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Left-Right Coalition of 80 House Members Wants Congress to Check and Balance Iraq Intervention

Resistance to a new intervention in Iraq has helped forge some bipartisanship in a gridlocked Washington. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

There are many ways to express patriotism. Yet there remains a common sense that the best expressions extend beyond ideology and partisanship to embrace the noblest ideals and deepest truths—of the American experiment.

In this time of deep division and money-driven hyper-partisanship, can that higher common ground still be reached?

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the California Democrat who has been the steadiest antiwar voice in the US House, and Congressman Scott Rigell, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve before representing Virginia as a very conservative Republican, have found it. They may disagree on many, perhaps most, issues. But Lee and Rigell are in absolute agreement that President Obama and Congress should resist “calls for a ‘quick’ and ‘easy’ military intervention in Iraq.”

Lee and Rigell recognize that while the rise of sectarian violence in Iraq is a serious concern, it cannot become an excuse for the casual redeployment of US troops to the country where so many Americans and so many Iraqis have already perished.

“We do not believe intervention could be either quick or easy. And, we doubt it would be effective in meeting either humanitarian or strategic goals, and that it could very well be counter-productive,” write Lee and Rigell in a joint letter to President Obama. “This is a moment for urgent consultations and engagement with all parties in the region who could bring about a cease fire and launch a dialogue that could lead to a reconciliation of the conflict.”

The letter, which eighty House Democrats and Republicans have signed, urges the president to be restrained in his own response and to accept respect the further restraint of the system of checks and balances outlined in the Constitution.

“As you consider options for U.S. intervention, we write to urge respect for the constitutional requirements for using force abroad,” it reads. “The Constitution vests in Congress the power and responsibility to authorize offensive military action abroad. The use of military force in Iraq is something the Congress should fully debate and authorize. Members of Congress must consider all the facts and alternatives before we can determine whether military action would contribute to ending this most recent violence, create a climate for political stability, and protect civilians from greater harm.”

Deep caution with regard to military intervention has a deep history in the United States of Thomas Jefferson, who warned that America should “have nothing to do with conquest,” and James Madison, who declared, “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

On July 4, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams used the anniversary to describe the thinking of the nation with regards to its place in the world—and the concerns that underpinned that thinking.

Adams’s statement remains the finest expression of the unique balance that a republic must strike if it wishes to avoid paying the unaffordable wages of empire.

Above all, Adams reminded Americans that while they have a responsibility to speak up for global democracy clearly and without apology, they have an equal responsibility to avoid entangling themselves in the turmoil of other lands. Echoing the warnings of George Washington, the great diplomat warned that such entanglements would ultimately undermine liberty in the United States—as they would require of America economic and political compromises that were inconsistent with domestic democracy.

After reading aloud the Declaration of Independence in its entirety, Adams said of America:

“Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. [But] she well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

“The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit…”

The genius of the American experiment, said Adams, was found in the revolutionary spirit of 1776, which rejected the corruptions of empire—the worst of which stem from the impulse to meddle in the affairs of other countries.

“Her glory is not dominion, but liberty,” Adams said of the United States. “Her march is the march of mind. She has a spear and a shield; but the motto upon her shield is Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.”

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Adams concluded his address by urging Americans to renew their acquaintance with the revolutionaries against colonial meddling and empire who founded the American experiment, to celebrate their example and to: “Go thou and do likewise!”

Barbara Lee and Scott Rigell are doing likewise, and the House members who have signed their vital letter are wise to recognize the danger that arise when the United States involves herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

 

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s foresight in her Hobby Lobby dissent

US Should Back Syria’s Assad Against ISIS

Bashar Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)

One key to solving the ISIS crisis is hunkered down in the presidential palace in Damascus, and his name is Bashar al-Assad. Demonized by the United States and by neoconservatives long before he waged a ruthless, take-no-prisoners blitzkrieg against the American- and Saudi-supported rebellion that began in 2011, Assad has proved to everyone (with the possible exception of Secretary of State John Kerry) that he’s staying put, at least for the foreseeable future. For all intents and purposes, Assad has won the civil war in Syria, and short of an Iraq-style invasion—which isn’t in the cards— there’s no way for the United States to oust Assad. Which is a good thing, because his ouster would immeasurably strengthen the extremists who’ve led the fight against him, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, now “the Islamic State,” the Caliphate-mongering radicals who are an Al Qaeda offshoot. On the other hand, by ending its support for the Syrian rebels, who don’t have a prayer anyway, the United States would strengthen Assad and allow him to crush ISIS.

It’s gradually dawning on America’s foreign policy establishment that Assad isn’t going anywhere. Back in December, a foresighted Ryan Crocker—no weenie, having served as US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars—suggested that the United States ought to accept that Assad has won. In a December 21 New York Times op-ed, Crocker wrote:

It is time to consider a future for Syria without Assad’s ouster, because it is overwhelmingly likely that is what the future will be.… Better armed, organized, supported and motivated, Assad isn’t going. Most likely, he will get the country back, inch by bloody inch. Perhaps Al Qaeda will hold a few enclaves in the north. But he will hold Damascus. And do we really want the alternative—a major country at the heart of the Arab world in the hands of Al Qaeda? So we need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad—and consider that as bad as he is, there is something worse. A good place to start is Geneva next month and some quiet engagement with Syrian officials.

Assad, who’s wrongly been accused of covertly supporting ISIS, last week joined the war against ISIS in Iraq officially, sending his air force into Iraq—with the support of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government—to bomb ISIS positions near the Syria-Iraq border. Taking note of that, Leslie Gelb—another US foreign policy graybeard—opined that the United States ought to ally itself with Assad’s potent forces:

The second step of this strategy is to set President Bashar al-Assad of Syria against the jihadis in Iraq, an offensive he started on his own with airstrikes last week. This would acknowledge the reality of Iraq and Syria as one strategic, anti-jihadi battlefield. But instead of capitalizing on Mr. Assad’s anti-jihadi instincts, the Obama team now proposes to do what it has resisted doing for almost three years—to send hundreds of millions of dollars in arms aid for the Sunni rebels battling the Assad government. This move has American priorities backward. It will turn Mr. Assad away from the jihadis in Iraq, and back to fighting American-backed rebels in Syria.

From the start, President Obama’s wrongheaded support for the anti-Assad revolt is what led directly to ISIS’ resurgence. By calling for Assad’s ouster in 2011 and 2012, by green-lighting Saudi and Turkish aid to the rebels, by ordering the CIA to train anti-Assad forces in Jordan, by drawing red lines that he couldn’t enforce, and by supplying those ragtag rebels, Obama unleashed hellish forces in Syria that neither he nor his Saudi and Turkish partners could control. Unspeakable atrocities have been committed on both sides, and it’s obvious that Assad is no friend of humanity. But he’s there, and he’s better than ISIS.

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According to Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast, there’s an actual debate going on inside the White House and the State Department over whether to call it quits in Syria. Writes Rogin:

There’s a battle raging inside the Obama administration about whether the United States ought to push away from its goal of toppling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and into a de facto alliance with the Damascus regime to fight ISIS and other Sunni extremists in the region.… The 3 1/2-year grinding civil war is Syria has been put on a back burner for now. Some officials inside the administration are proposing that the drive to remove Assad from power, which Obama announced as U.S. policy in 2012, be set aside, too. The focus, these officials argue, should instead be on the region’s security and stability. Governments fighting for survival against extremists should be shored up, not undermined.

Some analysts suggest that there’s an emerging “Shiite crescent” or a Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus “axis,” but that way too simplistic. True, in battling ISIS, all three governments ought to be seen as potential partners of the United States. But Assad, while an ally of Iran’s, isn’t an Iranian stooge, and he’s not really even a Shiite. And, whatever the eventual outcome of the civil war in Iraq, it won’t eliminate the Sunnis there, who will continue to press their claims for a share of power in Baghdad, with the support of the Arab heartland. And Iran has no imperial interest in the Arab world. It’s interest in Iraq is to prevent the emergence of a threat to Iran, and it’s interest in Syria and in Lebanon’s Hezbollah is mostly as leverage against Israel and its continued threats to bomb Iran over its nuclear program. So the solution in the Syria-Iraq civil war is political and diplomatic, not military. And it starts with an entente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which are alarmed by ISIS’ recent gains, and both of which can vastly influence their proxies in Syria and Iraq.

 

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On This Fourth of July, Meet Your Unpatriotic Corporations

Walgreens

(Phillip Pessar/CC 2.0)

Years ago, I noticed that America’s major drugstore chains tend to utilize the same corporate color scheme. Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid—all patriotic in red, white, and blue. Even regional chains take their identity cues from Old Glory. But this July 4, American corporations—including one drugstore chain, in one recent example—are using tax loopholes to act in the most unpatriotic of ways.

Walgreens, The New York Times reported, is looking to relocate from Illinois to Switzerland, in the process merging with a Swiss corporation and reincorporating itself as a foreign entity. It is, bluntly, an old-fashioned tax dodge, aimed at trimming eleven percentage points off the company’s corporate tax rate. Americans for Tax Fairness estimates that the move will cost US taxpayers more than $4 billion over the next five years. Using a procedure called “inversion,” an American company can reincorporate itself overseas as long as its domestic (US) owners retain no more than 80 percent of its stock. Walgreens, after merging with European drugstore chain Alliance Boots (itself a loophole-exploiter, having moved from the UK to Switzerland itself in order to lower its tax bill), will meet the criteria and legally become a Swiss corporation.

As the Times reported last fall, inversion is increasingly popular among American corporations. California chip maker Applied Materials merged with a Japanese competitor, Tokyo Electron, and the New York advertising group Omnicom merged with the French Publicis Groupe, to name two of the 20 inversions completed since April 2012. Applied Materials will save about $100 million in taxes each year, Omnicom $80 million.

There are few acts more unpatriotic than siphoning your tax dollars away from Uncle Sam and into your own pocket. Decreased tax revenue leads to yet more cuts in our social safety net, which is already ragged enough to begin with. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, Walgreens $4 billion-plus dodge could be used to fund 1.5 years of prescriptions for the entire VA veterans population; 639,000 people covered under Medicaid; or 3.5 million children under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Perhaps Walgreens corporate greed isn’t surprising, as recent events have shown just how little America’s corporate class actually cares about veterans, Medicaid, and the uninsured

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But it’s still enraging. Walgreens earns nearly one-quarter of its $72 billion in annual revenue from…Medicaid and Medicare disbursements; that is, directly from the government—or taxpayers like you and me. Though his eye was more on outsourcing labor than on tax-dodging, Ralph Nader in 2012 wrote of the blatant anti-American practices of US corporations, “The bosses of these companies believe they can have it both ways—getting all the benefits of their native country while shipping whole industries and jobs to communist and fascist regimes abroad that keep their workers in serf-like conditions.”

With inversion, companies like Walgreens are also trying to have it both ways: reap the revenue from America’s enormous consumer base and public-health moneys, then save a bundle by stiffing the government on their fair share of the bill. This Fourth of July, remember that patriotism means more than red, white, and blue, more than the flag. It means taking responsibility for and stewardship over our shared home.

 

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Summer Interns’ Recommended Reading

Bookstore

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Hélène Barthélemy, New York, New York

Willing Slaves of Capital, by Frédéric Lordon

It was initially a bit tedious to plow through the heavily theoretical language of Lordon’s Willing Slaves of Capital, but I did it because I had no choice: I was working at the publishing house that had published it. Yet, now six months later, I find myself constantly going back to the book’s ideas, notably the question of why we work. Not only do we work to gain sustenance, we eventually become so enlisted and dedicated to our employer that we find pleasure in work. Company culture, faces, marketing, team-building all contribute to enlist us to the cause of our work (now our cause!), concealing the negative reason why we do it (to be able to live) with more pleasurable ends. It convinces us that it is, for instance, our vocation.

A lot has been written about the problem of conceiving of someone’s work as pleasurable (which often serves as a justification for decreasing wages or problematic gender roles). Lordon just says that the way your desires are formed has to be taken into account when imagining an alternative society. And, as long as you remain aware of the obligation, perhaps happy enslavement doesn’t sound too bad. There are not that many other viable options… till we abolish wage-labor, of course! For the lucky few, it is also intellectually fulfilling: to prove the point, this is about a book that I read… at work!

Summer Concepcion, Los Angeles, California

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

Given that being an intern has provided me the opportunity to work and live in New York City for the first time, it was only appropriate that a dear friend of mine from Chicago gave me Patti Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir as a gift. Smith, the fortieth anniversary of whose debut album Horses will be celebrated next year, effortlessly weaves stories of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe together with life in NYC during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The couple’s dedication to art was their own version of the “American dream”—a dream many New Yorkers can relate to and come to the city for. Despite the struggles the couple faced between their relationship and keeping their artistic ambitions alive, Smith’s innately poetic voice makes Just Kids an homage to the many worlds that come together when one lives in NYC. It is no wonder why Smith has remained an icon decades later—her art continues to resonate to this day.

Erin Corbett, Chicago, Illinois

On Female Body Experience: Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays, by Iris Marion Young

I picked up this book after reading Young’s “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State” for a spring course, wanting to read more on feminist philosophy. I started my reading with the essay “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality,” in which Young takes us beyond the biological differences between men and women, discussing the female body’s comportment and movement in relation to the surrounding space. This collection of essays uses a feminist framework to locate the subjectivity of the feminine body in its social surroundings.

Victoria Ford, Greenville, South Carolina

Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, by Salamishah Tillet

This book, both academic and personal, critical and generous, traces the ways in which contemporary artists from Bill T. Jones to Kara Walker to Carrie Mae Weems resurrect and reimagine American slavery. Each artist, while revisiting historical and literary characters, as well as the ghost homes of slave forts, argues not for legal recognition in a post–civil rights society but for a fully realized and empathetic civic membership. By unpacking these pieces of photography, dance and visual art, Professor Tillet teaches readers to reconcile with our deeply broken vision of American democracy—one that exists in the belly and bedlam of our current Americana refusal to remember the original sin upon which this nation was born.

Douglas Grant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, by Rick Perlstein

I admit a certain bias in mentioning Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, due out in August, because I am doing research for his third work on the history of American conservatism. It’s the best read on the seventies’ zeitgeist (it follows his other engrossing tome, Nixonland, which is the best read on the sixties and its intertwining chaoses). It’s not exactly the kind of book that lets you sprawl out on a beach towel with your toes digging in the sand, but it’s the kind of book that doesn’t let you go.

Hannah Harris Green, Madison, Wisconsin

Every Day is for the Thief, by Teju Cole

Every Day is for the Thief is Teju Cole’s fictional adaption of a blog he wrote while visiting Lagos, Nigeria, where he grew up, for the first time in thirteen years. Cole told Interview that this blog is “still the most intense writing I’ve ever done. For 30 days it was like I almost didn’t exist as a person.”

Alana de Hinojosa, Davis, California

At the Bottom of the River, by Jamaica Kincaid

At the Bottom of the River is a collection of ten short stories told through the point of view of a girl-woman as she plunges into the memories of her childhood in the Caribbean. Short and sweet, spooky and enchanting, these stories speak to the mysteries of her Caribbean home—the monkeys in the trees, the river too large to cross, the father she loves, the mother she will always trust, the way blackness comes to her in the night, on her skin and in her blood and the way a growing girl-woman must learn to see and navigate her postcolonial Caribbean world. Quick to read, though complex and deep, At the Bottom of the River is the perfect read for your lunch break or as you commute to work on the subway.

Crystal Kayiza, Jenks, Oklahoma

Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag

For over half of my twenty-one years of life, this nation has been at war. Living in a society so entrenched in its militarism and obsession with violence, it is easy to forget that war is physical and not just images between headlines. “How in your opinion do we prevent war?” are the jarring lines on the first page of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Drawing these words from Virgina Woolf’s Three Guineas, Sontag critiques our “diet of horrors.” Her insight delves deep into compassion and critiques our consumption of atrocities. While visual culture depicts what humankind is capable of, it simultaneously exposes our distance from suffering—because, as Sontag eloquently outlines, no matter how far away, war will be waged and suffering will soon follow.

Agnes Radomski, Los Angeles, California

The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope, by Amy Goodman and Dennis Moynihan

This collection of short articles touches on everything from war and capital punishment to climate change and dirty energy—all topics reported in depth on the daily news hour Democracy Now! It provides a critical commentary on the most important social justice issues shaping our society and is a must-read for any independent news junkie!

 

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Top Ten July 4th Songs

American Flag

(Timo Kohlenberg/CC 2.0)

Not enough Americans are aware that much of what the country considers our patriotic culture, especially our iconic music, was created by artists and writers of decidedly left-wing sympathies. Three years ago, I posted a list of what I called the Top Twelve Most Patriotic Songs Ever. I’ve rethought those selections, consulted with experts and can now present my heavily revised and highly debatable list of Top Ten July 4th Songs, presented in random order. To me, these songs, taken together, help distill the American experience and make clear both what’s great about the US and what still needs critical attention.

Top Ten July 4 Songs

1. Los Lobos with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir performing This Land is Your Land
This rambling version of the iconic Woody Guthrie song was performed in July 1989 backstage at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin between sets on that summer’s Los Lobos/Grateful Dead tour.

 

2. Bruce Springsteen performing Chimes of Freedom
Sony Music has made it impossible to watch Bob Dylan performing his classic ode to “the refugees on their unarmed road of flight.” Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen acquits himself well in this live 1988 cover.

 

3. Paul Robeson performing The House I Live In
Written in 1943 by Abel Meeropol under the pen name Lewis Allen and the blacklisted Earl Robinson, this tune became a patriotic anthem during World War II with its populist evocation of everyday American life.

 

4. Phil Ochs performing The Power and Glory
One of the songs that established Ochs’s reputation, he saw it as a patriotic hymn combining the American dream with selfless faith-based ideals.

 

5. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written in 1961 by abolitionist, social activist and poet Julia Ward Howe, set to a tune written several years before by William Steffe.

 

6. Loretta Lynn performing Dear Uncle Sam
This Vietnam-era plea on behalf of soldier-husbands everywhere resonated far beyond the traditional, antiwar crowd when it was first released in 1968.

 

7. John Mellencamp performing Pink Houses
This 1985 song distills the essence of Mellencamp’s popularity as the bard of the Midwest giving voice to the dreams and disappointments of small communities coast to coast.

 

8. Rosanne Cash performing 500 Miles
This song, originally written by Hedy West, became popular in the US and Europe during the 1960s folk revival and was part of a list of 100 essential American songs that Johnny Cash famously gave his daughter Rosanne in 1973. In 2009, she produced a brilliant album featuring her versions of 12 of the 100.

 

9. Leontyne Price performing America the Beautiful
Written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, this song not only speaks to the natural beauty of America but also expresses Bates’s view that US imperialism undermined the nation’s core values of freedom and liberty. In this version, opera star Leontyne Price sings it at a 1992 benefit.

 

10. Gil Scott-Heron performing Winter in America
One of Scott-Heron’s most well-received compositions, this bluesy lament mouns America’s lost promise: “And ain’t nobody fighting, Cause nobody knows what to save.”

 

Bonus Track: Sarah Ogan Gunning performing Come All Ye Coal Miners
Giving voice to the frequently forgotten workers who built the foundation of America, this song makes clear the trials of the mining life.

How John Maynard Keynes Can Save the Arab Spring

Syrian rebel

A Syrian Rebel. (Reuters/Muzaffar Salman)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

At first glance, the Arab region appears to have entered a new period of crisis—perhaps the greatest in its modern history. The Arab revolts of 2011 seem to have given way to a “Jihadi Spring,” with the civil war in Syria providing a haven for radical extremist groups from across the globe. As the crisis in Syria spills over into neighboring Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, the world is confronting a frightening revival of the Al Qaeda franchise.

In 2011, North Africa witnessed the dramatic downfall of three dictators: Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. But in much of the region, “deep state” security apparatuses have proven more resilient than any one political leader. Cabals of military officers managed to frustrate democratic transition in Egypt and hold onto power in Algeria, with Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently claiming landslide victories in sham elections that were largely boycotted by the progressive left. The oil-rich sheikdoms of the Middle East, meanwhile, have brutally suppressed any form of domestic opposition, while leveraging their huge cache of petrodollars to appease their restive citizens through a combination of expanded welfare and new employment opportunities.

More worryingly, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a uniquely vicious offshoot of Al Qaeda, has upended the twentieth-century map of the Middle East. The shocking brutality of ISIS—and the overweening ambition of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—prompted the Al Qaeda “general command” led by Ayman al-Zawahiri to disown the group. After pulling off a lightning defeat of the Iraqi armed forces across much of the country’s western and northern regions, ISIS announced the formation of an “Islamic caliphate,” a new political entity at the heart of the Middle East that connects various Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq and Syria.

Just as the British Philosopher Edmund Burke decried the French Revolution for replacing monarchical stability with republican terror, many modern-day pundits have lamented, in varying forms, how the Arab Spring has supposedly paved the way for a renewed era of instability in an ever-combustible region. This mistaken narrative has allowed autocratic regimes across the world to use the slogan “stability” to smash and delegitimize any organized call for democratic freedom.

On closer inspection, however, German philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel may provide a better framework to understand the likely trajectory of the Arab uprisings. Although cognizant of the immediate and terrifying outcome of the French Revolution, Hegel maintained that a true break with the past inevitably requires a violent rupture with the ancien régime—part of a dialectical transition toward a new historical epoch.

After decades of centralized, autocratic leadership, the advent of popular revolutions has naturally created new power vacuums, which have been temporarily filled by well-organized reactionary groups and extremist terrorist groups. But none of the above groups is likely to provide any lasting solution to the agonies of the Arab street, from massive youth unemployment to economic stagnation and political repression. Although the Wahhabi-Salafist ideology of the Al Qaeda franchise, and particularly the extremist version embraced by ISIS, appeals only to a small minority of people, the secular autocracies in places such as Algeria and Egypt, in turn, are recycled versions of long discredited post-colonial Arab regimes.

This lack of appealing alternatives is precisely where progressive forces can build on the democratic gains of the 2011 uprisings.

Perils of Revolutionary Transition

Strongmen in Algeria and Egypt may have managed to frustrate any meaningful democratic transition in the short-to-medium term, but neither Bouteflika nor Sisi has proposed any remedy to the myriad political and economic problems that afflict their nations.

The aging Algerian leader is struggling with health issues and has been barely visible to the public. There are serious concerns over the prospect of violent intra-regime jostling once Bouteflika passes away. In Egypt, Sisi’s popularity could melt away as soon as the majority of people realize how he and his colleagues in the military have little understanding of how to run the Arab world’s largest country. By violently crushing the Islamist opposition, the Algerian and Egyptian regimes have opened up the space for the liberal-democratic opposition to take the initiative.

As for ISIS, its emergence as a potent force for mayhem has had the unintended effect of unifying historic rivals such as Washington and Tehran, as both powers scramble to support the government in Baghdad. A warming in the relationship between the two countries could significantly strengthen the domestic position of pragmatists in both capitals, especially the Rouhani administration in Iran, which has tirelessly sought to repair Tehran’s broken ties with the West.

The rise of ISIS has also undermined the largely sectarian rule of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has come under local and international pressure to step down in favor of an “inclusive” government. Alarmed by the frightening ramifications of an extremist resurgence in their own backyard, Arab sheikdoms in the region have also cracked down on local supporters, including top-level officials, of jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere. In short, both the patrons of “counterrevolution” and the forces of “jihadi revolution” are by no means secure, as pragmatists and progressive actors unify against a common threat.

But what of the Arab Spring? Today’s gloomy reading of it tends to overlook a fundamental factor, which not only explains the regrettable turn of the recent revolutionary upheavals, but also holds the key to resuscitating the democratic aspirations of the Arab street. And it is here that the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, arguably history’s greatest economist, could be of greatest help.

The Keynesian State

Reflecting on the roots of the Great Depression , Keynes analyzed the immanent instability of capitalism in the absence of proactive state intervention. Unlike Marx, however, he didn’t call for the abolition of capitalism. Instead he proposed a set of macro-economic policies to empower the state to manage the excesses of the markets for the benefit of the greater population.

His direct participation in the establishment of the Bretton Woods system paved the way for a measure of stability and openness in international trade, which in turn facilitated the rapid industrialization and recovery of economies across the world. Many developing and industrialized economies used Keynesian theories to strike an optimal balance between capitalist expansion and sustained national development. The result was the emergence of welfare states in the West and developmental states across Asia. This marked the “golden age” of capitalism.

But as Richard Posner intelligently observed, the heirs of Keynes failed to appreciate the necessity of preventing government “from exceeding the limits of optimal intervention.” It was this particular mistake, coupled with the devastating impact of the Vietnam War and the multiple oil crises in the Middle East, that allowed neoclassical economists to eventually marginalize Keynesian thinking, advocate “pro-market” policies and call for the retrenchment of the state in recent decades.

The 2007–08 Great Recession, however, served as a wake-up call by violently interrupting almost three decades of neoliberal economic stupor. The economic crisis undermined the naïve belief in orthodox economic models, which stubbornly defended the supposed rationality and self-correcting dynamism of impersonal markets.

Consequently, a growing number of policymakers and academics have come to realize the wisdom of Keynesian thought, which elegantly articulates the inherent necessity of judicious public management of economic cycles. No wonder that recent years have seen a huge push to both re-inject more Keynesian principles into the curricula of the world’s leading economic departments and espouse robust state participation in, and regulation of, both the national and global economy.

An Arab Economic Revolution

As I argue in How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Arab Uprisings, the 2010–11 Arab uprisings were fundamentally a reflection of the failure of the post-independence Arab states to internalize Keynesian economic thinking. There was neither a sober appreciation of the benefits of capitalism nor any effort to establish an autonomous, developmental state.

Many Arab states witnessed the emergence of quasi-socialist regimes, which were undemocratic, heavily militarized and dependent on strategic or hydrocarbon rents. These personalistic Arab regimes failed to institute genuine land reform, blocked the emergence of a vibrant entrepreneurial class and squandered their national resources in pursuit of autocratic consolidation—all at the expense of sustained industrialization and economic diversification. The result was an economic crisis in the 1980s, which forced much of the Arab world, especially non-oil-exporting countries, to undertake aggressive pro-market reforms over the succeeding decades.

Instead of transforming Arab economies into dynamic emerging markets, however, the economic liberalization of the 1990s allowed many autocratic regimes to outsource welfare responsibilities, transfer the ownership of state-owned companies to favored clients and abolish support mechanisms for strategic agricultural and industrial sectors. Although the pro-market reforms allowed Arab states to establish a modicum of macro-economic stability, the result was double-digit unemployment, widespread poverty, high dependence on food and commodity imports, and heavy reliance on speculative and service-oriented economic sectors such as tourism and real estate.

It is no surprise, then, that the 2007–08 Great Recession had a devastating impact on the Arab street, precipitating massive food insecurity and a macro-economic downturn across the Middle East. With minimal assets, fiscal resources and policy space for intervention, many Arab regimes had limited capacity to cope with the impact of the crises. In the absence of genuine democratic mechanisms to express their economic discontent, it was arguably just a matter of time before the middle and working classes would unite against the autocratic regimes—and spark a revolution.

Today, however, the Arab Transition Countries (ATCs) have failed to adequately appreciate the structural economic roots of the Arab Spring. None of the major post-revolutionary contenders for leadership has provided a coherent policy agenda to address systemic economic vulnerabilities. Instead, much of the public discussion has boiled down to questioning the democratic credentials and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots across the Arab world.

A cursory look at the ATCs reveals how post-revolutionary governments have largely pursued the macro-economic policies of the previous regimes. And this is precisely why there has been a wobbly march toward genuine democratic transition. Unless the ATCs establish a new economic paradigm, focusing on public welfare, inclusive growth, macroeconomic resilience and industrial and agricultural revival, there will be no genuine democratic transition.

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After all, beyond freedom of expression and ritualized electoral exercises, democracy is about establishing an egalitarian economic system that empowers the greater citizenry to fully participate in the shaping of the political order. Keynes’s ideas are the greatest guide to achieving an optimal balance between democracy and economic development, serving as the blueprint for the progressive-democratic forces that hold the promise of resuscitating the spirit of the 2011 revolutions.

In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, moderate Islamists (especially the dominant Ennahda Party) and progressive liberals have managed to negotiate, albeit painstakingly, the foundations of perhaps the first truly democratic country in the Arab world. Having established a modicum of democratic political consensus, the next step for Tunisia is to embrace an egalitarian economic policy, which will translate rising discursive freedom and political openness into social justice for the majority of the people. The Arab spring is far from over.

 

Read Next: Juan Cole on the resilience of Arab Millenials

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Right, and We Already Have Proof

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Among the many questions raised by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is how sweeping its legacy will be. Supporters of the decision have insisted that the ruling is “narrow,” as it explicitly addresses “closely held” corporations objecting to four specific types of birth control—including IUDs and Plan B—because the business’ owners consider them (inaccurately) to cause abortion. Besides, the Court argued, the government can just fill any coverage gaps itself, and it’s only women whom corporations are now permitted to discriminate against. “Our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate,” claimed Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employers’ religious beliefs.”

Bullshit, is essentially what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to say about the majority’s claim to have issued a limited ruling. In her dissent, Ginsburg deemed it “a decision of startling breadth.” She noted that “‘closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small’,” citing corporations like Cargill, which employs 140,000 workers. Even more alarming is the majority’s endorsement of the idea that corporations can hold religious beliefs that warrant protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In fact, it only took a day for the Court’s “narrow” decision to start to crack open. On Tuesday, the Court indicated that its ruling applies to for-profit employers who object to all twenty forms of birth control included in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, not just the four methods at issue in the two cases decided on Monday.

In light of its ruling on Hobby Lobby and a related suit, the Supreme Court ordered three appeals courts to reconsider cases in which they had rejected challenges from corporations that object to providing insurance that covers any contraceptive services at all. The plaintiffs in all three cases are Catholics who own businesses in the Midwest, including Michigan-based organic food company Eden Foods. Meanwhile, the High Court declined to review petitions from the government seeking to overturn lower court rulings that upheld religiously based challenges to all preventative services under the mandate.

It’s bad enough that the Court privileged the belief that IUDs and emergency contraceptives induce abortion over the scientific evidence that clearly says otherwise. With Tuesday’s orders, the conservative majority has effectively endorsed the idea that religious objections to insurance that covers any form of preventative healthcare for women have merit. This development is not surprising, as it’s the logical extension of the premise that the intangible legal entities we call corporations have religious rights. That’s a ridiculous idea, certainly, but not a narrow one—no matter Alito’s assurance that he intends it to be used only to justify discrimination against women.

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The cases that must now be reopened aren’t even based on junk science, just general pious resistance to women’s health services. And at least one of those cases is only tenuously about religious freedom. “I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control,” Michael Potter, the founder of Eden Foods told Irin Carmon. “What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” As one judge wrote, “Potter’s ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed.”

The hole that the Supreme Court tore in the contraceptive mandate can be repaired with a tailored fix, most likely by the Obama administration extending the same accommodation it offered nonprofit religious groups to women working for the closely held for-profit corporations implicated in the Hobby Lobby ruling. Under that work-around, insurance companies themselves—or, in some cases, the federal government—will pick up the tab for female employees’ contraception coverage when their employer opts out.

More vexing is the extension of the RFRA to corporations. Business owners now have a new basis for trying to evade anti-discrimination laws and their responsibilities to their employees. Religious liberty is already the rallying cry for conservatives looking for a legal way to discriminate against LGBT Americans; other business owners have tried to use religion to justify opposition to minimum-wage laws and Social Security taxes. Faith groups are already trying to capitalize on the Hobby Lobby decision out of court; on Wednesday, a group of religious leaders asked the Obama administration for an exemption from a forthcoming federal order barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to Alito, courts have no authority to “tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed.” Where, then, are the boundaries? How will courts decide which beliefs are “sincerely held?” Alito asserts that the majority opinion provides “no such shield” for other forms of discrimination, but we have to take his word on it. The language of the ruling may be limited to contraception, but there are no explicit constraints on its underlying logic.

 

Read Next: Katha Pollitt asks, Where Will the Slippery Slope of ‘Hobby Lobby’ End?

Is the Fog of Pre-War Again Descending on ‘The New York Times’?

nytimes building

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

If you suspect that The New York Times still hasn’t learned all it should from its hawkish coverage in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, you’re right.

Back then, the Times, led by the self-admitted “testosterone”-drugged Bill Keller, tilted heavily toward publishing pro-war op-eds as well as misleading front-page pieces, most notably and disastrously by Judith Miller, now of Fox News.

Surely now, as we decide what to do about the current Iraq crisis, the Times would check its reflex to again hand valuable real estate over to the neocons. You know, fool me once…

But no. As the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote Sunday, readers on “high alert” about the fog of pre-war again descending on the paper are right to worry.

Readers, she writes, have been complaining “that The Times is amplifying the voices of hawkish neoconservatives and serving as a megaphone for anonymously sourced administration leaks, while failing to give voice to those who oppose intervention.”

Sullivan cites documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who tweeted: “Another day, another NYT article about a neocon and Iraq! Where are the articles about hundreds of thousands against escalation?”

So she counted:

I went back with the help of my assistant, Jonah Bromwich, and reread the Iraq coverage and commentary from the past few weeks to see if these complaints were valid. The readers have a point worth considering. On the Op-Ed pages and in the news columns, there have been very few outside voices of those who opposed the war last time, or those who reject the use of force now.

But the neoconservatives and interventionists are certainly being heard.

She found that today’s anti-interventionist arguments are largely in-house, from Times editorials and columnists, some of whom have changed their minds since 2003. For instance, Sullivan says, Thomas Friedman “was a leading voice for intervention last time, and has since said that he was wrong. He wrote recently: ‘For now, I’d say stay out of this fight…’” (I’d watch out for that “for now.”)

Sullivan ends on the hope that “the editors—on both the news and opinion sides—will think hard about whose voices and views will get the amplification that comes with being in The Times.”

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Only days later, however, the Times ran a front-page story on Ahmad Chalabi that, as Eric Boehlert writes, indicates the paper is still struggling with its own history:

Here’s what the Times left out of its Chalabi story today and here’s what the newspaper continues to grapple with eleven years after President Bush ordered the costly invasion of Iraq: Chalabi was reportedly the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq’s supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove [the] Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller, then a widely respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war.

While the Times published “something of a mea culpa about its war coverage” in 2004, acknowledging “its flawed reliance on Chalabi as an ‘occasional source’ for its stories,” Boehlert writes, it “never mentioned Miller by name…”

Read Next: Wilbert Rideau and Linda LaBranche on dominatn presence of prison newspapers in the US.

Surging Violence Against Women in Iraq

Hurt woman Iraq

Iraqi Woman and Seucrity Control Forces in Dalli Abbas, Iraq. (Reuters/Stringer)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

Shortly after their conquest of Mosul, young men armed with assault rifles went door to door in Iraq’s second-largest city, taking “women who are not owned” for jihad al-nikah, or sex jihad.

From June 9-12, women’s rights activists documented thirteen cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or DAIISH, the Arabic shorthand for the group’s name. Of the thirteen women, four committed suicide because they couldn’t stand the shame. One woman’s brother committed suicide because he could not bear the fact that he was unable to protect his sister.

The dispatches from Mosul are just one account of the extreme violence that has plagued Iraq since Sunni ISIS militants seized control over large portions of the country. Being a woman in Iraq was difficult before the current conflict. But the latest wave of militarization threatens to make life even worse.

“Women are being taken in broad daylight,” said Yanar Mohammad, co-founder and president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a Global Fund for Women grantee partner. “Men have the weapons to do whatever they want and [ISIS’s] way of dealing with things is to kill.”

Now military leaders are handing guns to young, untrained, undereducated and unemployed Shia men. These men are promised big salaries if they leave their homes to fight, according to an anonymous Global Fund ally in Baghdad.

“When we [women] commute to our office, walk in the street or take the bus, we experience harassment,” added the Global Fund ally, who remains anonymous due to security concerns. “But now, all of the men have weapons. I think maybe he will kidnap or shoot me if I don’t do what he wants. They will shoot and do anything, and because of the fatwa [urging able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists] no one asks questions.”

Sectarian Violence Slows Women’s Progress

With a death toll of 1,000 and rising since the beginning of June, the sectarian conflict has forced most women’s rights organizations to scale back their programs.

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq was in the middle of a campaign against Article Seventy-Nine of the Jaafari Personal Status Law—which, among other women’s rights violations, would grant custody over any child two years or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and fifteen for boys, and even open the door for girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval. Now it takes everything the organization has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.

“We cannot speak of women’s rights now unless we are speaking of the livelihood of those who are totally jeopardized, such as women who lost families and young girls who are vulnerable to corrupt officials or clerics,” said Yanar Mohammad. “We went from legal work and improving the rights of women to working in a state of emergency and trying to find the lowest chain in society and get them to safety.”

The Tangled Web the US Wove

Such extreme sectarian violence is a relatively new phenomenon in Iraq, said Mohammad, who is “sick and tired” of Western pundits saying there is no hope for Iraq.

“The mainstream media trashing Iraqi people is unbearable and is a total manipulation of the facts of America’s role in dividing the Iraqi people,” she said. “The political process that the US government put in place is a total failure and they [the United States] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now.”

The damage comes in the form of, among other things, a generation that didn’t have access to education.

“This generation listens to whatever the clerics and politicians say,” said Mohammad. “They are ready to throw themselves in the fire and they do it in the name of their imam.… Both politicians and religious heads are pushing the country into a very sectarian divide, and it’s frightening.”

Refugees Flee to Kurdish Region

As the fighting intensifies in northern and western Iraq, more than 300,000 people have already fled to the Kurdish region for safety, where the United Nations and relief organizations have set up a refugee camp in the arid region of Khazer.

“It is very hot and there is no water; we were not prepared for this influx of refugees,” said a Global Fund ally in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “The situation is by no means sustainable. The majority has nowhere to go and is staying in parks. Entire families are left without the most basic of shelter, food and clothes.”

While these waves of displacement to Kurdistan include Shia, Sunni and Christian families, the pressure on Iraqi Christians has been strongest due to the infamous brutality of ISIS.

“Christian women in the areas controlled by ISIS are forced to wear hijab or face death,” said a Global Fund ally who lives in Baghdad. “They must pay a protection tax, or jizyah, to ISIS to stay safe.”

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If the violence is not seriously addressed, our ally in Erbil says, Iraqi women know exactly what is going to happen next because they have endured it repeatedly since the US invasion in 2003, and during the Iran-Iraq War and Persian Gulf War before it.

“We know what has happened to women in Iraq—a lot of murders and violations—and we have already suffered to an unbearable extent,” said the Global Fund ally in Erbil. “There is nothing they haven’t done to us, which is why panic spreads among women as soon as we hear of another crisis. Women are used as a weapon for retaliation.”

Read Next: Aaron Ross on Sex Trafficking in the Middle East