Politics and pop, past and present.
Barack Obama represents "the only hope for the US in the Muslim world," according to Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Because Obama's father was a Muslim, he "could lead a reconciliation between the Muslim countries and the US." With any of the other candidates as president, Hersh said, "we're facing two or three decades of problems in the Mideast, with 1.2 billion Muslims."
Hersh, who writes for The New Yorker about the Bush Administration in Iraq and Iran, spoke to my history class at UC Irvine on Tuesday. In Obama's 2006 book The Audacity of Hope he wrote that his Kenyan father was "raised a Muslim," but says he was a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met. His parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced.
Of course if Obama did win the nomination, one can only imagine what the Republicans would do with the fact that his father was a Muslim. We've already had Mitt Romney smiling next to a campaign sign in South Carolina that said "No to Obama Osama."
Hersh did not hold out much hope for improved relations between the US and the Muslim world. "The only good news I can bring you is that tomorrow morning there will be one less day of the Bush presidency," he told an overflow crowd in a public lecture at UC Irvine. Bush "doesn't care about" his low standing in the polls, and as a result "he's going to keep going until 11:59 a.m. on January 20, 2009."
Even after Bush's term ends, "much of the damage is yet to come," Hersh said. "The problems for the next president may be intractable."
"They say the surge has worked," Hersh said. "But do you think someday we will get an oil deal in Iraq? They'll burn the fields first. We're hated in Iraq."
As for Afghanistan, "we became more of a threat to the people than Taliban," Hersh said. We're "losing the war there," he said, and concluded that "Afghanistan is a doomed society."
Hersh said he had just returned from Syria, where he was working on his next New Yorker piece, on the mysterious bombing carried out by the US and the Israelis. "The Syrians have a much longer-term perspective than we do," he said. "They say 'we've been here for 10,000 years; we're not going away.'"
As for the short term, Hersh said, "Cheney thinks war with Islam is inevitable, so we might as well have it now." Administration plans for bombing Iran call for targeting the Revolutionary Guards. Iran's response, Hersh said, is likely to be "asymmetrical" - instead of striking back directly at the US, they will "hit the oil" in the Gulf. The result will be oil prices of "$200 or $300 a barrel," double or triple the current price.
But will Bush bomb Iran? Hersh's answer: "How the hell should I know?"
"We hope we're about to elect FDR," New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman told me earlier this week, "but we might be about to elect Grover Cleveland." He said he was referring to the front-runner, Hillary Clinton.
Grover Cleveland, for those who don't know their 19th century presidents, was the only Democrat who made it to the White House between 1860 and 1912, the decades when Republican big money ruled the country. Cleveland, elected in 1885 and again in 1893, mobilized the army to crush the 1894 Pullman strike of railroad workers, and joined Wall Street in supporting the gold standard. "He was what they called a ‘Bourbon Democrat,' as in the French royal family," Krugman explained. "He wasn't that different from the Republicans at the time."
Krugman said it appears that the key issue in the 2008 election will be health care, and that the Democrats have a health care plan that will work. His "biggest concern," he said, was "whether the next occupant of the White House will triangulate it into oblivion." He reiterated that he was talking about Hillary.
Earlier that day, the New York Times had reported on page one that the health care industry has already contributed $2.7 million to Hillary, more than any other candidate in either party. Krugman indicated he was concerned that she might do too much compromising and negotiating with the insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital companies, as she did as First Lady in 1993.
Krugman pointed to one big difference between the Clintons' triangulation over health care in 1993 and the situation today, when "we have a self-conscious, aggressive progressive movement in a way we did not when Bill Clinton came into office. I think that does at least somewhat change the calculus," he said. If Hillary does concede too much to the other side, "there is an organized group that will make it clear that this is not what you're supposed to do."
On health care, Krugman said that, speaking as an economist -- which he is --the best plan would be a single payer system, like the "Medicare for All" bill introduced by John Conyers. That would have the lowest administrative overhead and thus provide the most cost-effective system. In his book, "The Conscience of a Liberal," he writes "America loves Medicare; let's give it to everyone." But politically that would be a struggle, because it would require a substantial tax increase.
Thus "the perfect can be the enemy of the good," Krugman says. The most politically feasible plan is the one proposed first by John Edwards and then by Barak Obama – a universal health care system run though private insurance companies. It mandates coverage for everybody and prohibits insurers from denying coverage to anyone or charging different premiums to different people, and it provides government subsidies for low-income people.
The main advantage is that it could be paid for without a tax increase, simply by reversing the Bush tax cuts for the rich. That's the one the Democrats will be pushing after the 2008 election, Krugman says, and that's the one Hillary must be prevented from triangulating into oblivion.
Krugman spoke with me at a public event, ALOUD at Central Library, a free series at the Los Angeles Public Library presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.
"Hillary's fear of humiliation, her fear of secrets being revealed, absolutely permeates her life," Carl Bernstein told a packed auditorium at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, earlier this week.
Bernstein is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter on Watergate, and author of a new book on Hillary, A Woman in Charge. His appearance in Yorba Linda was a historic moment of sorts, as he himself noted: if he had said in 1999, when he started doing research on Hillary, "that I would be invited to speak at the Nixon Library, and that I'd be talking about Hillary as possibly the next president of the United States, I'd be accused of smoking something--and inhaling."
The event marked the transformation of the Nixon Library from a private institution run by Nixon loyalists to a public one run by the National Archives, under the direction of historian Tim Naftali. Bernstein spoke to a full house--300 people--including many students from nearby colleges getting extra credit for showing up.
Hillary's life with Bill, Bernstein said, was one of "remarkable sacrifices and embarrassments," because "she undertook the job of containing and covering up the effects of his sexual compulsions."
At lunch before his talk, Bernstein emphasized Hillary's continuing obsession with secrecy. He told me he did not think Hillary would repeal Bush's Executive Order on Classification, the most restrictive ever, which has outraged advocates of freedom of information in Congress and the media. Bush's order gives the president or any former president the right to withhold the former president's papers from the public. At the time it was issued--shortly after 9-11--it seemed intended to conceal from the public information about the presidency of Bush senior, many of whose staffers held high positions in the White House of Bush junior.
But the Bush executive order on classification would have a special appeal for Hillary as president, Bernstein said. "Do you think she wants to open the papers of Bill's presidency, which include all the material on her role?" Asked about the legislation introduced by Congressman Henry Waxman to repeal Bush's classification order, Bernstein was skeptical it would pass in the next congress: "Do you think Democrats in Congress would demand repeal in the face of Hillary's opposition?"
"Nixon's history is settled," Bernstein told the audience at the Nixon Library. "What is not yet settled is the history of the Clintons--their use and abuse of power." That's important because, if Hillary wins, "we're talking about a restoration."
Her obsession with humiliation and secrecy can be traced back to her "hellish childhood," Bernstein said, in a family where her father "verbally humiliated and abused her mother." The question asked by people at the time, according to Bernstein, was, "Why did her mother stay with this man?" He couldn't help noting that the same question would be asked about her.
While Hillary's concern with secrecy remains a constant today, Bernstein said, she has changed in other ways since her days as First Lady. In the White House she had "a take-no-prisoner combativeness, an anger that was consuming." It had disastrous effects: the 1994 victory of New Gingrich and the Republicans, which transferred control of the House away from the Democrats for the first time since the New Deal, he said, "was a result of the failures of Hillary Clinton."
But in the Senate "she became self-confident in a way she had never been since she met Bill." Her old combativeness "is gone." As for the senators who voted to convict her husband in his impeachment trial, Bernstein said, "she joined their prayer group."
Finally, does Carl Bernstein think Hillary going to win the presidency? He replied, "The night the Supreme Court voted to make Bush president, I said on TV I thought he would be a compassionate conservative, reach out to Democrats, and govern from the center. So don't turn to me for predictions about politics."
Has George Bush ever been to a bar mitzvah or eaten a blintz? Rudy Giuliani has -- dozens of times.
The Bush family has been never been very popular with Jews, but Giuliani won a big majority of the Jewish vote, in the world's biggest Jewish city, both times he ran for mayor. He's the Republican front runner; if he wins the nomination, could the Republican relationship to Jewish voters be transformed? That question lurked in the background when Giuliani and other GOP candidates spoke earlier this week in Washington at a forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
The traditional Republican stance was expressed eloquently back in 1992, when James Baker, at the time Secretary of State to President George H. W. Bush, said "[Expletive] the Jews. They didn't vote for us anyway."
Baker had his facts right: Bush Senior got only 11 per cent of the Jewish vote that year. Bill Clinton got about 80 per cent of the Jewish vote in both 1992 and 1996. Al Gore got the same in 2000. Even John Kerry got 76 of the Jewish vote in 2004.
But could that pattern change if Giuliani is the candidate in 2008? He got two-thirds of the Jewish vote in New York City when he ran against Democratic David Dinkins. He got three-quarters of the Jewish vote when he ran for reelection against Ruth Messinger, herself Jewish.
The Bush family was always more pro-Arab, especially pro-Saudi, than they were pro-Israel. Back in 1992, Baker was arguing for a tougher policy with Israel, pressing them to settle with the Palestinians. He reiterated that position last year in the Baker-Hamilton report, also known as the Iraq Study Group report, which argued we could weaken the appeal of Islamic terrorism by creating a viable Palestinian state, returning the Golan Heights to Syria, and negotiating with Iran.
Rudy is emphatically not that kind of Republican. He made that perfectly clear in his pitch at the Republican Jewish Coalition. As Maureen Dowd reported in the New York Times, he reminded listeners that he refused to accept a $10 million check for 9/11 families from the Saudi prince who urged America to "adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause." He reminded listeners that he threw Yasser Arafat out of a Lincoln Center concert held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.
Giuliani's pitch to Jews is all about Israel. "If I'm president," he said this week, "I'm not going to let any man destroy Israel"--just in case you were wondering about that. He draws an analogy between the situation in Iraq and Gaza: if we pull out of Iraq, he says, Iraq will end up looking like Gaza after the Israelis pulled out. It will become another base for terrorists – but one that is much bigger. And of course he talks about Hitler: "If Europe had confronted Hitler at an earlier stage," he said, "there would have been millions and millions of lives saved." That's why he would refuse to negotiate with today's Hitler, located in Iran.
Nevertheless it's unlikely that any Republican candidate, even Giuliani, will win Jewish votes away from the Democrats because of their positions on Israel. First of all, the Democratic candidate will be 100 per cent "pro-Israel" (meaning they support the parties on the Israeli right).
Secondly, only a handful of Jews vote on the basis of candidates' "support for Israel." "Jewish voters look like other voters with high levels of education," says Ira Foreman, co-editor of Jews in American Politics, writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz. The main difference is that they are more liberal: "Jews place more emphasis on civil liberties than their non-Jewish counterparts. Jews support abortion rights at higher levels than other Americans. Jews support the concept of separation of church and state. Jews support gay marriage and civil unions at higher levels than non-Jews."
Finally, when Giuliani won those Jewish majorities in New York City, the city was in a steep economic decline, the South Bronx was burning, the crack epidemic seemed unstoppable. Rudy's tough-guy stance worked in that context, but the country has different concerns today. In 2008, the great majority of Jews once again will vote for the Democrat, even if the Republican is Rudy.
When Ann Coulter remarked on CNBC that Jews should become Christians, it wasn't "a faux pas," and she wasn't being "an idiot," as many commentators suggested. Instead she was playing her game -- provoking her critics to get her into the media spotlight that helps sell her books.
That raises the question: should the Republican candidates be asked whether they agree with Ann Coulter that America would be a better place if we were all Christians? Or is that simply playing Ann Coulter's game?
Many people are playing her game this time around: Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, denounced Coulter for speaking in "the classic language of anti-Semites throughout the millennia." The National Jewish Democratic Council asked broadcast news organizations not to give Coulter airtime. Then right wing talk radio got to yell at liberals for trying to deny Ann Coulter her right to free speech.
So it's happened again: Ann Coulter is controversial. Ann Coulter is important. We all need to take a stand for or against Ann Coulter's right to express her views, no matter how repugnant they may be.
But what if we ignored her latest publicity ploy? What if we didn't play Ann Coulter's game – again?
That would be a mistake, Tim Rutten argued recently in the LA Times. We need to press the issue on the candidates, and others, this time -- because, Rutten writes, "the implications of these latest remarks simply are too threatening to be allowed to stand."
Yes, it's worked for her many times before, propelling her books to the top of the best-seller list. Her readers buy her books precisely because they love the way she provokes liberals to screaming outrage. That's why in the past, when asked about our enemies in the Middle East, she said "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"; that's why she insulted the 9-11widows.
But this time, Rutten argues, it's different. That's because Coulter's argument – that Christianity "perfects" Judaism, and that Jews need "perfecting" -- is the major theological underpinning of anti-Semitism (along with the notion to that the Jews killed Jesus). The Catholic church, and most Protestant denominations, have explicitly broken with that claim. The Republican candidates ought to do the same thing.
"It's a scandal that in this pluralist nation it falls to the voices of organized Jewry to make this case," Rutten writes, "because it is a case whose outcome is of the greatest consequence to us all. For too long we've pretended that the brutal political rhetoric that now characterizes our partisan politics can be quarantined, that it won't inevitably leach over into every other aspect of our lives."
So it would be good to ask Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and their rivals: Ann Coulter is a best-selling Republican pundit; do you agree with her that the ideal America is a Christian America?
When George Bush and Dick Cheney talk about their plans to bomb Iran, they are told "You can't do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated"--that's what a Republican former intelligence official told legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. "But," the former official went on, "Cheney doesn't give a rat's ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President."
I recently spoke with Hersh, whose new piece, "Target Iran," is featured in The New Yorker this week.
When I asked Hersh who wants to bomb Iran, he said "Ironically there is a lot of pressure coming from Democrats. Hillary Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have all said we cannot have a nuclear-armed Iran. Clearly the pressure from Democrats is a reflection of – we might as well say it – Israeli and Jewish input." He added the obvious: "a lot of money comes to the Democratic campaigns" from Jewish contributors.
But while Democrats argue that we must "do something" about an Iranian nuclear threat, Hersh says the White House has concluded their own effort to convince Americans that Iran poses an imminent threat has "failed." Apparently the public that bought the story of WMD in Iraq is now singing the classic Who song, "Won't be Fooled Again."
Moreover, Hersh reports, "the general consensus of the American intelligence community is that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb" – so the public is right to be skeptical.
As a result, according to Hersh, the focus of the plans to bomb Iran has shifted from an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities to an emphasis on the famed "surgical strikes" on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere. The White House hopes it can win public support for this kind of campaign by arguing that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is responsible for the deaths of Americans in Iraq.
Why don't Bush and Cheney "give a rat's ass" about getting Republicans reelected to the Senate and the House in 2008? "Of course that was hyperbole to make a point," Hersh said. "When it comes to choice between bombing Iran and taking some political heat, the president will do what he wants. Look, no decision has been made, no order has been given, I've never said it's going to happen. But I had breakfast this morning in Washington with somebody who's close to a lot of military people, and there's a sense among them that the president is essentially messianic about this. He sees this as his mission. It could be because God is telling him to do it. It could be because his daddy didn't do it. It could be because it's step 13 in a 12-step program he was in. I just don't know."
The biggest problem in US relations with Iran, Hersh said, is that Bush refuses to "talk to people he doesn't like. . . . We dealt with China, we dealt with the Soviet Union in those bad days of Stalin and Mao. But there is no pressure whatsoever" coming from the leading Democratic presidential candidates demanding that Bush negotiate with the Iranians rather than bombing them.
The long-awaited publication of Clarence Thomas's memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," out Monday, makes you wonder: how come none of the presidential candidates have said a word about the Supreme Court in any of their debates? Three sitting justices are expected to resign in the next four years--and they're all on the liberal side: John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The publication facts behind Thomas's book ought to be discussed by all the candidates: he received an advance of $1.5 million in 2003 from HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. If you thought the Court dealt with any issues of relevance to Murdoch, you might call it a conflict of interest for Thomas to accept that payment--far more than any sitting justice ever received from any single source. At least you might mention the fabled "appearance of impropriety." You might call the $1.5 million a thank-you gift from Murdoch for services rendered. You might even wonder if it might be a subtle suggestion to other justices who will be ruling on Murdoch-related issues in the future.
Of course Thomas could avoid that "appearance of impropriety" by recusing himself for the rest of his career from any case raising issues concerning Murdoch, Fox, the First Amendment, copyright law, libel, or any other issues in media or communications law. That would give him a lot of time off.
Yes, it was the first President Bush who nominated Clarence Thomas to succeed civil rights legend Thurgood Marshall - but it was Democrats in the Senate who put him on the court. The teeth-gnashing facts about Clarence Thomas's confirmation can be found in the new book by Washington Post reporters Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher, "Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas." The vote in the Senate on Thomas was 52-48 - the smallest margin for any justice in more than a century. A shift of three votes would have kept Thomas off the court.
Here's the horrible part: at least four senators who voted for Thomas came to regret their vote within a year or two. Merida and Fletcher report that the senators who changed their mind about Thomas after voting for him include David Boren, Democrat of Oklahoma; John Breaux, Democrat of Louisiana; Fritz Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, and Warren Rudman, Republican of New Hampshire.
Even some of Thomas's most avid defenders stopped saying he told the truth about Anita Hill; Orrin Hatch told Merida and Fletcher that, even if Anita Hill told the truth, what she said about Thomas sexually harassing her wasn't really all that bad.
As for Thomas's memoir, it's a long howl of outrage against the liberals who opposed his confirmation 16 years ago. The book was treated by HarperCollins as if it were the next Harry Potter - "embargoed" until Oct. 1, the first day of the Supreme Court's fall term -- a total clampdown that made it impossible for anyone to buy the book until Monday morning. I tried to buy it at my local Barnes and Noble Sunday night at 10 pm, and was told by a nervous manager that if they sold it to me even two hours before the "embargo" ended, "the publisher would see it on the computer and we'd be fined."
Yet somehow Rush Limbaugh managed to get hold of a copy - Thomas appeared on his show for a full ninety minutes Monday morning. (Maybe the fact that Thomas presided at Rush's wedding was a factor here - an unprecedented act for a sitting Justice.) Murdoch's Fox News was next in line, with a Sean Hannity interview Tuesday.
On the other hand, Nina Totenberg, NPR's Supreme Court reporter, who broke the sexual harassment story during Thomas's confirmation hearing back in 1991, did a piece on the book on Saturday. She's one of Thomas's nemeses; somebody will definitely be in trouble for the fact that she beat the embargo.
John Dean knows something about White House abuse of power. He wrote a bestseller in 2004 on the Bush White House called "Worse Than Watergate." In a recent interview I asked him what he thinks of that title now. Now, he replied, a book comparing Bush and Nixon would have to be called "Much, Much Worse."
"Look at the so-called Watergate abuses of power," he said. "Nobody died. Nobody was tortured. Millions of Americans were not subject to electronic surveillance of their communications. We're playing now in a whole different league."
And how does Bush compare with the Republicans seeking to succeed him? "If a Rudy Giuliani were to be elected," Dean said, "he would go even farther than Cheney and Bush in their worst moments."
What about the rest of the pack? "I'm very concerned about the current attitude in the Republican party," he said. "However there are candidates on the Republican side who are not quite as frightening as Giuliani." When I asked who he had in mind, he laughed and said "Ron Paul." He conceded that "there's no chance he's going to be president."
Dean's new book is "Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches." It's a massively documented and thorough indictment, arguing that, over the last 30 years, Republicans have broken or ignored laws, rules, and the Constitution. He's especially critical of the growth of presidential power under Bush II, and what he calls the "corruption" of the courts by "radical conservatives."
I asked Dean to imagine the moment when Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, presumably to be replaced by a Democrat, presumably Hillary -- will it then be possible to say "our long national nightmare is over"? Dean replied with one word: "Yes."
He quickly added, "I do feel strongly that the Republicans have so abused the law and embedded so many people within the system, within the executive branch, that's it's going to take a couple of terms of Democratic presidents before you have people there who are representing the American people."
Does that mean he is supporting Hillary? "She's obviously the one the other Democrats have to beat," he said, "but I don't take any position."
How then would he describe his political position? He says in his new book that he's left his "former tribe" - does that make him a Democrat today? "It doesn't," he replied. "I carry water for nobody. My only interest is being an honest information broker about what's happening. I have no agenda other than explaining - and being shocked at my former tribe."
"I've had invitations to become involved with Democrats," he added, "and have turned them all down. I'm an independent. That happens to be the largest group of voters in the country today - we're about 40 per cent strong."
When I pressed Dean to comment on the Democratic candidates, he said he was more interested in whether any Democrats would raise what he called "process" issues - "kind of a dull-sounding word, but actually it's about the machinery of democracy. I was stunned when the Kerry campaign in 2004 totally ignored the remarkable secrecy of the Bush administration. I called the Kerry campaign after the election, and asked them why they hadn't raised this issue. The Kerry people told me, 'We didn't raise it because it's a process issue.'"
"I began making inquiries," he continued, "and found that lots of Democratic party campaign consultants believe that the candidates shouldn't mention process issues. Democrats thought it would make them look wimpy to say 'we're being excluded from the legislative process.' Kerry didn't want to raise secrecy for the same reason - he thought it would sound wimpy."
Was Kerry right about the electorate? "I found that's exactly 180 digress away from the truth," Dean replied. "Most people can't tell you what a motion to recommit is. They don't know about that kind of process. But they know when they're getting screwed. And process is designed to protect the public interest. So people get it when the game of politics is not being played fairly, when one party is using the process for their own benefit. These kinds of things are of great interest to about 20 to 30 million voters."
What about the many more who are apathetic and ignorant -- doesn't that make him pessimistic about political change? Dean conceded that "large segments of the American public are turned off and tuned out from the democratic process. They can't name their senators. They don't know who's the Chief Justice. But the reason I'm optimistic is that I think we have enough proxies in those who are interested. They are fairly representative of those who are not. When you give them the information they need, they do the right thing. That's why I'm trying to give people good information and hard facts to show people what's gone wrong."
The death of 14 army soldiers in a helicopter crash in northern Iraq on August 23 included ten stationed in Hawaii, making that Hawaii's "worst day . . . since the Vietnam War" – that's what the Honolulu Advertiser declared in a page one banner headline and story.
Like much of America, I'm on vacation in late August. For me, it's Hanalei on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where my plan was to snorkel a different North Shore beach every day, stop for a shave ice afterwards, eat local fish, and stay far away from the news. But the Iraq war is inescapable, even in this idyllic escape. At the Big Save in Hanalei, past the taro fields, there's a big display of Spam and another of cheap flip-flops, but the newspaper headline about the "Worst Day" was hard to miss.
The Vietnam-Iraq parallel is a familiar one in debates among pundits and politicians over the war's rationale and future, but the explicit comparison of daily battlefield deaths in Iraq and Vietnam in a local newspaper appears to be something new.
The ten killed near Kirkuk had been part of a 7,000 soldier unit from the army's Schofield Barracks, north of Pearl Harbor, deployed in Tikrit and Mosul. Their mission, originally scheduled for one year, has been extended to 15 months. The Thursday deaths bring the total to 39 soldiers from the Hawaiian unit killed on this deployment, plus an additional 13 killed on a 2004 deployment.
Despite the millions of tourists who come to Hawaii annually, the islands in many ways are a like a series of small towns, and the death of fourteen soldiers on one day left the state "stunned," according to the Advertiser. The paper devoted two full inside pages to the news, in addition to most of the front page and editorial page.
The obvious question is: why? What purpose did these deaths serve? The Advertiser's editorial didn't raise that question – instead it urged that readers "comprehend the number of lives lost." But the editorial cartoon, drawn by Dick Adair of the Advertiser, couldn't have been clearer: George Bush says "Remember what happened when we pulled out of Vietnam. . . " and next to him a combat soldier drawn in Bill Mauldin style says "Then why did we go into Iraq?"
The second day came the news that the soldiers killed in the Blackhawk helicopter crash died not as a result of enemy fire rather because of a "tail rotor malfunction."
The Advertiser also reported that "promotions were handed out posthumously for several of the 14 soldiers who died."
The stories of the dead men filled a page in the Advertiser headlined "Grief and Questions." Captain Nathan C. Hubbard, 21, died in the Blackhawk crash three years after a roadside bomb killed his older brother Jared, 22, near Falujah. The family has one other son, Jason, 33, who is also deployed in Iraq. He told his wife he will be flying back home for good, with his brother's body, under army rules that prevent parents from losing all their children in war.
Spc. Michael A. Hook, originally from Altoona Pa. would have turned 26 on the day his body was scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force base in Delaware. "He'll be home on his birthday," his stepmother told reporters.
Captain Joshua S. Harmon, 20, grewup in Mentor, Ohio. A family friend told reporters "Josh joined the service with the intent to be a career soldier," but "after one deployment in Iraq, he realized the limitations that gave him. He told us he was frustrated. He became a medic to take care of people, but he would see injured non-soldiers as they made their way down alleys in a hot zone and they couldn't stop. That was very frustrating for him. That's when he decided to go to medical school and become a doctor. . . . The military is shrouded in macho this and macho that, but Josh cared about people – whether they were Iraqis or Americans. The whole mess frustrated him."
Israel went to war 40 years ago this week more because of "psychological weakness" than because of a genuine strategic threat--that's the conclusion of Tom Segev, one of Israel's leading historians, and author of the new book 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East. June 5 is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Israel's Six-Day war, when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began. I spoke with Tom Segev on the phone in Jerusalem on Monday.
The prevailing view of the war, in both the US and Israel, was expressed by historian Michael Orren, who wrote in the LA Times on Sunday that the war "saved Israel from destruction." Segev commented, "We don't really know that. We don't really know what the Arabs intended to do." But we do know what Israelis thought: "They thought Egypt was out to destroy them. It's really a psychological matter more than a clear-cut strategic one. Psychologically Israelis were very weak on the eve of the Six-Day War; they believed they were facing a second Holocaust."
How much of that psychology was an accurate response to the strategic situation, and how much was caused by other factors? "The crisis of May 1967 caught Israel at a weak point in its history," Segev said, "with economic recession and unemployment, more Israelis leaving Israel than Jews coming to live there, a generation gap with people fearing they were losing their children as Zionists, and a widespread feeling that the Zionist dream was over. And beyond that Israel was feeling the first acts of Palestinian terrorism, and the army had no answer to that, just as it doesn't have an answer to today's terrorism. All this led to a deep pessimism. Then the crisis broke out."
I asked Segev whether he thought Israel over-reacted to Egyptian and Syrian threats by going to war. "I think this crisis might have been solved without war," he replied. "There were suggestions coming from Washington and several ideas in Israel about how to do that. But that required a stronger society, stronger nerves, stronger leadership, more patience, and we didn't have all that. So we gave in to an understandable Holocaust panic. That made war with Egypt inevitable. But to say today that the Six-Day War saved Israel's existence--that is not accurate."
Today we think of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the main legacy of the 1967 war. Orthodox Jews regard the West Bank as the biblical land of Israel: Judea and Samaria. They believe God wants Jews to live there. I asked Segev how popular that idea was in Israel before the war. "It was not very popular," he said. "Most Israelis did not expect the Green Line to change. Some had hopes--there was a strong political party headed by Menachem Begin that advocated taking the West Bank, but most Israelis regarded that as unrealistic.
The government came to the same conclusion: "Six months prior to the war," Segev reports, "the head of the Mossad, the head of the Army intelligence branch, and the Foreign Office sat down together and did something Israelis don't often do – they thought ahead. They concluded it would not be in the interests of Israel to take the West Bank. Because of the Palestinian population, of course. Six months before this war. Then on June 5, Jordan attacks Israeli forces in Jerusalem, and all reason is forgotten: Israel takes East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, in spite of all the reasons not to do so, in opposition to our national interest."
Segev's book has a stunning cover: a photo of Israeli soldiers posing triumphantly in front of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one of the three holiest shrines in Islam. When Israeli forces conquered the old city, he reports, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army advised his commanding officer to blow up the Dome of the Rock. "Everybody lost their minds," Segev explained. "Everybody was euphoric. There were lots of crazy ideas floating around. It speaks to the credit of the military commander that he told the chief rabbi of the army, ‘if you repeat that suggestion, I will put you in jail.' But that was the atmosphere in those days--a feeling that the sky's the limit, we're an all powerful empire. The euphoria that followed the war was as wrong as the panic that preceded it."
As Israeli forces advanced through the West Bank, Segev shows, they pressured Palestinians to leave, to flee to Jordan. "200,000 Palestinians left the West Bank," he told me, "and at least half of them were actually forced to leave. Many are still in Jordan. When speak about the refugee problem we think about 1948, but there is a refugee problem from 1967 as well."
Back in 1948, the UN had called for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza. I asked Segev what kind of national movement existed among Palestinians on the eve of the Six-Day War. "It was very weak," he said, "not much more than a feeling of shared identity and solidarity. Actually as a result of the Six-Day War the Palestinian national identity became much stronger, just as Israeli analysts had predicted prior to the war."
Future prime minster Yitzhak Rabin supported Palestinian independence after the war, according to Segev, who reports that the Israeli government held secret talks at the time with Palestinian leaders. "Isn't that amazing?" he said. "Rabin was chief of staff. He felt it was the right moment to punish Jordan, to take the West Bank away from Jordan, but not God forbid, to control it--instead to give the Palestinians independence. He thought that was the right way to do it. By the way, that's what the government of Israel thinks today, 40 years later – and it's what most Israelis think."