloody 1970 civil war, the Hashemite army crushed the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

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Milestones in Gay History (posted 12-11-03)

From the Christian Science Monitor (Dec. 10, 2003):

1969 A riot following a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, becomes the symbolic start of the American gay rights movement.

1973 The newly formed National Gay Task Force and Lambda Legal Defense Fund successfully lobby the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

1981 The first cases of a mysterious immune deficiency among gay men are documented by the Center for Disease Control. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, gets its name the next year.

1982 Wisconsin is the first state to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

1988 Gay Americans celebrate the first national "Coming out day" Oct. 11.

1989 Denmark becomes the first country to recognize a registered partnership status for same-sex couples. Over the next decade, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Iceland, and the Netherlands also move to grant partnership status to same-sex couples.

1990 President Bush signs the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, making antigay violence punishable under federal law.

1993 President Clinton signs a new policy into law on gays in the military. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" says gays and lesbians can serve if they conceal their sexual orientation.

A March on Washington brings between 800,000 and 1.2 million marchers to the capital, one of the largest gatherings in the nation's history.

1996 Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages and allowing states to do the same; 37 states go on to pass DOMAs.

The US Supreme Court strikes down Colorado's Amendment 2, which denied gays and lesbians protections against discrimination.

1997 Comedian Ellen DeGeneres comes out as gay on her TV show "Ellen," which is killed the following season. Some blame homophobia, others a lack of funny material.

1998 Wyoming youth Matthew Shepard is beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die in Laramie, a case that draws massive news coverage and fuels debate about hate crimes legislation.

Two Dutch men become the first same-sex couple in the world to legally marry.

2000 Vermont creates "civil unions," establishing a relationship that affords same-sex couples some of the legal protections of heterosexual marriage.

The American version of "Queer As Folk," a popular British TV show known for its frank depictions of gay sex, debuts on Showtime.

2001 The Netherlands becomes the first country to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

With its gay title character and flamboyant sidekick, TV sitcom "Will & Grace" wins three Emmys and carves a solid niche in the Nielsen Top 20.

2003 June 10: North America's first legal same-sex marriage takes place in Canada.

June 26: The US Supreme Court strikes down Texas's sodomy ban, ruling that couples have a right to privacy.

" Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" wins top ratings as one of three major gay-themed cable shows.

Nov. 17: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court finds it unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marrying, and gives the state legislature six months to amend state laws to allow gays to wed.

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FDR Believed in Pre-emption, Too (posted 12-10-03)

Chuck Muth, writing in (Dec. 10, 2003):

Anti-war kooks in general, and Democrat presidential candidates in particular, continue to hammer the President for his pre-emption policy of "do it to them before they do it to us." But if you thought Democrats went nuts over comparisons of President Bush's tax cuts to JFK, you ain't seen
nothing yet. Wait'll they hear who originated the doctrine of pre-emptive defense....

In a Fireside Chat on - and you're not going to believe the coincidence of this date - September 11, 1941, FDR told the nation, "When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him."

Hmmmm. Response, Mr. Dean? Rep. Gephardt? Sen. Edwards? Sen. Kerry? Rep. Kucinich? Rev. Sharpton?

At issue at the time was German submarine attacks on American ships, particularly a September 4, 1941, torpedo attack on the American destroyer Greer en route to Iceland. Roosevelt warned that "It is time for all stop being deluded by the romantic notion that the Americas can go on living happily and peacefully in a Nazi-dominated world." He described the Greer attack by Hitler as "one determined step toward creating a permanent world system based on force, on terror, and on murder."

Roosevelt continued: "Normal practices of diplomacy - note writing - are of no possible use in dealing with international outlaws who sink our ships and kill our citizens."

"Let us not ask ourselves whether the Americas should begin to defend themselves after the first attack, or the fifth attack, or the tenth attack, or the twentieth attack," FDR declared. "This is the time for prevention of attack." With that, Roosevelt declared open season on any German or Italian
vessels in the water.

By the way, discovery of this FDR policy statement isn't something new. But funny how the media never seem to bring it up when questioning the Democrat candidates who criticize the Bush policy, isn't it?

At any rate, the doctrine of pre-emption didn't originate in the Bush administration. It was a policy adopted and implemented exactly 50 years, to the day, before the September 11 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. citizens. And it was articulated, not by a 21st century Republican president, but by the
Democrat Party's liberal icon who recognized that America's security and defense were of paramount importance - and didn't require the approval of France.

They don't make Democrats the way they used to, do they?

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Nancy Reagan's Right: Keep FDR on the Dime (posted 12-9-03)

Robert Scheer, writing in the LA Times (Dec. 9, 2003):

You've got to love Nancy Reagan for the steadfast way she guards her husband's legacy against opportunistic political poachers. The most recent example being her quick rejection of the boneheaded partisan move by nearly 90 congressional Republicans who signed on to a bill to have Reagan replace Franklin Delano Roosevelt's profile on the dime. "I do not support this proposal, and I'm certain Ronnie would not," was her no-nonsense reply.

Of course her husband would agree. His father had a job in Roosevelt's New Deal that saved their family and millions of others from starvation during the Great Depression. That's why Ronald Reagan voted for Roosevelt and became an active Democrat. Even after his conservative transformation, Reagan often insisted that he never left the party of Roosevelt but rather the Democratic Party changed over the years and left him.

Nancy Reagan, the daughter of a successful physician, did not suffer through the Depression years, but this is a classy lady not given to fads. "When our country chooses to honor a great president such as Franklin Roosevelt by placing his likeness on our currency, it would be wrong to remove him and replace him with another," she said. "It is my hope that the proposed legislation will be withdrawn."

What made this right-wing political ploy particularly objectionable was that the dime commemoration, a year after FDR's death, was in honor of the March of Dimes' support of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which Roosevelt founded in 1938. In the foundation's first year, more than 2.6 million dimes were mailed to the White House in what was to become one of the great private charity efforts. It led to the eventual eradication of polio, which Roosevelt had.

Roosevelt picked the dime as the fund-raising device because he felt that everyone could afford to make at least that contribution. Like the AIDS epidemic, polio was a pervasive plague throughout the world. In a message now echoed in AIDS fund-raising, Roosevelt viewed the fight against polio as a means of cultivating a greater awareness of our common humanity.

A Kansas City Star article reviewing this history quoted Roosevelt on the annual dances held on his birthday to raise funds and of the dime collections: "In sending a dime … and in dancing that others may walk, we the people are striking a powerful blow in defense of American freedom and human decency. For the answer to class hatred, race hatred [and] … religious hatred is the free expression of our love of our fellow man."

Not only did Roosevelt lead us against Hitler's fascism, he also invigorated the populace, during the Depression and war, with the notion that responsibility for the commonweal be met by both the private and public sectors.

It is sad that Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who initiated the campaign to get FDR off the dime, should dismiss him as simply a "liberal icon" who must be replaced with Reagan, "the conservative icon." That diminishes both presidents, who had leadership styles more complex than Souder's simplistic labels can hold.

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Thomas Friedman: Bush, Like Lincoln and Other War-time Presidents, Is Changing (posted 12-9-03)

Thomas Friedman, writing in the NYT (Dec. 7, 2003):

Anyone who has listened to President Bush's recent speeches about the need to promote democracy in the Arab-Muslim world can't but walk away both impressed and dubious — impressed because promoting democracy in the Arab world is something no president before has advocated with Mr. Bush's vigor, and dubious because this sort of nation-building is precisely what Mr. Bush spurned throughout his campaign. Where did Mr. Bush's passion for making the Arab world safe for democracy come from?

Though the president mentioned this theme before the war, it was not something he stressed with the public, Congress or the U.N. in justifying an Iraq invasion. Rather, he relied primarily on the urgent need to pre-emptively strip Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

A cynic might say that Mr. Bush was always interested only in stripping Iraq of its W.M.D. But with no W.M.D. having been unearthed thus far in Iraq, and with the costs of the war in lives and dollars soaring, the president felt he needed a new rationale. And so he focused on the democratization argument.

But there is another explanation, one that is not incompatible with the first but is less overtly cynical. It is a story about war and events and how they can transform a president.

"It often happens," argues Michael Sandel, the Harvard political theorist, "that presidents, under the pressure of events, especially during war, find themselves needing to articulate new and more persuasive rationales for their policies — especially when great sacrifices are involved. This happened to Lincoln during the Civil War. At the outset, the purpose of the Civil War for Lincoln was to oppose secession and preserve the Union. It was really only after the battle at Gettysburg that Lincoln articulated a larger purpose for the Civil War — namely freedom and the elimination of slavery. Henceforth, the Civil War was not only to preserve the Union, but to bring about the promise of the Declaration of Independence — written four score and seven years earlier."

As Lincoln insisted in his Gettysburg Address (while dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg), "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom."

In Lincoln's case the rationale for the war shifted, not because he couldn't find any W.M.D. in Dixie, but rather, argues Mr. Sandel, "because of the enormity of the sacrifice that the war was requiring. It no longer made moral sense that this great sacrifice could just be about keeping these states together, could just be about a political structure. It had to be about a bigger purpose and that was freedom and equality."

Woodrow Wilson went through a similar transformation, notes Mr. Sandel. He campaigned for re-election in 1916 boasting of having kept the country out of Europe's messy war. But by April 2, 1917, Mr. Wilson was standing before a joint session of Congress, seeking a declaration of war against Germany and insisting that the world "must be made safe for democracy."

The irony, notes Mr. Sandel, is that Mr. Bush's decision to emphasize the democracy rationale puts him in the company of Wilson, the president who made liberal internationalism the core of his foreign policy. "Indeed," he adds, "President Bush, who campaigned for the presidency as an ardent realist, scorning nation-building and idealism in foreign policy, is now quoting President Wilson and speaking about the need to make the Middle East safe for democracy. It shows how the burden of the office and the power of events can transform presidents."

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How an Opinion Written by Louis Brandeis Could Help Revive the Liberal Cause (posted 12-9-03)

Adam Cohen, writing in the NYT (Dec. 7, 2003):

Louis Brandeis wrote one of his most enduring opinions in a case about ice. The facts of The New State Ice Company v. Liebmann, a dispute between the state of Oklahoma and a renegade ice manufacturer, have long been forgotten. But Brandeis's dissent contains one of the most famous formulations in American law: that the states should be free to serve as "laboratories" of democracy.

Brandeis was not battling about ice — he was fighting for progressive government. New State Ice was decided in 1932, during the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover, insisting prosperity was "just around the corner," was resisting calls for action, and victims were looking to the states. Brandeis's dissent was his way of saying states had the right, perhaps the duty, to step in.

Brandeis's liberal argument for state power was quickly pushed aside, due to historical happenstance. After Franklin Roosevelt was elected, the federal government became the nation's engine for change. "States' rights" then became a conservative rallying cry, notably in the civil rights era. But with conservatives again controlling all three branches of the federal government, liberals are turning to the states to accomplish things they once would have pushed for in Washington — in areas like gay marriage and corporate misbehavior. As they rethink state and federal authority, they should look on Brandeis as a pioneer, and on his New State Ice dissent as an intellectual template.

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What Truman Would Make of the New Medicare "Reform" (posted 12-9-03)

Bob Herbert, writing in the NYT (Dec. 8, 2003):

On July 30, 1965, Lyndon Johnson flew to Independence, Mo., and in the presence of a smiling Harry Truman, signed the bill that created Medicare.

"No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine," said Johnson.

The growls of opposition in the background were muted. Medicare was a desperately needed program, and it grew to be a wildly popular one. But conservatives were outraged by it. Socialized medicine, they snarled. Un-American.

Truman had proposed a health care program for the elderly back in the 40's. It went nowhere. Jack Kennedy pushed it in the early 60's. Same result. It took Johnson's legislative genius and his enormous mandate from the 1964 presidential election to bring the program into being. And even then it wasn't easy.

Johnson's biographer, Robert Dallek, recalled that Ronald Reagan "saw Medicare as the advance wave of socialism, which would `invade every area of freedom in this country.' "

"Reagan," wrote Mr. Dallek, "predicted that Medicare would compel Americans to spend their `sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was like in America when men were free.' "

Newt Gingrich ranted against Medicare in the 1990's, comparing its operations to "centralized command bureaucracies" in Moscow. And George W. Bush tried to fashion a prescription drug benefit that would require senior citizens to leave the traditional Medicare program before they could get the benefit.

After nearly four decades, during which Medicare significantly improved the health and economic conditions of the nation's elderly, this unrelenting hostility can fairly be called an obsession....

When Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman got together for the debut of Medicare, they were genuinely concerned about the medical needs of the nation's elderly. "These people," said Truman, "are our prideful responsibility and they are entitled, among other benefits, to the best medical protection available."

The bill that President Bush will sign today is a giant windfall for the drug companies, opening up a huge new market with virtually no effort to restrain prices. It will give Medicare recipients a modest drug benefit, but at a potentially dreadful cost. The bill starts the process of undermining Medicare by turning parts of it over to insurance companies, H.M.O.'s and other private contractors.

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Bush's Staged Turkey Day Photograph (posted 12-8-03)

Brian Braiker, writing in Newsweek (Dec. 5, 2003):

The photograph was ubiquitous in the days following Thanksgiving. President Bush, all smiles and sporting an Army windbreaker, appears to be serving turkey to surprised American troops in Baghdad.

BUSH’S BIRD is big and luscious, golden brown and generously garnished. But, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, the bird was just a prop. Soldiers were actually served from steam trays; the White House said the turkey in the photograph was simply on hand to prettify the chow line.
The revelation is the latest in a series of stagecrafted moments designed to shine an impossibly perfect light on the president. Turkeygate unfolded merely one day after British Airways announced that none of its pilots made contact with President Bush’s plane during its secret flight to Baghdad, despite White House claims of a dramatic midair exchange that nearly prompted Bush to call off his trip. On May 1, Bush landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and, in front of a giant banner emblazoned MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, declared “major combat operations have ended.” Six month later he would deny that his staff had hung the banner there, though there’s little doubt they had. To give a speech in New York after September 11, Bush brought in extremely powerful lights to illuminate the Statue of Liberty behind him; for a talk he delivered at Mount Rushmore, cameras were positioned so Bush’s profile was perfectly aligned with the presidents carved in stone.

Author and presidential historian Douglas Brinkley has analyzed how presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Jimmy Carter craft their public personas and has concluded that in this age of mass media “all we need is the one image. We don’t need a transcript of a great speech.” Bush, he says, is a master of creating those images. Brinkley spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Brian Braiker about presidential stagecraft, what Bush does best and how productions like the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner can come back to haunt him.

NEWSWEEK: So apparently the luscious turkey Bush appeared to be serving troops in the Baghdad Thanksgiving photo was in fact just a prop and not meant for consumption by the troops.

Douglas Brinkley: [Laughs] Surprise, surprise.

Bush’s advisers have been credited with taking this art of stagecraft to new, unprecedented levels. How old is this game?
One only has to go back to read about the log-cabin campaigns of in the 1840s to remember just how important stagecrafting is. To pretend that you were born back in those days in a log cabin and had frontier roots was essential if you were going to follow Andrew Jackson into the presidency. Abraham Lincoln would spin yarns and constantly try and portray himself as a simple common man when he was really one of the top lawyers representing the railroad industry in his day.

Sounds like things haven’t changed much.
Yeah, well, in the 20th century, with the advent of television and that immediacy of images into your home, different presidents are using it more to their advantage. I think John Kennedy is really the pioneer of modern presidential imagemaking, with Jacques Lowe photographing Camelot, making sure that you’ve captured the president in all these personal moments with his beautiful wife and with his kids and walking on the beach or throwing a ball for the dog or laughing with his brothers. There was always a warm human glow about John Kennedy in the imagemaking, which did not match the Kennedy of painkillers and sexual addiction. From that moment onward you see presidents struggling with Kennedyesque imagemaking, some successful and some not.

Who’s been the most successful?
Probably the most successful has been Ronald Reagan. Reagan with his Hollywood background understood that if you’re the lead actor, you need people to set up the props for you. We would constantly see Reagan, from Illinois with no military service, chopping wood at his ranch, out riding horseback, hanging out with the troops with the flight jacket on. It was a nonstop barrage of images of Reagan as the John Wayne cowboy of the open West. People don’t really consume policy, they consume sound bites and images.

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Michael Kinsley: Does It Matter that Howard Dean Skipped Vietnam? (posted 12-4-03)

Michael Kinsley, writing in Slate (Dec. 4, 2003):

Howard Dean, age 18, walked into his draft physical with a set of X-rays, walked out with a bad-back deferment, and spent most of the next year on the slopes in Aspen, Colo. George W. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard and was lackadaisical about fulfilling even that mild commitment. John Kerry was a battlefield hero and then a leader of the antiwar movement. Wesley Clark joined the Army, served with honor and splash, and never left until he was personally booted by the secretary of defense.

Does this ancient history matter to a decision about who should be president four decades later? Yes, of course it does. Anything that casts light on a candidate's character and wisdom matters. Vietnam was the great personal moral issue of their generation's lifetime, so far. How they each dealt with it is legitimately revealing. To take the most obvious example, there must be more to John Kerry than meets the eye. If anything, the senator of 2003 seems callow compared with the youth of 1969.

All the candidates are of the Vietnam generation. And most of them avoided the war one way or another. They did this by signing up for some safer form of service such as the National Guard, by falling into one of many draft "deferment" categories (marriage, graduate school, unconventional sexual preference, ingrown toenails, allergies to fish, excessive fondness for novels, and so on), or by the luck of the lottery that replaced those deferments toward the end.

But the question is not a simple "Were you there when your country needed you?" Two things complicate that question in the case of Vietnam. The first is that your country did not especially need you. Vietnam was not World War II, which required the mobilization of the entire society. In the end, less than 10 percent of men who were of draft age (18-26) during the Vietnam War actually served in Vietnam or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The challenge to draft boards during Vietnam was not how to fill the ranks but how to screen out most potential draftees. For most men, avoiding service in Vietnam required even less effort than Howard Dean made. In fact the experience of not serving in Vietnam is far more representative of the candidates' generation than the experience of serving there.

The second complicating fact is that Vietnam War was a bad war. In 2003, despite the unending controversy about aspects of Vietnam, that basic fact is not even controversial....

My own path through this thicket back then reached the conclusion that you have no obligation to seek out military service, but you also have no right to avoid it if it seeks you out. Some might find that formulation a bit Solomonic for their tastes. After arguing about all this continuously for four years and then episodically for four decades, I can state with absolute conviction that absolute conviction is impossible on this topic. So there are no demerits for reaching, and acting on, a different conclusion.

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Dick Cheney, Radical (posted 12-4-03)

Spencer Ackerman and Franklin Foer, writing in the New Republic (Dec. 1 & 8, 2003):

When Cheney signed on as Bush's running mate in 2000, many people expected him to bring George H.W. Bush's realist foreign policy instincts with him. U.S. News & World Report quickly dubbed him "bush's back-to-the-future veep pick." After all, Cheney had spent the latter half of the 1990s as CEO of one of the world's largest oil-services companies, where he argued against economic sanctions and for engagement with tyrannies like Iran. And Cheney had not spent the '90s--as his longtime ally Wolfowitz had--publicly agonizing over the decision to leave Saddam's regime intact.

But imparting George H.W. Bush's cautiousness to his former Defense secretary misreads Cheney entirely. Far from fitting into 41's foreign policy team, Cheney was its ideological outlier. On the greatest issue of the day--what to do about a declining Soviet Union and America's place in a unipolar world-- Cheney dissented vigorously. His Pentagon argued, again and again, that the only true guarantee of U.S. security lay in transforming threatening nations into democratic ones--a radical notion to the realists in the first Bush White House. Cheney's policy allies were not national security adviser Scowcroft and Secretary of State Baker but rather a set of intellectuals on the Pentagon policy staff who shared and helped him refine his alternative vision of U.S. power and purpose. In the '90s, this worldview came to be known as neoconservatism. Cheney was there first.

As he fought an uphill ideological battle in the first Bush administration, Cheney's foreign policy vision was paired with a tendency that would prove key to understanding his performance in W.'s White House: a willingness to circumvent the typical bureaucratic channels to gain advantage over his rivals. In particular, Cheney came to see the intelligence establishment as flawed and corrupted by political biases hopelessly at odds with his goals. By 2001, when Cheney became the most powerful adviser to the president of the United States, his vision of global democracy and his mistrust of the CIA had reached full maturity. Both convictions would be brought to bear when the vice president turned his full attention to Iraq....

At the time Cheney took office, Mikhail Gorbachev had been in power for four years. By then, the Soviet premier had charmed the American media and foreign policy establishment with his ebullient style. Like many hard-liners, Cheney thought he saw through these atmospherics and publicly intimated his skepticism of perestroika. Appearing on CNN in April 1989--only one month into his term as Defense secretary--he glumly announced that Gorbachev would "ultimately fail" and a leader "far more hostile" to the West would follow. Such dourness put Cheney well outside the administration mainstream. Baker, Scowcroft, and President George H.W. Bush--as well as the NSC's leading Russia hand, Condoleezza Rice--had committed themselves to Gorbachev's (and the ussr's) preservation. But Cheney believed that, with a gust of aggressive support for alternatives to Gorbachev, the United States could dismember its principal adversary once and for all.

To craft an alternative strategy, Cheney turned to alternative experts. On Saturday mornings, Wolfowitz's deputies convened seminars in a small conference room in the Pentagon's E ring, where they sat Cheney in front of a parade of Sovietologists. Many were mavericks who believed the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse. Out of these Saturday seminars, Cheney's Soviet position emerged--with concepts and rhetoric that perfectly echo the current Bush administration's Iraq policy. They would push regime change in the Soviet Union, transforming it into a democracy. Support for rebellious Ukraine would challenge the regime from its periphery; and support for Boris Yeltsin, the elected president of the Russian Republic, would confront the regime at its core. "[Yeltsin] represents a set of principles and values that are synonymous with those that we hold for the Soviet Union--democratization, demilitarization," Cheney announced in a 1991 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." Bush père and Scowcroft fretted about instability, but Cheney retorted, if the demolition of the Soviet Union required a little short-term disruption, such as a nuclear-armed Ukraine, then so be it. After all, as he observed in a 1992 speech to the Economics Club of Indianapolis, true security depended on the expansion of "the community of peaceful democratic nations."

Cheney was unsuccessful in pushing the White House away from Gorbachev. After he mused aloud about Gorbachev's shortcomings in a 1989 TV interview, Baker called Scowcroft and told him, "Dump on Dick with all possible alacrity." When the "Gang of Eight"--Bush's senior advisers--met to decide policy in the final days of the Soviet Union, the meetings featured, as CIA chief Robert Gates has recalled, "Cheney against the field." The Soviet collapse ultimately settled the issue. But Cheney's battle against realism had only begun.

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Democrats Now Are Taking a Page out of the Republican Playbook (posted 12-2-03)

Kathy Kiely, writing in USA Today (Dec. 1, 2003):

"We have been too nice. We have been too polite," says Ann Lewis, a veteran strategist with the Democratic National Committee, where the official party weblog is called "Kicking Ass."

The sudden emergence of an outspoken left wing may be the most surprising political development of the year. Until recently, liberalism could not have been more out of vogue. But in the six months since Bush appeared under a "Mission Accomplished" banner on a Navy aircraft carrier, the political dynamic has changed....

Hillary Clinton's presence as a keynote speaker at the center's debut party was a striking sign of the changing political times. Bill Clinton helped found the Democratic Leadership Council to move his party toward the political center and advocate policies appealing to voters whom Democrats were alienating: blue-collar workers, rural gun owners, fiscal conservatives. He won the presidency twice by avoiding traditional liberalism. On some issues, such as crime, free trade and welfare, he even tried to outflank Republicans.

In the presidential campaign this year, the most successful Democrat is doing just the opposite. Howard Dean is leading in most polls and has raised more money than his rivals by capitalizing on anger against Bush that is so strong, it surprises veteran Democrats. Rep. Robert Matsui, a California Democrat who has been traveling the country to raise money and recruit candidates for House races, says feelings against the president are running at near-vitriolic levels.

"I've had really intelligent people say, 'As soon as he gets on TV, I turn it off. I just can't stand him,' " Matsui says. "It's kind of stunning."

Today's liberals admit they're trying to follow a trail blazed by conservatives. Some political historians trace the beginnings of the Republican rise to power to Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, a staunch conservative, in 1964. Like the Democratic liberals of the 1990s, conservatives then were viewed as troublemakers for the Republicans -- zealots whose doctrinaire views cost the party votes.

Conservatives worked hard to regain a foothold in Washington after Goldwater's defeat. They founded grassroots organizations such as Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. They struck up alliances with conservative Christian organizations eager to oppose social policies offensive to their members. They used an innovative direct-mail fundraising system pioneered by conservative Richard Viguerie to find like-minded Americans willing to finance the cause. In 1980, they elected Ronald Reagan president.

But the conservatives didn't stop there. In the House of Representatives, which Democrats had controlled since 1955, a little-known Republican congressman from Georgia named Newt Gingrich got the idea to put the televising of House proceedings to work for their cause. Gingrich organized late-night talkathons in which he and other brash young ideologues would expound their views before the nation. Since the C-SPAN cameras never panned the chamber, viewers couldn't see that the speakers were declaiming to an empty House.

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Even the Definition of Evil Is Slippery (posted 12-2-03)

Robert Fisk, writing in the London Independent (Nov. 29, 2003):

Evil is still around, it seems, ready to attack the forces of Good. And if only a handful of the insurgents in Iraq are ex-Baathists - and I suspect it is only a handful - then who would complain if Saddam's henchmen are called "thugs"? But Evil's a tricky thing. Here one day, gone the next. Take Japan.

Now, I like the Japanese. Hard-working, sincere, cultured - just take a look at their collection of French impressionists - they even had the good sense to pull out of George Bush's "war on terror". And Japan, remember, is one of the examples George always draws upon when he's promising democracy in Iraq. Didn't America turn emperor-obsessed Japan into a freedom-loving nation after the Second World War? So, in Tokyo not so long ago, I took a walk down memory lane. Not my memory, but the cruelly cut-short memory of a teenage Royal Marine called Jim Feather. Jim was the son of my dad's sister Freda and he was on the Repulse when she was sunk by Japanese aircraft on 10 December, 1941. Jim was saved and brought back to Singapore, only to be captured when the British surrendered. Starved and mistreated, he was set to work building the Burma railway. Anyone who remembers David Lean's magnificent film Bridge on the River Kwai will have a good idea of what happened. One of his friends later told Freda that in Jim's last days, he could lift the six-foot prisoner over his shoulder as if he were a child. As light as a feather, you might say. He died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp sometime in 1942.

I wasn't thinking of Jim when I walked into the great Shinto shrine in central Tokyo where Japan's war dead are honoured; not just the "banzai- banzai" poor bloody infantry variety, but the kamikazes, the suicide pilots who crashed their Zero fighter-bombers on to American aircraft carriers. Iraq's suiciders may not know much about Japan's "divine wind", but there's a historical narrative that starts in the Pacific and stretches all the way through Sri Lanka's suicide bombers to the Middle East. If President Bush's "thugs and assassins" think of Allah as they die, Japan's airmen thought of their emperor. At the Shinto shrine, in the area containing photographs of the Japanese campaign, there are some helpful captions in English. But in the room with the portraits of the kamikazes - including a devastating oil painting of a suicide attack on a US carrier - the captions are only in Japanese. I wasn't surprised.

What I was amazed to see, a few metres from the shrine, was a stretch of railway with a big bright green Boy's Own paper steam locomotive standing on it. Japanese teenagers were cleaning the piston rods and dabbing a last touch of green to the boiler. As a boy, I of course wanted to be an engine driver, so I climbed aboard. Anyone speak English, I asked? What is this loco doing in a Shinto shrine? An intense young man with thin-framed spectacles smiled at me. "This was the first locomotive to pull a Japanese military train along the Burma railway," he explained. And then I understood. Royal Marine Jim Feather had died so this pretty little train could puff through the jungles of Burma. In fact, this very same loco's first duty was to haul the ashes of dead Japanese soldiers north from the battlefront.

The Japanese are our friends, of course. They are the fruit of our democracy. But what does this mean? Even now, the Japanese government will not acknowledge the full details of the crimes of rape and massacre against women in their conquered "Greater South East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere".

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Two U.S.-Backed Coups in the 1950s Set an Awful Precedent (posted 12-2-03)

Stephen Kinzer, writing in the NYT (Nov. 30, 2003):

SOON after the C.I.A. installed him as president of Guatemala in 1954, Col. Carlos Castillo Armas visited Washington. He was unusually forthright with Vice President Richard M. Nixon. "Tell me what you want me to do," he said, "and I will do it."

What the United States wanted in Guatemala -- and in Iran, where the C.I.A. also deposed a government in the early 1950's -- was pro-American stability. In the long run, though, neither Colonel Castillo Armas nor his Iranian counterpart, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, provided it. Instead, both led their countries away from democracy and toward repression and tragedy.

How did this happen? From the perspective of half a century, what is the legacy of these two coups?

Several dozen scholars, including leading experts on Iran and Guatemala, gathered in Chicago this month to consider those questions. Their conclusions were grim. All agreed that both coups -- the first that the C.I.A. carried out -- had terrible long-term effects.

"It's quite clear that the 1953 coup cut short a move toward democracy in Iran," said Mark J. Gasiorowski, a historian at Louisiana State University who began studying that coup in the 1980's. "The United States bears responsibility for this."

Iranians wrote a constitution and elected a parliament early in the 20th century. Their progress toward democracy stopped after the Pahlavi dynasty took the throne with British help in 1921, but resumed after World War II. By the time of the 1953 coup, Iran was more free than at any time before or since.

The verdict on Guatemala was even harsher. Within a few years after the 1954 coup, Guatemala fell into a maelstrom of guerrilla war and state terror in which hundreds of thousands of people died....

Fariba Zarinebaf, a historian at Northwestern University, said the most profound long-term result of the 1953 coup may be that it led many Iranian intellectuals to conclude that although Western leaders practiced democracy at home, they were uninterested in promoting it abroad. "The growing disillusion of Iranian intellectuals with the West and with Western-style liberal democracy was a major development in the 1960's and 70's that contributed to the Islamic revolution," she said.

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Christians Used to Fight Over Doctrine and History Not Sex (posted 12-2-03)

Geza Vermes, Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford, writing in the Guardian (Nov. 29, 2003):

Christianity has not always been a religion so preoccu pied with sexual behaviour (or gender identity). Theology used to challenge ideas; people's behaviour in bed did not rank among its top concerns.

Consider the arguments which raged at the time of the Reformation. The reformers and counter-reformers aimed much higher than their latter-day heirs and focused on the ultimate source or sources of the Christian faith. Was it scripture alone or scripture and tradition or ultimately the magisterium, the Christ-given doctrinal authority of the church?

Yet even these issues appear prosaic compared with the subtle polemics which characterised Christianity in the early centuries of its existence. It will surprise contemporary pedestrian pragmatics that the first conflict in the church was provoked not by the claim, based on the fourth Gospel (dating to the early second century AD) regarding the divinity of Christ, but by the reality of his humanity.

These dissident Christians, called Docetists, held the suffering and death of Jesus to be purely imaginary. Two hundred years later the burning issue was a highly specu lative, metaphysical teaching of an Alexandrian cleric named Arius about the son of God who, according to him, was created in time from nothing. There was a time when the son was not, ran the theological slogan. It was the talk of the town in Alexandria, Greece, Asia Minor and Syria. No, shouted the orthodox. The son of God was uncreated and existed since all eternity. Their view prevailed at the first universal church Council in Nicaea in AD 325, attended by the Emperor Constantine.

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The Pernicious Legacy of James G. Blaine ... and the Debate About School Vouchers (posted 12-2-03)

Editorial in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 2, 2003):

For sheer ugliness, few chapters rival the nativist movements and secret societies that ravaged American politics in the 19th century. So what does it say that the fight to keep the main legislative accomplishment of that era alive is being championed today by the National Education Association and the American Civil Liberties Union?

Today the Supreme Court takes up this issue in Locke v. Davey. Ostensibly the case deals with the fate of a Washington state college student named Joshua Davey, who was stripped of a state scholarship he'd won when authorities learned he planned to use it to major in Pastoral Ministries.

But all sides understand that what's really at stake is the future of the so-called "Blaine Amendment" in the Washington constitution that provides the legal rationale for this discrimination -- an amendment with roots in America's Know Nothing past. Altogether 37 state constitutions contain some form of this language, which is being used from Colorado to New York to challenge school choice initiatives.

The U.S. Supreme Court was supposed to have disposed of the question of tax dollars for religiously affiliated institutions in last year's Cleveland vouchers case, and that's half right. The Court did rule that vouchers do not violate the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause. The problem is that many state constitutions outlaw public monies for "sectarian" schools. Though initially aimed at Catholic immigrants, these Blaine amendments today operate mostly to deny inner-city black and Latino kids a shot at a decent school.

Republican James G. Blaine, who narrowly lost the 1884 Presidential election, did not invent the amendments identified with his name. One of the first was passed in Massachusetts in 1854 when the Know Nothings captured the governorship and both houses of the legislature. But Blaine tapped into this anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment with a proposal to correct a "defect" in the federal Constitution. Though his Constitutional amendment failed by a handful of votes in Congress, parallel efforts at the state level were highly successful.

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Thomas Edison Would Be Appalled at the Pentagon Plan to Turn Over Control of the Naval Research Lab to the Military (posted 12-2-03)

Steven Aftergood, writing in the newsletter of the Project on Government Secrecy Volume 2003, Issue No. 104 (Dec. 2, 2003):

The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has achieved a long list of milestones in defense technology over the past eighty years, having developed the first U.S. radar, the world's first intelligence satellite, prototypes of the Global Positioning System, and a lot more.

But now the viability of NRL is threatened, scientists say, by a quiet Navy move to transfer authority over the Lab from civilian to military control, which they say is likely to stifle innovation and scientific freedom.

"NRL belongs to the Navy Secretariat, and as such, it is the only installation not controlled by the service's uniformed officers," according to a review of the situation by an anonymous analyst who opposes the military takeover.

Such civilian control "was [inventor] Thomas Edison's intention from the day he urged the Navy [in 1920] to create NRL."

But now the Lab faces imminent consolidation under the newly established Commander, Navy Installations (CNI), prompting fears that its days as a world class research facility are numbered.

"More than facility management is being centralized at CNI.
Power is being amassed there, at the expense of Navy civilian control," the analyst warned in a recent paper that is circulating among concerned scientists.

"Thomas Edison would be spinning in his grave if he knew the present course of Navy RDT&E," the analyst wrote.

The fate of NRL is of interest to scientists and technologists far outside the U.S. Navy.

"NRL is important to all of us -- to defense industry and to science," said Charles Townes, Nobel laureate and inventor of the laser (and an FAS sponsor) in 1998.

The issue is explored by the anonymous critic, in detail and at length, in "Labs Miserables: The Impending Assimilation of the Naval Research Laboratory and the Threat to Navy Transformation," November 17, 2003 (1.2 MB PDF file):

Coincidentally, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently observed that research and development is one of the things "you don't want to centralize excessively."

"The worst thing you could do is if you're in the research and development business is to get everyone in the same town in the same building going to lunch together and they all begin to think alike. That's the last thing you want," Rumsfeld said, speaking at Osan Air Base in Korea on November 18.

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Iraq: It IS Like Vietnam (posted 12-1-03)

John Maggs, writig in the National Journal (subscribers only) (Nov. 21, 2003):

In many ways, the U.S. occupation of Iraq is nothing like America's decade-long war in Vietnam. In Iraq, the U.S. is facing no foe resembling the North Vietnamese army, with its tanks, home territory, and hundreds of thousands of well-trained troops. Iraq's guerrillas, by contrast, aren't supplied and reinforced by two nuclear-armed powers. The resistance springs not from idealism, or even much of an ideology -- it's just a yearning for a restoration of power. Most Iraqis hate or at best distrust the Saddam loyalists behind the opposition to American rule. Most U.S. military leaders with experience in both conflicts reject the comparison to Vietnam.

The most significant parallels may be not what is happening on the battlefield, but what is happening in America.

But the toting up of these differences misses the point. The real question is whether Iraq is enough like Vietnam to matter -- whether the similarities are sufficient to give us pause and inform our outlook. Many people reject the Iraq-Vietnam comparison because they say that Iraq is not a lost cause. Based on everything we know now, it certainly isn't. But that, too, is the wrong question, because the conflict is less than a year old and far from over. Those who label every comparison to Vietnam as Vietnam-Syndrome defeatism engage in exactly the kind of Panglossianism that prevented America and its leaders from seeing what was really happening in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam was a war that was lost less on the battlefield than at home, where opposition to the war made winning it impossible. The guerrilla war now under way in Iraq bears many important similarities to Vietnam, but the more-significant parallels may be in what is happening in America.

If one were to equate the U.S. occupation now to a moment on the Vietnam time line, it would probably be late 1967. It was in that year that things had started to go badly on the military front, yet 1967 was still a time when most Americans supported the war effort, believed President Johnson's assurances that the United States was winning, and in fact didn't believe it was possible for the United States to lose.

As it happens, that moment has been captured in a new book by Washington Post reporter David Maraniss called "They Marched Into Sunlight," which recounts a bloody and forgotten ambush of a U.S. Army battalion on October 17, 1967. Maraniss also writes about the home front at that time and says he now hears "eerie reverberations" in the news on Iraq. "Johnson was starting to lose public support that had been very strong, just as Bush is right now, and he was desperate to argue that the United States was prevailing, and that the press was getting it wrong."

Like most people who have studied Vietnam, Maraniss rejects a side-by-side comparison with Iraq, but he adds that "it is far too early" to deny that there may be telling similarities. For example, it is impossible to know at this point whether the current Ramadan offensive, which killed 98 coalition personnel between October 26 and November 19, will be a turning point in the occupation.

October 1967 was just such a turning point, one that few perceived at the time, Maraniss said. "From October of 1967 to the spring of 1968, everything changed," he said. In February 1968, the Communists' Tet offensive killed 1,100 Americans in less than two weeks and shattered Americans' belief that the U.S. was winning the war. Although Tet ended as a military defeat for the Vietcong, it was a much more devastating defeat for Johnson's credibility. The president fought gamely to preserve the idea that the United States was making progress, but this assertion in the face of contrary evidence further undermined his position. News icon Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam in February "more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate." The Wall Street Journal, although staunchly pro-war, suggested, "The whole Vietnam effort may be doomed." On the evening of March 31, 1968, in a speech announcing a halt to aerial bombing of North Vietnam, Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.

From the beginning, the Ramadan offensive has resembled Tet. It began with a brazen attack on the Al Rashid Hotel, within the Green Zone headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, during a visit by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the war. Tet began with a brazen attack by Communist commandos on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. U.S. forces easily repulsed the attack, but for most Americans, the assault on the Embassy was the single most shocking aspect of the North's military campaign. As in 1968, polls have quickly registered the shift in U.S. opinion. And Congress, which is once again polarized over a war, has taken notice. As in 1968, U.S. officials at first denied the extent of the resources and organization behind the Ramadan offensive, but have been forced to reverse themselves.

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Iraq: It's NOT Vietnam, Whatever It Is (posted 12-1-03)

James Kitfield, writing in the National Journal (subscribers only) (Nov. 21, 2003):

On March 29, 1973, the last of the known American prisoners of war in Vietnam boarded C-141 transports and lifted off from Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport, bringing to a close one of the most painful chapters in modern American history. The Vietnam War had ripped at the fabric of American society for nearly a decade. With the return of the POWs, the entire sad tableau of the war -- the violent campus protests and street demonstrations, the nightly images of fighting and atrocity, the napalm and the nattering inanities of the Saigon military briefings known as "The Five O'Clock Follies," the steady procession of flag-draped coffins -- all of it could fade blessedly into the mists of history.

The strategic context, the setting, the combatants, the size and scale -- and America's national will -- all make today's war in Southwest Asia far different from the one 30 years ago in Southeast Asia.

Or could it? From 1964 to 1973, 3 million American men and women served in Vietnam. Of that total, 304,000 were wounded, and more than 58,000 would never return alive. After it was over, 1,280 American service members were still listed as missing in action, and more than 100 had died in captivity. Vietnam. Vietnam. Vietnam. For an entire generation, the name itself became a kind of shorthand for national folly, as evocative as the drumbeat of a funeral march.

Thirty years after the POWs left Hanoi, the Vietnam generation has taken its place at America's helm, and the U.S. military is once again engaged in a guerrilla war halfway around the world. Once again, the nation is deeply divided about the efficacy of war as a means of bringing democracy to a foreign land, and Americans are yet again transfixed by a mounting death toll. Perhaps not surprisingly, Vietnam, the familiar metaphor for quagmire and futility, has come to haunt much of the recent debate on Iraq.

"The ghosts of Vietnam are hovering around. For a generation that was seared by Vietnam, it's part of the mental furniture," said Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. At the mere mention of Vietnam, he said, "pretty awful pictures flash through your brain. The emotive content overwhelms the intellectual content." But the Vietnam-Iraq analogy "is profoundly misleading," Cohen asserts. "The circumstances are profoundly different." From the broader nature of the conflict then and the ideological struggle it involved, to America's role in the world then versus now, to the strength of the U.S. military vis-a -vis the enemy then and now -- the elements are all different. Cohen concludes: "Whatever this is, this is not like Vietnam."

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Forget Vietnam (posted 12-1-03)

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., National Journal (subscribers only) (Nov. 21, 2003):

Americans obsess over our one lost war. The Left and the Right renew their old domestic battle over each new foreign conflict: Is this like Vietnam or not? But that's the wrong question. The United States is like a man who survives a massive heart attack and becomes compulsive about checking his blood pressure, salt intake, and cholesterol -- but ignores the fact that both his father and grandfather died of colon cancer. Screening for the symptoms you suffered in the past blinds you to the signs of a different disease.

Iraq is a chapter in a new global era in which the traditional system of nation-states is evolving into something else. And the Islamists reject both the old and the new.

So if you really want to understand Iraq, forget Vietnam for just a minute. Forget, for that matter, most of the insurgencies of the past 50 years, from Malaysia to Angola to El Salvador. Today's amorphous networks of Qaeda internationals and Sunni clansmen have little in common with most of the Cold War's movements. Even where they exploited existing tribal conflicts, Communist guerrillas superimposed central committees to exercise top-down control, ideologists to articulate political programs, and Soviet (or Chinese, or Cuban) advisers to provide logistical support -- and all of it was linked to superpower agendas.

Forget, in fact, the entire strategic context of the Cold War. Forget the symmetrical opposing blocs, each armed with nukes and tanks, each espousing an ideology invented in Western Europe (remember, Karl Marx was German), and each neatly organized into nation-states. While you're at it, forget World Wars I and II, the Napoleonic Wars, the Seven Years' War, and pretty much every major conflict dating back to and including the War of the League of Augsburg in 1688. All of these conflicts -- even the American Civil War -- were driven on both sides by states, with clear borders, bureaucracies, and uniformed armies, all serving strategic state interests. Today, in contrast, freelance fighters cross borders in the name of God, ethnic identity, or simple cash -- in what retired Army intelligence officer Ralph Peters, author of a 1994 article, "The New Warrior Class," called "a return to religious fanaticism and naked power struggles."

To find this kind of chaos in Western history, you have to go way back: not to 1968, or even 1688, but to the three decades of war that ended in 1648. In that year, the Peace of Westphalia established that the sovereignty of the state overruled both the local claims of feudal lords and the universal claims of religion. If you want a real analogy for Iraq -- for the witches' brew of border-hopping holy warriors, power-grabbing local thugs, and intervening superpower soldiers; for the bloody pile-up of grand strategy, apocalyptic religion, and pure cynicism -- you need to look at the nightmare that the Peace of Westphalia ended: the Thirty Years' War.

Of course, no analogy is exact. The Thirty Years' War began as a power struggle between Protestant and Catholic nobles of the loosely organized but largely Germanic Holy Roman Empire, whose wealth, geo-strategic position in Central Europe, and instability irresistibly drew in outside powers -- Denmark, France, Spain, and Sweden. The mercenaries and fanatics unleashed by all sides marauded, out of control, for three decades. "Our state system was created as a reaction to that horror," said retired Marine Corps Maj. Bruce Gudmundsson, a military historian. Because of that war, "the population of Central Europe dropped by a third."

The current conflict is not as bloody (though bioterrorism could change that). And the "war within Islam" between modernizers and fundamentalists that has sucked in the West (see NJ, 5/10/2003, p. 1444) is not strictly analogous to that 17th-century European conflict. But the thread of chaos runs strongly through both -- and it is the chaos factor that the more-familiar and recent models lack.

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Lincoln's Visit to Richmond Was Scarier (posted 11-27-03)

Brian Knowlton, writing in the NYT (Nov. 27, 2003):

President Bush's trip to Iraq on Thursday was hardly the first by a president to a war zone. But it was unusual in the extraordinary secrecy with which it was carried out and, as a result, in the considerable amount of surprise it generated.

Some of the most audacious and risky wartime presidential travel, however, was undertaken by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

Lincoln left Washington in October 1862 to pay a surprise visit to the Antietam battlefield in Maryland. The president had grown deeply frustrated with Gen. George B. McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, who Lincoln complained had "a case of the slows."

The general had failed to exploit the pivotal Union victory at Antietam over the forces of Gen. Robert E. Lee, which had begun their first invasion of the North.

Lincoln wanted McClellan to follow up the battle, one of the bloodiest of the war, by moving aggressively to finish off Lee's surviving forces.

Lincoln's arrival at Antietam was a considerable surprise to McClellan, and not a particularly welcome one. The president's efforts to goad the general came to naught.

Later, as the war was winding down, Lincoln undertook perhaps a bolder secret mission, to Richmond, Va., the Confederate capital.

President Jefferson Davis had fled Richmond barely two days earlier. It was April 4, 1865, and parts of the city were still in flames.

"There were Confederate spies still all over the place," noted Richard Shenkman, a presidential historian. "It was very, very dangerous, maybe even foolhardy. It's unclear why he did so. Perhaps he just wanted to taste victory."

The trip was viewed by Northerners as a sign that the war was coming to an end, and it was something of a high point for Lincoln. Only two weeks later he was assassinated as he watched a play at Ford's Theater in Washington.

Another presidential visit provides a better parallel to Mr. Bush's trip, said Mr. Shenkman, editor of the George Mason University History News Network.

"You'd have to say that not since F.D.R. met with Churchill off Newfoundland, in World War II, has a president made such a dramatic and secret visit," he said.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt undertook his mission at a time when German U-boats were inflicting a terrible toll on Allied shipping and Britain was under heavy pressure. Churchill faced considerable risk to cross the Atlantic aboard H.M.S. Prince of Wales for the rendezvous, in August 1941, in the waters off Newfoundland.

Roosevelt, a former assistant secretary of the Navy, enjoyed sea travel and Americans were not entirely surprised to hear that he was on a fishing expedition. The trip was so secret that even the sailors on the United States and British ships were oblivious to their true mission.

Americans learned the truth only later, when it was announced that Roosevelt and Churchill had signed the Atlantic Charter to seal the Anglo-American relationship and declare a vision of a free and democratic Europe.

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Is John Keegan Right that Intelligence Is Less Important in Winning Wars than Plain Hard Force? (posted 11-26-03)

Judith Miller, writing in the NYT (Nov. 22, 2003):

Intelligence -- or rather bad intelligence -- has become an obsession in Washington. Fueled by the growing casualties among American soldiers in Iraq and the administration's failure to find weapons of mass destruction there, the Central Intelligence Agency, Congress, an independent commission and scores of private experts and government analysts have been fiercely debating what went wrong in Iraq and, more broadly, the state of the government's intelligence capabilities.

Enter Sir John Keegan, the eloquent, pre-eminent British historian of war with an iconoclastic notion: despite the finger pointing and passionate debate, he concludes in a new book that intelligence -- good or bad -- matters far less than brute force in winning wars.

"War is ultimately about doing, not thinking," writes Sir John, the author of 16 other books about war and military tactics, including the instant classic, "The Face of Battle." In his latest offering, "Intelligence in War" (Alfred A. Knopf), he insists again and again, "Only force finally counts."

"Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge," he argues. "Let those who disagree show otherwise."

A number of Western military historians, political scientists, diplomats and defense experts have taken up the challenge. Most of them would agree with Richard Holbrooke, the former diplomat who as chief negotiator to the Balkans conflict in the mid-1990's helped end that war. He called Sir John's theory "not only counterintuitive but wrong."

"Is Keegan right in arguing that intelligence is overrated? Yes," Mr. Holbrooke said. "But intelligence is also indispensable. And its greatest successes are preventative."

Sir John readily acknowledges that good intelligence is essential to successful battles and campaigns. He opens his new book quoting the Duke of Marlborough's dictum: "No war can be conducted successfully without early and good intelligence." But Sir John rejects what he calls the romantic myth that victory depends mainly on spies, stolen secrets and cracked codes.

To support his thesis he explores a series of gripping case studies, from Admiral Nelson's 73-day chase of the French fleet and its ultimate defeat at the Nile in 1798, to Stonewall Jackson's Civil War campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, to some of the most harrowing naval battles and bloody campaigns of the World Wars. In each episode, he argues, the role of intelligence was highly overrated.

Nelson's intuitive genius about Napoleon, for instance, mattered far more in defeating him than the intelligence on the French fleet's location that arrived late from London. The Allies in World War II could have won the battle against the German U-boat fleet "without the assistance of the code breakers," he maintains. In 1941, though British cryptanalysts had broken the Germans' Enigma Code and clearly saw the shape of the German forces, the British lost Crete because the British commander made fatal mistakes.

Bruce Hoffman, director of RAND's Washington office and a terrorism analyst, said that although Sir John analyzed the role of intelligence in countering Al Qaeda, most of his examples were drawn from 18th- to 20th-century wars rather than 21st-century conflicts. "Keegan is largely right on the role of intelligence in conventional wars," Mr. Hoffman said, "but he is not right about counterinsurgencies in any century, when intelligence is the sine qua non of success." Modern wars, he argued, are not fought only with military tools. "So intelligence has a very different role today. You can no longer fight, much less win them just with military strength."

Mr. Hoffman maintained, for instance, that poor intelligence on the radical jihadists and pro-Saddam Hussein loyalists who are killing both Iraqis and American soldiers today "is one of our major problems in Iraq."...

"If you're worried about Osama bin Laden or North Korea, then you want to make damn sure that you know what they have, as well as where and when they're going to try to hit you before they do," Mr. [Kenneth] Pollack said.

But that is precisely the problem, Sir John notes. In the war against terrorism, good intelligence may be extremely hard to obtain, particularly against Al Qaeda. A "coalition of like-minded but separate groups" despite its name, which in Arabic means "the base," Al Qaeda is a diffuse target, and one that has thus far been fairly resistant to America's high-tech, electronic surveillance prowess, he says. The United States, he warns, will have to rely on old-fashioned spies rather than gadgets. But in this regard the America he so obviously admires is decidedly weak.

In an interview Sir John seemed willing to modify an argument in his book to reflect the potentially dire consequences of bad intelligence about terrorists armed with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. While he wrote that intelligence was the"handmaiden, not the mistress of the warrior," he added that with respect to groups like Al Qaeda and decisions on preventive war, intelligence may well be"an indispensable servant of force."

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How Bush Is Like Nixon (postd 11-26-03)

Dana Milbank, writing in the Washington Post (Nov. 25, 2003):

The president tells aides he wants to "go over the heads of the reporters" in order to "circumvent" a "hostile press." He later describes his effort to "tell my story directly to the people rather than funnel it to them through a press account."

The year: 1969. The president: Richard M. Nixon.

Yet Nixon's words are eerily similar to those uttered last month by President Bush. "I'm mindful of the filter through which some news travels, and somehow you just got to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people," he said in an interview with regional broadcaster Hearst-Argyle in one such bid to circumvent what he perceives as a hostile press.

To Nixon historian David Greenberg, it is one of many similarities in style between the two men. From the way they structure their administrations to their many escapes to Camp David and the prominence of American flags on the lapel pins of aides, the likenesses are powerful.

"Ideologically, Bush is the son of Reagan; stylistically, he's the son of Nixon," said Greenberg, who teaches at Yale and just published a book on Nixon's image titled "Nixon's Shadow."

Reagan, of course, is a far more desirable comparison for Bush. His allies regularly compare him to the Gipper, and Bush himself has been regularly invoking the 40th president in recent events, hailing Reagan's "mandate for leadership" on Veterans Day, signing abortion legislation in the Ronald Reagan Building, and describing his Middle East policy as an extension of Reaganism in a major foreign policy speech on Nov. 6. Vice President Cheney routinely mentions that "our administration has delivered the largest tax-relief package since Ronald Reagan lived in the White House."

Poor Nixon hasn't had a presidential mention since February, and then only in the context of his piano playing.

In several ways, Bush does have more in common with Reagan than Nixon. Like Reagan, Bush leads with straightforwardness rather than with Nixonian nuance and complexity. Like Reagan, Bush is far closer to the conservative base than was Nixon, forever distrusted by the right because of his secret dealings with Nelson Rockefeller. And Bush, sunny and optimistic like Reagan, shows no sign of the Nixon paranoia.

And though Bush frets about leaks and his aides have boasted of a "leak-free White House," nobody has seriously accused Bush of the heavier-handed Nixon techniques such as wiretaps and Plumbers, nor the sort of dishonesty or lawlessness that caused the Watergate scandal.

But there are many similarities in their style.

Bush, for example, structures his White House much as Nixon did. Nixon governed largely with four other men: Henry A. Kissinger, H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman and Charles Colson. This is not unlike the "iron triangle" of aides who led Bush's campaign and the handful of underlings now -- Cheney, chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr., national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and communications director Dan Bartlett -- who are in on most top decisions. Nixon essentially ended the tradition of powerful Cabinets in favor of a few powerful White House aides -- a model Bush has followed.

The most striking similarity is in the area of secrecy and what Nixon staffers called "managing the news." Nixon created the White House Office of Communications, the office that has become the center of Bush's vaunted "message discipline."

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The Worst Bout of Anti-Semitism Since the Holocaust ... ? (posted 11-26-03)

Chris McGreal, writing in the Guardian (Nov. 25, 2003):

Sixty years after the Holocaust, European Jews and Israelis are increasingly wondering if Europe is being sucked into the worst wave of anti-semitism since the second world war.

In the past few weeks, a German MP was forced to resign after saying that Jews were responsible for Soviet atrocities, and the commander of the German army's special forces was sacked for agreeing with him.

Then came the observation by the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis that Jews are at the root of all evil, and the firebombing of a Jewish school in Paris.

But Israelis felt their fears were confirmed by an opinion poll of EU citizens that placed Israel as the greatest danger to world peace. Israelis were shocked, perplexed and outraged that they should be seen as a bigger threat than North Korea or Iran.

"Anti-semitism has become politically correct in Europe," said Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and minister in Ariel Sharon's government.

Yesterday Mr Sharon warned European governments that they need to do more to combat a revival of old hatreds responsible for rising anti-semitism. He described Europe's burgeoning Muslim population as a threat to Jews and dismissed accusations that rocket attacks on Gaza and tanks in Jenin have contributed to growing hostility.

"What we are facing in Europe is an anti-semitism that has always existed and it really is not a new phenomenon," the prime minister said in an interview with, an online newswire dedicated to EU affairs.

"This anti-semitism is fundamental, and today, in order to incite it and to undermine the Jews' rights for self-defence, it is re-aroused.

"These days to conduct an anti-semite policy is not a popular thing, so the anti-semites bundle their policies in with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

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More Comments:

Tom O Mayamba - 7/19/2004

can someone also explain this question to me

jocelyn - 7/19/2004

"The Challenge of Holding an Election in the Midst of War"
Compare and contrast Abraham Lincoln's re-election in 1864
with other wartime elections in American History.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/26/2003

Michael Novak's paean to America's inner Spartan ( ignores the the only serious military rival the Spartans ever feared... the Athenians. Nobody in Ancient Greece considered the Athenians soft: at times they dominated the Peloponesian penninusula and were at the forefront of the wars against Persia. When push came to shove, the Spartans were able to muster more allies and break the Athenian (Delian League) alliance, but at the cost of opening Greece to Macedonian domination.

So, democracy and culture were not achieved at the cost of military might.

Talk Isus - 12/20/2003

Who has the biggest government in US history? George Bush. How do you propose paying off our national debt? With Pretzels.

Steven - 11/30/2003

The Challenge of Holding an Election in the Midst of War"
Compare and contrast Abraham Lincoln's re-election in 1864
with other wartime elections in American History

d. shatin - 9/30/2003

You are only speaking half truth to the question why the Clinton Administration relieved Wes Clark as SACEUR Supreme Allied Commander European Theatre.

It was because William Cohen needed a place for General Ralston, who otherwise would have been forced to reture as a Two Star General. This way, after taking Clark's job, he could retire at the higher pay of Three Stars. Ralston had been nominated to head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until allegations of sexual misconduct or harrassment of a junior officer squashed his candidacy for that appointment. Alsok, when former Secretary of Defense William Cohen left the Clinton Administration to form The Cohen Group, he took Ralston with him.

History will reflect that General Wesley Clark's strategy would have ended the Bosnian conflict months earlier and would have saved many innocent lives. It was only in the finale when the U.S. finally threatened to send ground troups in did Milosovic negotiate to end the war.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/7/2003

Mr. Muwakkil states that he supports the idea of reparations because it will "acquaint Americans with the devastating effects racial slavery has had on African-Americans". My guess is that most Americans are pretty well acquainted already, thanks to the ceaseless race-baiting, race-shakedowns, and "we are victims!" litany engineered by politicians like John Conyers. Also, perhaps I'm being cynical here, but could Mr. Muwakkil support reparations because he stands to get some of the swag? Nah, couldn't be...

Look, it's not my place to sit here on my high horse and tell people to "get over" past injustices, and I'm not doing that here. But stealing- yes, stealing- from people, in order to compensate other people for crimes the former did not commit against the latter, is wrong by any standard. I'm no racist, but I'll tell you right now, nobody's getting dollar one out of me for reparations, and my guess is that there's a huge, silent majority of Americans who feel the exact same way. I know African-Americans got a raw deal in this country, and really, I'm sorry and all, but it's not my fault, and I'm not paying for it.

Mr. Muwakkil also states that "racial barriers erected to justify and protect slavery still to this day inhibit blacks’ social and economic mobility". Really? Like how?

The reparations scheme, on top of the billions of dollars productive Americans already pay annually in entitlements for indigent African-Americans, reminds me of a line in a Creedance Clearwater Revival song:

"And when you ask him, how much should we give,
The only answer, MORE, MORE, MORE, MORE!"

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/7/2003

In his column, Mr. Zion rehashes the same old saws- there is no Palestinian people, Jordan is the Palestinian state, yadda yadda yadda. We've heard all those arguments before, but what their purveyors never get around to addressing is this plain fact: that there are several million people living in the West Bank and Gaza, who are not Jews, who are not Israelis, and whatever you want to call them, don't want to be ruled by Israel. This is a fact, whether Mr. Zion wants to face up to it or not. Besides, these folks consider themselves Palestinians, not Jordanians. Quite frankly, three million people who call themselves "Palestinians" pretty well drowns out Mr. Zion calling them "Jordanians".

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/7/2003

In his column, Mr. Zion rehashes the same old saws- there is no Palestinian people, Jordan is the Palestinian state, yadda yadda yadda. We've heard all those arguments before, but what their purveyors never get around to addressing is this plain fact: that there are several million people living in the West Bank and Gaza, who are not Jews, who are not Israelis, and whatever you want to call them, don't want to be ruled by Israel. This is a fact, whether Mr. Zion wants to face up to it or not. Besides, these folks consider themselves Palestinians, not Jordanians. Quite frankly, three million people who call themselves "Palestinians" pretty well drowns out Mr. Zion calling them "Jordanians".

Rachel Neuwirth - 5/31/2003

Eithan Bronner refers to the Dier Yassin saga as a massacre. In fact Dier Yassin was a military action in the face of a constant Arab terrorism and sniping on the Jews who traveled on the highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem prior to 1948 war in what was called then 'War of the Roads'. Deir Yassin was not the 'peacful village' Arab try to portray her as.

Please read this links - the first is the Irgun site. go to Dier Yassin.

Also, does anyone believe for a moment that Hamas who is entrenched with vile and hate against the Israelis can ever be eliminated? Hamas declares day and night that their goal is to distroy Israel. Will the leopard change his spots?

Also, I would not call the Jewish defence organizations who were created merely to defend the Jewish people 'Jewish Terrorism' because if it wasn't for the British and the Arabs who again constantly terrorized the Jews, those organization such as the Irgun, Lehi, Etsel, etc..would have never been created. Let me reiterate the Jews merely defended themselves.

Thank you.

Dave Thomas - 5/25/2003

The yardstick Mr. Samuelson uses to critique the United States government is its commitment to supporting big government. Poverty is the bane of human existence regardless of its structural, individual, or discriminatory causes. Mr. Samuelson acts as if raising taxes in America to fund big government solution to human societies endemic problems is the answer. He should study the motion picture industry in California. Taxes drive away production Mr. Samuelson and breed more poverty. Put that in your big government pipe and smoke it while you contemplate the demise of your anachronistic philosophy. The true answer is in the ideology you despise. We should eliminate all taxes on the impoverished and decrease taxes on everyone else. Government solves little if anything at the national level. Let the state and local authorities deal with social ills while they are overseen by the courts. The best cure to poverty is an expanding economy, and some people profit more from prosperity than others. This is true human nature, not the fantasy land of isolated philosophers.