The Nation, 21 April 2008

“Chalabi’s Lobby” shows both that Ahmad Chalabi’s efforts to persuade the US to invade Iraq were paid for by the US government itself and that Chalabi is back in favor with senior American officials.  “Inside the Surge” argues that America is helpless in Iraq, and that Iraqi groups who share none of America’s interests are manipulating American forces and money for their own advantage.  Some memorable lines: “The Americans think they have purchased Sunni loyalty by giving aid to these groups, but in fact it is the Sunnis who have bought the Americans.”  “The Bush administration and the US military have stopped talking of Iraq as a grand project of nation building, and the US media have dutifully done the same.  They too have abandoned any larger narrative, presenting Iraq as a series of small pieces.  Just as Iraq is physically deconstructed, so too is it intellectually deconstructed, not as an occupied country undergoing several civil wars but as small stories of local heroes and villains, of well-meaning American soldiers, of good news here and progress there.” 

Alice Kaplan reviews a clutch of books by, about, and related to Irene Nemirovsky.  Matt Steinglass reviews two books about the Vietnam War, Andrew Wiest’s Vietnam’s Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN, and Mark Moyar’s Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam.  Wiest’s book includes the riveting story of Colonel Pham Van Dinh, the hero of Dong Ap Bia (aka Hamburger Hill) who later defected to the North.  Leading with this story, Steinglass argues that the Communists were better able to meet the aspirations of Vietnamese nationalism than the Saigon regime ever could.  As for Moyar’s book, Steinglass claims that “just as for some liberals Iraq has always been about Vietnam, for Moyar Vietnam has always been about Iraq.”  Steinglass argues that Moyar’s partisanship leads him to wander away from a set of perfectly reasonable claims and to try to defend the some of the most reprehensible policies the USA pursued in Vietnam.

The Nation, 7 April 2008

A special issue devoted to the 75th anniversary of the New Deal.

Most interesting are three items outside the special pieces.  A brief editorial by Laila al-Arian notices the recent panels Iraq Veterans Against the War sponsored in Silver Spring, Maryland, where US military personnel returned from Iraq testified about war crimes they committed and witnessed in that country.  Unlike their predecessors who appeared at the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation during the Vietnam War, these veterans all produced photographs, videos, and other corroborating evidence for their accounts.  What stick in my mind was a quote from an active duty enlisted man named Hart Viges.  Specialist Viges tells of his refusal to join in desecrating an Iraqi corpse.  “I said no- not in the context of, That’s really wrong on an ethical basis.  I said no because it wasn’t my kill.  You shouldn’t take trophies for things you didn’t kill.  That’s where my mindset was back then.” 

Kim Phillips-Fein reviews a silly book by libertarian writer Amity Shlaes arguing that the Great Depression was solely the result of government meddling and that only laissez faire economic policies can lead to prosperity.  Phillips-Fein points out the logical implication of this argument.  The US effort in World War Two represented the biggest increase in government spending, taxation, and regulation in history up to that point.  On Shlaes’ premises, that should have been accompanied by a profound exacerbation of the depression.  Yet in fact the war years saw prosperity return to America, and were followed by decades of tremendous growth. 

Robin Einhorn reviews Woody Holton’s history of the debates around the constitution, faulting Holton for his uncritical acceptance of the Antifederalist worldview and his failure to engage with any scholarship produced since 1940.  Still, Einhorn finds much to praise in Holton’s unflagging optimism and democratic spirit.  “What Holton really wants is for Americans to understand that we have a grander political tradition than constitutionalism, a democratic tradition in which ‘ordinary farmers’ used tangible power to win tangible gains.”

The Nation (five issues)

The Democratic primaries dominate the issues of 25 February, 3 March, 10 March, 17 March, and 24 March.  Interesting bits do slip in, though.  What are these bits?

 25 February: A long review of a biography of Joschka Fischer and Stuart Klawans’ review of the Romanian illegal-abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

3 March: Alexander Cockburn declares that diverting Social Security taxes to Wall Street “was never a job for the Republicans, any more than was welfare ‘reform.’  Eradication of the social safety net is a job for the Democratic Party,” a job Bill Clinton would have completed had God not sent Monica Lewinsky to rescue us.  Kathryn Joyce writes on the New Natalists, right-leaning types who worry that too few white babies are being born.  Joyce identifies historian Allen Carlson as the intellectual godfather of this group.  I’ve read some of Carlson’s books and can attest that he is at once an excellent historian whose works anyone can benefit from reading and a far-right crackpot whose triumph in the realm of public policy would be catastrophic.  Jochen Hellbeck reviews two books on Stalin, tracing the development of Utopian plans into hellish institutions.  Ronald Grigor Suny reviews two other books about Bolshevism.  And from Charles Bernstein, a nifty little love poem called “All the Whiskey in Heaven,” which ended up in my Valentine’s Day package to Mrs Acilius.

10 March: Tom Hayden revisits Vietnam and is very uncomfortable with what he finds there; Daniel Wilkinson reviews four books on Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela and reaches far less rosy conclusions than have previous issues of The Nation.

17 March: Jeremy Scahill reports on Barack Obama’s stated willingness to continue using mercenary firms like Blackwater; and Daniel Lazare reviews two books on religious conflicts in early Modern Europe, arguing that secularism is older than the Enlightenment and defending it as the one tried-and-true means of overcoming religious conflict. 

24 March: Mark Mazower wrings his hands about the implications of the Kosovo’s “independence”; Neve Gordon reviews work on Palestinians who collaborate with Zionism; and Stuart Klawans reviews Chop Shop, a film which he identifies as part of “a small but fascinating group of Iranian-flavored movies made in New York City.”

The Nation, 15 October 2007

Two pieces deal with the likelihood that rightists will spend the next few decades trying to convince themselves and the voting public that the reason the war in Iraq was such a disaster was that the left stabbed America in the back.  A column by Eric Alterman compares the rumblings to this effect that we have already heard to the Nazi movement’s claim that Germany’s defeat in the 1914-1918 War was due to a Jewish plot to stab the country in the back.  A review essay by Rick Perlstein takes on recent books claiming that the USA was at some point close to success in Vietnam, dismantling the scholarly pretensions of these books and using Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ theory of the stages of grief to argue that when an American military intervention turns out badly, hawks “begin with denial, anger, and bargaining, just like you and me.  And that’s where they stay- forever paralyzed by a petulant refusal to acknowledge their fantasy’s passing, a simple inability to process reality.” 

 The article that made me the angriest documented a systematic effort on the part of the army to pressure doctors to misdiagnose wounded Iraq vets so that they would not qualify for disability benefits.  Hardly less angering was an article about the immunity that mercenary gangs like Blackwater Corporation enjoy for murders and other crimes committed in Iraq. 

The closest thing to light entertainment in the issue was Jane Smiley’s review of the memoirs of Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, two of the founders of the contemporary Christian Right.  Schaeffer’s rebellion against his parents’ beliefs and his horrifying descriptions of the personalities of leading evangelists seem to be part of a lively, interesting personality.

The American Conservative, 8 October 2007

Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel best known as the author of The New American Militarism, excoriates General David Petraeus’ recent Congressional testimony, pointing out that if Petraeus were correct and the “surge” were working, then his recommendation that it be discontinued would be preposterous.  Bacevich argues that the elite in Washington is driven chiefly by the fear of admitting that it was wrong.  After reviewing Petraeus’ arguments and contrasting his views with the more cautious pronouncements of other senior commanders, Bacevich concludes:

Politically, it qualifies as a brilliant maneuver.  The general’s relationships with official Washington remain intact.  Yet he has broken faith with the soldiers he commands and the Army to which he has devoted his life.  He has failed his country.  History will not judge him kindly.   

American debates on foreign policy are usually conducted in terms of two, and only two, historical analogies: Munich and Vietnam.  Not only do these analogies grow tiresome, but their use in debate rests on an absurd set of oversimplifications.  Those tired of this idiocy may welcome Paul W. Schroeder’s “Fire Fight.”  Schroeder compares the current position of the USA in Iraq to the position of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Italy in the period 1848-1859.  Not only does Schroeder draw out intriguing parallels between the way the Hapsburgs weakened themselves by wasting their resources in an unwinnable war in Italy and the way in which America is weakening itself in Iraq, he also acknowledges what the Munich–Vietnam shouters usually overlook, that an analogy is a comparison between things which are in other respects dissimilar.  Given that definition, a “perfect analogy” is a contradiction in terms.  Schroeder specifies the limits within which analogy is useful. 

 Other highlights include Philip Weiss, keeper of the mondoweiss blog, on the apparent inability of the organization Freedom Watch to specify its relationship with the Bush administration or its policy towards Israel; Kelley Beaucar Vlahos on neoconservatives among the top advisors to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama; and Pat Buchanan on the future of Belgium.