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With the drumbeat for war on Iraq growing louder in Washington by the
day, the latest United States-backed Iraqi opposition group--the Iraqi
Military Alliance--was established with great fanfare in London in
mid-July by some eighty former Iraqi officers. If this was an attempt at
priming the Iraqi opposition pump as a prelude to overthrowing the
regime of Saddam Hussein, holding a much-hyped press conference seemed
an odd way to proceed.

An incisive comment came from an independent-minded Iraqi lawyer. "The
American policy-makers believe that if you scare Saddam and threaten
him, he will yield," he said. "They think this high profile meeting in
London will ruffle his feathers. Also, it gives a military dimension to
the predominantly civilian Iraqi National Congress." But Saddam does not
scare so easily. In his televised address to the nation on July 17, he
asserted that "evil tyrants and oppressors" would not be able to
overthrow him and his regime. "You will never defeat me this time," he

Behind this bravado lies Iraq's well-tailored policy of reconciliation
with its neighbors, which its foreign minister, Naji Sabri, has been
following doggedly for the past several months. A Christian and former
professor of English literature at Baghdad University, the smooth and
sophisticated Sabri started the year with a groundbreaking trip to
Teheran to resolve the prisoners-of-war exchange issue with Iran. The
following month he flew to Ankara, where he expressed flexibility on
renewed UN inspections. At the Arab summit in Beirut in March, Iraq
recognized Kuwait's border and promised to discuss the issue of Kuwaiti
POWs. "We have instructed our media to avoid any references which may
annoy the State of Kuwait," said Sabri after the summit. Since then he
has sought the assistance of his Qatari and Omani counterparts to
improve Baghdad's relations with Kuwait.

The strategy seems to be paying off. Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al Sabah, the
Kuwaiti defense minister, said in late July that his country would
approve a US attack on Iraq only if it is done under the auspices of the
United Nations. "Kuwait does not support threats to strike or launch an
attack against Iraq." Baghdad's relations with Saudi Arabia have
improved, too. Riyadh has reopened its border with Iraq at Arar, and
Saudi companies are doing business in Iraq within the framework of the
UN oil-for-food scheme. The desert kingdom has refused to allow the
Pentagon use of the Prince Sultan air base at Al Kharj in case of war
against Iraq.

Hence the US pressure on Jordan to allow its air bases to be used
instead--a prospect that sent a tearful King Abdullah rushing to a
European leader to complain about the US plan to attack Iraq from his
kingdom at a time when Arab frustration with the stalemate on the
Israeli-Palestinian front is rising by the day. (That was before
Israel's widely condemned dropping of a one-ton bomb in Gaza, killing
fifteen and injuring 160.)

King Abdullah's European interlocutor was certainly sympathetic to the
monarch's plight. All the European countries except Britain are urging
Washington to construct a coalition for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking,
not for warmaking in Iraq. In this effort they have the backing of
Turkey, a neighbor of Iraq and a NATO member that allows the use of its
Incirlik air base by US and British warplanes monitoring the northern
Iraqi no-fly zone.

In his July 21 interview on state television, Turkish Prime Minister
Bulent Ecevit said the United States should consider alternatives to
military action against Baghdad. "There are other measures to deter the
Iraqi regime from being a threat to the region," he said. "Iraq
developed technologically and economically despite the embargo that it
cannot be compared to Afghanistan or Vietnam." What is more, Ecevit
warned that it would not be possible for America to "get out easily"
from Iraq. Such a prospect was outlined by Sir Peter de la Billiere, who
commanded the British troops in the 1991 Gulf War. Discussing the
prospect of US, British and French troops capturing Baghdad, he wrote in
his Storm Command: A Personal Account of the Gulf War, "Saddam
Hussein...would have slipped away into the desert and organized a
guerrilla movement.... We would then have found ourselves with the task
of trying to run a country shattered by war, which at the best of times
is deeply split into factions.... Either we would have to set up a
puppet government or withdraw ignominiously without a proper regime in

Little wonder that among the questions European and Turkish leaders are
asking the Bush Administration now is: Is America willing to stay in
Iraq for ten years to safeguard the post-Saddam regime from
subversion--and possibly an attack--by an alliance of Iran and Syria,
which have been strategic allies since 1980?

On July 23 Iran's President, Muhammad Khatami, declared that Washington
did not have the right to choose the leadership for the Iraqi people.
Noting that war against Iraq was being promoted in Washington on an
unprecedented scale, he warned that military action against Iraq by the
Pentagon could seriously threaten regional stability. Iranian leaders
reckon that once the Bush Administration has overthrown Saddam, it will
target Iran for regime change--fears fueled by its late-July
announcement that it is officially ending its policy of "playing
factions" in Iran in favor of direct appeals to the Iranian people.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress called for a
resolution in favor of regime change in Iran. Mainstream Iranian
politicians would rather forge an alliance with Baghdad now than wait
for the ax to fall on them in the post-Saddam period.

US war plans clearly pose numerous dangers to the region. But whether
that will deter the hawks in Washington from pressing home their
strategy of ousting Saddam by force remains to be seen.

Concerning the impending or perhaps imminent intervention in Iraq, we now inhabit a peculiar limbo, where the military options are known while the political and moral options are not.

It seems a long time ago that I stocked my pantry (pantry is a concept in
Manhattan, not a reality) with two weeks' worth of emergency food
(including powdered milk, an oddly comforting substance when faced with
the potential collapse of infrastructure) and other items like duct tape
and three five-gallon bottles of water. Now I discover that a good
friend and an expert on terrorist threats has three 125-gallon drums of
bleach-processed water in his children's bedroom, as well as
military-grade surgical masks, potassium iodide (against radiation
poisoning) and Cipro--the anthrax antibiotic--as well as rolls of
plastic sheeting to cover the windows.

What does one make of all this? My personal response has been to flee to
a place in the country, and hope that the attack comes on the weekend.

My kids' room doesn't have space for both them and the water drums.
Maybe if I could do something about clutter, as the shelter magazines
call life's detritus, I could find a floor area for adequate emergency
supplies; but I just can't bring myself to buy Real Simple, nice
as it is.

So instead, I've secured a copy of the upcoming Summer 2002 issue of
World Policy Journal, published by the World Policy Institute at
The New School, and may I say that after reading it, I am seriously
thinking of running back out to get Real Simple and, with a few
easy organizational steps, squeezing the three 125-gallon water barrels
into a corner of our living room.

The most sobering article--in a very sober, well-written, intelligently
conceived publication--is called "The Threats America Faces." In it,
John Newhouse, a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in
Washington, enumerates the many kinds of attack to which we are
incapable of responding. The most shocking for its cruelty, its
understanding of human vulnerability and its supertechno cartoonishness,
is the potential for terrorist infiltration (they've already done it!)
of computers that control major operating systems, like electricity, air
traffic control, banking or communications. (My friend with the water
drums says Al Qaeda wants to interrupt communications at the precise
time of a physical attack; mayhem as well as massacre.) Newhouse points
out that before September 11, the defense community was obsessed with
the possible threat from long-range missiles by rogue states, as a 2001
State Department guidance memorandum stated it. He and other experts,
though not necessarily Rumsfeld's Defense Department, are now more
concerned about missiles that could be launched from an offshore
location by a third party against, say, Moscow, triggering an all-out
nuclear attack on America--or vice versa. Newhouse also raises the
specter of the inadequately secured former Soviet nuclear arsenal, and
notes that the only way to deal with such phenomena is through bi- and
multinational agreements of the kind the Bush Administration has to be
dragged to by its short hairs.

It's all about blowback, but Newhouse believes that concerted
multilateral diplomacy, agreements and shared intelligence can, with a
little luck, forestall an act of terror that would provoke what he calls
a "hidden-hand war," a war against an unknown adversary. It's a hope, if
Bush and his boys and girl can be pushed in that direction.

World Policy Journal's issue is almost all of a piece, very
artfully structured around a common theme that is, modestly stated, the
future of the world. Martin Walker contributed to the discussion with
his piece on "America's Virtual Empire," in which he compares the United
States to, among others, Britain under Victoria, and comments on how
much weaker Victoria's armies were than ours is today, and yet how much
more willing she was to deploy her nation's military. Walker has a nice
aside on the meetings that take place at Ditchley, a country house in
Oxfordshire celebrated to its initiates as the spiritual home of the
Anglo-Saxon alliance since Churchill's day. The way Walker describes
Ditchley, it's like Hogwarts for NATO leaders: They don black tie for a
splendid dinner in a stately hall on Saturday nights before gathering
around the piano in song. (One does wonder what exactly they sing.)

Also do not miss David Unger's fair-minded essay on the Middle East
crisis, "Maps of War, Maps of Peace," which provides a real idea of the
labyrinthine impasse, and hope that there is some way out.

With all this in mind, I decided to escape to that house in the country,
and I lugged some shelter magazines along (it's much easier to read
about nuclear holocaust when you are at least an hour and a half from
Targettown). Oddly, nothing in Metropolitan Life looked like our
house. Hmmm. This Old House was more like it, but the people in
This Old House actually know how to deal with things. Like
floors. Or mice and mildew.

Yet the magazines, including Design NJ and House &
Garden--with their empty stylish, upscale interiors--do give you an
idea of what it is the average person thinks we are upholding and
defending from what Newhouse tells us has been called a low-probability,
high-consequence attack. Shelter magazines, with their largely fantastic
scenarios, superbly condense the American dream. In House &
, led by the edgy middle-American-design thinker Dominique
Browning, there is a piece about designers making children's playspaces
(there's an interior climbing wall for your 10-year-old); one about
filling rooms with (how shall I say?) things based on Roy
Lichtenstein's interiors; and yet another on an impossibly perfect house
and garden on a Nantucket shore, which almost no one can afford. What
all this says (and it is repeated in dozens of other similar magazines,
reaching its bizarre zenith of impossibility in Architectural
Digest) is that there is always a better mousetrap (I wish), that
your future and your family's future holds promise and rewards, and that
one day, you too may have a beach. Given the vision of collapsing real
estate with which we were presented on September 11, the shelter
magazines seem more dreamlike and escapist than ever. In a way, this
makes them even more pleasurable, like a guilty fantasy you shouldn't be
indulging. Like porn.

The National Endowment for Democracy has been busy--and far from

It used to be a matter of flashing a badge and appealing to patriotism,
but these days federal agents are finding it a little harder to get
librarians to spy. Under an obscure provision of the USA Patriot Act,
federal agents can obtain a warrant to acquire information about library
users. According to a recent survey, agents have been showing up at libraries--a lot--asking librarians for reading
records. Nearly everything about the procedure--from the granting of the
warrants to the search itself--is secret (as an excellent story in the
San Francisco Chronicle pointed out recently). But, unlike in the
cold war years, when the FBI last tried to conduct such library
surveillance, this time around, top librarians are on the warpath to
protect reader privacy. And Congress wants Attorney General John
Ashcroft to account for his agents' library conduct.

It wasn't like this back in George W.'s daddy's day.

Between 1973 and the late 1980s, the FBI operated a secret
counterintelligence operation called the Library Awareness Program. Back
then the Feds were particularly concerned about what Soviet bloc
citizens were reading in the nation's premier science libraries. In the
words of Herbert Foerstel, a science librarian in those years, "Agents
would approach clerical staff at public and university libraries, flash
a badge and appeal to their patriotism in preventing the spread of
'sensitive but unclassified' information."

Today, with Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act in hand, law enforcement
agents are at it again. This time, the stated purpose is to gather
information on people the government suspects of having ties to
terrorists or plotting an attack. The act makes it hard to track just
what's going on. Anyone who receives an FBI request is prohibited, under
threat of prosecution, from revealing the FBI visit to anyone, even to
the patron whose records are subject to search.

On April 3 I interviewed Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the
American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, on
Working Assets Radio, and the interview illustrated the problem. To
paraphrase: Flanders: "How many libraries have received information
requests from the FBI?" Stone: "They are not allowed to tell us, and we
are not allowed to say."

But in February one enterprising library sciences professor sent a
survey to 1,503 libraries around the country. Dr. Leigh Estabrook asked
librarians for answers to a set of questions, to which they did not have
to append their name. According to Estabrook's raw data, presented this
spring at a Public Library Association conference, eighty-five of the
libraries surveyed report that authorities (for example, FBI or police)
requested information about their patrons pursuant to the events of
September 11. More worrisome, about one-fifth of the libraries said
staff had changed their attitude toward or treatment of users in some
way. More than 10 percent (118) reported that they had become more
restrictive of Internet use. Seventy-seven said they had monitored what
patrons were doing.

Librarians on the alert aren't necessarily a bad thing. In Florida, an
attentive Delray Beach librarian reported the use of her library by a
group of Middle Eastern men, and they turned out to have connections to
the attacks of 9/11.

But some of this monitoring may be illegal. Since the abuses of the cold
war, almost every state has passed confidentiality laws to protect the
privacy of personal records. Since passage of the USA Patriot Act, the
American Library Association has been busy reminding librarians of their
abilities to question things like federal search warrants and advising
them of the best practices to undertake to protect confidentiality of
patrons and themselves. In January, the ALA released a set of guidelines
to inform librarians of what search warrants were, what subpoenas were
and how they could react if in fact they were presented with such
documents. Then in June, the ALA's governing council passed a resolution
publicly affirming the privacy rights of patrons and implicitly
instructing library staff to do all they can to protect their clients'

"Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought and
free association," says the ALA council statement, in part. It wouldn't
be a bad idea for librarians to post the statement in the stacks.
Concerned library readers should also know that one sure-fire way to
keep your reading records private is to take back your borrowed books on
time. The ALA's Stone told Working Assets Radio that the circulation
software most libraries use today automatically erases a reader's
borrowing record once a book is returned and all fines are paid.

Congress is getting interested as well. On June 13 a bipartisan
committee sent a twelve-page letter to John Ashcroft demanding details
on the implementation of the USA Patriot Act. Representative James
Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, the staunch conservative chair
of the House Judiciary Committee, and Michigan Democrat John Conyers,
the progressive, ranking Democrat, want to know, among other things,
just how many subpoenas the Justice Department has issued to libraries,
bookstores and newspapers under Section 215 and what safeguards are in
place to prevent abuse. The letter asked for written answers by July 9,
which at presstime had yet to be received; then Sensenbrenner and
Conyers plan to hold hearings on the response. Are G-men harassing your
librarian? The hearings should make for good, hot summer viewing on
C-Span. Meanwhile, library staff are under a lot of pressure--why not
drop by or write to your librarian and send a message of support?

William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education, ex-chairman of the
National Endowment for the Humanities, candidate for President in 2000
in the Republican primaries, has written an intemperate little book
called Why We Fight. Using the horror of 9/11, the book crackles
with protestations of his patriotism as he lobs shells at those who do
not share his views. Apparently Bennett had no moral choice but to write
what he had to say in order to save the Republic. "I sensed in my bones
that if we could not find a way to justify our patriotic instincts, and
to answer the arguments of those who did not share them, we would be

If Bennett had his way, those who did not hold his views would be dealt
with very harshly indeed. He leaves it to the reader to guess what he
would do with those he views as "unpatriotic." But there are ample
clues. Civil liberties are not his concern, neither in this book, as he
makes clear, nor for that matter anywhere else. He states that he is for
military tribunals "and the detention of suspects within our own borders
for questioning." For how long Bennett does not say. Nor does he tell us
whether there is the same standard for a non-American as for an American
citizen. Until recently there were hundreds being held in detention,
sanctioned by an act of Congress that gives the Bush Administration
virtual carte blanche in handling suspects without warrants, and perhaps
even without recourse to the regular court system. (Most of the
detainees have been quietly deported.) This exercise of power is a
complement to Administration foreign policy, as it is apparently
prepared to intervene in or invade nations even if there is no evidence
that they are involved in terrorism or backing terrorists. The domestic
implications are spelled out well by Bennett, but none of it bothers
him. His gravamen against the left and those who disagree with
him--members of the "peace party," as he calls his adversaries--is that
they "have caused damage, and they [you] need to be held to account."
Nation editors and thinkers like Eric Foner, Richard Falk, Katha
Pollitt and Jonathan Schell, take heed. They are not alone as enemies of
Bennett--New York Times editors, Harvard (Bennett is an
ungrateful alum) and assorted scholars, Noam Chomsky, students and the
professoriate generally should watch out. They are targets in Bennett's
campaign for an inquisition, twenty-first-century style. He is concerned
that "the Foners of the United States" have led a minority of Americans
away from being true believers. As Bennett so indelicately puts it, "A vast
relearning has to take place," undertaken by everyone, especially
"educators, and at every level." "The defect" in our education and
morals "can only be redressed by the reinstatement of a thorough and
honest study of our history, undistorted by the lens of political
correctness and pseudosophisticated relativism." In other words, there
has to be a moral cleansing in America.

The word "reinstatement" does not tell us what Bennett is attempting to
reinstate, though. From Why We Fight we learn of Bennett's deep
distress at American education, where his notions of American history
seem less persuasive than they were in the days when nineteenth-century
historians acted as propaganda instruments for war, racism and America's
imperial superiority. Those were the days when "a vast relearning" was
not necessary. He quotes approvingly Professor Donald Kagan, the Yale
historian, who tells us that those who do not hold to their definition
of patriotism and their reading of history suffer from "failures of
[emphasis added by Bennett], made by privileged people who
enjoy the full benefits offered by the country they deride and detest,
its opportunities, its freedom, its riches, but who lack the basic
decency to pay it the allegiance and respect that honor demands."
Bennett does concede at one point that while it is incumbent on those
who hew to the Kagan version of truth to point out the despicable
behavior of the naysayers, we must also "[respect] their right to be
irresponsible and even subversive of our safety."

There are other views of patriotism, of course. One was promulgated by
the leading American philosopher John Dewey, an independent thinker not
given either to religions or secular religions, namely Communism. He
surely would have been measured for a Soviet gulag. But he would also
have been on Bennett's enemies list for his belief that scoundrels too
often fly the flag of patriotism and nationalist triumphalism:

On the side in which public spirit is popularly known as patriotism this
widening of the area of interest has been accompanied by increased
exclusiveness, by suspicion, fear, jealousy, often hatred, of other
nations.... The self interest of the dynastic and military class
persistently keeps the spark of fear and animosity alive in order that
it may, upon occasion, be fanned into the flames of war. A definite
technique has grown by which the mass of citizens are led to identify
love of one's own country with readiness to regard other nations as
enemies.... And in many cases, it is becoming clear that particular
economic interests hide behind patriotism in order to serve themselves.
So far has this feeling gone that on one side there is a definite
attempt to attach the stigma of "unpatriotic" to everything designated
international; to cultivate that kind of "hundred percent Americanism"
which signifies practically suspicion and jealousy of everything

In other words, Americanism can serve as a code word for "contempt of
other peoples," Dewey concluded.

The disinterested observer must wonder whether it is inaccurate to note
the emergence of dynastic classes whose political power is linked to the
intelligence community, the military and big business. It would be
absurd to deny at this point that there are classes and groups that
profit from war and military preparedness. It is equally naïve to
believe that the constitutional contract of civil liberties is so strong
that prosecutors, local police, freewheeling inquisitors and others will
not spy and inform on and harass the different and the dissident. War
mobilization is the perfect cover story for such abuses. The problem is
made worse because legal and structural changes in governing and
consciousness are legitimized through law, for example in the USA
Patriot Act. That is to say, the legacy of Bush will live long after he
returns to Crawford, Texas.

But what about the doubter? What about today's or next year's or next
decade's "little guy," a man like Winston in Orwell's 1984, who
didn't go along or know how to because the contradictions were so
profound between the stories that were given from one year to the next
that he knew enough not to believe in this year's lies? Suppose he
wondered why Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines was our friend one year
and the next we helped overthrow him, or why the hapless former
Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, a man once on the CIA payroll, became
the occasion for our invasion of Panama, ostensibly because of his
involvement with drug payoffs? The results were much destruction and the
death of several hundred Panamanians. Bennett's defense of violence
takes on frightening characteristics. Somehow he believes that, quoting
Orwell favorably, "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because
others are committing violence on their behalf." He goes on to wrap
himself in the comfort of the armed forces. But surely he can't mean
this about Panama, El Salvador, Colombia, etc. Violence was not being
committed there on behalf of those who objected here. Indeed, it is a
stretch to imply that these actions did anything for the American

Imagine the naïve citizen who doesn't understand hypocrisy and
strategies of evasion, contradiction or double standards. That person
might wonder why we went to war in Afghanistan when the perpetrators of
the 9/11 destruction were for the most part Saudis. Referring to
Augustine and Jean Bethke Elshtain, Bennett claims that "not
resorting to force leads to evils far greater than the one we
oppose." But surely it would be nice to know who the enemy is, and drop
the bombs on the correct culprit. Whether the naïve person who
holds such views and then organizes others to express their doubts
should be held without bail as a suspect is unclear from the Bennett
text. What is clear is that doubters should be shunned and punished.
They are raining on Bennett's "war party" (his term), a parade in which
he is a proud adjutant.

Bennett's animus toward his fellow Americans is unforgiving especially
in reference to those who were part of the movements of the 1960s, which
had the effect of concretizing ideals into practice--and at no small
cost. Perhaps his anger against the movement members was that they
employed nonviolence and used or stumbled into a social method that
broke "facts" open and found values that contradicted the stated
democratic ideals of inclusivity, equality and sheer decency. It is no
wonder that this social method is one that helps ourselves and the young
demystify events, their causes and implications. His disdain for the
peace party goes back to the Vietnam War. At that time, the peace party,
made up of the flaccid and pusillanimous, didn't support the "bomb them
back to the Stone Age" position of Gen. Curtis LeMay. Bennett, the angry
moralist, remains upset that the LeMay position didn't get much of a
hearing, although the general ran for Vice President with George
Wallace, and the tonnage of bombs dropped on Vietnam by the United
States was greater than the amount dropped in World War II. As Bennett
opines, it was the Gandhian nonviolence people of the peace party who
subverted an American victory in Vietnam because "those among us who
espoused the LeMay position were scarcely to be heard from." His
argument is uncomfortably reminiscent of the German generals and the
right during the Weimar Republic who claimed that the Germans lost World
War I because they were "stabbed in the back" by the left.

As a good Republican, Bennett bristles at those who might doubt the
motives and methods of the Bush Administration. After all, how could
anyone doubt those patriots who took power under questionable
circumstances, who had already used every sleazy trick to get one of
their fellow rightists onto the Supreme Court and vault into the White
House a man who'd lost the popular vote, installed as it were, by a
5-to-4 decision of the Supreme Court? Because Bennett is a dogmatic man
he is not burdened with self-doubt but has a surfeit of faith. (Bennett
lets us know that he is a religious man, a Catholic who has no doubts
about his faith and his belief in the Catholic Church, its teaching and
activities. It is his kind of faith, religion itself, which he
understands to be the backbone of America, much the way other believers
throughout the world, such as Osama bin Laden, perhaps, link their faith
to their political judgments.)

To Bennett, 9/11 was a moment of clarity between good and evil. "Good
was distinguished from evil, truth from falsehood." But there was more
to the question. He was concerned that some said the United States
helped bring the disaster about through its foreign and military
policies. After all, the skeptics wondered, didn't the United States
train and militarily assist the radical fundamentalists against the
Soviet Union? And then didn't our assets turn against the United States
when Afghanistan was left a broken nation? And did the United States
overstay its welcome in Saudi Arabia, whose people include chief backers
of the radical fundamentalists? These were not idle questions, nor was
it idle and unpatriotic to analyze from top to bottom the ethos of
American invulnerability. The United States had placed its faith in a
forward defense. But on that terrible day, the idea of fighting wars on
other people's territory was severely damaged. Wouldn't these questions
suggest a comprehensive review of American foreign policy? But Bennett
the purist claims that he is not interested in policy. He is interested
in right and wrong, good and evil. Bennett, the consummate Washington
insider, is not one, apparently, to get his hands dirty with the
realities of policy-making and everyday life--i.e., what to do--although
working through his principles would have horrendous consequences for a
democratic society.

The reader may ask whether there is anything about which Bennett and I
agree. And here the answer is yes. Certainly the assault on American
cities was an atrocious attack by a gang of zealots. On why they thought
to undertake their suicide mission Bennett and I disagree. Perhaps the
perpetrators wanted to give the United States a lesson in cost-benefit
analysis to show that all the high-tech military equipment in the world
does not make the United States invulnerable. (Indeed, because of the
interconnectedness of our communications system, the United States is as
vulnerable as any Third World country.) The zealots may have been imbued
with an anti-Western spirit that has rankled for over a thousand years
and finally erupted against the United States, paradoxically for the
same reason Bennett has had grave questions about American society: its
relativism, sensuality, individuality and lack of religious discipline.
Relativism has acquired a vulgar connotation, and Bennett uses its
burlesqued meaning as a stick against nonbelievers and the peace party.
He compares Stanley Fish, the dean of liberal arts and sciences at the
University of Illinois in Chicago, a leader of the postmodernist school
of literary theory, to mass murderer Charles Manson, who said that he
thought no man could really know and represent another, "to communicate
one reality through another, and into another, reality."

"Stanley Fish himself could hardly have put it better," writes Bennett:

Do we, then, have no independent and objective standard for determining
why Professor Fish should be allowed to teach at a prestigious
institution of higher learning while Charles Manson should languish in
prison just because he followed a doctrine he shares with Professor Fish
to its logical conclusion--the conclusion that since everything is
relative, everything can be justified and all is permitted.

One does not have to be a postmodernist, which I am not, to be deeply
offended by Bennett's comment. Bennett picks up on Leszek Kolakowski's
views that to follow principles to their logical conclusion can lead to
disaster. But Bennett overlooks a fundamental truth. The question is how
to determine an "independent and objective standard," what goes into
that judgment and who decides what that standard is. By analyzing this
set of questions we learn our own weaknesses, that of the standard
setters and those who seek to impute their values into an objective
reality. We can analyze and judge, from our perspective, actions and
behaviors. People can then choose between Fish and Manson.

Right and wrong may come from God or moral sentiments, which the
philosophers Francis Hutcheson and David Hume spoke of. These
sentiments, better stated as capacities that people have, may be
degraded by social roles, institutions, laws, poor upbringing, whatever
causes a person to turn toward the pathological. Obviously, if one
believes in the Enlightenment and historical progress, ways of acting do
emerge that are acceptable as against actions that are no longer
acceptable either as a result of social agreement or because there are
moral sentiments that make their way through historical struggle.
Bennett, who appears to be all over the map philosophically, does hold
as a constant his belief in Plato, who in turn held tightly to the idea
of an antidemocratic society, one based on hierarchy and strict class
lines. Plato, according to Bennett, disposed of the relativism that his
apostle now sees as the cause of our decay. But what exactly is
relativism? Bennett also quotes approvingly Abelard's dialectical idea
of sic and non (the debate surrounding opposite
propositions) as being the probable "basis of all learning itself...of
our very outlook on the world." But Abelard's method can be read two
ways. One is that the questions undertaken invariably lead to the same
question expressed in new ways (aporia), or it is a method that
is supposed to give the right answer expressed by a church that defines
what reason and faith are.

Relativism is really a special form of democratic skepticism that
encourages us to examine and extend our inquiry beyond the appearance of
an event even in the case of recognizable and accepted facts. The
relativist points out that the fact can be seen from different vantage
points, and, more important, that a fact has within itself an entire
story that can and should be explored. Now the question is, how does
this apply to 9/11?

First, there is the fact of its occurrence. In a policy sense it becomes
critical for us to understand how and why the event occurred, what the
implications are, what its immediate causes were. For its various flaws,
relativism is an attempt to move to a coherent, if invariably incomplete
picture of what happened and what lay behind the event. It is the only
way we can learn what to do. It takes a dim view of professed views of
what is "good" and "evil" not because they don't exist but because ideas
of an absolutist nature that are put into practice can lead to the most
horrendous consequences. It is why law, including international law, is
so important, for it imposes boundaries even for the protection of the
evildoer. In policy terms, matters of good and evil are transposed into
causes, consequences and manageable categories for people who cannot
know the whole truth, and for people who seek a means of understanding
rather than mere retaliation or dogma.

This form of analysis leads to certain conclusions. The first is that
9/11 almost immediately became a social and political question of what
to do. It was a moral question for those caught between their pacifist
beliefs and their concern for justice for their fellow citizens. For
Bennett that terrible day was the moment not only to get mad (angry) in
his terms but to get even. Bennett is obsessed with the idea that there
is not enough anger in American society. We are all caught in this
unmanly process of Roger Fisher and William Ury's ideas of "getting to
yes," that is, finding avenues of agreement between people, states and
groups. If this formulation does not have value then humanity cannot
escape the vise of dominator/dominated. Nor can it find ways of controlling and sublimating anger,
violence and rage. Nor will humanity be able to escape forever the
further use of nuclear weapons.

There is a smidgen of truth to Dean Rusk's and Bennett's idea that the
American people have to be pulled kicking and screaming into war. But
this belies the work of a state that has been involved, depending on
one's count, in more than 150 interventions and wars since its founding.
Only someone given to deceiving himself would not recognize the American
state as a warrior state. There are many reasons Bennett chooses not to
see this reality--that is to say, in Bennett's history book there are
many blank pages. Thus, the United States made continuous war on Indians
for the better part of a hundred years, always with its eye on the
prize: to take as much land as it could from them. The Mexican-American
war can hardly be seen in a different light. This is an old story told
well and critically by historians--a story Bennett would sugarcoat for
the young, with claims of an American destiny. Is that what the "vast
relearning" is to be about? Whether the United States had high moral
purpose or crass economic motives in employing violence and deceit does
not change the reality about the means used.

It should go without saying that there is a matter of supreme importance
for Bennett with which I do agree. It is that there is no place for
anti-Semitism in twenty-first-century civilization--whether it comes as
the virulent form that has erupted among too many in Muslim nations or
whether it exists as a residue in American politics (peace to the memory
of Richard Nixon). But it's there, whether in the Middle East, Europe or
in American politics.

This anti-Semitism does not excuse Israel's foreign and military
policies, which put at risk the state of Israel, in my view; but Bennett
is among the staunchest of Israel's supporters. He says there is "an
understanding, almost religious in nature, that to our two nations above
all others has been entrusted the fate of liberty in the world." There
is a consistency in his view. He wants no appeasement toward the
Palestinians, seeking their subjugation and cautioning the Bush
Administration; I suppose that weak fellow General Powell had better
watch his step in his concern to temper this ugly war. Or maybe it's his

Here the prudent analyst might have learned something from Vietnam.
There was much pressure to remove the corrupt and seemingly feckless
Diem from his position. And after he was removed, with American backing,
the leadership structure of South Vietnam ended in turmoil. We may
expect the same to occur if the Israelis, with American concurrence,
manage to force into place among the Palestinians a Middle East version
of a puppet leader. Bennett's view of American foreign policy demands
that we look only at the depredations of Osama, Palestinian terrorists
and certain nations on his enemies list. He claims that he is interested
in objectivity, but he is unprepared or unwilling to look at those
issues that may or may not have salience. This has little to do with
good and evil, except as those words are used to obfuscate. The moral
asymmetry he assumes should be surrendered, so that the universal
standards Bennett says he is for can be applied to the United States as

Another place of agreement between us is in Bennett's recognition that
through enormous struggle, the United States has sought to concretize
its shifting ideals of freedom and racial and economic justice into the
reality of everyday life. There are some exceptions, but there is little
to suggest that those who hold Bennett's views were the ones who were
part of the movements that changed the face of this nation into one that
others throughout the world admire for its freedoms. These struggles
were paid for dearly by the various social movements so the likes of
Bennett and me could live in relative comfort. It was not the
right--whether the ultramontane elements of Catholic hierarchy, Judge
Gary, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, Phyllis Schlafly, Antonin Scalia,
the George Bushes or William F. Buckley--that made this nation one that
championed "intellectual, moral and political freedom," to use the
philosopher A.E. Murphy's phrase.

But back to "why we fight" in international terms: Being a believing
Catholic, Bennett is concerned that "just war" be recognized as a
doctrine that has modern utility; one applicable to American reprisals.
As ironic as it may appear, "just war" is a weak reed to hang from in
order to support a war without end. Just war is predicated on struggles
between nations; it is not a struggle between a gang and a nation. A
just war has a beginning, middle and end, and it is not supposed to do
more damage than the original harm. Bennett argues that the opinions of
others (sometimes good to have) should in no way deter any unilateral
action the United States cares to take--that is to say, those who
control the reins of power. Bennett has thus adopted just war as his
rationalization for militarism.

One last word. An American-initiated alternative must be offered to that
part of the world that is writhing in pain. It is one that gets rid of
weapons of mass destruction through general disarmament. (This includes
our own.) It is one that supports the pacific settlements of disputes.
This does not mean the fashioning of imperial law but of expanding
international law. That the United States does not support the
International Criminal Court and has pulled out of various international
treaties is not a good sign for the United States or the world's future.
The alternative includes international economic rights, the buildup of
regional forces to act under the aegis of the UN Security Council,
massive health and economic assistance, and a system that makes clear
that intelligence is a feature of a free society--it is public property,
not that of the few or of the state. The alternative recognizes and
supports claims of plural cultures without undercutting in any way the
ideals and struggles that have defined human rights in the United
States, namely women's rights, civil liberties, civil rights, labor
rights, gender rights, environmental rights. It recognizes that
education, housing, religion, free inquiry and health are rights to be
expanded and cherished. This charge is not likely to be fulfilled by
calls for wars without end and claims of patriotism meant to mystify,
and worse.

The country is riven and ailing, with a guns-plus-butter nuttiness in
some of its governing echelons and the sort of lapsed logic implicit in
the collapse of trust in money-center capitalism, which has been an
undergirding theory of a good deal of the work that many people do. The
tallest buildings, real profit centers, fall, as "wogs" and "ragheads"
defy us, perhaps comparably to how the "gooks" in Vietnam did (from
whose example Osama bin Laden may have learned that we could be
defeated). But that was on foreign soil, and we believed that we had
pulled our punches and beaten ourselves, and so remained triumphalist
for the remainder of the twentieth century, as we had been practically
since Reconstruction.

Now we're not so sure. For the first time since the War of 1812 we have
been damaged in continental America by foreigners, having made other
people hate us, though we had never needed to pay attention to such
matters before. Proxies could fight the malcontents for us in places
like Central America, and the Japanese and Germans, would-be conquerors,
had not felt much real animus, becoming close, amicable allies after the
war. Our first World War II hero, Colin Kelly, three days after Pearl
Harbor, flew his B-17 bomber (as media myth had it) in kamikaze fashion
to hit a Japanese cruiser, before the Japanese made a practice of it. To
give your life for your country, like Nathan Hale, is an ideal that's
since evaporated.

Obese individually and as a nation, and trying to stall the aging
process, we talk instead of cars and taxes, sports and movies, cancer
and entitlements, but with a half-unmentioned inkling too of what more
ominously may be in store--a premonition that our righteous confidence
might have served us just a bit too well. We never agonized a lot about
killing off the Indians, or our slaving history either, once that was
over, or being the only nuclear power ever to incinerate multitudes of
people. We've hardly seemed to notice when free enterprise segues into
simple greed, because our religious beginnings countenanced rapacity, as
long as you tithed. Settling the seaboard in official belts of piety,
whether Puritan, Anglican, Quaker or Dutch Reformed (only the frontier
tended to be atheistic), we seized land and water with abandon, joined
by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and what have you, westward ho. Each
group encouraged its rich men to creep like a camel through the eye of
the needle, and political freedoms were gradually canted away from the
pure ballot box toward influence-buying.

We swallowed all of that because the New World dream envisioned
everybody working hard and getting fairly rich, except when undertows of
doubt pervaded our prosperity, as in the 1930s and 1960s; or now when,
feeling gridlocked, we wonder if we haven't gone too far and used the
whole place up. We seem to need some kind of condom invented just for
greed--a latex sac where spasms of that particular vice can be
ejaculated, captured and contained. Like lust, it's not going to go
away. Nor will Monopoly games do the trick, any more than pornographic
videos erase impulses that might result in harm. The old phrase patrons
of prostitutes used to use--"getting your ashes hauled"--said it pretty
well, and if we could persuade people to think of greed, as well, that
way and expel its destructiveness perhaps into a computer screen,
trapping the piggishness in cyberspace might save a bit of Earth. The
greediest guys would not be satisfied, but greed might be looked on as
slightly outré.

Some vertigo or "near death" experience of global warming may be
required to trip the necessary degree of alarm. The droughts and water
wars, a polar meltdown and pelagic crisis--too much saltwater and
insufficient fresh. In the meantime, dried-up high plains agriculture
and Sunbelt golf greens in the Republicans' heartlands will help because
African famines are never enough. We need a surge of altruism, artesian
decency. The oddity of greed nowadays is that it is so often solo--in
the service of one ego--not ducal or kingly, as the apparatus of an
unjust state. Overweening possession, such as McMansions and so on, will
be loony in the century we are entering upon--ecologically,
economically, morally, commonsensically. But how will we realize this,
short of disastrous procrastination? Hurricanes and centrifugal violence
on the home front, not to mention angry Arabs flying into the World
Trade Center? That astounded us: both the anger and the technological
savvy. These camel-herding primitives whom we had manipulated, fleeced,
romanticized and patronized for generations, while pumping out their oil
and bottling them up in monarchies and emirates that we cultivated and
maintained, while jeering at them with casual racism in the meantime,
when we thought of it, for not having democracies like ours. To discover
that satellite TV, the Internet and some subversive preaching should
suddenly provide them access to divergent opinions disconcerts if it
doesn't frighten us, as does their willingness to counterpose
rudimentary suicide missions to the helicopter gunships and F-16s we
provide the Israelis. "Don't they value life?"

They won't be the last. The Vietcong were as culturally different from
the Palestinians as we are and yet succeeded in winning a country for
themselves, at a tremendous but bearable cost, which the Palestinians
will also undoubtedly do. Self-sacrifice can be a match for weaponry,
not because the Americans or Israelis value Asian or Arab life--at key
junctures and for essentially racist reasons they have not--but because
of the value they place on their own citizenry. As many as fifty
Vietnamese lives were lost for every American's, but that was not a high
enough ratio for us, even though, unlike some Israelis, we don't ascribe
to ourselves a biblical imprimatur. So we let them have their land, and
the domino calamities that had been famously predicted did not result.

To equate our own revolution with anybody else's is quite offensive to
us. Mostly, in fact, we prefer to forget that we had a revolutionary
past and kicked thousands of wealthy Tories into Canada, seizing their
property. We were slow to condemn apartheid in South Africa, having
scarcely finished abolishing our own at the time, and have been slow in
general to support self-governance in the warmer climates or to
acknowledge suffering among people whose skins are beiger than ours. And
if our income per capita is sixty or eighty times theirs, that doesn't
strike us as strange. We are a bootstrap country, after all. They should
pay us heed. And the whole United Nations is "a cesspool," according to
a recent New York City mayor.

But primitive notions like those of Ed Koch invite a primitive response.
And box-cutters in the hands of Taliban fundamentalists are not our main
problem. We have gratuitously destroyed so much of nature that the
Taliban's smashing up of Buddhist statues, as comparative vandalism,
will someday seem quite minuscule. We have also denatured our own
nominal religions: that is, taken the bite of authenticity out of
Christianity, for instance. Our real problem, I think, is a centrifugal
disorientation and disbelief. There is a cost to cynicism (as in our
previous activities in Afghanistan), and the systematic demonizing of
communitarianism during the cold war made it harder afterward for us to
reject as perverse the double-talking profiteering implicit in phenomena
like Enron, when we had thought that anything was better than collective
regulation and planning.

But ceasing to believe in revolutionary democracy--whether of the
secular or Christian (or Emersonian) variety--has proven costly. A
decent regard for the welfare of other people, in international as well
as local life, is going to be more than just a matter of private virtue.
In a shrinking world it may be a survival tool. Fanaticism doesn't carry
as far unless catastrophic economic conditions lurk in the background,
as we learned in the case of Germany between the two world wars but
then, when non-Caucasians were involved, forgot. Our foreign aid budget,
once the cold war ended, collapsed into spectacular stinginess, and our
sole response to September 11 has been police work. This can probably
erase Al Qaeda--which became after its instant victory that one morning
quite superfluous anyway--but not the knowledge of our vulnerability to
any handful of smart and angry plotters in this technological age. We
might see an explosion of those.

Our national self-absorption (in which the focus seems more on trying to
stay young than helping the young) may give capitalism a bad name.
Simple hedonism and materialism was not the point of crossing the ocean.
Our revolution was better than that. It was to paint the world anew.

The attacks hardened the resolve of immigrant bashers and anti-Semites.

The new defense doctrine calls for meeting any threat, anywhere, at any


The deaths of the MH17 civilians ought to be the occasion for a cease-fire and a renewal of talks.

July 22, 2014

In a world overwhelmed by violence and conflict, the news just gets worse and worse.

July 22, 2014

The beach is supposed to be a refuge for the children of Gaza. Now it is the scene of a war crime.

July 21, 2014

Why we shouldn’t listen to the neocons on Iran. 

July 21, 2014

And is the mainstream media doing enough to contextualize the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine?

July 18, 2014

56 children have been killed during the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza so far.

July 18, 2014

It’s pretty obvious that the pro-Russian rebels did it, though it’s not certain yet. Yet Putin refuses to look in the mirror.

July 18, 2014

President Obama wants a six-month extension of the negotiations, and so do the Iranians. They’ll get it.

July 17, 2014

Israel's single and looking to mingle. 

July 15, 2014

For too long, Hamas has served as Israel’s useful bogeyman.

July 15, 2014