Sunday, August 27, 2006

Crises and Wars

I am currently preparing a course on the United States and the two World Wars, and reading primary documents from the First World War raises some interesting questions about our current foreign policy. Yesterday I also watched the 2000 movie Thirteen Days, which documents the Cuban missile crisis with unusual (if note complete) historical accuracy, and that provided a counterpoint.

Preventive war brought about the First World War in 1914. Austria-Hungary had been hit by a dramatic act of state-sponsored terrorism, the assassination of the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, by a Bosnian student in a conspiracy organized by Serbian intelligence. Serbia had recently doubled in size at the expense of the failing Ottoman Empire, and now had its eyes not only upon Bosnia-Herzegovina but on Croatia as well—the dream the Serbs managed to realize for 70 years when their side won the war they helped unleash. The debates at the highest levels of the Austro-Hungarian government on what to do had a familiar ring—advocates for war argued that Austria-Hungary had tolerated too many Serbian provocations already and settled too many disputes diplomatically, allowing the problem to fester and grow. They decided upon war to eliminate Serbia once and for all.

In retrospect, given what the Serbs did with Yugoslavia over the next 70 years and what they did to try to maintain their dominance in the 1990s, that does not necessarily seem to have been such a bad idea. And indeed, the international community, and even Serbia’s Russian patron, had no objection to a severe chastisement of Serbia, just as the international community agreed in 2002 that weapons inspectors should return to Iraq. But the Russians, British and French expected that Austria-Hungary would allow the international community to limit the extent of that punishment—and this Vienna was determined not to accept. Only all-out war, ending in a partition of Serbia among her neighbors, would, they thought, solve the problem. And in pursuit of that policy, the leadership ignored strategic realities that, as it turned out, made it impossible to accomplish their goal. Because Russia went to war in support of Serbia, most of the Austrian Army had to face northeast, and the forces left for the Serbian operation were halted in their tracks by determined resistance. Only a year later, with the assistance of some German divisions, did the Austro-Hungarians manage to occupy Serbia, by which time all Europe was at war—a war that led to the Austro-Hungarian empire’s complete collapse.

Meanwhile, the German government had also decided that the crisis presented an opportunity for war at a favorable moment. It backed the Austro-Hungarians against the Serbs, refused proposals to submit their dispute to an international conference, and unleashed the war as soon as Russia mobilized. The Germans believed that Russia was growing stronger (although as it turned out Tsarist Russia was no match at all for Germany and would not have been for decades, if ever), and that their relative position would continue to decline. The German Army was also frustrated that Germany had backed down in two previous confrontations with France and Britain over Morocco. They gambled either that the Triple Entente of France, Russia and Britain would back down, or that the Schleiffen Plan would win them a quick victory against France, or against Belgium. They were wrong. Although they occupied much of Belgium and northern France in the first month of the war, they could not continue their advance, and the front stabilized, leaving Germany to fight for four more years against a coalition with vastly superior resources. In retrospect their decision appears as the least justifiable and most consequential blunder in the last two centuries of European history.

What I had forgotten, however, was how the western allies fell victim to the same kind of logic—albeit with more justification—during the war. Their initial setbacks and the stabilization of the front gave way in 1915-17 to a long series of costly, failed offensives in the West, while Germany advanced steadily in the East and eventually, in late 1917, knocked Russia out of the war. Yet the allies for the most part remained committed to the idea that Germany’s perfidious conduct at the outbreak of the war meant that the conflict had to end with the complete defeat of Germany. That is what they told President Wilson and his envoy Colonel House during the first few years of the war, when Wilson offered privately and publicly to mediate peace. They resented his efforts and refused to offer any compromise peace terms. Their case at first glance looks strong. Germany had started the European war and deserved, in a sense, to pay a heavy price for it—and the Germans in 1915-16 were not ready to offer remotely acceptable terms either. But the real threat the war was posing was not to any one country but, as it turned out, to the whole fabric of European civilization, which crumbled first in Russia at the time of the Bolshevik revolution, and eventually in Germany after the allies had won the victory that they had sought. A compromise peace that returned French and Belgian occupied territory would have been a recognition by Germany of its exhorbitant goals, and could have restored European cooperation. No European statesman, however, had the courage to seek it, and after the American entry into the war Wilson accepted the idea of the need for a decisive defeat of Germany as well.

The Cuban missile crisis took place just a few months after the publication of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. Despite some glaring weaknesses in that book—which essentially ignored the roots of the crisis in the Austro-Serbian conflict—it showed how a combination of aggressive military planning and blindly optimistic statesmanship had plunged Europe into the catastrophe that was reaching its climax at the moment John F. Kennedy was born. Kennedy had read it, and remarked during the crisis that he did not want a future historian to write a similar book called “The Missiles of October.” As the movie shows, he was determined to do whatever he could to make sure the crisis did not lead to war, even against the opinion of both leading military and civilian advisers. (While the movie is generally accurate, it erred in not giving more credit to Dean Rusk, who was the first to argue at length, in one of the ExCom meetings, that any military action had to be preceded by diplomatic moves.) Such was the distrust of the Soviets in the United States that he could neither negotiate a deal through normal diplomatic channels or even acknowledge that he had promised to remove obsolete American missiles from Turkey if Khrushchev would remove missiles from Cuba. But he did so covertly, through Robert Kennedy, and scholarship has shown that he was also preparing to have either U Thant or the government of Brazil make the same proposal if his private contacts had failed.

Kennedy understood his responsibility to try to let the peoples of the world live in peace—especially in the nuclear age. The movie ends, appropriately, with an excerpt from his greatest speech, the American University commencement address that he delivered seven months later, and which led to the Test Ban treaty. Here are some longer excerpts.

“I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived. And that is the most important topic on earth: peace. What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time. . . .

“First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again. I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.”

“. . . .it is sad to read these Soviet statements, to realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also a warning, a warning to the American people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.

“No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture, in acts of courage.

“So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal. . . .”

Both Kennedy and his great rival Richard Nixon could make statements like that about a foreign power that had posed a far greater military and political danger to the United States than any nation or movement does today. They understood that they had no choice. Their predecessors under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower had wisely rejected (although their Administrations had discussed) the option of preventive war against the Soviet Union when it acquired nuclear weapons, and Presidents Johnson and Nixon rejected that option when Communist China—which in 1964 was regarded as a hopelessly ideological and ambitious totalitarian state impervious to reason—acquired them as well. But today we speak once again of preventive war, this time against Iran—a country with which we have a long history that we are conveniently forgetting, The United States and Britain overthrew the democratic government of Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, whose intelligence services received help from both the CIA and Mossad in securing his rule. Since a religious and popular movement overthrew the Shah in 1979 (in what looms as one of the pivotal events of our era), we have refused even to try to re-establish diplomatic relations. The Iranian government has supported terrorist movements and does oppose our interests, but the whole point of diplomacy, as the real statesmen of the Cold War understood, is to find ways to deal with states like that. Because our enemies no longer have vast nuclear arsenals, our current leadership seems to have decided that they are entirely at their mercy. They are not, as the Iraqi episode should have shown, and it demeans the American people, in my opinion, to speak of nations like North Korea or Iran as if they posed a greater danger to the United States that the Soviet Union or China did.

Thirteen Days was based upon The Kennedy Tapes, the transcripts of Excom meetings edited by Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow. Philip Zelikow is today one of the top aides of Secretary of State Condolezza Rice. Based upon what little we have learned about the inner workings of the Bush Administration, it is very difficult to imagine its leadership in near-continuous session over a two-week period working out a peaceful solution to a complex international crisis. President Bush notoriously limits meetings to very brief time periods and he has shown no taste for subtlety in his public statements. Former Secretary Powell, according to published reports, never knew exactly when the decision to invade Iraq was taken. The movie, which younger Americans should continue to watch, is a chilling reminder of how far we have fallen, but also of the wisdom we might find within ourselves yet again.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Privatized War

I was not going to post today, but the following almost unbelievable item came my way courtesy of an American living in Colombia. As I have had occasion to note before, the Bush Administration, paradoxically, has taken on unprecedented resonsibilities abroad while trying to shrink the federal government. Their techniques do not necessarily save money, but by privatizing various services, they avoid creating new federal positions (whose incumbents still expect health insurance, job security, and a pension, even though the pension for most federal civilian employees is about one-third of what it was twenty years ago) and generate profits for contractors who can kick back in the form of contributions. Paul Krugman, whom I regard as a kindred spirit although we have never met, wrote a fine column last week, I think, about the privatizing of the collection of debts to the IRS, whose enforcement, I have been reliably informed, has been gutted. This story deals with the privatization of our military effort in Iraq, where, as everyone knows, we have never sent anywhere near enough soldiers to do what we intended to. It is only a blog (the blogger was not my informant), but it links the Colombian magazine in which this was the cover story, and my Spanish is good enough to verify that the blogger reported it faithfully. The original may be found at http://www.ciponline.org/colombia/blog/archives/000299.htm#more . Here goes. I shall post something else tomorrow.

August 23, 2006

Colombian contractors in Iraq

Here are some excerpts, translated into English, from the shocking and sad cover story in this week's edition of the Colombian magazine Semana. It tells of thirty-five retired Colombian military officers who were recruited to serve as security guards in Iraq.

A subsidiary of Blackwater USA, the major U.S. contractor whose private guards have even protected U.S. generals in Iraq, recruited the Colombians with promises of salaries of $4,000 per month - more than most doctors or lawyers earn in Colombia. After undergoing training on a Colombian military base (!), they were rushed off to Baghdad - where they found that their salaries would be only $1,000 per month. When they complained, the U.S. company took away their return tickets.

Here is the story. There is much more in the Spanish version that is worth a read as well, such as the reaction of these officers, all of them veterans of Colombia's violence, to the incomparably worse security situation in Iraq ("This is hell: there are bombings all the time, shots, helicopters near and far, sirens day and night. There is no rest. One feels a permanent tension in his chest.")

“The group of 35 of us, and another 34 that arrived about two weeks later, we want to return to Colombia, but they won’t let us. When they find out that we’ve talked about what they’re doing to us, we don’t know what could happen. But the truth is that the people here in Baghdad are desperate,” said Esteban Osorio, a retired captain of the National Army.

… Retired Army Major Juan Carlos Forero went to an office near downtown Bogotá to submit his resumé. “The company is called ID Systems… it’s the representative in Colombia for the American firm called Blackwater. It is one of the biggest private security contracting firms in the world and they work for the U.S. government,” said Major Forero.

“[At ID Systems] we were received by Captain (Gonzalo) Guevara, who works with that firm and is retired from the Army. He told us that basically we had to provide security for military facilities. He told us salaries were around $4,000 USD per month,” Forero said.

Finally, in early June of this year, the representatives of ID Systems told the recruited Colombians that the time had come. “On the evening of the first of June, they asked twelve of us to meet at the office and told us that we were leaving for Iraq the next day. There they told us that the salary wouldn’t be $4,000, but $2,700. We didn’t like that because we had always been convinced that it would be $4,000, but there wasn’t anything we could do at that point.” Why? Because by then none of them had jobs anymore (they had quit in anticipation of the trip) and were desperate to support their families.

At midnight of June 1, Forero and his companions were made to sign contracts, and were given a copy. “We weren’t able to read anything in the contract. We just signed and left in a hurry because when they gave us the contracts they told us we had to be at the airport in four hours and since everything was so rushed, we barely had time to say goodbye to our families, get our bags together and leave for the airport,” said Forero.

From Bogotá they left for Caracas, from there to Frankfurt, where they waited for twelve hours for a flight to Amman, Jordan, and from there a last plane to Baghdad. “Since in the Frankfurt airport we had to wait so long, we started reading the contract, and there we realized that there was something wrong because it said they would pay us $34 a day. That is, our salary would be $1,000 a month, and not $2,700,” recalls Forero.

… The mission of the group… consisted in replacing a group of Romanian contractors that had finished their contracts. “When we linked up with the Romanians they asked us how much we were being paid, and we told them $1,000.” They responded with mockery. “No sane person in the world comes to Baghdad for only $1,000,” they said.

The Romanians told them that for the same work they were being paid $4,000. That fact gave way to uneasiness among the other contractors on the base. The mood turned hostile against the Colombians because if each soldier establishes his own conditions for fighting in a foreign country, there is always a benefit because in the end they are risking their lives. No one spoke to the Colombians and when they did, it was to offend them and treat them like cheap labor.

On June 9th, before they had spent even a week in Baghdad, the 35 drafted and signed a letter addressed to the ID Systems and Blackwater representatives. In the letter, they said that if they didn’t pay the $2,700 that were promised, they wanted an immediate return to Colombia for the entire group.

The letter in which the Colombians demanded their rights was interpreted as rebellion, and the consequences were unexpected. “When we arrived at the base, they took away all our return flight tickets. After the letter they gathered us together and said that if we wanted to return, we should do it through our own means. Ironically, in a show of antipatriotism, one of the people who was most against us was a former captain of the Colombian Army, (Edgar Ernesto) Méndez, who is the link here in Iraq of the contractor in Colombia,” said retired Captain (Estaban) Osorio from Baghdad.

“To force us to comply with the contract, they began to pressure us. They threatened to kick us out of the base facilities to the streets of Baghdad, where you are exposed to being killed or, in the best of cases, kidnapped,” said Osorio.

…What’s more, when they were hired in Bogotá, the retired military men were told they would have eight-hour shifts. After the protest, the shifts became twelve-hour shifts. When the group complained, the response was that they would lose their potable water or that they wouldn’t receive the same food as the others on the base. At the time of recruitment in Bogotá, they were told that they would have medical insurance, dentists, and access to recreation zones within the base and life insurance for $1.5 million dollars. Just like the salary they were offered, nothing turned out to be true. Then came the health deterioration. “Several have gotten sick or have had accidents and it has not been possible for them to receive medical attention. When we asked for an explanation, the only thing we are told is that our contract does not cover that kind of services,” says Forero.

The contractors insist on the influence that the company has on the Army and the government, and that the company could close the doors for them to find jobs back in Colombia. And the threats go even further. “We are afraid for the consequences, not only that we risk being left without a job when we return to Colombia, but that they have also told us to remember that they have all the information about our families and children and that, simply put, is a threat,” said Forero.

Although the Ministry of Defense, the Army and the United States Embassy in Colombia are aware of the recruitment of retired soldiers, it has been a matter dealt with a low profile in which nobody accepts any responsibility.

The closest to it is that the Defense Ministry and Army staff accept that they’re “doing a favor” by lending (ID Systems) a Colombian military base for the training of retired soldiers that are sent to Iraq. “It’s a company endorsed by the U.S. government that asked the Army for cooperation, which consists of allowing them the use of the base, as long as they do not recruit active personnel. There is no agreement, contract or any other type of relationship with them, and therefore, the Colombian government has no responsibility. Whatever happens between retired soldiers and the company that recruits them is basically an agreement between an individual and a foreign company,” said a high-level government official.

For their part, an official from the U.S. State Department in Washington, DC, determined that “The State Deparment believes that this is a private commercial dispute between the Colombian employees and their employer.” The official said that any other comment should be made by Blackwater. Semana Magazine called Chris Taylor, vice president of that company, over ten times, and sent him a written set of questions but never received a response. It was also impossible to obtain a response from the representatives of ID Systems in Colombia, the retired captain Gonzalo Guevara or the owner of ID Systems, José Arturo Zuluaga.

(All the names have been changed for security reasons.)


Colombia, incidentally, is one of the few remaining American allies in South America.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Judge Taylor's opinion

In the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers set forth a vision of a new form of government and gave their descendants the best tools that they could to preserve it. Their work reflected their own painful experiences. Until the 1770s, they had believed that they lived under the most perfect form of government yet devised, the unwritten English constitution, which appeared to guarantee them a series of critical rights. As it turned out, however, that constitution had not prevented George III from imposing tyranny over the United States. Thus, in 1787 when they came together to write the constitution, they had learned the critical lesson that any system could conceivably degenerate into tyranny. That was the point of the correspondence between Jefferson and Madison the next year, which I have already quoted in an earlier post (of December 25, 2005), which began when Jefferson complained of the absence of a Bill of Rights. Defending the omission, Madison explained, first, that he had feared that it would be difficult to get all the necessary rights improved, and secondly, with or without such a bill, a government in times of crisis would always find some way to violate it. Jefferson replied wisely that while Madison was not wrong, the existence of a Bill of Rights would make it harder for a government to trample upon them during a crisis and easier to restore them when it was over. No wiser prediction, I venture to say, ever came from the hand of that remarkable man.

From the late 1790s to the Civil War, the two world wars and the Vietnam era, the legislative, executive and judicial branches have frequently announced that the Constitution does not mean what it says and that Americans may be imprisoned for speech, forbidden to read embarrassing material in newspapers, subjected to warrantless surveillance and harassment by the authorities, or even interned with trial in concentration camps. Such experiments, however, have usually been brief, and have come to an end thanks to the political process or the Supreme Court, which has turned these blots upon our history into occasions for reaffirming the principles of the Founders and explaining how and why they came into being. In my post of December 25th last, I quoted two of the most moving such Supreme Court opinions: ex parte Milligan, in which the post-civil war court held that an accused Confederate sympathizer could not be tried and condemned to death by a military court while civil courts were sitting, and Justice Hugo Black’s magnificent 1971 opinion in the Pentagon Papers, in which he commended the Washington Post and the New York Times for doing exactly what the Founders had hoped and trusted they would do.

Something similar happened last week, in my opinion, when Judge Anita Taylor of the Federal District Court ruled the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program illegal. I was inspired by her opinion and am distressed that a variety of legal scholars, including some opposing the program, have claimed that it lacked legal sophistication. Certainly it did not focus primarily on recent precedents, although it cited some of them, nor did it, in accepted legal fashion, attempt to decide the question on the narrowest possible grounds. Instead, Judge Taylor reached back to the origin of the Republic and to the text and essential philosophy of the Constitution to point out that a President, once again, was taking advantage of an emergency to disregard both. I quote a few excerpts:

V. The Fourth Amendment

The Constitutional Amendment which must first be discussed provides: The right the of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. U.S. CONST. Amend. IV.

This Amendment “. . . was specifically propounded and ratified with the memory of . . .Entick v. Carrington, 95 Eng. Rep. 807 (1765) in mind”, stated Circuit Judge Skelly Wright in Zweibon v. Mitchell, 516 F.2d 594, 618 n.67 (D.C. Circ. 1975) (en banc) (plurality opinion). Justice Douglas, in his concurrence in the Keith case, also noted the significance of Entick in our history,stating:

For it was such excesses as the use of general warrants and the writs of assistance that led to the ratification of the Fourth Amendment. In Entick v. Carrington (citation omitted), decided in 1765, one finds a striking parallel to the executive warrants utilized here. The Secretary of State had issued general executive warrants to his messengers authorizing them to roam about and to seize libelous material and libellants of the sovereign. Entick, a critic of the Crown, was the victim of one such general search during which his seditious publications were impounded. He brought a successful damage action for trespass against the messengers. The verdict was sustained on appeal. Lord Camden wrote that if such sweeping tactics were validated, then the secret cabinets and bureaus of every subject in this kingdom will be thrown open to the search and inspection of a messenger, whenever the secretary of state shall think fit to charge, or even to suspect, a person to be the author, printer, or publisher of a seditious libel.’ (citation omitted) In a related and similar proceeding, Huckle v. Money (citation omitted), the same judge who presided over Entick’s appeal held for another victim of the same despotic practice, saying ‘(t)o enter a man’s house by virtue of a nameless warrant, in order to procure evidence, is worse than the Spanish Inquisition . . .’ See also Wilkes v. Wood (citation omitted),

. . . [t]he tyrannical invasions described and assailed in Entick, Huckle, and Wilkes, practices which also were endured by the colonists, have been recognized as the primary abuses which ensuredthe Warrant Clause a prominent place in our Bill of Rights. U.S. v.

U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. at 328-329 (Douglas, J., concurring).

Justice Powell, in writing for the court in the Keith case also wrote that:

Over two centuries ago, Lord Mansfield held that common-law principles prohibited warrants that ordered the arrest of unnamed individuals who the officer might conclude were guilty of seditious libel. ‘It is not fit,’ said Mansfield, ‘that the receiving or judging of the information should be left to the discretion of the officer. The magistrate ought to judge; and should give certain directions to the officer.’ (citation omitted). Lord Mansfield’s formulation touches the very heart of the Fourth Amendment directive: that, where practical, a governmental search and seizure should represent both the efforts of the officer to gather evidence of wrongful acts and the judgment of the magistrate that the collected evidence is sufficient to justify invasion of a citizen’s private premises or conversation. Inherent in the concept of a warrant is its issuance by a ‘neutral and detached magistrate.’ (citations omitted) The further requirement of ‘probable cause’ instructs the magistrate that baseless searches shall not proceed. U.S. v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. at 316.

The Fourth Amendment, accordingly, was adopted to assure that Executive abuses of the power to search would not continue in our new nation.”

After reviewing the history and provisions of the FISA law, the act governing wiretaps of communications with foreign governments which the Administration claims the right to disavow, she turned to another basic constitutional principle.

VII. The Separation of Powers

The Constitution of the United States provides that “[a]ll legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States. . . .” It further provides that “[t]he executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” And that “. . . he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed . . . .”

Our constitution was drafted by founders and ratified by a people who still held in vivid memory the image of King George III and his General Warrants. The concept that each form of governmental power should be separated was a well-developed one. James Madison wrote that:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. The Federalist, 47, at 301 (James Madison).

The seminal American case in this area, and one on which the government appears to rely, is that of Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) in which Justice Black, for the court, held that the Presidential order in question, to seize steel mills, was not within the constitutional powers of the chief executive. Justice Black wrote that:

The founders of this Nation entrusted the law-making power to the
Congress alone in both good and bad times. It would do no good to recall the historical events, the fears of power and the hopes for freedom that lay behind their choice. Such a review would but confirm our holding that this seizure order cannot stand.

Youngstown, 343 U.S. at 589.

Justice Jackson’s concurring opinion in that case has become historic. He wrote that,although the Constitution had diffused powers the better to secure liberty, the powers of the President are not fixed, but fluctuate, depending upon their junctures with the actions of Congress. Thus, if the President acted pursuant to an express or implied authorization by Congress, his power was at it maximum, or zenith. If he acted in absence of Congressional action, he was in a zone of twilight reliant upon only his own independent powers. Youngstown, 343 U.S. at 636-638. But “when the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for he can rely only upon his own Constitutional powers minus any Constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.” Youngstown, 343 U.S. at 637 (Jackson, J. concurring). In that case, he wrote that it had been conceded that no congressional authorization existed for the Presidential seizure. Indeed, Congress had several times covered the area with statutory enactments inconsistent with the seizure. He further wrote of the President’s powers that::

The example of such unlimited executive power that must have most impressed the forefathers was the prerogative exercised by George III, and the description of its evils in the Declaration of Independence leads me to doubt that they were creating their new Executive in his image. Continental European examples were no more appealing.

And if we seek instruction from our own times, we can match it only from the executive powers in those governments we disparagingly describe as totalitarian. I cannot accept the view that this clause is a grant in bulk of all conceivable executive power but regard it as an allocation to the presidential office of the generic powers thereafter stated. Id. at 641.

After analyzing the more recent experiences of Weimar, Germany, the French Republic, and Great Britain, he wrote that:

This contemporary foreign experience may be inconclusive as to the wisdom of lodging emergency powers somewhere in a modern government. But it suggests that emergency powers are consistent with free government only when their control is lodged elsewhere than in the Executive who exercises them. That is the safeguard that would be nullified by our adoption of the ‘inherent powers’ formula. Nothing in my experience convinces me that such risks are warranted by any real necessity, although such powers would, of course, be an executive convenience. Id. at 652.

Justice Jackson concluded that:

With all its defects, delays and inconveniences, men have discovered no technique for long preserving free government except that the Executive be under the law, and that the law be made by parliamentary deliberations. Youngstown, 343 U.S. at 655 (Jackson,J., concurring).

Accordingly, Jackson concurred, the President had acted unlawfully. In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained.

In conclusion she addressed the other favorite argument of the Bush Administration, that of the inherent power of the Commander in Chief.

IX. Inherent Power

Article II of the United States Constitution provides that any citizen of appropriate birth, age and residency may be elected to the Office of President of the United States and be vested with the executive power of this nation.

The duties and powers of the Chief Executive are carefully listed, including the duty to be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and the Presidential Oath of Office is set forth in the Constitution and requires him to swear or affirm that he “will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all “inherent powers” must derive from that Constitution.

We have seen in Hamdi that the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is fully applicable to the Executive branch’s actions and therefore it can only follow that the First and Fourth Amendments must be applicable as well. In the Youngstown case the same “inherent powers” argument was raised and the Court noted that the President had been created Commander in Chief of only the military, and not of all the people, even in time of war. Indeed, since Ex Parte Milligan, we have been taught that the “Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace. . . .” Ex Parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 120 (1866). Again, in Home Building & Loan Ass’n v. Blaisdell, we were taught that no emergency can create power.

Finally, although the Defendants have suggested the unconstitutionality of FISA, it appears to this court that that question is here irrelevant. Not only FISA, but the Constitution itself has been violated by the Executive’s TSP. As the court states in Falvey, even where statutes are not explicit, the requirements of the Fourth Amendment must still be met. And of course, the Zweibon opinion of Judge Skelly Wright plainly states that although many cases hold that the President’s power to obtain foreign intelligence information is vast, none suggest that he is immune from Constitutional requirements.

The argument that inherent powers justify the program here in litigation must fail.

I first heard of Ex Parte Milligan from Senator Sam Ervin, a North Carolina Democrat who had been a determined opponent of civil rights legislation, who called it the greatest opinion in the history of the Supreme Court during the Watergate hearings. I find it a moving tribute to the universality of the principles of the American government that Judge Taylor, a black woman of 73 years old who grew up in the era of segregation, would also cite that magnificent opinion in affirming the limitation which the Founders wanted to put upon all executive power for all time.

The recently uncovered terror plot in Britain—while nowhere near to execution, apparently, as we were first told—reminds us that surveillance of suspicious persons is necessary to guard against new terrorist outrages. That is why an intelligence professionals of my acquaintance defends the President on this point. But I reply that I do not believe that anything needful cannot be done within the law—and that failure to keep it within the law will, human nature being what it is, inevitably lead to gross abuses of executive power sooner or later. And to those legal professionals who found fault with Judge Taylor’s opinion, I can only reply that it is clear enough to be understood by any intelligent high school student, much less a grown citizen—and that, like the finest opinions of Justice Black, it relies above all on the simple tactic of arguing that the Constitution means what it says. If we can come out of the next twenty years having reconfirmed that belief, we will have done very well indeed. The Founders gave us the tools we needed knowing that the task of legally resisting authority would recur, and once again they have been proven right.

Americans have also hoped, since the Revolutionary War, that they might establish new and more humane standards of warfare. News today also raises that issue, but I shall have to leave it for later. This is the second long post of this weekend. I am gratified by the recent increase in visitors and I hope you all will do what you can to continue it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Lebanon War

Last week I decided not to discuss the newly agreed cease-fire in Lebanon because I really didn’t know what to think about it. Now certain things have become extremely clear. The cease-fire represented an almost complete cave-in on the part of the United States and, as it turns out, an admission that we had no means of reaching our objectives of breaking Hezbollah’s power. During the week both President Bush and Secretary Rice tried to put a positive spin on matters. Because the inner deliberations of this Administration are so closely held, it is very hard to tell whether they are once again fooling themselves or whether they have something more up their sleeve.

There are two possible explanations of what happened. Either State Department officials got through to their boss, who in turn got through to the White House, that the American position in the Arab world would collapse completely if the fighting continued much longer, or else the Israelis decided that further indecisive conflict with 100 rockets falling in Israel every day would not be worth its cost. And thus, last Friday and Saturday, Americans at the UN agreed to a cease-fire that did not include the return of the captured Israeli soldiers, did not demand Hezbollah’s disarmament, and did not provide for an international force with coercive powers. Things have become much clearer this week, as the Lebanese Army has made clear it has no intention of disarming Hezbollah and France has proposed to send nothing more than a token international force. In an effort to explain this the Secretary of State gave an interview to USA Today and published an op-ed in the Washington Post, and the President gave a press conference.

Rice began her interview by claiming that the international force was a crucial element of the agreement and claiming that it had the right to defend itself if Hezbollah stood in its way, but she quickly had to backtrack and admit that no one expected the international force physically to disarm Hezbollah. Instead, she postponed the day of reckoning, citing once again the UN resolution (1559) that has already asked for the disarmament of Hezbollah and counting upon the international community. To wit:

“And that the Lebanese Government has already undertaken an obligation to do that. Now we will see whether Hezbollah, which is — after all, has ministers in the Lebanese Government, is prepared to live up to those international obligations. We will see who is for peace and who isn't. We will see whether Hezbollah has taken the lesson that everyone in the international community understands, that you can't have one foot in politics and one foot in terror.

“But this time, we'll make it very clear; if there is resistance to the obligations that the Lebanese Government has undertaken, then there will be a problem and Hezbollah will have to face the international community and Hezbollah supporters will have the face the international community.”

Pressed again on what would happen if Hezbollah did not disarm, she claimed they had been dislodged from their positions in the South (as indeed they have in the small strip occupied by the Israelis), and added:

“And then I think there will be a lot of pressure on Hezbollah to make a choice and if, in fact, they make the wrong choice, one would have to assume that there will be others who are willing to call Hezbollah what we are willing to call it, which is a terrorist organization. Europe does not, for instance, currently list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. I would think that a refusal to live up to obligations that were undertaken by the Lebanese Government, clearly putting Hezbollah outside of the Lebanese Government consensus might trigger, for instance, something like that.”

In other words, although not enough of the world agreed with the United States to give us what we wanted, give them time, and they will. The Post op-ed began, rather astonishingly, by saying that the United States had insisted upon the unconditional release of the Israeli prisoners, but omitting to mention that they have not been released. It repeated many of the same points, but concluded by addressing a troubling point.

“Already, we hear Hezbollah trying to claim victory. But others, in Lebanon and across the region, are asking themselves what Hezbollah's extremism has really achieved: hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes. Houses and infrastructure destroyed. Hundreds of innocent lives lost. The blame of the world for causing this war.”

The problem, of course, is that virtually every report out of Lebanon says that that is not how the Lebanese people (much less the rest of the Arab world) see the situation at all. Hezbollah’s stature has grown because it fought the mighty Israeli Army to a standstill, and it will grow further as it takes the lead, with the help of Iranian money, in reconstruction.

President Bush, in his news conference on August 14, began more directly by blaming Hezbollah for the whole conflict (with much justice, since they clearly intended to incite it), and blaming Syria and Iran for Hezbollah’s activities. When he took questions, he was pressed much harder on the issue of who had won.

“ First of all, if I were Hezbollah I'd be claiming victory, too. But the people around the region and the world need to take a step back and recognize that Hezbollah's action created a very strong reaction that, unfortunately, caused some people to lose their life, innocent people to lose their life. But on the other hand, it was Hezbollah that caused the destruction.

“People have got to understand -- and it will take time, Andrea, it will take time for people to see the truth -- that Hezbollah hides behind innocent civilians as they attack. What's really interesting is a mind-set -- is the mind-sets of this crisis. Israel, when they aimed at a target and killed innocent citizens, were upset. Their society was aggrieved. When Hezbollah's rockets killed innocent Israelis they celebrated. I think when people really take a look at the type of mentality that celebrates the loss of innocent life, they'll reject that type of mentality.

“And so, Hezbollah, of course, has got a fantastic propaganda machine and they're claiming victories and -- but how can you claim victory when at one time you were a state within a state, safe within southern Lebanon, and now you're going to be replaced by a Lebanese army and an international force? And that's what we're now working on, is to get the international force in southern Lebanon.”

“None of this would have happened, by the way, had we -- had 1559, Resolution 1559 been fully implemented. Now is the time to get it implemented. And it's going to take a lot of work. No question about it. And no question that it's a different kind of war than people are used to seeing. We're fighting the same kind of war. We don't fight the armies of nation states; we fight terrorists who kill innocent people to achieve political objectives. And it's a hard fight, and requires different tactics. And it requires solid will from those of us who understand the stakes.”

. . . . . .. .

“And you asked about Iran? What did you say about them? My answer was too long to remember the third part of your multipart question. “

Q I'm sorry. How can the international force or the United States, if necessary, prevent Iran from resupplying Hezbollah?

THE PRESIDENT: “The first step is -- and part of the mandate in the U.N. resolution was to secure Syria's borders. Iran is able to ship weapons to Hezbollah through Syria. Secondly is to deal -- is to help seal off the ports around Lebanon. In other words, there's -- part of the mandate and part of the mission of the troops, the UNIFIL troops will be to seal off the Syrian border.

“But, as well, there's a diplomatic mission that needs to be accomplished. The world must now recognize that it's Iranian sponsorship of Hezbollah that exacerbated the situation in the Middle East. People are greatly concerned about the loss of innocent life, as are the Americans -- American people. We care deeply about that, the fact that innocents lost their life. But it's very important to remember how this all happened. And Hezbollah has been emboldened because of its state sponsors.

“I know they claim they didn't have anything to do with it, but sophisticated weaponry ended up in the hands of Hezbollah fighters, and many assume, and many believe that that weaponry came from Iran through Syria.

“And so the task is more than just helping the Siniora government; the task is also -- and the task is not just America's alone, the task is the world's. And that is to continually remind the Iranians of their obligations, their obligations not to develop a nuclear weapons program, their obligations not to foster terrorism and promote terrorism.

And we'll continue working with our partners to do that, just that.”

The President’s statement, like so many of his statements on Iraq, insists that eventually the population of the Middle East will see things our way. He apparently believes this despite the lack of any evidence that they do, or that his policies are doing anything but making them more anti-American. More serious is his statement that the international force could help seal the Syrian-Lebanese border, which it has no intention, according to published reports, of doing.

Ironically, these statements begin to recognize, in a backhanded fashion, that the United States cannot accomplish all that much in the world without an international consensus behind it. That is why the foreign policy establishment has opposed the thrust of Bush Administration foreign policy from the beginning, and events are proving them right. Unfortunately, the neoconservatives in and around the Administration still hold a strong contempt for international opinion, and I am wondering, indeed, how long it will take for Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and company to start blasting the deal as appeasement. (So far Kristol has been silent and Krauthammer, while disappointed, clearly remains hopeful.) Rather than actually take internatonal opinion seriously, however, the Bush Administration will probably continue to assume, rhetorically, that the rest of the world is bound to see the light.

What does all this mean for the future? I see two possibilities. In the first, the United States government will continue to mouth the same platitudes for two more years while the situation in Iraq, Lebanon, and very likely elsewhere continues to deteriorate. American troops will almost certainly remain in Iraq (although there are indications of a possible Iraqi-American crisis there, as leaders of the Iraqi government increasingly state that they are almost ready to take over responsibility for security from the Americans.) Hezbollah will establish some modus vivendi with the international force and the Lebanese Army. If Israel withdraws they will claim another enormous victory—and for that reason alone, I would guess, an Israeli withdrawal is not imminent.

But the second possibility is that the President and Secretary of State take seriously the implication of their statements (and the President’s accidentally recorded remarks to Tony Blair) that the real problem is not Hezbollah, but Syria and Iran. That is an oversimplification. Hezbollah is an authentic popular movement that has won thousands of hearts and minds by meeting the needs of Shi’ite Muslims in various parts of the world, including in Lebanon. Syria’s presence in Lebanon, which we insisted on ending several years ago, probably kept a lid on Hezbollah—the kind of subtlety that the present Administration simply cannot grasp. But the crisis has worked to Iran’s benefit, and a new crisis looms over its uranium enrichment program. Perhaps Seymour Hersh, who last week reported that the Administration viewed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon as a dry run for an American attack on Iran, is right, and the Administration regards an attempt to topple Iran from the air as the only real solution to the problems of the Middle East. In an earlier report Hersh claimed that some Administration figures actually believe that bombing Iran would sour the people on their rulers—a fantasy parallel to the one trumpeted by the President and Secretary of State last week, that the Lebanese people will realize that it was Hezbollah that brought so much destruction upon them. (In a variant of this idea, an Israeli general was quoted during the fighting as saying that the bombing of Lebanon’s infrastructure was designed to show the Lebanese elite that their lives would be miserable as long as they tolerated Hezbollah.) Certainly the outcome of the war in Lebanon does not bode well for the consequences of an attack on Iran. But the logic of the Administration’s position is driving it inexorably towards another war, and so far, it has been quite consistent about how it sees the problems of the Middle East and what should be done about them—to eliminate those regimes that supposedly stand in the way of the spread of democracy.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Addendum--A Congressional mystery

Last week, major newspapers commented that President Bush kept a date to attend a fund-raiser in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a Republican candidate, John Guard, on the day that the new terror plot in Britain was announced.

That news item puzzled me because of the post I did several weeks ago about Congressional races, in which I had specifically mentioned that Wisconsin, a very evenly divided state overall, had eight Congressmen, four Republicans and four Democrats, all of whom had been re-elected in 2004 by large to huge margins. It turns out Guard, who has been a Republican leader in the Wisconsin state legislature, is running in the 8th District, whose current Republican incumbent won in 2004 by 248,000 votes to 106,000--a safe enough margin, one would think. A comment in a Washington Post politics blog, however, claims Guard might be vulnerable because of ties to a key figure in a Wisconsin scandal in which public money funded legislative campaigns. Accustomed as I have been all my life to take numbers seriously (the legacy of an early interest in baseball), I cannot believe that seat is in real danger. But why, then, did President Bush visit the district? Is it because the money he raised in this Republican hotbed will be put to better use elsewhere? I would be very interested in any reader's comments on this.

The Washington Post item intrigued me so I did some analysis of my own. It listed the 20 purportedly closest races in the country at this time, and sure enough, the vast majority had been decided by margins of 55% or so last time. Still, there were twelve Republicans who had won with 55% or less and I found it hard to believe that any Democrat on the list was in real danger. Twelve pickups, however--a very optimistic assessment--would not be enough to retake the House. They need sixteen, assuming they win Vermont, where the independent (who voted with them) is stepping down. I hope that I am wrong, but it looks as if gerrymandering will barely keep the Republicans in control of the Senate.

A longer post appears below.

Information warfare again

In a famous interview about two years ago, a high White House official—my guess would be Karl Rove, but this has never been confirmed—told Ron Suskind that he, Suskind, belonged to “the reality-based community,” which habitually analyzed the day’s events carefully and judiciously to reach a reasonable conclusion. “But we’re an empire now,” the official said, “and we create our own reality.” Some months after that, I heard indirectly that Rove had told a reporter that the truth was what he said it was, and that if he could convince 51% of the American people he was right that was all that mattered. (When I reached the man who reportedly had heard Rove make this statement, however, he declined to confirm it.) Those of us hoping to keep the country on track would do well to keep those quotes in mind, in order to remember that our leadership is essentially running a propaganda operation rather than actually trying to govern. Some of the bitterest controversies of the last six years have involved its attempts to control reality. The leak of Valerie Plame’s name, I have been told authoritatively, was not designed to publish a former Ambassador, her husband, but rather to intimidate her Agency, the CIA, from leaking any more unpleasant truths that would reflect badly upon the White House. But what is more frightening is that, based upon what one reads and does not read in the news today, Rove was right.

This occurred to me again last week as I finished Peter Galbraith’s new book, The End of Iraq, which I mentioned last week. A long-time adviser to the Kurds, Galbraith has been deeply involved in the occupation of Iraq since it began, and he tells an astonishing story that has not gotten into the press. Paul Bremer’s coalition authority was largely staffed by young Republicans who had sent their resumes to the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute, and they wrote a constitution without reference to Iraqi realities. (The Iraqis have successfully modified some of its provisions. The Americans insisted upon a supreme court with (surprise) nine members; the Iraqis eventually arranged for it to judge legislation according to Islam, and specified that experts on Islamic law—that is, clerics—would have to be included in it.) Bremer’s catastrophic decision to disband the army and exclude former Ba’athists from the government are well known (and Thomas Ricks’s new book, Fiasco, shows how American military authorities had been pursuing more realistic policies), but I did not know that he paradoxically insisted that Sunni ex-Ba’athists represent their religious brethren in the constitutional negotiations after the Sunni people refused to vote. This ended disastrously, since the Sunnis consistently resisted what the Kurds and Shi’ites wanted—the right to set up almost completely independent states. Because Bremer was up against President Bush’s mid-2004 deadline for handing over sovereignty, he had to give in on every point (another example of propaganda trumping the needs of policy.) The civil war in Iraq, Galbraith argues in effect, did not break out in 2003 or 2004 because of Al Zarqawi, but because Sunnis were determined to maintain their commanding position and Shi’ites were determined not to allow them to do so. The Shi’ites resent the Sunnis for decades of oppression, while the Sunnis regard the Shi’ites as non-Iraqi Iranian puppets. (There is some truth to that last convention, of course.) Just this past week, for the first time, the American press began reporting that Shi’ite leaders were discussing the formation of their own autonomous region. In another indication of where things are going, Prime Minister Maliki complained about an American raid on Moqtar Al-Sadr’s militia, widely blamed for mass executions of Sunnis. This is apparently one reality that the Administration will be forced to confront.

Buried earlier in the book, however, is a truly extraordinary fact. Galbraith describes a meeting in early 2002 between President Bush and three prominent Iraqis living in America, including Kanan Mikaya, the Brandeis academic who supported the invasion and contributed a great deal to another important book, George Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate, which I reviewed here months ago. (I regret being unable to name the other two, but I had to return the book to the library.) According to two of the participants, Galbraith says, the three Iraqis had been discussing the tensions between Shi’ites and Sunnis when they suddenly realized that President Bush did not understand what the terms meant. They spent a good deal of the rest of the meeting telling him about divisions within Islam. Given the amount of discussion in American newspapers of those terms since the Iranian revolution of 1979, this story speaks volumes about the President’s general knowledge, and the ways in which those around him must have adapted to him while doing their own jobs. But I have seen only one reference to this interesting fact in the weeks since the book appeared—and that was in a Doonesbury strip by Gary Trudeau.

Ron Suskind has also discovered that the market for revelations about the Bush Administration has plummeted since he and Paul O’Neill wrote The Price of Loyalty in 2003. His new book, The One Per cent Doctrine, is an inside account of the development of the Bush Administration’s anti-terror policies. Buried within it is a story, which Suskind claims to have definitely confirmed, that the United States purposely bombed the Al-Jazeera office in Kabul during the Afghan war to “send a message.” That in turn correlates rather well with the bombing of the Al-Jazeera office in Baghdad as U.S. troops were entering the city, which killed a reporter, and with the Blair-Bush conversation in 2004 leaked in Britain (resulting in the invocation of the Official Secrets Act) in which President Bush reportedly suggested bombing the main Al-Jazeera headquarters in Dubai. No one, however, has paid any attention to those stories in the American press either.

There is every reason to believe, in short, that Rove and company may successfully keep control of reality within the United States for the next two and a half years, unless we suffer an unmistakable catastrophe. Reality, however, is threatening the position of the United States, if not the Administration itself, on several fronts. Recent statements from the American military leadership in Baghdad stress that violence among Iraqis will stop only if they want it to stop, which sounds like the first step towards washing our hands of the civil war that was the inevitable result of the invasion. The Army and Marine Corps simply cannot sustain their current force levels in Iraq much longer. More importantly, the utter fiasco of the Administration’s attempt to orchestrate the “birth pangs of a new Middle East” is obvious to the entire world. “We would like to return to the old Middle East,” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has just remarked, “because we don’t see anything in the new Middle East apart from more problems.” Story after story reports that the Israel-Hezbollah conflict has marginalized moderates all over the Arab world. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin commented at the G-8 meeting that Russia was not going to participate in a Holy Alliance or Crusade, a remark which National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said he found puzzling. (That is one of the basic principles of Bush Administration foreign policy talk: use language that suggests no one but an evil terrorist could possibly have a disagreement with the United States.) But as a new poll shows that more than half of the American people (a substantial increase during the last year) believe that Saddam Hussein had WMD in 2002, one wonders whether foreign reality will, indeed, penetrate the curtain that has been drawn around the U.S.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Crisis--and resolution?

As long-time readers know, I believe in the theory of fundamental crises in the lives of nations every eighty years or so. The last such period of crisis extended from the late 1920s (in Germany and the United States into at least the 1950s (in Britain and Western Europe), and produced the defeat of Nazism and Fascism, the rise of the welfare state, and the Common Market and European Union. A nearly simultaneous but even more protracted crisis in East Asia eventually made Japan a member of the western alliance as well, but established China, North Korea, and eventually Vietnam as Communist states. Eastern Europe has consistently been 10-15 years in advance of Western Europe. The First World War, rather than the Second, transformed Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and much of that legacy--including the states of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union--died in the 1990s. (In his new book The End of Iraq, my contemporary Peter Galbraith--who does not seem to be aware of the broader Strauss-Howe theory--points out that Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the USSR and Iraq were four multinational and multi-religious states created after 1919, and makes a powerful case that Iraq, like the others, is destined for the dustbin of history.

Certainty, ironically, breeds crisis. The American and western European establishments from about 1870 to 1929 were certain, as Herbert Hoover wrote Woodrow Wilson in 1919, that they had created an unrivalled, almost miraculous system for the production and distribution of goods and services. Even the economic turmoil of the First World War did little to shake their basic faith. Then came the Depression, which swept away the German government, made way for Nazism, and split the industrialized world with disastrous consequences. Franklin Roosevelt's great achievement was to prevent the economic catastrophe in the United States from creating a similar political crisis, and instead to use it to redefine the role of the American government. The British and French were far less affected by the depression, and only the great shock of the war forced them to make fundamental changes.

As I have noted before, especially in my review of Kevin Phillip’s new book, we have plenty to worry about economically today, but it seems to me that the real crisis we are going to face during the next twenty years will be more political than economic. Here again, certainty is leading us to disaster. I quote once again from that most revealing document, the current national security strategy of the United States. "The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. In the twenty-first century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity. People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children—male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society—and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people across the globe and across the ages." The blueprint, just as Hoover wrote 77 years ago, is laid out; only the execution remains.

Just fifteen years after Hoover, however, the historian Charles A. Beard began his important and neglected work, The Open Door at Home, by stating the obvious: the worldwide depression showed beyond doubt that there were no immutable laws of human development leading inexorably towards progress. (Beard is often characterized as an economic determinist--most recently in Sam Tannehaus’s review of a new biography of Richard Hofstadter in today's New York Times--but Beard had obviously moved way beyond determinism by the mid-1930s.) From this obvious fact Beard drew another important conclusion, that ethics and aesthetics should play a role in designing the particular future that we sought. Beard himself rejected American involvement in quarrels on other continents and even wanted to solve our economic problems in relative (though hardly absolute) economic isolation from the rest of the world. That, of course, was not the path we took, but Beard's comments, it seems to me, need to be recast today to recognize the political crisis that the whole world is facing.

The most obvious symptom of the crisis is in the Arab world, where traditional authoritarian regimes have obviously lost touch with their peoples and where radical movements like Hezbollah and Hamas clearly seem to have the upper hand in the struggle for popular allegiance. Although no reporter had the temerity to ask President Bush and Prime Minister Blair about this during their joint press conference recently, democratic elections in Palestine brought Hamas to power--hardly the kind of outcome the authors of the 2002 national security strategy had in mind. The radical movements, helped by the overthrow of the Iraqi government, have become strong enough to threaten Israel, and Israeli retaliation, justified or not, seems to be further undermining existing governments and making them even stronger. The refusal of the Administration to acknowledge any of this is bound to make it worse.

That, however, is only one symptom of a much broader problem. Most of the governments of the successor states of the Soviet Union, including the Russian one, are becoming increasingly authoritarian and unable to cope with large criminal enterprises. In China the Communist Party has overseen an extraordinary social and economic transformation over the last thirty years, but it is certainly not clear that it can either maintain itself indefinitely or yield gracefully to something new. The rejection of the new European constitution by French and Dutch voters last year showed a populace out of touch with its leadership. In Britain Tony Blair has singlehandedly pursued a foreign policy at odds with most of his party and public opinion--hardly a sign of a thriving democracy? But nowhere, perhaps, is democracy in worse shape than in the United States itself.

It seems amazing to me that no one wants to discuss this very much, but we are certainly at a low point politically unmatched since--strikingly--the 1920s. A totally pro-business Republican administration (albeit far less successful at the polls than Harding and Coolidge were) has relentlessly cut taxes and regulations without any thought of what this means for the future. The Democratic Party, now as then, seems unable to offer any alternative. The Republican Party itself is controlled by a juggernaut of well-0rganized minorities who most certainly do not represent the American people as a whole. In many states the Republicans are trying to cement their hold on power by making it more difficult for poor people to register or to vote. And the media seems extraordinarily unwilling to go deeply into the corruption of Washington, even though the Cunningham, Abramoff, and Enron scandals should each by rights have gotten at least ten times the ink that Whitewater or Monica Lewinsky did. To focus on our actual state, apparently, would reflect so badly on the Administration that it would open the press to the charge of trying to "get" Bush, and thus such a focus must be avoided. This is hardly the role the Founding Fathers envisioned for the free press.

When I first became aware of Strauss and Howe about twelve years ago, I was initially intellectually excited. Later, as the Republican Party began to exploit (and exacerbate) the crisis in domestic and foreign policy, I was frightened. I still am, but I am learning to see the bright side as well. All the great political achievements of the past were, in one way or another, responses to crises. Yes, it is sad that my generation has done so much to land us in the mess we are in; but getting out of it will open up unparalleled opportunities both for a few of us and for the younger generation to put things back together. The Boom generation never had the opportunity to create a new world, much as they dreamed of doing so. Their parents and grandparents had bequeathed a relatively just one to them, and their only means of distinguishing themselves, sadly, has been to tear it down. Our own children, like our parents the GIs, will have the chance to put it back together, and 20 years hence, they, like our parents around 1950, may have a great deal to be proud of. Just as oppression breeds nobility, disaster breeds greatness. Such is my hope. Of course, by then our children, too, will have children of their own whose ingratitude will one day burst forth--but that will be another story altogether, one which few of us are likely to see.