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Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

A similar era?

At long last I have acted on my intention to investigate the Gilded Age, in order to find exactly how similar politics 140 years ago were to our own. My text has been a remarkable book, Twenty Years in Congress, 1861-1881, written by a distinguished participant, James G. Blaine of Maine, who came within an ace of becoming President himself in 1884 but lost by the votes of a few thousand New Yorkers and retired to write this most interesting history. There is no substitute, I have found, for investigating an era through the eyes of a participant, and Blaine combined an eye for character with a respect for primary sources, quoting the Congressional Globe and presidential addresses at great length. My read has tended to confirm that the similarities in the two eras are rather striking, largely because both are dominated by a mixture of partisanship and corruption.

I have skipped volume I for the moment and began in the wake of the Civil War, during the Presidency of Andrew Johnson, one which bears an uncomfortable similarity in some respects to the time we are passing through now. Johnson, a poor white from East Tennessee, was one of the greatest accidents in American history. A loyal union man and a "War Democrat," as they were known, he joined Abraham Lincoln on the "Unionist" (not Republican) ticket in 1864 to appeal to loyal Democrats and the border states. Like many upcountry southerners, he hated the planter class, but it turned out that he hated the newly freed slaves more. The large Republican majority in Congress was determined to preserve the results of the war by either reducing the representation of the Southern states, or by enfranchising the freedmen. The 14th amendment was written to do the first: it did not require Negro suffrage, as it was then called, but specifically promised to reduce the Congressional representation of states so as to reflect the number of voters they enfranchised. When the southern states, supported by President Johnson, refused to ratify the amendment, the Republican Congressional majority--which grew even larger in the 1866 elections--passed its own Reconstruction plan, putting the South under military rule and insisting that the southern states enfranchise Negroes in new Constitutions before they could send representatives to Congress again. Negro suffrage, sadly, was a measure well in advance of even northern opinion, and the radicals realized by 1867 that it had to be put into the Constitution in order to impose it upon the South. This the 15th Amendment did.

Johnson's dogged resistance to these measures was fully shared by the Democratic Party, northern as well as southern. In an odd echo of what we have been through for the last three years, not a single Democrat in Congress voted for either the 14th or 15th Amendments, nor did any Democratic-controlled legislatures ratify them. Meanwhile, the Republican Congress, with good reason, did not trust Johnson to use the executive branch's powers to carry out their policies, and in 1867 they passed the Tenure of Office Act, taking advantage of a Constitutional ambiguity to make the approval of the Senate mandatory to remove, as well as to appoint, federal officers. Utterly contrary to tradition and precedent, this measure was clearly unconstitutional, but the Republicans forced it through nonetheless, and it became the basis for Johnson's impeachment when he removed Secretary of War Stanton from office. The Republicans would have done much better to have impeached him for clearly attempting to subvert the laws that they had passed, but they preferred to rest their case on a technicality instead. Blaine by the time he wrote his book clearly recognized that the impeachment was a mistake, although he had voted for it as a member of the House at the time. In the end, thanks to some courageous Republicans, Johnson was acquitted by the Senate by the narrowest of margins. The Tenure of Office act controversy now parallels the battle over President Obama's recess appointments, which the Senate used parliamentary subterfuge to try to prevent.

Partisanship dominated nearly every major issue in this period. The Democrats, many of whom had never believed in the Civil War, wanted to pay off the enormous war debt in depreciated paper currency; this the Republicans refused to do, and they made impressive progress in paying it off even under Johnson. Even the admission of new western states was now pushed or rejected on partisan grounds, because they were thought to be likely to send more Republicans to the Senate and the House. Republicans often referred to "the Democracy," as it was then called, as the party of treason (another call they have taken up again), while Democrats referred to Republicans as the party of dictatorship and racial equality. It was probably fortunate that the nation had General Grant to turn to, since he could command some bipartisan support at least in the North. We have no such figure on the horizon today.

Yet I could not help noticing that despite the equally partisan divide, the Congress functioned infinitely more efficiently than it does now. The House routinely suspended its rules to rush through legislation (this required a 2/3 vote, which the Republicans could usually, but not always, get), and the filibuster seems to have been unknown even in the Senate. Committees worked quickly and efficiently--without any staff at all. The level of oratory was incomparably higher than it is today. And one senses, in speeches on all side, an acute sense that the United States was still a relatively young democratic experiment--many of the legislators, after all, would have known in their youth men and women old enough to remember the adoption of the Constitution--and an instinctive, continual resort to the first principles of Republican government. The average legislator today would find himself intellectually overmatched, should a time machine take him back 150 years.

The real issue in this period, as in the war itself, was the question of federal authority. Having strengthened it beyond imagination to win the war, the Republicans, led by Charles Sumner in the Senate, one of the few real heroes of the era, knew they must keep it strong to complete the work of the war. Only the continued occupation of the South by federal troops, even after states were re-admitted to the Union, gave the black citizenry and white Republicans (of which there were some!) any chance of exercising their franchise and securing their lives and property. The Ku Klux Klan was, very simply, a terrorist organization dedicated to re-imposing white rule by force, something it gradually managed to do. Meanwhile, Democrats North and South, and even some dissenting Republicans, argued that the Republican majority, and, after 1869, the Grant Administration, was maintaining a wartime despotism long after the time had come to restore peace. Grant won a big electoral victory in 1868, but Blaine points out that his margin was somewhat deceptive. Both New York and New Jersey voted for Horatio Seymour, the Democratic candidate, and Grant's margins in several other Democratic states were quite small. Although Grant remained personally committed to reconstruction, he was a much weaker President than he had been a general, and his Administration's corruption so undermined the confidence of many concerned citizens that he faced a liberal Republican revolt in 1872. The liberals nominated a titan of the Republican Party, the editor Horace Greeley, and the Democrats decided they had best support him. Greeley could not win their loyalty, however, and he went down to a much worse defeat than Seymour.

Turning back for a moment to the present day, the Republicans in the last four years have treated Barack Obama in the same way their ancestors treated Andrew Johnson--and, I would suggest, for the same two reasons. First, they see him as attempting to maintain an old order which they detest--the remnants of the New Deal and the Great Society. They prefer, of course, to argue that he is trying to impose a new order, socialism, but I suspect that in their hearts they know the truth. There is some truth in this, just as Andrew Johnson and the defeated white Southerners and their Northern Democratic allies meant to restore the supremacy both of the white race and the Democratic Party. But secondly, neither set of Republicans viewed, or views, the President as legitimate. Johnson they regarded as an apostate; Obama they regard as unfit, for various reasons, to sit in the White House. Having opposed everything he did for two years, and having been rewarded with control of the House of Representatives, they are now obstructing him at every turn, and doing their best, too, to deny the Presidential appointing power by refusing to confirm his nominees, regardless of their impact upon the ability of the federal government even to function. George Will, who evidently realizes that Obama has a good chance of being re-elected, calls for four more years of total obstructionism in his last column of the year.

It has now become clear to me that the United States has enjoyed only two eras of genuine political consensus in its history: from 1800 to 1824 (although in some respects that consensus persisted into the 1830s), and from about 1941 until about 1968 (although in some respects that consensus lasted at least until the 1980s.) The earlier consensus was built around white manhood suffrage, expansion into the Northwest, and attempts to keep slavery where it was. The second was based upon the New Deal and the United States' new world role. The Civil War and Reconstruction proved that the nation could pass through one of its periodic crises without creating a real consensus or even strengthening the federal government. The executive branch did not recover from the Presidency of Johnson until Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson. There is every reason to think that those of us in our sixties will not live to see a genuine consensus established again, and that the executive will continue to grow weaker for at least the next decade.

The issue of corruption at all levels of government, combined with serious economic inequality, eventually brought about the Progressive era, more than thirty years after the end of the Civil War. We too may have to wait for decades before we set about fixing government and, perhaps, restoring some of the role it played in the economy in the middle of the twentieth century. In any case, the trends of that era were clearly not fated to continue indefinitely. We have moved into a new era, one sadly reminiscent of the Gilded Age, few of whose politicians have gone down as heroic figures.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Iraq revisited

In 2002, the Bush Administration decided to attack Iraq. No one really knows why, but I suspect that the main reason was that in their foreign policy scheme, no medium-size state with significant regional conventional forces hostile to the United States should be allowed to survive in the post-Cold War world, whether it was building WMD or not. More specifically, they wanted to remove a long-time threat to Israel, and at least some of the leaders of the Bush Administration regarded the attack on Iraq as the prelude to an attack on Iran. (I heard from good sources that both Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, the undersecretaries of State and Defense, talked freely about this.) President Bush, I think, sincerely thought that we could create a democratic Iraq that would become a model for the region. Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the whole job could be done in a matter of months, without any long-term occupation. It was no accident that the United States embarked upon this new adventure essentially at the moment when Vietnam veterans had become very rare in the senior ranks of the American military.

According to another excellent source, President Bush on the eve of the invasion had no idea of the division of Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. (Bill Kristol famously told Terri Gross that this would not pose a problem because "Iraq has always been pretty secular.") The neoconservatives, in one of the great self-deceptions of modern history, had not only talked themselves into the idea that a pro-American and pro-Israeli regime would automatically emerge when a dictator was toppled, but threw the power of the U.S. government behind anyone who promised to make it happen, like Ahmed Chalabi. As a noted here at the time, the very first election held after the invasion of Iraq exposed the reality of the situation: votes were cast almost entirely along religious lines. Civil war was already breaking out, and it became horribly violent in the middle of the decade, displacing four million mostly Sunni and Christian Iraqis, half of whom fled the country. Meanwhile the Sunnis and extreme Shi'ites mounted an insurgency against the American presence, eventually taking the lives of more than four thousand American soldiers.

By late 2006 the Pentagon was willing to give up, but George W. Bush was not. Showing sensible leadership, he not only insisted upon a new policy but found a man--General David Petraeus--who thought he could carry it out. Petraeus quieted the situation down by making an alliance with Sunni leaders in much of the country against Al Queda, while building up a mostly Shi'ite central government under Nouri Al-Maliki. Kurdistan, meanwhile, flourished under what amounted to independence. Not long before leaving office, the Bush Administration concluded an agreement that kept US troops in Iraq until 2012. The Obama Administration initially reduced our presence to 50,000 men, and then, after failing to extend that agreement further, withdrew them all.

I am not particularly surprised that relations between the Shi'ites and Sunnis are now breaking down, but I am a bit shaken that Maliki could not even allow us a decent interval before issuing an arrest warrant for the leading Sunni politician in the country on very suspect charges of terrorism. That step was immediately answered by an outbreak of bombings in Baghdad. The Kurds may now be forced to choose between the Sunnis and Shi'ites. We have already had trouble between the Kurds and the Turkish government. Meanwhile, the Iranian influence among the Shi'ites has continued to grow.

As it turns out, the destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime was an important straw in the wind. While I do not think it caused the Arab spring, Iraq now looms as the first of a large and growing number of Arab countries--including Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya--whose long-time authoritarian regimes have now fallen. Yet in each case the leading political force isn't western-style democracy, but some more or less moderate form of extremism. The Syrian regime is at least as threatened, and its fall will probably lead to another civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis. We are witnessing the second stage of a process that began around 1990: the collapse of regional orders created after the First World War and the end of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Peter Galbraith pointed out some years ago that three of the four multinational states created in the early 1920s--Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia--had now disappeared. His prediction that Iraq would do the same may yet be vindicated.

In a sense these events are part of an even larger process. From the 17th century until quite recently, western civilization was on the march. The process climaxed after 1945, when two superpowers inspired by western ideas--the United States and the Soviet Union--extended their sway over most of the world, and when there was essentially no alternative to following one or the other of their models of political and economic development. That began to change in 1979, when an Islamist regime replaced an American client in Iran. Now there seems little hope of any Middle Eastern state following a genuinely western model. Western ideas are also under attack in Israel, where theocracy threatens the state on many fronts. And, of course, they are under attack in the United States, where Republicans are trying to dismantle the legacy of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and even, in some key respects, the Enlightenment.

President Obama, whose own life has been a remarkable series of triumphs so far, made one characteristic mistake in connection with the withdrawal from Iraq, claiming that we had helped make it a democracy. So resentful were even our allies there of our presence that they could not wait a week before undermining him. The neoconservatives were already accusing him of losing Iraq by a precipitate withdrawal, ignoring, characteristically, that the government we created had simply refused to allow us to stay. These accusations will continue, but the President will do well to emulate the most underrated President of my lifetime, Gerald R. Ford, who in 1975 simply told the American people that our role in the Vietnamese drama was over as our ally fell apart. We live, as I have said many times here recently, in an era of declining governmental authority, largely because of the retreat of the Enlightenment model of a government designed to ensure its citizens' rights and improve their lot in life. That model may be preserved in certain parts of the world, but its relentless progress during the 19th and 20th centuries has been halted.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Crisis in the US

I have not had much to say about the Republican contest for President so far, in part because I find myself unable to watch more than about 15 minutes of a Republican debate. I was rather fascinated in the first one by the echoes of a Maoist party meeting. If anyone had ever said, or, worse, done anything halfway reasonable, such as Mitt Romney's introduction of universal health care, Newt Gingrich's welcoming noises towards immigrants, or Rick Perry's advocacy of mandatory HPV vaccination, they were immediately called to account for it, invited to confess their deviationism--and all did their best to take advantage of the opportunity to purge their sins and promise to do better in the future. To secure the Republican party nomination, it seems, one must now embrace numerous false propositions about our economy and society, not to mention a caricature of our President as an irresponsible socialist. The drama in the race relates to Mitt Romney's continuing inability to convince "the base" that he is their man--and the inability of any alternative candidate to sustain a boomlet. (Nate Silver now reports that Gingrich's numbers are beginning to slip.) This is one symptom of our political crisis.

A second, related one has shown up in Washington, where the Republicans in Congress can no longer think beyond political advantage and are doing their best to paralyze the government. They have stalled many presidential nominations of a quite unexceptionable character, and have even broken the much-ballyhooed agreement, reached I believe in 2007, not to filibuster nominees for federal judgeships. Now the House Republicans are trying to force the President to take a stand on the Keystone pipeline in return for extending his payroll tax cut. (On that one I have to admit that I hope they kill the deal: the payroll tax cut was a mistake and it needs to be restored as soon as possible.) I have also just noticed that the $1 trillion dollar spending bill to which they have agreed will carry the government through only until next September, the height of the election season--a recipe for further disaster. By refusing to confirm the President's choice as head of the new Consumer Protection Bureau or to fund regulatory agencies adequately, the Republicans are subverting the intentions both of the executive and of the last Congress to an unprecedented extent. Not since the last two years of the Presidency of Andrew Johnson (1867-8) has the nation seen anything similar--and that is food for more thought.

Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans differed over one of the great issues of American history: the shape of the postwar South and the fate of the freed slaves. Thad Stevens, Charles Sumner and the rest of the Radicals believed just as deeply as John Boehner and Jim DeMint that the President opposed true American values; indeed, they viewed him as ally of the recently defeated traitors. Yet they knew what they wanted: the enfranchisement of the Freedmen and a Republican-dominated South that would keep their party in office for a generation. Today's Republicans know only a mindless hatred of all government and of the bi-coastal elite that initially dominated postwar American politics. Their great plan for a new America begins and ends with lower taxes and no regulation, and they will do literally anything to advance it. An opinion piece in today's New York Times explains how the Republicans have emasculated the National Labor Relations Board and now threaten to cease its functioning altogether because they will not confirm President Obama's new nominees, leaving the board without a quorum. Like the SDS forty years ago, today's Republican legislators have no respect for existing law.

We are headed towards uncharted territory: a modern state and economy without effective government. The Obama Administration has slowed, not interrupted, the trend. Today's Times also reports that a new regulation will allow states to interpret the new health care law very flexibly, rather than requiring any particular coverage around the nation. This may be aimed at Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Supreme Court--which may emerge as a key Republican ally in years to come as well. The Republican use of 9/11, while hardly altogether insincere, was from their standpoint brilliant: they used the mobilization of the country and the exhaustion of the resources of the federal government up in a largely futile enterprise, leaving too little left to cope with the worst economic crisis in 80 years. A different Democratic President might conceivably have rallied the country around a different position after 2009, but that will never be known. The great adventure of the Enlightenment, the design of a government to assure justice and meet the needs of the people, is for the moment at an end in the United States. We shall need a new and more flexible view of history to integrate this epochal fact into our world view.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Europe and the US

Some weeks ago, I translated, posted and praised Chancellor Merkel's latest speech to the Bundestag on the crisis in the EU and the Eurozone. Weeks have passed, Merkel and Sarkoczy and trying to impose more fiscal uniformity upon the Euro zone, and now I am having second thoughts. To be sure, the Europeans are behaving more responsibly than our own politicians, and they think that they are holding themselves to a commendably high standard. I am not however so sure. The US is seriously threatened by a lack of governmental authority to do anything; Europe is threatened by possible governmental overreach. The happy medium seems to be lacking.

Germany has demonstrated admirable self-discipline for the last half century or more. The reason is clear: both Germany and the world suffered enormously during the first half of the twentieth century from the exact opposite. Both before and after reunification in 1991, the free German leadership has shown an unequaled sense of national purpose, including both political parties, business, and unions. They have kept their own fiscal house in order while focusing on production for export, and when the Euro was created the new European central bank was lodged in Frankfurt. Now, however, Merkel is staking everything on the idea that the rest of the Eurozone must be more like Germany, and this may end disastrously.

It seems to me that Germany stands in a similar relationship to the rest of the Eurozone as China stands to the US: Europe is Germany's customer, just as we are China's. To keep their industries running they hold enormous amounts of the dollars we spend on their goods. If the Germans want to keep their customers, and thus their exports, they must be willing, it seems to me, to allow the weaker countries to run current account deficits and find some way to recycle the money, as the Chinese have. Otherwise it will be necessary, as Paul Krugman has argued, to allow the weaker southern European countries to drop out of the Eurozone and return to their own freely floating currencies. Under Merkel's new plan those countries will surrender a large chunk of their sovereignty to the European Court of Justice, which will determine whether their national budgets conform to treaties. I would sympathize with any people that refused to make that sacrifice. Merkel's initiative looks all too much like Germany's and the rest of Europe's response to the Great Depression (before Hitler) to me. Germany this time doesn't have to worry about trade restrictions of foreign capital withdrawals, as it did in 1928-32, but it does have to worry about aggregate demand.

Still, the European situation remains almost inspiring in comparison to our own. To find a parallel between the relations between Congress and the President today one would have to go back to the last two years of Andrew Johnson's administration. The Republicans in both the House and the Senate remain determined not only to block any presidential legislative initiative, but essentially to make it impossible for the executive branch to function. The Senate Republicans are now preventing more and more appointments from coming to a vote. (The presidential appointment power, which the Radical Republicans tried to limit by law under Johnson, was the issue that led to Johnson's impeachment.) They are trying to put crippling restrictions on the functioning of new agencies, and they apparently want the payroll tax cut to expire on the assumption that they can blame the President. (Rising above partisanship for a moment, may I say that I hope it will expire. I said a year ago when the President proposed it that it was a terrible idea, and I still think so. But the Republicans are blocking any effective action to create jobs as well.)

The President's electoral prospects are improving daily. No one who knows Newt Gingrich thinks he can possibly survive a full general election campaign. The more we learn about him--in my case, in a wonderful interview that Terri Gross did with reporter Karen Tumulty last week--the more the contradictions in his career become apparent. He has railed against Washington cronyism while almost obsessively finding new ways to take advantage of it. Romney may overcome him, but he may be deeply damaged. The President evidently hopes to win re-election by default, and he might. What he can then do with the victory is another question altogether.

Our current crisis, to repeat, will not lead to the emergence of new totalitarian regimes in advanced countries. The era that created them is long gone. We are threatened not with too much government but with much too little. Success either in Europe or in America would offer some hope.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Ten years after

Today a colleague of mine asked me whether we really can put Afghanistan in historical perspective yet. We have, he said, a new story on Iraq--it was a mistake to go in, we botched it up initially, but starting in 2007 we managed to make it work fairly well and now we're leaving--but Afghanistan is more confusing. What did I think? It set me thinking.

The Bush Administration--as I think I pointed out in my very first post here in the fall of 2004--was never very interested in Afghanistan itself. Instead, it created the Bush dcotrine--that the Taliban, which had sheltered Al Queda, had to be brought down as well as Al Queda itself--to introduce a whole new foreign policy that would lead to the invasion and conquest of both Iraq and Iran, as well. Donald Rumsfeld also saw Afghanistan, which had no modern military forces, as a laboratory for new, capital-intensive forms of warfare. Within months, the Taliban had been swept away--but the Administration had bigger things on its mind. General Franks was already ordered to plan Iraq while the first Afghan war was in progress. And I am increasingly convinced that the Bush Administration hardly cared about Al Queda, except as an excuse, at all. They could not find and kill Osama Bin Laden in seven and a half years, while Barack Obama took only two and a half. As I understand it, Bin Laden had been in his last home for roughly the last half of the Bush Administration. I am not sure that I will live to read the full story of how we located him--it may take 30 years or more to come out.

The initial invasion of Afghanistan nonetheless drove the Taliban out, and by 2005 or so level-headed American observers, including one who used to share my office, were convinced that it was gone for good. But it was reconstituting itself in Pakistan. Barack Obama entered office while the situation was deteriorating, and he had already argued that we had neglected Afghanistan in favor of Iraq. So protecting the Karzai regime from the Taliban became his goal as well. We have cleared some key areas of Taliban for the moment--just as we cleared some areas of South Vietnam of Viet Cong in 1969-71--but whether the Afghans can build a lasting foundation there remains to be seen.

The Bush Administration was, in one sense, right: Afghanistan is a remote, poor country with almost no geopolitical significance. Perhaps after Bin Laden escaped we needed some bases there to find and kill him, but the Taliban has never had broader political ambitions. The real question at stake was the political future of the Muslim world. The Bush Administration was determined, first, to show that in the post cold war world there was no room for well-armed, medium size states that had shown a willingness to act against American interests by force. They eliminated Ba'athist Iraq but could never move on to Iran. Secondly, at least some of them, including Bush himself, thought they could start the Arab world down the path to democracy. That, now, has happened too--but with results very different from what Bush had in mind.

The Egyptian elections gave two Islamist parties, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, well over half the votes. Something similar has happened in Tunisia. The Egyptian brotherhood has announced that it opposes, for now at least, a coalition with the Salafists. But the significance of these developments remains enormous. A clash of civilizations looms on the horizon, because the momentum of western civilization has been halted, and then reversed, in the last half century. One hundred years ago there seemed to be no alternative to copying the west, even in the Muslim world. Even the alternatives to liberal democracy such as Communism and Fascism were clearly offshoots of the western rationalist tradition. Now all that is changed, changed utterly. Turkey, the big outpost of westernization in the region, has become much more religious and its long-time alliance with Israel is in tatters. The Egyptian colonels' regime that ruled for about 55 years is giving way to Muslim democracy. Hezbollah has become enormously influential in Lebanon and Hamas is probably the true representative of the Palestinians. But we should not be surprised. Western civilization has been under attack from the left and the right here in the United States. And Israel, founded as a socialist democracy, is tending more towards theocracy every year. A clash of civilizations looms because the hegemony of western civilization is now a thing of the past.

Israel was created by secularists in the wake of the Second World War, when no one imagined what a role religion would play in the lives of those not yet born. It dreamed, apparently, of a relatively secular Middle East in which it could co-exist with its neighbors. The peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and the negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1990s seemed to offer hope that this was possible--but it looks much less likely now. As the New York Times courageously reported last weekend, the settler movement now has a new goal: the ethnic cleansing of Arab neighborhoods within Israel. If Egypt and even Turkey become avowed enemies again Israel will face very serious threats--and there is also the question of the Iranian nuclear program. As an American, I am concerned that renewed conflict could draw the US into a major regional war. In my opinion, it should not.

I think that in another 50 years Afghanistan will be something of a footnote to history, rather like the anarchist movements of the first half of the twentieth century, which faded into insignificance after the advent of Communism. The 21st century equivalent of the Communist challenge will be the advent of new Islamist regimes. It may be much less serious, it may require a completely different kind of response--but it is real. The events of 1979-81--the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the Iranian revolution, and the assassination of Anwar Sadat--pointed in the direction things were going. They have a long way to go yet.