ashthomas//blog: July 2004


Saturday, July 31, 2004

The National Interest Summer 2004

The latest issue of the National Interest is a treasure trove of fascinating foreign policy analysis. Niall Ferguson writes on "Recovering Our Nerve", in which he identifies seven mistakes that the United States has made with regard to Iraq:
  1. In planning for a war to topple Saddam, Secretary of Defense Rumfeld did a brilliant job. But in planning for the peace that would follow, he did a dreadful job. ...

  2. In arguing that Saddam Hussein definitely possessed weapons of mass destruction, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Chief George Tenet and ultimately George W. Bush himself—to say nothing of Prime Minister Tony Blair—did us all a disservice. It would have been perfectly sufficient to have argued that, after all his obfuscations, it was impossible to be sure whether or not Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. …

  3. Diplomacy can proceed on more than one track, but the tracks need to run in the same direction. With respect to the role of the United Nations, the Bush Administration went down two completely opposing tracks. One (Cheney’s) was to regard the UN as irrelevant. The other (Powell’s) was to regard it as indispensable. One or other of the policies might have been successful. But a hybrid was bound to fail. …

  4. It was probably unwise to flout the Geneva Convention at Guantanamo Bay; it was certainly fatal to indicate to military prison warders that it could be flouted in Iraq as well. …

  5. It was a mistake to set a June 30 deadline for the handover of power to an Iraqi government. The moment that deadline was set, the incentives for ordinary Iraqis to collaborate with the CPA became much weaker. …

  6. It was a blunder not to let the Marines finish off the Ba’athi rump at Fallujah.

  7. It was madness to execute a volte face and call in the United Nations in the belief that it might help to legitimatise the handover of sovereignty.

He identifies the root of these problems as an example of "a failure to learn from history" as he notes that "among the most obvious lessons of the history of modern imperialism is the lesson that an empire cannot rule by coercion alone."

This is certainly the major source of difference between neoconservatives - there are those who might be more accurately called liberal imperialists, who wish to use the power gap that exists in the United States’ favour in order to redirect the course of many nations, especially those in the Middle East away from tyranny towards democracy, through a process of liberal imperialism. This entails a period of liberal authoritarianism in which a culture is convinced of the worth of Western values. Liberal democracy is the ultimate goal, but a period of imperial management is necessary, possibly lasting decades.

The other wing of neoconsersativism may be called militarist nationalism, which seeks to defend an often broad definition of national interest through the frequent use of military force. This is the dominant wing in the Bush administration, which focussed on the invasion of Iraq and not on details of the post-invasion occupation and reconstruction.

Although John Lewis Gaddis was critical of Ferguson’s Colossus, discussed earlier, from a reading of another essay in the National Interest, they share many of the same ideas. Harvey Sicherman, in “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone”, reviews Gaddis’s Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Gaddis, in distinguishing three distinct periods of US foreign policy, argues for a form of neoconservatism that is less arrogant:

He asserts that, after the 1814 disaster, John Q. [Adams] developed what Gaddis terms a pre-emptive, unilateral and hegemonic foreign policy--although limited to the Western Hemisphere, given America's very modest military power. George W. [Bush] is pursuing a variation of Adams' biggest achievement, the Monroe Doctrine, on a global rather than hemispheric scale.

He continues on by discussing "Roosevelt's post-Pearl Harbor blending of Wilson and his cousin Theodore, he of soft speech and big stick fame", leading to this conclusion:

Gaddis wants Bush to exercise hegemony the Roosevelt way, clothed in the disguise of coalitions and international organizations, the (sound) theory being that leaders of inferior powers still like to be asked and consulted.

Sicherman’s review is worth reading in full as a discussion of the various directions that US foreign policy is being pulled. The other books that he discusses include Owen Harries’ Benign or Imperial?, Richard A. Clarke’s Against All Enemies, Walter Russell Mead’s Power, Terror, Peace, and War, and David Frum and Richard Perle’s An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terrorism.

All the books, save Frum and Perle’s, recommend a variation of liberal imperialism that encourages proactive involvement in the world’s affairs with an emphasis on reconstruction and liberalisation, as well as coalition building.

It is this final point, on the question of unilateralism as the norm rather than a last resort, is discussed by Francis Fukuyama’s essay in the same issue of the National Interest.

Fukuyama’s “The Neoconservative Moment” argues for a softer form of neoconservatism. Much of the essay deals with making a case against the dominant strain of neoconservatism as personified by Charles Krauthammer. An example of militarist nationalism, Krauthammer and his colleagues were vocal in favour of the invasion, and over-confident as to how the post-war period would proceed. Fukuyama writes:

As the war in Iraq turns from triumphant liberation to grinding insurgency, other voices--either traditional realists like Brent Scowcroft, nationalist-isolationists like Patrick Buchanan, or liberal internationalists like John Kerry--will step forward as authoritative voices and will have far more influence in defining American post-Iraq War foreign policy. The poorly executed nation-building strategy in Iraq will poison the well for future such exercises, undercutting domestic political support for a generous and visionary internationalism, just as Vietnam did.

It did not have to be this way. One can start with premises identical to Krauthammer's, agree wholeheartedly with his critiques of the other three positions, and yet come up with a foreign policy that is very different from the one he lays out. I believe that his strategy simultaneously defines our interests in such a narrow way as to make the neoconservative position indistinguishable from realism, while at the same time managing to be utterly unrealistic in its overestimation of U.S. power and our ability to control events around the world. It is probably too late to reclaim the label "neoconservative" for any but the policies undertaken by the Bush Administration, but it is still worth trying to reformulate a fourth alternative that combines idealism and realism--but in a fashion that can be sustained over the long haul.

Many of the criticisms that Ferguson had about the handling of the Iraq War and what followed come back to the issue of legitimacy. It is this concern that Fukuyama also turns:

Legitimacy is a tricky concept. It is related to substantive principles of justice, but it is not the same thing as justice. That is, people believe that a set of institutions is legitimate because they believe they are just, but legitimacy is always relative to the people conferring legitimacy.

Legitimacy is important to us not simply because we want to feel good about ourselves, but because it is useful. Other people will follow the American lead if they believe that it is legitimate; if they do not, they will resist, complain, obstruct or actively oppose what we do. In this respect, it matters not what we believe to be legitimate, but rather what other people believe is legitimate. If the Indian government says that it will not participate in a peacekeeping force in Iraq unless it has a UN Security Council mandate to do so, it does not matter in the slightest that we believe the Security Council to be an illegitimate institution: the Indians simply will not help us out.

Krauthammer and others have dismissed the importance of legitimacy by associating it entirely with the United Nations--and then shooting at that very easy target.

Thus Fukuyama agrees with Ferguson and Gaddis, that the major problem with neoconservatism as it is being practiced by the Bush administration is that it is exercised with impunity rather than nuance and respect for the rest of the world community.

Fukuyama concludes with an explication of his preferred variant of neoconservatism, which, although he doubts whether "it will ever be seen as neoconservative", he thinks "there is no reason why it should not have this title":

The United States should understand the need to exercise power in pursuit of both its interests and values, but also to be more prudent and subtle in that exercise. The world's sole superpower needs to remember that its margin of power is viewed with great suspicion around the world and will set off countervailing reactions if that power is not exercised judiciously.

This means, in the first instance, doing the simple work of diplomacy and coalition-building that the Bush Administration seemed reluctant to undertake prior to the Iraq War and not gratuitously to insult the "common opinions of mankind." We do not need to embrace the UN or multilateralism for its own sake, because we somehow believe that such institutions are inherently more legitimate than nation-states. On the other hand, we need likeminded allies to accomplish both the realist and idealist portions of our agenda and should spend much more time and energy cultivating them.

The promotion of democracy through all of the available tools at our disposal should remain high on the agenda, particularly with regard to the Middle East. But the United States needs to be more realistic about its nation-building abilities, and cautious in taking on large social-engineering projects in parts of the world it does not understand very well. On the other hand, it is inevitable that we will get sucked into similar projects in the future (for example, after a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime), and we need to be much better prepared. This means establishing a permanent office with authority and resources appropriate for the job the next time around as part of a broader restructuring of the U.S. government's soft-power agencies.

To this list I would add a final element that for reasons of space I cannot elaborate here. The visionary founders of the postwar order were institution-builders, who created not just the much-maligned UN system, but the Bretton Woods institutions, NATO, the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Korea alliances, the GATT, the WTO, and a host of other international organizations. Institution-building is not something that has occupied the time of officials in the Bush Administration, but it should. If the United States does not like the fact that the UN is dominated by non-democratic regimes, then it should invest in an effort to build up other institutions, like NATO or the Community of Democracies founded during the Clinton Administration, that are based on norms and values we share. The Community of Democracies initiative, which the French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine tried to strangle at its birth, was never taken seriously by the Republicans, for, I assume, "not invented here" reasons. But such a global alliance of democracies, led by newer ones in eastern Europe and Latin America, could play a legitimizing function around the world in a way that NATO cannot.

This position is very close to the position that I myself endorse. It is a neoconservatism that is less offensive to the rest of the world and is more likely to encourage allies. Someone, I think it was Michael Lind, recently observed that many neocons come from former colonies of the British Empire (India, Canada, Australia). There is much support world wide for a policy of aggressive democratisation and liberalisation through the use of force where necessary. A less unilateral stance by the United States would make the neocon position more attractive to other Western nations who would otherwise be intimidated by an assertive and intractable US.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

FP Panel at Dem Con

Laura Rozen gives a detailed account of the foreign policy panel discussion last night at the Democratic Party Convention in Boston.

Springfield resident revealed to be gay

In an upcoming episode of The Simpsons, a character will come out of the closet and declares his/her-self to be gay, the AP is reporting:
"We have a show where, to raise money, Springfield legalizes gay marriage," producer Al Jean told a gathering of thousands at the convention. "Homer becomes a minister by going on the Internet and filling out a form. A longtime character comes out of the closet, but I'm not saying who."

Via Andrew Sullivan, who entertains speculation that it could be Ned Flanders, Chief Wiggum or Principal Skinner. My own guess would be that it would be a regular yet less high-profile character: the Sea Captain, Sideshow Mal or the Comic Book Guy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Yglesias on CPD

Matthew Yglesias has an article about the Committee on the Present Danger in the American Prospect, "Present Dangers", in which identifies its formation not as a resurgence of neocon support but rather as a desperate measure to regain its rapidly declining power. He writes that although the CPD seems to favour war with Iran, such an enterprise is unlikely:
Is another war around the corner? Probably not. The CPD's formation is more a sign of weakness than strength. The troubled occupation of Iraq has decreased the credibility and influence of the neoconservative faction in the Pentagon, and Robert Blackwill, who was brought in to pull the president’s chestnuts out of the fire and take over Iraq policy from his desk at the National Security Council (NSC), is known to favor engagement with Iran.

Yglesias also notes that although the CPD has an impressive line-up, there are a few prominent omissions that indicate a divide within the neocon movement:

What's more, the CPD wasn't even able to round up all the usual suspects to join its group. Key figures like Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol and Project for a New American Century Executive Director Gary Schmitt pointedly failed to sign on. This is just the latest in a growing list of indications of a split within the movement between the Kristol’s circle and another centered at the AEI. When the administration broke with neocon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, the latter group broke with the administration, sided with Chalabi, and began bitterly griping about Paul Bremer and the growing influence of the State Department and the NSC staff. The Standard, meanwhile, stayed silent on the Chalabi question and has published a series of fawning Bremer profiles by Executive Editor Fred Barnes.

Next, Queer Eye for Saddam

Interesting story in the CSMonitor about a new show on Iraqi television. In a laudable effort to both boost morale and provide some physical relief for the Iraqi people, the show is a Persian Gulf twist on the popular theme of a group of renovators coming into an average family's home and remodelling:
"Labor and Materials" is Iraq's answer to "Extreme Home Makeover" and the country's first reality TV show. In 15-minute episodes, broken windows are made whole again. Blasted walls slowly rise again. Fancy furniture and luxurious carpets appear without warning in the living rooms of poor families. Over six weeks, houses blasted by US bombs regenerate in a home-improvement show for a war-torn country.

"The main point isn't to rebuild the house, but to show the change in the psychology of the family during the rebuilding," says Ali Hanoon, the show's director. "The rebuilding has a psychological effect on the families - their memories, their lives, are in these walls."

Next up is Queer Eye for that Saddam Guy -- Carson will have a field day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Return of the Committee on the Present Danger

The Committee on the Present Danger, a bi-partisan group of neoconservatives that has its roots in the Cold War, has been re-formed in its third incarnation. The aim of the group, according to member Senator Joseph Lieberman, is
to form a bipartisan citizens' army, which is ready to fight a war of ideas against our Islamist terrorist enemies, and to send a clear signal that their strategy to deceive, demoralise and divide America will not succeed.

Jim Lobe of the IPS writes on the overlap between the Committee's membership and the various other neocon think tanks and organisations around Washington:

The vast majority of the 41 members are well-known neo-conservatives who have strongly helped lead the drive to war in Iraq and have long supported broadening President George W Bush's "war on terrorism" to include Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, as well.

Prominently represented are fellows from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), such as former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Joshua Muravchik, Laurie Mylroie, Danielle Pletka, Michael Rubin and Ben Wattenberg. Members from Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld's Defence Policy Board (DPB) include Kenneth Adelman, Newt Gingrich, and [Chairman R. James] Woolsey himself.

Committee members from the Centre for Security Policy (CSP), include CSP President Frank Gaffney, Charles Kupperman, William Van Cleave, and Dov Zakheim, who just stepped down as an undersecretary of defence under Rumsfeld.

Board members or fellows of several other right-wing or mainly neo-conservative think tanks have also joined the new CPD, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the Manhattan Institute, Freedom House, the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, the former Committee to Liberate Iraq, the National Institute for Public Policy and Americans for Victory Over Terrorism.

The Committee is a positive step in bridging the artificial gap between the neocons in the two parties. Neoconservativism began as the anti-Communist, hawkish wing of the Democratic Party, inspired by the writings of Paul Nitze (one of the founders of the original CPD), especially the seminal NSC-68. It wasn't until the Carter administration that the neocons began to move into the Republican Party, finding in Ronald Reagan a like-minded soul.

The CPD has already run into trouble - the managing director of the Committee chose to resign after his relationship with the far-right Austrian politician was dug up by Laura Rozen.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Ideological Conflict

David Brooks wrote an interesting op-ed, War of Ideology, on the weekend. I'm a little late in commenting on it (Matthew Yglesias and Laura Rozen have already blogged it), but I think it is worth mentioning. Brooks (rather obviously) reminds his readers that the War on Terrorism is a misnomer - what we are actually engaged in is a war between ideologies. The West, representing the ideologies of liberal democracy, is under attack from a group of fundamentalist Islamists who use terrorism. Referring to the 9/11 Commission's report, Brooks writes:
We're not in the middle of a war on terror, they note. We're not facing an axis of evil. Instead, we are in the midst of an ideological conflict.

We are facing, the report notes, a loose confederation of people who believe in a perverted stream of Islam that stretches from Ibn Taimaya to Sayyid Qutb. Terrorism is just the means they use to win converts to their cause.

It seems like a small distinction - emphasizing ideology instead of terror - but it makes all the difference, because if you don't define your problem correctly, you can't contemplate a strategy for victory.

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

As an ideological movement rather than a national or military one, they can play by different rules. There is no territory they must protect. They never have to win a battle but can instead profit in the realm of public opinion from the glorious martyrdom entailed in their defeats. We think the struggle is fought on the ground, but they know the struggle is really fought on satellite TV, and they are far more sophisticated than we are in using it.

The 9/11 commission report argues that we have to fight this war on two fronts. We have to use intelligence, military, financial and diplomatic capacities to fight Al Qaeda. That's where most of the media attention is focused. But the bigger fight is with a hostile belief system that can't be reasoned with but can only be "destroyed or utterly isolated."

Sam Huntington was warning of this clash of civilizations over a decade ago, when he was criticised for being alarmist. His prophecy is being proven correct in this post-9/11 world. Brooks notes that the future of this war will be fought less militarily and more culturally. The path to victory will be through changing, through diligent and long term measures, the entire culture of the East. It may take a military action to get our foot in the door in many of the countries that we will need to makeover, and it will take military action, covert and overt, to destroy militants and insurgents. But after that, it will take a long term process of convincing the East of Western values, through a free press, education and religious toleration.

Brooks continues:

We've had an investigation into our intelligence failures; we now need a commission to analyze our intellectual failures. Simply put, the unapologetic defenders of America often lack the expertise they need. And scholars who really know the Islamic world are often blind to its pathologies. They are so obsessed with the sins of the West, they are incapable of grappling with threats to the West.

We also need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive. The commissioners recommend that the U.S. should be much more critical of autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our principles. They suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own. If you are a philanthropist, here is how you can contribute: We need to set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce them to Western intellectuals.

Most of all, we need to see that the landscape of reality is altered. In the past, we've fought ideological movements that took control of states. Our foreign policy apparatus is geared toward relations with states: negotiating with states, confronting states. Now we are faced with a belief system that is inimical to the state system, and aims at theological rule and the restoration of the caliphate. We'll need a new set of institutions to grapple with this reality, and a new training method to understand people who are uninterested in national self-interest, traditionally defined.

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be military. The rest will be ideological. He observed that we are in the fight against Islamic extremism now where we were in the fight against communism in 1880.

We've got a long struggle ahead, but at least we're beginning to understand it.

Brooks is right, of course -- I am only surprised that he seems so surprised.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Slate For Sale

The New York Times is reporting that Microsoft is planning to sell Slate, the best of the web-only internet magazines:
According to company executives, Microsoft is considering a sale of Slate because the model of creating a Web magazine of cultural criticism and political analysis to attract visitors to its MSN Network has little business salience in an age dominated by search applications. And the site's small size limits its ability to contribute meaningfully to Microsoft's revenues.

Potential buyers mentioned include the New York Times Company itself, and the Washington Post Company. One hopes that any change in owner does not affect the quality of the writing or the editorial independence that makes Slate one of my daily internet destinations.

Ronald Sukenick Dies

Via the Literary Saloon, Ronald Sukenick, the avant-garde novelist, has died, aged 72 (obit at Newsday). Sukenick was a difficult, post-modernist innovator, experimenting in narrative technique and voices. From a piece called "In My Own Recognizance":
Innovative fiction is not inherently better than any other kind of fiction. It’s a genre like any other, and like any other there are mediocre examples as well as a few brilliant ones.

I personally am enamored of the traditional Canon but not interested in repeating it. My ways of avoiding it are through the practice of certain mental gymnastics, or, rarely, through the use of constrictive form as with the Oulipo group whom I consider creative cousins.

Like many literary experimenters, not all of his stories work, but there is usually something interesting in them to make them worth reading. Reading his work, I was often inspired into trying something different with my own fiction, and for that, he will be missed.

Lawrence Kaplan on Iran

Lawrence F. Kaplan has an article in TNR about the Iran policies of Kerry team and the Bush administation. Kaplan notices that the Republican position is actually split between two opposing policies: the hawkish stance of the neocons in the Defence Department, who seem to favour a more aggressive posture, and a dovish perspective from the realists in the State Department. The latter outlook is for greater engagement with Iran, and is shared by the Kerry team. As Kaplan points out, any meaningful engagement with Iran is becoming increasingly untenable, given its nuclear ambitions and relationship with terrorism. The United States needs to get tough with Iran. Although I am not advocating a military invasion of Iran, a degree of regime change is necessary, and a conciliatory attitude of appeasement is not going to work.

Gaddis and Kennedy on Empire

Lots of good stuff in the NYT Book Review this weekend: John Lewis Gaddis reviews Niall Ferguson's Colossus: The Price of America's Empire. Ferguson, who I have been interested in since I wrote a paper on counter-factual histiography a few years back and used his work from Virtual History, has emerged as Simon Schama's heir to the title of foremost historian as pubic intellectual. He is also one of the major proponents of the United States exercising its imperial capabilities more fully. Gaddis, whose own Surprise, Security, and the American Experience is supportive of the Bush administration's neoconservative/hard-Wilsonian democracy crusade (which he identifies as the third revolution in US foreign policy thinking), is generally complimentary about Ferguson's work, but wonders if ferguson's diverse academic interests (ranging from historiography, World War I, financial/economic history, imperialism and current affairs), might be stretching his talents:
"Colossus" reads, in short, like a series of previously published essays too hastily stitched together.This is unfortunate, because whatever his skill at stitching, Ferguson is an accomplished and imaginative scholar. Several of his arguments deserve more careful consideration than they are likely to receive, given the distractions that surround them.
One is that the dismantling of formal empires and the near-universal practice of self-determination have so far failed to produce the orderly, prosperous and equitable world for which liberals since Woodrow Wilson have hoped. Another is that "for some countries some form of imperial governance, meaning a partial or complete suspension of their national sovereignty, might be better than full independence," and that only the United States is in a position to supply, and secure international support for, such tutelage.

Colossus, although I am awaiting my copy to arrive, sounds, from the first chapter and the reviews and interviews I've read, corresponds reasonably closely to own opinions on liberal imperialism (basically, that the United States, as the pre-eminent democratic military and economic power, has a moral obligation to spread its liberal values (though not necessarily democracy) as widely as possible through-out the world, by force as a last resort, if unavoidable).

Next, Paul Kennedy reviews Hugh Thomas's Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, From Columbus to Magellan. European exceptionalism is a difficult and controversial topic, as Kennedy notes:

Many generations of historians have attempted to explain the reasons for Europe's amazing rise to world power. Was it due to its move toward rationality and science during the Renaissance, or its capacity for organization, or the competitiveness of its nation-states (as opposed to the dull uniformity of Oriental empires), or its favorable geographical position, or its gunpowder revolution?

The subject of Thomas's book is the benefits and disadvantages of an empire. This exhaustive study of one of the first modern empires contains lessons that Kennedy suggests the current crop of empire-builders should take note of:

For the past few years, the United States has been attempting its own imperial or demi-imperial experiments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Five hundred years after Cortes, neo-conservative adventurers are leading us eastward and seeking to transform the Middle East. But perhaps they should pause, at least long enough to read Thomas's book. It brings much evidence of imperial arrogance and torture, yet it also contains compelling details of how to treat a conquered nation with compassion. This is worth some reflection.

Kennedy and Gaddis go on to reflect on this in a conversation about the effect of 9/11 on U.S. foreign policy and on the question of an American empire. When asked the question of whether the United States have an empire, these two great historians respond:

GADDIS: Of course. We've always had an empire. The thinking of the founding fathers was we were going to be an empire. Empire is as American as apple pie in that sense. The question is, what kind of an empire do we have? A liberal empire? A responsible empire? I have no problem whatever with the proposition that the United States has an empire.

KENNEDY: I have quite a bit of a problem; I don't like that one bit. The fact is that most of the rest of the world thinks we are imperial, not to mention imperious. And then you have to ask, what are the consequences of that?

GADDIS: The really important question is to look at the uses to which imperial power is put. And in this regard, it seems to me on balance American imperial power in the 20th century has been a remarkable force for good, for democracy, for prosperity. What is striking is that great opposition has not arisen to the American empire. Most empires in history have given rise to their own resistance through their imperious behavior. For most of its history as an empire, the United States did manage to be imperial without being imperious. The great concern I have with the current administration is that it has slid over into imperious behavior.

KENNEDY: John has put his finger on something very interesting, which is this dominant position of the U.S. not yet causing the emergence of counterweights. And I say "yet" because I think there's quite a considerable danger that it will. We now have a Europe with a larger G.D.P., and we have a China growing so fast you can hardly keep your eyes on it. Our great power status is unchallenged at the orthodox military level. But it's beginning to look a little bit more fragmented in other dimensions.

The dilemma is one that Ferguson has been warning about for a while now: how to be a liberal empire and still be liked, or at least not be perceived to be arrogant by the rest of the world. Ferguson identifies the problem as lying in the attitude of the American people to the concept of empire - America refuses to accept the fact that it has an empire and acts as a benevolent uncle, occasionally popping in to do nice things, but not being parental. Gaddis calls this "the dog-and-car syndrome. Dogs spend a lot of time thinking about and chasing cars. But they don't know what to do with a car when they actually catch one. It seems to me this, in a nutshell, is what has happened to the Bush administration in Iraq."

It is an obvious conclusion that the US needs some modern day equivalent of the British Colonial Office, whose role is to step up to construct a state once the military does it job of regime toppling.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Rehearsal of Terror?

Astonishing first-person account in the Womens Wall of a journalist's brush with what could have been a dry-run of a plane bombing. On a flight with her family, the writer, Annie Jacobsen, notices a group of Arab men repeatedly visiting the lavatories, often with items. On enquiry, Jacobsen discovers that the men were being monitored by Air Marshals and were taken in for questioning when the plane landed, however the marshals "aren't going to deploy until there is an actual event". Given that reports of plans by terrorists to assemble bombs after take-off, usually in the toilets, have been circulating, one wonders what the "event" would have to be before the Marshals "deploy". Read the article yourself and decide whether this was a case of paranoia on the part of the journalist or inaction on the part of the agents.

Iran/al-Qaeda Link

A very disturbing article in Time previewing some the conclusions that will be published in the report of the 9/11 Commission later this week, specificially about connections between al-Qaeda and Iran. Iran has always been the biggest threat in the Middle East, not least because of relationships like this with terrorists and robust endeavours to obtain nuclear techology. From Time:
A senior U.S. official told TIME that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 "muscle" hijackers—that is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengers—passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards—in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personnel—and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.

The senior official also told TIME that the report will note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.

The Iran-al Qaeda contacts were discovered and presented to the Commissioners near the end of the bipartisan panel's more than year-long investigation into the sources and origins of the 9/11 attacks. Much of the new information about Iran came from al-Qaeda detainees interrogated by the U.S. government, including captured Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who organized the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and from as many as 100 separate electronic intelligence intercepts culled by analysts at the NSA. The findings were sent to the White House for review only this week. But Commission members have been hinting for weeks that their report would have some Iran surprises. As the 9/11 Commission's chairman, Thomas Kean, said in June, "We believe....that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."

These findings follow a Commission staff report, released in June, which suggested that al-Qaeda may have collaborated with Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a key American military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Previously, the attack had been attributed only to Hezbollah, with Iranian support. A U.S. indictment of bin Laden filed in 1998 for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa said al-Qaeda "forged alliances . . . with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States." But the Commission comes to no firm conclusion on al-Qaeda's involvement in the Khobar disaster.

Since 9/11 the U.S. has held direct talks with Iran—and through intermediaries including Britain, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia—concerning the fate of scores of al-Qaeda that Iran has acknowleded are in the country, including an unspecified number of senior leaders, whom one senior U.S. official called al-Qaeda's "management council". The U.S. as well as the Saudis have unsuccessfully sought the repatriation of this group, which is widely thought to include Saad bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, as well of other key al-Qaeda figures.

Obviously the West needs to pursue a more forceful course of action with regards to Iran. Iran is a powder-keg waiting to explode. Hopefully the success of the regime change in Iraq will send a clear message to Iran that their behaviour will have consequences in the near future.

Operation Valkyrie Remembered

There have been a number of articles commemorating the 60th anniversery of the July 20 plot by a group of German military officers to assassinate Adolph Hitler (Reuters, AFP, AP).

The plot is not remembered because it was unique (there were more than 300 attempts on Hitler's life), but because it came the closest to success. From the AFP story:
It was on July 20, 1944 that high-ranking Nazi officer Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg carried a bomb in a briefcase into a meeting with Hitler at the dictator's war headquarters in East Prussia.

He placed it on the floor before leaving the room, saying he had to make a phone call. He flew immediately back to Berlin, where he and co-conspirators hoped to stage a coup.

But an officer moved the briefcase behind a leg of the solid oak table at which Hitler was studying maps, saving Hitler's life. The explosion killed five of the 24 people in the room but the Fuehrer was only slightly injured.

Such stories of German resistance to the Nazis, especially resistance within the establishment and the military, should serve as a reminder that the Nazi period was not a monolith of hate and prejudice, but a complex time when emotions were manipulated by a party employing sophisticated propaganda and techniques of social control. One can imagine the effect of an Iraqi Stauffenberg bringing a like-rigged briefcase into a meeting with Saddam Hussein. Such an event would have been better than a CIA-planned straight-out assassination, for as we are now seeing, much of the violence may have been avoided if the coup came from within rather than an occupation from without.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Cheney will never be "dumped"

The Associated Press is reporting that Cheney has announced that he intends to run for Vice President again in the November elections. He was asked in an interview for C-Span if he could imagine a situation in which he would step down in favour of another of another VP candidate:
"Well, no, I can't. If I thought that were appropriate, I certainly would. But he's made it very clear that he wants me to run again. The way I got here in the first place was that he persuaded me four years ago that I was the man he wanted in that post, not just as a candidate, but as somebody to be part of the governing team. He's been very clear he doesn't want to break up the team."

However the New York Times reports on a rumour (that it acknowledges as "as ingenious as it is far-fetched") that,

"Cheney recently dismissed his personal doctor so that he could see a new one, who will conveniently tell him in August that his heart problems make him unfit to run with Mr. Bush."

There is, of course, no chance that the Bush administration would dump Cheney. The only way Cheney would leave is by his own choice. Cheney is the most powerful individual in the executive government, and history's most influential vice-president. Cheney knows where all the bodies are buried -- can you imagine a Richard Clarke-style tell-all memoir by Cheney, especially a pissed off one? The GOP would never risk it.

Everything I know about U.S. politics, I learned from Doonesbury

Interview with Garry Trudeau, of Doonesbury, in Rolling Stone. He talks about the response his readers have had to the character B.D., who was until recently serving in Iraq, losing his leg in combat. It is surprising to me that Trudeau says that "As a writer, I don't have an emotional link to the characters" since his characters are some of the most well-developed in fiction. Trudeau also talks about knowing George W. Bush when they were both at Yale, and notes that "I do believe he has the soul of a rush chairman. He has that ability to connect with people. Not in the empathetic way that Clinton was so good at, but in the way of making people feel comfortable." Very appropriate metaphor -- Bush as Keg-master-in-Chief.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Democracy and the retirement of Prime Ministers

I am getting frustrated with the Labor leader's constant attempt at scare-mongering regarding the possibility that Peter Costello will be the next Liberal Prime Minister. In response to a cabinet reshuffle, Mark Latham took the opportunity to again raise the issue of whether or not PM John Howard will stay on as the leader of the government for the full term. The AAP quotes Latham:
"Mr Howard has today clarified a handful of ministerial positions. He now needs to clarify his own position.... If he wins the next election, will he serve three years or, as most people expect, hand over to Prime Minister Peter Costello? Ministers Kemp and Williams are retiring. Mr Howard needs to be honest with the Australian people about his own retirement plans. Our democracy deserves nothing less."

Australian democracy, of course, is parliamentary and not presidential -- the public votes for a party, and the party determines their parliamentary leadership. The election should not rest on personality politics of who the public want as PM, it should be about the respective policy platforms that each party proposes.

Taking "Fair Use" to the extreme

Fascinating and frightening story in the Chronicle, "Fending Off a Plagiarist", about an academic that discovers that another scholar has copied his dissertation. It is absolutely astonishing that the plagiarist imagined that he would ever get away with such a blatant deception. And as the writer of the article wonders, what does this say about the process of supervision that the doctoral candidate went through? How could a diligent supervisor or department let this slip through unnoticed?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Review of Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism

Robert O. Paxton is one of the most distinguished and respected historians of the twentieth century. The author of the groundbreaking study Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, in May he published the culmination of years of teaching and thinking about fascism in the form of The Anatomy of Fascism. This book is intended to be Paxton’s final say on the issue of fascism.

Paxton sees the study of fascism as beset by a number of problems, not least among them the problem of discerning a definition that is wide enough to encompass the myriad of varieties fascism took, and also specific enough to be coherent and usable. Paxton writes: 

Though many … interpretations and definitions were to be proposed over the years … none of them has obtained universal assent as a completely satisfactory account of a phenomenon that seemed to come from nowhere, took on multiple and varied forms, exalted hated and violence in the name of national prowess, and yet managed to appeal to prestigious and well-educated statesmen, entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and intellectuals.

My main problem with Paxton’s methodology is that he is more interested in the way fascism was brought into practice, rather than the ideas behind it. He is clear from the start that this is the route he is going to take. He says in the introduction that “this book takes the position that what fascists did tells us at least as much as what they said.”  

Paxton seems to have doubts about the efficacy of looking at the ideology of fascism. He writes about how fascism is unlike other political theories given that it came about much later. In Juan Linz’s term, fascism is a latecomer, and this explains why much of its ideology is defined in terms of negatives – anti-communist, anti-liberal, counter-revolutionary etc. Paxton sees fascism’s latecomer status as a great hindrance when it comes to examining its ideas, as it lacks a definitive early exposition. He writes that: 

The other “isms” [conservatism, liberalism, socialism] were created in an era when politics was a gentleman’s business, conducted through protracted and learned parliamentary debate among educated men who appealed to each other’s reasons as well as their sentiments. The classical “isms” rested upon coherent philosophical systems laid out in the works of systematic thinkers. It seems only natural to explain them by examining their programs and the philosophy that underpinned them. Fascism, by contrast, was
a new invention created afresh for the era of mass politics…. Fascism does not rest explicitly upon an elaborated philosophical system…. It has not been given intellectual underpinnings by any system builder, like Marx, or by any major critical intelligence, like Mill, Burke or

Paxton goes on to identify three ways techniques that scholars have employed when it comes to looking at fascism. He says that, Faced with the great variety of fascisms and the elusiveness of the “fascist minimum,” there have been three sorts of response.

Some scholars, exasperated with the sloppiness of the term fascism in common usage, deny that it has any useful meaning at all…. If we followed their advice, we would call Hitler’s regime Nazism, Mussolini’s regime Fascism, and each of the other kindred movements by its own name. We would treat each one as a discrete phenomenon. This book rejects such nominalism. The term fascism needs to be rescued from sloppy usage, not thrown out because of it. 

The work of Gilbert Allardyce, whose influential essay “What Fascism is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept”, is the most obvious example of this.

A second response has been to accept fascism’s variety and compile an encyclopaedic survey of its many forms. Encyclopaedic description provides enlightening and fascinating detail but leaves us with something resembling a medieval bestiary. 

This was the approach taken in much of the 70s and the 80s, when country- or movement-specific surveys were more popular than theoretical studies.

A third approach finesses variety by constructing an “ideal type” that fits no case exactly, but lets us posit a kind of composite “essence”.

The work of Roger Griffin and a new generation of scholars in the past twenty years is representative of the return to a analysis of fascism in its generic or theoretical form.

Despite what he says, Paxton seems to fall somewhere between the first and the second type of response. He largely limits his discussion to German Nazism and Italian Fascism, while giving some of the bestiary in brief discussions of what he obviously considers periphery forms of fascism. The form his book takes is examine the life of a fascist regime through what he identifies as the Five Stages of fascism. 

  1. the creation of movements; -- the closest he comes to the philosophical underpinnings of the ideas 

  2. their rooting in the political system; discussion of various fascist movements, e.g. Colonel la Rocque’s Croix de Feu, Leon Degrelle’s Rexism, and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascist 

  3. their seizure of power; about how fascists manoeuvre themselves into power 

  4. the exercise of power; about the methods of repression and violence that the fascist leaders employ 

  5. and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either
    radicalisation or entropy.

By the nature of looking at fascism in this way, he limits his discussion of non-German or Italian fascism to the first two categories. As Paxton repeatedly emphasises, his interest is in what fascists do, rather than what they think. In the last two pages, Paxton finally gives his definition of fascism. He writes, 

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behaviour marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

This definition almost sounds like the description of a mental illness rather than an ideology. In fact, as Paxton himself emphasises, he is more interested in the actions of the fascists rather than their thought, and this necessarily leads him to a definition that draws more upon the actual political activities of the few fascist regimes to have taken power, and less on the more pure ideas and thought behind them.

I think it is interesting to take note that he defines fascism as a “behaviour” and not as an ideology, and that much of his definition is about methods of rule or styles of action. Paxton’s method and conclusions do not go into any great detail on the theory of generic fascism. He spends little time addressing the work done in the last decade, and does not mention Roger Griffin’s attempts to reach a consensus definition on generic fascism, except as an example of finesse in the search for an ideal type.

The main usefulness of Paxton’s book comes in the form of his long and extremely comprehensive bibliographic essay, which, along with the copious footnotes, makes up almost half of the book’s length. Although Paxton does not add much to the theoretical debate on generic fascism, his book is a thorough synthesis of the work on how fascist regimes come to power, or fail to do so. In that sense, Paxton’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on fascism.