http://historyunfolding.blogspot.com/ View Blog History Unfolding: April 2007

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Preserving western civilization

There is much to discuss this week, including the leaks from George Tenet's book and General Petraeus's anything-but-optimistic statements about Iraq, but in the relatively short time I have available this morning (I'm traveling) I would like to use my broadest available brush. The story of the last four or five centuries has been the story of the spread of western European civilization, but I am becoming more and more convinced that we can save that civilization as we have known it only by assuming a more defensive posture towards the world. By "western civilization" I mean, more than anything else, a secular, rationalistic civilization, based on impartial principles and legal systems, which affirms (even if it does not always respect) the dignity of individual human beings regardless of their beliefs.

To be sure, that kind of civilization has never been as secure as we would have liked to believe. Seemingly unchallengeable 100 years ago, it promptly gave the world two disastrous global wars, but righted itself in the second half of the twentieth century. "Civilized peoples," Clausewitz wrote almost two hundred years ago, are ruled by reason, and barbarians by passion, but those, we can now see, were ideal types, and we need no reminding today of the role that passions play in our own politics, dominated as they are by the crassest appeals to feelings about patriotism, religion, and sex. Still, we inherited from the eighteenth century principles and ideals that have served us well in trying to make a fairer and better world. Our own Founding Fathers realized that slavery, for instance, stood in complete contradiction to their principles, but 80 years later slavery was in fact abolished. One hundred years after that, black Americans actually received full civil rights.

Meanwhile, Europe extended its rule over most of the globe, but Europe never ruled a large part of the Muslim world, and after 1945 direct imperialist rule retreated. Still, we believed in the second half of the twentieth century that the rest of the world would follow the western path, and even Communist nations were following an essentially western, rationalist ideology. Now all that, it seems to me, has been exposed as in illusion.

One critical sign of this comes this morning from Turkey, where Parliament is in crisis over the election of a new President. The leading candidate comes from the Islamic Party, which is the governing party today, but which has been held in check by Turkey's secular traditions and by the Turkish Army. Thanks to its founder Kemal Ataturk, Turkey has of course been a uniquely modern Muslim nation for 85 years now--a nation with full rights for women, in which everyone must contract civil marriages. The scholar Bernard Lewis, who gave the Bush Administration key advice before the Iraq War, argued in effect that this was proof that the Muslim world could modernize. But Turkey's exception has had no real imitators, and Ataturk's achievements are severely threatened. It seems less and less likely that Turkey will join the EU now, signalling a halt to the advance of western civilization for some time to come.

Another related sign of trouble is the crisis over American missile defense bases in Europe, which has led Russia to denounce the Conventional Forces Treaty, one of the great achievements of the post-cold war era, and which is also dividing the US from the rest of NATO. Here, as in Iraq, American irrationalism is to blame. The deployment of missile defense in Czechoslovakia and Poland is irrational from several perspectives--the threat which it claims to meet does not yet exist, the denunciation of the ABM treaty was a huge step backward for arms control, and our missile defense system has never been shown to work. But missile defense has been a conservative Republican shibboleth since Ronald Reagan proposed it in 1983, and Rumsfeld, Cheney and President Bush were all determined to get it in place regardless of the consequences. They have made it very clear how little they care for the solidarity of the western industrialized world, the great achievement of their parents' generation, and the one which can save us from a renewal of the intra-industrial conflicts of the first half of the twentieth century.

Indeed, their whole foreign policy has defied rationality from the beginning. The invasion of Iraq exemplified the principle that President Bush so loves to denounce: "If it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame some one else." It is no accident that the Administration had to intimidate or ignore the national security bureaucracy to fight the war it wanted--bureaucracy is based upon rationality, and thus the State, CIA and even much of the military understood that the costs of this war would almost surely outweigh the benefits. Even now the President remains convinced that the world has to conform to his wishes. Today's Times also includes a report of a White House meeting in January (it would have been nice to hear about it then) in which the President claimed to have told Prime Minister Maliki, "this [the surge] has to work or you're out"--a remarkable statement, one might think, to make to the leader of a foreign government. When a legislator asked why the President was so sure that this new tactic would work, he replied, "Because it has to." But now, General Petraeus has both admitted that Maliki cannot make the political deals we believe to be necessary and made it clear that we can expect no dramatic results by next fall. What we can expect, to judge from this month, is an increase in American casualties, as American forces set up outposts in hostile neighborhoods without having been able to create any real pro-American political base.

It is true that military power helped spread western ideas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but I do not believe that this is possible any longer. Armed forces have shrunk drastically in relation to world population--a good thing, in my opinion--and cannot occupy foreign lands for decades or centuries. We shall have to drop the insane idea that the best way to fight terrorism is to conquer and transform large parts of the Muslim world. The whole Administration approach to the war on terror contradicts one of Clausewitz's fundamental principles of strategy--that defense is strategically stronger than offense, partly because the defensive power is far more likely to secure the sympathy and help of third parties. Rationalism, meanwhile, is under attack in the United States as well. We must restore more of it at home before we try to spread it abroad, even if only by example.

Readers will have seen, I think, how discouraged I have been in recent years by the eclipse of so many of the achievements of our parents' and grandparents' generation. Like any good westerner, I grew up believing that progress was continuous and inevitable, and that is a painful illusion to let go. Yet the reality may be in a way more inspiring. We are still fighting the battles that Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and FDR fought before us, because, human nature being what it is, every victory is only provisional. That is why the "end of history" was so illusory. We are once again facing the same conflicts between reason and emotion, secularism and religion, greed and ambition on the one hand the impulse towards a more just equality on the other. We are once again compelled to play for great stakes, and our ancestors have left us all the tools we need to do battle. We can certainly do better than this.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Whither Maliki?

Today's post will be speculative, but two data points over the last few days lead me to suggest that Prime Minister Maliki's government is about to fall.

The second item, appearing today in USA Today, quotes numerous Iraqi politicians to the effect that Maliki has failed to pass any critical legislation or carry out national reconciliation and that he therefore has to go. It also quotes Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman at the National Security Council, that the Bush Administration has confidence" in Maliki--just as it does, of course, in Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz.

But the first item was in a way more interesting, coming as it did in Dana Perino's press briefing yesterday, when she made a remarkable statement about conditions in Iraq:
"We all want the Iraqis to move faster, to do more and to do it faster, in terms of their political reconciliations. But they're just not ready to do it yet."

I find it hard to believe that Perino made that statement off the cuff. It is a most unusual admission that things are not developing as we had hoped. To be sure, the surge--like the decision to bomb North Vietnam and deploy Marines in February-March 1965--has always been based on the need to change the behavior of our client government. (When the Johnson Administration adopted the war plan in early December 1964, bombing and deployments were supposed to await improvements in the South Vietnamese government, but by January Administration officials were concluding that only bombing would give the South Vietnamese the necessary encouragement to make these improvements. The same rationale was used for the surge.) Robert Gates, meanwhile, made various threatening statements towards the Iraqi government in Baghdad, and may be returning with a recommendation for a change of leadership. Time will tell.

In all the talk about the maneuvering in Washington over Iraq appropriations, I have yet to see the most obvious Democratic alternative proposed. After a veto, fund the war for another year from today, but announce that Congress simply won't fund the war at anything like the current level after that. News stories still constantly ignore that Congress, as well as the President, must act affirmatively to continue the war. The default option in the absence of agreement between the two branches is no war, not war. I believe that in the end Congress will be driven to this.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A few more comments

Several people have been talking lately about improvements in Anbar province, where American casualties are down. (They are up in Baghdad, and way up in Diyala, which is why they are up overall.) My Williamstown neighbor Marc Lynch has discussed the continuing conflict between Al-Queda and Iraqi tribes in that region on abuaardvark.com. Just now I discovered this post on Gary Trudeau's Sandbox blog, to which soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan contribute. It's a very interesting piece and I'm going to reproduce it below.

THE WINDS OF AL-ANBAR
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 4/17/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url: acutepolitics.blogspot.com

The intra-Sunni fighting in Al-Anbar province is continuing, and the violence is rising. I'll try my hand at laying out some of the recent events, and explain a little bit of how the various elements you may hear about in the news are related. I've distilled a fair bit of material from Bill Roggio, other sources, and personal knowledge. I don't have a lot of time, so this will probably be sloppy and fairly unedited.

Since the start of the year, Al-Qaeda In Iraq has attempted 11 chlorine VBIEDs, nine in Al-Anbar, one in Tadji, and one in Baghdad. Of those, nine have detonated with varying degrees of success, and two were found and disabled in Ramadi. The most recent attacks were this morning, in downtown Falluja, outside the government center. Iraqi troops engaged two trucks just after 0630, causing both to explode just short of the base.

Taken together, the string of chlorine bombings have killed 32 Iraqis and wounded over 600, most of them civilians. One U.S. soldier was wounded in an attack on an Iraqi Police checkpoint, as well as possibly more today in Falluja. These attacks have overwhelmingly been targeted towards Iraqi forces, and the leaders and people of the tribes who have begun to oppose Al-Qaeda In Iraq.

There are thirty-one major tribes in the Al-Anbar province. Of those thirty-one, twenty-five support the Anbar Awakening effort of the Anbar Salvation Council -- the social and political gathering of sheiks and former insurgents who oppose terroism in Al-Anbar. Of the six remaining tribes, the Iraqi government, Coalition Forces and the Anbar Salvation Council are attempting to split two off from the Al-Qaeda umbrella organization, Islamic State of Iraq. Those two tribes are the Al-bu Issa and the Al-Zuba'a. Both have started to fight against Al-Qaeda, and are beginning to pay for it dearly. One chlorine bomb detonated in the Al-bu Issa region of Falluja, as I wrote before, injuring 250 civilians.

Thahir al-Dari is the sheik of the Al-Zuba'a tribe. His son, Harith Dhaher al-Dari was a military leader in the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades. The 1920 Revolutionary Brigades is a nationalist Sunni insurgent group that was formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Earlier this year, the group began to split -- one splinter wanted to remain with Al-Qaeda, and the other wanted a break because of disagreements over methods and goals (including issues such as Al-Qaeda's frequent targeting of civilians). Since the rift began, members of the 1920's Brigades have been working with the Anbar Salvation Council (including fighting Al-Qaeda in defense of one of the council leaders), and reportedly engaging in talks with the government and coalition forces. Harith al-Dari was killed by Al-Qaeda fighters near Abu Ghraib yesterday, along with a bodyguard.

His father, the sheik, narrowly escaped. Salam al-Zuba'a is one of the deputy prime ministers of Iraq, from the Al-Zuba'a tribe. He narrowly escaped being assassinated in a car bomb attack on his mosque on March 23rd. The chief suspect in the bombing is one of his bodyguards -- accused of being a member of an insurgent group friendly to Al-Qaeda and opposed to the Anbar Salvation Council.

Two years ago, Sheikh Osama al-Jadaan tried to gather other tribes together to stand against Al-Qaeda. He was swiftly killed, and the leadership of the other tribes was dismantled. Al-Qaeda then filled the vacuum, and the insurgency became stronger. Al-Qaeda has tried at least four times to kill senior leaders of the Anbar Salvation Council with bombs or all-out assault, and has killed several leaders of insurgent groups that show signs of willingness to work with the Anbar Salvation Council or the Iraqi government. This time around, though, the situation is far more favorable to the sheiks than it was two years ago. First, the U.S. military has finally begun to work with the tribes in a realistic fashion, paving the way for tribal militias to supplement the Iraqi Forces. Secondly, the Iraqi Forces themselves are far more numerous and better equipped than they were two years ago.

I'll go out on a little bit of a limb and say that the insurgency is quickly approaching a tipping point. If things continue as they are right now, our military won't need a surge to chase the terrorists out of Anbar -- the citizens will do it for us, which is as it should be. It's beginning to show already: more local tips, more police recruits (far more than anticipated) -- and sadly, in bigger and more desperate Al-Qaeda attacks.

At this point, a reconciled insurgent is better than a captured one, and a captured one is better than a dead one. That is a hard fact for the military to accept. We are quickly approaching the point at which more and more soldiers and Marines will be asked to support men who fought with and sometimes killed their brothers-in-arms. That is not an easy thing to do, even in the aftermath of a conventional war, and it is far more difficult when fighting an insurgency. However, it is absolutely necessary. We will be asked to fight the strategy of our enemy rather than his fleeting fighters. We will have to defeat Al-Qaeda's attempts to disrupt and derail the efforts of the population to end the violence. We will have to spend more time away from our big, safe bases, and more time getting to know the local leaders -- the leaders that can tell their men to join the Iraqi forces and forsake the insurgency. We will spend more time with their people -- the people that have known the insurgents since they were children. The people that form an intelligence net far more effective than ours will ever be, if they trust us enough to share it.

It's a big job, but I think we may have finally learned enough forgotten lessons from places like East Timor, Vietnam, Ireland, Malaysia, and others that it just might work this time.

Color me hopeful.




Last point: Robert Gates was quoted in Iraq to the effect that the level of American forces would depend upon the degree of progress made. It wasn't clear to me whether that meant troops would be withdrawn if there was progress, or if there wasn't. But he did say we would not indefinitely patrol Iraqi streets. Gates, I think, understands that the Army and Marines simply have to have a a withdrawal soon--just as Melvin Laird did in 1969-70.

On another front, on Thursday I caught some interesting questioning of Alberto Gonzales by my own new Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (back in my home state to which I shall be returning in about two months. ) I didn't see any reference to it in the major media, but John Dean, bless his heart, picked it up. To wit:

In a premise to a question for Gonzales, Senator Whitehouse said he had found correspondence in the files of the Senate Judiciary Committee from the days when Orrin Hatch was chairman relating to an investigation of the relationship between the Clinton White House and the Justice Department (under Attorney General Janet Reno). Hatch was concerned about the independence of the Department of Justice, so he wanted to know who in the White House could speak with whom in the Justice Department. The correspondence showed that four people in the White House (the President, Vice President, chief of staff, and White House counsel) could speak with three people in the Justice Department (the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney and the Associate Attorney General) - period.

Senator Whitehouse discovered - and created a chart to make the point - that in the Bush White House, a shocking 417 people could speak with 30 different people in the Justice Department. It was a jaw-dropper. As Chairman Leahy said, when he asked Senator Whitehouse to continue when his time expired, in his thirty years on the Judiciary Committee, he had never seen anything like the open contacts from the White House to the Justice Department that had occurred in the Bush Administration.

Gonzales really had no response when asked about this subject. But this information shows that, in this Administration, the Department of Justice has become a mere political appendage of the White House. (I have a number of friends who are career professionals at the Department of Justice, and since Gonzales arrived, they have said that morale at the department has tanked, for they all feel the politicization of the place, and they do not like it. Many of these gifted, experienced professionals are leaving, which will hurt the Department, the government, and ultimately all of us.)

Meanwhile, Gonzales told Senators repeatedly that when they attacked the conduct of prosecutions they were attacking the career personnel!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Division--for its own sake

Some weeks ago, in a piece about Clausewitz, I observed that war is a highly emotional enterprise. It can hardly be otherwise—it combines the drama of a sporting event with real questions of life and death. This war is no exception. As it goes on and on, eclipsing one by one the length of most American wars of the past (only the American Revolution and Vietnam, now, were longer), emotion grows. As Richard Nixon realized, only a decrease in our involvement can begin to reduce it. That may however be a contributing element in President Bush’s decision to escalate rather than to follow the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission and scale back our objectives. Karl Rove remains one of the most powerful men in this Administration, and Rove believes in a politics of emotion, confrontation, and, frankly, hatred. Prolonging the war encourages that kind of politics—at a terrible cost to the quality of our public debate, our social cohesion, and, potentially, the military’s relationship to the rest of society.

As I read several years ago, Rove differs from political strategists of the past, who wanted to add moderate swing voters to a more ideological base. He is driven by an obsession with finding new wedge issues that people care enough to vote about. That is why gay marriage seemed like such a godsend in 2004—it frightened people in Ohio or Florida enough to change their votes. Other key wedge issues, of course, are gun control and abortion. And another one, as Germans learned to their everlasting regret during the twentieth century, is patriotism. Incredibly, the Administration seems determined to turn the most disastrous decision for war in American history into a political asset by making support for it a test for good Americanism. Certainly it has succeeded to the extent that Americans who should know better, like John McCain, have picked up this tactic as well.

Two days ago Harry Reid stated that the war in Iraq has been lost. That statement was courageous and, measured against our original objectives, undeniably truthful. We wanted to create a pluralistic Iraq dominated by a relatively secular and educated middle class; instead we have let loose a ghastly civil war, and about two million of the people upon whom we counted have fled the country and are most unlikely ever to return. The refugee flow may in turn de-stabilize Jordan, the vast majority of whose population is now made up of Palestinian refugees on the one hand Iraqi ones on the other. The government of Prime Minister Al-Maliki is trying to balance its Shi’ite constituency, much of which wants to fight the civil war to victory and exclude Sunnis from power, and the United States, which favors the opposite policy. (His position is similar, though even more precarious, to that of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, whom we laud as an ally in the war on terror even as Osama Bin Laden lives safely within his territory.) Maliki’s balancing act, however, seems to have collapsed, as evidenced by the withdrawal from his coalition of Moqtar Al-Sadr’s party, which—like the majority of the US Congress—wants a timetable for American withdrawal. Meanwhile, a high Cabinet officer (Robert Gates) is in Baghdad once again pressing Maliki to do the same things he has refused to do again and again. This is a humiliating posture for a nation that prides itself on being a world leader.

The LA Times today has also published a truly extraordinary piece of news—that in Baghdad, engineers from the 82nd Airborne are building a huge fence around a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad to wall it off from its Shi'ite neighbors. As early as the summer of 2003 I remarked to a friend that the United States in Iraq had apparently acquired its very own West Bank. Little did I know how apt the analogy would turn out to be. It would seem, although we do not know, that American military authorities, under enormous pressure to reduce casualties in Baghdad (rather like Israeli authorities a few years ago faced with dozens of suicide bombings), have decided that nothing less would work. But this strategy makes a mockery, of course, of our stated goals. “The Iraqi government has a lot of work to do to convince skeptical nations that they are going to be a pluralistic society,” President Bush said yesterday, and somehow, the American decision to construct a wall does not seem likely to help. Meanwhile, Sunnis and Shi’ites on both sides of the wall hate the idea! Could this news be a turning point that finally forces us to recognize that some kind of partition is inevitable and should be encouraged in order to reduce the attendant loss of life? Some kind of federalism was advocated two nights ago on Jon Stewart by Ali Allawi, an extraordinarily impressive Iraqi and former member of the government who has written a book on the occupation and who said frankly that for the moment, the idea of a single Iraqi national identity is moribund.

But meanwhile, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wails that Senator Reid’s statement will demoralize the troops. Although I am not in touch with anyone in Iraq, I am not so sure; some may be angry, but others, I suspect, will grimly shake their heads and express gratitude that some one has a clue about the reality of the situation. McConnell, like the President, is making belief in their false version of reality a test of patriotism. We should believe in the war, they say, to make the troops feel better—not because it is working. They are frankly and desperately appealing to the worst in the American people—a raw and bitter nationalism that insists that American traitors are responsible for every setback abroad. Only their refusal to cut back the effort in Iraq, as the Pentagon, the Baker-Hamilton Commission, the new Congress and the American people all wanted to do, is making this possible. To this we must add the President’s firm belief, also repeated yesterday, that his refusal to change his “principles” simply because the vast majority of the American people rejects his policies is somehow noble.

So far at least this is not working. Polls show that a large majority of Americans have lost faith in the war, and that the American presence in Iraq is opposed by the bulk of both Americans and Iraqis. But this tactic, pursued, now, by a minority party and a President whose approval rating is around 30%, is terribly disturbing nonetheless. Together with other wedge issues, it threatens to create a divide among Americans more serious, perhaps, that anything we have seen since the civil war era—and to enlist the support of the American military on the side of the minority. I do not think that will work. While the American military contains far more Republicans than the politicians at large, very few of them are ideologues. Many of the military's senior officers have become skeptical about this war for the same reason that most of them had to become skeptical about Vietnam--the damage it is doing to their own institution. But ithis tactic leaves the next few Presidents with the task of trying to make us a nation once again, after eight years of a clever campaign, waged from inside the White House, to divide us for political gain.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

January 20, 2009

I have remarked more than once here that critics of the Administration must not fall into the trap of indulging in criticism for its own sake. Proving ourselves right is not enough; we need action, and action now. I am in no position to put the nation on a new course, but I can imagine how that might be done. My computer informs me that I began working on what follows almost two months ago, and I have finally managed to finish it. It is a draft--nothing more--of a speech on the United States and the world which a new President might give in a little less than two years--my own attempt at giving us another way of looking at the world and our place in it. May I take the liberty of urging my approximately 1000 loyal readers a week to circulate it as widely as possible. In addition, I hereby renounce any rights to the use of this text. For any candidate or President actually to use any of it would be a far greater reward than anything else I could imagine.

My fellow Americans,

I take office this month at a difficult moment in our history. For the whole second half of the twentieth century, the government of the United States proudly led the world’s democracies under both Republicans and Democrats. We enjoyed unrivalled power and enormous prestige thanks to our part in the victory over Germany, Italy and Japan in the Second World War, and our ensuing work to limit the spread of Communism during the Cold War. We were not, to be sure, universally beloved, nor invariably wise. Like every great nation, we were tempted by hubris, and like every other, we occasionally succumbed, with serious results. At certain times we would have done better to listen to our friends and to take a calmer attitude towards some of our enemies; but on the whole, for more than five decades, we played a vital and constructive role in the world.

Seven years ago, on September 11, we were shocked by the most extraordinary terrorist attack in the history of the world. Some response was obviously necessary, and the nation briefly pulled together. Unfortunately, in dealing with this new threat, we forgot many of our principles and lost our way. Today, we shall begin once again to find it and to restore the esteem of the world community that formerly was such a source of pride.

The United States, while certainly eager during the nineteenth century to expand its territory on the North American continent, sought for nearly the first century and one-half of its history to remain aloof from the quarrels of other continents. We entered the First World War in 1917 only after two years of desperate attempts both to preserve our neutrality and to convince the warring nations to make peace. When we did enter the war, President Wilson did so on behalf of impartial principles: the freedom of the seas, the lowering of economic barriers, the self-determination of all peoples, the conclusion of a peace of equals, and the gradual erosion of empires. That was why the American people supported him—and ironically, many well-meaning Americans chose to reject the peace treaty he negotiated in Paris because they viewed it as a betrayal of his own ideals. For the next twenty years the United States stood for international economic cooperation, the observance of treaties, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, in a noble attempt to help build a more civilized world. We can be proud of that attempt as well.

Our dream of peace faded, of course, in the face of Japanese aggression in Asia and German aggression in Europe. When war broke out in Europe again in 1939, we hoped that France and Britain would defeat Nazi Germany. But when France fell in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt realized that Great Britain was truly threatened, and that Britain’s fall would endanger the western hemisphere and the United States itself. When Germany, Italy and Japan joined in a worldwide alliance later that year he recognized it as a worldwide threat to democracy. Roosevelt did not yet know when, or even if, the United States would go to war, but he wisely began an extraordinary rearmament program in 1940 that paid remarkable dividends a few years later. Meanwhile, during 1941, he defined the principles for which the United States would fight if war came and issued them in the Atlantic Charter, a joint declaration with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. That document, issued in August 1941, became the basis of our war aims after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German and Italian declarations of war on the United States.

We must revisit the Atlantic Charter today because Roosevelt so wisely defined the needs and aspirations of the United States. The Charter renounced territorial aggrandizement, pledged the United States to “the destruction of the Nazi tyranny,” and called for an international effort to secure economic rights. It looked forward to the formation of some new international organization—as it turned out, the United Nations. But most importantly of all, Churchill and Roosevelt pledged to “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.” They did not promise democracy to all nations, much less pledge to impose it at gunpoint. They declared the right of all nations to choose their own domestic institutions, provided only that they were willing to live in peace with the rest of the world. That, in a world far more dangerous than today’s, was all Roosevelt thought the United States needed, or could achieve, then. Today we declare that that is all that the United States needs now, 68 years later.

Roosevelt also understood that he must fight the war with the tools—military, political and diplomatic—which fate provided him. If only an alliance with the Soviet Union could defeat Nazi Germany, he was more than wiling not only to make, but to nurture it. He made agreements with Stalin for a larger purpose—to win the war. And while some inevitably consequences of the Allied victory disappointed us deeply—such as the imposition of Communism in Eastern Europe—Roosevelt bequeathed to his children’s and grandchildren’s generation a far, far more peaceful second half of the twentieth century than they had known in the first. For 45 years the United States competed with the Soviet Union on many fronts. Both sides suffered political gains and losses in various parts of the word, both became involved—sometimes unwisely—in distant military conflicts, and both built huge nuclear arsenals. But neither, we now know, ever wanted war with the other, and despite our ideological differences, and despite some frightening moments in 1950, in 1961-2, and in 1982, war never came.

This Administration shall take a leaf from Franklin Roosevelt’s book and return to the practice of maintaining relations and doing business with any government that is willing to live in peace with us. We shall attempt to end our many decades of diplomatic isolation from nations like North Korea, Cuba, and Iran—not because Americans approve of their regimes, but because we accept those regimes as the products of the history of those nations, and because we believe we can more easily spread our values through contact rather than confrontation. The case of Cuba is particularly painful. During the whole of the twentieth century our destinies, our cultures, and our peoples were intimately linked, but we also suffered a tragic estrangement that has done a great deal of harm to both sides. It has gone on too long, and we now hope to end it—to enable our peoples once again to vacation in each other’s lands, to reunite families, and to join more freely, and perhaps in new ways, in the great national game which we have in common.

In 1963, another great President, John F. Kennedy, decided that the time had come to give our relations with our enemies a new tone in the hope of establishing a lasting peace. The United States at that time faced a heavily armed Soviet Union that had just attempted to place new nuclear weapons less than 100 miles from our shores, and a far more hostile and aggressive Communist regime in China that was on the point of developing nuclear weapons. Yet President Kennedy had enough confidence in the United States to assess these threats realistically and to call for a less confrontational atmosphere. He said:

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 and in acts of courage.”

In the same speech, he anticipated the kind of delusion that has, sadly, crippled our foreign policy in recent years.

“Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace--based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions--on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace--no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process--a way of solving problems.”

The impact of 9/11 has also skewed our view of the map of the world. We are losing sight of the great achievements of the last seventy years—the creation of a broad alliance of industrial and democratic powers, followed by the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the extraordinary evolution of China, India, and other Asian nations into increasingly modern states. For the time being these changes have removed the dangers that nearly destroyed civilization in the first half of the twentieth century, the threat of wars among advanced industrial nations. Meanwhile, the role of military power in the world has shrunk drastically. Today our military as a proportion of our population is less than 5% of its size at the end of the Second World War, about 20% of its size during the Vietnam War, and less than half its size in the latter stages of the Cold War. The militaries of other nations have shrunk proportionally. Nor is this all. Most of that alliance remains committed to the international rule of law, the universal observance of human rights, and the renunciation of military force except in self-defense. Sadly, the outgoing Administration here in the United States, for the first time in American history, turned its back upon those principles to pursue, unilaterally, its own extreme vision of the world. We shall now return to the more inspiring and more useful role that history calls upon us to play—the leader of the movement to make the world more civilized.

Much of the Muslim world remains in turmoil and stands at a crossroads. Many of its people are divided by ethnic and sectarian strife and by different visions of their future. The problem of the relationship between traditional and fundamentalist Islam on the one hand and modern industrial civilization on the other has not been solved. Today let me say one thing clearly: the United States cannot solve that problem and shall not attempt to. Only the peoples of the nations involved can decide how they will live and what they will believe, and we shall respect their choices provided only that they are willing to live in peace with us. We are through imposing our vision of democracy or our vision of Islam upon them, and they must be full partners in regulating our economic relations. If political changes in that region ever force us to seek new solutions to our energy problems, we shall do so. The United States has never been a country that needed to rule foreign lands to ensure its prosperity or survival, and we have no desire to become such a country in the twentieth century.

Nuclear weapons, which we Americans first created more than sixty years ago in order to win the war that shaped the direction of modern civilization from that day to this, remain a threat. In the wake of the Second World War, when those weapons had been used in combat for the first and, let us hope, the last time, the Americans who had built them immediately realized the humanity had only one truly sane option: to bring them under international control and to eliminate them. Sadly, we could not make that proposal come true then, but we remained officially committed to general nuclear disarmament. In 1963 most of the nations of the world took a great step forward by banning atmospheric tests. In 1969 they took a far bigger step forward by signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That treaty, we must remember, had many provisions. Non-nuclear signatories pledged never to acquire nuclear weapons—and nuclear signatories pledged to make a good faith effort to get rid of theirs. At the end of the Cold War the United States and the nations of the former Soviet Union took major steps in that direction, but progress has now halted. We want to resume it.

The government of the United States stands ready, together with other nuclear and non-nuclear powers, to work for both the reduction and the elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. In sixty years these weapons of proven themselves as useless in organized warfare if only because of the risk of retaliation, but they would serve the purpose of enraged extremists only too well. We can, and we will, do much more to secure existing stockpiles of weapons and fissionable material to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, but that is only a first step. We must actively pursue the dream of another American President, Ronald Reagan—to rid the earth of these weapons. To design an effective regime to do so will challenge us all, and some will declare it to be impossible—but can it really be more difficult than reaching the moon, building new worldwide systems of transportation and communication, wiping out entire diseases, or building those weapons in the first place? I do not believe so. The goal may be distant; it may never entirely be reached. But the alternative of taking upon ourselves the responsibility to keep nuclear weapons out of dangerous hands has proven unworkable and destructive to world order. It is alien to all our best traditions, and the new Administration will try to solve this problem on a new basis.

The new direction I am announcing today will, I know, not find favor among all our fellow citizens. They will argue that it is naïve, even dangerous. They will say once again that in a dangerous world, only the unrestrained exercise of American power can defend us. They will argue that international law and international agreements provide no real safeguards for ourselves or anyone else. They will say that we have abandoned the goal of spreading democracy. None of this is true.

It is true that we are not on the verge of a peaceful utopia such as that which has fired so many imaginations over the millennia. We can never wipe out conflict or anarchy in the world. But that does not mean that we must surrender the goal of a world ruled by law, peopled by nations with different traditions and values but living together in peace. Only by keeping our eyes on that goal can we come closer to it. To abandon it and rely only on force—as, sadly, our own government has been threatening to do for eight years—is the ultimate counsel of despair. We return to day to a more hopeful policy—but also to a far more effective one.

What lies ahead for the Islamic world and for our relations with it, we cannot tell. We must note that for several hundred years, from the fifteenth century through the eighteenth, Christian Europe lived in intermittent, deadly conflict with an armed, hostile Muslim empire on its doorstep—but these were years of great progress for western civilization nonetheless. Our future does not, in short, depend on what happens within the Muslim world. Yet we certainly do not believe that we must live in an endless state of hostility with the region, nor do we despair that it may evolve in ways that will bring us closer together. We shall however allow the peoples of that region to decide for themselves, so long as they allow us and our allies to live in peace and help build a world ruled by law. To make progress towards that dream, we must do our part as well. Within six months the United States will close its detention centers at Guantanamo or elsewhere. At that time, all prisoners held there will either be charged with crimes under the civil or military laws of the United States as they existed on January 20, 2001, or returned to their country of origin. And the great writ of habeas corpus, which has never been legally suspended, shall be restored in full vigor within the territory of the United States and its overseas possessions.

In 1826, on the eve of his death, Thomas Jefferson meditated on the future significance of the great document he had drafted fifty years before, the Declaration of Independence. Here is what he said as he regretted his inability, for reasons of health, to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the signing of that great document in Washington, D.C.

“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

This remains our hope—but while continuing to anticipate the gradual spread of our principles, we must renounce the foolish attempt to impose them by force, while turning to the equally great task of re-invigorating them at home. As Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt all understood, democracy requires periodic renewal to thrive—and we have never needed such a renewal more than we do now. Ultimately the key to our influence in the world lies in the restoration of our traditions at home. We shall undertake that great work as well, while assuring the world around us that we are returning to our best traditions abroad.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Words Don't Kill

I have been awfully hard on my own generation here, and I do not want to leave a false impression: we did change some parts of American life for the better. Unfortunately, now that we are old and powerful, we have renounced many of our principles. In the 1960s we insisted, in effect, that words did not kill, and young people--especially young women--took pride in breaking every linguistic taboo. First movies, and then eventually cable television, suddenly featured characters who talked like real people. But fearing for our own children, apparently, many Boomers did a 180 in adulthood. Suddenly the staff of movie theaters began strictly enforcing the rules relating to R-rated movies. Suddenly the FCC began fining tv shows for infractions of the rules. Suddenly even the characters in Sex adn the City began having sex with their underwear on. A week or two ago I heard an interview with Ken Burns about his forthcoming documentary on the Second World War. In the script, the narrator discusses two famous GI acronyms--SNAFU ("Situation Normal, All Fucked Up"), and FUBAR ("Fucked Up Beyond all Recognition.") He plans to keep the full versions in the script, but the FCC will not tell him, or anyone else, in advance, whether it will fine the stations the broadcast the show. Pathetic.

Nowhere, of course, has our sensitivity increased more dramatically than with respect to race--and in the last 24 hours I have seen two spectacular examples. Two nights ago Jon Stewart broadcast (or rebroadcast) a feature by John Oliver and and Larry Wilmore about Leroy Comrie, a middle-aged New York city councilman who wants officially to ban the use of the word "nigger." (I'm sorry if anyone is offended, but I'm going to follow the lead of Randall Kennedy, Bob Herbert, and Oliver and Wilmore and refuse to observe the taboo.) Wilmore (who is black) and Oliver (who is white) did a series of interviews with people of the opposite race to highlight the absurdity of all this, culminating with Oliver asking a bright young black man whether he used the word. "Oh, yes!" he said, smiling. "But you won't use it now?" asked Oliver? "No--we're on TV!" he said. (I predict great things for the young man.) As for Comrie, their interview with him, I can only say, proved that he is one dumb city councilman--especially for having agreed to do the interview in the first place. (Anyone can watch the whole feature online.

Now let me make it clear that I'm a firm believer in "equal opportunity offense"--it's perfectly all right to point out that certain groups have hilarious taboos, as long as you are willing to do the same for everyone--including your own. Coincidentally I read the following column in my local paper this morning, and I can only do it justice by reprinting it in its entirety for non-commercial use only (a shame, really, since it's an excellent cure for depression.) I got a kick out of noticing that the author and I are apparently exactly the same age. I also plan to read his book.

He isn't an anti-Semite. He's right

Micheal Ray Richardson said Jews are 'crafty' and adept at security. Correct on both counts.
By Zev Chafets
ZEV CHAFETS is the author of "A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists and One Man's Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance."

April 3, 2007

UNTIL LAST week, Micheal Ray Richardson (that's how he spells it) was slightly famous for having once told a sportswriter that his team, the New York Knicks, was "a sinking ship." When the writer asked how far the ship might sink, Richardson replied, "The sky's the limit."

That remark, however, wasn't what got Richardson into trouble; repeated drug use did. He wound up banned from the NBA, a vagabond basketball player in Europe. Lately he has been making a comeback as coach of the Albany Patroons in the Continental Basketball Assn.

But the comeback hit the skids on Wednesday. Once again, sportswriters were involved. Asked about his contract negotiations, Richardson said he didn't expect problems because "I've got big-time lawyers. Big-time Jew lawyers."

Alarmed, the reporters warned Richardson that his words could be considered insulting because they fit the stereotype of Jews as crafty and shrewd.

Richardson didn't even blink. "Are you kidding me?" he demanded. "They've got the best security system in the world. Have you ever been to an airport in Tel Aviv? They're real crafty. Listen, they are hated all over the world, so they've got to be crafty. They got a lot of power in this world, you know what I mean? Which I think is great. I don't think there's nothing wrong with it. If you look in most professional sports, they're run by Jewish people. If you look at a lot of most successful corporations and stuff, more businesses, they're run by Jewish [sic]. It's not a knock, but they are some crafty people."

For these observations, Richardson was suspended by the Patroons, forbidden by team owner Ben Fernandez to even attend practice. Predictably, Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, praised this punishment and demanded an apology: "Micheal Ray needs to understand that when he suggests that all Jews are crafty, that Jews have a lot of money and power, he is conjuring up classic anti-Semitic stereotypes…. We hope that Micheal Ray will realize the pain his words have caused to many people and make clear that he understands why his remarks about Jews were so inappropriate and offensive."

Excuse me, but Richardson didn't say anything offensive (and while we're on the subject of offensive, what's with the "Micheal Ray"? Are he and Foxman first-name buddies?).

In fact, Jews, as a people, are smart, in my experience. And they're proud of it (especially the dumb ones). Wake up a Jew in the middle of the night and he can rattle off the Jewish Nobel Prize winners in alphabetical order. Believe me, I've been a Jew for 59 years, and I know what I'm talking about.

What other hurtful things did Richardson supposedly say? That Israel has the best airport security in the world? This is both true and something Israel itself brags about. That Jews are hated and need to protect themselves? That's the founding premise of the Anti-Defamation League itself.

Sure, Richardson exaggerates when he says that Jews own most sports teams. As far as I can tell, Jews (about 1% of the population) only own about half the teams in the NBA (and a pretty fair proportion in baseball and football too). So what?

As to the observation that Jews run a lot of successful businesses, no kidding. Jews are very likely the most economically successful ethnic group in the U.S. What's the matter with that?

Richardson, who was a popular player in Israel during his NBA exile years, is guilty of nothing more than free speech. Even if his observations were wrong — which they are not — there's nothing at all insulting about them. What is insulting is the notion that you can't speak honestly about Jews without getting into trouble.

At the moment, Jews have real enemies in the world: Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the mullahs of Iran, to name a few. You want to fight anti-Semites, fight them. END

Wars and crises have historically done more than anything else to integrate Americans, to make them forget about racial and ethnic differences for a while, and to challenge various kinds of taboos--both linguistic and sexual. All this strikes me as more evidence that, sad to say, we need one.




Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Truth is in the Details

To say that I am not a postmodernist would be putting it mildly, but postmodernism—the idea that reality is merely “constructed” by human agency, usually by those who enjoy either political or economic power—is addressing a real problem. (Difficulties arise, as in university humanities departments or the current White House, when people treat it as a solution.) The Bush Administration’s surge isn’t working and virtually every independent observer believes that it won’t, but it has become the “story.” (The Congress deserves credit for refusing to be impressed and insisting upon discussing an early withdrawal of our troops.) Yet several times a week, specific stories from Iraq confirm the truth: that nothing the United States is doing or has done has affected the course of events there very much.

Let me begin with the events last weekend and last week in Tal Afar. Tal Afar became a byword for American success after Colonel H. R. McMaster’s Third Armored Cavalry employed new tactics there during 2005. McMaster, according to numerous stories, stationed his troops among the population, insisted upon a respectful attitude towards Iraqis, and tried to bring local political groups together. All this garnered enormous publicity, and googling “’Tal Afar’ AND McMaster” now returns more than 20,000 hits. But after reading George Packer’s article on the subject last spring, I noted that the actual meeting of Iraqi leaders that Packer attended was not very encouraging. “The other and perhaps even worse news in Packer’s article,” I wrote, “came from his descriptions of the political meetings McMaster held. They showed no trust whatever between Shi’ites and Sunnis, and no political basis for the united Iraq that we want,” I wrote. Unfortunately it seems that Packer conveyed an accurate impression.

Last week, a series of massive truck bombs killed well over 100 Shi’ites in Tal Afar and destroyed as many as 100 homes. That obviously showed that the Sunni insurgency was still well entrenched there. The sequel, however, was worse. Shi’ites described in the first press reports as off-duty policemen went on a rampage and killed about 50 Sunnis at random. These policemen were not treating the insurgents as exceptional, but as representative, of their Sunni population. The elections upon which we insisted in Iraq created a Shi’ite government that the Sunnis do not trust, and that does not trust the Sunnis. That is why the civil war continues to get worse, not better, and why government forces, for the most part, seem to be involved in it. Neither Colonel McMaster, Ambassador Khalizad (now on his way to the UN), or any other American has been able to do anything about this, and I doubt that General Petraeus will be able to either.

An even more depressing story appeared last week in the LA Times, concerning the utter devastation during the last five years of the Iraqi middle class. The death toll among professionals is bad enough, including “more than 200 Iraqi academics, 110 physicians and 76 journalists.” Far more serious are the nearly two million Iraqi refugees, most of them now in Syria and Jordan, who include so many of the wealthier or better-educated Iraqis. Not long ago, a fellow blogger with some credentials as an Arabist remarked to me in an email that her respect of regimes like Nasser’s Egypt and the Ba’athists in Iraq had increased lately. For all their numerous faults and their abysmal human rights record, such regimes had unusual success—for a while—in creating a middle class and beginning to bring their nations into the modern world. They have not, however, been able to endure for more than half a century (Egypt’s is now teetering on the brink), and their replacements will undo much of that progress. After centuries of Ottoman rule (which now also look like a golden age), the Middle East in 1922 gave way to Franco-British hegemony, and then after 1945 to Arab authoritarianism. Now fundamentalism has taken the lead, and the United States drastically accelerated that process by invading Iraq.

And then, most relevant of all to the new American strategy was a New York Times story on Friday about a Sunni woman living in Baghdad. The Times headline writers seem to be on a mission to diminish the impact of bad news about the Bush Administration. About two weeks ago (I can’t find the story), the Times headline declared that the President had criticized the handling of the firing of certain federal prosecutors. Actually he had merely criticized its presentation to the Congress. The headline on Friday’s story strikes mea s rather pathetic: “Iraqi Widow Saves her Home, but Victory is Brief.” Last Tuesday some Shi’ite militiamen came to evict a Sunni widow and her seven children from a previously mixed area. The Times reporter quoted an American officer to the effect that such evictions are on the rise again. The widow did what the American authorities, presumably, would have wanted her to do: she asked the coalition for help, and a mixed force of US and Kurdish (not Sunni or Shi’ite!) forces arrived, surrounded her block, and arrested her tormentors. The next day, walking to the market, she was shot dead. Calling on the Americans worked about as well as calling the police to protest about intimidation from gang members in a poor urban area of the U.S. would, and for the same reason. The Shi’ite militias (and, elsewhere, the Sunni terrorists) have a constant, permanent presence in Iraq neighborhoods. The Americans and Kurds do not, and never will, largely because there are not nearly enough of them. The use of Kurdish troops for the surge—like the decision I noted last week to hire Jordanians, instead of Iraqis, to work in the Green Zone—illustrates the basic dilemma we face: there is no really significant pro-American force now among either Sunnis or Shi’ites. Any individual who works for Americans is at grave risk and fewer and fewer are willing to do so.

I have repeatedly advocated some kind of partition of Iraq here but I am beginning to doubt that even a peaceful partition is possible. While I have no actual primary sources on this question, it seems that the Shi’ite leadership—led by Moqtar Al-Sadr, who has now called for American withdrawal—isn’t interested in confining its rule to the southern part of the country anymore, but dreams of ruling over the Sunnis as well. There may be no way to avoid a long civil war—but that does not mean that American troops should remain, fighting a hopelessly undermanned campaign, in effect, against both political factions. Meanwhile, a new crisis is brewing over Kurdistan. The Turkish government is threatening to invade it to wipe out Kurdish terrorists which it claims are operating among Turkey’s large Kurdish minority. The effects of the invasion of Iraq will be disastrous for years to come. I do not, however, believe that they will include the establishment of Al Queda bases there. The Sunnis need help from Al Queda now, but they have no long-term interest in sponsoring a state within their state. The role of foreign fighters in the conflict has been exaggerated from the beginning and I suspect that it will diminish when the US withdraws.

The week’s biggest mystery concerns the British sailors in Iranian custody, whom I suspect—I do not know—are being held in an attempt to ransom the Iranian diplomats that the United States detained in Iraq. President Bush declared yesterday that he would not let them go (just as President Reagan declared that he would not release a Soviet spy to secure the release by Soviet authorities of Nicholas Daniloff, only to reverse himself after a few weeks.) Senator James Webb last month introduced legislation to explicitly deny the President authority to make war on Iran without Congressional approval. In his speech doing so, he quoted the President’s “signing statement” issued when the Congress in 2002 authorized war with Iraq. Webb said:

"In signing the 2002 Iraq resolution, the President denied that the Congress has the power to affect his decisions when it comes to the use of our military. He shrugged off this resolution, stating that on the question of the threat posed by Iraq, his views and those of the Congress merely happened to be the same. He characterized the resolution as simply a gesture of additional support, rather than as having any legitimate authority. He stated, "my signing this resolution does not constitute any change in ... the President's constitutional authority to use force to deter, prevent, or respond to aggression or other threats to U.S. interests..."

Webb explained that he has asked both the State and Defense Departments for clarification of this point without receiving a clear answer. In an article in the current New York Review of Books, George Soros writes that AIPAC, among other pressure groups, stopped the House leadership from inserting a provision such as Webb was asking for in recent legislation. If true, that is an appalling fact.


Stereo 411