Greg Grandin

READ IT: More than 70 scholars join Noam Chomsky to sign petition to stop the US from interfering in Venezuelan politics

The following open letter—signed by 70 scholars on Latin America, political science, and history as well as filmmakers, civil society leaders, and other experts—was issued on Thursday, January 24, 2018 in opposition to ongoing intervention by the United States in Venezuela.

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Here's how Bush Sr.'s pardons for Iran-Contra conspirators set the stage for Trump’s impunity

As the media lauds George H.W. Bush’s legacy, we look at his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Bush Sr. was vice president when the Reagan administration conspired to deceive and defy Congress with its illegal arms sale to Iran in exchange for securing the release of American hostages in Lebanon. The proceeds from the sale were used to illegally fund the Nicaraguan Contras. In 1992, when Bush Sr. was president, he pardoned several Iran-Contra defendants, including Caspar Weinberger, Robert McFarlane and Elliott Abrams. We speak with Greg Grandin, prize-winning author and professor of Latin American history at New York University.

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Henry Kissinger's Monstrous Mideast Policy

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We Regret to Inform You That in 4 Days You and Your Family Will Be Deported to Haiti

Last week, I wrote that the Dominican Republic has summarily stripped over a hundred thousand Dominicans born in the DR of Haitian parents of their citizenship and is threatening to deport them to Haiti. And though initial reports suggested that the deadline for deportation might be delayed, it now seems to be going forward as planned: In four days, hundreds of thousands of people in the Western Hemisphere will become stateless.

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Why 'Moby Dick' Explains the American Empire

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Which Countries Helped the CIA With Their Dirty Torture Work and Which Didn't?

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9 Reasons Dems Should Push Immigration Reform This Year

For decades, progressives and Democrats have searched in vain for a wedge issue to call their own, something that could match the success Republicans have had in using race, abortion and homosexuality to split the electorate. Yet unable even to leverage environmental catastrophe, drastic economic inequality and near global financial collapse to their advantage, Democrats have instead mastered trimming and triangulating, accepting much of the conservative agenda while promising to implement it more effectively. But if Democrats could overcome their shortsightedness and embrace immigrants' rights -- as passionately as Republicans mobilize around tax cuts, fetuses and war -- they may find the holy grail they've been looking for, one with the power to transform domestic and foreign policy. Here are nine reasons immigration reform, especially legislation that will grant citizenship to the millions of undocumented Latinos, is a progressive game changer:

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Human Rights Violations Persist in Honduras

The human-rights situation in Honduras has deteriorated over the last month, since soldiers deposed the country’s democratically elected president on June 28, forcing him out of bed at gunpoint and putting him, still in pajamas, on an airplane to Costa Rica.   At a press conference held on Thursday in Tegucigalpa’s Honduras Maya Hotel (where in the 1980s, the CIA and Argentine intelligence set up headquarters to organize the anti-Sandinista Contra mercenaries), the International Observation Mission – an ad-hoc monitoring group comprised of representatives from 15 European and Latin American human-rights organizations to investigate political repression following Honduras’ June 28 coup – issued its preliminary report.  Having toured the country and interviewed individuals from all sectors of society, the Mission found that Honduran security forces continue to engage in “grave and systematic violations of human rights.”

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Fidel Castro on Fidel Castro

One of Fidel Castro's earliest political memories is of Spaniards arguing over the Spanish Civil War, and his first act of censorship, he explains in My Life (Scribner, $40), was done in kindness. When asked by his family's illiterate cook -- a "fire-breathing Republican" -- for news of the war, the nine-year old read him stories that played up loyalist success because he wanted to make him "feel better." Castro's Galician father was a franquista, as were his Jesuit teachers, who prayed for Spain's martyred priests while offering not a word for "the Republicans who were being shot by firing squads." A recent study of Castro's grade school years has him an admirer of fascism, and in My Life, distilled from over a hundred hours of conversations with Le Monde diplomatique editor Ignacio Ramonet, Castro does mention that he collected trading cards commemorating Mussolini's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. "I became almost an expert on that war in Abyssinia," he says. But Castro remembers this as his first object lesson on modern consumerism: his friends would compete to collect a complete set of cards but "some of them would deliberately never be printed, to make kids buy them, you know. Capitalism."

By the time he had graduated with a law degree from the University of Havana in 1950, Castro was deep into the cosmopolitan Caribbean's "anti-imperialist and anti-dictatorial" politics, advocating for Puerto Rican independence and visiting hospitalized students in Panama who had been injured while protesting US control of the Canal Zone. Years before he and his brother Raúl launched their failed first bid in 1953 to overthrow the Cuban president Fulgencio Batista by seizing the Moncada military barracks, the future revolutionary had already participated in two armed movements, both outside of Cuba. In 1947 he trained to take part in an invasion of the Dominican Republic to overthrow Rafael Trujillo. Organized by the storied Caribbean Legion, an alliance of leftists and democrats that was funded by the governments of Costa Rica, Venezuela and Guatemala, this attempt to restage Normandy in the Caribbean and impose FDR's Four Freedoms by force on what then was one of Latin America's last dictatorships was a disaster. Castro jumped ship soon after the expedition left Cuba and swam back to shore. A year later, he was in Bogotá, Colombia's capital, as part of a pan-American student delegation when a riot careening toward revolution erupted upon the assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who ran on a platform of land reform, workers rights and an end to the repression of peasants. This time, Castro committed. He helped seize a police station and commandeer its arms. Swept away by the "multitude on the march," he climbed on a bench and tried to rouse a detachment of soldiers to join the insurrection. "Everyone listened," he recalls, "no one did anything, and there I was with my rifle making my speech."

The riots sputtered out, and Castro returned to Cuba, which was democratic but venally so. The "revolutionary generation" of the 1930s was in power, yet its ideals, modeled on those of the Spanish Republic, were corrupted by the flood of US corporate capital and mafia money. For many Cubans, the countryside seemed to have turned into a giant sugar plantation, the city a giant brothel. At this point, Castro supported the Partido Ortodoxo, which was led by the popular Eduardo Chibás, who set himself the difficult task of invigorating Cuban democracy while accommodating Washington's anticommunism. Castro would become an icon of the armed New Left, held responsible by some for the revolutionary militancy that spread throughout Latin America in the 1960s. Yet already in the 1940s, the University of Havana was overrun by armed gangs that killed under the banner not of Marx, Stalin or Trotsky but of various ideologically indistinct parties fighting for a share of political spoils. Whether Castro overcame or descended into this violence remains a matter of dispute; he has long been charged with committing murder to gain control of the university's student federation. My Life skims over the period with a vagueness that's now common in official histories of the revolution. Yet the rare time Castro admits emotion, much less fear, is when he describes fighting the "powers and all the impunities" of the "mafia" which controlled the university. Banned from entering the campus by students linked to the ruling political party, he went to the waterfront and wept. "That's right," he tells Ramonet, "at the ripe old age of twenty, I lay face down on the sand and cried."

In 1952, with a twenty-six year old Castro on the ticket for a congressional seat, Chibás's Ortodoxos were poised to win national elections. But Batista cancelled the vote and installed himself as president, adding Cuba to a broader political reaction that was then sweeping the hemisphere. In 1944, Latin America could count but five democracies; two years later, the numbers flipped as every country save five became democratic. But the tide turned in 1948 as the landed class, the military and the Catholic Church took advantage of the dawning cold war to go on the offensive. Venezuela began the ten-year Marcos Pérez Jimenéz dicatorship; Haiti's democracy collapsed, paving the way for Papa Doc and his mutilating Tonton Macoutes; and Gaitán's murder hastened a decade-long civil war in Columbia that took hundreds of thousands of lives. Trujillo was still in power, as was the Somoza clan in Nicaragua, and by the time of the CIA's ousting of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 the Caribbean basin was in lockdown. In many countries, especially Batista's Cuba, torture and extrajudicial killing became central components of civic life. "We were promised a world of peace," Castro says of the Allied victory in WWII, "we were promised that the gap between rich and poor would be closed, and that the more developed would help the less developed. All that was a huge lie."

This retrenchment produced an inward turn. A young generation of nationalists put aside the internationalism of the postwar period to focus on restoring democracy in their own countries. By this point Castro had already earned a reputation as a skilled orator, perfecting a style that Gabriel García Márquez later described as capable of conjuring "an irresistible, blinding state of grace." It's a talent the novelist recognized, in part because its development so closely tracked his own literary evolution. By coincidence, Latin America's two most famous surviving leftists were within blocks of each other in downtown Bogota on April 9, 1948, when Gaitán was killed, and they both witnessed the fearsome riots that followed. García Márquez fled the violence, yet his memoir Living to Tell the Tale recounts how Gaitán's aborted campaign led him to an appreciation of populism as a distinctly Latin American vernacular, one that by focusing on his country's worsening political repression and rural poverty opened a "breach" in the arid discourse of liberalism, conservatism and even Communism. He credits Gaitán's "epic speeches" with pushing him toward a new narrative voice, which when fully realized in One Hundred Years of Solitude would transcend folklorism and florid modernismo to situate Latin America's underdevelopment and seemingly chronic violence within a history of neocolonial dependency. García Márquez recalls coming upon a rally and hearing Gaitán for the first time in person: "I understood all at once that he had gone beyond the Spanish country and was inventing a lingua franca for everyone."

Castro, who also fashioned himself a rebel against form, tells Ramonet that Gaitán's killing and the riot that followed drove him to identify "even more with the cause of the people." The Cuban appreciated the Colombian's "precise and eloquent use of language," and like García Márquez was attracted to Gaitán's agrarian radicalism and his attacks on the oligarchy, which won over the rank-and-file of Colombia's Communist Party even as its leadership refused to support him. The power of Gaitán's voice -- like "lashes of a whip over the astonished city," wrote García Márquez -- contrasted with Cuba's highly stylized tradition of declamation, which was made even more rigid when performed by Cuban Stalinists. By the 1940s, the Cuban Communist Party, known as the Partido Socialista Popular, was focused nearly exclusively on narrow legalistic and economistic concerns, as confining to the aspiring revolutionary as Parnassian symbolism was to the aspiring novelist.

Castro's diction and phrasing is uncommonly precise for Cuban-Spanish, and while it can be mesmerizing when spoken it's leaden and pedantic when transcribed in the kind of long interviews that make up My Life. Ramonet asks Castro why his improvised speeches are more lyrical than those prepared beforehand. "Spoken language, I'll tell you, is not the same as written language," Castro responds, and then refers to "the accent, the tone of voice," the impromptu repetition of a "word throughout a paragraph." In developing his technique, Castro drew heavily from the populist Chibás, who in turn borrowed from José Martí to move people not with calls of class struggle but with promises of national redemption. Yet Chibás's populism was histrionic; he regularly found himself fighting saber duels with those he accused of misconduct, and in 1951 he committed suicide in the middle of his weekly radio show, shooting himself in the stomach because he couldn't produce evidence for a charge of corruption he had leveled at a government official. After his experience in Bogotá in 1948, Castro never again gave a speech where no one listened. He went well beyond formalism and populism, investing his appeals to the "people" with a historical logic that made absolute loyalty to the ideal of sovereignty seem seductive, no matter the human cost. "We are proud of the history of our country; we learned it in school and have grown up hearing of freedom, justice and human rights," he said in a lengthy defense at his 1953 trial for his first failed attempt to overthrow Batista, "and the Island will first sink into the sea before we consent to be the slaves of anyone."

For decades now, celebrants and critics of the Cuban Revolution have played a mugs game of trying to pinpoint the moment when Castro turned to Marxism. Castro himself has long hedged on this question, downplaying his populist roots in order to claim a purer socialist pedigree, though in My Life he acknowledges equally the influence of Martí's "ethics," which for Castro means national dignity, and Marxism-Leninism's historical "compass." And he admits favoring the moralizing Marx, whom the Jesuit-educated lawyer admires for his "austerity" and "self-sacrifice." "I once said somewhere that if Ulysses was captivated by the songs of the sirens, I was captivated by the irrefutable truths of the Marxist denunciations," Castro tells Ramonet. It's a tempting analogy; after all, it is only by closing his eyes and willfully blinding himself to the ugliness of the singers that Ulysses could be seduced by their song. But explaining the Cuban Revolution's tilt toward the Soviet Union by pinpointing when its captain broke free from the course of moderation misses the obvious: if Castro had been a Cuban Communist he probably would have been more willing to accommodate himself to the realities of Washington's power in the hemisphere; the Partido Socialista Popular had carved out a space in national politics by entering into successive backroom deals with corrupt regimes. It was Cuban populist-nationalism that was unyielding.

Nationalist resentment is sometimes built from fabricated grievances, but Cuba's long colonial and neo-colonial history filled a pantheon of real martyrs and a gallery of real rogues. In the late nineteenth century, rebels against Spanish rule forged an antiracist and democratic nationalism. This was remarkable considering how much of the world had fallen "under Darwin's sway," as Martí put it, alluding to social Darwinism's fortification of scientific racism in the late-nineteenth century. It was also tragic: in 1898, the US invaded, preempting the insurgents' victory, and Cuba became ward, as historian Ada Ferrer writes, to a "nation then inventing Jim Crow segregation. In the twentieth century, successive reformers came to power only to succumb to its privileges or Washington's will. The US regularly intervened in Cuba -- the Marines occupied it in 1906-09, 1912, and 1917-22 -- and just at the moment when FDR proclaimed his Good Neighbor Policy, his ambassador in Havana was openly working to oust Cuba's reformist president, Ramón Grau San Martin. This century of sacrifice and betrayal gave Castro's generation a finely tuned sense of anticipated disappointment. "Nothing was going to change," Castro says, even if Batista hadn't cancelled the 1952 elections and the Orthodoxos had been allowed to take office: treachery was "going to happen." "The frustration and disillusionment were going to be repeated all over again. And it was not possible to go back again, back over those long-travelled roads that led nowhere."

Much of Castro's legitimacy depended on his ability to map his progress onto the larger epic of the Hispanic left. After two years in prison for his part in the Moncada revolt, he left for exile in Mexico in 1955. There he and his brother assembled a band of Cuban expatriates, along with the Argentine Ernesto Guevara, who had just escaped the CIA coup in Guatemala. On a farm once owned by an ally of Pancho Villa, the men were trained in guerrilla tactics by a former general who had fought for the Spanish republic. A justifiable appreciation of his own historical importance produces in Castro a sense of disappointment in the smallness of his current enemies, not just George W. Bush but also Spain's ultramontane former prime minister José Maria Aznar, who has recently set up a foundation to combat Latin America's resurgent left and whom Castro enjoys calling caballerito, or the "little gentleman." The Cuban leader describes Aznar as an insecure, nervous man, "always changing his ties and things." Castro also admits to some unexpected sympathies with a few enemies of the left: He wistfully recalls Francisco Franco, whom he describes as "honourable" for not bending to Washington's will and breaking relations with Cuba. Just as Castro reaches back past his own birth to claim spiritual kinship with Marti and other independence leaders, he weaves the Spanish general into a broader tapestry of Cuban history. Franco was born in a town that sent troops to a Spanish battalion defeated by US troops in 1898. Castro speculates that perhaps Franco as a boy welcomed the beaten soldiers home and thus might have seen the Cuban Revolution as "Spain's revenge." In any case, Franco, a Galician like Castro's father, was shrewd and stayed out of WWII, unlike the "stupid" war that Bush and Aznar got themselves into.

Asked in 1956 by Cuba's Communist Party to "postpone" his planned invasion, Castro refused. "We would either be free or be martyrs," he says, "but no one renounces what he believes in, and I believed in what we were doing." Castro wasn't the originator of New Left volunteerism, yet his revolution did catalyze the hopes of many that the future could be freed from the past. Inspired by the revolution's achievements, a younger generation revived a dormant Latin American internationalism, now inflected with a third-world cast made luminous by Che, about whom Castro has curiously little to say other than stock observations. Castro's definition of democracy, in which social rights trumped political rights, resonated among a generation of Latin Americans embittered by their particular country's cycles of reform and reaction. His ability to beat back Washington redeemed a century of humiliations: from the annexation of more than a third of Mexico's national territory in 1848 to the overthrow of Arbenz in 1954, which served as a model for the CIA's abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Castro remains a Marxist-Leninist, so it is fitting that he has opted not to tell the story of his life in an autobiography, that emblem of bourgeois artifice. Instead, he's chosen, now as throughout his career, a more social form of self-depiction: the extended interview. His conversations with Ramonet took place between 2003 and 2005, and are surely his last contribution to this genre. Potentially more dialogical than autobiographies, interviews have their own mystifications, the most obvious being the omission of facts incongruous with the life, in this case, of a revolutionary: Castro, for example, never discusses his aforementioned reported involvement in university gangsterism.

Compared with previous published book-length interviews, My Life has the feeling of completeness. Castro's talks with Ramonet took place just before his near fatal stomach ailment -- the specifics of which are still guarded as a state secret -- which forced him into semi-retirement in July 2006. Castro's personal investment in this book has also given it a stamp of authority. He has spent considerable time revising the manuscript, fact-checking information with comrades and adding material he felt important to his legacy (first editions in Cuba and Spain were published unvetted). "I kept correcting the book at the worst moments," he said in response to concerns that his editorial work was hurting his recovery, "I wanted to finish it because I didn't know how much time I'd have."

The fullness of My Life, however, comes mostly from the circularity of its narrative, and from its presentation of a life lived, despite the fate of Marxism, in accordance with its times. Past interviews index Castro's political evolution to specific moments. In 1985, with Brazilian liberation theologian Frei Betto, the secular Castro made his peace with radical Catholicism, then on the rise. In 1992, with Sandinista leader Tomás Borge, he reconciled himself to the collapse of the USSR, beginning a critique of Soviet Communism that he elaborates here.

But while these earlier interviews plot points in an arc, My Life brings Castro back to where he started: as a defender of social-democratic constitutionalism. Neither renouncing his Marxism nor apologizing for his suppression of dissent, Castro, whose revolution represented for many a repudiation of reformist compromise, now claims kinship, to a greater degree than he has ever done in the past, with a broader social-democratic tradition. He pointedly praises the Spanish Left in the 1930s for working within the "democratic system" and acknowledges Chibás, who party historians had downplayed because of his anti-communism, as an inspiration. Castro still defends his decision to endorse the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (which he says he made "bitterly, sadly"), yet when discussing what was lost by the collapse of the USSR, he mentions not people's republics but European social democracies. "They've all started moving to the right," he laments. These maneuvers could be dismissed as the accommodations of an anachronism to new realities: Gabriel García Márquez once said Castro was a "sore loser" who would not rest until he was able to "invert the terms of the situation and convert defeat into a victory." But the adjustment is mutual, as the recent return of the left to power throughout South America has allowed Havana to break out of its Cold War isolation and establish good working relations with most of the continent.

Castro can still flash his shark-toothed righteousness, evoking the militant who said in 1953 that Cuba would sink into the sea before betraying its ideals, and who in 1962 helped bring the whole world to the nuclear precipice. When accused by Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González of taking a "Numantic position" -- a reference to the inhabitants of the Iberian city of Numantia, who futilely resisted a brutal two-year Roman siege -- Castro replied that he was a "great admirer of those people." It's pure posture. The most important advice he gave a besieged Chávez during the 2002 coup was not to do what Salvador Allende did under similar circumstances three decades earlier: "Don't sacrifice yourself!" With much of Latin America's newest new left embracing positions nearly identical to those advocated by Castro in the early 1950s, the 81-year old revolutionary can go gently. For someone reportedly on the losing side of history, Castro, in this last testament, sounds neither defiant nor repentant. "Surviving," he says, "is a privilege."

According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 300 political prisoners in Cuban jails, and citizens are "systemically denied basic rights to free expression, associations, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law." Cuba is a one-party state that relies on neighborhood committees to enforce loyalty. There is no real independence between the branches of government and the Criminal Code penalizes dissent. Throughout its course, the revolution has extended and retracted degrees of cultural freedom, at times encouraging creativity and even criticism only to follow up with the harassment and prolonged imprisonment of artists, writers and poets who crossed an ever-shifting line. For a state that can claim inspiring humanist achievements in the realm of health care, solidarity, education and, most recently, gay rights (thanks largely to the work of Castro's niece -- Raúl Castro's daughter -- Mariela Castro), the coercion involved in its defense can be deeply dehumanizing, as many who have suffered it have testified, such as the gay novelist Reinaldo Arenas, in his Before Night Falls (1993). Cuba has a high prisoner-to-population ratio in comparison to the rest of Latin America, but roughly equal to that of the English-speaking Caribbean and much lower than that of the US. Since the end of the cold war, there have been a series of crackdowns, including the 2003 execution of three ferry hijackers after summary trials, that have angered allies. In lieu of due process, the Cuban regime has instituted a personalistic appeals system whereby its supporters, or at least engagers (Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Carter, even Pope John Paul II), travel to the island to petition for the release of dissidents. "You'd have to ask for the list of all the people who were able to benefit" from a visit by Danielle Mitterrand, Castro tells Ramonet; "in some cases they were able to get satisfaction."

Supporters of the revolution justify this repression comparatively -- measuring it against the exponentially greater number of victims produced by Washington's allies, or, for that matter, Washington itself -- or in relation to the real threat the US has posed to its survival over the decades. Ramonet himself has been criticized in some reviews of My Life for being overly considerate to Castro. He does ask tough questions about policy failures and human-rights violations, but he allows his subject lengthy, largely uncontested responses. Ramonet defends his method, saying that he purposefully refused to play the role of judge or prosecutor to let "one of the most implacably attacked figures in the world . . . have his say." In any case, Ramonet seems not so much solicitous as subdued in the face of the paradox of the Cuban Revolution, whose idealistic achievements are as genuine as its repressions. Ramonet rightly says in his introduction that whatever its historical justification, the ongoing suppression of dissent is "indefensible."

Yet defend it he does, pointing out, again rightly, that since the revolution's triumph there have been over 3,500 deaths and almost 2,000 disabling injuries from terrorist attacks, most of them sponsored by or launched from the United States, which still funnels tens of millions of dollars a year to Cuban dissidents. Ramonet's position is similar to that of Gabriel García Márquez. "I am very critical of the Cuban Revolution," he told a reporter in 1980, but the "positive aspects of the revolution are more important and numerous than its negative features, so my position is to try to improve things from within." The Colombian has held firm ever since, refusing to join other left-leaning writers, like Jose Saramago and Eduardo Galeano, in publicly criticizing Havana after its 2003 crackdown. García Márquez has written what he has called a "very harsh, very frank" book on Cuba, but he hasn't yet allowed it to be published. "It would be very easy," he said, "for someone to quote out of context sentences that seem to be against Cuba." But perhaps the way out of the impasse Ramonet and García Márquez find themselves in is to neither defend nor denounce Cuba's repression but to explain the distinctive ways in which it has been carried out.

The Cuban Revolution is "totalitarian" in all classic senses of the word. It is a single-party system built around a cult of personality where autonomous civil-society organizations are only grudgingly tolerated and that justifies itself with a unifying ideology. It came to power with a deep-rooted sense of aggrievement and a hypersensitive antennae for betrayal, and has weathered half a century of real threats to its existence, mobilizing its population on a regular basis, be it for sugar harvests, anti-colonial struggles in Africa, or to denounce the latest outrage by Washington. According to the conventional wisdom on revolutions that divide the world between the pure and impure, from the Jacobeans in France and the Bolsheviks in Russia to the Maoists in China and the Mullahs in Iran, the Cuban Revolution should have been a killing machine. Yet while it can be ruthless against perceived enemies, the Cuban government since its consolidation has not engaged in the kind of spectacular terror associated with ideological militancy; there have been no cyclical purges of "class enemies" and "party bureaucrats," and remarkably few "show trials" staged to generate cohesiveness, even during moments of extended crisis, such as the "Special Period" that followed the fall of the USSR. Dissent is policed, unanimity demanded, but violence, while defended as a right of state, never became ritualized as it did in other revolutions. The passing of Castro will shed light on why this has been.

In a final summation, Castro lists his country's accomplishments in education and healthcare, advances in science and medicine, contribution to decolonization and rolling back white supremacy in Africa, ongoing humanitarian internationalism and the audacity of having survived "thousands of acts of sabotage and terrorists attacks organized by the government of the United States." "What," he asks, "is Cuba blamed for?" The list is long. And since Castro himself has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the individual in history -- a "man's personality can become an objective factor," he once said -- he will be held responsible after he is gone for the high price paid for his Numantic obstinacy. The circularity of My Life's narrative is not just that Castro reconnects with postwar social democracy but that many of the problems that plagued Cuba prior to the revolution have returned, including sex tourism, race-based economic inequality and corruption, which partly explains Castro's rehabilitation of the good-government crusader Chibás. The most damning criticism that can be leveled at a revolution is not that it is repressive but that its repression was for naught. It's an indictment Castro himself raises, at the end of his interview, the only moment where his certainty gives way to something sounding like exhaustion: "How many ways are there," he asks, "of stealing in this country?"

Yet Castro remains admired by many in the region not because they endorse his authoritarianism or because they want to replicate the Cuban system in their own country but because they too have lived the history that has produced his intransigence, and they continue to insist on a definition of democracy that includes some degree of economic equality. On a recent trip to Cuba to sign a series of commercial and energy accords, Brazil's Lula declared that he came from a generation that was "in love with the Cuban Revolution" -- that is, a generation that had survived a cycle of US-backed coups that by 1976 had turned Latin America into a garrison continent -- and that he had a "special affection for Castro." Castro, isolated by his convalescence in a way that US policy has never achieved, welcomed not just the praise but the company. After the two men met, Lula told the press that while they touched on "all possible topics," they didn't "split the talking" evenly; "Fidel spoke for two hours," he said dryly, "and I for half an hour." With his stemwinding days over, the old revolutionary spends more time with the pen, composing long essays on world events, a "new experience" that he finds less than satisfying. "I do what I can," he shrugged in a recent one; "writing is not the same as speaking."

Free Speech is Alive and Well in Venezuela

The government of Venezuela decided not to renew a broadcast license for RCTV, one of the oldest and largest opposition-controlled TV stations in the country, when its 20-year term expired on May 27. The US media, in keeping with its reporting on Venezuela for the last 8 years, has seized upon this opportunity to portray this as an assault on "freedom of the press."

It's not clear why a TV station that would never get a broadcast license in the United States or any other democratic country should receive one in Venezuela. But this is the one question that doesn't seem to come up in any of the news reports or editorials here.

RCTV actively participated in the U.S.-backed coup that briefly overthrew Venezuela's democratically elected President Hugo Chavez in 2002. The station promoted the coup government, reported only the pro-coup version of events. It censored and suppressed the news as the coup fell apart.

Even ignoring RCTV's role in the coup, its broadcast license would have been revoked years ago in the U.S., Europe, or any country that regulates the public airwaves. During the oil strike of 2002-2003, the station repeatedly called on people to join in and help topple the government. The station has also fabricated accusations of murder by the government, using graphic and violent images to promote its hate-filled views.

The whole idea that freedom of expression is under attack in Venezuela is a joke to anyone who has been there in the last eight years. Most of the media in Venezuela is still controlled by people who are vehemently (sometimes violently) opposed to the government. This will be true even after RCTV switches from broadcast to cable and satellite media. All over the broadcast media you can hear denunciations of the president and the government of the kind that you would not hear in the United States on a major national broadcast network. Imagine Rush Limbaugh during the Clinton impeachment, times fifty, but with much less regard for factual accuracy.

Pick up a newspaper -- El Universal and El Nacional are two of the biggest -- and the vast majority of the headlines are trying to make the government look bad. Turn on the radio and most of what you will hear is also anti-government. Television now has two state-run channels, but these only counterbalance the rest of the programming that is opposition-controlled. Venezuela has a more oppositional media than we have in the United States.

In fact, if the government carries through on its promise to turn RCTV's broadcast frequency over to the public, for a diverse array of programming, then this move will actually increase freedom of expression in Venezuela - rather than suppressing it, as the media and some opportunistic, ill-informed politicians here have maintained.

Sadly, some human rights officials here have also, without knowing much of the details, jumped on the media and political bandwagon. In a press release this week, José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said that "The move to shut down RCTV is a serious blow to freedom of expression in Venezuela." (Of course RCTV will not be "shut down," since it can continue to distribute its programs through cable and satellite media). But in an interview the same week Vivanco gave a different view, criticizing "those who claim that the fact that the Chavez government is not renewing the license for RCTV, per se implies a violation of freedom of expression. That is nonsense. . . you are not entitled, as a private company, to get your contract renewed with the government forever." So why is a station that has repeatedly violated the most basic rules of any broadcast license entitled to another 20-year state-sanctioned franchise?

It is not surprising that a monopolized media here would defend the "right" of right-wing media moguls to control the airwaves in Venezuela. Still it would be nice if we could get both sides of the story here - like Venezuelans do from their major media, which is right now saturated with broadcasts and articles against (as well as for) the government's decision. Then Americans could make up their own minds about whether this is really a "free speech" issue. Is that really too much to ask from our own "free press?"

Ollie North Returns to Nicaragua

The electoral wave that battered Republicans last week rolled well beyond Ohio and Arizona, traveling as far south as Nicaragua, where voters rejected intense U.S. pressure and elected Daniel Ortega president. This was Ortega's third attempt to regain the office since stepping down in 1990, after a decade in power as the head of the revolutionary Sandinista government. And even as George W. Bush was stumping for his candidates in the heartland, Oliver North was traveling down to Managua to urge Nicaraguans to vote for anyone but Ortega.

The ex-Marine colonel told Nicaraguans that they had "suffered enough from the influence of outsiders" -- a remark meant to criticize Hugo Chávez's support for Ortega but that some, considering North's role in running the covert operation that illegally funded the anti-Sandinista Contras in the 1980s, must have mistaken for a confession. In addition to North, Bush's Ambassador to Nicaragua, Paul Trivelli, threatened that the United States could cut off aid, while congressional Republicans warned that they would pass legislation prohibiting Nicaraguans living in the United States from sending remittances home if Nicaraguans voted the wrong way.

Over the last couple of weeks, with polls predicting that an Ortega win seemed likely, conservative blogs, think tanks, and policy intellectuals whipped themselves up into a near-frenzy at the thought of a Sandinista comeback. The National Review breathlessly warned that a triumphant Ortega would bring the threat of nuclear or biological terrorism to "within walking distance of our undefended border." Over at the Washington Post, the American Enterprise Institute's Roger Noriega predicted that an Ortega victory would push Nicaragua "toward the abyss."

But Ortega is a changed man from the revolutionary who for more than a decade withstood a Washington-backed assault of intense ferocity. He has declared himself a free-trade Christian, and just before the vote joined forces with the Catholic Church to back an anti-abortion law that is more punitive than anything James Dobson's Focus on the Family hopes to pass here in the United States.

The reason for such hysteria cannot be explained by what Ortega may or may not do once in office, but rather by the dissonance his victory creates deep in the recesses of the neocon psyche.

Central America, particularly Nicaragua, played a key role in the formation of the world view of our foreign-policy hawks. As diplomatic historian Andrew Bacevich points out, in "neoconservative lore, 1980 stands out not only as a year of crisis but as the year when the nation decisively turned things around." When considering this turnaround, most casual observers usually point to the fall of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe. Neocons, though, have a complicated relationship to those two events, coming about as they did not through confrontational militarism but negotiation and patience. Just a few years ago, when pressed by the Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee to admit that Bush's Iraq policy was similar to Ronald Reagan's in Europe, Wesley Clark had to remind his interrogator that "Reagan never invaded Eastern Europe." In fact, Reagan, in sharp contrast to his rhetorical escalation of the Cold War and his increase in defense spending, followed a course of restraint in most foreign policy arenas, so much so that by 1986 his conservative base had taken to calling him the Soviet Union's "useful idiot" for negotiating arms reductions with Mikhail Gorbachev.

There was, however, one area where the administration's rhetoric did match its actions, and that was Central America. The United States spent billions of dollars, and trained and inflamed anti-communist allies that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

But the United States did win. Leftist insurgencies were defeated in El Salvador and Guatemala, and Ortega and the Sandinistas, after sacrificing the idealist goals of their revolution in order to defend themselves against a war of aggression launched by the most powerful nation in world history, were voted out of office in 1990.

For neocons, that this victory took place simultaneously with America's victory in the Cold War led to a dangerous conflation: extrapolating from the defeat of the Central American left, they gave credit for America's triumph over the Soviet Union to the kind of hardline Reagan pursued in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

This is why, over the last couple of years, as the situation in Iraq deteriorated, Central America has made its way into the pronouncements of Bush officials and allies with a frequency that Freud would find familiar. With dissent against the occupation building, William Kristol went on TV to hail Reagan's Central American policy -- which directly led to the deaths of 300,000 civilians, tens of thousands of whom were simply "disappeared," the torture of over a hundred thousand more, and the exile of more than a million -- as an "amazing success story, over the bitter opposition of the Left." In the 2004 vice presidential debates, Dick Cheney held up not post-WWII Japan or Germany, but El Salvador, with 50 percent of its population below the poverty level and violent crime at record highs, as a model for what his administration hoped to achieve in Iraq. Responding to accusations that John Negroponte's involvement in the coverup of hundreds of executions while he was ambassador to Honduras made him unfit to serve as America's intelligence czar, the National Review praised Reagan's policy in Central America as a "spectacularly successful fight to introduce and sustain Western political norms in the region."

It turns out that that "Salvador option" -- the Pentagon's phrase to refer to its reliance on ex-Baathist paramilitaries in Iraq -- is not just the use of death squads to maintain order in neocolonial provinces. It is also a tool of imperial self-denial, a refusal to acknowledge the failure, not to mention the cost in human lives, of U.S. militarism. Noriega's Washington Post essay is a classic piece of displacement, blaming the Sandinistas for the wretchedness of today's Nicaragua that is, in fact, Reagan's legacy.

"It is very painful in a very personal way," Ollie North said. "I spent a good deal of my career on trying to achieve a democratic outcome down there." The election of Ortega is the Cold War's return of the repressed, an irrepressible confirmation that U.S. policy has not brought humane development to the region but deepening misery.

That the Sandinistas remain the single most popular party in Nicaragua is also evidence of the limits of U.S. power, especially when it is exercised purely in military terms, which is, after all, the favorite exercise of the neocons. A country as poor as Nicaragua, in a region long locked into the United States' sphere of influence, bucking Washington's diktats is an intolerable embarrassment. Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans killed, tens of thousands of them disappeared, another hundred thousand tortured, and millions more driven into exile, and Nicaragua still refuses to genuflect to Washington's commands.

Blueprint for an American Empire

Editor's note: This is an edited excerpt from Greg Grandin's new book, "Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism."

For many of the policy and opinion makers who seized on 9/11 to promote their vision of an imperial America, placing the nation on a permanent war footing was as much a form of domestic collective therapy as it was an international crusade to reshape the world. “Nothing less than the soul of this country is at stake,” Norman Podhoretz wrote a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. “Nothing less than an unambiguous victory will save us from yet another disappointment in ourselves and another despairing disillusion with our leaders.” The attacks provided a chance for Americans who “crave ‘a new birth’ of the confidence we used to have in ourselves and in ‘America the Beautiful.’” Such desires to overcome the factionalism and disenchantment that had plagued America since the 1960s were not confined to the political right, as many liberals likewise hungered for a renewed sense of national purpose. The New Republic’s Peter Beinart, for instance, called on Democrats to join the struggle against Islamic fascism and to rediscover their “fighting faith” in political liberalism. For their part, essayists Max Boot and Charles Krauthammer have expressed optimism that the brutality of a protracted global war on terrorism would finally form a callus over the national psyche, dulling the undue sensitivity to pain that spread in the wake of Vietnam.

But decades before 9/11 raised hopes that a galvanized domestic constituency for perpetual war could at last be forged, Reagan’s Central American policy offered the opportunity to contain, and begin to roll back, the anti-militarism that had infected U.S. political culture and institutions since the Vietnam War. More than any other 20th century conflict, Vietnam highlighted the porous border between foreign and domestic policy. Escalating protest, much of it linked to a reinvigorated internationalism, not only helped end the war but led to legislative measures that curbed the power of government security institutions, most notably the Central Intelligence Agency. At home, a deep skepticism shattered the governing consensus that had held sway for the first two decades after World War II. In what seemed a remarkably short period of time, the institutional pillars of society—universities, churches, newspapers, movies, Congress, and the judiciary—that had previously buttressed government legitimacy began to lean against it, advancing what some conservative critics came to deride as a permanent “adversary culture.” It was not just military defeat that brought about such a turnaround but also revelations of brutality committed throughout the Third World in the name of national security and of perfidy conducted under the cloak of government secrecy and executive privilege.

By the end of the 1980s, defense intellectuals and activists had achieved a revolution in the mechanics and morals of special warfare doctrine abroad. But for their revolution to take hold, they knew they had to confront this culture of dissent at home. In the face of persistent and growing opposition to U.S. policies in El Salvador and Nicaragua, militarists countered with a series of actions that eroded the boundary between imperial policies and national politics. Making little distinction between foreign enemies and domestic opponents, the Reagan administration put in place what one government official described as a “psychological operation of the kind the military conducts to influence a population in denied or enemy territory.” The operation unfolded on three fronts.

First, to confront an adversarial press, tame a presumptuous Congress, and make inroads on college campuses, the administration orchestrated a sophisticated and centralized “public diplomacy” campaign that deployed techniques drawn from both the PR world and the intelligence community. Second, the White House either loosened or circumvented restrictions placed on domestic law-and-order surveillance operations against political dissidents, reviving tactics that the FBI and other intelligence agencies had used to intimidate the anti-war movement in the 1960s, tactics that were thought to have been repudiated by the Rockefeller Committee and other congressional investigations into domestic covert actions in the mid-1970s. Finally, and most consequentially, the administration built countervailing grassroots support to counter what seemed a permanently entrenched anti-imperialist opposition, mobilizing militarists and evangelicals on behalf of a hard-line foreign policy. Such a campaign allowed the White House to go forward with its Central American program. More critically, it also helped create the ideas and infrastructure that turned the Republican Party into a mass movement and transformed the New Right into the dominant political force in America today.

Media education

In January 1983, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 77, creating a domestic interagency task force “designed to generate support for our national security objectives.” Five months later, the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean was born under the direction of Cuban émigré Otto Reich.

Public Diplomacy was officially charged with implementing a “new, nontraditional” approach to “defining the terms of the public discussion on Central American policy” and with “unshackl[ing] . . . public perception of policy from myths and cant.” In reality, it was the homeland branch of Casey and North’s “Enterprise,” staffed by psych-warfare operatives from the CIA and the U.S. Army’s Fourth Psychological Operations Group. In order to bypass the 1947 National Security Act, which prohibited the CIA from trying to influence domestic opinion, the office was placed under the nominal authority of the State Department. But Reich himself -- despite being vouched for as “politically sound” by Jeane Kirkpatrick -- was “review[ed] weekly” by Walter Raymond, a 30-year CIA propaganda operative who sat on Reagan’s NSC.

To circumvent laws that barred the White House from spending money to lobby Congress, the office implemented, as Raymond put it, a “public-private strategy,” coordinating the work of the NSC with PR firms, psychological warfare specialists, and New Right activists, intellectuals and pressure groups. It contracted Republican-affiliated advertising firms such as Woody Kepner Associates and International Business Communications and supervised the fund-raising and publicity activity of individuals and nongovernmental organizations such as Freedom House and Accuracy in Media. The office also worked closely with conservative cadres such as Carl “Spitz” Channell, who as a private individual raised millions of dollars, mostly through front organizations like the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, the American Conservative Trust, and the American Anti-Terrorism Committee. The money was used to fund “television ads, newspaper ads and grassroots activities” on behalf of the Contras. Channell also funneled millions of dollars in private donations through a Swiss bank account to pay for weapons for the Nicaraguan rebels.

Congress proved more willing to cooperate with Reagan on his Salvadoran policy, so the office focused on Nicaragua, using polling data to identify Sandinista “negatives” and Contra “positives” and to compile “key words, phrases or images” that could turn Americans against the Nicaraguan government. A 1985 “action plan” formated according to the PR industry’s “perception management” guidelines listed simple notions or phrases, many of them repeated multiple times with no elaboration, to help administration officials and their allies to frame the debate. The Sandinistas were “evil,” Soviet “puppets,” “racist and repress human rights,” “involved in U.S. drug problems.” The Contras were “freedom fighters,” “good guys,” “underdogs,” “religious” and “poor.”

The memo offered a few concepts that went beyond two or three syllables. The United States, it said, wanted not to “overthrow” the Sandinistas but only to change their “behavior.” It was not “immoral” to support a “covert action.” But mostly the memo chanted buzzwords with mantralike minimalism: “military buildup,” “forced military conscription,” “the drug connection,” “Panama Canal,” “human rights violations,” “Communist connection” and “persecution of church groups.”

The office used the Nicaraguan campaign to shift the understanding of the threat facing America away from Communism, which no matter how vilified was part of the Western tradition and associated with the interests of a specific nation, toward the more capacious concept of “terrorism.” In the 1980s, the United States found itself ever more involved in Middle Eastern politics, and the Reagan administration increasingly tied Nicaragua to troubles in that region.

Aside from equating the Sandinistas with the Nazis and charging Managua with fomenting “terrorism” in Costa Rica and El Salvador, Public Diplomacy operatives accused the Sandinistas of having “ties with the PLO, Libya, and terrorists,” linking them, as Reagan did in a 1985 speech, with “Arafat, Qadhafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.” The office even indicted them for persecuting Jews. Taking over the office from Reich in 1986, Robert Kagan recommended the distribution of reports that documented Sandinista “anti-Semitism” -- supplemented with “glossy pictures” and presented in an “In Their Own Words” style -- to “key Jewish journalists and interreligious publications.” Yet it was not the Sandinistas who traded in anti-Jewish sentiment. The American “media was controlled by Jews,” said one CIA handler, according to a respected Contra leader, “and if we could show that Jews were being persecuted, it would help a lot.” (In the 1960s the FBI likewise spread rumors that the Black Power movement was anti-Semitic in order to drive a wedge between it and Jewish intellectuals.)

Operatives worked at a breakneck pace. Over just a two-month period in early 1985, the office laid out a chronology of 79 tasks to accomplish, among them:


  • Encourage U.S. reporters to meet individual Contra fighters;

  • Hold briefings for key Congressional members and staffers;

  • Request that Zbigniew Brzezinski write a paper which points out geopolitical consequences of Communist domination of Nicaragua;

  • Supervise preparation and assignment of articles directed to special interest groups at rate of one per week (examples: article on Nicaraguan educational system for National Educational Association, article by retired military for Retired Officers Association, etc.);

  • Draft one op-ed per week for signature by administration officials. Specify themes for the op-eds and retain final editorial rights;

  • Martha Lida Murillo (9-year-old atrocity victim) visit to Washington; possible photo-op with first lady;

  • Call/visit newspaper editorial boards and give them background on the Nicaraguan freedom fighters;

  • Prepare a “Dear Colleagues” letter for signature by a responsible Democrat, which counsels against “negotiating” with the Sandinistas;

  • Prepare document on Nicaraguan narcotics involvement;

  • Administration and prominent nongovernment spokesman on network shows regarding Soviet, Cuban, East German, Libyan and Iranian connection with Sandinistas;

  • Conduct telephone campaign in 120 congressional districts. Citizens for America district activists organize phone-tree to target congressional offices encouraging them to vote for Contra aid;

  • Organize nationally coordinated sermons about aid to the freedom fighters;

  • Organize major rally in the Orange Bowl, Miami, attended by President Reagan; and [with no irony]:

  • Release paper on Nicaraguan media manipulation.



The administration produced a steady flow of white papers, briefings, talking points, pamphlets and books on El Salvador and Nicaragua. For El Salvador, the job was primarily proving Cuban and Sandinista ties and rapidly refuting charges of atrocities committed by the Salvadoran military. For Nicaragua, when the White House was not fabricating facts wholesale, it was amplifying every statement and action made by the Sandinistas to prove their malfeasance. Documents with the titles “Mothers of Political Prisoners,” “Religious Repression in Nicaragua,” “Nicaragua and Cuba --Drugs,” “In Their Own Words -- Former Sandinistas Tell Their Story,” “Human Costs of Communism,” “Nicaragua in Quotes,” “Inside the Sandinista Regime,” and “Christians under Fire” were distributed either directly by the administration or by allied think tanks, ad hoc committees such as Citizens for America, CIA-front publishing houses, college organizations such as Young Americans for Freedom and Campus Crusade for Christ, the newly created National Endowment for Democracy, and an emerging network of alternative conservative news outlets, the most important at the time being the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Moon-owned Washington Times.

The administration distributed its literature not just to New Right organizations but to “church groups, human rights organizations, lawyers, political scientists, journalists, etc.,” each receiving “cover letters tailored” to their specific interests. The Office of Public Diplomacy organized conferences on Central America and invited “leaders of special interest and public policy groups (think tanks, foundations, church groups, labor organizations, Indian and Black organizations, academics) with special interest in Latin America.” In its first year of operations, the office arranged more that 1,500 speaking engagements and distributed material to “1,600 libraries, 520 political science faculties, 122 editorial writers and 107 religious organizations” It compiled a comprehensive list of moral and political objections to Contra funding and drafted appropriate responses to each one, briefed the press and Congress on a regular basis, and wrote, or helped write, op-eds that were published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal under the bylines of administration officials, retired military officers, Contra leaders, foreign policy experts and sympathetic scholars.

The reduction of foreign policy to a series of emotionally laden talking points that linked the Sandinistas to any number of world evils manifested itself in the speeches of administration officials such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, William Casey and Elliott Abrams. Nicaragua’s connections with terrorism, Soviet nuclear submarines, religious and ethnic persecution, totalitarianism, Castro, East Germans, Bulgarians, Libya, Iran, even the Baader-Meinhof Gang -- all were to be confronted with American purpose and resolve. Yet it was Ronald Reagan, listed by Public Diplomacy as an “asset” due to his communication skills, who best embodied the triumph of emotion over substance. With little respect for history or fact, Reagan offered an image of the Nicaraguan struggle professionally tuned to resonate with popular fears and self-perceptions, presenting support for the Contras as keeping faith with America’s “revolutionary heritage.” After all, the PR mavens at the Office of Public Diplomacy listed as their two most “exploitable themes” the idea that the Contras “are Freedom Fighters” fighting for “freedom in the American tradition” and the idea that American “history requires support to freedom fighters.” Who could argue?

Former Bush Administration Lawyer Still Flacking for Torture

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by John Yoo, the Berkeley law professor who, while working in the Justice Department, wrote a memo justifying torture. Even after the Abu Ghraib photos broke in the press, Yoo defended his position, telling one interviewer that Congress didn't have the power to -- wait for the metaphor -- "tie the president's hands."

Torture is in the news again, giving Yoo an opportunity to make his case once more. And just as the White House has worked hard in recent weeks to depict the occupation of Iraq as but a single battle in a larger "struggle for civilization," Yoo now believes that the right to torture -- or as he put it in the New York Times, interrogate "harshly" -- is just one front in a larger crusade.

Bush needs to torture people, Yoo believes, not to extract intelligence but to "reinvigorate the presidency." It takes a subtle legal mind to understand what water-boarding or sleep-deprivation has to do with Bush's other power grabs -- not just claiming the right to imprison without bringing formal charges or to engage in warrantless wiretaps, but to reclassify government documents made public by previous administrations, refuse to tell Americans what advice Enron and the oil industry gave to his energy task force, and issue hundreds of signing statements that empowered him with the right not to enforce laws that have absolutely nothing to do with national security. But professor Yoo sees the bigger picture. They are all moves in a larger fight to restore balance to the three branches of government, to roll back the "supremacy" assumed by the Congress and the judiciary in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate.

We've heard this before, most notably from Dick Cheney, who believes that the greatest achievement of his administration was not the overthrow of the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, not even the tax breaks bestowed on the rich, but the "restoration" of the "power and authority of the president" since the "low point" of the late 1970s, when Congress and the courts either passed or ruled on measures that sought to regulate the imperial presidency. In his op-ed, Yoo ticks off a number of insolent laws passed by Congress in the 1970s that have long been the bête noire of neocons, including the War Powers Resolution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

It is not, then, the libidinous 1960s that so repulses conservatives but rather the regulatory 1970s. But the kind of new Right Revisionism offered up by tenured radicals such as Yoo is fallacious, driven by either ignorance or a willful manipulation of the facts.

Take, for example, Yoo's extraordinary assertion that Congress attempted to leash the presidency not because of the disaster that was Vietnam or the crimes of Watergate but because during the 1970s "we had no serious national security threats to United States soil." This would be news to the first generation of neocons who in the 1970s manned the barricades in any one of the ever-metastasizing policy organizations -- Coalition for a Democratic Majority, the Committee for the Free World, Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy (which introduced the young Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to venerable Cold War warriors such as Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze) and, of course, the Committee on the Present Danger, designed to warn America of, well, the ever-present danger.

Just as today's Project for a New American Century sounds familiar themes of enemy expansion, American weakness, and looming ideological conflict calculated to raise alarm and steel will, these corporate-funded action committees, while concerned with different aspects of foreign policy, gave neoconservatives a chance to rehearse the exaggerated rhetorical style for which they have since become famous. "War, not peace," the Council for Inter-American Security intoned, "is the norm in international relations." "WWIII is almost over," the Soviets are on the march and America is "everywhere in retreat." The crisis confronting the United States was not just strategic but "metaphysical." The "inability or unwillingness" of the America "either to protect or project its basic values and beliefs has led to the present nadir of indecision and impotence and has placed the very existence of the republic in peril."

Contrary to Yoo's blinkered account of an executive branch hamstrung by legislative and judicial supremacists, these conservative groups -- this administration's ideological forebears -- viciously undermined Jimmy Carter's foreign policy prerogative, derailing SALT II, delaying the Panama Canal treaty and preventing the White House from orienting diplomacy away from blind anti-communism. They wanted not a strengthened presidency but their strengthened president.

The new Right Revisionism espoused by Yoo, Cheney and others likewise exaggerates the power claimed by Congress in the 1970s to oversee intelligence gathering, covert operations and war making. Despite much posturing, Democrats in the House and Senate had little desire to hinder the president's ability to conduct foreign policy, building significant loopholes into legislation like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It is simply not true to claim, as does Yoo, that Congress since Vietnam has tried to "micromanage the executive branch."

While bad history, Yoo's op-ed at least admits that much of what is at stake in this administration's attempt to rewrite the Constitution into a Homeric epic of perpetual war has little to do with national security but rather with, as Bush recently put it in his White House coffee klatch with conservative pundits, changing America's domestic culture.

Neocons have long complained about the "culture of narcissism" that has taken over America since the 1960s. But in its place, they offer a culture of sadism, one that would condone torture so Bush doesn't have to tell us who influenced his energy policy. Now that's narcissistic.

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