July 7, 2006 | 11:58 AM ET | Permalink

The smart boys at The Note say that the weekend will be dominated by North Korea.  This is true, perhaps in large measure because of the Heisenberg Note Principle that operates on the herd of notso independent minds that cover “politics” in this nation.  If The Note says it’s news, it’s news, up to an including the fact that Bush enjoyed his breakfast yesterday.  (See yesterday’s Note if you think I’m kidding.)  One of the things I’d write a book on —if everybody got to write the books they wanted to and didn’t have to worry about mortgages and such things— is the ongoing epistemological conflict between journalists and intellectuals, specifically academic intellectuals.  I’ve got a lot to say on the topic—which I’m not going to say here—except to point out that the worst insult you can offer a historian or political scientist behind his back is that he is “just a journalist.”  They say this at Harvard about the great Stanley Hoffmann, believe it or not.  And the simplest way for an editor to kill a story is to claim that it’s already “history,” and so who gives a ****?  Personally this drives me crazy for a million different reasons, but I keep pushing the stone up the hill anyway.* 

Today’s stone is constituted from the sections of The Book on Bush that deal with George W. Bush’s dealings with North Korea, which, quite clearly in this opinion, helped to inspire this unnecessary mess.  None of it will be considered relevant by the Smart Boys on Sunday, and to be fair, it would not really count as “history” if this were my dissertation.  But here it is, anyway, because, well, I run this little place.  But first, one person upon whom I frequently rely for my understanding about the Koreas is Bruce Cumings

Now here’s me:

The tone of Powell’s tenure was set early in the administration when he announced that he planned “to pick up where the Clinton administration had left off” in trying to secure the peace between North and South Korea, while negotiating with the North to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weaponry. The president not only repudiated his secretary of state in public, announcing, “We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements,” he did so during a joint appearance with South Korean president (and Nobel laureate) Kim Dae Jung, thereby humiliating his honored guest as well. A day later, Powell backpedaled.  “The president forcefully made the point that we are undertaking a full review of our relationship with North Korea,” Powell said. “There was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin—that is not the case.” He later admitted to a group of journalists, “I got a little far forward on my skis.” It would not be the last time.

As former ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and James Laney warned at the moment of Bush’s carelessly worded “Axis of Evil” address, “Besides putting another knife in the diminishing South Korean president,” the speech would likely cause “dangerous escalatory consequences [including] . . . renewed tensions on the peninsula and continued export of missiles to the Mideast.” North Korea called the Bush bluff, and the result, notes columnist Richard Cohen, was “a stumble, a fumble, an error compounded by a blooper. . . . As appalling a display of diplomacy as anyone has seen since a shooting in Sarajevo turned into World War I.”

Bush made a bad situation worse when, in a taped interview with Bob Woodward, he insisted, “I loathe Kim Jong Il!” waving his finger in the air.  “I’ve got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people.”  Bush also said that he wanted to “topple him,” and that he considered the leader to be a “pygmy.” Woodward wrote that the president had become so emotional while speaking about Kim Jong Il that “I thought he might jump up.”  Given what a frightful tinderbox the Koreas have become, Bush’s ratcheting up of the hostile rhetoric could hardly have come at a worse time. In December 2002 the North Koreans shocked most of the world by ordering the three IAEA inspectors to leave the country, shutting down 1 cameras monitoring the nuclear complex in Yongbyon and removing the IAEA seals in their nuclear facilities. The following month, Pyongyang announced it had withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), restarted its small research reactor, and began removing spent nuclear fuel rods for likely reprocessing into weapons-grade plutonium. In October 2003, it announced that it had finished reprocessing spent fuel rods into plutonium and now possesses “nuclear deterrence”—another way of saying it has the bomb. No independent confirmation was available.  Even including Iraq and Iran, the Korean peninsula is probably the single most dangerous and possibly unstable situation on Earth. As Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department of the Naval War College, observes, “If you wanted a case of imminent threat and danger, according to the principles enunciated in the National Security Strategy document, then North Korea is much more of a threat than Iraq ever was in the last few years.”

Bush had already undermined the extremely sensitive negotiations under way to bring the North Korean regime into the international system. When South Korean president (and Nobel laureate) Kim Dae Jung visited Washington six weeks after Bush took office, Bush humiliated both his guest and his own secretary of state by publicly repudiating the negotiations after both had just publicly endorsed them. (Powell had termed their continuation “a no-brainer.”) One suspects the president’s decision was motivated by a combination of unreflective machismo and a desire to provide military planners with an excuse to build a missile-defense system. But in doing so, he displayed a disturbing lack of familiarity with the details of the negotiations he purposely sabotaged. “We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements,” he said at the time. But at the time, these “agreements” numbered just one: the 1994 “Agreed Framework,” which froze North Korea’s enormous plutonium-processing program— one that was bigger, at the time, than those of Israel, India, and Pakistan combined—in exchange for economic aid. Bush aides were later forced to admit they could find no evidence to support the president’s accusation.  (A White House official tried to clear up the matter by explaining:  “That’s how the president speaks.”)

No sensible military options exist to deal with the North Koreans when they promise “total war” in the event of a U.S. attack on their nuclear facilities.  While the United States does have thirty-seven thousand troops stationed on the other end of the DMZ, the North Koreans have eleven thousand artillery guns, some possibly chemically tipped, within fifty miles of Seoul. In addition they have roughly thirty-seven hundred tanks and seven hundred Soviet-built fighter jets of uncertain vintage, but no doubt sturdy enough to make it to Seoul for devastating bombing missions. With about a million soldiers and another seven million reserves, North Korea has the fourth or fifth largest standing army on Earth. In a best-case scenario, with a surgical strike against the nuclear plant itself and no attendant radiation effects, thousands of U.S. troops and tens of thousands of South Korean troops would probably still be killed, and millions of refugees would be created. Clearly no responsible leader can willingly risk such a catastrophe.  But choosing not to deal with the problem of North Korea presents the world with two profoundly worrying prospects. The first is that North Korea will make one of its bombs available to a party that would in fact like to use it—perhaps even al Qaeda. (U.S. weapons inspector David Kay claimed to discover a $10 million deal for just such a transfer between North Korea and Iraq, though the former kept the money and did not deliver the material, insisting that U.S. pressure made it impossible.) Second, a spiraling collapse of the regime could lead to a last-ditch attack on Seoul, with both conventional and nuclear weapons. As one U.S. official put it, toleration of a nuclear North Korea sends the same message to Iran that the invasion of Iraq sent to North Korea: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.”

Those who have long dealt with the Korean problem began, in mid-2003, to express alarm at the consequences of Bush’s mishandling of it. “I think we are losing control,” worried former secretary of defense William Perry.  “The nuclear program now under way in North Korea poses an imminent danger of nuclear weapons being detonated in American cities.” Only six months earlier Perry had been arguing in public that the problem was addressable, “if we did the right things.” Now, however, he worried that “time is running out, and each month the problem gets more dangerous.” His 1 The administration describes its current policy toward North Korea as one of “tailored containment,” which a senior administration official explains to mean: “It is a lot about putting political stress and putting economic stress. It also requires maximum multinational cooperation.” The Bush plan seems to be to persuade several key Asian countries that now provide cash and assistance to Pyongyang to turn off the taps and stand by as its people starve and the nation—with its nukes—implodes.  But those upon whose cooperation the policy rests appear to have little inclination to support the plan. South Korea’s population, like that of most of the world, has grown increasingly distrustful of the Bush administration’s behavior and is far less eager to follow the U.S. lead. Its current president, Roh Moo Hyun, won his office by following the German pattern, with a campaign that stressed his independence from the United States and its martial declarations. The Chinese remain by far the North Koreans’ most important trading partner, supplying for instance 70 percent of its crude oil needs and much of its foodstuffs. Its leadership has shown no interest in doing Bush’s bidding or participating in a strategy that appears designed to create political change through mass starvation. And the last thing Japan wants to see is the collapse of the regime, thereby finding itself facing a nuclear-armed, unified Korea on its borders. 

The obvious solution—both to the strategic problem and to the humanitarian crisis—is clearly some sort of negotiated buyout, along the lines that the Clinton administration began, but fumbled. Under the terms of that deal, North Korea was to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear program while the United States spearheaded an international effort to provide fuel and light-water (non-weapons-producing) nuclear reactors. The Clinton administration also tried to negotiate an accord whereby the North would have forfeited its long-range missiles and terminated all missile exports.  But hopes of concluding the deal—which would have required a presidential trip to Pongyang—collapsed when Clinton decided in the final weeks of his administration to table the trip in favor of trying, unsuccessfully, to negotiate a Middle East peace deal.

Perhaps because such talks were associated with his predecessor, and no doubt because he wished to keep the focus on Iraq, Bush refused to carry out this plan and instead sought to play down the sense of crisis. “It’s a diplomatic issue, not a military issue,” he insisted in early 2003. When Bush advised Americans to “learn the lessons of the Korean peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq,” he appeared to be arguing that the United States should have invaded those nations as well, when it still had the chance. “But as Bush sets it out,” Michael Kinsley notes, “the ‘lesson’ of Korea seems to be that if you don’t go to war soon enough, you might have a problem years later that can be solved through regional discussions.  That doesn’t sound so terrible, frankly.”
_______________________
*One of the many manifestations of this journalists/intellectuals warfare is that the Times almost always gives significant intellectuals much crappier obits than they deserve. Judging by obituary attention, for instance, Wendy Wasserstein was, approximately a million times more important to the fate of humankind than Edward Said. My obsession with this topic was piqued by the new biography of Richard Hofstadter—for which we are waiting Eric R’s review—that noted that Hofstadter got such a crappy obit that Lionel Trilling was moved to write in and complain. Sean Wilentz, writing in TNR, explains: “The New York Times' strange and grudgingly respectful obituary for Hofstadter elicited a strong rebuttal from Lionel Trilling, one of what can only be a handful of published letters to the editor ever to complain about a death notice. Far from the nondescript, methodical academic whom the Times described, Trilling said, Hofstadter was ‘one of the most clearly defined persons I have ever known ... an enchanting companion, almost memorably funny," who also "was notable for his openness not alone to ideas but also to people of all kinds.’”

More lawlessness, more torture.  Thanks, Ralph.

Jed Perl on Susan Sontag, here.

The Nation and the Bay of Pigs.

Professor of religion Ira Chernus dives into Karl Rove's Scheherazade strategy at Tomdispatch: 

Karl Rove has a simple rule, they say: When you are falling behind, attack your opponents at their strongest point.  In the upcoming election, the Democrats' strongest point should obviously be Iraq.  With the spotlight eternally focused on the disastrous war there, Rove has to figure out how to turn its dazzling beam to his party's advantage.  So he's borrowing a page from an ancient Iranian storybook and imitating Scheherazade, the maiden whose husband's policy was wed 'em, bed 'em, and kill 'em at dawn.  Rove is telling Republican candidates to follow Scheherazade's rule:  When policy dooms you, start telling stories -- stories so fabulous, so gripping, so spellbinding that the king (or, in this case, the American citizen who theoretically rules our country) forgets all about a lethal policy.

Alter-reviews: Gram Parsons - The Complete Reprise Sessions and Willie Nelson - The Complete Atlantic Sessions

Rhino’s selling a three-CD set featuring 16 previously unreleased outtakes from the GP and Grievous Angel sessions, as well as three hard-to-find tracks. The three-disc CD set is co-produced by Emmylou Harris.  They contain remastered versions of Parsons' two classic solo albums expanded with rare Parsons interviews and bonus tracks that feature Parsons and Emmylou Harris performing "Love Hurts" and "Sin City" live in the WBCN radio studio.  The final disc contains 15 alternate versions of influential tracks from GP and Grievous Angel.  The disc closes with a trio of covers, including two Boudleaux Bryant songs made famous by The Everly Brothers ("Brand New Heartache" and "Sleepless Nights") and The Louvin Brothers' "The Angels Rejoiced Last Night."  Packaging is totally excellent with a "clamshell" box holding three "mini albums" and a 52-page booklet, an introduction by Emmylou Harris, and liner note essays by Holly George-Warren and Parke Puterbaugh, and lots of pictures.  My only caveat in recommending it is if you’ve already got Rhino’s complete history of GP, then the overlap might be a bit much.  Otherwise, it’s a must, alas, as Parsons’ music is some of the prettiest and most influential of the past forty years.  More here.

The new Willie collection contains remastered versions of Nelson's two important Atlantic releases -- Shotgun Willie, his 1973 debut and Phases And Stages—a little novel of a country-music album—which was his 1974 follow-up.  Both are expanded with studio outtakes, alternate versions, and unreleased music.  The third disc, Live At The Texas Opry House, features rare and unreleased performances recorded in Austin in 1974.  This is the music that, as much as any other, launched the Outlaw movement, and it’s all pretty great.  Still, I suppose it depends on how much Willie a person needs.  You be the judge.  More here.

I am also liking the Hit By A Train: The Best Of Old 97's, which is um, the best of a band I completely missed.  They are a kind of nastier version of the Eagles, and their guy Rhett Miller has a good new album out now, too.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it’s Stupid to play pop psychologist.  I missed you on C-Span, but I had the 3rd of July off and was able to catch you on Air America talking about Dem strategy for the 2006 elections.  Remember your comment about how Karl Rove discovered that anger is the best way to motivate voters to go to the polls (or was it Glen Bolger who discovered it and Karl Rove exploited it?  Hey, I was driving, I couldn’t take notes!)  I have no data to back this up, but I suspect that one emotion out-motivates anger:  fear.  That’s why Bill Clinton used the phrase “the courage to change” like a mantra, because regardless of how angry voters were at Bush I, change is a scary thing.  That’s why the GOP’s main social security talking point used to be that the Dems were out to frighten senior citizens on Social Security and Medicare, until the GOP decided to try this themselves.  People don’t give up their civil liberties because they’re angry at Al Qaeda but because they are scared of them.  I think you need a certain level of security/comfort before you can get angry.  This is why the Dems' unwillingness to “talk down” the economy baffles me.  My folder of newspaper/magazine clippings is overflowing with signs of economic anxiety.  Highlights from this week: an AP story about credit counselors whose “phones are going crazy” and debtors “coming in in droves” but not able to do anything because “the house bank (home equity) is empty” and a Crains Chicago Business story about disturbing foreclosure trends moving into middle class and gentrifying neighborhoods.  The electorate “gets” that something is wrong with the economy, but the Dems seem to think immigration and Iraq are better issues for them.  Maybe their polls say voters don’t respond to straight talk on the economy, but what has their polling done for them lately?

Name:  Paul
Hometown: Brentwood, CA
Hi Eric,
Today being July 6th, not only does it mark W.'s 60th b-day but also the day twelve years ago the film Forrest Gump was released (the same year W.'s political career was released in TX).  Coincidence that the two symbols of baby boomerism walk the fine line of either being idiots or mentally deficient? :)

Name: Jose Bacallao
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
I'd like to reply to one of your reader's comments about John Edwards.  Edwards did indeed blow it with his vote for the Iraq war, but unlike some other pro-war Dems (most notably Hillary), Edwards has publicly apologized for his vote and admitted it was a mistake.  As for nominating a candidate who can't deliver his home state, it bears remembering that the Kerry campaign effectively surrendered North Carolina and many other southern states by concentrating on a handful of swing states.  I don't think Edwards would have ceded the Carolinas to Bush in 2004 without a fight.  I liked the fact that Edwards wasn't afraid to address the class issue in this country head-on with his incessant talk about being "the son of a mill-worker" and his Two Americas theme.  We have some serious class problems in the U.S. with our Republican controlled government deepening the divide between the rich and the poor.  As Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, (and I paraphrase) "We can have democracy in this country or we can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."  I'm not so sure Hillary Clinton, or Al Gore for that matter, understands this.

Name: Bill Dauphin
Hometown: Vernon, CT
The WSJ's criticism that Warren Buffet is "in favor of death taxes only for those whose estates are too small to hide in foundation tax shelters" misses the point... or rather, fails to make the point they're trying to make:  Leaving aside my doubt that there's really any such thing as an estate that's simultaneously big enough to be subject to inheritance tax yet too small to be worth giving to charity, the notion that rich folks might be motivated by tax concerns to give their fortunes to philanthropy strikes me as an argument FOR, rather than against, retaining the "death tax."  Of course that perspective presumes you're actually interested in the well-being of your fellow humans, so maybe it didn't occur to the WSJ editors.

Name: Jim Hassinger
Hometown: Glendale, CA
Andrew Sullivan obviously made the wrong comparison.  The global warming "controversy" isn't like Cheney's shameless agitprop before the war, it's like those who doubt HIV as the source of AIDS.  Of course, it was Peter Duesberg who got the most publicity, but do a little googling on "HIV denial," and you do indeed get some prestigious academic names.  And where did they find a place to organize and proselytize?  Why, often in the same conservative press, including the Wall Street Journal editorial page.  They were telling us that it wasn't going to affect women, or the general population at all.  May they all make a tour of the AIDS ward in Johannesburg.

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Dear Altercation:  I'm afraid you missed the point of the Wall Street Journal's aside about Warren Buffett's donations.  Buffett has endorsed higher taxes on people like himself and on people who are affluent but less wealthy than he is.  Unless there is some puritanical motive there, the only reason for such an endorsement is that the money is better used under government rather than private control.  Yet when it comes time for him to decide how best to deploy his resources, he does not do the obvious thing and leave his money to the government; rather, he leaves it to a private foundation.  This effectively endorses the idea that private money is far more effective at alleviating social problems than politically-controlled public money.  People on the Left should in fact be the ones who are critical of Buffett, since he undermines a central axiom of Left politics.  Conservatives should probably consider endorsing wealth taxes.  Like the old joke that Stalin was a great guy because he killed so many Communists, the counter-intuitive notion conservatives should consider is that 'old' money is liberal, while 'new' money is conservative.

Eric replies:  But dude, look who "the government" is; What kind of crazy would Buffett have to be to believe that Bush/Cheney could spend his money more wisely than Gates/Mrs. Kinsley?

July 6, 2006 | 11:53 AM ET | Permalink

The purposeful dishonesty of the Wall Street Journal (on behalf of billionaires only, natch), continued

Almost every Wall Street Journal editorial is dishonest in one fashion or another.  But the people who write them are extremely clever and go to great lengths to make their ideological sleights of hand appear seamless and therefore unarguable.  Every once in a while, however one happens upon one that is so obvious it gives away the game.  Take a look at this tweaking of Warren Buffett:  “We can't help but point out that Mr. Buffett's gift will itself be shielded from Uncle Sam because it is going to a foundation.  So in practice he is in favor of death taxes only for those whose estates are too small to hide in foundation tax shelters.”

Excuse me, do I really need to explain to the Journal editors the difference between money that is left to heirs for the purposes of blowing it on booze, blow and babes, and money left to a foundation for the purpose of feeding starving Africans and wiping out diseases?

Dishonest or stupid, you be the judge. It’s all here. ($)

Michael M. Grynbaum of The Boston Globe, here, manages to cover the Kos/TNR fight without mentioning its most salient feature; that TNR published a phony e-mail in its quest to discredit Jerome Armstrong and Moulitsas Zúniga.  David Brooks then repeated some of this information in his Times column.  And yet all we get here is the fact that bloggers are irrational and angry sometimes; it’s almost a parody of what new media types claim about old media types.  Time for another blogger ethics panel?

Also, do you believe the “death threat” charge?  I don’t.  Too good to check, methinks.

Time’s blogger Little Roy demonstrates a Bush-like contempt for science in favor of ideology.  Which reminds me of another Time-fave, Ann Coulter.  Did you see the cable show where she accused liberals of ignoring science because they rejected Charles Murray?  Where to begin?  Well, how about here , here and here ?  Reels the mind…

Speaking of TNR and blogs, Lee Siegel’s “origins of blogofascism” reaches a level of nuttiness with which I had not previously imagined him or anyone outside of the wignutosphere capable.  It's actually David Horowitz-worthy and I don't say that lightly.  Seriously employing a word that deliberately evokes Eichmann and Mussolini for Kos and Atrios -and then sticking to it in a long, self-serious argument- belongs not in TNR, well, not in most of TNR, but in the mimeographed hand-out of a man outside Grand Central who is receiving messages from Martians through the fillings in his teeth.  Has any alleged intellectual ever devalued a powerful term -and his own reputation- so thoroughly?

At the end of one of Siegel's posts the editor adds "Editor's Note: This post has been edited since it was first published."  What's up with that?

P.S.  Let's give him this:  It is an appropriate title in an SAT question kind of way: Lee Siegel is to Hannah Arendt as blogging is to genuine totalitarianism...

Speaking of Horowitz, did you know that the travel section of the Times tried to get Cheney and Rumsfeld assassinated, with Rumsfeld’s cooperation, here?  I wonder if some of those Frontpage types have been double posting.

"He's real excited about turning 60. He's like a kid," said Mark McKinnon in Norah O'Donnell's "Today" show birthday package.  O'Donnell added that, "10 presidents in history turned 60 in office."  Wow, what a scoop.  You know, Bush was born on the same day John met Paul back in Liverpool…  (Different years, of course.)  Would you trade the Beatles for a Bush never having been born?  Discuss.

Who am I to tell the great Remnick how to do his job?  Nobody, we agree, but I do think he should give some thought to letting Matt write these reviews and send George off to figure how such a First Rate Mind still can’t figure out how to say he screwed up on the most important political question of our generation, much less review a book by someone who at least had the good grace to apologize for his mistake.

Read the comments too:

  • Shorter George Packer: The disastrous consequences of the military intervention I supported is tragically leading people to be skeptical of others I would like to undertake.

  • Shorter George Packer 2: People's strange habit of focusing on the horrific consequences of following my policy recommendations is irritatingly drawing focus away from the current policy discussion I'd like to have.

Another great piece by Alan Wolfe on conservative governance.

And the hard drive breaks every time you try to load Bruce or Neil Young, here.

Altercation Book Club:

Empire's Workshop : Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism by Greg Grandin.

Last month Condoleezza Rice attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina, and delivered the kind of speech US secretaries of states usually reserve for Washington insiders.  Addressing 12,000 evangelicals – a group the Washington Post described as representing the “core of the Bush administration’s political base" – Rice urged the crowd, despite rising anti-Americanism and despite the bad news coming out of Iraq, not to give in to the temptations of isolationism.  “If not for America,” Rice hymned, who would do God’s work in the world?   “If not for America,” she asked, who would fight the global AIDS epidemic or defend religious liberty?

But Rice was preaching to the converted, for evangelicals have long been key in backing the kind of muscular internationalism espoused by Bush since 9/11.

In recent years, there has been a number of books accounting for the strength of the religious right, some of which – most notably Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? – suggest that if “value” issues such as abortion and gay rights could be neutralized, evangelicals would support a return to New Deal social democracy.  Scratch an evangelical, the argument goes, and you’ll find an economic populist waiting to get out.  Likewise, when commentators do look at the role of foreign policy in the rise of fundamentalism, they tend to focus on the strange alliance formed between neoconservatives and evangelicals in support of Israel.

This view, I argue in Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, tends to ignore the important role conservative Christian intellectuals played in laying the groundwork not only for Bush’s post-9/11 rehabilitation of militarism but for the free-market absolutism that underwrites that militarism.

The influence of neocons in Bush’s “remoralization” of American diplomacy has been widely noted.   But Empire’s Workshop sheds light on the Christian Right’s contribution as well.   To understand this contribution, one has to revisit Ronald Reagan’s brutal patronage of death-squad states in El Salvador and Guatemala and anti-communist insurgents in Nicaragua – a crusade which in retrospect now has to be understood as boot camp for the shock troops of the gathering New Right.

While American expansion has long been bound up with notions of religious purpose and moral meaning, the relationship between evangelicalism and imperial militarism has not always been harmonious.  Throughout the whole of the twentieth century, evangelicals proselytized abroad, understanding their missionary work in Latin America and elsewhere as contributing to biblical fulfillment.  But as part of their general retreat from secular politics, American evangelicals, even as they accepted the tenets of anti-communism, tended to stay out of international politics.  This began to change in the 1960s, when preachers like Billy Graham increasingly drew connections between the crisis at home and the crisis abroad, particularly in the third world.  As did secular neoconservative declinists, evangelical theologians such as John Price and Jerry Falwell interpreted defeat in Vietnam as a signal moment of world history in which the US stood at the precipice of spiritual collapse.  They not only pushed the evangelical movement to fight what would become known as the culture wars, the campaign against the ERA and so forth, but to get more involved in foreign affairs as well, supporting causes associated with America’s resurgent nationalist Right.  Some worked to oppose disarmament treaties and defend Ian Smith’s White government in Rhodesia, while others, such as Jerry Falwell, traveled to Taiwan and Israel. 

The Reagan White House tapped into this stirring evangelical internationalism to circumvent public and congressional opposition to Reagan’s Central American wars.  At the request of the White House, for instance, Pat Robertson used his Christian Broadcasting Network to raise money for Efraín Ríos Montt, the evangelical Christian who presided over the Guatemala genocide.  Most of the Guatemalan relief aid raised by evangelicals in the United States, by groups such as the California-based charismatic Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, went to help the military’s efforts to establish control in the countryside in the wake of its campaign of massacres.  In Honduras, Gospel Crusades, Inc, Friends of the Americas, Operation Blessing, World Vision, the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and World Medical Relief shipped hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to Contra and refugee camps, where they established schools, health clinics, and religious missions.  Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum sent down “Freedom Fighter Friendship Kits” to the Nicaraguan rebels, complete with toothpaste, insect repellent, and a bible.  In El Salvador, Harvesting in Spanish, Paralife Ministries, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund (affiliated with the Unification Church) and the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade broadcast radio programs, handed out bibles, ran schools, established medical and dental clinics, and provided moral education to the soldiers.  In Nicaragua, groups like the Christian Aid for Romania and Transworld Missions used the cover of humanitarian aid to organize Christian opposition to the Sandinistas.  In the United States, Campus Crusade for Christ and the Moon-affiliated Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles countered the fast-growing student movement opposed to Reagan’s Central American policy.

This mobilization, in turn, both increased evangelical involvement in foreign policy and helped fuse the religious and secular branches of the New Right.  Evangelicals shared with neocons a sense that America had grown dangerously weak, and that only a rebirth of political will, or spiritual renewal, would save it.  Their understanding of themselves as a persecuted people engaged in an end-time struggle between good and evil mapped easily onto the millennialism of anti-communist militarists, particularly those involved in Central America, many of whom, such as William Casey and Oliver North, were themselves ultraconservative Christians.

One aspect of the Central American wars largely overlooked is the importance of Liberation Theology -- which Central American evangelical activists described as the "single most critical problem that Christianity has faced in all of its 2000 year history" and a "theology of mass murder" -- in united the New Right.   Well before radical Islam, Liberation Theology, along with the Christian humanism of the domestic solidarity movement, was the “political religion” the Reagan Revolution squared off against.  It provided a powerful ethical challenge to both mainstream conservative theologians and fundamentalists, who responded by reestablishing the link between free markets and morality and reaffirming America as a “redeemer nation.”  So when Jeane Kirkpatrick remarked that the three US nuns raped, mutilated and murdered by Salvadoran security forces in 1980 were “not just nuns, they were political activists," she was being more than cruel.  She was signaling her disapproval of a particular kind of peace Christianity.

The violence of Central America's counterinsurgent war stoked the fires of evangelical Manichaeism, leading Falwell, Robertson, and others to ally with the worst murderers and torturers in Central and Latin America. “For the Christian,” wrote fundamentalist Rus Walton, “there can be no neutrality in this battle: ‘He that is not with Me is against Me’ (Matthew 12:30).”  Sound familiar?  Many of the death squad members were themselves conservative religious ideologues, taking the fight against liberation theology to the trenches.  Guatemalan security forces regularly questioned their prisoners about their “views on liberation theology.”  Others report being tortured to the singing of hymns and praying.  Some evangelicals excused such suffering.  “Killing for the joy of it was wrong,” a Paralife minister from the United States comforted his flock of Salvadoran soldiers, “but killing because it was necessary to fight against an anti-Christ system, communism, was not only right but a duty of every Christian.”

And as the involvement of evangelicals in world affairs continued, they started to align their theology to incorporate elements of both the idealism and unflinching realism that today prevails among foreign policy elites.  “Our government,” wrote Falwell in 1980 but sounding like George W. Bush in 2002, “has the right to use its armaments to bring wrath upon those who would do evil by hurting other people.”

Central America, in other words, was the crucible that brought together Christian populism, free-market absolutism, and American militarism that now powers the Bush Doctrine.  For instance, William J. Murray, a prominent evangelical activist and chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, a Christian humanitarian aid group that today focuses its energies on the Middle East, is a strong backer of Bush’s foreign policy.  He got his overseas start in Central America in the 1980s, as head of Freedom’s Friends, set up to counter, in his words, “those priests in Nicaragua, with their Liberation theology.”

After Reagan left office and the Central American crises wound down, the concordance between evangelicals and necons begin to fracture.  Prominent fundamentalists, such as Pat Robertson, distrusted George Herbert Walker Bush, who epitomized the kind of East Coast liberal Atlanticism that the Right had rebelled against. Bush’s call to create a “New World Order” didn’t help matters, stoking conspiracies of jack boots and black helicopters flying under the flag of the UN.  Robertson even suggested that Saddam Hussein was tricked into invading Kuwait in order to justify a war that would help install that order.  Yet many fundamentalists extended their increasingly confident engagement in world affairs well beyond Central America, as confirmed by the seven standing ovations that greeted Rice’s speech in Greensboro last month.

Empire’s Workshop, then, can read as the missing link connecting books that focus on one or another conservative group to explain Bush’s foreign policy -- Fukuyama on the neocons, for example, or Kevin Phillips on the fundamentalists -- but overlook the place where they all came together:  Central America.

For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mark Silverschotz
Hometown: New York, NY
You didn't identify the play by name but I see from the link that it is "Trouble in Paradise." Great film.  I had the pleasure, during the summer of 1978, to watch it (alas, on scratchy 16 mm) with none other than Samson Raphaelson, the film's screenwriter, and other members of his Columbia class on "The Screenplay" (this was more of a film criticism class than a "how to" screenwriting class).  Before showing the film, he read from his copy of the screenplay, focusing in particular on the opening scene where (in the film, Herbert Marshall) the male lead orders champagne and, making his request to the steward) asks that he be able to "see the moon" in his champagne.  We (and he) very much liked his screenplay, but he made a point of bashing "It Happened One Night" which had (two years later) taken home a host of Oscars that "Trouble" didn't.  This seemed still to bother him, forty years (!) after the fact.  Still, a very sharp, interesting guy he was.

July 5, 2006 | 12:22 PM ET | Permalink

Say it ain’t so, Joe

I can’t believe this is happening.

From Today’s Papers:

The NYT's Sabrina Taverinese, who's been doing some fine features from Baghdad, has a piece inside the paper saying Baghdad's central morgue received 1,595 bodies last month, 16 percent more than in May and about double last June's tally.  That of course comes after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and, though the Times doesn't mention it, in the face of the capital's much-vaunted security crackdown.  "In terms of the level of violence," the U.S. ambassador to Iraq told the BBC yesterday, Zarqawi's death "has not had any impact at this point."

Don’t Go Away Mad, Joe…

The thing about Lieberman:  Regardless of ideology, I’d vote against the guy purely on the basis of his incompetence.  What, after all, are his accomplishments as a senator?  During this past term, as far as I can, they are two:

  1. A $1.3 trillion war that has made us more insecure, engendered hatred, killed tens of thousands, etc.

  2. A Department of Homeland Security, which, as Frank Rich points out, “in keeping with the Bush administration's original opposition to it, isn't really a government agency at all so much as an empty shell, a networking boot camp for future private contractors dreaming of big paydays.  Thanks to an investigation by The Times's Eric Lipton, we know that some two-thirds of the top department executives, including Tom Ridge and his principal deputies, have cashed in on their often brief service by becoming executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that have received billions of dollars in government contracts.  Even John Ashcroft, the first former attorney general in American history known to immediately register as a lobbyist, is selling his Homeland Security connections to interested bidders.  "When you got it, flaunt it!" as they say in "The Producers."

    To see the impact of such revolving-door cronyism, just look at the Homeland Security process that mandated those cutbacks for New York and Washington. The official in charge, the assistant secretary for grants and training, is Tracy Henke, an Ashcroft apparatchik from the Justice Department who was best known for trying to politicize the findings of its Bureau of Justice Statistics. (So much so that the White House installed her in Homeland Security with a recess appointment, to shield her from protracted Senate scrutiny.)  Under Henke math, it follows that St. Louis, in her home state (and Mr. Ashcroft's), has seen its counterterrorism allotment rise by more than 30 percent while that for the cities actually attacked on 9/11 fell.  And guess what: the private contractor hired by Homeland Security to consult on Ms. Henke's handiwork, Booz Allen Hamilton, now just happens to employ Greg Rothwell, who was the department's procurement chief until December.  Booz Allen recently nailed a $250 million Homeland Security contract for technology consulting.

Dude, you’re fired for cause.  Plus there’s his obvious:

  • lack of loyalty to his party, duh, and

  • lack of understanding of the meaning of democracy (and by the way, Broder doesn’t seem to care…)  Plus, look at this quote:  "a minority of the minority, who are antis, have a disproportionate influence" in the primary vote.  By “disproportionate influence” he means actually voting.

I’ve not written anything about this race before, and I do think that which party controls Congress is a great deal more important than any individual senator or congressman, but this is truly insulting on so many levels, well, I’ve said enough.

The great Tom Tomorrow on Blogofascism here.

Tom Engelhardt writes:  

The top officials of this administration are remarkable gamblers and optimists.  They have also proven remarkably single-minded in playing the destabilization game.  If they are in the Roman-Empire business, don't think Augustus, think Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.  Like so many gambling addicts, they've never run across a situation in which they're unwilling to roll the dice, no matter the odds.  They just give those dice that special little rub and offer a prayer for good luck, always knowing that this just has to be their day.

It's here.

Stop the Presses:

A White House official tells ABC News' Jessica Yellin that "the President, wearing a red and white short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt and casual slacks, celebrated his 60th birthday in an East Room dinner filled with friends, family, and staff.  The dinner included fried chicken, Cajun shrimp, biscuits, salads, and a three-tier chocolate cake, covered with numerous decorations (including a replica White House), and topped with the number 60. There were several toasts, and the President received gifts from staff and family.  The President and his guests watched fireworks from the Truman balcony."

(Thanks Petey)

Alter-reviews:  Summer Fun…

On Sunday night, I went to the season’s opener at East Hampton’s Guild Hall’s Night of Stars with Julie Wilson, Christine Andreas, Tom Michael and Maude Maggart.  The evening could have been a catastrophe, since it was set up to pay tribute to the Guild Hall itself, and that’s a recipe for sappiness and to be honest, it was a bit sappy.  But only a bit.  There was a bit of lyric-changing for making the songs about the Hall, and quite a bit of history interspersed with the songs.  As a historian, however, I can hardly object.  The Hall does have a storied history, owing to the plethora of wealthy artsy types who summer in the area, and it has many important artistic and celebrity moments to its credit.  Anyway, Maude Maggart was luminous, per usual, and Julie Wilson was really funny and charming.  Christine Andreas sings powerfully and has real stage presence.  So the evening was a triumph and I even ended up caring a little about the cause.  Summer theater; it’s a good thing, no?  More on the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, here.

Monday night, I stopped in at the Stephen Talkhouse to see Dave Mason’s band.  It’s lucky that they were playing in a bar—albeit a pretty expensive one, because Mason's band is kind of an ur-bar band.  The catch is that a bunch the classics he plays, he wrote and performed back in another life.  Traffic doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves for being how terrific they were —if the Dead and the Allmans were an A+ then Traffic was an A- — and songs like “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Feelin’ Alright” are perfect bar band songs.  So too, some of Mason’s stuff from the seventies like, “We Just Disagree.”  Anyway, it’s impossible to be pretentious at his age with his gut etc, in bar like this and so all there is really good musicians playing near-great music and everybody in the room having a really great time.  It’s a great invention, this rock n’ roll thing.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bill Honl
Hometown: Hammond, Oregon
In response to Stupid's comments on the Gaza food situation and possible US responses I can say only this.  Expecting this administration to act sensibly just isn't realistic.  Our best interests as a country have consistently taken a back seat to rigid ideology and delusion without regard for fact, law or morality.  Stupid, your points are valid, and your approach is well thought out.  That's why it will never make it into play.

Name: Bill Monaghan
Hometown: Springfield, OH
Did you see what the WSJ editorial board called the editor of the New York Times?  I expected more from a print publication but maybe I'm kidding myself.  Have they always written like Rush Limbaugh?  I sent an e-mail to a gmitchell in response to their last line: "Forgive us if we conclude that a newspaper led by someone who speaks this way to college seniors has as a major goal not winning the war on terror but obstructing it."  Sorry.  No honest person can forgive you for reaching that conclusion until you retract it.  It's an extremely nasty thing to say about someone and isn't supported by the available evidence.  Y'all oughta say your sorry.  Why do you Bushies seem always to need to push the policy discussion into personal attacks?

Name: Bernard
Hometown: Reidsville, North Carolina
It's probably too early for this debate, but I have a bit of a problem with Brad's (from St. Louis) contention that John Edwards should be "the obvious choice for the next Democratic Presidential nominee."  When Edwards was elected Senator from North Carolina, we were quite proud of that accomplishment, and soon we heard that he was making quite an impression in the Senate.  What wasn't made clear was just what he had done to make that impression.  North Carolinians, Democrats included, felt like he forgot us soon after he arrived in Washington.  His surrender of his Senate seat felt like a betrayal, and now North Carolina is stuck with two, even more out-of-touch, Republican Senators.  Truthfully though, it is doubtful he could have retained his Senate seat had he not chosen to relinquish it.  I worry about any Democratic Presidential nominee whose ability to carry his/her home state is questionable.  Of course, his placement on the 2004 ticket added interest here, but remember, North Carolina still easily went to Bush in that election.  And if Edwards becomes the nominee for '08, we would be forced to repeat the nightmare of being bogged down with tortured explanations of how he voted for the war before he was against it.  Edwards' tremendous success as a lawyer can certainly be admired, but I wasn't the only one around here who grew tired of his mantra about being "the son of a mill worker."  While knowing his personal history was important, his incessant dwelling on that fact started to feel a bit patronizing and, perhaps on some group subconscious level, like an insult to people here with a similar station in life as millworkers.  The Democratic party should be placing more emphasis on continuing its historical tradition of standing up for labor rather than suggesting the answer is escape from the working class by upward mobility for a lucky, albeit talented, few.  Don't get me wrong.  If Edwards ends up being the nominee, of course I would support him with all my heart.  And who knows?  Maybe the Republicans will nominate the worst candidate imaginable to run against him and he would win.  Unfortunately, the Republicans habit of nominating the worst candidate imaginable does not seem to get us over the hump.

Name: M.B.
Hometown: Jackson, MS
Caught you on CSpan yesterday (panel discussion with Katrina Vanden Heuval, Helen Thomas and E.J. Dionne.)  I particularly liked your take on the need for Party unity.  I could not agree more that we need a candidate in '08 who can win and we must subjugate pet principles in that endeavor.  However, you seemed to suggest that the Left was more likely to be doctrinaire and unruly.  I don't really see that.  I see the Left as being fairly open to a candidate that looks like a winner.  Is there a bias that the candidate must have the 'right' position on Iraq?  I sure hope so.  If the candidate doesn't have the 'right' position on Iraq, he/she doesn't have a prayer of winning.  If 60% of Americans want out of Iraq and we present them with a viable candidate who shares that goal -- that's got to count for something.  For once, in a long, long time, we lefties have a truly popular position.  That is -- get out of Iraq as quickly as possible.  Abandon any inconvenient principle necessary, but don't drop one that happens also to be shared by some 60% of the voters.  In addition, it seems to me that it is the Centrist Democrats that are more dismissive of us on the Left and divisive in their rhetoric.  I hear way too much carping about the Left's intolerance of religion and adherence to sacred liberal cows from the likes of Marshall Whitman.  For some reason, I haven't heard much from prominent lefties.  I don't get marching orders from Michael Moore or Cindy Sheehan.  I don't see crowds marching with "God is Dead" signs.  It really looks like a typical rightwing strawman tactic.  When all I want -- and I'm willing to bet a large % of the left would agree with this -- is a real Democrat who can win; not a Republican-lite who probably, by definition, cannot.  Who wants the imitation when you can get the real thing?  It has become my suspicion of late that, in fact, the DLCers would rather lose than own up to how wrong they were about this war.  The funny thing to me is -- I don't hear anyone demanding that they own up.  Just to join the battle to get us out.  Which is exactly where most Americans want us to be. What could be more centrist?

Name: Heidi Kaufman
Hometown: Wilmington, NC
Eric, I recently saw you speak as part of a panel to young liberal journalists (on CNN or CSPAN).  I very much agreed with your comments about being practical about elections and as unified as we can be, set aside our differences as much as that is possible, to oust this present administration who reminds us every day, that yes, "it can get worse."  In your article about objectivity and the news, I was enlightened by the points you were making about "objectivity" style reporting and the way cowardly reporters will hide behind the shield of "objectivity" to avoid confronting the lies coming from the White House.  It would seem that confronting lies would be the highest form of objective news reporting, and yet, these folks seem to get away with using it to avoid the truth.  Very interesting.  Why do you think it is that these journalists are afraid of calling this administration on the obvious?  Why have they given Bush so much free reign to lie and deceive?

Name: Ken Chambers
Hometown: Austin, Texas
I want to be among the first Democrats to jump on the Condi Rice for president bandwagon.  Who could possibly be easier to defeat than a woman who (as national security advisor, no less) had never considered the possibility of terrorists flying airplanes into buildings?  After attending conferences with anti-aircraft missiles in the roof?  Throw in her good work in Iraq, buying shoes during Katrina, and we could go on and on.  A recent AP story mentioned only support, none of these wee "issues" and that's just going to make it all the more fun come campaign time.

Name: Leila A.
Hometown: Oakland, CA
Re: Cody's closing - I didn't bother to read the NY Times article when it first appeared because I'm an East Bay local and know all about it.  So I didn't realize until reading the article dated 6/18 that you must think Cody's is closing.  Cody's TELEGRAPH AVENUE flagship is closing.  Cody's has two other locations, one on 4th Street in Berkeley across from the Crate and Barrel outlet, and one in San Francisco (not sure where, I don't go to that one).  I just got a multi-page Cody's circular in today's mail listing dozens of lectures and author talks for the next couple of months.  Cody's is still going strong, and you can order online if you can't get to one of their other locations.  I am sorry about the Telegraph Ave. location - my husband and I are among the few of our demographic group who actually go there.  And yes I wish Berkeley could figure out what to do about Telegraph Avenue (although as an ex-New Yorker and survivor of the bad old days of the late 70s and 80s, the scene on Telegraph doesn't bother me).  You won't have to step over tattooed runaways from Bakersfield and their sleeping pit bulls to shop at Cody's any longer.  Now you'll just have to dodge rich matrons on Fourth Street making a beeline for Sur La Table and April Cornell.  I never minded the runaways, they reminded me of my youth on the Lower East Side, when mohawked runaways from New Jersey skulked around the doorways of Avenue A, smoking cigarettes and drinking egg creams.  Anyway, Telegraph Ave. still has Moe's for books and Rasputin and Amoeba for music.  Reason enough to go.  If you're in Berkeley on tour, Eric, there are still plenty of great independent bookstores all over the east Bay: Pegasus, Pendragon, Cody's 4th St., Black Oak, Diesel, Walden Pond, Laurel Bookstore, and innumerable small secondhand bookshops, along with Small Press Distribution and so many good small trade presses.

July 3, 2006 | 10:35 AM ET | Permalink

I am taking an extra day because I love my country, sooo much.  If people really miss me, I'll be on Al Franken's show around 1:30 p.m. ET.

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