Ideas are often expressed on this blog and elsewhere in the blogosphere that you might find offensive, irrational, unproven, wrong, or just plain goofy.  This is a good thing.  Wneed to read ideas that appear offensive, irrational, unproven, wrong, or goofy.  We need more heresy.  “Polite society”—otherwise known as the corporate media—does not allow for heretical thinking, shoving it to the margins where it can’t be disruptive.  Or, in terms consistent with the current corporate media mantra: Our heretical ideas are not part of the “national discussion”—a narrowing, normalizing phrase if ever there was one. 
Now to offer up an idea that I find rational but that others night find heretical.  I want to call into question American concerns for women in largely Muslim countries–a concern that seems weird in the context of continued patriarchy in the US.  Most of the recent rhetorical lamenting about the rights of women in Muslim countries is little more than hypocritical opportunism.  Yes, most evidence suggests that it is better to be a woman in the US in 2008 than a woman in, say, Saudi Arabia in 2008.  This is beyond doubt.  But this is not to say that gender inequality is a thing of the past in the US.  For instance, although women in some Muslim communities (not to mention some Christian and Hindu societies) are subjected to involuntary genital mutilation, this is not to say that the pervasiveness of plastic surgery in the US is not mutilation by other means.  Just because an increasing number of American women “choose” to have their breasts augmented does not mean that repressive gender conventions aren’t the root of such a “choice.”
Another way to think about the issue might best be by way of philosopher Gayatri Spivak’s most famous written statement, a passage taken from a famous essay she wrote called “Can the Subaltern Speak.  Spivak writes, “White men will not save brown women from brown men.”  This is not a racially reductionist formula—”white men are the root of all evil”—but rather a provocative entreaty to wake us from our imperialist dreams.  When we send our military to the Middle East, it is not to rescue their women.  Saying as much does not make me a “relativist.”  Yes, genital mutilation is always wrong.  Period.  Absolutely.  But our leaders don’t wage war to save genitals.  They wage war to extend the reach of their power and to increase their access to oil.  And because war makes them feel like manly men—like the patriarchal rulers that they are.  In the process, the wars our leaders wage on brown men make life objectively worse for brown women.
We human beings are complex creatures.  It’s OK to be an absolutist and not extend an absolutist belief to the absolute ends of war.  For instance, I absolutely believe that societies with high degrees of economic inequality are not only irrational but also immoral.  Period.  Absolutely.  But this does not mean, then, that I support the US military invading and occupying Kuwait, one of the most economically polarized nations in the world, in order to liberate Kuwaitis from the yoke of their unfair economic structure.  There are three reasons for this.  First, the means don’t always justify the ends, especially when it comes to war.  Rarely if ever is war justifiable.  Second, any realistic assessment of a US war on Kuwait, even if rationalized as class war (or war for female genitals), would lead me to conclude that the poor would likely bear the brunt of the war, thus rendering my rationale moot.  Third, such a justification for war would be intensely hypocritical coming from someone living in a country where 48 million people don’t have health insurance, where the richest one-percent of the population controls nearly half the national wealth, where, in an economic downturn, failed Wall Street banks are bailed out while working-class people with bad mortgages get kicked out of their homes, where, where, where…  I think you get my point. 
Oh how much better off we’d be if we’d abide by simple childhood morality lessons, like, “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
Andrew Hartman

This book review originally appeared in the journal Socialism and Democracy Vol. 21, No. 1 (March 2007), 143-147.

Andrew Hartman

Book Reviewed: Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (Oakland: AK Press, 2006). 432 pages.

The Weather Underground–an armed, clandestine, white revolutionary group that formed out of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) 1969 break-up–is currently a fashionable topic of discussion amongst radicals and historians of the left. This is not surprising. The historical context in which the Weather Underground formed is similar to contemporary realities. The United States is again waging a bloody imperialist war against a non-white, former European colony. And young American radicals are, again, searching for effective ways to counter their government’s actions in an atmosphere hostile to dissent. The current crop of student radicals has the potential advantage of being able to learn from the successes and mistakes of their “sixties” forerunners.

            Dan Berger, author of Outlaws in America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, a voluminous historical account, goes further than any other young radical in his efforts to mine the usable past of the sixties. Outlaws of America is the work of someone who is both a committed leftist and a serious scholar. The work is not without its problems–such as Berger’s apparent need to apologize for former Weather Underground members.  But these problems stem from what makes the book good: it’s based on an impressive number of oral interviews with over twenty former Weather members. This speaks to the contradictions of oral historical research.  Berger’s subjects have become his friends and mentors, particularly David Gilbert, one of the founders of the Columbia chapter of SDS and a former Weather Underground member. (Gilbert is serving a life sentence in various New York state prisons for his role as the driver of the getaway U-haul during a 1981 Black Liberation Army “expropriation” that resulted in the deaths of one Brinks armed guard and two police officers.) But despite this weakness, there are too many good things about Outlaws to not take it seriously.

Most astutely, Berger works to counter the myth of “two sixties”–one good, one bad-–a myth often propagated by former sixties radicals themselves, such as Columbia University Professor Todd Gitlin. According to this conventional wisdom, whereas non-violence, interracial cooperation, participatory democracy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Port Huron Statement marked the “good” early sixties, violence, irrationalism, nihilism, narcissism, nationalism, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and the Weather Underground signified the “bad” later sixties. Similarly, whereas the “good” antiwar movement understood Vietnam as a tragedy of good intentions gone awry, the “bad” variant couched their critique of the war in “crude” anti-imperialist rhetoric, which alienated those working-class Americans who were doing the overseas fighting and dying–-those whom the “good” left sought as allies. Berger works to unmask this dichotomy as false, pointing out that, by this simplistic formula, King himself voluntarily made the transition to the bad sixties in 1966 when he began critiquing the war in language similar to Malcolm X.

Berger belabors the point that the Weather Underground was a product of their times. This truism is ironically built into the very concept of the group, named after an indicative Bob Dylan verse–“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” If the Weather turned to violent forms of resistance, it was because the state was violently repressing dissent. This brings to mind an oft-cited passage from Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed.” By the fall of 1967, violence was in the air and in the streets. With the onset of draft riots in places such as Oakland and New York, antiwar protesters “were beginning to look, talk, and act like urban guerrillas,” taking up Che’s call for “two, three, many Vietnams” (Outlaws, 45). An increasing number of white antiwar activists wanted to join with anti-colonial forces across the planet. They wanted to show solidarity with the Third World. Solidarity, according to Berger, is the key to understanding the Weather Underground and the 1969 SDS split.

Although “two, three, many” factions would eventually spell the demise of SDS, the two most important splinter groups at the infamous 1969 convention were the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), which eventually became the Weather Underground, and the Progressive Labor Party (PL), a Maoist sect. The essence of the split was over whether to prioritize race or class, an “either-or” problematic that has long divided the American left (and spawned scholarly sub-fields such as critical labor and whiteness studies). The RYM (proto-Weather) sect believed that Ho Chi Minh, the Black Panthers, and non-white nationalists throughout the world were the vanguard of the revolution, and that militantly opposing white supremacy was the best way for white revolutionaries living in the “belly of the beast” to lend support to the revolution. Solidarity. The PL faction, on the other hand, “saw race as divisive” and insisted that all nationalism was reactionary, including that of the Black Panthers. They believed that organizing the American working class was the most important task for activists.

Berger does not hide his sympathy for the RYM/Weather faction. To him, their willingness to walk out on SDS signaled that hundreds of white radicals had consciously chosen to side against white supremacy. Berger smoothes over a complex history of the American left when he writes that the RYM faction “did not want … to fall victim to the same fate as all the major social justice movements in the United States, from populism to unionism to women’s suffrage” (85). Here Berger seems to imply that the left’s historical racism has weakened its position on the American political spectrum.  Although there are obvious instances of this being the case, more often the opposite has proven true: the organized left has consistently taken less racist stances than the rest of American society, stances that, if anything, have relegated it to the margins.  Consistent with this lack of nuance, Berger inaccurately portrays the SDS split as between the Old and New Lefts. “PL’s hostility to anti-racism and national liberation,” Berger argues, “showed that the organization was part of the Old Left” (78). Actually, SDS was re-living a 1930s Old Left debate over the Communist Party’s “Black Belt Nation Thesis,” which explicitly supported black nationalism as a legitimate form of working-class resistance rooted in the international struggle. To stretch this line of argument even further back, SDS was in some ways replaying sectarian battles that took place within an even older left, when southern Populists such as Tom Watson sought an interracial alliance against the “special interests.”

After the dissolution of SDS, the Weather Underground built what David Gilbert describes as “an unprecedented if seriously flawed group that carried out six years of armed actions in solidarity with national liberation struggles” (91). The first violent Weather action occurred in Chicago in October 1969, during what came to be known as the Days of Rage, as young radicals intentionally did battle with the police to prove their willingness to fight against the racist war machine. Spanning three days, Days of Rage resulted in over 300 arrests, some based on serious felony charges, and dozens of injuries, including eight protesters with gunshot wounds. These actions were not widely supported by the larger movement–only a few hundred participated as opposed to the thousands Weather predicted.

Perhaps the most significant if unintended result of Days of Rage was that it compelled Weather to go underground in order to avoid lengthy and costly legal battles. Once underground, Weather rhetoric became increasingly violent, due in part to the fact that their comrades in the black liberation struggle were being murdered by the state, such as when Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was shot in his sleep by Chicago police. But until a powerful bomb accidentally exploded in a Greenwich Village townhouse on March 6, 1970, killing three members of the group, Weather’s conception of revolutionary violence was little more than an abstraction. Afterwards, it became something much more personal and visceral: the horror of the accidental death of their friends in the townhouse explosion engendered a sense of sympathy for their projected victims. (The intended target of the bomb was an Army officers’ dance.) Although they did not entirely eschew the philosophy of violent resistance–especially since the violence of the state had increased both overseas and at home–the group made a firm commitment to refrain from harming people.

In the course of the next seven years, the Weather Underground set off dozens of bombs that damaged millions of dollars worth of property, but never seriously injured anyone again. Weather termed its property-destroying bombs “armed propaganda” because their targets were carefully chosen in response to state and corporate violence and because they issued widely distributed “communiqués” explaining their rationale after each bombing. They had become the masters of the revolutionary spectacle. For example, they bombed the U.S. Capitol on February 28, 1971, as a response to the invasion of Laos and the continued fighting of the war under the auspices of “Vietnamization,” an action Nixon described as “the most dastardly act in American history” (165). In retaliation to a massive increase in the scale of bombings in North and South Vietnam, Weather bombed the Pentagon on May 19, 1972. They responded to the killing of Soledad Brother George Jackson and to the infamous Attica prison massacre of 1971 by bombing various corrections offices.  In 1973, the Weather Underground bombed International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) headquarters in New York City for its complicity in the overthrow of socialist Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected leader.

Berger thinks these symbolic bombings were widely cheered by young rebels and that the Weather was generally popular in the larger New Left movement. It is true that, for most of their time underground, very few Weather members were ever caught, speaking to a tremendous aboveground network of support. However, cleverness notwithstanding, surely Berger overestimates the degree of popular support for the Weather’s “armed propaganda” campaign, an overestimation that might be rooted in a more serious misunderstanding of the times. In his close reading of the radical sixties, Berger misses the broader history of that important decade. When Berger writes that “to speak of revolution in 1969 was not hyperbolic,” he seems to forget that student radicals were not the only ones on the move. The 1960s is best understood as a time of polarization, as the American conservative movement grew even more rapidly than did the New Left. Berger misses the point that, although a majority of Americans came to oppose the Vietnam War by the end of the decade, an even larger majority opposed and even disdained the antiwar movement. Thus, just as the Weather Underground had a network of support, so too did the FBI, demonstrated by polls that showed a majority of Americans backed violent crackdowns on student and black unrest. Nixon was elected less for his assurance that he would end the war in Vietnam than for his promise to bring order to the streets of America.

Despite these problems, Berger’s book deserves wide attention and should be viewed as one important scholarly revision of sixties radicalism. Berger correctly posits Outlaws of America as part and parcel of the “ideological battleground” and “contested space” that are the “sixties,” entreating us to fight for the radical sixties. In this sense, his work is guided by the historical philosophy best enunciated by Frankfurt School Marxist Walter Benjamin, who, in the midst of Nazi barbarism, wrote, “Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.”

By Andrew Hartman

 Every four years, those on the left debate tactics regarding the presidential election.  This year is no exception, despite the singularly poor Bush administration, which would seemingly make any Democratic administration an important reprieve.  However, not everyone is inclined to agree.  Take, for instance, Penn political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr, who recently argued in the pages of The Progressive that we on the left should “Sit Out the 2008 Election.”

Reed’s article, which argues that the Democrats as currently constituted don’t deserve our support, sparked a heated debate on a listserv I edit.  Some argued that Reed was too pessimistic in disavowing the current Democratic candidates.  I argued that Reed was essentially correct.  Here is how I framed my argument.


I made four basic points:


1)     In response to those who think Reed is too pessimistic, it should be pointed out that Reed is NOT arguing that we should expect more out of the Democratic Party.  In fact, he’s making quite the opposite point, that we should quit dedicating so much of our time, energy, and money to national election cycles, precisely because we can’t expect the Democratic Party and its candidates to pay attention to our desires.  Instead, we should focus on building a strong movement that will compel the Democrats to take our demands more seriously.  This is the only method for success, indeed, the only instances of effective social reform in US history have been the products of such movements: the Populists compelled some regulation of the new corporate behemoths at the turn of the 19th century; the CIO and other working-class organizations forced the hand of FDR, and we got the New Deal; and the vast civil rights movement shut down de jure Jim Crow.  As Reed writes in the article:” Electoral politics is an arena for consolidating majorities that have been created on the plane of social movement organizing. It’s not an alternative or a shortcut to building those movements, and building them takes time and concerted effort… [T]hat process cannot be compressed to fit the election cycle.”

It must be remembered that Reed’s audience is the left, progressives, radicals. He’s writing to those that struggle over whether it makes more sense to support the Democrats on the basis of them being superior to the alternative, the Republicans—which they undoubtedly are—or more sense to opt out of the two-party “duopoly,” as Ralph Nader has long referred to it.  It’s a question of tactics.  In the context of tactics, Reed might be wrong.  The United States is a deeply conservative country, and there is currently no real possibility for structural changes along the lines of the New Deal or Great Society minus a serious crisis.  And there’s no guarantee such a crisis would result in a leftward shift.  I think a rightward shift (democratic fascism!) is more likely.  In this context, perhaps we’re better off swallowing our pride and voting for the Democrats.  And by “our” I mean the left, what’s left of us. 

2)    This leads to my second point.  Despite the fact that Reed might be wrong tactically, this does not detract from how correct he is in terms of historical and political analysis.  If some Democratic partisans seem viscerally offended by Reed’s analysis, that’s probably because it’s spot-on.  I would suggest that partisan attachment to the Democratic Party has limited the ability of some to see the forest for the trees, to ignore the historical arc of US political history. 

The Democrats have shifted to the right since 1976, at least on issues of substance, like economic and social policy.  Now, you might argue, this makes sense since the nation itself has shifted to the right.  The Democrats have interpreted Clinton-style triangulation—tacking to the center, which has been moving to the right—as the only means to electoral success.  This is shortsighted and just plain wrong. The Democrats are locked into an electoral approach that is doomed to fail.  They’ve been cutting the rug out from under those who traditionally guaranteed them a majority, namely, unions. The triangulation approach that the party has pursued since Carter has never produced an electoral majority.  In fact, Gore and Kerry got higher percentages of the vote as the 2000 and 2004 losers than Clinton got as the 1992 winner and were very close in 1996. Minus Ross Perot, we would not have had a Democratic President since Carter (who, it must be said, was a conservative Democrat).  

3)    What is the evidence that the Democrats have shifted to the right?  Let’s examine the Clinton administration’s record in terms of economic and social policy.  Clinton is as much to blame as Reagan for the intense polarization of wealth that has grown larger than any such gap since the 1920s.  This is due largely to the fact that politicians have rewritten economic policy at the behest of corporations, who serve only one master: shareholders.  Let’s take NAFTA (1994).  This terrible piece of legislation benefited nobody other than powerful corporations, which were no longer restrained by pesky local and national laws.  NAFTA, among other neoliberal trade policies, decimated the industrial working class in the United States.  And yet, Democrats continue to ask themselves why the struggle to win in states like Ohio and even, sometimes, Michigan.  DUH!  And NAFTA has not exactly helped most Mexicans, either, made evident by the huge number of them, driven off their land, who come to the US to work in the service industry.  Wow—Lou Dobbs might have a point regarding the close connection between trade policies that benefit the filthy rich and “illegal” immigration.

After the Clinton administration oversaw trade legislation that gashed living wages, it then proceeded to sponsor the Welfare Reform Act (1996), which ripped apart the already-limited safety net for the poor.  The new safety net became the prison system.  As Reed asks us to remember, the Clinton administration was responsible for “two repressive and racist crime bills that flooded the prisons” and “the privatizing of Sallie Mae, which set the stage for the student debt crisis” and “ending the federal government’s commitment to direct provision of housing for the poor.”  Fallout from Clinton-era policy continues, including in New Orleans, as 4,500 units of low-income public housing were recently razed, to the dismay of protesters–this, in a city with the worst housing crisis in the country.

Of course, if Democratic partisans ceded me (and Reed) these arguments—which I doubt they would—they would then argue that the current crop of Democratic candidates should not be judged by the Clinton administration.  I suppose this is a decent point.  However, for the most part, nothing the front-running Democratic candidates are saying indicates they will work to reverse the horrible economic and social polices of the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era.  (John Edwards sounds pretty good on economic policy, sometimes, which has led the media to lampoon his populist message.)  Yes, all of the candidates have a plan for universal healthcare.  But none of the “big 3” remove the insurance and pharmaceutical industries from the equation, which is not much of a plan as far as I’m concerned.  On this issue, Michael Moore is on the money.

4)    For me, foreign policy is the single most important issue in US politics, the issue that everything else branches out from.  And on this issue I consider the majority of the Democrats cowardly, especially those who committed the original sin of twenty-first century politics by voting for the war in 2002.  This is unforgivable in my eyes, no matter how hard any of them now try to explain it away.  The argument that everyone was working with bad intelligence does not fly.  Not only were plenty of people (such as Joseph Wilson, Hans Blix, and Scott Ritter) showing evidence that Iraq did not have WMD, the WMD issue is a true non sequitur.  It was completely and utterly beside the point.  Iraq was not responsible for 9-11, as everyone should have understood, and did not represent a threat to the US.  Even if the Hussein government had WMD, he was not a threat to the US because his one goal was to stay in power at any cost and the quickest way to achieve the opposite would have been for him to use WMDs against the US or its allies.


This is the central reason why I am unequivocally against the Clinton campaign.  Also, because she is so closely tied to the foreign policy establishment that has been such a poor steward of the nation for the past 60 years, the unbreakable chain from Truman to Bush.  (The legacy of Truman is the creation of this consensus.)  The fact that Richard Holbrooke, Madeleine Albright and Wesley Clark, among others, support Clinton’s campaign is a huge strike against her.  The so-called war on terror reads to me like the past sixty years, when the US involved itself in a number of catastrophic wars and interventions, from Korea to Vietnam to Serbia, all based on objectionable rationales.  The US needs to wake from its dreams of delusion.  It cannot and will not control what other people do at the point of a cruise missile.  This is the lesson of the twentieth century.  The other lesson is that wars have unimaginable, unintended consequences that will haunt us for decades to come.  For instance, this current war will undoubtedly contribute to a huge wave of homelessness in the next forty or fifty years, platitudes about taking care of our veterans notwithstanding.

I will only actively support a presidential candidate who unmasks the war on terror for the sham that it is.  So-called wars on amorphous entities achieve one thing: fear… which then allow the powerful to run roughshod over the rest of us, which is what the Bush administration has done, predictably.  That the Democrats feign shock and indignation over Bush administration unseemliness is laughable.  It’s as if none of them have ever picked up a history book, as if none of them had ever heard of Joseph McCarthy or Richard Nixon (not to mention Truman, who was a clever scaremonger himself).

On foreign policy, Obama has a few advantages.  Most importantly he was publicly against the war before it began.  Of course, had he been in the Senate in 2002, he might have voted alongside Clinton and Edwards, we’ll never know.  Second, Anthony Lake is Obama’s main foreign policy advisor, and he seems better than the Clinton crowd, more chastened by past US failures in Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq.  That being said, I intend to vote for Kucinich in the primaries, when the pick-your-poison mentality of the general election does not yet apply.  In the debates, Kucinich is the only candidate (other than Ron Paul) who makes any sense on foreign policy issues.


In the context of presidential elections, it is important to remember the bipartisan consensus on US foreign policy.  I am one of the few people who thinks a Gore-Lieberman administration would have invaded Iraq.  Secretary of State Holbrooke would have not even have had Colin Powell’s minimal qualms about such a war.  And think about the pressure Gore would have received from the right, who still controlled Congress (not to mention the ever pervasive AM radio waves).  Gore would have been forced to show his toughness, his mettle.  I think our tendency to imagine Gore would have acted differently is us superimposing the new and improved Nobel Laureate Gore on the old politician Gore.  Also, let’s not forget that Lieberman, who is a clone of Dick Cheney on issues of substance, would have been vice president.  On a broader scale, let’s remember that the Democratic Party’s record of getting the US into stupid wars is abysmal: WWI (Wilson); Korea (Truman); Vietnam (Kennedy and Johnson); Yugoslavia (Clinton).  In other words, my counter-factual about Gore and Iraq highlights the problems with the current state of the Democratic Party, and goes to the core of our discussion. 


Andrew Hartman

The following post is the transcript of a talk I gave on October 17, 2007, at the weekly meeting of the Illinois State University International Studies Seminar

The Unintended Consequences of US Wars (and other foreign interventions)

By Andrew Hartman

The single greatest war reporter of our time is Robert Fisk of the London Independent. What makes Fisk a cut above is not just his bravery, which is immense—he has been a first-hand witness to hell on earth, lucky to still be alive. What makes him great is not just his interest in empirical observation, or in counting the dead, although this is an important task for a war reporter. And it is definitely not any interest in glorifying war, like so many of his American counterparts who wrote home during the pre-“Mission Accomplished” stages of the Iraq War, their manic stories dripping with macho nationalism.

On the contrary, Fisk is a war reporter whose quaint mission is to end war, or, more humbly, point out the sheer folly in it. This is why he infuses his criticism of contemporary war with historical analysis. War must be understood historically. Thus, his recent massive book, despite being about the Middle East, is aptly titled, The Great War for Civilisation, paying homage to “the war to end all wars,” now known to us as World War I.

The military and political leaders who led the world to war in 1914 believed that their respective nations would achieve a swift and chivalrous victory. Instead, they achieved misery, both in war and in the so-called peace that followed. Fisk writes of World War I, his father’s war, and the new global borders resulting from the armistice: “In all, it was to take my father’s generation just twenty-three months to create these artificial borders and the equally artificial nations contained within them.” Fisk refers to the creation of Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Northern Ireland, and the British Palestine Mandate—all created between August 1920 and July 1922. Fisk personalizes the connections between past and present when he writes: “It is, as I often reflect, a grim fact of my own life that my career as a journalist—first in Ireland, then in the Middle East and the Balkans—has been entirely spent in reporting the burning of these frontiers, the collapse of the statelets that my father’s war allowed us to create, and the killing of their peoples” (306).

This connection made by Fisk—between past and present wars—correlates to the premise of my talk. Wars have unintended consequences—consequences which are, more often that not, terribly destructive. This was particularly true of the First World War. Beyond the results of the partitions described by Fisk, we can also make the claim that the rise of Nazism was a consequence of World War I. Thus, so too was World War II. Less tragically, the modern intellectual revolt against progress and other Enlightenment grand narratives was a consequence of World War I. Intellectuals revolted against the civilization that could produce such a grotesque and meaningless waste of life. In this sense, to stretch this line of argument to an almost absurd level, we might argue that postmodernism is one of the many unintended consequences of World War I—for the typical graduate student compelled to read Derrida, one of the more painful such results.

To argue that wars have unintended consequences is not a new historiographic trend. Historians have long extended their explanations of causation beyond human intentions. To limit our inquiries to human intention is to believe in an omnipotent, hyper-rational humanity—a belief that betrays all empirical evidence. That being said, the sub-field of diplomatic history has to some degree lagged behind such a sensible historiographic trend. I don’t wish to overstate my case, but some diplomatic historians continue to put too much faith in their documentary evidence, namely, the diplomatic cable transcript. Such transcripts are too often understood as a self-evident conversation between two human beings who know exactly what they want, and exactly how to get it. In contrast, it must be stressed that policymakers, like the rest of us, often know not what they do. This is particularly the case when it comes to war.

To say as much is not to absolve the war-makers of blame. On the contrary, although wars have consequences that leaders do not intend, many such consequences are predictable. For instance, it was predictable that the use of military force to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to destroy the Iraqi Ba’ath Party would result in sectarian strife and in a newly empowered Iraqi Shiite population, who would logically align themselves closer to Iran. How do we know this was predictable? Because influential members of the Bush I administration, including Dick Cheney, predicted as much when making their case as to why US troops should not take Baghdad during the first Gulf War.

No, it is not my intention to absolve blame. Rather, I would argue that thinking more carefully and critically about the dangerous consequences of American foreign intervention—of wars, of covert operations, of bullying on all matters political and economic, and other such hubris—would perhaps lead to changed American behavior in the world.

I am now going to survey some of the more destructive consequences of US wars, and foreign policy and intervention more broadly speaking. I will begin with how early-twentieth century foreign policy in China started the US on the path to Pearl Harbor and World War II.
Everyone in this room is probably somewhat knowledgeable about the immediate circumstances in the lead up to the attack on US naval forces at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In order to carve out their own imperial niche in Asia, especially in China, the Japanese prepared for war against the western nations. They correctly believed that the US would resist their imperial designs. FDR attempted to impede Japanese war preparations by imposing petroleum and steal blockades, to no avail, as made evident by Pearl Harbor.

This historical narrative is correct, but only so far as it goes. We must take it further back, and ask the question: Why was the US so invested in limiting Japanese expansion, especially into China? The false answer most commonly given is that the US is an anti-imperialist nation and was appalled by Japanese brutality in China, such as the Rape of Nanking. If this were the case, the US would have, presumably, been equally appalled by British colonialism in India and by French colonialism in Indochina, neither of which were benign. So again, why the interest in China?

The US interest in China goes back to the Spanish-American War. It might seem like a stretch to say that Pearl Harbor is one of the unintended consequences of the Spanish-American War of 1898, but that is precisely what I am about to argue. (I owe this interpretation to the wisdom of historian Leo P. Ribuffo.)

The US has never been isolationist. Historians of American Indians know as much. But the Spanish-American War did indeed open up a more intense phase of US imperialism. One of the spoils of the quick victory over the Spanish was the Philippines, although Filipinos did not see it that way, and thus revolted against US rule. This led to a violent war of occupation. 4,000 Americans and at least 200,000 Filipinos died. This war was somewhat similar to Iraq. In fact, some neoconservatives, including Max Boot, have argued that the US war against the Philippines should serve as the model for the early twenty-first century. President Bush even cited it in a speech on Iraq in 2004. I assume they cite it as a success story because they consider the Philippines a model nation now, inasmuch as it is a US ally, not because it in any way resembles a healthy society.

The occupation and war in the Philippines had a dialectical effect. The war was justified to a skeptical American population in the name of the Great China Market, which had the effect of enhancing interest in trade with China. But at the time, the European imperialist powers were considering chopping up China into spheres of influence, much as they had done in Africa, as foreign powers took enclaves along the Chinese coast. President McKinley determined that, rather than consent to these European designs—in no small part because all the best coastal enclaves had already been snatched up—the US would deny the legitimacy of the spheres and affirm the national integrity of China. This policy was announced in the famous “Open Door Notes.” The Open Door Notes asserted that the field of economic competition was not to be closed to the US, with the expectation that Americans had the ability to destroy their economic competitors. Secretary of State John Hay called this an “ideal policy” in that it would allow the US “to do nothing, and yet be around when the water-melon is cut.”

This might sound rather innocuous, and in relation to a spheres of influence policy, perhaps it was. But there were serious problems with the open door policy from the beginning. For one, it assumed that China was a stable, unified nation, which it clearly was not. It also assumed that the Chinese would consent to being dominated economically, which they did not, made clear by the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. The US committed 2,500 troops to the anti-Boxer forces, which slaughtered the rebellion and countless civilians. But, above all, the chief danger of the Open Door Notes, from the American perspective, was that the US might begin to believe its own rhetoric about the need to preserve Chinese integrity. It might believe that its national interests were at stake in keeping the door open to China. The question that should have been asked: What happens if some nation—Japan, for instance—attempts to close the door? This is precisely what happened in the 1930s. It is in this sense that, indirectly, Pearl Harbor was an unintended consequence of a policy implemented forty years earlier.

This was not the last time US policies in Asia produced results the opposite of policymaker intentions. Take Vietnam, the greatest tragedy of American diplomacy on record, so far. One of the unintended consequences of US military strategy in the Vietnam War helped ensure US defeat. The large majority of US bombs were dropped on the peasantry in the south, the base of support for the Viet Cong. The cynical idea on the part of US strategists was that they would make the Vietnamese countryside uninhabitable for those who supported the enemy. As a US military commander infamously said, “Sometimes you have to destroy a village in order to save it.” This policy worked insofar as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese peasants, those who survived the bombings, were forced to migrate to Saigon and other cities. However, this forced migration created levels of instability to which there were no military solutions, much like in Baghdad today. In short, it ensured US defeat. There is no military solution to urban chaos, to the wretched poverty and disorder created by massive human displacement.

Similarly, Cambodia is a textbook study of the potential destructiveness of the unintended consequences of war, especially of bombing campaigns. Orchestrated by Henry Kissinger, the Nixon administration secretly bombed Cambodia during the early 1970s. This was the US attempt to destroy the Viet Cong network—the Ho Chi Minh Trail that extended into neighboring Cambodia. Historians have demonstrated that this bombing campaign failed in its efforts to cut off Viet Cong supply lines. However, more to the point, the bombings managed to drive hundreds of thousands of Cambodians into the cities. This, of course, led to disorder and created a political vacuum into which stepped the genocidal Pol Pot. Pol Pot proceeded to force the peasantry back to the rural areas, killing nearly two million in the process, over a quarter of the Cambodian population. As the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pot used his agrarian relocation policy as a cover for his attempts to wipe out entire ethnic groups deemed enemies to the Khmer.

I’m not arguing that the US is directly complicit in this genocide. That would run counter to one of my main messages, that the US is not an omnipotent force. Rather, I’m arguing that the effects of bombing campaigns do not end when the bombs quit raining down from the sky. Counter-factual analysis is helpful here: can we imagine Pol Pot minus the Nixon-Kissinger bombing campaign? Or, more generally, minus the Vietnam War? This would require, in my opinion, a fanciful imagination. The dark results of this bombing campaign should be kept in mind with talk of a potential, so-called “preventive strike” on Iran and its fledgling nuclear program.

Speaking of Iran, and the Middle East more generally, many of the dangers and instabilities in that region of the world can be directly attributed to the history of US policy, near-sighted as it was. To paraphrase Marx, the tradition of past US policymakers weighs like a nightmare on the brains of current ones. This nightmare dates back to 1953, when the CIA mounted a coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. President Dwight Eisenhower authorized this coup—it was one of the first things he did when he took office in January of that year. The US then helped bring to power a brutal tyrant, the Shah, a despotic monarch that ruled with an iron fist for the next 25 years. The Shah was one of many murderous leaders in the world, one of the worst. Furthermore, the Shah was a US puppet, his power entirely dependent upon US money and weapons. It was common practice for the US to align with authoritarian leaders who would protect so-called US interests.

This history is instructive for our purposes in that it demonstrates two of the unintended consequences of US policy in the Middle East. First, just as the US backed itself into protecting the open door to China, it also backed itself into protecting authoritarian regimes across the region, and really, across the world. Once one of the corrupt little puppets to which the US had committed money and guns was threatened, the US believed it was in danger of losing “credibility” in the eyes of all of the other corrupt little puppets. This is the real “domino theory,” which had little to do with communism except rhetorically. The US became addicted to maintaining “credibility.” You still hear this today, time and again. US credibility is at stake in Iraq. US credibility will undoubtedly be at stake with regards to Iran’s nuclear program. They said they can’t allow for such a program, thus they must stop it by any means necessary or risk losing credibility.

Second, this history of intervention in Iran demonstrates that, even if US policy achieves short-term material gains, it often ensures long-term security losses. In the case of Iran, the short-term material gains were all about oil. Iran has the second or third largest exploitable oil reserves in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and perhaps Iraq.

The US helped overthrow Mossadegh because he decided to alter the preexisting arrangement Iran had with foreign oil companies. When Mossadegh came to power, British oil companies controlled most Iranian. The US wanted to change this. The US and Britain, although allies, were in essence competing over who would control Middle East oil for the foreseeable future. Mossadegh thought he could play the British and US off one another to leverage a much better deal. When this failed, Mossadegh and the Iranian parliament nationalized the oil. This spelled his demise. The US and the British then cooperated to get rid of him. But when the Shah was installed, the US removed British influence step-by-step. Thus, the US controlled Iranian oil. Material gains.

But what were the long-term losses? In short, the Iranian Revolution of 1979. A government hostile to the US, one that determines its own economic policy, one that controls its own oil, came to power, and remains in power. By destroying a democratic government with liberal sensibilities—Mossadegh’s—the US helped build the path to Iranian theocracy. The chickens came home to roost in the form of the embassy hostage crisis. Something similar resulted from US intervention in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. This is a history that became all-too-familiar after September 11, 2001.

During the 1980s, the US committed billions of dollars in money, weapons, and experts to the mujihadin who were resisting the Soviets, most of it funneled through Pakistani intelligence services. For example, the CIA provided the Afghan resistance with satellite mapping intelligence and demolitions experts who were able to train the Mujihadin in the use of delayed timing devices for C-4 plastic explosives. The US also provided the rebels with targeting devices for mortars linked to a US Navy satellite, wire-guided anti-tank missiles, and, eventually, the highly effective Stinger missiles. The CIA helped Pakistani trainers establish schools in guerrilla warfare and urban sabotage for the mujihadin. Sniper rifles were given to the rebels for purposes of assassination. The car bomb, used with deadly effectiveness in Iraq to this day, was one of the weapons the CIA helped train the mujihadin to use. In short, the US helped created some of the deadliest urban guerrilla warriors in the world—trained to use weapons of modern-day terror. This, as we now know, was not a very wise policy. The short-term gains, helping to defeat Soviet forces in Afghanistan, were outweighed by the long-term security losses, September 11 and beyond.

All of this ugly history is worth recounting. How else will we destroy the delusional belief that the US has the power, ability, and benevolence to shape the world? This is an extremely dangerous idea, and it is a threat to a peaceful future. I will leave you with an eloquent, yet angry passage from Terry Eagleton, one of my favorite writers:

“The United States has an exalted image of itself, and would be a far more morally decent place if it did not. A touch of skepticism and self-debunkery would work wonders for its spiritual health…It is a demented refusal to limit and finitude, its crazed, blasphemous belief that you can do anything if you put your mind to it, which lies at the source of its chronic weakness…Intoxicated by their own self-image, Americans can perceive nothing beyond themselves, and will find themselves in the most dreadful danger. They will become the enemies of civilization in the very act of seeking to preserve it.” (After Theory, 226)

I’m thinking of putting together a panel for the HISTORIANS AGAINST THE WAR NATIONAL CONFERENCE to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, April 11-13, 2008. The title of the conference is, “WAR AND ITS DISCONTENTS: UNDERSTANDING IRAQ AND THE U.S. EMPIRE.” Anyone interested in joining me?

I think my talk would be on the development of the “stab in the back” theory in the aftermath of Vietnam, or, how conservatives came to understand that the loss in Vietnam was the fault of the antiwar movement and the Democratic Party of George McGovern. I would also discuss the implications of the “stab in the back” theory for Iraq and the current antiwar movement, such as it is.

If you would like to join me, we’d have to tie our topics together in some sort of logical fashion. The conference stresses that this is not just for academics. So, if there are any high school history teachers out there who would like to present on how to teach Vietnam from an anti-war perspective, or how to teach Vietnam while comparing and contrasting Iraq, that would be a good topic. Let me know.

Andrew Hartman

Here’s a talk I gave a few months back to a peace group in Peoria. It’s still very relevant.

Target Iran: Historical Lessons Drawn from the U.S. Addiction to War and Intervention
Andrew Hartman
Bradley University
April 3, 2007

My talk tonight, made clear by my title, is going to focus on what the history of the US addiction to war and intervention can tell us about the likelihood of a coming war with Iran. My understanding of the history of US foreign policy is rooted in the work of a number of revisionist historians who came on the scene during the 1960s, especially William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko. Their importance as historians transcended the ivory tower, as they talked at a number of the so-called “teach-ins” that kick started the 1960s anti-war movement, whose activists always understood the importance of historical knowledge to the movement. It’s in that spirit that I want to talk to you tonight.

With Iran being in the headlines with increasing frequency, and with the Bush administration rattling its sabers and talking about Iran in much the same way it discussed Iraq back in 2003, a lot of people have understandably been asking the all-important question: Is war with Iran imminent?

I’m afraid don’t have a definitive answer. Historians are not in the habit of making such definitive predictions. If you learn one thing from studying history, it’s that the future is contingent and unpredictable. Historical actors were rarely able to predict the future, especially with regards to war, the most unpredictable of human interactions.

I will say, however, that US policies have created a context that makes such a war more likely, and this is a very dangerous situation, with possible grave results for the region and for the United States. I’ll come back to this. First, I want to elaborate some basic historical background about US foreign policy that might allow us a clearer understanding of what’s likely to happen and of what’s at stake.

The United States has been addicted to intervening in the affairs of foreign nations throughout the twentieth century, but this addiction became much more pronounced after World War II, from which the US emerged as the world’s most powerful military and economic force. This addiction to intervention has made the world much less safe. In fact, many of the dangers and instabilities in the Middle East are directly attributable to faulty US policies. The history of US policy with regards to Iran is a prime example.

As I hope most of you already know, the CIA mounted a coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. President Dwight Eisenhower authorized this coup – it was one of the first things he did when he took office in January of that year. The US then helped bring to power a brutal tyrant, the Shah, who was basically a despotic monarch, ruling with an iron fist for the next 25 years. The Shah was one of many murderous leaders in the world, one of the worst. The Shah’s power was entirely dependent upon US money and weapons. This history is instructive for our purposes in two ways.

First, it allows us to examine the motivations of US policymakers – the driving force of US foreign policy. Regarding the overthrow of Mossadegh, some of you more historically-minded people might say, “It was 1953, the heart of the Cold War. The coup must have had something to do with communism and the Soviet Union.” Good guess, but no. The large majority of US interventions during the Cold War had very little to do with fighting communism. If this were so, we should have expected to see a decline in the number of interventions since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the opposite has in fact happened. The US military is larger and more expensive than ever, and has been intervening and going to war with increasing frequency since the end of the Cold War. So what did propel the US to overthrow Mossadegh?

As Bill Clinton would have said during his 1992 campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Or rather, it’s the oil, stupid. Although most Middle East oil is exported to places other than the US (namely Europe, Japan and China), the nation that controls access to Middle East oil – and the nation whose currency is used to trade for oil – has greater ability to shape the global economy. Oil is power. Iran has the second or third largest exploitable oil reserves in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and perhaps Iraq. Thus Iran has long been of strategic consequence to US policymakers, which informed policy in 1953, when Mossadegh was overthrown.

Mossadegh was no communist and overthrowing him was not an anticommunist maneuver. Mossadegh was your basic liberal nationalist. He wanted to modernize Iran. But he needed funds to do this, and Iran was seriously in debt, so he decided to alter the preexisting arrangement Iran had with foreign oil companies.

What’s interesting is that, when Mossadegh came to power, British oil companies controlled most of the oil in Iran. The US wanted to change this. The US and Britain, although nominally allies, were in essence competing over who would control Middle East oil for the foreseeable future. Mossadegh thought he could play the British and US off one another, and perhaps the Soviets as well, to leverage a much better deal. This didn’t work – the US was far more committed to controlling and profiting from the oil than to ensuring Iran could pay off its debts – so Mossadegh and the Iranian parliament nationalized the oil. This spelled his demise. The US and the British then cooperated to get rid of him. But when the Shah was installed, the US removed British influence step-by-step. The Shah was a US puppet and US companies controlled Iranian oil.

You might then ask, if it’s only about oil, then why has the US intervened in literally dozens of nations that have no oil reserves? Also: why did the US wage a catastrophic fifteen-year war against Vietnam, which has no oil, dropping twelve times the tonnage of bombs on that nation that was dropped by all warring sides combined throughout World War II? Well, it’s somewhat complicated, because US motives are not very rational. Basically, the US has been committed to a naïve and utopian fantasy. It wants to remake the world in its own image. US policymakers, as has often been the case with the powerful throughout world history, confuse their interests with the interests of humankind. They think what’s good for Standard Oil and Halliburton is good for the people of the world.

Such an ideology, which has long been a part of US political culture, might otherwise be thought of as a way to rationalize a foreign policy driven by economic interests, or by what is known as the “Open Door Policy.” The US demands open and unfettered access to the markets, resources, and labor of the world, especially in the underdeveloped nations of the world. This has been the driving force of US foreign policy since at least 1900, when the US demanded an open door to China. No surprise, the US has been hypocritical in its application of the open door, never really allowing other nations a reciprocal open door but for a few exceptions.

But this doesn’t detract from the larger point: US policymakers believed that it was in the interests of everybody, everywhere, for the world to be remade in the image of the US. Of course, in the process of attempts to fulfill this fantasy, they often came to the hard realization that such a dream was impossible. Thus, US leaders committed themselves to the somewhat more realistic goal of aligning with authoritarian leaders who would protect US interests. People like the Shah.

Another problem then arises. Once one of the corrupt little puppets to which the US had committed money and guns was threatened, the US believed it was in danger of losing “credibility” in the eyes of all of the other corrupt little puppets to which it had committed money and guns. This is the real “domino theory,” which had little to do with communism except rhetorically. So the US became addicted to intervention and to “credibility.” You still hear this today, over and over again. Our credibility is at stake in Iraq, our leaders tell us. Our credibility will undoubtedly be at stake with regards to Iran’s nuclear program. We said we can’t allow for such a program, thus we must stop it by any means necessary or risk losing credibility.

So let’s review: the history of US intervention in Iran is instructive because it shows that US foreign policy is driven by economic pursuits, which is tied up in an ideology of what historians term “American exceptionalism.” According to those who view America as exceptional, the overwhelming power and goodness of the US means that it, unlike other nations, should not be constrained by reality. This leads us to the second way in which Iran is instructive for our purposes: US policy was and is in fact constrained by reality. Reality has a way of smacking even the most stubborn and intransigent nations in the face, even the US, which is the last remaining nation that believes it can act across the globe with impunity. And the reality was and is this: no matter how powerful, no matter how technologically advanced its weapons systems, the US could not and cannot dictate the terms of the planet. Period. And attempts to do so, especially by force, have been disastrous.

In other words, wars have unintended consequences. The only certainty of war, other than death and destruction, is that there will be unintended consequences. In Iran, the unintended consequence of overthrowing Mossadegh in 1953 and replacing him with a brutal proxy regime was the Iranian Revolution of 1979. A government hostile to the US came to power, and remains in power. And say what you will about the theocratic nature of the Iranian government since 1979, it determines its own economic policy, unlike most of the other nations of the Middle East. And this is why it is an enemy of the US. Iran is a target because they are one of two remaining oil-rich countries in the Middle East – Syria being the other – that has refused to submit to US rule. Iraq under Baathist rule used to be such a nation.
Let me give you some other examples of the unintended consequences of war in the twentieth century, which saw more warfare than any century in human history. World War I – which, by the way, was launched by myopic leaders who wrongly believed that military victory would be swift, much as Bush wrongly believed with regards to Iraq, not to mention Truman in Korea and Johnson in Vietnam – created the instability that brought about both the Bolshevik Revolution and Nazism. In fact, where communists came to power they basically acted as a force for stability. They brought stability to areas of the world made unstable by war. Russia is a good example. So is China. It’s hard to imagine a Bolshevik Revolution without World War I and hard to imagine a Chinese Revolution in 1949 without the brutal World War II Japanese invasion and occupation.

What about Vietnam? One of the unintended consequences of US military strategy in that war was to ensure a US defeat. The large majority of US bombs were dropped on the peasantry in the south, the base of support for the Viet Cong. The cynical idea on the part of US policymakers was that they would make the Vietnamese countryside uninhabitable for those who supported the enemy. As a US military commander infamously said, “Sometimes you have to destroy a village in order to save it.” This policy worked insofar as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese peasants, those who didn’t die, were forced to migrate to cities like Saigon. However, this forced migration created levels of instability to which there were no military solutions, much like Baghdad today. In short, it ensured US defeat.

At the risk of belaboring this point: one might say that Iran’s fledgling nuclear program is an unintended consequence of the war in Iraq. The Iranian government learned its lesson: whereas nations without the bomb (Iraq) are subject to invasion, nations with the bomb (North Korea) aren’t.

Along this same line of thinking, it’s easy to argue that increased US-Iranian tensions are a direct result of the occupation. Imagine a counter-factual scenario if you will: imagine that Iran had invaded and occupied Mexico in 2003, sparking a bloody factional civil war. Are we then also to imagine that the US wouldn’t find ways to influence this civil war, considering it would have the most to gain or lose (other than the Mexicans themselves)?

Another unintended and ironic consequence of the Iraq War is that it has made Iran much more powerful and influential in the region. The US destroyed the counter-balance to Iran that it helped cultivate during the 1980s: the Hussein regime. And now it has empowered the Shiite majority in Iraq, which has ties to Iran. This speaks to the seeming lack of logic behind recent Bush attempts to link Iran to the killing of US soldiers. The large majority of American deaths have come at the hands of the Sunni resistance.

So why is the Bush administration targeting Iran now? Perhaps because they are attempting to deflect attention away from the unmitigated disaster that is Iraq? Perhaps because it needs a scapegoat? Does the Bush administration actually intend to invade and occupy Iran? This seems unlikely given that support for the current war has fallen precipitously and US military capabilities are stretched thin. The more likely scenario is the current course. The US will continue to pressure Europe to impose economic sanctions on Iran that will hurt ordinary Iranians while doing nothing to lessen the power of the government. The US will continue to covertly aid anti-regime elements in Iran, hoping that such elements will create an atmosphere for civil war.

The US might even undertake “precision bombing,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. Of course, it’s easy to imagine that any of these scenarios could provoke a larger war – which the US would have to fight in order to not lose credibility. Bombing campaigns bring about horrible consequences. Take Cambodia, which the Nixon administration illegally bombed during the early 1970s in an attempt to destroy the Viet Cong network. This bombing campaign drove millions of Cambodian peasants into the cities, which led to incredible disorder. This then created a climate, or political vacuum, for the rise of Pol Pot, who proceeded to force the peasantry back to the rural areas, killing over a million in the process. A bombing campaign does not end when the target is destroyed.

We can talk more about the potential likelihood of war with Iran in the questions and answers session if you like. For now, I want to leave you with three warnings. First, DO NOT believe a word that comes out of the mouths of the Bush administration. Governments lie, plain and simple, even those that are supposedly democratic like ours. Some might say that the Bush administration lies more than others, which is plausible. Many of those who have advised Bush over the past six years are disciples of the late University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss, the “father of neo-conservatism,” who, as a modern day incarnation of Machiavelli, advised his would-be princes that subjects aren’t capable of understanding the complexities of the world. Therefore, political leaders must lie. Strauss was especially adamant that, in order for leaders to be given free reign, the people must be afraid. When people are afraid, they’ll believe just about anything said by those in power.

But the Bush administration has no monopoly on lying. Harry Truman knowingly lied in 1947, overestimating the power and threat level posed by the Soviet Union abroad and communists at home. In the words of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, he “scared the hell out of Americans” in order to convince a reluctant American people to commit to his extremely expensive foreign policy plans, which included the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the creation of NATO. Franklin Delano Roosevelt also deceived the American public, hiding from view his dangerous brinksmanship with Japan, which is why Pearl Harbor was a surprise to everyone but FDR and his closest advisors. Both Truman and FDR were Democrats, beacons of liberalism. Republicans and Democrats lie alike.

This leads me to my second warning. DO NOT trust for one second that things are likely to change if a Democrat gets elected president, whether it’s Hillary or Obama or whomever. There has been a solid two-party consensus on matters of foreign policy since World War II. These parties might at times differ in style – which is why the same Europeans who seemed so smitten with Clinton now hate Bush. But when it comes to the substance of war and intervention, these parties do not differ in any significant way. The institution of the presidency forms the person, not vice versa. This is not to say that this can’t change. Most of those who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning usually vote Democratic. But the Democratic Party leadership has yet to be compelled to jump ship from this two-party consensus.

Third and last warning: DO NOT trust the media to give you the correct answers to these questions. For example, the media has been incredibly helpful to the Bush administration in demonizing the Iranian leadership. Any comments made by Ahmadinejad are dubiously translated and meant to convince us that he is a crazy man, a loose cannon when in fact he has little control over Iranian foreign policy, which rests in the hands of his superior, the Ayatollah Khamenei. Ahmadinejad says a lot of things, often contradictory, which the US media reports very selectively. When he calls for the destruction of Israel – front page. When he says that he agrees with the Arab League with regards to the two-state solution and to normalization of relations with Israel – buried, if even mentioned.

It is your obligation to read widely and independently in order to get some handle on the truth. Take the example of New York Times, which claims to be “all the news fit to print.” In the run-up to the Iraq War, the Times printed story after story that bought the administration argument hook-line-and-sinker. This speaks to two things: the executive branch’s incredible power at being able to dictate the terms of the national discussion. Because every major press corps has reporters whose only function is to cover the White House, when the White House makes an announcement, it automatically becomes a lead story. Of course, this doesn’t then entail that reporters have to believe what the administration is telling them, especially those anonymous “senior officials.” But they do. Especially Times reporters. Two reporters are especially guilty of this, Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, who uncritically parroted the administration WMD argument. Since then, the Times has issued an apology, and Judith Miller is no longer with the paper. But Michael Gordon, as chief military correspondent, recently echoed administration claims about how makeshift bombs used to kill American soldiers originated in Iran. Just like with WMD, he cites “senior officials” to support his claims without any useful or corroborating evidence.

This leads me back to one of my original questions: is war imminent? I can’t answer that, but it sure does feel like we’ve been here before.

Andrew Hartman

I’m posting my letter to the editor published in today’s Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal, Illinois). My letter is a response to a letter the paper published last week by Theodore Roy, which I’ve included below. Also included is another person’s letter-to-the-editor response to Mr. Loy, published today as well. Andrew Hartman


Maybe there’s a reason for anti-U.S. propaganda


May 29, 2007

I am writing in response to Theodore H. Loy’s letter (“West not prepared for impact of radical Islam,” YourViews, May 23).

Mr. Loy laments that, while Arab children are spoon-fed hateful anti-American propaganda, our children are taught tolerance, thus leaving us, in his words, “ill-prepared for what’s in store for us.”

I would kindly suggest that Mr. Loy’s logic needs to be turned right-side up by asking him the following:

Do the Arab nations occupy our cities with troops in the hundreds of thousands? Do Iraqi battleships patrol our waterways? Do their fighter planes dominate our skies?

Are Muslims actively seeking to control our natural resources? Have they imposed regime change in the United States, damning the consequences?

I am not apologizing for anti-American or anti-Israeli propaganda, although the degree to which alarmists overestimate its pervasiveness in Muslim societies should also be described as propaganda, especially since our propaganda is backed up by the world’s deadliest military.

I would simply like to point out that Mr. Loy and others quick to argue that we need to step up the so-called “clash of civilizations” need to think about the larger context.

If Muslim Web sites encourage hatred of the United States and Israel, perhaps it’s because such sentiments resonate in occupied societies. Although I don’t condone their propaganda, theirs makes much more sense to me than ours.

Andrew Hartman



West not prepared for impact of radical Islam


May 23, 2007

While our children are taught tolerance, multiculturalism and diversity, children in the Arab world are taught something very different.

The Internet site Palestinian Media Watch monitors children’s programs etc. broadcast to the entire Arab world on Al-Aqsa TV, the official Hamas TV station in Gaza. These programs brazenly encourage Muslim children to become shahids, that is, people who are willing to die for Allah.

Paradise is promised for all those who give themselves to shahada and are martyred in jihad against Israel and the West.

A quick perusal of this propaganda will convince you that we are facing a protracted life-and-death struggle against radical Islam as future Arab generations are primed to become suicide bombers.

We in the West are ill-prepared for what is in store for us because of this.

While millions of Muslim children are being prepared to fight us to the death, we are telling our children that Islam is just another religion we need to tolerate.

There is a total disconnect between what we teach our kids and the real threat of a radical Islam bent not only on eliminating Israel but also on dominating the West.

One of the programs you can see on Palestinian Media Watch uses a Mickey Mouse lookalike who interacts with Saraa’, a young Muslim girl. They talk about the coming world domination of Islam and the role Islamic children will play as they are willing to become shahids. Hatred of Israel and the West is encouraged – especially hatred of the United States – and killing in the name of Allah is glorified.

We tasted some bitter fruit of this poisonous training when radical Muslims attacked our shores on 9/11. Sadly, we can expect much more of the same since new Muslim generations are receiving a steady diet of the same poison.

Theodore H. Loy



We’re engaged in war between good, evil


May 29, 2007

I read with interest the letter from Theodore H. Loy (“West not prepared for impact of radical Islam,” YourViews, May 23). His comments are not only true, but do not even begin to tell the whole story, nor could whole books expose all that Islam plans for its enemies – which is every one who is not Muslim.

Except for our own destructive immorality, Islam is the greatest threat not only to our nation, but to the free world and most especially to Christianity and Judaism.

Even the Iraqi people who are not terrorists believe that Islam should rule the world, those who hated the former government of Iraq, are convinced that Christianity and Judaism should be crushed. How can we win such a war?

Taught from birth that Jews and United States are to be destroyed and that Islam is meant to rule, taught from earliest childhood that it is honorable and desirable to die for Mohammed because all hunger, all hardship, all problems are caused by Israel – and that the United States is to be hated most of all for her immorality, her excesses and the freedoms that she enjoys – the Muslim child is totally indoctrinated to do the will of Islam, up to and including dying for it.

This war must be fought, it cannot be avoided; it is indeed a war between good and evil. The question is, is the good as good as the evil is evil?

Good will ultimately overcome the evil, but in the meantime, how will we fare? God alone Knows.

Anna Helmers


Last year, Latin America’s best known painter released a series of tremendously powerful paintings. “This conduct by the Americans was a total shock for me,” Botero told a Colombian magazine, “I am increasingly sensitive to injustice, which makes my blood boil, and these paintings were born from the anger provoked by this horror.

“I had no commercial intention in painting these works. I produced them purely to say something about the horror. And since all art is communication, it’s more important that they are seen in museums and big public exhibitions than that they are hidden away in the house of a private collector.”


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More than one-third of US soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier.

In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. “Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” the Army report stated.

About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey — conducted in Iraq last fall — reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.

                – The Washington Post

This is an unmentioned dimension of the Iraq war failure. It is often noted by Democrats that the abuses at Abu Graib, Guantanamo and Haditha undermine Iraqi public opinion of the United States. But here we can see it is not just the dilapidated infrastructure, lack of security, or supposed abuse which is responsible for Iraqi distrust. Daily harassment by US soldiers is also driving their distrust and hatred. This report from the US Army forces us to consider the following statistics from a month old ABC, BBC and USA Today poll in a very different light:

-Only 38% of Iraqis think the country is better of today than it was under Hussein.
-4/5 oppose the presence of coalition troops in Iraq
-51% think it is OK to attack coalition troops. Thats triple the number from a 2004 survey!
– 94 percent of Sunnis, 7 percent of Kurds and 35 percent of Shiites endorse attacks on coalition forces
– and 53% of the population believes that “from today’s perspective, and all things considered,” it was “wrong that US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003.”



“Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an “enemy combatant” and taken to a Navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a 9-by-7-foot cell with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a “truth serum,” a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.

According to his lawyers and two mental health specialists who examined him, Padilla has been so shattered that he lacks the ability to assist in his own defense. He is convinced that his lawyers are “part of a continuing interrogation program” and sees his captors as protectors. In order to prove that “the extended torture visited upon Mr. Padilla has left him damaged,” his lawyers want to tell the court what happened during those years in the Navy brig. The prosecution strenuously objects, maintaining that “Padilla is competent,” that his treatment is irrelevant.

US District Judge Marcia Cooke disagrees. “It’s not like Mr. Padilla was living in a box. He was at a place. Things happened to him at that place.” The judge has ordered several prison employees to testify at the hearings on Padilla’s mental state, which begin February 22. They will be asked how a man alleged to have engaged in elaborate antigovernment plots now acts, in the words of brig staff, “like a piece of furniture.”

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of these hearings. The techniques used to break Padilla have been standard operating procedure atGuantánamo Bay since the first prisoners arrived five years ago. They wore blackout goggles and sound-blocking headphones and were placed in extended isolation, interrupted by strobe lights and heavy metal music. These same practices have been documented in dozens of cases of CIA “extraordinary rendition” as well as in prisons in Iraq and

Many have suffered the same symptoms as Padilla. According to James Yee, former Army Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, there is an entire section of the prison called Delta Block for detainees who have been reduced to a delusional state. “They would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over.” All of Delta Block was on twenty-four-hour suicide watch. “

This type of torture has been standard practice for theUS military since the start of the ‘War on Terror.’  There is only one reason Padilla’s case stands out: he is an American citizen and will now receive a public trial.  But now that Padilla’s mental state is at issue, the prosecution faces a serious problem.

“The CIA and the military have known since the early 1960s that extreme sensory deprivation and sensory overload cause personality disintegration–that’s the whole point.”The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject’s mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure.” That comes from Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a 1963 declassified CIA manual for interrogating “resistant sources.”

But it isn’t necessary to look at counterintelligence manuals from the 1960’s to prove that the military knew what it was doing to inmates.  The US military field manual, which was reissued last year states: “Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and anti-social behavior,” as well as “significant psychological distress.” 

If the US military really did drive Padilla insane, this means that thousands of ‘illegal combatants’ are suffering the same fate from all over the world.  As Naomi Klein notes in this article, “What is on trial in Florida is not one man’s mental state.  It is the whole system of US psychological torture.”