Friday, February 11, 2011
Among the early editors of the Valley of the Sun's venerable alternative rag was a family friend named Daniel Ben-Horin (shown here), referred to in a comment under this 2007 post. Ben-Horin and my mother, Jean Sharley Taylor, worked together at the Arizona Republic in the late 1960s until conservative publisher Eugene Pulliam, Dan Quayle's celebrated relation, pitched a series of fits over the paper's centerward drift during the Nixon era. Daniel was fired, and my mother quit when Pulliam fired her editor, J. Edward Murray, who'd balked when Pulliam requisitioned the front page for a pro-Nixon editorial.
Daniel later founded CompuMentor, a Bay Area organization that distributes software to non-profits. My mother and I moved to LA, where she went to work for the LA Times -- and I ended up going to work for Richard Nixon in San Clemente.
Those who insist on characterizing Egypt's electrifying protests of the last week as "an Islamic uprising" fail to notice the Egyptian Christians who are protesting alongside Muslims and other Egyptians in Tahrir Square. It's an amazing mosaic of Egyptians from all walks of life: women in black robes alongside young men drinking beer alongside Muslim Brotherhood members alongside secularists alongside professionals, and so on. As an American Muslim not of Egyptian descent, I find myself hoping that one of the results of this uprising will be solidarity between Egyptian Muslims and Egyptian Christians.
Israel’s entire strategic outlook relies in some fashion on its three-decade peace with Egypt. Thanks to the treaty, its military has minimal presence on its southern border, freeing it up for actions to the east and north; about 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas is imported from Egypt; Egypt has been supportive and helpful in negotiating with the Palestinians; and Egypt has played a big role in stopping the smuggling of weapons and militants into Gaza, and in helping Israel in its blockade policy aimed at squeezing Hamas.
Think what you will about the impeachment. Jim thought of it an opportunity to do his duty even in the face of certain political doom. After serving in the Bush administration, Jim has settled into his work as a Superior Court judge while he and his gracious wife, Christine, and their two ebullient daughters (not to mention Sparky), have settled into life in Yorba Linda.
At Starbucks today, he told me his long-awaited second book, Catching Our Flag: Behind The Scenes Of A Presidential Impeachment, is about to be published. It's based on detailed notes he took of every meeting and conversation in which he participated as one of the 13 case managers. If there's a record for the fastest a Washington VIP has ever turned to his name in an index, my guess is that it will be broken by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the most nationally prominent of the 13 managers, on May 3, the pub date of Catching Our Flag.
U.S. Archivist David Ferriero recently posted a link to a NARA reorganization effort which is aimed at creating "an open door culture, creating a safe environment for differing views." Not every history or records forum has those attributes. It takes hard work and good will and some sensitivity to those different from oneself to create such a forum. You may not fit in everywhere but it’s the same as making friends and working with colleagues in real life. By trial and error and gauging people and studying how they handle different situations, you can find the forum that fits you best. There’s no better way to get to know people than to talk to them about difficult issues of national import.
Israeli fears of abandonment look unwarranted. America will be faithful. But it will have to pay a higher price for its fidelity in an Arab world whose leaders no longer dare to ignore the preferences of their people. The best way to escape this trap would be for America to win the Palestinians their state. In that event, Arabs in general might be willing to make a people’s peace with Israel. But it was hard enough to negotiate a compromise when the autocrats were in charge. Finding one the masses accept will be harder still.If a post-Mubarak Egypt means Israel will have to give the Palestinians more, it may just as well decide to give nothing and wait for the next war.
If the Brotherhood joins in a transitional [Egyptian] government and does not fall prey to its more radical tendencies regarding Israel and Islamicizing Egyptian society (something U.S. policy should strive to accomplish), then the hardliners within its ranks will criticize it for selling out, offering al-Qaeda a means to woo them. But should the Brotherhood lose out in a power struggle or fall prey to repression from the army or a new regime, there will be a new generation of embittered young Islamists who may find al-Qaeda's more radical message more convincing than calls for renewed participation in a system that cheated them.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
I demurred -- and then thought about it the rest of the afternoon.
It's hard to take leaders out of their eras and contexts. Nixon's lacked today's broadening intellectual and political consensus against Arab dictatorship. It's not that anybody ever loved it, but ready alternatives used to seem well out of reach. Remember that until the 1980s democracies were the exception to the rule, as scarce in Asia and Latin America as they are in the Middle East today.
Besides, during the Cold War there were worse devils than ordinary tin horns. Neocons and other fervent anti-communists, including Nixon, insisted on the moral distinction between authoritarian regimes such as Hosni Mubarak's and the totalitarianism emanating from Moscow and Beijing. If an imperfect regime like Egypt's joined us in the anti-Soviet coalition, it was golden. In Nixon's time, the U.S. Egypt policy would probably have added up to little more than assuming that Mubarak would do what was necessary to reestablish order or even goosing him to do so.
It wouldn't just be White House or State department realists encouraging tyrants to keep their jack boots polished. Even the media sometimes agreed. When I was performing counterjournalism for Nixon as his chief of staff in 1987, I tried to get Raymond Bonner and the New York Times to withdraw the false charge that Nixon had authorized Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to declare martial law in 1972. The irony was that nobody would probably have looked askance if Nixon actually had done so. The Times itself had run an editorial portraying Marcos's move as an unfortunate but necessary means of restoring order amid acts of anti-regime terrorism.
With democracy now far more prevalent, an Obama-era Nixon would have less latitude to encourage an autocratic regime to maintain order in the face of a popular uprising -- not that Nixon would naturally side against the people. When it came to June 1989's doomed rising against the Chinese dictatorship, Nixon didn't hesitate to speak truth to power, the escalating importance of the Sino-U.S. relationship notwithstanding. After Tienanmen Square, the first Bush administration sent a secret delegation to Beijing that resulted in a photo of U.S. officials smiling and clinking glasses with the hardliners. Then Henry Kissinger was reported as telling paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaopeng that a great power couldn't permit demonstrators to clog the center of its capital indefinitely without taking steps.
It fell to the disgraced former president to denounce the Chinese leaders to their faces (I was along), saying that U.S. differences with the Chinese over the crackdown -- in which hundreds and perhaps over a thousand had been killed -- were "huge and unbridgeable."
And yet a hypothetical 98-year-old Nixon probably wouldn't have been as quick as Obama to build a bridge to the crowds clogging Tahrir Square. His first concern would be geopolitics -- back in the day, the implications for the U.S.-Soviet relationship, in our day the struggle against militant Islamists. In this dimension, the 2011 Nixon would be a statesman out of time. The attacks of Sept. 11 notwithstanding, it's hard to believe he would've considered terrorism as comprehensive a threat to the United States as Soviet communism. But having perched restively on the sidelines when the Carter administration was equivocating in its support for the shah of Iran, Nixon would've taken pains to avoid saying anything that would make Mubarak's life more difficult.
In 1979, Nixon considered the shah's fall a lost battle in the Cold War. His worry today, as Obama's must be, would be the danger that Mubarak's successor would equivocate on Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. He'd scoff at Kai Bird and others who claim that a less friendly Egypt would increase the chances that Israel will make peace with the Palestinians. Since losing Egypt and Jordan could set the peace process back for a generation, Nixon would be dumbfounded by Obama critics who accuse him of favoring a regime that would be less friendly to U.S. interests, including Israel. If that happens, all is probably lost in his pursuit of the signature achievement of a Palestinian state.
Only after gauging the Egyptian revolution's strategic and regional implications would Nixon give in to the Wilsonian aspect of his nature and consider the interests of the Egyptian people. Even here, it's by no means certain that he would've considered popular democracy the ideal outcome, at least in the short term. The White House tapes reveal his archaic predilection for ranking the world's peoples and their readiness for political freedom. There's also the matter of Egyptians' simultaneous devotion to democracy as well as savage, medieval practices that are irreconcilable with it. One can imagine Nixon telling aides, "For God's sake, four out of five of them want to stone you for adultery and converting to Christianity. You really want to give them the vote right now?" Nixon would've wished Mubarak had done a better job for his people. But right now he'd be rooting for the next Mubarak.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The earth is a generous mother. It will provide abundance if we will cultivate her, the soil, in peace and justice.
At issue are two disastrous orders by Jerry Bremer, who ran Iraq after the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003. One was to disband the Iraqi army, the other to ban members of Saddam's Baathist party from the new government. Many whom Bremer scorned ended up joining the bloody insurgency. Kaplan surmises that the orders came from Cheney, with Rumsfeld's blessing and in spite of decisions to the contrary in which the president had participated:
[T]he NSC did take up the issue of what to do with the Iraqi army and the Baathists. On March 10, a week before the invasion, a principals meeting—attended by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all of their top aides—decided that, after the war, a truth and reconciliation commission would be set up, similar to those in post-apartheid South Africa and post-Communist Eastern Europe, to ferret out the undesirable Baathists from those who could work for a new government. Staff analysts predicted that only about 5 percent of the party would have to be removed. On March 12, at another principals meeting, it was decided to disband the Republican Guard—Saddam's elite corps and bodyguards—but to call the regular army's soldiers back to duty and to reconstitute their units after a proper vetting.
Both of these decisions were unanimous. In other words, Bremer's first two orders constituted acts of massive insubordination. Most of the NSC officials, including Bush, first read about the two orders in a newspaper.
Rumsfeld doesn't mention either of these meetings in his 815-page memoir.
The Brotherhood continues to maintain that "Islam is the solution" while at the same time demonstrating a kind of pragmatism that suggests Islam may not be a complete solution after all.
One example is jizya, the poll tax on non-Muslims, which is clearly prescribed in the Qur'an. The original idea was that non-Muslims, since they did not serve in the military, should pay for their protection by Muslims.
Today, most Muslims regard jizya as obsolete. In order to follow Qur'anic principles strictly, though, it would have to be reinstated. In 1997, the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide at the time, Mustafa Mashhur, did suggest reintroducing it but, in a country with around 6 million Christians, this caused uproar and the movement later backtracked. For non-Islamist Muslims, jizya presents no great problem: they can justify its abolition on the basis of historicity – that the circumstances in which the tax was imposed no longer exist today. For Islamists, though, this is much more difficult because the words of the Qur'an and the practices of the earliest Muslims form the core of their ideology.
The late Nasr Abu Zayd, a liberal theologian who was hounded out of Egypt by Islamists in the 1990s, regarded historicity as the crux of the issue. "If they concede historicity, all the ideology will just fall down," he said, "… the entire ideology of the word of God."
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
By Andy Guilford
The Holy Land is a powerful place filled with confusion, but bringing clarity to pilgrims seeking to know God. The confusion starts with what to call this land of milk and honey. Israel? Palestine? The West Bank? Samaria? Judea? But there is the clarity of all three Abrahamic religions agreeing that something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, to some, and there's a man with a gun over there. Actually, there are many there with impressive automatic rifles, but they are just boys and girls, and we can call this place Israel only because of them.
As for what's happening, for many this is where the physical meets the spiritual. Theophany is a powerful thing. Incarnation even more powerful. And it is in this physical place that these physical and spiritual things happened. That gives this place a Holiness like no other place.
There is no sign of a "post-Christian" world here, as diverse folks of many colors from around the world piously pilgrim to where the Holy One walked. Wavering Christians who seek holiness or truth or beauty or discipline elsewhere should first fully appreciate the Christianity that thrives around where He was born in Bethlehem, where He preached in Galilee, and where He was crucified and resurrected at a rock and slab honored under one roof at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The calming Holiness of this place contrasts with the confusion of the conflict all around. The conflict may come from the desire of so many to control such special land. And perhaps it is fueled by the inability to forgive, and reconcile, and together move closer to the One God.
There is also the striking physical contrast between two cultures, with one producing the sparkling indicia of achievement, and the other stumbling thorough the rubble of poverty, even a poverty that remains full of the spicy richness of life. How can this be side by side? Are we witnessing cultural bias, the oppressor and the oppressed, or those who are left free to achieve and those who are not?
Surrounded by all this, in the end, with the Creation thriving here in all its glory and pain, this is indeed THE place to find God.
Photos: Pilgrim Andy at the Western Wall; Andy and Fr. John at a spot where the three Abrahamic faiths converge; Israeli soldiers drilling for a ceremony at the Western Wall plaza; Andy watches as pilgrim Loreen touches the stone of Mt. Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; woman selling parsley in Jerusalem's Old City
Hat tip to Rick Perlstein
Fox Sports refused the ad because, according to a statement, “Fox Broadcasting Company does not accept advertising from religious organizations for the purpose of advancing particular beliefs or practices.”
Monday, February 7, 2011
This evening the excitement washed over into Sean Hannity's hour, when producers assembled a focus group in Des Moines for a blow-by-blow analysis of Bill's triumph that was barreling right along until it developed that nearly half said they thought the president was a Muslim. This was startling enough that even Hannity felt he had to admit that Obama's a Christian, albeit the radical, Jeremiah Wright kind.
Is the Des Moines effect a manifestation of Sam Tanenhaus's vitally important insight -- evangelical Christians saying that the mainline variety (such as Obama, baptized in the United Church of Christ) aren't really Christians at all and therefore as good as Muslims? Or are they just conspiracy hounds? Either way, their candid admission makes me wonder how much voter delusion Republican candidates will have to indulge or embrace during the 2012 primaries, and after doing so, how they can possibly get elected.
[MB spokesman] Mohamed Morsy, who in the course of the conversation on Thursday refused to commit his movement to maintenance of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty or to recognition of Israel, and stressed its opposition to Zionism, insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood opposed the use of violence. Without missing a beat, however, he went on to say that what was going on in Palestine was “resistance.” And “resistance,” he said, “is acceptable by all mankind. It is the right of people to resist imperialism.”Photo: Graffiti on Israel's security and separation wall, near Bethlehem, January 2011
No doubt he is a brutal authoritarian, and that the Egyptian nation and the world would be better served by a democratically elected president committed to human rights.
But there are far worse thugs in the recent past of the region. Unlike the first Assad in Syria, who leveled Hama and killed thousands, or Saddam, who didn’t hesitate to use of chemical weapons against his own people, Mubarak’s authoritarianism as chronicled, for example, by Robin Wright in her 2008 book “Dreams and Shadows,” allowed for the emergence of some opposition, some personal freedom, some religious liberty.
It also, of course, maintained the peace with Israel and supported the United States in its interventions in the region.
Much, much worse could be around the corner. Would any of the talking heads care to argue that the world is better off for the shah having fallen in 1979 as opposed to a quieter exit a year or two further down the road with anyone except the fanatical mullah as Supreme Leader?
Most astonishing is the ease with which some on the various sets dismiss the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is a movement of great concern to the classically liberal minded. Again, read just one chapter from Wright — left-of-center and beyond challenge as a voice of mainstream American foreign policy elites — and the prospect of a Brotherhood role ought to alarm anyone concerned with the rights of women in Egypt or the future of the Copts.
Hat tip to The Daily Dish
Now Scientologists are saying much the same thing about their holy writ. A church spokesman blames unnamed persons for adding anti-gay references to L. Ron Hubbard's writings after his death (Hubbard is shown here). The LDS received new revelation in the late 1970s about the status of African-American people and, just last year, softened its teachings about homosexuality.
Cynics are are probably inclined to think that officials of both churches manufactured latter-day insights about first principles so that their doctrines would better conform to current social mores. So-called orthodox Christians accuse so-called progressives of the same thing when they accord full sacramental status to women and gay and lesbian people.
And yet modern biblical criticism does help expose the astonishing social egalitarianism in the Christ moment and early church, especially in the context of patriarchal Palestinian culture and the hyper-status conscious Greco-Roman world of the first century. Our scholarship aims to recover the true gospel and help us better appreciate Jesus Christ's teachings about how people should behave toward one another despite differences in condition and circumstance. Whether the same can be said about the founders of Mormonism and Scientology is for others to say -- though it's hard to criticize any institution that's bending in the direction of justice and righteousness.
Protesters in the square, meanwhile, sought to dispel the notion that their ostensibly secular, liberal movement might contain seeds of extremism. Coptic Christians held a Mass there while Muslims stood guard, repaying a favor that Christian protesters did for Muslims on Friday.
The source of this discouraging information? The first lady, who got the requirement into the health care bill. To which I say, "Thanks, Mrs. Obama." I wasn't wild at first about mandatory calorie counts when New York City adopted them a few years ago, because I was afraid it would hurt the industry. But I haven't read any evidence of it. After all, I went ahead and ate the salad.
And while Sarah Palin may take a different view, I don't thinking force-feeding calorie counts puts my basic human freedoms at risk. Information is almost always a good thing. Knowing about that honking fat salad, next time I might: a) Look for healthier or smaller choices on the menu (such as the half-order of the same thing). b) Go to a different restaurant. c) Just get the cheese and pepperoni.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
[N]o matter how complete is our information about a situation in a foreign country and how astutely we may analyze that situation, it is impossible for anyone to predict the sort of happenings taking place in Egypt today. Those happenings are not the result of some secret conspiracy, detectable with sufficiently energetic collection of information. They are a spontaneous, leaderless eruption. The responsible government agencies should be expected to understand and to convey the potential for such eruptions, but they cannot predict the timing. Although Mubarak's regime has become increasingly sclerotic and repressive over the past decade or so, the potential for an eruption something like the current one has been present ever since I was responsible for the subject in the 1980s. One cannot expect the five U.S. administrations since then to have been in some kind of alert status or to make a series of fresh decisions about Egypt in response to that potential.
Obama’s response to the Egyptian crisis has crystallized [Barack Obama's] entire foreign policy vision. Switch on Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, and you would assume that there’s a terrible left-wing naïveté — or worse, a sneaking anticolonial sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood — at work in the White House’s attempts to usher Hosni Mubarak out the door. But look closer, and it’s clear that the administration’s real goal has been to dispense with Mubarak while keeping the dictator’s military subordinates very much in charge. If the Obama White House has its way, any opening to democracy will be carefully stage-managed by an insider like Omar Suleiman, the former general and Egyptian intelligence chief who’s best known in Washington for his cooperation with the C.I.A.’s rendition program. This isn’t softheaded peacenik dithering. It’s cold-blooded realpolitik.
Near the end of our 12 extraordinary days, Kathy took this photo of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which encloses the site of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
[In Egypt] black and white categorizations of the repressive government and the righteous street give way to multiple shades of grey. The Muslim Brotherhood, proud assassin of peacemaker Anwar Sadat, is a major stakeholder of the uprising. Mubarak’s Egypt has been a safe and stable, if corrupt, puppet regime. The Egyptian military, largest ground force in the region with 1.3 million troops, has impeded unrest in Gaza, cut arms smuggling and stood alongside the Turkish Army as a bulwark against Iranian or Syrian aggression. That and they have so far been blessedly restrained with their lethal capacities and seem intent to protect and shepherd the people above all.
I can imagine RN sitting thoughtfully in the chair in the corner of his office, his feet on the ottoman, yellow legal pad on his lap. He’d already have written notes of support to Gov. Palin and Sen. McCain, perhaps dictated a page or two (or ten) of advice for her acceptance speech. He’d be outraged, if not especially surprised, by the brutality of the attacks against her.
At the same time, his mind would drift back to news reports saying that McCain had hoped to pick Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge but had been dissuaded at the last minute by fears that a pro-choice VP would further discourage conservatives. A callow aide might reply what, so conservatives would rather have Sen. Obama? RN would smile a little sardonically and spin his reading glasses in his right hand while tugging on an ear stem with his lower lip. The aide wouldn’t need to say anything. He’s know. Many of our friends on the right would rather be right than President.
Just before noon, the President would go home for lunch with Mrs. Nixon. In his out box, we’d find a clipping (it’s still the old days in this fantasy; RN actually would clip things out of the newspaper — not that he subscribed to the Denver Post, but hey, it’s my fantasy) with the final paragraph underlined in blue fountain pen ink:
The more she is criticized and mocked, the more the red-meat faction will adore her. It will make their case that only the snobs of the chattering class could possibly question the fitness of the hard-charging reformer who is governor of America’s largest state and commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard.
McCain knows how this game is played, after all, and Palin fits well into the winning pattern of Republican vice presidential candidates. The more she is criticized, the more the base loves her — and the more he’s stuck with her.
And he’d have written in the margin: “They’re stuck with her, too.”
RN didn’t go in much for armchair-and-ottoman psychoanalysis. But imagine the frustration of John McCain these last 18 months, dragging his war hero status and 100% pro-life voting record from one end of the country to the other only to be denounced as a liberal apostate because of tax cuts, campaign finance reform, and ANWR. We must’ve heard Sean Hannity say it 100 times.
Securing the nomination nonetheless and preparing to try to win undecideds and independents, his mind first goes to his friend and colleague Joe Lieberman, 1000% solid on national security, one of the toughest, brightest people in politics and one of the most popular independent politicians in the country.
Or he thinks about that big state over there that Obama couldn’t win, the one next to Ohio with the popular ex-governor who literally invented Homeland Security.
But McCain sits in meeting after meeting with aides who show him polls about unenthusiastic Republicans and even delegates. Tax cuts, campaign finance reform, and ANWR. And finally, the blink decision maker with faith in his gut — the born risk taker who blinked T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code when his North Vietnamese captors paraded him before the cameras — reached once again for the sheaf of memos and backgrounders in the folder marked “Palin.”
He reflected on the strong impression she had already made on him, the courage and resilience she had demonstrated in her public and family lives.
And he said to himself, “If this works, she’ll be great. And if it doesn’t, maybe…well, maybe it serves them right.”
It's a difficult situation, this is that 3 a.m. White House phone call and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House it it seems that that call went right to um the answering machine. And nobody yet has, no body yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak and I'm not real enthused about what it is that that's being done on a national level and from DC in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt. And in these areas that are so volatile right now because obviously it's not just Egypt but the other countries too where we are seeing uprisings, we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with. And we do not have all that information yet.I imagine Palin's supporters think that another of her unstudied, sophomoric attacks on the president is all the situation requires. But why not make it a twofer: Hammer the president while at the same time conveying the impression that you've picked up a newspaper or briefing memo and can can find Egypt on a map?
While I think Barack Obama has done a great job in a situation in which he has relatively few options, some critics say he should've pushed Mubarak harder, others that he's a failure if he doesn't figure out how to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of a post-Mubarak government. I don't agree with either view. But each deserves to be fleshed out and debated. Besides, shouldn't Palin be expected to stake out some substantive ground on a leading foreign policy issue (or any issue)? Unless she does, she'll fade quickly in a field that includes wonks like Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty.
But I don't think she will. If she were going to, she would have by now. That's why I think she's jumped the shark. The sliver of the U.S. populace who evidently believe relentless, proudly proclaimed ignorance qualifies you for the presidency isn't enough to get you nominated, even in today's Republican party.
Hat tip to Jeffrey Goldberg
This glimpse of my battered, proud home town was almost too good to be true. I was sure that Eminem was going to jump up on the stage of the old Fox Theater with the choir and bust out a chorus of "Lose Yourself." But it was great to see and hear Woodward Ave. pulsing with the beat.