Did the ' stylized presidency ' begin with Kennedy? Is it alive and well today with Obama our "whirling dervish' president?
Are 'WE The People ' better off for it? Does anyone care if Camelot is alive and is it important to our nation's betterment?
All presidents bring to the office their unique style and quirkiness - Roosevelt had his eloquent 'Fireside Chats,' Truman his loud shirts, Eisenhower his way of speaking that left you wondering what he had said, Nixon his 'trickiness,' Ford his 'trick knee', Kennedy his youth, wife and kids, Johnson his Texas size clumsiness but probably one of the most mis-understood and under-rated of the current presidents, Carter his abject ineptness which continues to this day, Reagan his ability to get his message across with humor, George Bush his 'prepiness,' Clinton his earthy amoral ways, GW his 'stiff awkwardness,' and finally, Obama with his ability to mesmerize with words while breaking virtually every campaign promise or commitment with aplomb.
Is the stylized president a creation of the press and media? Is it a reflection of our own vapid shallowness? Does it mean our system can no longer produce leaders of substance and depth - form over substance? Is our political system incapable of flushing up something better? Have the demands of the office become larger than the capability of any occupant? Am I being too harsh?
Truman and Reagan were the two presidents I most admire. I was involved in George Bush's first campaign and came to know him as a very decent down to earth person but I believe he lacked the political skills of his immediate predecessor.
The current occupant of the White House leaves me absolutely flat, if you did not already know. But, because Obama is bent on change I ask myself whether I have gotten too old to embrace change. Change can be one of the most frightening words in our language because it means just that - doing something in a new way, adjusting to a new approach etc. Takes a lot of energy and inertia to move a rock at rest. Leaving what you know and have adjusted to for the unknown can be very disturbing and unsettling.
However, Gingrich sought change in his 'Contract' but it was change I willingly embraced because I believed it made sense and was overdue. With Obama, after reflecting upon all that he is seeking to do, the way he has flipped and flopped, the less than truthful way he has portrayed himself, his questionable accomplishments I remain circumspect.
A recent example was his speech in the U.N. about how our nation, his administration, had radically cut emissions and pollution. America's smokestacks have shutdown Mr. Obama, people are no longer living in foreclosed homes Mr.President. Perhaps the high level of unemployment and reduced economic activity has more to do with reduced pollution emissions than anything you or your administration has done. We may be dumb but we are not totally stupid.
Then we have the matter of Israeli settlements. When Arafat was alive, even during the off again on again negotiations ,the issue of settlements was not significant but Obama made it a prominent matter and naturally Abbas latched on and thus negotiations have gone off track.
Secondly, Obama stated he would talk with Iran with no pre-conceived conditions yet he wants Israel to do so. It's that goose and gander thing again.
Finally, Obama made Afghanistan his centerpiece for attacking GW for fighting the wrong war in the wrong place. Now he seems unwilling to embrace his own general's plea for more troops and does so on the basis that he needs to re-think the merit of winning in Afghanistan. Far Left Liberals seemingly have a hard time when it comes to winning wars. Why is this? Is it all about equating power with evil ? Is defending one's nation too course for intellectuals to embrace? Are we, in fact, the 'evil empire?'
See 1 below.)
It has been nine months now and Obama's popularity is steadily falling. Those who supported him from a variety of walks of life have begun to desert. They are confused and disillusioned by his backtracking and manipulative ways. They have become dis-enthused with his style of speechifying and see him as disingenuous. I am not making this stuff up, I am just repeating what is becoming obvious.
It is not racial. (See 1a below.)
It is because more and more reject his ideas, policies and initiatives. Granted there is a need for change on many fronts but far too much of what Obama and his fellow Democrats are proposing does not make sense. It defies logic. It is vastly costly and expands government to the detriment of what has made us powerful. Americans are willing to take risks. Our nation's very success proves that. We went West, we conquered the sky, the moon, many diseases etc. But the risks have to square with what is believable and rational otherwise we will stay home and keep rocking on the porch til something sensible comes along. That's the Norman Rockwell about us. (See 1b below.)
Some further thoughts about the Presidency sent by a political professor friend. The author suggests the occupant presides over a vast, secretive, entangling empire . (See 1c below.)
An interesting interview with David Makovsky. (See 2 below.)
An omen Ahmadinejad? (See 3 below.)
Jonathan Tobin see Obama's Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative as pushing on a string with possble dire consequences. It could simply embolden Arab terrorism. Meanwhile, Abbas remains in no position to deliver.
Another costly photo op?(See 4 below.)
The Vietnamization of Afghanistan :Obama's choices in Afghanistan will either break the Democrats' association with Vietnam or confirm it.
By Tim Fernholz
The Nixon administration, elected on a promise to end the Vietnam War via "peace with honor," described its strategy as "Vietnamization": building the capacity of the Vietnamese armed forces so that American troops could leave.
Today, we have different catchphrases but similar ideas. After requests for more troops and resources from on-the-ground commanders, Sen. Carl Levin, the influential chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced his opposition to sending more American soldiers to Afghanistan but has proposed a "surge of Afghanistan security forces." Which is to say, Afghanistan-ization.
We've seen this before. In 2003, the Bush administration flirted with similar strategies in Iraq but strongly resisted comparisons with the Vietnam War. The Republican Party in general has denied the lessons of Vietnam, long associated with two Democratic presidents and ended by a Republican, however disgraced. With a Democratic administration now in power, the specter of Vietnam is hanging over U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan. Democrats, still haunted by the legacy of that conflict, are trying to apply its lessons to today's war.
The return of the Vietnam comparisons is partially a question of personnel. Of President George W. Bush's top advisers, only Secretary of State Colin Powell had served in the conflict and represented the most cautious strain of Republican foreign policy. Among the current president's advisers there is Richard Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who was a Foreign Service officer in Saigon, and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who served as a platoon and company commander in Vietnam. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was an Air Force intelligence officer during the Vietnam War, though he was not stationed there. And, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could not serve in Vietnam, her opposition to the war caused her break with her Republican roots.
Perhaps the most important personal Vietnam legacy belongs to the man who almost had Clinton's job: Sen. John Kerry, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a decorated Vietnam veteran who spoke out against the war upon his return from combat. Kerry has been holding a series of hearings questioning the underpinnings of American strategy in Afghanistan. At the outset of one, he departed from his prepared remarks to describe his own past:
I recall full well in 1964 and 1965 being one of those troops who responded to the call to augment our presence in Vietnam, and there was this constant refrain from President Johnson and from General Westmoreland, you know, 'Give us more troops. We just need X more and we'll get the job done.' But, in fact, some of the core assumptions were not being examined about the domino theory, about the nature of the civil war and the structure.
Kerry is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s, and Holbrooke, too, knows well what happens when a war goes awry. A recent profile in The New Yorker reports a 1967 memo Holbrooke wrote as a State Department staffer under Johnson, arguing the war was a lost cause that could only be ended with massive escalation or a policy of de-escalation, Vietnamization, and negotiation. Holbrooke now struggles not to fall into his old bosses' bad habits.
For our current president, who explicitly promised to leave behind the tumultuous political legacy of the 1960s and was only 14 years old when the Vietnam War ended, the Afghanistan/Vietnam comparison means additional headaches. He is already likened to Johnson, who decided that domestic success was worth delaying hard decisions on Vietnam and lost his presidency as a result. Obama, facing an enormous economic crisis and launching a transformative domestic-policy agenda, loathes the idea of a political battle within his party about an inherited war but is determined not to repeat Johnson's mistake.
Afghanistan is not Vietnam, though the Afghan government's crisis of legitimacy mirrors that of America's client government in South Vietnam. U.S. military forces are better prepared for the dynamics of this conflict than they were for Vietnam: Our understanding of the conflict is more realistic, U.S. presence remains relatively popular among the Afghans, and we have international support.
Nonetheless, our national interests are by no means clear. The president has articulated two goals in Afghanistan: We seek to destroy al-Qaeda and to protect Pakistan's government and, more pressing, its nuclear arsenal from Islamist extremists. But al-Qaeda has been driven from Afghanistan already; the attacks it launched on us in 2001 came largely from Western Europe, not Kandahar. And the second goal is nearly a return to domino theory -- if we let one country succumb to Islamist extremists, its neighbors are sure to go.
Afghanistan, though, is also not Iraq, where a confluence of sound policy changes and incredible luck created the opportunity for escalation and withdrawal. The Obama administration has argued that its goals require a massive counterinsurgency campaign to replace the limited counterterrorism mission that has been U.S. policy for the last eight years. Escalation opponents who argue that a smaller footprint will suffice need to acknowledge that the Taliban and other insurgents were succeeding against that strategy. While middle ground could be found, opting out of this war will lead to chaos in Afghanistan, terrible human-rights abuses, and a potential safe haven for terrorists.
"If I were president in this circumstance, if we're setting the stakes the way we are, I want a guarantee," Kerry said at his hearing last week. "Roosevelt took his guarantee, in a sense. Truman did. We were committed to that, and as a former troop, let me tell you something: That's one of the things that I miss the most back then. And I would want to make sure we have that for the troops today."
Unfortunately for Kerry, and the rest of the United States, there are no guarantees today in Afghanistan, only increasingly dismal options. Choosing the right ones will either break the Democrats' association with Vietnam or confirm it.
1a)White Racism Forever
By Robert Weissberg
White racism is back. Not so much any actual racist behavior by any actual white people, but rather the charge leveled against political opponents of President Obama.Obama's election supposedly ushered in a new post-racial era where old animosities would fade from memory, but if anything, charges of white racial vitriol are as prominent as ever.
Let me try to explain this eruption and suggest why accusations of white racism will become increasingly strident. In a nutshell, white racism has become the glib reason for imperfect racial progress, and the term's definitional fuzziness, it's resistance to scientific confirmation makes it perfect for coming to grips with uncomfortable realities. It is a "devil did it" theory.
Some history. Until the 1970s "white racism" never arose as explanations of racial inequality. Admittedly, many whites disliked blacks but aversion by itself hardly explained inequity. Dominant accounts stressed slavery's horrific legacy (including undermining black family life), restricted electoral access, third-rate schools, explicit "no colored need apply" policies among employers and landlords, ubiquitous self-esteem lowering segregation, physical intimidation and other outwardly visible culprits. White behavior, not attitudes per se, were decisive. The era's leading academic studies eschewed "white racism." Talcott Parsons and Kenneth Clark's 750 page encyclopedia-like The Negro American (1964) had no index entries for either "racism" or "white racism." Howard Ehrlich's The Social Psychology of Prejudice published in 1972 reviewed 600 plus studies on ethnic prejudice without mentioning "white racism."
This explanatory menu stressing behavior and unequal resources shaped ameliorative measure. The 1964 Civil Rights Act targeted discrimination in public venues; the 1965 Voting Rights Act remedied exclusion from elections while affirmative action took up unfairness in employment. Over a trillion dollars has been spent on untold anti-poverty efforts like Head Start, and largely focused on black poverty. Hundreds of government bureaucracies, many staffed by African American activists, were created to fix readily discernable injustices. Remedies included policies widely disliked by whites (e.g., school bussing). America's war on racial inequality, by any historical standard, has outshined almost any other government enterprise.
Yet, sad to say, the Herculean exertion has faltered despite signs of progress. Upbeat accounts of notable individual accomplishments cannot obscure pervasive failures. These are just as observable as the ameliorative efforts: gaps in educational accomplishment, unequal rates of criminal incarceration, uneven life expectancy and healthiness, enduring gulfs in upward mobility and disparities in financial assets. Even in the political realm blacks are largely successful in black dominated localities, e.g., Detroit. Black-run forums addressing race predictably stress unfinished agendas. Only in certain sports and entertainment fields has the Promised Land of racial equality been reached and even here, the beneficiaries are few in number.
Into these troubling and unexpected situations comes "white racism" as a new-kid-on-the-block explanation. Now, motive and subsequent behavior were divorced so the nefarious attitudes of whites by themselves inflict the damage. Of the upmost importance, since these racist inclinations lurk so deeply in whites, typically unconsciously, guilt for perpetrating harm almost arrives with skin color. I think, therefore I harm, so to speak, and there can be no credible defense. Consider "discrimination" versus "white racism" in accounting for, say, lower black academic performances. Discrimination is plain-to-see -- outdated textbooks, resource-starved classrooms, poorly trained teachers -- compared to what whites receive. But what if these objective conditions were made equal? How, then, can varied outcomes be explained?
An explanation requires ingenuity and what is offered -- white racism -- is impervious to science and wholly invisible, except to blacks whose blackness renders them the sole judge and jury. If failing blacks were entirely educated by blacks and enjoy equal if not superior resources, no matter: society is so infused with racism that its debilitating impact is inescapable. It resembles gravity -- its just pulls downward. Not even extra resources can overcome gravity-like white racism.
In a catalogue of possible explanations of any outcome, to insist that black suffering results from white racism resembles attributing floods to "God's will." Consider the case of Seattle, WA, a city that has failed to level academic outcomes despite perennially spending millions plus untold other measures. A local black expert on the city payroll explains it all: the culprit is institutional racism, officially defined as "an indirect and largely invisible process that operates automatically and results in less access to services and opportunities of a society based on race." Now, just try banishing what is undetectable. (And, for good measure according to this sage, not even the outward appearing equal resources are really "equal")
Putting "white racism" under the microscope as one would study a killer virus is futile. Scientific investigation of the causal link between white beliefs and black problems might even be construed as racist -- doubting the feelings of blacks regarding what they know to be the indisputable painful truth. As a scientifically theory, this explanation is only a tentative hypothesis, at best. Academics are undoubtedly aware of the necessity of testing the causal nexus between what whites believe and subsequent black behavior, but few might want to risk a "no impact" verdict. Better to expose debilitating evils in "white" math textbooks or everyday language like "black market."
Clearly, many whites, deep down, still harbor some lingering aversion toward blacks. Equally true, many blacks passionately believe that their difficulties flow from white racism. But, to my knowledge, no scientific research demonstrates how white racism, as a mental state among whites, independently hurts blacks. For example, the data base Psycinfo, which covers the field of psychology broadly defined, yielded 87 entries from 1967 to 1995 under the key word "white racism." None, however, sought to explain just how white racism operates; the evil impact was assumed. Books by Cornel West, Derrick Bell and other champions of white racism as the Mother of all Evils are likewise mute when it comes to offering hard evidence. Henry Lewis Gates in his bones instantly knew the Devil's power when he experienced it.
It is almost as if a germ-like theory of debilitating illness is being offered sans germs. After all, equally powerful, centuries-long, hostility towards Jews and Asians has not incapacitated them. Women now prosper in "male" fields like business and law despite centuries of negative stereotypes. Being typecast as inept is not a court-like sentence for permanent failure. Success could just as well be predicted from data depicting white hostility -- "I'll show them!" To insist that bad thinking among whites, in and of itself, injures blacks may be more accurately labeled "magical thinking," a psychiatric disorder, not a scientifically verified social theory.
To condense a complicated story, a market for un-provable, often outlandish "theories" to explain the unfathomable has always thrived. The inclination knows no particular race or era; it is probably an intractable human instinct. In the 14th century bad weather was blamed on witchcraft and witches were murdered. The bubonic plague was similarly attributed to Jews. In today's obsessing over racial equality of outcomes one must account for multiple discrepancies, and with the declining veracity of historic explanations, the impossible-to-refute, even imperceptible boogyman of "white racism" satisfies this powerful urge.
So when Obama's ill-conceived, extravagant healthcare plan "unexpectedly" floundered in Congress, blacks point the finger at white racism. Qualms about the plan being too expensive or too bureaucratic are just ruses. When the public loses confidence in Obama's economic stimulus plan, just repeat the now familiar indictment as if witches killed the crops. Rep. Charley Rangel even blames his tax problems on "white racism." This unseen devil theory of politics is almost addictive, a handy substitute for time-consuming serious analysis (and no prudent white public figure dares challenges blacks about their feelings). So, as more verifiable explanations for continuing racial inequality or inept policy-making by a black president are forcefully pushed aside, the reflexive "white racism" explanation fills the vacuum. And since white racism's debilitating power is invisible and beyond scientific verification, it will be with us so long as there are racial inequalities.
Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science-Emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana.
1b)A Willowy Weakness
By George Will
While in Pittsburgh, a sense of seemliness should prevent President Barack Obama from again exhorting the G-20, as he did April 2 in London, to be strong in resisting domestic pressures for protectionism. This month, invertebrate as he invariably is when organized labor barks, he imposed 35 percent tariffs on imports of tires that China makes for the low-price end of the market. This antic nonsense matters not only because of trade disruptions it may cause, but also because it is evidence of his willowy weakness under pressure from his political patrons.
In 2000, as a price of China's admission to the World Trade Organization, Congress enacted a provision for "relief from market disruption" to American industries from surges of Chinese imports. Actually, American consumers cause "disruption" in American markets when their preferences change in response to progress -- better products and bargains. Never mind. Congress said disruption exists whenever imports of a product "like or directly competitive with" a U.S. product increase "rapidly" and threaten "significant" injury to a U.S. industry. Evidence of disruption includes the volume of imports of a particular product, the effect of imports on the prices of competing U.S. goods, and the effect on the U.S. industry.
Notice that China need not be guilty of any wrongdoing: It can be punished even if it is not "dumping" -- not selling goods below the cost of manufacturing and distributing them. (That we consider it wrongdoing for a nation to sell us things we want at very low prices is a superstition to be marveled at another day.) And China need not be punished: Presidential action is entirely discretionary. So Barack Obama was using the sort of slippery language that increasingly defines his loquacity when he said he was simply "enforcing" a trade agreement.
None of the 10 manufacturers who comprise the domestic tire industry sought this protectionism. Seven of the 10 also make tires in other countries. Most U.S. manufacturers have stopped making low-end tires, preferring the higher profit from more expensive models. (Four U.S. companies make low-end tires in China.)
The president smote China because a single union, the United Steelworkers, asked him to. It represents rubber workers, but only those responsible for 47 percent of U.S. tiremaking. The president's action will not create more than a negligible number of jobs, if any. It will not restore a significant number, if any, of the almost 5,200 jobs that were lost in the tire industry between 2004 and 2008. Rather, the president will create jobs in other nations (e.g., Mexico, Indonesia) that make low-end tires. They make them partly because some U.S. firms have outsourced the manufacturing of such tires to low-wage countries so the U.S. firms can make a small profit, while making high-end and higher-profit tires here in high-wage America.
The 215 percent increase in tire imports from China is largely the fault, so to speak, of lower-income Americans, many of whom will respond to the presidential increase in the cost of low-end tires by driving longer on their worn tires. How many injuries and deaths will this cause? How many jobs will it cost in tire replacement businesses, or among longshoremen who handle imports? We will find out. The costs of the president's sacrifice of the national interest to the economic illiteracy of a single labor union may also include injuries China might inflict by imposing retaliatory protectionism or reducing its purchases of U.S. government debt, purchases that enable Americans to consume more government services than they are willing to pay for.
Obama was silent when Congress, pleasing the Teamsters union, violated the North American Free Trade Agreement by stopping Mexican trucks from delivering goods north of the border. And although he is almost never silent about anything, he did not protest "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus legislation. And he has not denounced the idea many Democratic climate tinkerers have of imposing "border adjustment mechanisms" -- tariffs -- on imports from countries that choose not to burden their manufacturers, as the Obama administration proposes burdening American manufacturers, with restrictions on carbon emissions. And he allows unratified trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama to languish. Nevertheless, he says he favors free trade.
He must -- or so he thinks -- say so much about so many things, perhaps he cannot keep track of the multiplying contradictions in his endless utterances. But they -- and the tire tariffs -- are related to the sagging support for his health care program.
By Garry Wills
George W. Bush left the White House unpopular and disgraced. His successor promised change, and it was clear where change was needed. Illegal acts should cease—torture and indefinite detention, denial of habeas corpus and legal representation, unilateral canceling of treaties, defiance of Congress and the Constitution, nullification of laws by signing statements. Powers attributed to the president by the theory of the unitary executive should not be exercised. Judges who are willing to give the president any power he asks for should not be confirmed.
But the momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked, or even slowed. It was not created by the Bush administration. The whole history of America since World War II caused an inertial transfer of power toward the executive branch. The monopoly on use of nuclear weaponry, the cult of the commander in chief, the worldwide network of military bases to maintain nuclear alert and supremacy, the secret intelligence agencies, the entire national security state, the classification and clearance systems, the expansion of state secrets, the withholding of evidence and information, the permanent emergency that has melded World War II with the cold war and the cold war with the "war on terror"—all these make a vast and intricate structure that may not yield to effort at dismantling it. Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers (1941–2009) have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order.
The truth of this was borne out in the early days of Barack Obama's presidency. At his confirmation hearing to be head of the CIA, Leon Panetta said that "extraordinary rendition"—the practice of sending prisoners to foreign countries—was a tool he meant to retain. Obama's nominee for solicitor general, Elena Kagan, told Congress that she agreed with John Yoo's claim that a terrorist captured anywhere should be subject to "battlefield law." On the first opportunity to abort trial proceedings by invoking "state secrets"—the policy based on the faulty Reynolds case—Obama's attorney gen- eral, Eric Holder, did so. Obama refused to release photographs of "enhanced interrogation." The CIA had earlier (illegally) destroyed ninety-two videotapes of such interrogations—and Obama refused to release documents describing the tapes.
The President said that past official crimes would not be investigated—certainly not for prosecution, and not even by an impartial "truth commission" just trying to establish a record. He said, on the contrary, that detainees might be tried in "military tribunals." When the British government, trying a terrorist suspect, decided to use some American documents shared with the British government, Obama's attorney general pressured it not to do so.
Most important, perhaps, was the new president's desire to end the nation-building in Iraq while substituting a long-term nation-building effort in Afghanistan, run by a government corrupted by drug trafficking and not susceptible to our remolding.
Even in areas outside national security, the Obama administration quickly came to resemble Bush's. Gay military personnel, including those with valuable Arabic-language skills, were being dismissed at the same rate as before. Even more egregiously, the Obama administration continued the defiance of the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause, which requires states to recognize laws passed by other states, when it defended the Defense of Marriage Act, which lets states refuse to recognize gay marriages legally obtained in another state.
Many objected when Dick Cheney would not name energy executives who came to the White House in 2002, though Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, had been forced to reveal which health advisers had visited her. Yet the Obama team, in June 2009, refused to release logs of those who come to the White House. (It later reversed itself, but only in response to a lawsuit.)
Some were dismayed to see how quickly the Obama people grabbed at the powers, the secrecy, the unaccountability that had led Bush into such opprobrium. Leon Panetta at the CIA especially puzzled those who had known him during the Clinton years. A former CIA official told The Washington Post, "Leon Panetta has been captured by the people who were the ideological drivers for the interrogation program in the first place." A White House official told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, "It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that turning around the huge secret empire built by the National Security State is a hard, perhaps impossible, task. After most of the wars in US history there was a return to the constitutional condition of the pre-war world. But after those wars there was no lasting institutional security apparatus of the sort that was laboriously assembled in the 1940s and 1950s. After World War I, for instance, there was no CIA, no NSA, no mountain of secret documents to be guarded from unauthorized readers, no atomic bomb to guard, develop, deploy, and maintain in readiness on land, in the air, and on (or in) the sea.
Now a new president quickly becomes aware of the vast empire that is largely invisible to the citizenry. The United States maintains an estimated one thousand military bases in other countries. I say "estimated" because the exact number, location, and size of the bases are either partly or entirely cloaked in secrecy, among other things to protect nuclear installations.The secrecy involved is such that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy did not even know, at first, that we had nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey.
An example of this imperial system is the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. In the 1960s, to secure a military outpost without fear of any interference from indigenous peoples, the two thousand Chagossian inhabitants were forcibly expelled, deprived of their native land, and sent a thousand miles away. (It is the same ploy we had used in removing native peoples from the Bikini and Enewetak atolls and Lib Island, so that we could conduct our sixty-eight atomic and hydrogen bomb tests there.) Though technically Diego Garcia is leased from the British, it is entirely run by the United States. It was the United States that expelled the Chagossians and confiscated their property. Diego Garcia has become a vast armory, as well as a storage and staging area and harbor and launch site, from which supplies and air strikes are fanned out over the Middle East, especially to the Persian Gulf and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. No journalists are allowed to visit it. It was funded on a vast scale by various deceptions of Congress. Even the leasing terms with Great Britain were kept secret, to avoid congressional oversight.
That is just one of the hundreds of holdings in the empire created by the National Security State. A president is greatly pressured to keep all the empire's secrets. He feels he must avoid embarrassing the hordes of agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments whose loyalty he must command. Keeping up morale in this vast, shady enterprise is something impressed on him by all manner of commitments. He becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant.
On January 25, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales signed a memo written by David Addington that called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete." Perhaps, in the nuclear era, the Constitution has become quaint and obsolete. Few people even consider anymore Madison's lapidary pronouncement, "In republican government the legislative authority necessarily predominates." Instead, we are all, as citizens, asked to salute our commander in chief. Any president, wanting leverage to accomplish his goals, must find it hard to give up the aura of war chief, the mystery and majesty that have accrued to him with control of the Bomb, the awesome proximity to the Football, to the Button.
Nonetheless, some of us entertain a fondness for the quaint old Constitution. It may be too late to return to its ideals, but the effort should be made. As Cyrano said, "One doesn't fight in the hope of winning" (Mais on ne se bat pas dans l'espoir du succès).
— September 10, 2009
Jane Mayer, "The Secret History," The New Yorker, June 22, 2009.
Charlie Savage, "Obama's War on Terror May Resemble Bush's in Some Areas," The New York Times, February 18, 2009.
John Schwartz, "Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets," The New York Times, February 10, 2009. See also my recent discussion of the Reynolds case, "Why the Government Can Legally Lie," The New York Review, February 12, 2009.
Evan Perez and Siobhan Gorman, "Obama Tilts to CIA on Memos," The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2009; R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, "CIA Fights Full Release of Detainee Report," The Washington Post, June 17, 2009.
See David Vine, Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press, 2009). See also the review by Jonathan Freedland, "A Black and Disgraceful Site," The New York Review, May 28, 2009.
2)Interview: David Makovsky
David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the co-author, along with Dennis Ross, of Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.
Near East Report asked Makovsky to give an overview on some of the topics covered in his new book.
Near East Report: Your book is entitled Myths, Illusions and Peace. What are the myths and illusions you are referring to?
David Makovsky: There are many myths, but the mother of all myths is the idea that somehow if you solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, you solve the whole Middle East. Arab leaders come to Washington very often and perpetuate this idea, which is known as linkage. Arab leaders use linkage as an instrument to put the onus of resolving the conflict upon the United States. After all, if the payoff is so great, if solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the panacea to solving all of the Middle East, certainly the United States would want to get involved and find a quick resolution.
Dennis Ross and I felt that there was a pattern of Arab states wanting the United States to do the heavy lifting—which they interpret as twisting Israel’s arm—while they themselves remain safely on the sidelines. And that was one of the main reasons why we wrote the book, to examine and refute the linkage argument. Dennis and I believe that the Arabs and Israelis need to solve their tragic conflict, but we think it’s a mistake to oversell it.
NER: You also write about the linkage sometimes advocated by U.S. academics and policymakers. Can you explain that ideology?
DM: Yes, we felt that different political schools of thought in America were misreading the reality in the Middle East. The so-called realism school views Israel as a strategic liability to the United States, and we don’t think that’s the case. The realists tend to believe that American interests in the Middle East are focused on oil and that means an alignment with Arab states. To the realists, Israel is either an irrelevancy or an impediment to American interests in the region, and so they want the United States to impose a peace treaty on the parties involved.
NER: How, then, do you look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And what role should the United States play in solving it?
DM: There is a tragic conflict here between Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world portray the conflict as one that began with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, when in fact much of the Arab world would not accept Israel’s existence even if the Jewish state was the size of a telephone booth on a Tel Aviv beach. The conflict has nothing to do with the West Bank and Gaza.
Today, in the Palestinian movement, there is an active debate between the Islamists led by Hamas, who don’t recognize Israel anywhere, and I think some very intriguing possibilities in the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas. Dennis and I know that solving this conflict will not lead to Hamas’ acceptance of Israel because Hamas does not recognize Israel anywhere. At the same time, we see a value to finding a political solution because we think that if you could satisfy the core requirements of the non-Islamist Palestinians, then you would have greatly weakened the opposition to Israel among the Palestinians as a whole. We’re not blind and we know this issue is evocative in the region and we know there are Islamists who exploit this issue as a grievance. And to that end we think there is a value in trying to address this issue so they will not exploit it. But we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that the Islamists will melt away.
If there is a way to reach a peace treaty, or agreement short of a treaty, that will take into account Israel’s legitimate security interests, we think that’s important. Dennis and I believe that Israeli security interests are not a footnote to this conflict; they are at the core. Therefore, whether or not we can solve the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict now, U.S. policy needs to carefully demonstrate that any agreement would make Israel more secure and not more vulnerable.
NER: How do you see the Obama administration’s Iran policy playing out? How did the United States get to be in the position where it is now, with Iran on the brink of developing a nuclear bomb?
DM: While the Bush administration had the intention of stopping Iran’s nuclear program, the net effect of just isolating Iran played into the regime’s hands because it was more concerned with its nuclear program than anything else. Iran’s view was, “Ok, you don’t want to talk to us, great. We’ll keep spinning our centrifuges.”
t was a rough position for the new Obama administration to find itself in on Inauguration day. The Obama team has decided to pursue a policy of engagement. But given the track record of the mullahs at this point, and given the fraud of their election on June 12, the odds are that the success of engagement, despite America’s best of intentions, is unlikely. But by even having checked the engagement box, so to speak, it will frame America’s ability to look at other options, and it will make those options more credible and more legitimate, including tough economic sanctions. President Obama has stated that no options are off the table.
I want to be clear that this assessment is not because the United States is not coming to the negotiating table with good intentions. It is—but it takes two to tango. There is just no sign at this point that the mullahs would like to engage genuinely and the likelihood, I think, is that the United States will move more in the direction of stronger sanctions.
NER: During this period of engagement, then, at what point do we look at Iran’s behavior and say, ok, now is the time for stronger sanctions? How can the United States measure the effectiveness of engagement?
DM: That is a very fair question, and I don’t claim to be an expert on sanctions. The Obama administration is worried about alienating the partners it needs for stronger sanctions. There is a logic to that, but only if there really are partners. Is Russia a partner? I don’t know. The Americans may be left with the Europeans.
Iran is talking and spinning centrifuges at the same time. This is why there is not a lot of time here. We need to ensure that we have the most partners for our strategy so that any deal with Iran, if there is one to be found, will be enforceable. But if a deal with Iran does not look likely, then the United States shouldn’t spend too much time trying to court Russia. In the end, the Russians may not be with us because they do too much business with Iran and for other reasons; they are unlikely to support new sanctions.
Also worth mentioning here: I don’t know if the United States and Israel have the same definition of where the red line is for Iran. I think it’s crucial that U.S. and Israeli officials sort that out. But I think that there should be no discrepancy anywhere that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, it’s a game changer in the Middle East, as President Obama said last summer.
NER: Your co-author, Dennis Ross, is now a senior advisor to President Obama on Iran. Based on what you have said so far, is it fair to say that the strategies he articulated in the book are now U.S. policy?
DM: I don’t speak for Dennis and he doesn’t speak for me. When you are inside an administration, as influential as you may be, there are many factors to policymaking. In addition, there are timing issues about what you say publicly and what you say privately. You are trying to manage, ultimately, a broad coalition around your policy objectives. But my knowledge of Dennis Ross is that he has a clear-eyed view and does not look at the Middle East through rose-tinted glasses. I believe that this administration is trying to condition people to the reality that sanctions are a very serious possibility if Iran doesn’t come forward.
NER: Briefly, a question about Syria. What is the status of Israel-Syria relations?
DM: The Syria issue is complicated. I think that the biggest cheering section in Israel for a peace deal with Syria is the Israeli defense establishment. The IDF sees a strategic windfall if Syria can be moved away from the Iranian axis. Is that possible? The Israeli defense establishment answers, “Well, you won’t know unless you try.” And I think that has a certain appeal
But at the same time there is a question of priorities. Israel is clearly focused on the Iranian threat while simultaneously working with the Obama administration on how to promote peace talks with the Palestinians. The Syria issue may be crowed out by those other two priorities. However, Syria could make itself the top priority in Israel if Damascus would be unambiguous in making peace statements that would be heard by the Israeli public. But absent any clear public statements about Syria’s intention to leave the Iranian axis, the Syria issue will not likely receive the Israeli prime minister’s top attention, given the number of things already on his agenda.
NER: And finally, a topic that is of great concern to NER readers, and a topic that you spend a great deal of time on in your book. When people ask you why Israel is a strategic asset for the United States, what do you say?
DM: If you look at the Middle East, you see Israel is a counterweight to radicalism in the region. We had a whole chapter on why we think two of these so-called realist thinkers, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, are wrong when they say Israel is a liability to the United States. If you follow the reality of the Middle East, you will see it’s more complex than a sound bite on the cable news shows. None of the Arab governments have an interest in a weak Israel. They see Israel, while they can’t declare it as such, as key to thwarting Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East, stopping Hizballah and Hamas, and blocking Syria’s ascendance—as Israel did when it bombed Syria’s nuclear reactor in September 2007. On all of these things, the Israel’s and Arab governments’ interests converge.
Dennis and I want people to read our book because, having spent our professional lifetimes observing the Middle East from different perspectives, we believe the reality of the region is a lot different than it looks from a distance. There are a lot of under-the-table alliances that bring Israel and Arab governments together.
Another point worth considering: If you were an Arab state and you saw the U.S.-Israel relationship reaffirmed more than any bilateral relationship since World War II—if the U.S. could walk away from that relationship, it could walk away from any relationship with an Arab state, and the only winner would be Osama bin Laden. And therefore it’s curious that he has come out in his latest audio statement to endorse this “strategic liability” school—this is not guilt by association; I want to be clear that nobody is charging Walt and Mearsheimer with that—but the consequences of their recommended policy are not in the interest of anyone who wants to see America being strong on the Middle East. The U.S.-Israel relationship is vital and must flourish for a long time to come.
3) Iran loses its only AWACS as Ahmadinejad threatens the world
Up above a big military parade in Tehran on Tuesday, Sept. 22, as Iranian president declared Iran's armed forces would "chop off the hands" of any power daring to attack his country, two air force jets collided in mid-air. One was Iran's only airborne warning and control system (AWACS) for coordinating long-distance aerial operations, DEBKAfile's military and Iranian sources disclose.
The proud military parade, which included a march-past, a line of Shehab-3 missiles and an air force fly-past, was planned to give Ahmadinejad a dazzling send-off for New York and add steel to his UN Assembly speech Wednesday.
Dubbed "Simorgh" (a flying creature of Iranian fable which performs wonders in mid-flight), the AWACS' appearance, escorted by fighter jets, was to have been the climax for the Iranian Air force's fly-past over the parade. Instead, it collided with one of escorting planes, a US-made F-5E, and both crashed to the ground in flames. All seven crewmen were killed.
Eye witnesses reported that the flaming planes landed on the mausoleum burial site of the Islamic revolution's founder Ruhollah Khomeini, a national shrine. According to Western observers, no distress signals came from either cockpit indicating that the collision and explosions were sudden and fast.
Military sources say the disaster was a serious blow to the Iranian Air Force not long after its first and only AWACS went into service in April 2008. It was a renovated version of the Russian Ilyushin 76, part of Saddam Hussein's air force before it was transferred to Iran in 1991 during the first Gulf War.
Tehran hired Russian technicians to carry out renovations and install up-to-date radar. At the launching ceremony of the upgraded AWACS, Air Force commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Miqani boasted its new radar systems were made in Iran and able to spot any airplane or missile at a distance of 1,000 kilometers from Iran's borders.
The loss of this airborne control system has left Iran's air force and air and missile defenses without "electronic eyes" for surveillance of the skies around its borders.
4)What Price Photo Op?
By Jonathan Tobin
Barack Obama got to play peacemaker during his staged meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. In a throwback to Bill Clinton's famous photo op on the White House Lawn with Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, Obama stood between the men, holding their arms as the two shook hands.
In his remarks, the president proclaimed that he intended to break new ground:
It is past time to talk about starting negotiations; it is time to move forward. It is time to show flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that is necessary to achieve our goals,” he continued, adding that leaders in the Middle East could not continue “the same patterns, taking tentative steps forward, then taking steps back.
But given the fact that the Palestinian Authority and Abbas are in no position to make any deal with Israel no matter where such an agreement placed the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, the Obama-orchestrated dog-and-pony show staged for the press today is, in fact, simply more of the same. Like George W. Bush's Annapolis Summit, held in the fall of 2007, the pictures and the talk about the need for progress are utterly futile. After that meeting, Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas pretty much the deal that the "experts" on the Middle East always claim is the only solution: a two-state plan, with the Palestinians getting virtually all the West Bank as well as part of Jerusalem. But Abbas was no more able to say yes to this than Arafat was when Ehud Barak offered him almost as much in the summer of 2000.
What is different about the current situation is that when this president makes "evenhanded" statements in which he poses a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians, his coolness to the Jewish state during his nine months in office leads one to believe that he really means it. Obama's obsession with trying to halt the building of Jewish housing not only in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank (parts of which were accepted by the Bush administration as permanently belonging to Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza) has not made the Palestinians more amenable to peace. On the contrary, the more Washington backs away from the Israelis, the more likely Abbas (not to mention his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza and threaten his hold on the West Bank) is to stand pat and wait for the Americans to deliver more Israeli concessions to him on a silver platter. And given that leftist Jewish groups, who may well have the ear of Obama and his intimates, are calling for more pressure on Israel, supposedly for its own good, there is every reason to believe that any involvement by the president in the talks will be to Israel's detriment.
Far from being a formula for peace, Obama's involvement and his hectoring of Israel may set in motion a chain of events that, like the failure of Bill Clinton's Camp David summit, may instigate a new campaign of Palestinian violence. Photos such as the one taken today may nurture the illusion that Obama is helping to nudge the Middle East on its way to peace. But the price for such heightened expectations, in the absence of any real change of heart about the need for mutual recognition of Israel on the part of the Arab and Muslim worlds, may be terrible indeed.