Today’s post will cover two different topics, both related to current American foreign policy and the spreading Middle East crisis. I shall begin with a question I discussed a few weeks ago—whether, as various US press outlets have claimed, Condolezza Rice has orchestrated a fundamental change in the foreign policy of the Bush Administration during the last year and a half. The answer, I would suggest, is no.
The claimed changes did not relate mainly to the war on terror, but to our policy towards North Korea and Iran. In both cases we had shown some willingness to listen to other nations and to join multilateral (or not bilateral) negotiations. Even before the last few weeks I was doubtful that this represented a real change. As Seymour Hersh pointed out two weeks ago (see my post of July 8), an argument is still raging within the Administration over a planned air strike on Iranian nuclear capabilities, and it seemed very possible that the Administration, in seeking a UN resolution, was simply buying some time and laying the foundation for future military action. I might note, incidentally, that the Administration has shown a remarkable attitude towards UN resolutions since 2002. When the Security Council declares that Iraq or Hezbollah should disarm, the Administration regards this as permission to execute such a mission unilaterally with American military power. It still claims that the US was carrying out a UN mandate in Iraq even though the Security Council refused to vote for war.
Our response to the current crisis, however, is almost pure neoconservatism. Secretary Rice has stated that she is not interested in a simple cease-fire, but seems to be insisting on a radical change in the balance of forces in Lebanon. President Bush in his radio address today said that the crisis could not be solved without “confronting” both Hezbollah and the states that support it, such as Syria and Iran. In previous Administrations Syria’s presence in Lebanon kept an eye on Hezbollah and Syria helped mediate some previous crises, but the Bush Administration, of course, proudly secured Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon two or three years ago. Now it has no intention of talking to Syria, except to lecture it on the need for it to change—perhaps to create a new Iraq? Rice plans to meet with Israeli officials and with Palestinian President Abu Mazen, whose Hamas government ministers are now in Israeli jails. She also wants to talk with European leaders in Rome. But as the Washington Post explains today, she will not visit a single Arab capital, presumably because Jordanian and Egyptian leaders do not want to be photographed with her while the Israeli offensive continues. In just five years the Bush Administration has made friendship with the US a serious disability in the Arab world.
The Secretary hopes, apparently, to get European Union agreement on an international force that will occupy southern Lebanon and actually disarm Hezbollah—really a partial renewal of the mandate system of 80 years ago. If she is successful she will have scored a major triumph and changed the power calculus in the region, but I will be very surprised if the Europeans are willing to risk a long-term guerrilla war against Hezbollah and the possible terrorist acts within Europe that might easily result from it. If the international force does not come to pass the Administration will presumably reaffirm Israel's right "to defend itself." Meanwhile, the chaos within Lebanon, where Israel has decided to make life difficult or almost impossible for an enormous part of the population, is reportedly making Hezbollah more popular, not less.
As President Bush’s off-the-cuff luncheon remarks showed, he still feels the problems inside the Middle East come from a few wicked regimes that cause trouble. Three years of escalating violence in Iraq and the election gains of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt do not seem to have made any impression on the Administration. Today, in his radio address, the President ignored the Hamas election victory in Palestine and argued that Palestine more than ever needs leadership unblemished by terror. The policy of the Administration does not seem to have changed in the slightest: it depends upon the idea, largely disproved by our experience in Iraq, that if we remove the ruling bad guys, good guys will emerge. Secretary Rice has argued that the US for too long pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East, and achieved neither. Our pursuit of democracy at the expense of stability does not seem to be having better results. There is no obvious change in our foreign policy with her as Secretary of State, and Colin Powell, were he still in office, would almost surely be visiting Arab capitals as well. (Monday evening update: According to the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz, Rice today actually refused a Lebanese request for an immediate cease-fire, arguing that new arrangements for southern Lebanon must be worked out first. That frankly seems like an attempt to force the weak Lebanese government into agreeing to her terms.)
Shifting gears, I have been reading a remarkable book that appeared two years ago, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942, by Christopher Browning, a professor at the University of North Carolina. It makes an interesting contrast, with Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which appeared ten years ago and drew widespread critical acclaim (along with some very severe criticism), sold many thousands of copies for Alfred A. Knopf, and nearly won Goldhagen a chair at Harvard. (Browning actually was a candidate for the chair as well; neither one got it, and while I may be mistaken, I do not think that it was ever filled on a permanent basis. I will check.) Goldhagen seemed to argue that the Holocaust took place because the German people were chronically and incurably anti-Semitic. This seemed unconvincing to me, since Germany before 1918, at least, seemed if anything more hospitable to Jews than other major European countries, including France, the scene, after all, of the Dreyfus affair. Indeed, I had argued in Politics and War (1990) that the Holocaust had to be understood as part of a whole series of ethnic conflicts in Central and Eastern Europe, combined with the Nazi philosophy that only certain people deserved to belong to the national community, and that those who did not could be murdered if circumstances demanded it. Browning’s kind of approach is both lower-key and more frightening, in my opinion, than Goldhagen’s, precisely because it does not depend upon the demonization of a whole people to explain a monstrous crime.
Browning’s book has gotten a tiny fraction of the attention that Goldhagen’s did, but it is detailed, scrupulous, and very important. Essentially he shows—as I tried to suggest, in many fewer pages and with many fewer sources—that the Nazis moved step by step, from attempts to force German Jews to emigrate, to the segregation of the far more numerous Polish Jews in ghettoes where they began to starve to death in large numbers, to plans for mass murder behind the advancing troops in the Soviet Union, and finally to killing centers modeled on the earlier euthanasia program for the handicapped and mentally ill. While he certainly affirms the ultimate responsibility of Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich, he shows how local problems and bureaucratic imperatives constantly pushed the Nazis towards more radical solutions.
A most disturbing part of the book concerns the relationship between the SS and the Army, and especially the negotiations between the two on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, which gave the SS the responsibility for the pacification of the population and the elimination of the Soviet leadership behind the Army’s advance. We easily forget that, even under National Socialism, Germany in the 1930s remained a state of laws and rights. That is why, as Hannah Arendt pointed out years ago, Jews had to be stripped of their citizenship before they could be subject to expropriation, forced emigration, and eventually murder. The German Army, while firmly believing in harsh measures in occupied territories, had a well-established set of legal codes and procedures to maintain discipline among the troops and protect civilians against abuses. In order to progress to wholesale reprisals against Russian civilians and the murder of all Soviet officials and Jews, those regulations had to be evaded by taking the responsibility for these measures away from the army and from the jurisdiction of military courts. The SS Einsatzgruppen received full freedom to act as they wished, justified repeatedly by the life-and-death struggle Hitler claimed to be fighting against Jewish Bolshevism. The Army went along, and the German people had no voice.
The United States remains a nation of laws. We have created new kinds of detention centers for suspected terrorists, but we have neither right-wing militias roaming our streets to terrorize the political opposition, nor new, parallel police forces to deal with special crimes. . But the Administration has claimed the power to try terrorists, including American citizens, in special courts where they will have only the most limited right to counsel and will not be able to confront the evidence against them. The Supreme Court recently refused to allow these courts, but by the narrowest of margins. We must hope that even the Republican Congress, where John McCain and Lindsay Graham have shown courage on these points, will not give the Administration the kind of courts it wants. To rule a class of people unworthy of basic rights, history shows, is to step onto a slippery and treacherous slope. The United States fought the Second World War without going that far, and it can cope with terrorism under its existing legal system, in my opinion, as well.