Mount Greylock Books LLC has published my autobiography as an historian, A Life in History. Long-time readers who want to find out how th...
Thursday, December 28, 2006
People continue to leave comments that either expect a response or expect me to recognize them. I must remind you all that everything you say comes to me as anonymous. Unless you actually do idenify yourself or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I won't be able to comment or reply.
Happy New Year!
Sunday, December 24, 2006
It has been my good fortune to have begun life in a family obsessed with news, and then to have become a professional historian. One wondered, in the 1960s and 1970s, what the real story was about Vietnam, Watergate, the Kennedy Assassination, the Nixon pardon, and much more, and now, little by little, we can find out. At the same time, one must face a somewhat painful paradox: by the time the truth comes out, few people care about it, and if the topic (such as
The climax of the
The split between the two men is the theme of some brief excerpts from newly published documents in today’s Week in Review. The whole new volume of Foreign Relations of the United States on US-Soviet relations is available on line at state.gov, and I am going to quote longer excerpts with expletives undeleted. (Oddly, the Times, like the editors of Nixon’s own presidential transcripts in 1974, makes his language look worse than it was by making certain deletions.)
Nixon. . .If you turn it too much—There’s no greater pleasure frankly that I would have than to leave this office to anybody after having destroyed
Kissinger: Connally would do it without your finesse though.
Nixon: Well, Agnew, Agnew would—
Kissinger: Agnew. Well, Agnew would have a—Agnew would be in a worse position than Johnson was.
Nixon: But you know what I mean. The point is, as you know, considering electability, I’m the only person who can do it. Now, Henry, we must not miss this chance. We’re going to do it. I’m going to destroy the goddamn country, believe me, I mean destroy it if necessary. And let me say, even the nuclear weapon if necessary. It isn’t necessary.
But, you know, what I mean is, that shows you the extent to which I’m willing to go. By a nuclear weapon, I mean that we will bomb the living bejeezus out of
[Omitted here is discussion of domestic opposition to bombing in
Nixon: So, all we really need out of this at the present time is enough momentum, enough of this situation where it appears, frankly where we go forward with the Soviet summit because that’s a big plus for us and where we cool Vietnam enough through the summer that after November we can kill them. Make any kind of a promise at all that we’ll do everything to get it past November and then do it. I don’t care whether it’s a year, 8 months, 6 months, whatever the case is.
Kissinger: The only problem is—
Nixon: You see what I’m getting at. Now within that context, however, let me say that if we cannot get that kind of situation, if there is a risk that somebody else will be here after November who will sell out the country, then, by God, I’ll do it. I’ll throw, I’m willing to throw myself on the sword. We are not going to let this country be defeated by this little shit-ass country.
Kissinger: We shall not—
Nixon: It’s not going to happen.
Kissinger: We’ll never have these guys more scared than now.
Nixon: You think so?
Kissinger: The Russians. In November, you’ll be in a good position too, but I agree with you in principle.
Nixon: I see.
Kissinger: My judgment, what we ought to get out of this, if we can get the offensive stopped, Mr. President, if we can get back to the levels of March 29th say—
Kissinger: —before this started—
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: —get talks started which the Soviets guarantee, have the Soviets engaged—
Nixon: Right. All right.
Kissinger: —then we will have won this—
Nixon: Then, yes, talks are started—But now wait a minute. Talks are started but are we, but we’re going to insist that they be held back over the DMZ?
Nixon: They won’t do that. But, on the other hand, on the other hand, that’s what you’ve got to insist on. I think we’ve got to get that, they get back from the DMZ and so forth. What I’m getting at—
Kissinger: You see, but—
Nixon: But it mustn’t appear that we gave up the bombing for talks. That’s the thing.
Kissinger: That’s right.
Nixon: If we give up bombing for talks, we do what Johnson did.
Kissinger: No, no, but Mr. President, we will continue bombing during the talks. That’s the difference. Now I believe, Mr. President, if the Soviets deliver this package that the North Vietnamese will settle during the summit. They’ll settle because they will have to figure, having thrown their Sunday punch and having been in effect not supported
by the Chinese, not supported by the Russians, in fact squeezed by the Russians, and bombed by us. Why would they be better off next year at this time than this year?
Kissinger: Therefore I would bet, if we can get this—
Nixon: They misjudge American public opinion.
Kissinger: Mr. President.
Nixon: You don’t see these people—
Kissinger: No, no. But I will bet that American public opinion—If on Monday night, if everything works well, you can announce this trip, what are the goddamn peaceniks in this country going to say? That a week after, and the talks start again while we are bombing, what are they going to say about bombing then?
Nixon, obviously, plans to compel the North Vietnamese to withdraw from
Dr. Kissinger: I haven’t yet either. [The Vietnamese] are a heroic people but not a wise people. They are sometimes more afraid of being deceived than of being defeated. They are not prepared to leave anything to history. I know they believe that in 1954 they were deceived by the settlement at
We have two principal objectives. One is to bring about an honorable withdrawal of all our forces; secondly, to put a time interval between our withdrawal and the political process which would then start. We are prepared to let the real balance of forces in
the future of
In recent years several similar conversations between Kissinger and Soviet and Chinese diplomats have come to light, in which he indicates that the United States will let events in Vietnam take their course once we have withdrawn—in other words, in which he confirms that his goal was in fact a “decent interval.” Last winter at the JFK Library, Warren Kimball presented a conversation between Nixon and Kissinger later in 1972 in which Kissinger again discussed an eventual South Vietnamese collapse and suggested that the
When Nixon finally discussed
Nixon: Our position now is very forthcoming. We believe it is fair. As a matter of fact, the General Secretary in his conversations with Dr. Kissinger in his visit a few weeks ago suggested the consideration of a ceasefire. All we ask now is a return of and an accounting for our
prisoners of war and a ceasefire. Once that is agreed to, we will withdraw all Americans within four months and cease military actions. We cannot go any further than that. Nothing further is negotiable on that point.
We could talk at great length about the wisdom of the American position in
end to what is the only major international issue which clouds relations between the
There cannot be an ultimatum to us to impose on the South Vietnamese a government the North Vietnamese cannot impose by themselves. If the North Vietnamese are unwilling to end the war that way [by negotiations], 6 then I will do whatever I must to bring the war to an end.
Anything we do we will have in mind our desire not to exacerbate the relations between us. To this end we rejected the idea of a blockade which would have involved Soviet ships. During this meeting, for example, we stopped bombing the
Let me be very frank. I am aware of the fact that the
to negotiate reasonably. But up to this point, looking at the evidence, I would have to say we have run into a blank wall on the negotiations front. So the situation is one where we have to continue our military actions until we get some assurance that going back to the negotiating table would produce some negotiating progress. If we can get that, then we might reconsider our present policy.
Let me conclude that I don’t suggest the
Soviet friends disagree with me, but I know they’d want me to express myself very frankly and I have. . . .
Like President Bush, President Nixon insisted that because our course of action was right, we must, with sufficient will, be able to make it work. But he could not.
The second revelation in today’s Times is on the front page and concerns the life of Sigmund Freud. During the 1980s one of my colleagues at Carnegie Mellon was a Freud scholar named Richard Schoenwald, who kept us up to date on Freudian developments. I remember him showing us an article by another scholar, John Swales, arguing that Freud had had an affair with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays, who never married and lived with the Freud family. His evidence came indirectly from Carl Jung, Freud’s friend and, later, rival, who had spoken frankly with Minna during a visit to the family. Jung said that Minna “was very much bothered by her relationship with Freud and felt guilty about it. . . .From her I learned that Freud was in love with her and that their relationship was indeed very intimate.” I firmly believe that a historian has to be willing to face up to the implications of a single piece of evidence, and I remember remarking that in post-Victorian Vienna, “very intimate” could mean only one thing. Today’s Times confirms it: Another scholar, Franz Maciejewski, has discovered a hotel register in which Freud signed for Minna and himself as man and wife.
That those in high positions conceal the truth, or that brilliant thinkers and politicians are not moral paragons, are two of the simplest lessons of history, yet powerful taboos make the battle to establish them an eternal one. Only a small minority of Americans will ever understand the truth about Nixon and Kissinger and Freud’s secret has been zealously defended by Freudians who should have known better for at least half a century. The market for truth remains a specialty market and a particularly remunerative one, but working in it, for me at least, has unique satisfactions.
Happy holidays to all.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
It is a rather extraordinary record of how things have gone completely to hell over the last year. Just to list a few key findings, all based on comparisons of November 2006 and November 2005:
Civilian fatalities have more than doubled; muti-fatality bombings have increased more than 50%, to more than two every day; despite American boasts of heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy, the insurgency is estimated to have grown by 25%, to 25,000; the size of Shi'ite militias has more than doubled, although the number of foreign fighters has hardly increased at all. The biggest impacts are on the civilian population. 450,000 Iraqis have had to move within Iraq during the last year, making a total of 650,000; refugees leaving the country have doubled in the last year, reaching 1.8 million; and 1,250 new doctors have been killed or kidnapped (for a total of 2,250), and 7,000 have left the country (for a total of 12,000) in the last twelve months. Oil production is stable, but the fuel situation of the average household is much worse. In the most chilling statistic, "technically proficient" Iraqi security forces are estimated to have increased from 35,000 to 115,000 over the last year, but "politically dependable" security forces have gone from just 5,000 to 10,000. Those figures suggest that we are training the fighters in the civil war that has obviously engulfed Iraq.
On the same page appears an article by Thomas Friedman about the nature of Middle Eastern politics. I have been very critical of Friedman in the past, mainly for always being so right even when he is totatally reversing what he said earlier, but it's a basic principle of mine not to let anything stand in the way of acknowledging an insightful piece. This one has to be read in its entirety, but the most striking and provocative statement holds that Arab politicians, unlike their western counterparts, tell the truth in public but lie in private. Certainly there is nothing in his article to contradict the argument I made over the weekend. Here is the link:
It's available for subscribers only but will probably pop up somewhere on the net within a day or two.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Today's story traces the proposal to Vice President Cheney's office, calling it the "Darwin option," that is, choosing survival of the fittest. The author, Helene Cooper, carefully avoids actually attributing it to the Vice President himself. As I noted in my review of State of Denial, Cheney is obviously the Hillary Clinton of this Administration--the one person everyone is truly afraid of--and no one would tell Cooper on the record that he is backing this course, but that is the clear implication. In one ray of hope, Cooper mentions that a few Administration officials have figured out that Iraq is almost certain to break up and wants to prepare for good relations with the new Kurdish and Shi'ite states. In another counsel of despair, the story concludes by saying that some Adminstraton officials are quite willing to unleash a regional civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis because the Sunnis--up until now our allies--are more numerous overall, albeit a miority in Iraq, and thus will eventually win. Apparently the cure for playing god is playing god some more.
An early Washington Post story on all this claimed that the pro-Shi'ite option came from the State Department, and specifically from Phil Zelikow, who has now left office. That seemed weird then, and today's story says that Condolezza Rice is on the other side, pushing for the "Hadley option," reconciliation between "moderate" Shi'ites and "moderate" Sunnis to outflank both the insurgency and Moqtar Al-Sadr. That certainly is the way that President Bush is talking, and seems more like "staying the course," but which way we will go seems to be an open question.
As I am convinced that some kind of partition is the only option for Iraq I am going to regard the glass as about 10% full because there still are Administration officials brave enough to defy Tony Snow ("Partition. . .is a non-starter") and endorse it. But they probably will not prevail. It makes sense that Cheney would side with the Shi'ites; he believes in nothing but power, and they have it. And while their victory would favor Iran in the short run, he hopes to attack Iran, too, and solve that problem. See the longer post from yesterday, below.
The Times story can be read at:
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Between 1941 and 1945 the
That, of course, was not all. In
The "loss" of
Now comes the turn of the
Table 1.1: Opinion of the
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There, in a nutshell, are the results of the Bush Administration's policies in the region--the reduction of pro-American sentiment from low to virtually non-existent. As Zogby explains in his analysis of his figures, our policies in
The Baker-Hamilton Commission, it seems to me, was trying to make this point with some of its recommendations, but they clearly are going to be discarded. In addition, the polling data suggests that things have now gone too far to be reversed. (Some of the deterioration in our position, incidentally, is directly related to the consequences of invading
Even now more Americans than not, I am afraid, subscribe to the illusion of American omnipotence. This week's New Yorker features another long article by George Packer, the author of The Assassin's Gate, which I reviewed here on
Boomers, frankly, still don't understand how the United States secured its position of world leadership: by helping to win a huge war, maintaining a large military, and setting up a vast network of alliances to defend against a common enemy. Democracy and capitalism were part of the mix, but probably less important, ultimately, than our concrete achievements from 1940 through 1955 or so. Now we still have democracy and capitalism (although neither one is providing as appealing an example to the world as it did in years past), but our military is much smaller in manpower terms and we have allowed our alliances to decay. Nowhere is it written that the United States must rule the world, benevolently or otherwise--but many of us can't seem to face that.
Let us try to grow up. Although the Bush Administration has massively accelerated the process, it did not lose the
Saturday, December 09, 2006
See the much longer post on the Baker-Hamilton report, below.
Discussing the Silent generation that produced the Baker-Hamilton report, I thought I was emphasizing their good points: their commitment to the political order under which they grew up, their respect for data, and their willingness to work together. A comment complained that I had not given enough credit to Dr. Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles for their contributions to American life. Actually I’m inclined to think that we have somewhat overvalued Dr. King’s contribution to civil rights in comparison to older leaders like Walter White, Roy Wilkins, and Thurgood Marshall, whose legislative/legal strategies got the civil rights movement about 75% of the way to full equality. Direct non-violent action got us the last 25%, but it did not, sadly, have such a lasting legacy. As for Elvis and the Beatles, the cultural and social contributions of Silents and Boomers, important as they truly were, only took place, and could only take place, against the background of the relatively stable society our parents and grandparents had put together. It was stable enough to survive our rebellious youth, but it is not surviving Boomers in power.
That paragraph, however, is a digression from the business at hand, a look at the Baker-Hamilton report. And alas, it shows the Silents at their best and worst. While it shows some respect for critical facts, it also refuses to draw the obvious conclusions those facts warrant. Despite the commission’s bipartisan character, it looks more than anything else like a public salvo in a generational family fight among Republicans, with older realists facing off against younger neoconservatives. And perhaps because its members—led by Baker himself—would never have been dumb enough to conquer Iraq in the first place, it essentially finesses the issue of what to do there by proposing what is either yet another optimistic fantasy, or an option for disguised withdrawal. In my opinion, within five years at the very most, some one is going to have to acknowledge that the
The arrangement of the report itself is something of a giveaway. After a good but paradoxical analysis of the situation on the ground in
We all have trouble recognizing that time has passed us by. (In my case, as I remarked to a friend the other day, it is hard to shake the fantasy that American universities still include a parallel universe of history departments in which the kind of work I do, focusing on the kinds of questions I discuss here, is still taken seriously.) The world was a kinder place for James Baker in the 1980s and early 1990s, when he was on top of the world, and he would like to restore those glory days. But they are gone, destroyed, literally, by a younger generation. Abandoning even-handedness, the Bush Administration has adopted the Israeli position (stated a couple of years ago by
And thus, the Baker-Hamilton report focuses on returning to previous policies towards the established Arab states, and towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regarding the latter, the recommendations, as some conservatives immediately pointed out, contain an obvious, pointed dig at Israel and its neoconservative supporters in the United States: They called for “Sustainable negotiations leading to a final peace settlement along the lines of President Bush’s two-state solution, which would address the key final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the end of conflict.” The reference to the “right of return,” which allows Jews from anywhere in the world to settle in Israel while denying the same right to Palestinian refugees, is unprecedented, and touches one of the most powerful nerves in Israel and in the pro-Israeli lobby in the US. As Jimmy Carter has been pointing out since the publication of his new book, a real taboo prevents much discussion of these issues in public here in the US, but they are obviously heatedly discussed in the upper reaches of the establishment in Washington from which the commission came. To be fair, however, these recommendations are, for the moment, impossible. The Commission also says that only Palestinians who recognize
And what about
Here the paradox of the report is painful and obvious. The Commission must have heard from many who believe that some kind of partition of
One core issue is federalism. The Iraqi Constitution, which created a largely autonomous
The Sunnis did not actively participate in the constitution-drafting process, and acceded to entering the government only on the condition that the constitution be amended. In September, the parliament agreed to initiate a constitutional review commission slated to complete its work within one year; it delayed considering the question of forming a federalized region in southern
Another key unresolved issue is the future of
Iraq’s leaders often claim that they do not want a division of the country, but we found that key Shia and Kurdish leaders have little commitment to national reconciliation. One prominent Shia leader told us pointedly that the current government has the support of 80 percent of the population, notably excluding Sunni Arabs. Kurds have fought for independence for decades, and when our Study Group visited Iraq, the leader of the Kurdish region ordered the lowering of Iraqi flags and the raising of Kurdish flags. One senior American general commented that the Iraqis “still do not know what kind of country they want to have.” Yet many of
I do not see how anyone can read those paragraphs and conclude that
Or did it? The commission report has quite a bit in common with another famous document from another war, the McNamara-Taylor report of October 1963. The Vietnam War at that point was going very badly, but official
Like the Germans in 1917 or the Japanese in 1941, we are trapped, for the moment, by our commitment to unrealistic expectations. Somehow we must come out of this with a strengthened position in the
The Silent generation, once again, believes in process, and many pages of the commission’s report make suggestions for re-organizing the American effort in
Near the end of the report, however, the Commission struck a blow for the truth. I quote:
In addition, there is significant underreporting of the violence in
Certainly that is true. One of the first Silents to have a significant impact within the American government was the late Sam Adams, a CIA analyst who insisted in 1967 that it was wrong to undercount the
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
According to the generational scheme worked out by my friends William Strauss and Neil Howe, the Silent generation is the only American generation never to have produced a president. This is only half true; while technically from the GI generation, Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) was still at the Naval Academy when the Second World War came to an end, and therefore missed the defining experience of his elders, combat, and his approach to governing was more characteristic of the younger generation. John McCain, moreover, has every intention of correcting that omission in 2008. But in 1993, after rejecting Silents Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, we jumped directly from GI George Bush to Boomer Bill Clinton. A year later Boomers became the most numerous generation in Congress, and Washington hasn't been the same since.
The defining moment for Silents was their childhood, lived out in the shadow of the Second World War. Because they had to look after their worried parents, they became empathizers, mediators, and conciliators. Because they did not get the opportunity to help solve a worldwide conflict through force of arms, they preferred more intellectual approaches to problems, and tried to avoid nasty confrontations. They were young adults during the 1950s, and although many of them (especially women) abandoned the social mores of that era in the late 1960s and 1970s--their divorce rates were the highest of any generation, and they had by far the most divorces with children still in the house--they retain a commitment to the political consensus of that era. Confronted with a problem like the Vietnam War, they generally began not by questioning its moral rectitude, but by pointing out that it was not working and trying to fix it. They could not, however, get their GI elders to listen to them.
The bipartisan Presidential commission is a quintessentially Silent institution, devoted to the idea that calm. unideological study will eventually yield the right solution to a problem. Silents are good at crossing party lines, and two of them, Phil Gramm and Warren Rudman, actually made a big dent in the federal deficit in the late 1980s. Silents (or *Silents like Jimmy Carter) are also excellent diplomats, and James Baker, who settled the civil war in El Salvador, successfully promoted the reunification of Germany, and put together the coalition against Iraq, was a s good as any. They also have a sense of how fragile success can be, and Baker, Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney (in an earlier incarnation) wisely decided not to go to Baghdad in 1991. Baker and company find themselves in the ironic position of trying to end a war that they never would have begun in the first place.
Boomers, on the other hand--at least those who have come to dominate the political arena--care about only two things: being on the right side, and preserving the myth of their own omniscience. Silent Paul O'Neill was driven out of the Bush Administration because he wanted actually to understand the nuts and bolts of economic problems instead of staying "relentlessly on message," as Boomer Karen Hughes told him to do Colin Powell, another Silent, was simply ignored by President Bush and his fellow Boomers. (No theory can explain all human behavior, and Donald Rumsfeld is hardly a typical Silent--he strikes me, like the young Clint Eastwood, as a would-be GI, determined to show he can out-John Wayne John Wayne, yet oddly Boomer-like in his inability to take responsibility for any mistakes.) I have said more than enough about my own generation's catastrophic impact to have to go into it any further today.
The first Silent Presidential candidate was Robert Kennedy, and it is not coincidental that, in early 1968, he tried to solve the Vietnam problem in the same way that Hamilton and Baker are trying to deal with Iraq. Essentially, RFK told LBJ that he would not run against him for President (which, as an Establishment figure, he had grave reservations about doing) if Johnson would appoint an independent commission and accept its recommendations about Vietnam. LBJ refused. Kennedy's campaign, interrupted by his assassination, was very Silent in nature. While he deplored the impact of the Vietnam War, he never promised to end it--indeed, during his campaign against Eugene McCarthy, who frankly favored a coalition government, he promised to "clean up" the Saigon government, a hardy perennial if ever there was one. He preached reconciliation and peace, coming across, as my son put it two weeks ago after seeing the film Bobby, like the "American Gandhi." (Incidentally, I enormously enjoyed the film as an excellent portrait of a particular moment in American history, and I am sorry it isn't doing better.)
The recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission, alas, are virtually certain to suffer the fate of the Crittenden compromise of 1860-1. John Crittenden belonged to the Compromiser generation. Born in 1787, just a few years after Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, he made a last-ditch effort to compromise the split between the North and South and prevent the Civil War during "the great secession winter," as Henry Adams called it, by enshrining the principles of the Missouri and California compromises in the Constitution. But younger men in both the North and South would have none of it. Baker and his cohort worked hard during the last thirty years or so to live with the Middle East as it was, and maintained an American foothold there despite rising fundamentalism and anti-Americanism. Bush and company have swept all that away. They have no interest in restoring it, and it is not clear if they could. There is no going back to the 1980s and 1990s. The future, for the time being, belongs to the Boomers, and since the Bush Administration's vision has failed, we must come up with something completely different.
Friday, December 01, 2006
According to Wright's story today, the White House policy review team actually was coalescing around this vision as of last weekend, and Hadley's leak was therefore in the nature of a rearguard action. (As noted below, a "senior intelligence official" had discussed this option with the White House earlier this week.) (The Wright story is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/30/AR2006113001710_pf.html .) Hadley's memo apparently induced Maliki to delay his trip to Jordan for a day to make a point. It also may well have precipitated Moqtar Al-Sadr's boycott of the government and parliament, which was announced hours after the memo was published. But President Bush's warm endorsement of Maliki as the right man for the job, and Maliki's offer to take over security within six months, suggests to me that Secretary Rice favors the pro-Shi'ite option and that the President is being won over to it. (Hadley's statement to reporters today that the White House is not in a panic and sees no need to make an immediate decision on policy also suggests that he is hoping to get the new course rejected with the help of the Baghdad Embassy, the US miltary in Baghdad, and, perhaps, Secretary Robert Gates.)
We seem, in short, quite close to a decision to back the Shi'ites. President Bush's rhetoric suggests that he would accept this decision, since he has consistently blamed all the sectarian violence on Sunni extremists and on Al-Queda rather than the long-standing sectarian divisions of which he was not even aware as recently as early 2002. We are indeed at a turning point in Iraq, but the question is not between staying or going, but between trying to bring the three ethnic groups together on the one hand, or allowing a war against the Sunnis to proceed on the other. The latter course, I think, will be catastrophic for the United States's image in the region, and it would be far better to work for the most peaceful partition possible--but that option has repeatedly been ruled out, most recently by President Bush himself. The Administration wants to be able to tell the American people that it has won in Iraq, and backing the strongest two out of three factions--"the 80% solution," some policy-makers call it--may appeal to it as a way to do so.