Monday, October 31, 2005

Tocqueville in Alabama

To: Members of PoliSci. 181-601 (Modern Political Thought)
From: Jeff Weintraub
Re: Tocqueville in Alabama

During the class meeting we happened to be talking about the southern civil rights movement of the 1950s-1960s, out of which figures like Martin Luther King emerged. Another of those figures was Rosa Parks, who recently died. By a nice coincidence, a sympathetic article about Rosa Parks's life in today's New York Times highlights some of the themes we've been dealing with in Tocqueville.

=> Consider, for example, some points emphasized by Tocqueville in Democracy in America:
"In our own day freedom of association has become a necessary guarantee against the tyranny of the majority. [….] Here I would repeat something which I have put in other words when speaking of municipal freedom: no countries need associations more—to prevent either despotism of parties or the arbitrary rule of a prince—than those with a democratic social condition [état social]" (p. 192)

"Feelings and ideas are renewed, the heart enlarged, and the understanding developed only by the reciprocal action of men one upon another." (p. 515)

"Among democratic peoples associations must take the place of the powerful private persons whom equality of conditions has eliminated. [....] Thenceforth, they are no longer isolated individuals, but a power conspicuous from the distance whose actions serve as an example; when it speaks, men listen." (p. 516)

"In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others. [….] If men are to remain civilized or to become civilized, the art of association must develop and improve among them at the same speed as equality of conditions." (p. 517)

"There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.” (p. 270)
=> Do these points, and the larger analyses in which they're embedded, help to illuminate anything significant about the political career of Rosa Parks and the movement in which she participated? For example:
The truth is that Mrs. Parks was not someone who one day, out of the blue, decided to defy the local custom of blacks sitting in the back of the bus. That story leads some people to the cynical conclusion, once voiced by a character in the movie "Barbershop," that all Rosa Parks did was sit on her bottom. That's not only insulting but a distortion that takes away the powerful truth that Rosa Parks worked hard to develop her own political consciousness and then worked hard to build a politically aware black community in the heart of Dixie.

Before that one moment of defiance on the bus she was a civil rights activist who had long fought to get voting rights for black people in Alabama. Apparently it is too confusing to mention that as far back as 1943 she had refused to follow the rules requiring black people to enter city buses through the back door. And it invites too much complexity to mention that in the late 40's, as an official of the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P., she was forming a coalition with a group of black and white women in Montgomery to fight segregated seating on city buses.   [....]\

All of this preceded the moment when Rosa Parks refused to give up her own seat on the bus. Even after her arrest she had to agree to fight the charges of violating segregation laws, and risk angering the white establishment in town and losing her job. Her husband and her mother told her she was going to be lynched for becoming the named plaintiff in a challenge to segregation. She made a deliberate decision to take up the fight. There was nothing spontaneous about this. And she knew that she would not be fighting alone.  [....]

Take two other black women who died recently with much less attention to their life work. Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman to be a federal judge, was an N.A.A.C.P. lawyer who helped to write briefs used in arguing the Brown school desegregation case. In the 50's, she went into hostile towns all over the South and won case after case to make sure that their school districts really integrated. She also directed the legal campaign that led to the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi and stood by him as he faced down segregationist violence to enroll. And she stayed with Medgar Evers as he battled the racists who eventually killed him.   [Etc.]
Yours for citizenship,
Jeff Weintraub

====================
New York Times
October 31, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor
The Long History of a Bus Ride

By Juan Williams
Washington
Rosa Parks led an inspiring life. Unfortunately, we rarely hear about it.
That may sound surprising at a time when Rosa Parks is probably mentioned in every American history textbook and is the subject of dozens of biographies. The problem is that her story is usually presented as a simplistic morality tale. It is a paint-by-the numbers picture of virtue that goes like this:
On Dec. 1, 1955, Mrs. Parks is an ordinary 42-year-old seamstress in downtown Montgomery, Ala. She leaves work and gets on the Cleveland Avenue bus to go home. When the whites-only section fills up, the bus driver yells at Mrs. Parks to give up her seat to a white man. She refuses and is arrested. Simply by sitting on a bus, Mrs. Parks sets off the year-long Montgomery bus boycott that galvanizes national attention, brings the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the start of his journey as a civil rights leader and creates a model of nonviolent protest against racial segregation.
There's no denying the appeal of this story - her body began lying in honor in the Capitol yesterday. But this telling of the tale does a disservice to Mrs. Parks and twists the history of the civil rights movement. Her story is about more than one bus ride. And the civil rights movement is more than one moment of defiance. The focus on Rosa Parks leads to the neglect of other civil rights pioneers who did far more to shape history.
Take two other black women who died recently with much less attention to their life work. Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman to be a federal judge, was an N.A.A.C.P. lawyer who helped to write briefs used in arguing the Brown school desegregation case. In the 50's, she went into hostile towns all over the South and won case after case to make sure that their school districts really integrated. She also directed the legal campaign that led to the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi and stood by him as he faced down segregationist violence to enroll. And she stayed with Medgar Evers as he battled the racists who eventually killed him.
Another woman who recently died, C. DeLores Tucker, didn't face that kind of drama. But she broke through political barriers to become Pennsylvania's commonwealth secretary, then blazed new paths by working to get other black people into elected office and challenging misogyny in rap music.
The one-dimensional telling of one day in the life of Rosa Parks takes her away from the real story - and to my mind the really inspiring story - of extraordinary black women like Judge Motley and Ms. Tucker, who rose from working-class backgrounds to become dedicated to creating social change.
The truth is that Mrs. Parks was not someone who one day, out of the blue, decided to defy the local custom of blacks sitting in the back of the bus. That story leads some people to the cynical conclusion, once voiced by a character in the movie "Barbershop," that all Rosa Parks did was sit on her bottom. That's not only insulting but a distortion that takes away the powerful truth that Rosa Parks worked hard to develop her own political consciousness and then worked hard to build a politically aware black community in the heart of Dixie.
Before that one moment of defiance on the bus she was a civil rights activist who had long fought to get voting rights for black people in Alabama. Apparently it is too confusing to mention that as far back as 1943 she had refused to follow the rules requiring black people to enter city buses through the back door. And it invites too much complexity to mention that in the late 40's, as an official of the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P., she was forming a coalition with a group of black and white women in Montgomery to fight segregated seating on city buses.
Her education in rural Pine Level, Ala., came at Jim Crow schools that taught her only enough to work for white people as a washerwoman, maid or seamstress. In Montgomery, she worked mending dresses. One of her employers was Virginia Durr, the wife of a powerful white lawyer. Mrs. Durr, a member of the interracial Women's Political Council, became Mrs. Parks's ally in a long-term effort to use political pressure to end the daily indignity of riding segregated buses.
Mrs. Durr introduced Mrs. Parks to the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. The school taught strategies to empower white and black people to get better wages, to register to vote and organize as a political force. Even before Highlander, Mrs. Parks had championed the rights of a teenager, Claudette Colvin, who was arrested in March 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to white people on a Montgomery bus.
All of this preceded the moment when Rosa Parks refused to give up her own seat on the bus. Even after her arrest she had to agree to fight the charges of violating segregation laws, and risk angering the white establishment in town and losing her job. Her husband and her mother told her she was going to be lynched for becoming the named plaintiff in a challenge to segregation. She made a deliberate decision to take up the fight. There was nothing spontaneous about this. And she knew that she would not be fighting alone.
Rosa Parks was uncomfortable with the sainthood thrust upon her, and used to say there was more to her life than "being arrested on a bus." Her full, not so simple story is a guide to activism, an inspiration to every American trying to find the power to create social change. The best way to honor her memory is by also celebrating those people whose stories are not so easy to grasp, but who played roles that Rosa Parks would have said overshadowed her own.
Juan Williams, a senior correspondent for NPR and a political analyst for Fox News Channel, is working on a book about Bill Cosby and race.

Comic relief from Hugh Hewitt

Responding to a post by Henry Farrell, "And while we’re on the subject of Newspeak …", on the group weblog "Crooked Timber". --Jeff Weintraub

=======================

Hi Henry,

And while we’re on the subject of Newspeak …

Posted by Henry

Hugh Hewitt’s outing for the New York Times today is very funny.

The right’s embrace in the Miers nomination of tactics previously exclusive to the left – exaggeration, invective, anonymous sources, an unbroken stream of new charges, television advertisements paid for by secret sources – will make it immeasurably harder to denounce and deflect such assaults when the Democrats make them the next time around.
posted on Friday, October 28th, 2005 at 2:15 pm


My thought precisely--hilarious And as I'm sure you are aware, the passage you cited is not the only (unintentionally) comical one in Hewitt's preposterous op-ed. As I read his piece, I kept thinking to myself, "Is this a joke? I don't get it." For example:

Over the last two elections, the Republican Party regained control of the United States Senate by electing new senators in Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. These victories were attributable in large measure to the central demand made by Republican candidates, and heard and embraced by voters, that President Bush's nominees deserved an up-or-down decision on the floor of the Senate.

All those swing voters turned out because they felt passionately about procedural issues in the US Senate? It wasn't because they wanted Supreme Court justices who would rule one way rather than another on specific issues (such as abortion)? Can Hewitt possibly believe this? No, even he isn't that stupid.

A deliberate parody couldn't have done a better job of portraying Hewitt in a way that leaves open only two possible options: (a) he's a shameless, bare-faced liar, or (b) he's an idiot. Possibly both, I guess.

Cheers,
Jeff Weintraub

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Kevin Drum (Political Animal) on the same subject:

October 28, 2005

PLATONIC SHILLDOM....In a New York Times op-ed today, Hugh Hewitt takes on conservatives who opposed the Harriet Miers nomination:

The right's embrace in the Miers nomination of tactics previously exclusive to the left — exaggeration, invective, anonymous sources, an unbroken stream of new charges, television advertisements paid for by secret sources — will make it immeasurably harder to denounce and deflect such assaults when the Democrats make them the next time around.

I guess that's it, then. There's literally nothing that Hugh is embarrassed to say in the service of his cause. He has reached Platonic shilldom.

Kevin Drum 8:34 PM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (38)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Restating the moral case for the Iraq war - Thomas Cushman, ed., A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE

Here are two useful reviews of an important book edited by Thomas Cushman, A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for the War in Iraq (University of California Press, 2005). To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that this title fully captures the substance of the book. The main title is a bit unspecific, and it seems to me that the subtitle is incomplete in a potentially misleading way, since the arguments collected in this book don't approach the 2003 Iraq war exclusively as a "humanitarian" intervention. They range over a somewhat wider field than that, with many of them also including significant pro-democratic, anti-fascist, and left- or liberal-internationalist elements, as well as appeals to prudential concerns and political realism (as distinct the narrower, and at times dubiously realistic, perspective associated with so-called foreign-policy "realism"), in various combinations.

However, those are quibbles. The essays collected in this book, taken together, capture one crucial dimension of the case for the 2003 Iraq war that has tended to get obscured or simplistically dismissed in many recent discussions. This is an important and valuable collection, and I strongly recommend reading it. Whether or not you agree in the end with the arguments it presents, they need to be confronted and taken seriously.

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Leaving aside Cushman's book for a moment, was there a serious moral case against the Iraq war? I am not quite ready to answer with a flat no, but as I have argued in the past, I am inclined to doubt it. During the debates of 2002-2003, the most serious, solid, and persuasive arguments against military action were essentially conservative ones that cautioned against war on prudential or "realist" grounds (even if the people making these arguments claimed to be, or believed themselves to be, speaking from a "progressive" or left-wing perspective). Of course, such arguments can also have a moral dimension--explicit or implicit--but in practice they generally tended to be distinguished from "humanitarian" arguments, and usually from strictly legalistic arguments as well. A number of these conservative-prudential arguments raised genuinely difficult and important issues .... which I am not going to try to revisit here.

However, in my possibly fallible opinion, (a) most of the anti-war arguments that explicitly described themselves as "moral" or "humanitarian"--as opposed to self-described "realist" or conservative-prudential arguments--were unconvincing and fallacious at best, and dishonest at worst, and (b) many the arguments that were presented in self-consciously legalistic and/or "realist" terms failed to face up to the key moral and political dilemmas involved. (For those curious to know some of my reasons for believing this, see for example here and here and here and here ... and for a more extensive overview, here.)

Nowadays, as James Traub points out in his New York Times review of Cushman's book, everyone wants to be seen as a "realist" rather than an "idealist"--with the result that the moral evasions have become even more unembarrassed than before, and I am reminded more than ever of C. Wright Mills's point that many allegedly "realist" arguments are more accurately described as "crackpot realism."

=====================
DLC | Blueprint Magazine | October 21, 2005

War of Conscience

Book Review
By Peter Ross Range
--------------------------

A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq
edited by Thomas Cushman
University of California Press, 372 pp., $21.95

Even as the Iraq war debate focuses increasingly on a potential U.S. troop withdrawal, the underlying question of whether the United States should have gone to war still divides and embitters opinions in the Democratic Party -- especially on its left wing. Liberal leaders and writers, and particularly in the world of academe, tend to speak as one voice against the war, making an antiwar position practically a litmus of liberalism. A lead pipe orthodoxy has formed on the left that excludes the possibility of pro-war arguments from a humanitarian point of view. This overlooks the fact that in the run-up to the Iraq war, a considerable body of liberal opinion supported regime change and the use of force against Saddam Hussein, though these opinions were scattered here and there on the op-ed landscape.

Now comes a book that brings together 24 journalists, scholars, writers, and politicians on the left. Collected under the editorship of Wellesley College sociologist Thomas Cushman, the book offers what he calls the "voices of a Third Force of liberal internationalism." They reject a status quo that allows tyrannies free rein, while grounding their support for intervention in human rights -- in idealism, not realism. The book provides intellectual ammunition for those on the left who still believe that toppling Saddam Hussein -- and staying the course for the democratization of Iraq despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction -- was and is the right thing to do. It will buttress embattled war supporters on the left who find themselves isolated and outshouted by the anti-warriors.

Some of the book's authors are well known to U.S. readers -- Christopher Hitchens, Ian Buruma, Paul Berman, and Tony Blair. Others, like British Member of Parliament and human rights activist Ann Clwyd, and French journalist Michel Taubman, are not as well known. Academics such as Jeffrey Herf, Norman Geras, and Mehdi Mozaffari are contributors, as are activist-writers like Poland's Adam Michnik and East Timor's José Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

What these thinkers have in common is a long background in left-wing politics; they also share an abiding conviction that pacifism and a misplaced deference to national sovereignty and international institutions has paralyzed the left, rendering it unable to act on its historic humanitarian impulses. They decry the conformist rejectionism by their friends on the left who not only take a different view of the war but are inclined to stifle the debate with dogmatic, emotional, even irrational responses.

While criticizing the Bush administration's poor handling of the post-war occupation, the writers nonetheless take on the issues that most often separate the anti-war left from the interventionist center. These include abandoning liberals' historic solidarity with the oppressed; the left's drift to a position of conservative realism on international affairs; the question of a just war versus an unjust peace; and the famously absent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Cushman, in his lucid introduction, attacks the failure of liberal European societies to uphold the liberal principles of the U.N. Charter -- and their simultaneous slavish deference to international law as a pretext for leaving Saddam alone. Ethical principles must sometimes trump unjust laws, he writes -- just as in the American civil rights movement.

Quite apart from the WMD issue, most of these writers argue from a liberal- humanitarian point of view that a tyranny as homicidal as Saddam's -- with 300,000 murdered over 30 years -- should not be tolerated by the international community. Leaving Saddam in place in the name of preserving peace over war, writes Dissent magazine editor Mitchell Cohen, is to endorse an "unjust peace" -- the precise flip side of a just war -- that would only have led, in any case, to war at a later date. Likewise, Danish journalist Anders Jerichow notes that "the so-called peace in Iraq ... has rested on the toleration of a brutal dictatorship and bloody suppression ... peace, that is, for governments but certainly not for people."

Cushman confesses that liberal hawks occupy a fairly lonely place in the leftist firmament these days. "I've had to come all the way to Poland to find liberals who support the war," he quips at the beginning of his telling interview with Michnik, the former Solidarity hero and editor. As one who suffered under totalitarianism, Michnik -- like many Poles -- is more inclined to support removal of a dictator than his fellow intellectuals in Western Europe. Michnik and others in the book address the issue that animates so many on the left -- how one can support a war run by a politician they hate, George W. Bush? It's perfectly possible, Michnik argues, that a "bad government [the Bush administration] ... can enter into a just war." The fact that the war was to be prosecuted by a "reactionary president," says British writer Jonathan Rée, "did not make it wrong."

One of the key recurring themes in these diverse essays -- many of which had already been published elsewhere but never been gathered into a single, accessible volume -- is the complaint that the anti-war argument rarely includes the Iraqis themselves. Ann Clywd, the Labor MP with a decadelong record of human rights activism in Iraq, notes how little the uproar over war in Britain "has to do with conditions within Iraq or the views of Iraqis." What is noticeable "is the absence of Iraqi voices," she writes.

British journalist and playwright Johann Hari devotes his entire essay to examining public opinion in Iraq in the months before and right after the invasion. The verdict was clear: Iraqis, while deathly afraid of war, nonetheless overwhelmingly wanted the invasion to proceed. "It is now beyond dispute that, on the day of the huge anti-war rallies around the world in February 2003, a majority of the Iraqis would have been marching in precisely the opposite direction if they had been free to do so." Hari was struck by "how marginal actual Iraqi people seemed to many people participating in the anti-war protests."

Which leads one to the inescapable observation that anti-war-ism is primarily about us, not them. Many war opponents, often still traumatized by Vietnam, are preoccupied with what invading Iraq says about America rather than what it does for the Iraqis. This might be called the Michael Moore wing of the left. "Moore's prism is that of the ethnocentric part of the American left," writes Cohen. For decades "tyrant bashing" was one of the left's "prouder reasons for existence," writes Financial Times editor John Lloyd. But now America-bashing is the left-wing litmus. "The U.S. ... is seen as The Problem -- and Iraq as its problem, not ours." This sort of thinking leads to a moral paralysis of the left, writes Ian Buruma, known to readers of The New York Review of Books as a liberal thinker. Slipped from their moral moorings, activists on the left seem to be "much keener to denounce the United States than to find ways to liberate Iraqis and others from their murderous Führers," he writes.

Moral relativism in the left-intellectual community is the subject of several essays. The most penetrating is by Richard Just, online editor of The New Republic. Just notes that he's 25 and appalled by the non-progressive tendencies of his generation of liberals, who have let an uncritical embrace of the principle of tolerance dominate their politics -- trumping the principle of justice. Tolerance of diversity, as hammered into young people over the past three decades, has its strengths, of course. But, at the political level, it has led "my fellow young liberals [to] a distinct discomfort with the idea of democracy as a universal value." In foreign policy, argues Just, reflexive tolerance "translates far too neatly into realism and yields a decidedly nonprogressive result." Realism is the politics of accommodation with existing power constellations -- in other words, the politics of doing nothing -- and leaving the Saddam Husseins in peace. This is the opposite of idealism. Just believes that "the fundamental obligations of idealism ... ought to be inseparable from the fundamental obligations of liberalism." He worries that his generational cohorts are becoming "Scowcroft Democrats."

Throughout the book, the essayists decry the conformist rejectionism of their liberal friends, caught up as they are in what Cushman calls "the current tide of intellectual orthodoxy on the left in relation to the Iraq war." He adds: "What has been so striking from a sociological point of view is the resistance to even hearing the humanitarian case for the war." At least one of the writers, Dutch professor Mient Jan Faber, lost his post with the Interchurch Peace Council of the Netherlands because of his views.

One contributor -- University of Maryland professor Jeffrey Herf -- changes his view in midstream. Herf, a Holocaust expert, reminds us that Churchill called World War II "an unnecessary war" -- not because it didn't need to be fought, but because it could have been avoided with decisive action against Hitler in the 1930s. The same, Herf argues, applies to Saddam. Herf also attacks the German left's misinterpretation of the West's triumph over communism as a purely diplomatic success, rather than the result of an armed-to-the-teeth Cold War in which, luckily, a shot never had to be fired. Then, at the last minute, apparently, Herf adds a postscript to announce that, had he known in 2003 that Saddam possessed no WMD, he would not have supported the war, which has now cost the United States worldwide credibility.

Herf is, of course, not the only liberal hawk who has had second thoughts. And yet there remains a large universe of those who supported the war at the outset and still believe, like Australian journalist Pamela Bone, that "we need to commit ourselves to the Iraqi people." Still, its views are often muffled by the din of criticism on the left. Cushman has done a great service by bringing these articulate and passionate voices between two covers. It is a reminder that there is an astute and humanitarian case for force, and that devout liberals can make it.

Peter Ross Range is editor of BLUEPRINT.

=====================
New York Times Book Review
Sunday, October 30, 2005
(Iraq: Special Section, pp. 7-8)

'The Right War?' and 'A Matter of Principle': Everybody Is a Realist Now

ON the whole, it has been a very satisfying postwar period for opponents of the American engagement in Iraq. I have agreed to pay off a bet with a friend who had rather gleefully predicted a steady flow of body bags from the battlefield. She's been vindicated as well on the W.M.D. front, for, like quite a few people with no apparent access to intelligence data, she "always knew" that Saddam Hussein no longer had his weapons of mass destruction, just as she always knew the whole venture would miscarry. Well, I tip my hat to her foresight; the news from Iraq has in fact been so hellish that many doubtful supporters of the war - the 55-45ers, as I like to call us - have been forced to rethink their calculus.

But the bloodshed and the chaos, and the Bush administration's hubris and sometimes unfathomable nonchalance, have obscured the powerful case for war that existed as of March 2003, when hostilities began, and that still survives, if barely, today. And though the stunning failure to find any evidence that Hussein had reconstituted his weapons programs is taken as a trump by the war's opponents, the case for war did not actually depend on the threat of imminent attack - even if the White House said otherwise. Virtually all of the essays collected in "The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq," edited by Gary Rosen, the managing editor of Commentary, and in "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq," edited by Thomas Cushman, the editor in chief of The Journal of Human Rights, were written after October 2003, when the weapons inspector David Kay put the kibosh on President Bush's prewar claims. And while several of the authors closest to the administration try to fudge the facts, and others have in fact changed their minds, most argue that Hussein's reckless expansionism, and his peerless brutality, justified the war even without vats of anthrax.

"Saddam's regime itself was the problem," as William Kristol and Robert Kagan write in a 2004 essay reprinted in "The Right War?," "above and beyond his weapons capabilities." They note that the policy of regime change began with the Clinton administration, and they quote Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, as asserting that Hussein was not only a menace to the region but "a source of inspiration for those who equate violence with power and compromise with surrender." The terrorist attacks of 9/11 increased the urgency to act, they say, not because Hussein was in any sense their author but because the bolt from the blue forced policy makers to focus on "the possible nexus between terrorism and Iraq's weapons program."

Could we afford to guess wrong, given the evidence of Hussein's intentions and capacities? Jeffrey Herf, a historian whose essay appears in "A Matter of Principle," a collection of articles making the "liberal internationalist" case for war, observes that a pre-emptive war against Germany in 1938 might have prevented World War II and the Holocaust, though it would have been roundly criticized since Hitler had not yet shown his hand.

Herf's argument is indistinguishable from many that appear in the conservative collection "The Right War?" In general, one thinks of the conservative rationale for war as Hobbesian - a matter of self-preservation in a chaotic world - and the liberal one as Kantian, an acceptance of moral obligations to others. And it's true that the authors represented in "The Right War?" put more stock in "good for us," while those in "A Matter of Principle" ground their claims more in "good for them." But it's mostly a matter of emphasis. Kristol and Kagan, for example, accept the humanitarian argument for war in Iraq, while Christopher Hitchens, a polemical warrior of the left, at least until very recently, argues that the "Islamofascism" embodied in Saddam Hussein's Baath regime represents an existential threat the West must be prepared to confront and destroy.

A decade ago, the question of humanitarian intervention, above all in Bosnia, split both left and right into antiwar "realists" and prowar moralists, or "Wilsonians." What is clear from these two volumes is that 9/11 fused the two arguments into one, for enemies embodying a totalitarian and obscurantist culture had reached out to deal us a terrible blow. This Islamofascist culture was as dangerous to us as to its domestic victims. President Bush, who entered office as a realist vowing to put "interests" ahead of "values," became the chief exponent of a revived Wilsonianism. "We support . . . democracy in the Middle East," he said, "because it is a founding principle, and because it is in our interest."

Debate on the war is now, in effect, organized around this view - whether it is valid, whether it can be applied to Iraq, whether the Bush administration has hopelessly botched the execution. "Democracy promotion" has cleaved opinion on both sides, as humanitarian intervention did before. On the right, the "paleos" dismiss the project as a dangerous pipe dream - a form of "democratic imperialism," in Patrick Buchanan's phrase.

Buchanan has largely lost his purchase on respectable conservative opinion, but the skepticism about human prospects upon which traditional conservatism is founded makes many figures on the right doubt that the democratization project will work in the Arab world. Germany and Japan, our great nation-building successes, had been modern, if not liberal-democratic, states in the past; Iraq, of course, was not. And as Francis Fukuyama observes, neoconservatives made their name by warning "about the dangers of ambitious social engineering," and about the difficulty of transforming a pathological culture. The old-line realists fear that the neocons have lost themselves in fantasies of transformation traditionally confined to the left.

Indeed, on the evidence of "The Right War?," the neocons do seem trapped in their own ironclad premises. If the war was both supremely just and supremely necessary - if the alternative really was Munich - then there can be no reckoning with bad consequences, no weighing in a balance. The horrors we commit cannot be horrible. Norman Podhoretz, the editor at large of Commentary, is - for reasons I won't bother to speculate about - granted more than a quarter of the acreage in "The Right War?" in order to broil familiar enemies in his familiar auto-da-fé. He concedes that "the aftermath of major military operations" was "rougher than the Pentagon seems to have expected." But then he immediately observes that more Americans died on D-Day.

By the same token, real achievements must be raised to world-historical proportions. The neoconservative essayist Reuel Marc Gerecht offers the following "analytical bet of high probability and enormous returns. . . . The Jan. 30 elections will do for the people of Iraq, and after them, in all likelihood, the rest of the Arab world, what the end of the European imperial period did not: show the way to sovereignty without tyranny." This way to the parimutuel window, Mr. Gerecht.

The debate being played out inside "The Right War?" is not so much the familiar one between unsentimental realists and Wilsonian idealists as between doctrinal absolutists and empiricists. "Foreign policy is not theology," writes Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International. "A policy that might have been wise crumbles if the costs become prohibitive." Zakaria initially supported the war and still believes that democracy can flourish in the Arab world. The problem, he writes, "is that the Bush administration's inept version of nation-building failed." The problem, more deeply, is that the theologically inclined will not accept the fact that others, including intended beneficiaries, do not see us as we see ourselves, or react as we wish them to react.

The debate inside the left is of course a very different one, but also involves an absolutism that will not take account of individual cases. The absolutism, in this case, is an abhorrence of American power - an abhorrence greatly magnified by hatred for George W. Bush and all his works. The journalist Ian Buruma, though not a supporter of the war, has accused the fashionable left of practicing a form of moral racism, in which the brutalities of the West provoke outrage but the far greater crimes of third-world monsters like Saddam Hussein are passed over in silence. A magisterial nonchalance marches under the banner of moral superiority. Apropos the novelist Julian Barnes's comment that the war wasn't worth the loss of a single life, Norman Geras, a British political theorist, mordantly observes, "Not one, eh? So much for the victims of the rape rooms and the industrial shredders." But of course to admit otherwise would be to credit the Americans, and even the Bush administration, with moral insight and the capacity for good. How much more satisfying to revel in the administration's richly deserved comeuppance!

"A Matter of Principle" will be sobering reading to many American liberals, especially those who took comfort in the near-universal European opposition to the war. Among the most powerful essays in the volume are those by French or German scholars taking their own countrymen to task. With the threat of the cold war over, writes Richard Herzinger, an editor of Die Zeit, the old cry of "Never again!" had lost its meaning of never again submission in favor of never again war - as if force itself were the great peril, and thus America, the most forceful nation, the chief enemy of peace. This is what Robert Kagan means when he describes the Kantian paradise Europeans have sought to take refuge in. They, no less than the Americans, and perhaps more, fit 9/11 into the world as they already understood it, and as they wished it to be.

Do we truly know what is required in order to defend democratic principles in the face of attack from those who consider themselves divinely inspired? (I am referring, of course, to Islamic fundamentalists, not the Bush administration.) "A Matter of Principle" includes a backbone-stiffening contribution from Adam Michnik, a political philosopher, a founder of Solidarity in Poland and an authentic hero of the democratic left. Asked whether it isn't "paradoxical" to advocate violence as a means to advance human rights, Michnik snaps, "I can't remember any text of mine where I said one should fight Hitler without violence; I'm not an idiot. . . . In the state of Saddam, the opposition could find a place only in cemeteries."

James Traub is writing a book on the United Nations in the era of Kofi Annan.

Andrew Cockburn, "The New Iran" (2000) - Retrospect on a failed experiment

Update, 10/30/2005: The landslide election of Mohammed Khatami as President of Iran in 1997, on a program of democratic and modernizing reform within the framework of the Islamic regime, initiated a period of expanded political openness, debate, and mobilization in Iran. A string of decisive electoral victories by reformers over the next 6 years at every level of the political system (including the even more lopsided re-election of Khatami as President in 2001) reinforced the impression that dramatic and peaceful changes were now possible, both within Iranian society and between Iran and the outside world.

However, the theocratic hard-liners, headed by Khomeini's successor Ali Khamenei, still controlled the non-elective part of the Iranian government, which happens to include almost all the real levers of power--the army, the police, the judiciary, the intelligence services, foreign policy, various councils with the power to invalidate laws and disqualify political candidates, etc. Using these and other instruments, including a few unofficial threats, beatings, and assassinations, the hard-liners were able to block the reformers, undermine them, and eventually demoralize them. By 2003-2004 it was clear that the whole Khatami-led project of reform within the system had hit a dead end. In the 2005 elections, the hard-liners were able to install as President a radical (and reactionary) exponent of classic Khomeinist ideology, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so that they now control the elective part of the government as well. The Khatami experiment is now definitively over.

(I've discussed these developments in a few pieces over the past few years, including "Is Iran approaching its 1989? (June 2003)", "End of the Road for Khatami?", and "The Iranian Dubcek bows out".)

The piece below that the British journalist Andrew Cockburn published in April 2000, "The New Iran", very nicely captures the sense of hope and political possibilities that this reformist opening aroused in many observers. With the benefit of hindsight, many of Cockburn's confident judgments, and the practical conclusions he drew from them, now look not only wrong but naive. For example:
[Robin Wright's] conclusion is simple and hard to quarrel with: The Islamic revolution in Iran is reforming itself, struggling free of the suffocating embrace of the religious tyranny imposed by Khomeini after the overthrow of the Shah. The men (and, to a lesser but still surprising extent, women) now taking power are, she makes clear, intent on improving relations with the United States. [....]

For a time, it appeared that Khomeini's hard-line heirs would not give up their power without a fight. Liberal student demonstrations were brutally broken up; a death squad operating from within the intelligence service began killing prominent reformist intellectuals. It is therefore all the more cheering that, in the end, the Iranian revolution appears to be reforming itself peacefully [....]
Well, apparently not. But this piece is most useful in bringing out the historical ironies and disappointments associated with this whole episode in Iranian history. Even though this political enterprise turned out to be a failure, it was probably necessary for it to be tried and to fail before Iranian political society could move on to the next step (not unlike the 1968 experiment in Reform Communism in Czechoslovakia, which helped convince the Eastern European opposition movements that no real change could be accomplished within the system). It remains to be seen what that next step will be, and how the long-term consequences of the Khatami experiment will play themselves out. A great deal depends on that, not just for Iranians but for the rest of us, too. Will there be an Iranian version of 1989? Probably not any time soon--but if something along these lines doesn't happen in the not-too-distant future, we are all in trouble, because right now all the foreseeable alternatives look pretty scary.

--Jeff Weintraub

__________________________

Andrew Cockburn, "The New Iran"
(Washington Monthly, April 2000)


The New Iran

By Andrew Cockburn

Coinciding with the recent triumph of reformers in the Iranian parliamentary elections, Robin Wright's depressingly titled book (are there really to be no more great revolutions?) is timely indeed. With impressive diligence she conducts us on a brisk trot round the modern Iranian social landscape, especially that part of it inhabited by enlightened reformers. The result is instructive and important to Americans reared on a media diet of fanatical mullahs preaching jihad to chanting masses.

Wright excels in the personal story---plunging into street demonstrations to elicit the life histories of youthful participants, dropping by a family-planning clinic to monitor young couples discussing sex, interviewing former revolutionaries, museum guards, carpet sellers, journalists, and many more, with impressive energy. At times I felt exhausted by her sheer industry. Her discussions with the liberal Islamic scholar Abdul Karim Soroush, one of the bravest and most interesting figures of contemporary Iran, as well as the redoubtable politician Ataollah Mohajerani, are particularly interesting.

Her conclusion is simple and hard to quarrel with: The Islamic revolution in Iran is reforming itself, struggling free of the suffocating embrace of the religious tyranny imposed by Khomeini after the overthrow of the Shah. The men (and, to a lesser but still surprising extent, women) now taking power are, she makes clear, intent on improving relations with the United States.

I hope Wright's book will be closely studied in Washington, where the Iranian "threat" is apparently still taken seriously in some quarters. Iran's missile program is, for example, customarily invoked as justification for the missile defense boondoggle, while the administration goes to enormous lengths to ensure that Caspian oil will not be routed, as the oil companies would prefer, through Iran, but rather through war-torn states of the former Soviet Union. Since there are so very few threats to go round in today's world, it may be some time before the national security establishment can tear itself away from the useful specter of militant ayatollahs.

In fact, Iran was never much of a threat in the first place. When our friend the Shah was overthrown by his enraged subjects, who went on to indicate in the hostage crisis that they had their beefs against the United States, threatmongers had us trembling in our beds at the prospect of militant Islam sweeping out of the desert sands and menacing Western civilization as we know it. Yet the Iranian revolution was principally an uprising against the secular modernism of the Shah's regime that had signally failed to promote social justice in Iran. Whatever Ayatollah Khomeini may have hoped, it had little export potential.

The theocracy espoused by Khomeini was a novel perversion even of Shia Islam, let alone the Sunni variant to which the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere adhere. "velayat-i faghi," the notion of a religious leader holding supreme political power, was given a very sniffy reception by theologically more eminent Shia figures, such as Grand Ayatollah al-Khoie, venerated religious leader of the 12 million Iraqi Shia. Thus, when Khomeini reached out to subvert his Iraqi co-religionists soon after taking power, few of them heeded his call. In fact, the Iraqi Shia fought tenaciously for Saddam Hussein against the Iranians over eight bloody years. The Shia of Saudi Arabia never posed much of a threat to the monarchy and were eventually bought off.

Further afield, the triumph of the revolution in Iran may have appeared to have found echoes in other Muslim countries with the appearance of fanatical groups pledged to "renewal" of their faith by returning to the alleged purity of seventh-century Islam. As in Khomeini's Iran, this involved adopting as dogma the most intolerant of the Prophet's revelations---chopping off the hands of thieves, subjugation of women, etc. But such movements have rarely successfully taken power, and where Islamic states have appeared they have not served as models to others. Today, apart from Iran, the sum total of successful fundamentalist Islamic revolutions consists of Sudan and Afghanistan, hardly an advertisement for the model.

Admittedly, there are places where militant Islam still appears to flourish. In Indonesia, for example, a Muslim leader recently told a hundred thousand demonstrators in Jakarta that "tolerance is absurd," sparking a massacre of Christians. Nigeria is convulsed by riots and massacres following attempts to impose Islamic "sharia" law. Pakistan, where the military rulers have followed Koranic precepts in banning interest on bank loans, may yet fall victim to a corrosive fundamentalism. Nevertheless, the overall picture is that of a movement in retreat, most tellingly in the place where it all started: Iran.

Just as Khomeini's revolution was propelled by disaffection with the poverty and social injustice associated with the Shah's corrupt rule, so his successors have suffered from their failure to alleviate poverty and their own very evident dishonesty. On my last trip to Iran I found this to be the dominant topic of conversation across the country: "Prices keep rising, wages stay where they are. The mullahs are corrupt. There's no freedom here." Not surprisingly, the mullahs' failure has led to a gradual loss of interest in Islam itself. It is rare for example to see people stopping to pray in public places, a common sight in supposedly secular states like Turkey.

For a time, it appeared that Khomeini's hard-line heirs would not give up their power without a fight. Liberal student demonstrations were brutally broken up; a death squad operating from within the intelligence service began killing prominent reformist intellectuals. It is therefore all the more cheering that, in the end, the Iranian revolution appears to be reforming itself peacefully, a fact that provides the central thesis of Wright's book and has been notably confirmed by the recent elections. As she concludes: "The Islamic Republic does deserve credit for one of the twentieth century's most important legacies. In ways never anticipated, Iran's upheaval did succeed in creating a climate for revolutions within the revolution." Maybe Khomeini had his points after all.

Andrew Cockburn's most recent book is Out of the Ashes; The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Ahmadinejad: Israel's "annihilation" is a necessary part of the "historic war" between Islam & the West (Al Jazeera)

Earlier this week the new Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, caused an international stir by calling openly for Israel to be destroyed--"wiped off the map," in the English-language translation offered by the official Iranian news service. In fact, this has been the official policy of the Iranian Islamic Republic since it was established after the 1979 revolution. But in recent years, during the period when the elective part of the Iranian government was formally (though impotently) controlled by reformers led by President Khatami, this position had not been declared in such straightforward and aggressive terms in forums where it would be picked up by the international press. Of course, it continued to be emphasized, for internal Iranian consumption, by the non-elective part of the government, headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, which controls all the actual levers of power. Now that the Khatami phase of moderate Islamic reformism has been definitively shut down by the hard-liners, both parts of the Iranian government are speaking with the same voice. This has come as a shock to some in the outside world.

The report of Ahmadinejad's speech by Al Jazeera (Ahmadinejad: Wipe Israel Off Map) usefully spelled out some aspects that tended to be skimmed over in most western reports I have seen.

In particular, it is interesting and illuminating to consider the larger context within which Ahmadinejad placed his call for Israel's "annihilation." One of Khatami's favorite slogans was the need for a "dialogue among civilizations." For Ahmadinejad, Israel's existence is part of a continuing 'war of civilizations' (to use the phrase made famous by Samuel Huntington) between Islam and the West, and the destruction of Israel is a necessary part of that long-term struggle.
"The Islamic umma (community) will not allow its historic enemy to live in its heartland," he said in the fiery speech that centred on a "historic war between the oppressor and the world of Islam"
In short, the problem is not Israeli policies or Israel's occupation of the West Bank & Gaza. Nor does this matter come down to a conflict between Israelis & Palestinians, or between Israel and the Arab world. Fundamentally, Israel is a foreign body within the Islamic heartland whose existence must be intolerable to all Muslims.

(As Andy Markovits aptly put it a few days ago: "Alas, this merely expressed in the open what millions of Muslims and Arabs actually feel: Israel is a FREMDKOERPER [foreign body] in their midst that simply has GOT to go." This feeling is not entirely absent even among those who are willing to make a pragmatic accommodation to Israel's existence for the foreseeable future. In recent decades, however, it has become rare for heads of government in the Muslim world to say this explicitly.)
"We should not settle for a piece of land," he said of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip. "Anyone who signs a treaty which recognises the entity of Israel means he has signed the surrender of the Muslim world," Ahmadinejad said. "Any leaders in the Islamic umma who recognise Israel face the wrath of their own people." [....]

His tone represents a major change from that of former president Mohammad Khatami, whose favored topic was "dialogue among civilizations" and who led an effort to improve Iran's relations with the West. But Ahmadinejad instead spoke of a "historic war". "It dates back hundreds of years. Sometimes Islam has advanced. Sometimes nobody was winning. Unfortunately over the past 300 years, the world of Islam has been in retreat," he lamented. "One hundred years ago the last trench of Islam fell, when the oppressors went toward the creation of the Zionist regime. It is using it as a fort to spread its aims in the heart of the Islamic world."
One further point is also worth noting.
"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," said Ahmadinejad, referring to Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. His comments were the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official has called for Israel's eradication, even though such slogans are still regularly used at government rallies.
In recent days, a number of Iranian spokesmen have said they were shocked by international condemnations of Ahmadinejad's call for Israel's destruction (which must be the result of a Zionist/American conspiracy against Iran). After all, they argue, they have been saying this sort of thing routinely for decades without being criticized for it. But I'm afraid that is precisely the point. There is nothing new about what Ahmadinejad just said, but for decades international public opinion has tended to ignore or dismiss such statements and the larger world-view behind them--and this includes journalists and scholars as well as governments. Ahmadinejad's outspokenness as President of Iran has made it a little harder for them to remain in denial ... though I suspect most of them will still manage to do so.

P.S. - How the UN/Iraq Oil-for-Bribery scam worked

This is a follow-up to my recent item about The Volcker Report, the UN/Iraq Oil-for-Bribery Scandal, & George Galloway. I received a request for clarification. That query & my response are below. --Jeff Weintraub

------------------------------------
Hi Jeff~

The language being used to describe the scandal by various people is confusing. It strikes me that the connotations of the Volcker report and of the commentaries by you and Hitchens do not "add up." I am left wondering about the underlying reality.
The Volcker report says:
"More than 2,000 companies taking part in the United Nations oil-for-food programme paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, an inquiry has found" Clearly, this is immoral and unethical: It had the effect of financially strengthening a villian that the international community had supposedly agreed to contain. I support exposing and punishing in some appropriate way those who would do this.
You say:
"Saddam Hussein was able to rake off many billions of dollars that were supposed to be earmarked to provide food, medicine, and other basic necessities for ordinary Iraqis."

These claims seem different. The reason is that the Volcker report suggests that people were paying money directly to Saddam (or his administration, or whatever) /outside the mechanisms of the Oil-for-food Program/. That is, the Oil-for-Food program received all the money that it should have [The point is that it didn't--see below.]; but, (on the side), Saddam was able to make additional money. The words "bribes" and "kickbacks" strongly suggest such an interpretation, to me; words like "rake off billions of dollars that were supposed to be earmarked" suggests something different. Hitchens, characteristically, takes it a bit further: "It is the cynical theft of food and medicine from the desperate to pay for the palaces of a psychopath."

So the questions are:
Did Saddam take money that was supposed to flow through the Oil-for-Food program? [Yes.] If yes, then the administrators at the UN are more incompetent than I've ever imagined (which is, of course, possible). [Well, it turns out that some of these administrators were also being bribed, so maybe they weren't always as incompetent as they seemed.] Or, in contrast, did Saddam accept illegal bribes or kickbacks "on the side"? That is, Oil-for-Food netted what it was expected to net, but Saddam required additional payments directly to himself (or his administration, or whatever) in order for nations/corporations to participate in Oil-for-Food in the first place. [Actually, both--see below.]

I think the Volcker report suggests the latter.
I think you and Hitchens suggest the former.

I don't claim to know who is right. But, I do wonder what you make of the difference.

All the best,
X

Good question ... and the story is indeed a little confusing. But the brief answer is that there is no difference between the two accounts. Both are correct, and they're entirely compatible.

All the money paid for oil through the UN "oil-for-food" program was supposed to be paid into a UN-supervised account that would be spent for food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs.

The strategy followed by the Iraqi Ba'ath regime (standard in many forms of corporate scam) was to make deals with favored customers in which they would charge them a lower, below-market price for the oil ... and the lower price would be made up (in whole or part, depending on various specific factors) by secret surcharges that these customers would pay outside the structure of the "oil-for-food" program. That means that these funds were effectively deducted from the amounts available for humanitarian purposes, the Iraqi regime got them instead, and the Iraqi regime was then free to spend this money (unsupervised) for other purposes.

Among other things, these funds were used for an extensive system of bribes, favors, and other modes of influence-buying, and this money was spread very widely among journalists, politicians, UN officials, lobbyists, governments, foreign sympathizers, etc., all over the world. Furthermore, the fact that the Iraqi regime had a decisive say in who got oil-for-food allotments meant that they could use the allocation of sweetheart deals to buy influence and support ... and/or to finance governments, organizationa, and individuals who already supported them, like George Galloway. (It turns out that some of this money also wound up, indirectly, subsidizing the anti-war activities of Scott Ritter, which were funded in large part by an Iraqi-American businessman with close ties to Baghdad regime who was one of the beneficiaries of this scam--though I am quite willing to accept Ritter's assertion that he was entirely unaware that any of his funding came from these sources.)

On top of all that, it turns out that a lot of the money in the UN-supervised oil-for-food fund actually got spent for a range of purposes that definitely did not fall into the category of humanitarian relief ... and these expenditures somehow got approved anyway. There were various reasons for this, and much of the blame should go to member governments of the UN ... but did it have anything to do with the fact that a number of UN officials, including the guy in charge of the program, Benon Sevan, were being bribed by the Iraqi government? Well, perhaps that was just a coincidence ...

(The major exception to these non-humanitarian diversions of "oil-for-food" funds was in Iraqi Kurdistan. Of course, part of the reason was that the Kurdish authorities wanted to spend the money for humanitarian purposes. But in addition, the UN kept a tighter control on expenditures there than in the rest of Iraq. Ironically, a major reason was that the UN people on the spot, mostly from the Arab world, were more hostile to the Kurdistan regional government than they were to the Baghdad government, so they wouldn't have let the Kurdish government use the oil-for-food money as a slush fund. On the other hand, the UN never delivered a significant portion of the oil-for-food money that should have gone to Kurdistan, so that when the Iraqi Ba'ath regime was overthrown in 2003 a lot of this withheld money was still in UN accounts ... much of it deposited in French banks chosen by the Iraqi regime, incidentally. Despite this, conditions in Iraqi Kurdistan improved dramatically during the 1990s, while they deteriorated in the rest of Iraq--which is one more proof that the key factor was not the sanctions in place on both areas, but the manipulation of sanctions by the regime in Baghdad.)

And to add one more piece of the picture, the Iraqi regime also sold a large--and increasing--volume of oil that was smuggled totally outside the structure of the UN-run Oil-for-Food program (usually at highly discounted rates, which again bought a lot of support), so there was no pretense of control at all over how this was spent. (None of it got spent on humanitarian supplies, I can assure you.) But that raises different issues from the ones mentioned in your message ...

=> In short, it all adds up. Clear?

Cheers,
Jeff Weintraub

--------------------------

Update, 10/31/2005: There is a more detailed roundup of the legal & financial issues in the Galloway case posted on the "Crooked Timber" website by Daniel Davies, who has always gone out of his way to deal with Galloway in an 'even-handed' manner. (It may be worth adding that Davies has consistently been a rabid opponent of the 2003 Iraq war, so he has no sympathy with most of Galloway's critics.) Cutting through the complexities and qualifications (which are important), it seems to me that Davies's conclusion is essentially that (a) Galloway looks guilty as charged, but (b) it may well be difficult to prove it in court beyond a reasonable doubt ... unless his middleman in the scam, the Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat, spills the beans, in which case Galloway's goose is cooked. We'll see.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Volcker Report, the UN/Iraq Oil-for-Bribery Scandal, & George Galloway


Readers will no doubt recognize Saddam Hussein in his glory days chatting with the British MP George Galloway, the current darling of some "anti-war" Americans who also happens to be an unrepentant admirer of Stalinism (he supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and describes the end of the Soviet Union as the saddest day of his life), an unabashed supporter of fascist and jihadist mass murderers in Iraq and elsewhere, a long-time enthusiastic fan of Saddam Hussein in particular ("I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability"), still a "dear friend" of Saddam Hussein's imprisoned henchman Tariq Aziz ... in short, a disgusting scoundrel and general sleazeball ... and one of the more colorful bit players in the ever-unfolding UN/Iraq "Oil-for-Food" scandal.

It looks possible that Galloway may finally be nailed for his role in this mega-scam (having been caught in perjury, like Scooter Libby and other participants in past decades of White House cover-ups). But first, the big picture ....

=> The massive scandal surrounding the UN-administered oil-for-food program for Iraq from 1997-2003 continues to metastasize. The latest stage is the final report of the independent commission headed by Paul Volcker, which was established by the UN Secretary-General in 2004.

More than 2,000 companies taking part in the United Nations oil-for-food programme paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, an inquiry has found. [....]
The New York Times newspaper said three members of the UN-established Independent Inquiry Committee had confirmed that the report would show that "the country with the most companies involved was Russia, followed by France." [....]
Preferential treatment was given to companies from France, Russia and China, the report says, all permanent members of the Security Council, who were more favorable to lifting the 1990 sanctions than the America and Britain.
The independent inquiry committee, which began its work in 2004, said in an earlier report that the program became deeply corrupted as Saddam arranged for surcharges and kickbacks while an overwhelmed UN headquarters failed to exert administrative control over the program. [....]
The inquiry found that Saddam's regime earned $1.8 billion through the oil-for-food scandal but earned even more by sidestepping sanctions and smuggling oil to Jordan and Turkey.
The United States signed a waiver allowing the oil shipments to its allies, enabling Saddam's regime to secure some $10 billion, according to the inquiry committee.

As I noted in December 2004 (in a piece on Some Implications of the UN/Iraq Oil-for-Food Scandal):

Not only was Saddam Hussein able to rake off many billions of dollars that were supposed to be earmarked to provide food, medicine, and other basic necessities for ordinary Iraqis. He also used substantial amounts of this money for bribes, subsidies, and sweetheart contracts to build up political support for ending the sanctions-and-containment system. (Thus, the whole system could aptly be termed an 'oil-for-palaces-and-bribery program'.) It also looks increasingly likely that the UN itself got significantly sucked into this whole web of corruption.
Of course, I think it is almost certainly not the case that this long-term campaign of bribery (and more indirect incentives) was decisive in recruiting foreign governments, organizations, journalists, and others to support Saddam, to undermine the containment system, and to oppose military action. The governments involved were acting primarily in terms of their own perceived economic and/or political interests (however cynical, short-sighted, irresponsible, idiotic, and/or immoral their perceptions and calculations might have been), and most of the non-governmental actors had their own motives - ideological, selfish, humanitarian, or some combination. But it's also likely that the use of oil money for systematic bribery and influence-buying was a useful investment on Saddam's part.

The Volcker Report has now provided a mountain of evidence to fill out this picture. And since a large number of corporations, organizations, political figures, and other individuals in a wide range of countries were involved in different aspects of his scam, the legal and political reverberations should be extensive and international.

=> Just to indicate that there may sometimes be some justice in the world, it appears that one of the many villaiins caught up in this reckoning may be the appalling George Galloway.

It has long seemed very probable that Galloway was getting large-scale payoffs from Saddam Hussein's regime, but so far the kind of evidence needed to confirm these charges in court has not been available (partly because a key figure in Galloway's financial relations with the Iraqi Ba'ath regime, the Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat, had absconded with the relevant records). So Galloway has been able to use libel suits in Britain to intimidate critics and to keep these accusations at bay. Earlier this year Galloway testified before a US Senate committee investigating the UN/Iraq oil-for-food scandal, and being an experienced parliamentary speaker and gifted demagogue, he grandstanded and had little trouble making the Senators look foolish.

Now, however, Galloway's crimes and lies may be about to catch up with him. There is apparently information in the Volcker Report to substantiate many of the charges against him , and this may cause Galloway to become the target of a British Parliamentary inquiry. Furthermore, several analyses I've seen recently suggest that the US Senators who questioned Galloway--including both Republicans like Norm Coleman and anti-war Democrats like Carl Levin-- may have succeeded, in their own dull and plodding way, in getting him to make statements under oath that will nail him for perjury. For some details see, e.g., here and here and, again, this piece by Christopher Hitchens:
This most probably means that what we now know is a fraction of what there is to be known. But what has been established is breathtaking enough. A member of the British Parliament was in receipt of serious money originating from a homicidal dictatorship. That money was supposed to have been used to ameliorate the suffering of Iraqis living under sanctions. It was instead diverted to the purposes of enriching Saddam's toadies and of helping them propagandize in favor of the regime whose crimes and aggressions had necessitated the sanctions and created the suffering in the first place. This is something more than mere "corruption." It is the cynical theft of food and medicine from the desperate to pay for the palaces of a psychopath.
Taken together with the scandal surrounding Benon Sevan, the U.N. official responsible for "running" the program, and with the recent arrest of Ambassador Jean-Bernard Mérimée (France's former U.N. envoy) in Paris, and with other evidence about pointing to big bribes paid to French and Russian politicians like Charles Pasqua and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, what we are looking at is a well-organized Baathist attempt to buy or influence the member states of the U.N. Security Council. One wonders how high this investigation will reach and how much it will eventually explain.
For George Galloway, however, the war would seem to be over. The evidence presented suggests that he lied in court when he sued the Daily Telegraph in London over similar allegations (and collected money for that, too). It suggests that he lied to the Senate under oath. And it suggests that he made a deceptive statement in the register of interests held by members of the British House of Commons. All in all, a bad week for him, especially coming as it does on the heels of the U.N. report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, which appears to pin the convict's badge on senior members of the Assad despotism in Damascus, Galloway's default patron after he lost his main ally in Baghdad.
.
Of course, Galloway may be able to get away with it once again, but the possibility that he might be brought to justice--if only partially--does inspire some satisfaction.
---------

=> More important are the larger implications of this whole scandal, about which I would reiterate some of the points I made in December 2004, since I think they bear repeating:

Although it does appear that some important UN officials were deeply involved in this scandal (a matter that is currently the subject of several overlapping investigations), two further points need to be emphasized. First, it would be simplistic and misleading to focus exclusively, or even primarily, on bashing UN personnel or the UN as an institution. This would let the real culprits off too easily. The lion's share of the blame belongs to UN member governments that acted in direct or indirect collusion with Saddam Hussein and his regime all through the period from 1991 to 2003 - particularly those with permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The BBC report makes this point in the most bland and euphemistic possible manner, but it gets the basic message across:
Splits among the diplomats on the UN security council and flaws in the design of the oil-for-food programme played at least as much a part in what happened as negligence by UN officials or collusion in corruption by foreign firms trading with Iraq.
Second, as the BBC report also mentions in passing [and the Volcker Report indicates, as noted above], it seems likely that the bulk of Saddam Hussein's 'secret' oil money did not come from the UN oil-for-bribery program, but rather from systematic and increasingly large-scale 'unauthorized' smuggling of oil - mostly through Syria, Turkey, and Jordan. By the late 1990s, any attempt to reconstruct and maintain the (rapidly collapsing) sanctions-and-containment system would have required, among other things, shutting down this smuggling. But the countries involved had developed such strong economic interests in this illegal oil trade that any attempt to end it would have been very difficult and politically costly at best - and in fact, given the role of Saddam's foreign backers on the UNSC, the realistic likelihood of success was probably negligible. This factor exemplifies the larger reasons why, by the end of the 1990s, the ongoing collapse of containment had become an increasingly self-reinforcing and accelerating process - which meant that, realistically, the two fundamental options were military action or capitulation to Saddam Hussein.
War is always terrible - and, in the case of the 2003 Iraq war, the damage has been compounded by the spectacular incompetence and inexcusable thoughtlessness with which the Bush administration has managed the post-Saddam occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. But the consequences of the second option would almost certainly have been even more morally appalling and politically disastrous. One consequence, in the fairly short run, would have been another genocidal bloodbath in Iraqi Kurdistan, as soon as containment had fully disintegrated and Saddam Hussein was out of his box. I feel quite sure that, under those circumstances, the likelihood that any outside powers would have been willing to fight a major war purely to prevent such a slaughter would have been nil. (Historical experience, in Iraq and elsewhere, consistently bears out such an expectation.) And this is only one of the quite predictable unpleasant consequences that would have followed from a capitulation to Saddam Hussein and his foreign backers - which, by 2002-2003, was the realistic (as opposed to wishful and/or question-begging) alternative to military action. There is also the fact that Saddam Hussein would have resumed his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, regained his options for military adventurism, and so on.
Of course, others may disagree with this conclusion. And I accept the hypothetical possibility that the long-term consequences of the Iraq war might turn out to be even more disastrous than the likely and predictable consequences of the realistically available alternatives. But any serious assessment of these issues has to begin by recognizing which options actually were available - and which were not. By 2002-2003, the policy of leaving Saddam Hussein and his regime in power, while keeping him in check through a system of sanctions-and-containment, was no longer one of these realistically available options. This policy had reached a dead end, was no longer politically sustainable, and was rapidly unraveling. And even if reconstructing the sanctions-and-containment system and prolonging it indefinitely had been a viable possibility, we ought to question whether it would have been morally acceptable or politically wise. As I noted earlier, the metastasizing scandal surrounding the 'oil-for-palaces-and-bribery' program can help remind us what the real choices and dilemmas were.

--Jeff Weintraub

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Who murders Iraqi civilians? (A reality check)

(Guest-posted on the weblog of Norman Geras - Normblog)

(by Jeff Weintraub)

This brief item posted by Juan Cole on his Informed Comment weblog is curious for two reasons.

Iraq Body Count, Reuters says, estimates that 38 Iraqis die in violence every day. Over thirty-five years, that would amount to nearly 500,000 dead. In fact, it is estimated that the Baath party killed 300,000 Iraqis, so the current rate seems to be greater than the Baath rate. (The number of civilians killed by the Baath is probably in fact exaggerated. Only a few thousand bodies have been recovered from mass graves so far.)
First, it strikes me as misleading to say that 'the current rate seems to be greater than the Baath rate'. As Cole knows, most of the Iraqi civilians killed over the past year or so have been murdered by the so-called 'insurgents', and - as he himself has argued repeatedly - it seems clear that surviving Ba'athist organizational, military, and secret-police networks play a crucial role in coordinating (and probably funding) the 'insurgency'. (See, for example, here and here). Since, according to Cole, 'the Baathists along with some Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) allies are behind the guerrilla war', then shouldn't this be described as a continuation of 'the Baath rate' and not an alternative to it?

More to the point, it's important not to lose sight of who is deliberately murdering Iraqi civilians in large numbers. To a considerable extent, it's the same criminals as before, now joined by Iraqi and foreign jihadists. (For one treatment of these obvious points and their apparently less obvious implications, see this discussion by Norman Geras.) Again, Cole knows this (he's said it), but many of his readers would prefer to forget it.

But what genuinely shocked me were the closing (parenthetical) remarks...

(The number of civilians killed by the Baath is probably in fact exaggerated. Only a few thousand bodies have been recovered from mass graves so far.)
Is he kidding? This reminds me of the whole body of 'revisionist' historiography about the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s, which argued that the scale of Stalinist mass murder had been wildly exaggerated, and that it couldn't have amounted to more than a few tens or hundreds of thousands, certainly not millions. Since the opening of the Soviet archives after the collapse of the former Evil Empire, even most of the people who made such claims don't take them seriously any more. Granted, when Cole refers to 'only a few thousand bodies', he doesn't exactly say that these were all the civilians killed during the Ba'ath regime. But he knows very well that, however many bodies happen to have been disinterred so far, the scale of the slaughter was at a totally different order of magnitude. (In fact, he has repeatedly pointed out that Saddam Hussein's regime was guilty of genocidal mass murder.) So why on earth would he make such a dismissive remark? Cole is not generally the sort of person who minimizes or whitewashes such atrocities.

Of course, this criticism of his comments in no way detracts from the gravity of the situation in Iraq now, which includes a lot of terrible things and potentially dangerous tendencies. My impression is that Cole, who has always genuinely cared about the welfare of Iraqis, is becoming increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for any decent outcome... and despair can make any of us lose our intellectual and emotional balance sometimes.

Update at 10.05 on October 27: I suppose I took it for granted that there was no need to discuss the accuracy of the key 'facts' mentioned in Juan Cole's item, since it would be obvious that most of them were either misleading or flatly wrong. However, it may be worth addressing some of them explicitly. Brendan O'Leary has done so in a communication that he gives me permission to reproduce here.

It is the second sentence in Professor Cole's parenthetical remarks which is a source of misleading reasoning: "Only a few thousand bodies have been recovered from mass graves so far." The reasons for this statement's validity are owed to technical problems, not the absence of victims. Adequate money has not been set aside for the exhumation of graves - using proper DNA testing to verify who was killed. Nor are there adequate numbers of trained personnel. To exhume without proper procedures will not help families seeking to identify their lost ones.

Then, one should note (a) that 300,000 dead from genocide is the CPA's estimate, by its Human Rights Director, Sandy Hodgkinson - it is conservative (as such estimates should be); and (b) that the 300,000 estimate excludes those who died from Saddam's wars (in Kuwait, and against Iran), wars that he initiated. Lastly, it is highly unlikely that the insurgency will last as long as 35 years.

Brendan

Right. And I'm sure that Juan Cole (unlike many of his readers) knows all this quite well. That makes his comments even more mysterious. (Jeff Weintraub)

Israel should be wiped off map, says Iran's President (Guardian)

Actually, this has long been the official policy of the Iranian government (a policy that could not be changed when the elective--and ineffective--part of the government was formally controlled by the reformists headed by President Khatami). But the current President is more straightforward about it. I suppose that's one advantage of dealing with a straight-talking fanatic.

(The Iranian population, on the other hand, is by all accounts much less hostile to Israel than any other in the Middle East. This has never had much effect on the hard-liners who control the unelective part of the government--the part with all the actual power. Since Ahmadinejad became President of Iran earlier this year, in a rather crudely manipulated election, the two parts of the Iranian government now speak with one voice.)
The Foreign Office could not recall a similar statement from a senior Iranian leader since the former president Hashemi Rafsanjani five years ago called for a Muslim state to annihilate Israel with a nuclear strike.
Technically, Rafsanjani said only that acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran would make this feasible and desireable. Still, the subject of Iran's nuclear weapons program has become touchy lately, so it may not be coincidental that Ahmadinejad now thinks the job of wiping out Israel could be accomplished by Palestinian terrorist attacks. Perhaps he's not so straight-talking after all?

=> The New York Times translation of the full text of Ahmadinejad's speech is HERE.  The English-language translation of Ahmadinejad's key formulations (including "Israel must be wiped off the map") by the Iranian government's own IRIB news service, is HERE.

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. (10/28/2005): As my friend Andy Markovits correctly points out:: "Alas, this merely expressed in the open what millions of Muslims and Arabs actually feel: Israel is a FREMDKOERPER [foreign body] in their midst that simply has GOT to go." He could have added that millions of other Arabs and Muslims may be willing to come to terms, grudgingly and pragmatically, with the reality of Israel's existence, but they do not accept that Israel has any legitimate right to exist. There are various practical conclusions one might draw from these facts; but, unfortunately, they have to be recognized as facts.

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Guardian
Thursday October 27, 2005
Israel should be wiped off map, says Iran's president

Ewen MacAskill and Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Thursday October 27, 2005
The Guardian


Iran's new president created a sense of outrage in the west yesterday by describing Israel as a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the face of the earth". Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is more hardline than his predecessor, told students in Tehran that a new wave of Palestinian attacks would be enough to finish off Israel.
The populist leader's comments, reported by the state-run media, come at a time when Tehran is under pressure over its suspect nuclear weapons ambitions and alleged involvement in attacks on British troops in Iraq.
He said: "Anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury, [while] any [Islamic leader] who recognises the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world." He was addressing a conference titled The World Without Zionism.
His speech was immediately condemned by the US, Britain, France, Germany and Israel. The Foreign Office could not recall a similar statement from a senior Iranian leader since the former president Hashemi Rafsanjani five years ago called for a Muslim state to annihilate Israel with a nuclear strike. Since then, there has been a mild thaw in relations between Muslim states, including Arab ones, and Israel.
But Mr Ahmadinejad rejected compromise: "There is no doubt that the new wave [of attacks] in Palestine will wipe off this stigma [Israel] from the face of the Islamic world." Recalling the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's Islamic revolution, he said: "As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."
The US and Britain are leading a push to have Iran referred to the UN security council next month because of fears that it is covertly engaged in securing a nuclear weapons capability by deciding to restart a uranium conversion programme, an early step towards such an ability. Tehran has repeatedly said its programme is for civil use only.
Both the US and Britain saw their fears about Mr Ahmadinejad's election confirmed when he made a fiery speech at a UN summit in New York in September. His predecessor, Muhammad Khatami, had tried to improve links with the west and been less vocal in condemnation of Israel.
The US said the president's remarks proved the accuracy of Washington's fears. "I think it reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime. It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear intentions," Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said.
Mark Regev, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said: "Unfortunately this is not the first time that we've heard such an extremist message from the Iranian leadership. I think there is a growing understanding in the international community that the regime is not Israel's problem alone, but a problem the entire international community must grapple with."
Israel views Iran as its main security threat in the Middle East. The defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, has said Tehran could be capable of developing a nuclear weapon within months and that there is a need for urgent action to prevent that.
Israel has issued thinly veiled threats against Iran's nuclear programme if diplomatic efforts fail and is buying 500 "bunker-buster" bombs from the US that could be used to destroy the facilities. The Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, raised the question of the nuclear programme with the visiting Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Jerusalem yesterday. Russia is selling nuclear fuel for the reactors to Iran, despite Israel's objections.
France and Germany expressed concern about Mr Ahmadinejad's remarks yesterday. Jean-Baptiste Mattei, a French foreign ministry spokesman, said: "We have noted press articles reporting the comments of President Ahmadinejad. If these comments were indeed made, we condemn them with the utmost firmness." A German foreign ministry spokesman, Walter Lindner, said: "Should these comments have actually been made, they are completely unacceptable and to be condemned in the sharpest terms."

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IRIB News (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting)
October 26, 2005
Ahmadinejad: Israel must be wiped off the map


Tehran, Oct 26 - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

"The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world," the President told a conference in Tehran entitled 'the world without Zionism'.

"The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of a war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land," he said.

"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," said Ahmadinejad, referring to the late founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Imam Khomeini.

Addressing some 4,000 students gathered in an interior ministry conference hall, Ahmadinejad also called for Palestinian unity, resistance and a point where the annihilation of the Zionist regime will come.

"The Islamic umma (community) will not allow its historic enemy to live in its heartland," he said.

Regarding the Zionist regime's retreat from the Gaza Strip he said, "we should not settle for a piece of land".

"Anyone who signs a treaty which recognises the entity of Israel means he has signed the surrender of the Muslim world," Ahmadinejad said.

"Any leaders in the Islamic umma who recognise Israel face the wrath of their own people."

Regarding the prolonged conflict between the Islamic Ummah and the Zionist regime, Ahmadinejad said "It dates backs hundreds of years. Sometimes Islam has advanced. Sometimes nobody was winning. Unfortunately over the past 300 years, the world of Islam has been in retreat".

"One hundred years ago the last trench of Islam fell, when the oppressors went towards the creation the Zionist regime. It is using it as a fort to spread its aims in the heart of the Islamic world."