The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both - Vaclav Havel
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Antisemitism is cool at the Edinburgh Festival 06
Blogowners comment: I've been fairly sceptical of the rise of British anti-Semitism of which we hear occasionally. Yet here is another example that involves neither synagogue burning or physical violence on Jews, nor is it simply criticism of Israel. But these jokes (below) aren't funny...
As a writer on The Ali G Show I can do insulting jokes. But the anti-Jewish sentiment at Edinburgh is shocking. There's nothing I like more than a Jewish joke. It’s the anti-Jewish ones I’m not so keen on.
Wandering through the streets of Edinburgh during the world’s largest arts festival, you never know what sight or sound you will be bombarded with next. Half-naked men on 6ft stilts meander by, half-naked girls rush to sell you their show, troops of Japanese acrobats tumble past. But I wasn’t prepared for the verbal assault I got when I wandered into a comedy gig this week.
There have always been anti- Semitic jokes. But you know times are changing when you go along to a stand-up show at the Pleasance Courtyard at the Edinburgh Fringe and you hear audience members shouting “Throw them in the oven” when the comic suggests kids should stop playing Cowboys and Indians and replace it with Nazis and Jews.
Stand-up comedy is as good a prism as any through which to look at the changing attitudes in our society. If my past few days are anything to go by then it is becoming increasingly acceptable to hate the Jews. Again.
I’ve seen two comics so far who have been happy to amuse their crowds with Holocaust gags. I’m not sure which to be the more concerned about.
One was a left-leaning angry Australian conspiracy theorist, Steve Hughes, whose show The Storm is an assault on all things Western. “I want to bash Condoleezza Rice’s brain to bits and kill that f****** Jew Richard Perle.” Hughes is the one at the Pleasance Courtyard while Perle is an adviser to George W. Bush as he was to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton on foreign affairs.
The second was a far more charming African-American comic who for much of the show was thoughtful, funny and even quite sweet. But he seemed to have a problem with Jews, too. Reginald D. Hunter is doing sell-out shows in the new E4-sponsored venue, the Udderbelly. Three hundred come along every night to see Hunter’s Pride and Prejudice and Niggas. You should see the poster.
I was laughing along until he announced that he was about to be extremely controversial and break the last taboo of stand-up comedy. Long silent pause. Jeeeeews. Another long pause with some giggles from the audience. You see, you’re not allowed to say that.
He went on to say how its illegal to deny the Holocaust in Austria. He has a good mind to go to Austria, stand in the street and say the Holocaust didn’t happen so that he could get arrested and tell the judge he was talking about the Rwandan holocaust. Whether or not he thought there should be a law against going to Rwanda and denying that genocide, he didn’t say.
By claiming that making a joke about Jews is the one last, great comic taboo, he simultaneously provides the moral justification for a crack at the Jews and he silences them from the right to complain, as this would only confirm the unspoken premise: that Jews are overprotected in society or even worse that Jewish media controllers are obsessed with silencing any criticism of their own.
His joke is essentially one about freedom of speech and selective Jewish control of that freedom, but he gives the lie to his true feelings by his choice of example. Of all the possible targets, of all the things he might wish to say, his complaint is that he is not permitted to parrot the greatest anti-Semitic slur of the last hundred years — that the Holocaust never happened. As a believer in free speech, I am not convinced by the criminalisation of Holocaust denial, but that does not mean I am confused about the motives of those who wish to utter it.
The great Lenny Bruce, a comedian who suffered endlessly at the hands of the American authorities for the right to freedom of speech and to break taboos, once did a bit that began: “Are there any niggers here tonight?” His liberal audience was initially shocked at this racist outburst, but as the monologue continued he made it clear that it was “the suppression of the word that gives it the power”. That was taboo-busting. That was a righteous plea for freedom of speech.
The African-American comedian Dick Gregory was in attendance that night. He subsequently published a book entitled Nigger, and dedicated it: “Dear Momma, Wherever you are, if you ever hear the word ‘nigger’ again, remember they are advertising my book.”
It’s hard to imagine a Jew reacting similarly to Hunter’s bit. The question of what is acceptable material for comedy is always going to be a complex one to answer. Comedians should certainly be allowed to say anything. In fact, it is their role and their duty to be breaking taboos where they need to be broken. But comics do have an obligation to think about whom they might be offending with their material and whether or not those who say they are offended are right to be.
These questions are not entirely foreign to me. As a producer and writer on The Ali G Show, I have been accused of racism, among other things, in the past. All three characters in that show had their prejudices but I hope all thinking people would see the satire not far below the surface.
Borat, the fictional Kazakhstani journalist, was overtly anti-Semitic. Sacha Baron Cohen would dangle Borat’s anti-Semitism in front of our interviewees and we would all be shocked and amazed at how many of them would take the bait and join in. The Country Bar in Phoenix, Arizona, where the crowd sang along to Throw the Jew down the Well, was a terrifying example.
Jewish communal organisations in the US were concerned at the time that the tune would catch on and spur a rise of anti-Jewish attacks. Fortunately, most people saw it for the satire it was intended to be.
Borat was also prejudiced against blacks and Gypsies. Ali G was a homophobe and a misogynist. Austrian fashion presenter Bruno hated the disabled, all fat people, ugly people and the Jews too. Apologies if I have forgotten some colour, creed or lifestyle that we would use as bait.
But what is going on in Edinburgh now is no satire. For me, Hughes represents a growing trend among left-thinking people in this country and around the world to accept as dogma that those on the Left should hate Bush, Blair, American imperialism, Israel and, while we’re at it, the Jews. It is a cultural trend that I’ve found increasingly evident but never before has the Jew-hating element been so overt. This week has confirmed that my Jewish paranoia is not entirely unfounded. As the old saying goes: “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”
Hughes wasn’t one for the odd remark or the clever comment; he waxed lyrical on how Osama bin Laden is far less of a threat than Dick Cheney, before defending Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, saying he has no intention of destroying Israel, he has just been misquoted.
Yet I sat in that audience and I didn’t heckle. In hindsight it is heartening that half of his audience sat in stunned silence, as I did, for most of his show; but at the time it was the other half of the audience who were whooping along and lapping him up that made the greater impression.
As for Hunter, he seems like a nice guy, well meaning and at times very funny. While Hughes did little to hide his Jew-hatred, in a way it is even more disheartening that Hunter is so keen to make the Holocaust fair game.
After weeks of distress, the weekend polls finally offered a bit of comfort to Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu's depressed friends in the Bush administration and the neoconservative think tanks in Washington. Ehud Olmert disappointed them when he counted to 10 before sending soldiers into the killing fields of Lebanon. The Israel Defense Forces also failed to deliver the goods in the war against the "Axis of Evil."
But behold, the polls reveal that the nation dwelling in Zion has finally sobered up from the delusion of peace. The mortal blows absorbed by both the front lines and the home front did not make Israelis understand the limits of force. They were not, heaven forbid, dragged in the wake of those defeatist intellectuals who refuse to recognize the Middle Eastern reality and beat their pens into swords. The masses are coming home, to their Bibi, the best student in the class, the one who knows how to deal with the Arabs. And to Avigdor Lieberman as well.
The failure of the second Lebanon War, like the problematic results of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, has many fathers, both civilian and military. They will presumably be called to account over their flawed decisions, faulty protective measures and poor provisioning. But George Bush and his people, whose policies have contributed to the deterioration of Israel's national security, will not only emerge unscathed; their Israeli branch will once again flourish on the ruins of the Galilee and be nourished by the army's failures. Yet their failed "democratization," which threatens the governmental stability of many states in the region, will bring to power a coalition that will perpetuate the occupation and legitimize transfer in the country that is (still) considered the only democracy in the Middle East.
In a lengthy article published in American Prospect Online, Flynt Leverett, who served during Bush's first term as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and a member of the State Department's policy planning staff, described the wonders of the president's Middle East policies. Leverett recalled that following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, countries such as Syria and Iran offered to help thwart Al-Qaida and Taliban terrorism. He and his colleagues in the State Department recommended accepting this offer, on the assumption that tactical cooperation with these countries would pave the way for persuading them to abandon terrorist activity against Israel. The quid pro quo would have been a return to a positive strategic relationship with the United States and the advancement of a credible plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But Bush and his advisers preferred to use the stick and skip the carrots. They decided to impose the democratic system on the Arab nations by force. There were no discounts and no exceptions, not even for the occupied Palestinian people or the minority Alawite government in Syria.
Dr. Leverett, who is currently a senior researcher in Washington's Brookings Institute, recalled that during one internal discussion, Bush expressed confidence that democratization would promote an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. How? "By shaping a Palestinian leadership more focused on internal governance (i.e., providing services such as collecting garbage) and less 'hung up' on final-status issues like territory, settlements, and Jerusalem."
And what happened when democratic elections brought Hamas to power? America boycotted the elected government and demanded that the Palestinian president dissolve it, for the greater glory of democratization and the stability of the Middle East.
No commission of inquiry will prevent the next Katyusha attack on Kiryat Shmona or the Qassam fire on Sderot. In the best case, if the government implements its recommendations, fewer fighters will be killed in the next war in the north and fewer civilians will be hurt in the conflict in the south. The correct way to achieve security was and remains strengthening the pragmatic Arab-Israeli coalition vis-a-vis the fanatic Arab-Iranian coalition.
This change of strategic direction will not be achieved by bringing to power the Israeli neoconservatives - people who share the American worldview that led the Middle East from failure in Iraq to defeat in Gaza. If that turns out to be the protest movement's contribution, the IDF's demand for a NIS 30 billion budget supplement must be taken seriously, in order to prepare for the war that is just around the corner.
This excerpt is taken from Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushide [Rushdie, my edit]:
“The moment I was old enough to play board games, I fell in love with snakes and ladders. O perfect balance of rewards and penalties! O seemingly random choices made by tumbling dice! Clambering up ladders, slithering down snakes, I spent some of the happiest days of my life. When, in my time of trial, my father challenged me to master the game of shatanj, I infuriated him by preferring to invite him, instead, to chance his fortune among the ladders and nibbling snakes.
All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate. But it’s more than that; no mere carrot-and-stick affair; because implicit in the game is the unchanging twoness of things, the duality of up against down, good against evil; the solid rationality of laders balances the occult sinuosities of the serpent; in the opposition of staircase and cobra we can see, metaphorically, all conceivable oppositions, Alpha against Omega, father against mother; here is the war of Mary and Musa, and the polarities of knees and nose…but I found, very early in the life, that the game lacked one crucial dimension, that of ambiguity - because, as events are about to show, it is also possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph on the venom of a snake…”
Hezbollah would not have abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers on July 12 had it known that the action would lead to war in Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday.
"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not," he said in an interview with Lebanon's New TV station.
Nasrallah also said he did not believe there would be a second round of fighting with Israel, and that Hezbollah would adhere to the cease-fire despite what he called Israeli provocation.
Nasrallah said that Israel was trying to press new demands such as the deployment of United Nations forces at Beirut airport, at Lebanese ports and on Lebanon's border with Syria.
But he added: "Their displaced people are going back and they have started to rebuild the north. Someone who acts like that doesn't seem to be going to war. We are not heading to a second round."
The Hezbollah leader also said that negotiations on the release of the abducted IDF soldiers have already begun.
"Contacts recently began for negotiations," Hezbollah said. "It seems that Italy is trying to get into the subject. The United Nations is interested and the negotiations would be through [Parliamentary Speaker Nabih] Berri."
Hezbollah has been holding the two soldiers since July 12 and demands the release of some of the thousands of Arabs in Israeli prisons in exchange for the kidnapped soldiers.
The operation led to a month of war between Israel and Hezbollah, which took over large parts of south Lebanon. More than 1,300 people were killed, mostly Lebanese civilians.
Germany negotiated an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah in 2004, which included the remains of three Israeli soldiers captured on the border. Germany has said it was willing to play a similar role in the case of the recent prionsers.
Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that Israel was willing to discuss a possible exchange.
The UN Security Council resolution which led to a truce on August 14 suggests in its preamble that the two sides are to find a solution to their disputes over prisoners.
According to a recent poll, four-fifths of Britons think the "war on terror" is being lost. That is not least because the battle for the hearts and minds of people in the Muslim world is being lost.
The fundamental mistake made after 9/11 was that any stirrings of a debate addressing the root causes of the terror were ruthlessly suppressed. (To explain and understand the cause is not to justify the consequence.) Rather than addressing the known political causes, the terrorist attacks were portrayed as a religious struggle: radical Islam v the west.
This was an anomaly. How could Islam, a religion as peaceful as any other, be pitted against the west? Millions of innocent people were killed in the last century, from Nagasaki to Hiroshima, from Vietnam to Iraq, by acts of governments that were secular by law yet publicly upheld Christian values. Yet Christianity was never put under focus or stress.
Al-Qaida was supposed to have conducted the 9/11 attacks because it deplores western values - its freedom, its democracy - and desires the establishment of a global empire of Islamic emirates. But as Robert Fisk makes clear in his book, The Great War for Civilization, Osama bin Laden's rage against the US arose from its support for Israel, the Saudi monarchy, and the garrisoning of US troops at Islam's holiest sites.
The very deliberate policy of converting political struggles into religious ones had a very specific purpose: to induce fear of an impending threat to western way of life from encroaching radical Islam so that the population of the west would fall in line behind Bush and his neocon policies.
Radical Muslims - and now "Islamic fascists" - were as deadly as communism and Nazism. Unless the American public blindly supported every Bush policy in countering terrorism, the whole of western civilization was imperilled.
Such was the post-9/11 hysteria that few dared cast aspersions on Bush's decision to attack Afghanistan less than four weeks later. War became the first option, rather than the last resort. Shrouded in the thick mist of propaganda, people were made to forget that not one Afghan was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Only when Iraq was invaded did people in US and the rest of the world began to realise that the war on terror was a smokescreen to further the "project for the new American century", which neocons conceived in the mid-90s.
Other stakeholders hastened on to the bandwagon, and Muslims who were involved in genuine liberation struggles were suddenly deemed terrorists by various regimes. No longer were the Palestinians struggling against foreign occupation: Sharon was stamping out Islamic terrorism. Meanwhile, Putin was fighting al-Qaida in Chechnya; suddenly little was heard of the near-genocide that was taking place there, with 20% of the population killed and another 30% exiled. India, too, was fighting Islamic militants in Kashmir. Yet the Kashmiri struggle for freedom dates back to the mid-19th century.
Suicide bombing became associated with Islam. Apparently the lure of houris was a considerable incentive for Muslim terrorists to self-immolate. It was forgotten that before 9/11 almost 70% of suicide attacks in the world were conducted by the Hindu Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. A few weeks ago, when the Tamil Tigers honoured their suicide bombers publicly, calling them the "black tigers", no one tried to discern answers for their desperate acts in Hinduism.
The third set of stakeholders to board the bandwagon was an assortment of autocrats, dictators, and monarchs in the Muslim world who were keen to receive US patronage for their undemocratic regimes. They swiftly metamorphosed into "moderate Muslims" - despite their ghastly human rights records - and assumed the role of bulwarks against Islamic extremism. Not long ago, these unrepresentative heads of Muslim states were fighting the communists, standing side by side with the US to protect the free world.
This mother of all spin doctoring had a vast fallout. First, in the western countries, despite Bush and Blair insisting that their war was against radical Islam, the message to the man in the street in the west was that Islam and terrorism were synonymous. In the US in particular every Muslim became a potential terrorist. It did not matter if they were moderate, conservative or liberal - everyone was lumped together.
The second, and potentially far more dangerous, fallout was that the war on terror was perceived as a war on Islam. And Muslim societies began to radicalise as anger and hatred toward the US soared. Al-Qaida and its affiliates became the chief beneficiaries of this ignorant conflation of genuine freedom struggles with terrorism. At the same time, anger against the pro-US Muslim governments was in the ascendant. Today, in elections in any Muslim country, no party aligned with the US can win. In the Pakistani elections in 2002, in the two provinces that border Afghanistan the anti-American religious parties swept the board.
The third fallout has been the total collapse of US credibility in the Muslim world. The nonexistence of WMDs was the first blow. Then came the prisoner abuse at Guantánamo bay, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and other detention centres. The eventual justification advanced for attacking Iraq was that it had been done in order to introduce democracy. Yet dictators of every hue were being propped up in the other Muslim countries.
Before George Bush visited Pakistan earlier this year, he breathtakingly said he endorsed General Musharraf's "vision for democracy". It is important to bear in mind that apart from Burma, Pakistan is the only country with a serving general at the helm.
But the final straw has been the US's blind support for Israel during its attack on Lebanon - while the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, Amnesty International and almost every human rights organisation, has blamed Israel for war crimes. As Israel targeted civilians and the Lebanese infrastructure, the US was dispatching armaments to its ally via Britain.
So when the recent plot to blow up the airliners from Heathrow was uncovered, it was greeted with complete scepticism in Pakistan, especially since the intelligence had been furnished by the Musharraf government. The biggest winner from the war on terror has been Musharraf, who has aligned himself with the US as a frontline state, and been rewarded by gaining legitimacy in Washington's eyes for his military dictatorship.
Since 9/11 he has supposedly captured hundreds of al-Qaida terrorists. Yet never has there been any independent inquiry into any of these captures or killings. In 2004, the Pakistan army killed 70 people in south Waziristan, claiming they were foreign militants with links to al-Qaida. Within weeks it emerged that those killed were all local tribesman. Each time Musharraf has visited the US, or a senior US official has visited Pakistan, security forces always capture or kill some "high-value" al-Qaida target. When George Bush visited Pakistan he was given a special gift: in the name of the war on terror, the security forces killed 140 tribesmen.
After the 7/7 attacks in London, 200 students from various madrasas were locked up, even though Pakistan had no demonstrable involvement whatsoever in those acts. Hence the cynicism regarding the Heathrow scare, which is being seen as yet another attempt by Musharraf to prove his indispensability to Bush, while Bush and Blair can at the same time frighten their people into abiding their policies.
Terrorism is an age-old phenomenon and cannot be eliminated by rampaging armies, no matter how powerful. It can only be contained by a strategy of building democratic societies and addressing the root causes of political conflicts. The democratisation part of this strategy demands a strategic partnership between the west and the people of the Islamic world, who are basically demanding dignity, self-respect and the same fundamental rights as the ordinary citizen in the west enjoys.
However, this partnership can only be forged if the US and its close western allies are prepared to accept and coexist with democratic governments in the Islamic world that may not support US policies as wholeheartedly as the dictators do in order to remain in power.
I'm afraid one day it will have to be acknowledged that the roots of this violence, like, those of all terrorism, lie in politics. And so does the solution.
Whilst many Americans are keen to brand anyone who dares criticise its foreign policy (or anything else for that matter) as "anti-American", francophobia is also rather rife among American right-wing pond life. Testimony to this was given very recently and convincingly by a Jules Crittenden in the Boston Herald in a piece called "With doublespeaking [sic] France, honor gets lost in translation".
Just a few gems:
French is the traditional language of diplomacy. Diplomacy is the art of saying one thing while doing another.
No, Jules, that's NOT what diplomacy is about, but then right-wingers like you feel only force can solve most problems.
I don’t speak French, so I have no idea what the actual French words are for those concepts or what possible nuances there may be.
The fact that you don't speak French doesn't surprise me, I doubt if you've ever made even the first attempt at learning a foreign language...
To find the last plain-speaking French leader, it is necessary to go back to Napoleon Bonaparte. He said he was going to take over Europe, and proceeded to do so. No, scratch that. He said he was going to bring French liberty and equality to Europe, then crowned himself emperor. Subsequent French history offers us a sordid string of third world colonizations followed by bloody wars to hang on long after the time to relinquish colonies had passed, setting the stage for corrupt government and prolonged conflict in places like Vietnam.
Of course: only the French had "sordid third world colonies", the British Empire never existed. And France is responsible for the Vietnam war?
The shamelessness of France knows no bounds. They have a domestic Arabic population and business interests in the Mideast to satisfy. They desperately want to be taken seriously as a major power. So they sat down with the United States and hammered out a peace plan. Then, before the ink was dry, they shrugged a Gallic shrug.
The Gallic gall: they have a "domestic Arabic population" (no Muslims in Britain or the US, of course) and "business interests in the Mideast". The US, of course has no such business interests...
If we, those of us who enjoy conducting business in English rather than say, Chinese or Arabic, want it to stay that way, I’d suggest step one is that we should continue to state clearly our intentions and do what we say we aregoing to do. Even when the world doesn’t necessarily like what we are saying.
The alliance between George Bush and Tony Blair is in danger after it was revealed that the Prime Minister believes the President has 'let him down badly' over the Middle East crisis.
A senior Downing Street source said that, privately, Mr Blair broadly agrees with John Prescott, who said Mr Bush's record on the issue was 'crap'.
The source said: "We all feel badly let down by Bush. We thought we had persuaded him to take the Israel-Palestine situation seriously, but we were wrong. How can anyone have faith in a man of such low intellect?"
The disclosure comes ahead of a mini recall of Parliament to allow MPs to vent their fury over Mr Blair's handling of Israel's war with Hezbollah and whether the recent terror plot in Britain was affected by his role in the Iraq war.
Foreign Affairs Minister Kim Howells, who has criticised Israeli attacks on women and children, is to be summoned before an emergency meeting next month of the Labour-dominated Commons foreign affairs select committee.
The highly unusual move to allow a Parliament evidence session during the summer recess mirrors emergency meetings called after the July 7 bombings in London.
The rift between No10 and the White House stems from British anger that Mr Bush failed to do enough to pursue the 'road map' to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, which he approved, at Mr Blair's instigation, on the eve of the Iraq war.
"We have been banging on at them for three years about the need to address the Palestinian problem but they just won't engage," said a senior Government insider. "That is one of the reasons there is such a mess now."
It is understood Mr Blair hopes to undertake a highly controversial one-man mission to the Middle East when he returns from his holiday, including a trip to war-torn Lebanon.
Until now, the Prime Minister has given Mr Bush 100 per cent backing on all foreign policy issues since the Iraq war in 2003. But Mr Blair's refusal to distance himself publicly from the White House's all-out support for Israel's attacks on Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon has enraged Labour MPs and several Ministers.
However, a Downing Street official said: "We believe our best approach is to use our influence with the American government to persuade them of the importance of making progress to achieve peace in the Middle East."
Mr Blair's advisers say his portrayal by critics as Mr Bush's 'poodle' is a travesty and claim he gets results by hammering out their differences in private.
But they do not deny that, behind the facade of public support, Downing Street's patience with Mr Bush has never been stretched so far.
The decision by the foreign affairs committee to stage its emergency debate on September 13 - after Mr Blair opposed calls for a full recall of Parliament - is a further reflection of backbench unrest.
MPs have been demanding that the Government explains its stance on the crisis, which saw Mr Blair back Israel's use of force against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon which has left hundreds of civilians dead and thousands homeless.
Mr Howells will be questioned over the Government's handling of the crisis, which has seen the Cabinet deeply divided over Israel's actions. He will also be asked to update MPs on the latest UN peacekeeping efforts which will see thousands of international troops deployed into a buffer zone on the Israel-Lebanon border.
Labour committee member Eric Illsley confirmed that the committee would take evidence from Mr Howells on September 13. He said: "There has been a public clamour for a full recall of Parliament."
Meanwhile John Prescott has been involved in another foul-mouthed incident over Tony Blair's policy on the Middle East, it was claimed last night.
He is said to have had a heated exchange with Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, one of the few Cabinet Ministers to defend Mr Blair's stance on Israel's war with Hezbollah, when the conflict was raised during a Cabinet meeting and Lord Falconer denied that Ministers had disagreed on the issue.
Mr Prescott, one of the Ministers who led the revolt, allegedly snapped at Lord Falconer: "Of course they f****** did, you were f****** there."
The right won. The one clear result of this war is that the left suffered another fatal blow and the rightist camp was strengthened. The prevailing wisdom now is that not only is there nobody to talk to, there is nothing to talk about. Not only did we withdraw from Gaza and get Hamas and Qassams, we withdrew from Lebanon and got Hezbollah and rockets. The conclusion: no more withdrawals. Just before Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman translate this cognitive erosion into electoral achievements, one must ask: Where are they leading and where are we going?
The right has to come up with some answers now. All the despairing leftists and the new and confused enlistees in the right must stop and ask themselves: What exactly is the developing right actually offering? While in Syria, for example, they are thinking about the long term, and its president Bashar Assad has a vision for future generations to make Israel surrender, the Israeli discourse is characterized by total evasion of any long-term thinking. At most, the talk is about tomorrow. There's a reason for this: the Israeli right has no solutions. For the long term, there are only two real possibilities: transfer, or an end to the occupation. The sane right still rejects transfer, and ending the occupation is not its way. Since there is no other way, the right cannot offer anything beyond the next war. The demand for long-term solutions, therefore, is an urgent one.
The convergence/alignment option no longer has a chance - even the prime minister admits as much. And returning territory as part of an agreement is not acceptable to the right. Annexing the territories is not an option because even the right realizes that means the state becomes binational, which the right does not want. What remains? To wait. For what exactly? For the Palestinians to be a majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River? And then what? The Arab countries equip themselves with more advanced weaponry and ultimately with nuclear bombs? And then what?
The idea that the Palestinians will surrender and the Arabs give in is a twisted idea that doesn't have a chance. Recent years have already taught us - the hard way - that things are moving in the opposite direction. The Palestinian resolve to be free today of the occupation is much greater than it was 20 years ago; Syria has not conceded the Golan and the Arab states will not stand by idly forever. Islamic extremism is growing in strength, and there is no Israeli consensus about what to do about that except for continuing to arm, which is nothing more than a false formula, as the latest war proved.
Time only increases the dangers faced by Israel, which is walking down the rightist path to an abyss. In effect, it has never really tried any other path. It has never tried to truly end the occupation. The Oslo Accords were never properly implemented, and in any case, were not enough to end the occupation; Ehud Barak offered what he offered, but never actually implemented anything; the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, while continuing to keep it under siege, did not end its occupation. The left's approach has never been tried, so why despair of it?
Israel has always chosen the right's approach, through armament, settlement, and hunkering down behind a wall, clinging to the territories and their residents though brutal military force and taking pleasure in the graces of a failed and ephemeral American administration. Nothing endangers Israel's existence more than this approach. Those who need proof need only look at Lebanon: an army that was accustomed to patrolling casbahs where the population is helpless suddenly found itself in combat with well-equipped and determined fighters. The results lie before us.
Tank crews that were used to barrages of stones and Molotov cocktails were suddenly met with armor-piercing anti-tank missiles. In the next war, which heaven forbid we will face, the much-praised pilots will discover themselves in unfamiliar territory: instead of open, surrendered skies, there will be air forces. The pilots will be as unprepared as the tank crews who were not trained for war. An army that has mostly been devoted to disgraceful policing and foolish assassinations in occupied territories does not know how to fight a real war.
The right has no answer to the demographic, Islamic and technological dangers now hovering over our heads. More stupid management and more smart bombs won't save us from the anxieties about the rising wave of fundamentalism that intensified in this war.
It is amazing to see how a failed and dangerous approach, which only makes things worse for Israel, wins increasing popularity after a war that proved just how ineffective that approach has become. Instead of the masses taking to the streets demanding real answers, they are hunkering down even more into the old ways. The only protest that comes up deals with the supplies for the reservists or the lack of a strong blow to the enemy. And if there were enough binoculars, water for the fighters, and even a broad ground operation, what exactly would have happened? Would the hatred toward us subside? Would Iran cease its threats? Would the Palestinians give up longing and move to Yemen? We have been trying the right's way for nearly 60 years. Its results are written in blood and horror. Isn't this the time, if only once, and terribly belatedly, to try the alternative we never tried?
I remember watching in horror the BBC reports of the massacres in Lebanon in the autumn of 1982. My family and I watched open-mouthed, transfixed by images of dead Palestinian families and the awful suffering on the streets of the Sabra refugee camp. Over the past five weeks I have again sat at home in Scotland, watching the TV rigid with shock at appalling crimes being committed in Lebanon and Gaza by the Israeli air, land and sea assault.
In 1985, after completing a tropical nursing course, and galvanised by my earlier travelling experiences in the occupied West Bank, I found the London office of Medical Aid for Palestinians and Dr Swee Chai Ang, a surgeon who had survived the massacre of Sabra and Shatila. Her commitment to the Palestinian cause, along with that of Major Derek Cooper and his late wife Pamela, was inspirational. Her bravery in travelling to Israel to testify against Ariel Sharon for complicity in the Sabra and Shatila massacres was breathtaking. The Palestinian medical staff in Beirut were again being slaughtered in 1985 and 1986. They were dragged - along with their patients - from the hospital, which was on the edges of the Sabra and Shatila camps, and shot by militiamen.
Health volunteers were required, and I ended up in Bourj al-Barajneh camp in Beirut. The Palestinian refugee population there had arrived from all over Palestine in 1948, mainly from the Galilee. They had left everything behind, locked their front doors, and moved over the border to wait for the fighting to end so they could return to their homes. They still haven't been able to. Tents were replaced by corrugated tin shelters in which babies died sometimes of the heat and sometimes of the cold. Six weeks after I arrived, the war of the camps restarted, and I stayed for six months in the besieged camp.
In recent weeks many of my friends from those Beirut days have been in Ain el-Helweh camp in Sidon, or have moved from Tyre to Beirut, from east Beirut to west Beirut, or from Bourj al-Barajneh to Sidon and back again, under aerial bombardment from Israel, hosting Lebanese refugees in the Palestinian refugee camps. The Lebanese people I met in the south of the country have been on our television screens, displaced or dead. The same destruction and despair has been revisited upon my friends, both Palestinian and Lebanese. All have been targets of massive military attacks in civilian areas. Bombarded for existing, bombarded for daring to show defiance to bigger global plans for them.
For me this is a moment for action, and for making whatever gestures we can here in Britain to show our solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinian people, who have been under siege both in Lebanon and Gaza.
On returning from Beirut after the siege of the refugee camps - having been saved from assassination on leaving the camps by the efforts of Canadian, Irish and Greek envoys - we international medical volunteers were given numerous awards. Our Palestinian and Lebanese counterparts received nothing. Their bravery and steadfastness went unnoticed. I was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Palestinian people - a people who live still under occupation and in refugee camps in exile, as UN resolutions that would solve their plight are ignored.
I accepted my MBE on behalf of all my unsung Palestinian and Lebanese colleagues and comrades. I have now returned it, also in their name. It is an utter disgrace that the British prime minister refused to press for a ceasefire, remained on holiday while these war crimes were being carried out and that parliament has not been recalled. It is a disgrace that the US ambassador to the UN described a call for a three-day truce to assist in humanitarian relief and evacuation of the wounded as "unhelpful". It is a disgrace that this government ignored the concerns of the electorate and all other forms of lawful protest. I have therefore come to the conclusion that to continue to hold on to my MBE, for which I was nominated by the parliamentary Labour party, is also a disgrace.
I have returned my MBE to St James Palace, with regret, in protest at the government's complicity in the prosecution of illegal wars and occupations. And I am returning it, above all, in the hope that this small gesture will add to the swell of support for action for the people of Lebanon and Palestine, and to those who wish to see peace in Israel and other nations.
I would urge others who also hold honours, and who feel the same powerlessness in the face of Tony Blair's foreign policy, to do as I am doing. In the history of quiet British protest, the return of honours has always had its place. And so it should now, in the name of the Lebanese and Palestinian people.
• Suzy Wighton is a public-health coordinator in Aberdeen
In 2000 I spent the better part of a late summer interviewing William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol. I was writing an article on the defections to the Left of several younger right-wing intellectuals and wanted to hear what the movement's founding fathers thought of their wayward sons. Over the course of our conversations, however, it became clear that Buckley and Kristol were less interested in these ex-conservatives than they were in the sorry state of the conservative movement and the uncertain fate of the United States as a global imperial power.
The end of communism and the triumph of the free market, they suggested, were mixed blessings. Although these developments were victories for the conservative movement, they had rendered the United States ill-equipped for the post–Cold War era. Americans now possessed the most powerful empire in history. At the same time, they were possessed by one of the most anti-political ideologies in history: the free market. According to its aggressive idealists, the free market is a harmonious order, promising an international civil society of voluntary exchange, requiring little more from the state than the occasional enforcement of laws and contracts. For Buckley and Kristol, this was too bloodless a notion upon which to found a national order, much less a global empire. It did not provide the gravitas and élan that the exercise of American power required at home and abroad. It promoted self-interest over the national interest, not the most promising base from which to launch an empire. What's more, the right-wingers in charge of the Republican Party didn't seem to realize this.
"The trouble with the emphasis in conservatism on the market," Buckley told me, "is that it becomes rather boring. You hear it once, you master the idea. The notion of devoting your life to it is horrifying if only because it's so repetitious. It's like sex." Conservatism, Kristol complained, "is so influenced by business culture and by business modes of thinking that it lacks any political imagination, which has always been, I have to say, a property of the Left." Kristol confessed to a deep yearning for an American empire: "What's the point of being the greatest, most powerful nation in the world and not having an imperial role? It's unheard of in human history. The most powerful nation always had an imperial role." But, he continued, previous empires were not "capitalist democracies with a strong emphasis on economic growth and economic prosperity." Because of its commitment to the free market, the United States lacked the fortitude and vision to wield imperial power. "It's too bad," Kristol lamented. "I think it would be natural for the United States . . . to play a far more dominant role in world affairs. Not what we're doing now but to command and to give orders as to what is to be done. People need that. There are many parts of the world—Africa in particular—where an authority willing to use troops can make a very good difference, a healthy difference." But with public discussion dominated by accountants—"there's the Republican Party tying itself into knots. Over what? Prescriptions for elderly people? Who gives a damn? I think it's disgusting that . . . presidential politics of the most important country in the world should revolve around prescriptions for elderly people. Future historians will find this very hard to believe. It's not Athens. It's not Rome. It's not anything." Kristol thought it unlikely that the United States would take its rightful place as the successor to empires past.
Since 9/11 I've had many opportunities to recall these conversations. September 11, we have been told, has restored to America's woozy civic culture a sense of depth and seriousness, of things "larger than ourselves." It has forced Americans to look beyond their borders, to understand at last the dangers that confront a world power. It has given the United States a coherent national purpose and a focus for imperial rule. A country that seemed for a time unwilling to face up to its international responsibilities is now prepared once again to bear any burden, pay any price, for freedom. This changed attitude, the argument goes, is good for the world. It presses the United States to create a stable and just international order. It is also good, spiritually, for the United States. It forces us to think about something more than peace and prosperity, reminding us that freedom is a fighting faith rather than a cushy perch.
Like any historical moment, today's imperial political culture has multiple dimensions. It is the product, in part, of a surprise attack on civilians, an increasing need for security, and the political economy of oil. But while these factors play a considerable role in determining U.S. policy, they do not explain entirely the politics and ideology of the imperial moment itself. To understand that dimension, we must examine the impact on American conservatives of the end of the Cold War—of the failure of communism and the ascendancy of the free market. For neoconservatives, who had thrilled to the crusade against communism, all that was left of Ronald Reagan's legacy after the Cold War was a sunny entrepreneurialism and market joie de vivre, which found a welcome home in Bill Clinton's America. While neocons are not opposed to capitalism, they do not believe it is the highest achievement of civilization. Like their predecessors—from Edmund Burke to T.S. Eliot, Samuel Coleridge to Martin Heidegger, Henry Adams to Michael Oakeshott—today's conservatives prize mystery and vitality and are uncomfortable with rationalism and technology. Such romantic sensibilities are uneasy about the market but friendly to politics, particularly at moments when politics is consumed with questions of war. It is only natural, then, that the neocons, enthralled by the epic grandeur of Rome, the ethos of the pagan warrior rather than the comfortable bourgeois, would take up the call of empire with a vengeance, seeking to create a world that is about something more than money and markets.
But this envisioned imperium may not resolve the challenges confronting the United States. Already the American empire is coming up against daunting obstacles in the Middle East and Central Asia, suggesting how elusive the reigning idea of the new imperialists—that the United States can govern events and make history—truly is. Domestically, the renewal that many hoped 9/11 would produce is proving difficult to achieve, the victim of a free-market ideology that shows no sign of abating. While it is still too soon to make any definitive assessment, there are already many signs that 9/11 will not—and perhaps cannot—bring about the transformation that the neocons have long desired.
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Immediately following 9/11, intellectuals, politicians, and pundits—not those of the radical Left, as is often claimed, but mainstream liberals and conservatives—seized upon the terrorist strikes as a deliverance from the miasma Buckley and Kristol had been criticizing. The World Trade Center was still on fire and the bodies entombed there still being recovered when Frank Rich announced in The New York Times that "this week's nightmare, it's now clear, has awakened us from a frivolous if not decadent decadelong dream." What was that dream? The dream of prosperity, of surmounting life's obstacles with money. During the 1990s, David Brooks wrote in Newsweek, we "renovated our kitchens, refurbished our home entertainment systems, invested in patio furniture, Jacuzzis and gas grills." This ethos had terrible domestic consequences. It encouraged "self-indulgent behaviour," wrote Francis Fukuyama in The Financial Times, and a "preoccupation with one's own petty affairs." It also had international repercussions. According to the Bush administration official Lewis Libby, the cult of peace and prosperity found its purest expression in Bill Clinton's weak and distracted foreign policy, which made "it easier for someone like Osama bin Laden to rise up and say credibly, ‘The Americans don't have the stomach to defend themselves. They won't take casualties to defend their interests. They are morally weak.'"
But after that day in September, the domestic scene was transformed. America was now "more mobilized, more conscious and therefore more alive," wrote Andrew Sullivan in The New York Times Magazine. As a result, wrote Brooks in The Weekly Standard, "commercial life seems less important than public life. . . . When life or death fighting is going on, it's hard to think of Bill Gates or Jack Welch as particularly heroic." Writers repeatedly welcomed the galvanizing moral electricity now coursing through the body politic, restoring trust in government, a culture of patriotism and connection, a new bipartisan consensus, the end of irony and the culture wars. According to a reporter at USA Today, President Bush was especially keen on the promise of 9/11, offering himself and his generation as exhibit A in the project of domestic renewal: "Bush has told advisors that he believes confronting the enemy is a chance for him and his fellow baby boomers to refocus their lives and prove they have the same kind of valor and commitment their fathers showed in WWII."
Internationally, 9/11 forced the United States to reengage with the world, to assume the burden of empire without embarrassment or confusion. Whereas George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had fumbled in the dark, the mission of the United States was now clear: to defend civilization against barbarism, freedom against terror. As Condoleezza Rice told The New Yorker, "I think the difficulty has passed in defining a role. I think September 11th was one of those great earthquakes that clarify and sharpen. Events are in much sharper relief." An America thought to be lulled by the charms of the market was now recalled to a consciousness of a world beyond its borders and was willing to sustain casualties on behalf of a U.S.-led global order. As Joseph Nye, a top Clinton defense aide and subsequent dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, concluded, "Americans are unlikely to slip back into the complacency that marked the first decade after the Cold War."
To understand why so many have embraced the political opportunities allegedly created by 9/11, we must return to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when American elites first realized that the United States could no longer define its mission in terms of the Soviet Union. While the end of the Cold War unleashed a wave of triumphalism, it also provoked among American elites an anxious uncertainty about U.S. foreign policy. How should the United States now define its role in the world, many asked. When should it intervene in foreign conflicts? How big a military should it field? Underlying these questions was a deep uneasiness about the size and purpose of American power. The United States seemed to be suffering from a surfeit of power, which made it difficult for elites to formulate any coherent principles for its use. As Richard Cheney, the first President Bush's secretary of defense, acknowledged in February 1992, "We've gained so much strategic depth that the threats to our security, now relatively distant, are harder to define." Almost a decade later, the United States would still seem, to its leaders, a floundering giant. As Condoleezza Rice noted during the 2000 presidential campaign, "The United States has found it exceedingly difficult to define its ‘national interest' in the absence of Soviet power." So uncertain about the national interest did political elites become that Nye would eventually throw up his hands in defeat, declaring the national interest to be whatever "citizens, after proper deliberation, say it is"—an abdication simply unthinkable during the Cold War reign of the Wise Men.
When Clinton assumed office, he and his advisers took stock of this unparalleled situation—in which the United States possessed so much power that it faced, in the words of Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security adviser, no "credible near-term threat to [its] existence"—and concluded that the primary concerns of American foreign policy were no longer military but economic. After summarily rehearsing the various possible military dangers to the United States, President Clinton declared in a 1993 address, "We still face, overarching everything else, this amorphous but profound challenge in the way humankind conducts its commerce." The great imperative was to organize a global economy where citizens of the world could trade across borders. For that to happen, the United States and other nations would have to get their own economic houses in order. The primary goal of U.S. foreign policy was thus, according to Lake, the "enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies."
Clinton's assessment of the challenges facing the United States was partially inspired by political calculation. He had just won an election against a sitting president who had not only led the United States through its victory in the Cold War but had also engineered a stunning rout of the Iraqi military. A southern governor with no foreign-policy experience—and a draft dodger to boot—Clinton concluded that his victory over Bush meant that questions of war and peace no longer resonated with American voters as they might have in an earlier age. But Clinton's vision also reflected a conviction, common in the 1990s, that globalization had undermined the efficacy of military power and traditional empires. Force was no longer the sole, or most effective, instrument of national will. "Soft power"—the cultural capital that made the United States so admired around the world—was as important to national preeminence as military power. In what may be a first for a U.S. official, Nye invoked a Marxist intellectual, the Italian Antonio Gramsci, to argue that the United States would only maintain its hegemony if it persuaded—rather than forced—others to follow its example. "If I can get you to want to do what I want," wrote Nye, "then I do not have to force you to do what you do not want to do."
For conservatives, who yearned for and then celebrated socialism's demise, Clinton's promotion of free trade and free markets was anathema. Though conservatives are reputed to favor wealth and prosperity, law and order, stability and routine—all the comforts of bourgeois life—they hated Clinton for his pursuit of these very virtues. His quest for affluence, they argued, produced a society that lost its sense of social depth and political meaning. "In that age of peace and prosperity," David Brooks would write, "the top sitcom was Seinfeld, a show about nothing." Robert Kaplan emitted barb after barb in The Coming Anarchy about the "healthy, well-fed" denizens of "bourgeois society," too consumed with their own comfort and pleasure to lend a hand—or shoulder a gun—to make the world a safer place. "Material possessions," he concluded, "encourage docility" and a "lack of imagination." In an influential manifesto published in 2000, Donald and Frederick Kagan could barely contain their hostility for "the happy international situation that emerged in 1991," which was "characterized by the spread of democracy, free trade, and peace" and was "so congenial to America" with its love of "domestic comfort."
Clinton's vision of a benign international order, conservatives argued, betrayed a discomfort with the murky world of power and violent conflict, of tragedy and rupture. "The striking thing about the 1990s zeitgeist," complained Brooks, "was the presumption of harmony. The era was shaped by the idea that there were no fundamental conflicts anymore." Conservatives thrive on a world of mysterious evil and unfathomable hatred, where good is always on the defensive and time is a precious commodity in the race against corruption and decline. Coping with such a world requires pagan courage and barbaric virtù, qualities conservatives embrace over the more prosaic goods of peace and prosperity. It is no accident that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was a student of Allan Bloom (in fact, Wolfowitz makes a cameo appearance in Ravelstein, Saul Bellow's novel about Bloom); Bloom, like many other influential neoconservatives, was a follower of the political theorist Leo Strauss, whose quiet odes to classical virtue and harmonious order veiled his Nietzschean vision of torturous conflict and violent struggle.
But there was another reason for the neocons' dissatisfaction with Clinton's foreign policy. Clinton, they claimed, was reactive and haphazard rather than proactive and forceful. He did not realize that the United States could shape rather than respond to events. Breaking again with the usual stereotype of conservatives as non-ideological muddlers, Wolfowitz, Libby, Kaplan, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, Kenneth Adelman, and the Kagan and Kristol father-son teams called for a more ideologically coherent projection of U.S. power. They insisted that the United States ought, as Cheney said during the first Bush administration, "to shape the future, to determine the outcome of history," or, as the Kagans would later put it, "to intervene decisively in every critical region" of the world, "whether or not a visible threat exists there." What these conservatives longed for was an America that was genuinely imperial—not just because it would make the United States safer or the world better but because they wanted to see the United States make the world, to create history.
September 11 has given the neocons an opportunity to articulate, without embarrassment, this vision of imperial American power, which they have been quietly harboring for years. "People are now coming out of the closet on the word ‘empire,'" Charles Krauthammer accurately observes. Unlike empires past, conservatives claim, this one will be guided by a benign goal: worldwide improvement. Because of America's sense of fair play and benevolent purpose, this new empire will not generate the backlash previous empires have generated. As a Wall Street Journal writer says, "We are an attractive empire, the one everyone wants to join." In the words of Rice, "Theoretically, the realists would predict that when you have a great power like the United States it would not be long before you had other great powers rising to challenge it. And I think what you're seeing is that there's at least a predilection this time to move to productive and cooperative relations with the United States, rather than to try to balance the United States." Imperial America will no longer have to "wait upon events while dangers gather," as President Bush put it in his 2002 State of the Union Address. It will now "shape the environment," anticipate threats, planning its empire not in terms of months or years, but in decades, perhaps centuries. The goal here is what Cheney first outlined in the early 1990s: to ensure, through prediction and preemption, that no regional powers ever attain preeminence in their local theaters, and that no other power ever arises to challenge the United States.
For conservatives, this is a heady time, a moment when their ambivalence about the free market—not about capitalism per se, which they refuse to challenge, but about the culture of capitalism, the elevation of buying and selling above political virtues like heroism and struggle—may finally be resolved. No longer hamstrung by the numbing politics of affluence, they believe they can count on the public to respond to the calls of sacrifice and destiny. With danger and security the watchwords of the day, the American state will be newly sanctified, without having to open the floodgates to economic redistribution and social welfare. The American empire, they hope, will allow America to have its market without being deadened by it.
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Though it is too soon to make any definitive assessment of the domestic and international situation of the United States post-9/11, mounting evidence suggests that the American empire is encountering more than a few obstacles, at home and abroad. A 1997 Pentagon report identifies "a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States," suggesting that additional U.S. military expeditions will only increase the likelihood of such attacks. This heightened vulnerability to terrorism, not just on American soil but on U.S. military bases around the world—portends a future that can only be more dangerous for Americans, here and elsewhere.
But with terrorism classified by the current administration as a symptom of unfathomable evil or antimodernist hostility to Western values, it does not register as a reaction to imperial power. After the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which did not immediately produce the opposition in the Muslim world that had been widely anticipated, the Administration came to believe, according to a former high-level intelligence official, that it did not need to worry about any violent backlash its power: "They went against the established experts on the Middle East who said it [the bombing of Afghanistan] would lead to fundamental insurrections in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Not so, and anyone who now preaches any approach of solving problems with diplomacy is scoffed at. They're on a roll." Even though it took Osama bin Laden some ten years after the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia to exact his revenge against the United States, the failure of anti-American violence to materialize within three months was taken as proof that such a backlash was no longer a threat—a point reinforced in a December 2001 presentation at the White House by the historian Bernard Lewis. According to one White House staff member, Lewis said, "In that part of the world, nothing matters more than resolute will and force," which means, according to a New Yorker report, that "the United States needn't proceed gingerly for fear of inflaming the ‘Arab street,' as long as it is prepared to be strong."
Violence against the United States might not prove to be a problem, at least not in the short term; after all, other empires have weathered it for a time. What makes it such a destabilizing factor over the long haul is that despite all the talk of the United States being prepared to accept casualties in the war on terrorism, at moments when that war has seemed to blunder or miscarry, naysayers in the media and even the Democratic Party—not to mention in Western Europe—have managed to raise serious questions about the viability of the Bush administration's imperial project. After a mere few weeks of bombing in October 2001 had failed to dislodge the Taliban, for example, critics started murmuring their fears that the war in Afghanistan would be a reprise of the Vietnam quagmire. Likewise, as soon as it became apparent that the war in Iraq was settling into a nasty, brutish, and long campaign and that the United States had become an occupying power, Democrats began to probe the edges of acceptable criticism of the war. With the 2004 presidential campaign now in full swing, willingness to voice that criticism has become a litmus test among the candidates. Moreover,the gathering of nations to oppose the imperial hegemon, which Rice and others declared unlikely before the Iraq war, now seems quite possible.
Though none of these critics has yet to challenge the full-throttle militarism of Bush's policies, their periodic appearance, particularly in times of trouble or defeat, suggests that the administration's vision is politically compelling only so long as it is successful. And this is as it must be. Because the centerpiece of the neoconservatives' promise is that the United States can govern events—that it can determine the outcome of history—their vision cannot sustain the suggestion that events lie beyond their control. Indeed, as soon as violence in the Middle East began to escalate in March 2002, even the administration's defenders began jumping ship, suggesting that any invasion of Iraq would have to be postponed indefinitely. As one of Reagan's high-level national security aides put it, "The supreme irony is that the greatest power the world has ever known has proven incapable of managing a regional crisis."
Ironically, insofar as the Bush administration avoids those conflicts in which it might fail, such as that between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is forced to forgo the very logic of imperialism that it seeks to avow. The ideology of empire, premised as it is on the ability of the United States to control events, cannot accommodate failure, but by avoiding failure, the imperialists are forced to acknowledge that they cannot control events. As former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger has observed, in a discussion of the crisis in the Middle East, Bush realizes "that simply to insert himself into this mess without any possibility of achieving any success is, in and of itself, dangerous because it would demonstrate that, in fact, we don't have any ability right now to control or affect events." This Catch-22 is no mere problem of logic or consistency; it betrays the essential fragility of the imperial position itself.
That fragility also reflects the hollowness of the neocons' imperial vision. Though the neocons see imperialism as the cultural and political counterpart to the free market, they have not yet come to terms with how the conservative opposition to government spending renders the United States unlikely to make the necessary investments in nation-building that imperialism requires. It has been only two years since the United States promised the people of Afghanistan that it would never abandon them, and already it's clear that the Bush administration has done just that. Outside of Kabul, warlords rule the country, women's rights are nonexistent, heroin production is up, roads and other forms of infrastructure have not been built, and the Taliban has publicly announced its intention to drive an increasingly cash-strapped United States from the field. According to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, "It is like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem. What was promised to the Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."
On the domestic front, there is little evidence to suggest that the political and cultural renewal imagined by most commentators has taken place, or will take place. September 11 may have temporarily increased popular trust in government and interest in public affairs, but it has not displaced the free-market ideology that makes government action an instant source of suspicion among Republicans and conservative Democrats. When politicians have proposed government intervention in national security–related sectors of the economy, free-marketeers have been surprisingly effective at stymieing them. In March of 2002, for example, 62 senators, including 19 Democrats, rejected higher fuel-efficiency standards in the automobile industry, which would have reduced dependence upon Persian Gulf oil. Missouri Republican Christopher Bond declared on the Senate floor, "I don't want to tell a mom in my home state that she should not get an SUV because Congress decided that would be a bad choice." Even more telling was just how vulnerable proponents of higher standards were to these arguments. John McCain, for one, was instantly put on the defensive, promising that "no American will be forced to drive any different automobile," as if that would have been an inconceivable imposition in this new era of wartime sacrifice and solidarity.
Even within and around the military, the ethos of patriotism and shared destiny has given way to the logic of the market. The government's desire not to spend too much money and thereby raise taxes has forced American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq to spend their own money on such items as night-vision goggles, desert-camouflage boots, baby wipes, radios and communications equipment, and rucksacks. Military recruiters admit that they still entice enlistees not with the call of patriotism but with the promise of economic opportunity. As one recruiter puts it, "It's just business as usual. We don't push the ‘Help our country' routine." When patriots burst into a recruiting office and say, "I want to fight," another recruiter explains, "I've got to calm them down. We're not all about fighting and bombing. We're about jobs. We're about education." Recruiters confess that they continue to target immigrants and people of color, on the assumption that these constituencies' lack of opportunity will drive them to the military. The Pentagon publicly acknowledges that it hopes to increase the number of Latino recruits in the military from the current 10 percent to 22 percent. Recruiters in Southern California have even slipped across the border, promising instant citizenship to poor Mexicans willing to take up arms on behalf of the United States. According to one San Diego recruiter, "It's more or less common practice that some recruiters go to Tijuana to distribute pamphlets, or in some cases they look for someone to help distribute information on the Mexican side."
The fact that the war has not yet imposed the sort of sacrifices on the population that normally accompany national crusades has provoked occasional bouts of concern among politicians and cultural elites. "The danger, over the long term," writes the Times's R.W. Apple, "is loss of interest. With much of the war to be conducted out of plain sight by commandos, diplomats and intelligence agents, will a nation that has spent decades in easy self-indulgence stay focused?" A former aide to LBJ says, "People are going to have to get involved in this. So far it's a government effort, as it should be, but people aren't engaged." Without consecrating the cause in blood, Americans will not have their commitment tested, their resolve deepened. As Doris Kearns Goodwin complained on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:
Well, I think the problem is we understand that it's going to be a long war, but it's hard for us to participate in that war in 1,001 ways the way we could in World War II. You could have hundreds of thousands joining the armed forces. They could go to the factories to make sure to get those ships, tanks, and weapons built. They could have victory gardens. They could feel not simply as we're being told: go back to your ordinary lives. It's harder now. We don't have a draft in the same way we did, although there's some indication I'd like to believe that that younger generation will want to participate. My own youngest son, who just graduated from Harvard this June, has joined the military. He wants that three-year commitment. He wants to be part of what this is all about instead of just going to work for a year and going to law school; he wants to be a part of this. And I suspect there will be a lot of others like that as well. But somehow you just keep wishing that the government would challenge us. Maybe we need a Manhattan Project for this antibiotics vaccine production. We were able to get cargo ships down from 365 days in World War II to one day by the middle with that kind of collective enterprise. In perhaps the strangest spectacle of the entire war, the nation's leaders are now looking for things for people to do—not because there's much to be done, but because they fear that without something to do, the ardor of ordinary Americans will grow cold. Since these tasks are unnecessary—and mandating them would violate market ideology—the best the administration has come up with is to announce Web sites and toll-free numbers that enterprising men and women can contact in order to help the war effort. As Bush declared in North Carolina the day after his 2002 State of the Union address, "If you listened to the speech last night, you know, people were saying, ‘Well, gosh, that's nice, he called me to action, where do I look?' Well, here's where: at usafreedomcorps.gov. Or you can call this number—it sounds like I'm making a pitch, and I am. This is the right thing to do for America. 1-877-USA-CORPS." What are the duties these volunteers are to perform? If they are doctors or health-care workers, they can enlist to help out during emergencies. And everyone else? They can serve in Neighborhood Watch programs to guard against terrorist attacks—in North Carolina.
* * *
We thus face a dangerous situation. On the one hand we have neoconservative elites whose vision of American power is recklessly utopian, who seem increasingly disconnected from any coherent conception of the national interest. On the other hand we have a domestic population that shows little interest in this far-flung empire. The political order projected by Bush and his supporters in the media and academia is just that: a projection, which can only last so long as the United States is able to put down, with minimum casualties, challenges to its power. If this assessment is correct, we may well be entering one of those famed Machiavellian moments discussed by J.G.A. Pocock a quarter century ago, when a republic opts for the frisson of empire, and is forced to confront the fragility and finitude of all political forms, including its own.
We may also be seeing, and I suggest this only tentatively, the slow decomposition of America's ruling class. Ever since the end of the Cold War—some might even say since Vietnam—there has been a growing disconnect between the culture and ideology of American business elites and that of political warriors like Wolfowitz and other neocons. Whereas the Cold War saw the creation of a semi-coherent class of Wise Men who brought together, however jaggedly, the worlds of business and politics—men like Dean Acheson, the Dulles brothers, and Averell Harriman—the Reagan years and beyond have witnessed something altogether different. On the one hand, we have a younger generation of corporate magnates who, though ruthless in their efforts to secure benefits from the state, have none of the respect or passion for government that their older counterparts had. These new CEOs respond to their counterparts in Tokyo, London, and other global cities. So long as the state provides them with what they need and does not interfere unduly with their operations, they leave it to the apparatchiks. As one Silicon Valley executive said to Thomas Friedman, when asked how often he talks about Iraq, Russia, or foreign wars, "Not more than once a year. We don't even care about Washington. Money is extracted by Silicon Valley and then wasted by Washington. I want to talk about people who create wealth and jobs. I don't want to talk about unhealthy and unproductive people. If I don't care about the wealth destroyers in my own country, why should I care about the wealth destroyers in another country?"
On the other hand, we have a new class of political elites who have little contact with the business community, whose primary experiences outside of government have been in either academia, journalism, think tanks, or some other part of the culture industry. As corporate elites set their sights upon an increasingly global economy, the neocons have been given, it seems, the run of the farm. They traffic in ideas and see the world as a vast landscape of intellectual projection. Unconstrained by even the most interested of interests, they are free to advance their cause, in the Middle East and elsewhere. Indeed, according to press reports, most corporate elites in the United States and elsewhere, even in the oil industry, have been either uninterested in or firmly opposed to the Bush administration's expedition in Iraq. Like their corporate counterparts, the neocons view the world as their stage, but unlike their corporate counterparts, they are designing that stage for an altogether more theatrical, other-worldly drama. Their endgame, if they have one, is an apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil, civilization and barbarism—categories of pagan conflict diametrically opposed to the world-without-borders vision of America's free-trading, globalizing elite. <
Corey Robin, an assistant professor of political science at Brooklyn College at the City University of New York, is the author of Fear: The History of a Political Idea, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His articles have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement and elsewhere.
Originally published in the February/March 2004 issue of Boston Review.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Bush administration's influence in the Middle East is in danger of becoming another casualty of the war in Lebanon, giving Iran a chance to build up its clout in the region.
Despite a U.S.-backed truce taking effect between Israel and Hizbollah on Monday, Washington faces erosion of credibility in the region and strained ties with Arab moderates that could doom its post-September 11 push to spread democracy there, analysts say.
The Arab world is seething at how President George W. Bush, after promoting free elections in Lebanon, made no effort to stop Israel from weakening the new government by destroying much of the country's infrastructure in a bid to cripple Hizbollah.
But there is also unease among Israelis at a brewing debate in Washington about the Jewish state's value as a strategic ally against Iran, given the failure of its vaunted, U.S.-equipped military to subdue a small, Iranian-backed guerrilla army after a month of fighting.
"Iran comes out of this stronger, with the reflected glory of Hizbollah's performance," said Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
Analysts say Bush's initially halting response to the conflict was of an administration already overstretched by foreign policy problems -- an unpopular war in Iraq and twin nuclear challenges from Iran and North Korea.
"This administration doesn't do diplomacy very well," Kipper said.
U.S. officials also made clear from the start that Bush wanted to give Israel maximum time to inflict damage on Hizbollah, which triggered the war when it abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July
When Israel launched air and ground assaults and Hizbollah responded by raining rockets on northern Israel, Bush was quick to frame the battle in the good-versus-evil terms of the U.S.-led war on terrorism and put the blame on Iran and Syria, the group's supporters.
U.S. officials had hoped a crushing blow to Hizbollah would send a tough message to Tehran, which denies Israel's right to exist and has defied U.S.-led international efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program.
But Bush and the Israelis did not count on Hizbollah's resilience. Taking a more realistic view, U.S. officials had to drop demands for a timetable for Hizbollah's full disarmament in a resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
Instead it calls for 15,000 Lebanese troops to be deployed along with an equal number of U.N. peacekeepers to enforce a Hizbollah-free zone in south Lebanon.
U.S. insistence on letting Israeli forces stay in place until peacekeepers arrive has only served to reinforce perceptions in the Arab world of Washington's bias in favor of Israel, which receives $2 billion in annual U.S. military aid.
"Whatever credibility the U.S. had left in the region has been badly degraded," said Mouin Rabbani, an Amman-based analyst with the International Crisis Group.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice drew Arab outrage last month when she talked about the war as the birth pangs of a new Middle East during a diplomatic trip to the region.
SUSPICION AND DOUBTS LINGER
Reaction to her comments reflected growing doubt over the central thrust of administration policy of pushing democracy in the region, something many still view with suspicion more than three years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Sectarian strife still grips Iraq after its elections, and national ballots pushed by Washington brought the militant Islamic group Hamas to power in the Palestinian territories and entrenched its equally radical Muslim brethren from Hizbollah as a junior partner in the Lebanese government.
The Lebanon war had eclipsed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even if the Israel-Hizbollah ceasefire holds there is little prospect of the Bush administration restarting long-dormant peace efforts it believes will come to little.
Despite that, Israeli political analyst Yossi Alpher said U.S. missteps are opening the way for a larger Iranian role in the region, and Washington's ability to respond is limited by its refusal of diplomatic contacts with Tehran.
Iran is thought to view Lebanon as a way to remind Washington of the vulnerability of U.S. interests if the administration seeks U.N. sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.
That has stirred debate among some pundits in Washington expressing disappointment at Israel's failure to deal a stronger blow against Hizbollah and suggesting it had harmed the Jewish state's ability to serve as a strategic deterrent against Iran.
But Israeli Brigadier-General Yossi Kuperwasser defended the army's performance with a list entitled "What Israel has done for the U.S. lately", including what he said was evidence of Syrian and Iranian rocket shipments to Hizbollah.
“Repeat after me – Aravi tov…” “No – I don’t want to” “Say it, just say it – Aravi tov…” I shrug and accede to his demand, “Aravi tov…” “…Aravi met”. And with that, a broad smile spreads across his face, as he beams with paternal benevolence, having taught me one of the most important axioms with which to live my life by. Namely, that “A good Arab is a dead Arab”. Welcome to Israel in wartime. I’m not writing this from a military perspective – cos I don’t have one. Even after a year and a half in a combat unit, my army-related knowledge doesn’t stretch much further than how to hide an iPod from a commander whilst on guard duty. I should know more, I should care more – but I don’t. Those tasked with fighting and winning wars in the name of Israel are, I trust, capable enough of strategic planning and tactics without me chucking my two shekels in. I’m also not writing this from a political perspective – sort of. As in, I certainly don’t have any magical solution to how we defend ourselves from the perennial threat of attack on our borders – far wiser heads than mine spend their lives attempting to tackle that issue – and, thus far, they seem to have faltered at the first every time they try. (With the exception of the delightfully couldn’t-give-a-damn Ahmedinejad – whose suggestion that wiping out Israel would solve the Middle East’s problems is, sadly, as true as it is outrageously unpalatable).
What I do want to talk about is the effect that this war has had on those around me – both in Jerusalem and back in the Motherland. How previously moderate friends have turned into nationalist bigots, how previously meek and mild acquaintances now spout bloodthirsty rhetoric when urging on “our boys” in Lebanon, how previously unacceptable racism is now dropped into conversation as casually as discussing the football results.
I’ll start with my fifty year old neighbour who taught me all I needed to know about the world’s billion or so Arabs in one easy-to-remember phrase. I was sitting on my garden wall, enjoying the last rays of the Friday sun, drinking a can of Coke and bothering no one. Yossi, the man who lives above us, came downstairs to throw out his rubbish, spied me, and before I could make a run for it, approached me and clamped a bear-like hand on my shoulder.We exchanged pleasantries, before he launched into his daily diatribe about how the Muslims are out to kill us all. Now, he knows I don’t agree with him – in fact, that I think his views repugnant – yet still he persists with his “educating” of myself. Whenever I argue back, along the lines of “But not all of them want to kill us…”, he smiles wryly and says “You’re a young boy – you don’t understand. Come and talk to me in twenty years, and then we’ll see if you say ‘Yossi – you were right’”.
It’s a waste of time even arguing the toss with morons like this. His logic is easily deconstructed – his generalisation and predjudices for a start – but the fifty year old hatred behind it is harder to shift. All I can do is, forcefully, show him that his xenophobia does not rub off on me, no matter how many times he bombards me with it, and leave it at that. I’m caught between having to show a bit of derech eretz to an elder, and wanting to smack him round the face for his racism. As I told him yesterday, rewind sixty years, and the whole of Europe were using the exact same phrase as him – with only one minor adjustment – substituting Jew for Arab. But he smiles beatifically again – “Let’s talk about it in twenty years, boy”.
I play football twice a week with a crowd of ex-pat Brits and South Africans. Largely religious, largely well-educated, largely jumped-up little racists. Until the conflict started, I was happy to ignore the occasional anti-Arab remark that I heard as we warmed up – not the right arena to get in an argument, I decided – but then came the war. Now, as we got changed for the match, all those around me were full of “Let’s napalm the whole country”, “We need to show all the Arabs who’s boss” and – my favourite – “One soldier’s life is worth more than ten of their villages” – straight out of the Kahane guide to tolerance and morality.
Now, I’m neither an apologist for, or a sympathiser with, the terrorists who attack Israel non-stop. In fact, it was Homat Magen (Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin, 2002) that made up my mind to move to Israel and fight for the land of my forefathers. However, there is a difference between defending your country with decency and turning into a rabid Islamophobe the minute things heat up.
But it’s hard to stand up to these “patriots” when there’s a war raging. Inevitably, when I suggested to my footballing friends that perhaps napalm was going a bit far, I got “Well, what would you do? Invite them round for tea and give them some more land?” – er, no – I just rail against the casual comments that genocide is somehow acceptable in the current situation. Not because I really think these clowns have much influence outside the football pitch’s fence, but because it filters down into what they teach their children – for example, one guy said that our friend Ari (who’s fighting in Lebanon now) “has shot an Arab – so we should let him play for free next game”. And everyone laughs, and no one says a word in protest.
Then, on a larger scale, is the jingoistic attitude rife around the country at present. Early on in the war, Bank Leumi plastered billboards with adverts declaring “Israel be strong” and “We will triumph” – noble sentiments indeed, but I found something disturbing about the blurring of war and peace. Namely, that a company dedicated to profit margins and yields should suddenly be drawn into chanting nationalist slogans instead. Of course, the rationale behind it is to entice new business to this patriotic firm, but I’m not sure I’d have approved had it been Natwest screaming “Batter Baghdad” on a North London high street. I never felt entirely comfortable with the Sun’s devotion to “Our Boys In Basra” when I lived in England, but now – having witnessed the same thing here – realise that this is the inevitable response of a nation at war. We have to get behind our troops, we have to support the war effort – but at what expense? Mainly at the expense of rational and balanced thought, I fear.
Mum. Between her and Dad, I’ve been set examples of decent and moral behaviour throughout my life – from giving tzedaka and showing kindness to animals, to racial tolerance and anti-misogyny. I’ve always looked to them to guide me when faced with an ethical dilemma, and that made it all the more stark when I heard my usually rational mother say last week “This war’s turned me into such a racist”.
Her first reaction to the fighting had been one of extreme sadness and fear for Israel – perfectly understandable, though I didn’t share the pessimistic outlook. However, as the war progressed and world opinion shifted against Israel, the siege mentality took over for her, and countless other British Jews. Fear breeds defensiveness, which in turn manifests itself in ways such as hostility to outsiders – or, to give it another name, racism. With the greatest of respect to her, and those around her, there is no excuse for racism that can be held up to logical inspection. If you’re saddled with anti-Arab emotion, “it’s all cos of the war” is no more acceptable than saying you’re anti-Pakistani “cos they come over here and take our jobs”. Or that you hate Jews “cos they run the world, innit?”. Not on, and not on my watch – I can’t change people’s minds with one conversation, but I can – and must – make sure they know that it is not acceptable, to me at least, to be so casual with their hatred.
(An aside - British Jewry, and no doubt other Jewish communities round the globe, like to vent their frustrations at the perceived bias against Israel in the media. “The BBC are so anti-Israel”, “CNN just hate us” they whine. Fine – ever seen Fox News? A hundred killed in Lebanon and they lead with two wounded civilians and a burning car in Haifa. Not that there isn’t anti-Israel bias out there, but there’s enough pro-Israel sentiment that I don’t think we need get too worked up about it).
Working at the Jerusalem Post, I get to see right-wingers in their element. A right-wing paper, staffed with right-wing reporters, and no one to counter their vitriol, so it runs riot. I don’t really care all that much – these leopards ain’t gonna change their spots on my say so – but when a dartboard appeared with a picture of Nasrallah in the centre, I cracked. I want him got rid of as much as the next man, but… do we really need the conflict trivialised so? Do we feel big because some wag pinned a picture of our enemy to the bullseye? Is that how we best display our pent-up rage? A small issue, but again – if you let the little things go, this kind of behaviour creeps into daily life – it colours how we talk to each other, to strangers, to the next generation – and gradually becomes standard fare. It doesn’t take long to go from being on the receiving end of the “Gas a Jew” song at Chelsea to joining in the “Death to the Arabs” chanting at Betar’s Teddy Stadium.
Finally, a bit of a tangent. For all that I want our own house put in order, for all that I want to believe that we can make peace with our enemies and live happily ever after, an incident over the weekend in England did nothing to assuage any doubts I might have. The Muslim Council of Britain – the seemingly moderate voice of Islam in the UK – sent shivers up the collective spine of the British public. In their open letter to Tony Blair, they implied that Britain’s foreign policy needed altering if the country wanted to prevent further terrorism on its soil or in its skies. A shocking declaration for them to make publicly – the idea that a Sword of Damocles, in the shape of bus and train bombings, hangs over the government, and that only policy-change in favour of the terrorists would stop the sword from falling. A frightening image emerges of alienated Muslim youth in Britain who are ready to kill for the cause, but not only that – that they have managed to convince their elders and betters that the only way they’ll halt their murderous plans is if the government takes fright and accedes to their demands.
And there is the perfect example of what will happen in Israel if racist and xenophobic behaviour is not nipped in the bud. Left unchecked, the vine of intolerance will spread, strangling even the moderates amongst us with its extreme views and threats of violence. We’re not there yet – after all, Kach was banned and remains so – but under the surface in Jerusalem, and over the counter in the Shtachim, the throwaway comments of today will beget the Jewish terrorists of tomorrow.