John Tirman

In Trumpland, the Motto Is Privatize Everything - and Make Money Off of It

Amid the many controversies attending the election of Donald Trump is one easy to overlook: the mounting assault on “public goods” — public education, public lands, public information and public health, among them. The worldview of Trump and those he’s bringing into government is one in which seeking private interest is paramount, not only as a business aspiration but as a governing ideology. Of all the attitudes of the new administration, this may be the most threatening to democratic practice.

There has long been an ideological divide in U.S. politics in which liberals see the production and protection of public goods as a rightful — though not exclusive — function of government, while conservatives deplore interference in the free, private market. This tension, not necessarily a bad one for policy making, existed in some equilibrium from World War II to the 1980s.

The scales have been tipping toward private interest rather than public good since the years of President Ronald Reagan, however, and the coming of Trump promises an even stronger swing to private over public. Consider the funding of public education through the college years by individual states. These funds were declining steadily before the 2007 recession hit and then dropped even more sharply. By the end of the recession, support for public education had fallen more than 40 percent since Reagan was elected in 1980. It’s a destructive trend (not least because good public schools are a bedrock of prosperity) that is likely to continue. In the words of a professor of education, Trump’s pick for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is in effect “focused on trying to further the privatization of public education, not on strengthening it.”

Public vs. Private

The likely decision to turn the Affordable Care Act — designed to extend coverage through public cost sharing — and the landmark health care programs Medicare and Medicaid into privatization schemes represents a major blow to the provision of public goods. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump’s pick for secretary of health and human services, Rep. Tom Price, seem fully committed to this agenda.

Then there are the rumors about other public-goods issues. The staffing of environmental agencies is being directed by a longtime climate change denier, Myron Ebell, who seeks to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, reverse Obama’s rules on reducing carbon emissions, and turn over federal public lands to the states. This agenda will be carried out, in part, by Trump’s choice for director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.)*, named to be secretary of the interior. (Her preference, astonishingly, is to sell off public lands held by the federal government.) It would be difficult to imagine more significant public goods than clean air, the avoidance of catastrophic climate change or the legacy of the nation’s protected parks, forests and wildlife.

Yet all of these are in jeopardy. Turning over public lands to the states would in many cases result in “development” — commercial enterprise, resource extraction, grazing, roads and sell-offs of land — far beyond what is already granted on federal lands. The rationale for doing so can be gleaned from the Bundy family’s notorious confrontations with federal officials, first over nonpayment of grazing fees on public lands near their ranch in Nevada, then the armed occupation with a few others of an Oregon wildlife refuge. In each case the Bundys and their cohort insisted they wanted to “return” lands to the people from the unjust ownership of the federal government.  

It was rarely noted at the time that “the people” already do have sovereignty over those lands, with the Park Service or the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management — public agencies — as their stewards. There are no other “people” to “return” the lands to, unless one counts indigenous tribes, but of course the Bundys and their kind aren’t thinking that way. A radical change in status of public lands is a blow to the idea of America being in part a “commonwealth” — natural resources that are shared by all.

Likewise, attempts by Trump and his followers to punish free expression — speech and assembly — signals a blow to the “public sphere.” It’s most obvious in Trump’s tweeting attempts to silence critics, but a broader perspective should include the proliferation of fake news, the impact of foreign governments’ insidious infiltration of American public debate and the growth of hate speech directed at minorities and women.

Each of these attacks on public life and culture takes different forms. The public aspect of health care delivery — surely one of the early battles looming for the new president — is not about sovereignty or constitutional guarantees but a different principle, that of shared responsibility. Medicare and Medicaid, passed in 1965 as part of the Great Society program of President Lyndon B. Johnson, have contained the costs of health more assuredly than private insurance while providing universal coverage and earning approval ratings recently ranging up to 77 percent. One might say, in keeping with the conservative philosophy of Edmund Burke, a onetime intellectual hero of the right, that these health care programs, after more than 50 years and enormous success, are embedded in the traditions and values of American society and governance. They embody the principle of shared responsibility (as does Social Security), an indispensable quality of the public realm.

Poisoning the Public Well

Freedom of speech, religion and assembly are even more deeply embedded, of course, and protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The space for religious practice is now under challenge from the so-called alt-right, the old Ku Klux Klan and its imitators, as hate crimes and hate speech against Muslims and Jews have spiked after Trump’s election.

As for free speech and assembly, the “public sphere” — the actual practice of public discourse that engages topics of political and social importance — is crucial to free and democratic society. “A public sphere adequate to a democratic polity depends upon both quality of discourse and quantity of participation,” as one scholar depicts German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’ description of the public sphere. The quality of rational debate declines as participation broadens, Habermas insisted, an inverse relationship perhaps even more obvious now than when he first wrote about the public sphere more than 40 years ago.

What is particularly disturbing in 2016, however, is the attempt to limit participation and to limit the quality of discourse. The limits on participation are not gauged by expertise — that is, how knowledgeable you are — but by race or religion. A number of the white supremacists now ascendant have insisted that blacks, Jews and Muslims be treated differently, submissively, even denied the vote and other standard civil rights. So the very definition of who constitutes “the public” is under attack. It’s noteworthy that the U.S. Supreme Court has suggested that “the people,” as in “We the people” (the first words of the Constitution), refers to “persons who are part of a national community” and have “substantial connections” to the U.S. It’s notable because it’s a broad definition and would include such individuals as unauthorized immigrants.

The attempt to limit the quality of discourse is another feature of the White House campaign. The fake news, social media manipulations, Russian trolls and other disruptions constitute one kind of degradation of news and information. Another was the gossipy nature of the mainstream news media’s coverage, rarely taking up policy issues — by one reckoning, only a total of about 40 minutes on network newscasts during the entire year. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns is another example, a particularly consequential act given the breadth of his business interests. All of this served to greatly diminish the quality of information and debate and thereby diminish the vitality of the public sphere.

Then there is the matter of what “the people” want the government to do. One of the challenges facing Trump is the paradox of public opinion — that is, on nearly every key issue of the 2016 campaign (immigration, climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, health care), public views endorsed the positions of Hillary Clinton, not Trump, frequently by overwhelming margins. On immigration, for example, 70 percent of the American public believes a path to legalization should be available to unauthorized immigrants, a view held for several years. Americans oppose the border wall as well as limiting Muslim entry into the U.S. On climate, two out of three Americans are worried a great deal by global warming. The main features of Obamacare are endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike by large margins. It’s not so unusual to have politicians and the public at odds over specific issues, but the consistency and size of this gap between Trump and the public are striking.

To what extent the extremist agenda of climate change deniers or charter school advocates will win out is impossible to predict. Trump’s tumultuous post-election period — with charges of conflict of interest, destructive Russian connections and more gaslighting through tweets and rumors — does not promise more clarity. If anything, the massive transfer of commonly held wealth to private hands is likely, the public’s interests and preferences will be ignored, and the possibilities to know and understand what is actually occurring in the government will be obscured.

If the trajectory of 2016 continues through Trump’s presidency, the “commons,” the public sphere and the values of shared responsibility, will be tested as never before. It’s to be regretted that President Obama never made a “Cross of Gold” speech in support of the public sector and the principles of the common wealth. Now, the new president will be making the opposite case, and all of us will be the poorer — financially, physically and morally — for this loss of public virtue.

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Is the Foreign Policy Process Working?

For decades, political analysts have dissected the mechanisms in the U.S. government and other institutions to describe how foreign policy is made. The matter seems to rise with international crises, and those are upon us again: the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the confrontation with Iran, HIV/AIDS, and the pressures of climate change, among other issues, underscore the point. With the U.S. government split between parties, fractiousness is in full view.

With troubles for the U.S. global position mounting, it is easy to say that the foreign policy process is not working well. But what are the sources of trouble, and how readily can they be fixed?

This is not the first, doubtful moment for the wheels of the foreign policy mechanism. At the time of the Vietnam War, the criticism from the public was more deafening than today's, and it took Congress until 1971 to explore, via the Fulbright hearings, the course of the war. That same year, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, seeming to verify the malady of a dysfunctional apparatus. Later that decade, hearings conducted by Sen. Frank Church uncovered covert operations, revealing broad illegality. The Iran-contra affair, the nuclear-weapons and "star wars" buildup of the late 1970s and 1980s, and other controversial episodes earned broad scrutiny, typically spurred by public or media activism followed by congressional probes.

We have, in short, been down this road before. The question is what can better be done to make the process work more satisfactorily.

The Current Morass
What is unusual today is that the Iraq war became unpopular rather quickly, with little leadership from the Democrats or strong oppositional voices in the news media or civil society. From support above 70 percent in March 2003, for example, by February 2005 the public was evenly split on the decision to invade Iraq, and support has dwindled since. This has had an impact on accountability: the public's quick disapproval virtually demanded new answers, but Congress, under Republicans until this year, exercised little oversight, and Democrats were unwilling to challenge Bush until the midterm election season in 2006. For the first three years of the war, then, the public strong skepticism or disapproval was ignored by the workings of government.

Facing growing public unrest and political paralysis within the government, President Bush felt compelled to empanel a "fresh look" after a Republican congressman from Virginia, Frank Wolf, proposed such a review after visiting Iraq in late 2005. The White House was initially opposed, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prevailed and Congress quickly appropriated the money. Former congressman Lee Hamilton and former secretary of state James Baker headed the panel, the Iraq Study Group (ISG).

It is relatively rare when a foreign policy issue that is current, unresolved, and extremely controversial would receive its most formal review and recommendations from a non-governmental body. Apart from the co-chairs, the ISG was comprised of members with little foreign policy experience; its forty or so experts are well-versed but were drawn from the foreign policy establishment; and its work was done in secret.3 It withheld its policy recommendations until after the 2006 midterm elections, and the administration immediately undermined its conclusions -- essentially declaring it would not heed such advice -- although in practice it gradually adopted some of its views. Altogether, then, the ISG is hardly a model for exploring options.

That it was freighted with responsibilities difficult to deliver on is less a comment on ISG's competence than the deeper ailments of the system that produced the Iraq catastrophe and allowed it to fester for years. Now in charge in Congress, the Democrats have not won many points in its oversight functions, either, fidgeting over withdrawal deadlines and the level of coercive language they can use, and failing to convince enough Republicans to come along. Meanwhile, the enormous human toll in Iraq -- one-half in "absolute poverty," high child malnourishment, 70 percent without clean water, and so on -- goes practically unnoticed. So the failure of accountability persists in both branches.

Four Guideposts
The "what went wrong?" question is not merely a matter of competence in foreign policy implementation, but indicative of more fundamental issues. At least four are visible: grand strategy, democratic principles, consultation with allies, adversaries, and international organizations, and matching resources to goals.

Strategy. The "preventive war" strategy bracing the Iraq invasion was partially a departure from previous U.S. strategy, which had relied mainly on deterrence of the use of nuclear weapons in particular, and diplomacy. But a broader strategy was also at work in the invasion and other actions in the region -- the attempt to transform the authoritarian political structures besetting several Arab states (and Iran) in one swiftly delivered blow and subsequent efforts at "coercive democratization." This broad goal, articulated in the 2002 National Security Strategy, was borne of the shock of the 9/11 attacks and a pre-existing desire by many in the Bush administration for a much more assertive military posture in the region and around the world.

But the strategy was hardly debated in foreign policy circles or Congress, much less among the broader public, before it was imbedded as the national strategy. Despite the abject failure in Iraq -- to find WMDs, or to transform the region to democracy and free markets, and at an enormous cost -- it remains official doctrine, and little discussed. While presidential doctrines may be the Washington equivalent of New Year's resolutions, the nation -- led by political leaders, intellectuals, and civil society -- needs to take this more seriously.

Democracy. The Bush administration has formed and conducted much of its foreign policy in secret, an anathema to democratic principles, and has avoided congressional involvement, even though the Constitution grants significant power to Congress in global affairs. On both counts, this behavior is stoutly anti-democratic.

Matters of secrecy are not merely anti-democratic in a formal sense; the practice has powerful consequences. As the Commission created to explore government secrecy in the mid-1990s put it, "secrecy has the potential to undermine well-informed judgment by limiting the opportunity for input, review, and criticism, thus allowing individuals and groups to avoid the type of scrutiny that might challenge long-accepted beliefs and ways of thinking."

That the Bush White House is resolutely closed to scrutiny is well established. Its secrecy about the reasons for going to war with Iraq, particularly the virtually nonexistent intelligence regarding WMDs, is now widely accepted as a colossal blunder. Secrecy is sometimes necessary, as all acknowledge, but the attempts at balance begun in the post-Cold War era have been set back drastically. And despite the foreign policy blunders, the current president's penchant for secrecy has not subsided, and Congress is not challenging that, either.

The role of Congress is always in play during foreign policy debacles. "War nourishes the presidency," Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., once noted, and presidential powers in foreign policy tend to be cumulative, rather than episodic. Scholars generally agree that Congress and the president equally share foreign policy power, though the lack of precision in the delegation of authority is an "invitation to struggle." And struggle there has been since 9/11, confrontations over funding for the Iraq war in particular, which reflects the main authority Congress clearly possesses -- the power of the purse.

Here, the current Congress -- in contrast to the rubber stampers of 2003-2006 -- has made minor inroads, at least forcing a debate about timing of withdrawal, but the spending is approved and indeed the record-sized military budget overall is sailing through Congress with few visible objections. In past episodes in Southeast Asia and Central America, funding cutoffs or restrictions were the preferred method to exercise congressional authority, and were sometimes circumvented illegally.

Even the relatively mild efforts at oversight, however, have been met by the administration with charges that oversight "emboldens the enemy." This tendentious language undermines cooperation and intensifies the struggle between the two branches, hindering effective dialogue, action, and accountability.

Consultation. The lack of consultation is not limited to Congress. The war in Iraq, in contrast to the war in Afghanistan, has been conducted without heed to multilateral institutions, including international law, or with longstanding allies, apart from the U.K. Rice's advice to Bush to "punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia" for their opposition to the Iraq war is emblematic of that attitude. Collective security decision-making is bound to be more cumbersome and cautious than the decision making of individual states, but that can be an advantage in situations that are not urgent.

Likewise, addressing foreign policy crises through multilateral institutions like the UN or NATO provide other benefits: legitimacy (and legality) of action, cost and burden sharing, better intelligence, and international (and cross cultural) dialogue, to name the most obvious. U.S. presidents in recent years have generated misleading expectations about the UN in particular by focusing on the supposed constraints of international institutions. In trade and other fields, however, multilateralism is welcome, because American interests are served and indeed preeminent. At least prospectively, the benefits of multilateralism should accrue both to economics and security.

Regional diplomacy is also a matter of consultation, and has been conducted sporadically and bilaterally until this spring, when very brief meetings of regional stakeholders in the Persian Gulf were convened. (A pivotal recommendation of the ISG, regional diplomacy remains meager and fraught with additional and divisive issues, such as Iran's nuclear program). This lack of consultation and negotiation is chronically problematic for U.S. foreign affairs.

Resources. As is widely noted, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other foreign policy priorities, are not supported by sufficient levels of resources. The wars, for example, have been financed by deficit spending, in effect, and are often presented as supplemental budgets, which are less transparent and subject to review than annual requests. Underfunding may be another problem: the near-universal conclusion that too few U.S. troops have been involved in Iraq from the beginning is in part a resource issue.

Prominent among the other areas of foreign policy implementation where resources did not match objectives is President Bush's HIV/AIDS initiative. Congress appropriated more money for prevention and treatment than is being spent. A number of critics also point to the homeland security effort, a lynchpin of the global war on terror, as clearly demonstrating a lack of adequate funds to realize its stated intentions.

The Bush administration is not the first presidency to set goals it could not achieve with the resources it was willing to mobilize. In combination with its strategic ambition, resistance to congressional involvement, opacity, and unilateralism, however, the failure to match resources to objectives is all the more disabling.

Examining the Process
While the policies themselves deserve more exploration by scholars, journalists, and policy professionals, as well as by Congress, the process of policy making and implementation should not be ignored. As a general rule, the right has favored more executive power and the left more congressional input. What are the relative merits and drawbacks of these two preferences? Can new mechanisms of accountability -- paying for wars with a special tax, for example -- proceed without excessively boxing in presidential authority? How can transparency in intelligence analysis and budgeting be facilitated? Can we have a national discussion about the U.S. role in the world -- for example, our relationship to multilateral institutions -- that is encouraged by political leaders?

Grappling in a sustained, sophisticated, and non-partisan way with the foreign policy process is long overdue. Iraq in particular demonstrates how badly broken the process is, a canary in the coal mine for U.S. globalism in the years to come.

Right Wing Itches to Strike Iran

The case of Haleh Esfandiari's imprisonment in Iran is sparking the kind of commotion that periodically grips America's intellectual class and, more ominously, is providing reasons for America's right wing to attack Iran.

Dr. Esfandiari, 67, was born and raised in Iran but has spent much of her professional life in the United States, now as the much-respected director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a leading think tank in Washington, D.C. At the end of a visit to her ailing mother in Tehran last winter, she was detained. She was recently arrested and is now in prison awaiting trial. A citizen of both America and Iran, she has been charged with trying to foment a "velvet revolution" in Iran -- soft, nonviolent regime change. She and everyone associated with her deny the charges.

Editorials have been lambasting Iran's Intelligence Ministry, which many see as responsible for this, and a number of important public intellectuals are calling for action. Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan and a specialist on the region, wrote in his highly regarded blog, Informed Comment, "I had been planning to go to a conference in Iran in July, hosted by some French scholars, but I have cancelled in protest against this detention of my friend. I don't see how normal intellectual life can go on when a scholar at the Wilson Center can't safely visit Iran."

A boycott was rumored but apparently is not actually afoot, as Ali Banuazizi, the eminent scholar at Boston College and past president of the Middle East Studies Association, told me. "Boycotts punish too many innocent people," he says, "but letters and statements send a signal." A strongly worded letter that Banuazizi helped craft and is signed by a Who's Who of Iran scholars in the United States, protested the arrest and imprisonment, rightly noting that "in her capacity as the director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, Dr. Esfandiari has been a staunch advocate of peaceful dialogue between Tehran and Washington in resolving their disputes."

Noam Chomsky, possibly the most influential intellectual in the world, also weighed in with a sharp rebuke, as have several others.

As if on cue, the hard right in the United States has tried to exploit the Esfandiari arrest to ridicule cooperation and dialogue. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Reuel Marc Gerecht, an American Enterprise Institute fixture who describes himself as belonging to the school of "suspicious, cynical, hawkish and religiously oriented analyses of the Islamic Republic," argued that those seeking to have some dialogue with Iran are getting their deserved comeuppance in the Tehran regime's treatment of Dr. Esfandiari.

The arrest is undeniably troubling, as was last year's arrest and long detention of Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian intellectual, and detentions of many others, including the Open Society Institute's representative in Iran last week.

Beyond the simple human rights considerations, there are two other aspects of this grim matter that deserve mention. First is the way in which the intellectual elite in this country pick and choose their battles. Haleh Esfandiari, whom I know, certainly deserves the protest being stirred on her behalf. But we have many cases of abuse of freedom of travel and speech -- some committed by the U.S. government -- that gain little notice. Why some and not others? To some extent, the protest in effect reflects U.S. policy preferences and the drumbeat of anti-Iran media coverage in this country.

More important, however, is how the case is becoming fodder for the attack-Iran posse. As Chomsky says in his statement, "These actions [by Iran] are deplorable in themselves, and also are a gift to Western hardliners who are trying to organize support for military action against Iran. Now is a time for diplomacy, negotiations and relaxation of tensions, in accordance with the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans and Iranians, as recent polls reveal."

The U.S. Navy is conducting extensive exercises in the Persian Gulf, what William Arkin tartly calls "dumbboat diplomacy," but is clearly meant as a signal that the United States is ready to strike. Bush is proposing new sanctions to punish Iran for its alleged nuclear activities. A covert operation by the CIA to degrade Iranian financial assets and step up anti-cleric propaganda was revealed last week by ABC News, another set of actions -- among many reported -- to bring down the regime. In the political game in Washington, "Bash Iran" is a free card used by nearly everyone to look tough on foreign policy.

In this hostile climate, some elements in Tehran are in effect saying, "We want nothing to do with America," and they are sending that message with harsh actions. Engagement by American intellectuals, athletes, NGOs and cultural groups has proceeded for several years now and can be viewed as, at worst, harmless and, at best, beneficial toward building bridges of dialogue. It was precisely such activities during the Cold War that lowered tensions and empowered a peaceful conclusion to that far more dangerous confrontation.

Very few serious analysts of the situation in the Gulf believe that hostile American action will result in a more placid outcome. Many in the U.S. military are vehemently opposed to air strikes, not least because of the catastrophe in Iraq. The Tehran state is sturdy and, like it or not, democratic in many respects. The NGO and academic engagement must continue, just as we must continue to object strenuously to unwarranted arrests. Neither tactic, however, is aided by Washington's contemptible and counterproductive strategy of regime change.

Will Any Iraq Regionalization Strategy Work?

In one way or another, we are headed for a new engagement with the regional players in an effort end the Iraq war. The idea of bringing in the neighbors to help stabilize and reduce the violence in Iraq is very attractive, and could contribute to a plausible exit strategy for the United States. The likelihood of "regionalization" being a success, however, depends on which version. And even with the more cooperative schemes being suggested, the closer one looks, the less promise it seems to hold.

For the White House, there has always been a regional strategy with respect to the Iraq war, but it is now -- like Iraq itself -- in complete disrepair. That strategy was the transformation of the region, with regime change in Tehran and Damascus openly discussed in Washington. So a cooperative approach by the Bush administration would represent a 180 degree reversal of fortune and intent. That is the first barrier to a regionalization strategy. It appears, moreover, that their compass is moving slightly toward a new regional strategy -- less one of victory and transformation than of searching for a face-saving retreat -- that may discount the value of more comprehensive strategies.

Politics of a New Approach
Such a broad and penetrating set of ideas is being offered by the Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton. The ISG is recommending regional engagement on Iraq, among other measures. The national debate about Iraq, particularly since the mid-term elections November 7, has focused on a regionalization strategy, which in various versions would include direct dialogue with Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan in particular, tradeoffs to gain cooperation, and broader regional issues -- Israeli-Palestinian issues especially -- also on the table.

While many in the administration demur from speaking with Syria and Iran particularly, there is acknowledgement of the need for more help from the neighbors, and some small movement in that direction. The Iraqi leadership itself is more openly welcom- ing of a stabilizing role from Iran, Syria, and the others, and dialogue with all neighbors is being pursued. But, thus far, the effort is incommensurate with the daunting tasks. More starkly, in the run-up to the release of the ISG report, the Bush team has signaled its indifference after a post-election moment of possible accommodation.

Most pointed was a memo authored by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley after visiting Iraq in late October. He included a regional strategy of sorts by stating that the United States could help Iraq by continuing "to pressure Iran and Syria to end their interference in Iraq, in part by hitting back at Iranian proxies in Iraq"; by increasing "our efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role" to reduce death squads, among other goals; and, most tellingly, by intending "to lean on Syria to terminate its support for Baathists and insurgent leaders." What is involved in "leaning on" Syria or "getting Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role" is not specified, but it appears to be much as before -- imperatives without incentives.

As if to underscore that approach, President Bush in late November reiterated his firm refusal to open talks with Syria or Iran; the case of the latter is conditioned on Iran's nuclear enrichment activities, which must be suspended, Bush says, before talks are possible. Yet other signals from the administration continued to gain notice, especially intensified diplomacy with our allies. This latter tendency, weak and not universally embraced within the administration, nonetheless may be the clearest recognition that a new regional strategy must be attempted.

Roles and Rewards
As many have noted, no credible exit strategy can exclude Iran's cooperation. Prime Minister Tony Blair appears to have recognized that fact, judging from his inviting comments in early November, and the politics of Iraq strongly endorse this view as well. Iran's relationship to the majority Shia, their political ties to the government and apparent support for other powerful actors, including militias, means they are the most significant regional player by far.

What would Iran want for cooperation, and what would cooperation mean? The first is likely easier to answer: Iran wants the same security guarantees -- that is, a new U.S. policy of not seeking regime change in Tehran -- that they are also seeking in the standoff over their nuclear development program. Beyond that, some gradual movement toward normalization, including the ending of punitive trade restrictions, would be in the cards. (Iranian leaders have also said that no action by Iran will be forthcoming as long as U.S. troops remain in Iraq. If the Iranians also resist redeployment in the Gulf theatre, as many suggest, then a new barrier will rise.) In return for these considerable concessions, the United States would expect stout restraint on Iran's allies, such as the militant Iraqi Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, and perhaps even some restraint on Hizbollah in Lebanon.

The deal would be similar for Syria. Here, the equation would perhaps include movement on discussions, now in limbo, with Israel over the return of the Golan Heights. Reportedly, Washington blocked such discussions this autumn. Along with Jordan, Syria has borne the brunt of the enormous and growing numbers of refugees from Iraq -- now more than two million region-wide -- and some financial assistance on this would be an important piece in their puzzle.

Possibly more difficult to parse would be the role of Turkey, and what its interests dictate. Military leaders there have said repeatedly that if, as a result of a referendum next year, the city of Kirkuk becomes part of the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq, Turkey would move in to protect Turkomen in the area and to demonstrate clearly to Kurds that an independent Kurdish state would not be acceptable. However unlikely that is, the Turks now have 250,000 troops deployed along the border with Kurdish Iraq. One of the two oil pipelines from Kirkuk (which has as much as 25 percent of Iraqi petroleum reserves) goes through Turkey. The United States is reportedly supporting Kurdish separatists in Iran. So the entanglements are extensive, and messy.

For Turkey, as for Syria and Jordan, money would have to be part of the equation -- there needs to be a buy-off strategy that is not mere bribery, most effectively as part of a broader donor conference that would support long-term economic sustainability strategies. Jordan's war-related problems have much to do with the pro-American stance of King Abdullah and his dwindling political capital domestically; financial capital for economic development could be a balancing offset. For Turkey, and possibly for Syria, subsidized peacekeeping troops and construction contracts could be part of the mix of incentives, once the violence subsides. The habit of lavishing contracts on U.S. corporations for reconstruction has essentially failed; a localized or regionalized economic plan is now advisable. The other Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia, are also difficult reads. Like all neighbors, they are keen to keep Iraq united into a single state -- avoiding, they hope, the bleed out of the colossal political violence and refugees from a failed Sunni heartland. The prospect of a Shia-led government in Iraq aligned strongly with Iran has been troubling enough for the Saudis, which has a sizable Shia minority in its eastern province. The Saudis are holding Iraqi debt and see no reason to contribute to reconstruction of an oil-rich country.

A Grand Bargain?
In all the capitals of the region, there is a stark recognition of the parlous situation gripping Iraq, and the threats implicit in such disorder for every state. While not wanting the Americans to fully succeed or completely fail, the likelihood of the latter now worries all, and as a result they have an incentive to work with Washington and the government in Baghdad.

While the ISG recommendations are not likely to be swallowed whole, they remain the most enticing, fresh options on the table. The Pentagon's new ideas -- "Go Big" with an influx of U.S. troops for a few months; "Go Long" with reductions in troops but intensified training of Iraqis over years; or "Go Home," a full retreat -- do not have special needs for regional diplomacy. The notion of partitioning Iraq, most prominently advocated by Sen. Joseph Biden, has no traction in the region (apart from some Kurds and their partisans) and little in the United States, particularly among Iraq specialists.

A grand bargain reflecting the ISG program would be a very complex affair, however, with conflicting interests between the neighbors in addition to testy relations with Baghdad and Washington. Jordan's Abdullah has voiced concerns about the "arc of Shi'ism" in the region, and would rue an accommodation between the United States and Iran. The Saudis seem to harbor similar concerns. Turkey's issues with Kurds are well known. The Syrians play a cozy game with their porous border, may fear growing Iranian influence in Lebanon as well as Kurdish independence, and have anxieties about regime stability. Iran wants to make certain of Shia supremacy in Iraq, its longtime rival, which may set Tehran against Amman and Riyadh in particular.

Can these tricky currents be navigated? Does the Bush administration have the nimbleness, and the neutrality, to compromise and deliver suitable incentives? There are many assets in the region -- Turkey's able construction companies and security forces, Syrian and Jordanian credibility with Sunnis, Iranian political clout, and Saudi and Kuwaiti money. Each stands to benefit from a stable Iraq, but each is cautious about giving up too much, too quickly, to be the good neighbors Iraq needs.

Few if any peace processes can succeed without the neighbors' consent, and the more active that agreement is, the more likely the peace will be sustainable. That this was not recognized by the United States at the outset merely underscores the larger, deadly blunders of the whole enterprise. But here and now we have to find some accommodation with all the neighbors to ensure a safe and timely departure for U.S. forces.

That means giving up dreams of transformation that are moribund in any case, and bringing to the table a very large purse. Those two preconditions for Washington will not guarantee success. Conceivably, a third party may need to broker the deals, given the high level of distrust occasioned by the war and other issues. But the United States must, at some level, be intimately involved. And without flexible American participation, if not leadership, the neighbors will remain difficult to draw in, and the prospects for building a durable peace in Iraq will remain a faint hope.

Ten Fallacies About the Violence in Iraq

The escalating violence in Iraq's civil war is now earning considerable attention as we pass yet another milestone -- U.S. occupation there, in two weeks, will exceed the length of the Second World War for America. While the news media have finally started to grapple with the colossal amount of killing, a number of misunderstandings persist. Some are willful deceptions. Let's look at a few of them:

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Six Lessons from the London Airline Bombing Plot

What we now know about the London-based plot to destroy ten civilian airplanes points to six conclusions. 

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An Immigration Policy Ruled By Fear

[Editor's Note: This story is part of a series of Audits of the Conventional Wisdom, a project of the Center for International Studies at MIT.]

The attacks of September 11, 2001, transformed the landscape of global security, none more than borders and immigration. The topography of citizenship, belonging, and suspicion instantly changed for Arab and Muslim communities in the United States. They drew the sharp attention of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence services, and that continues. But the public's focus has swung south to scrutinize the U.S.-Mexican border as a source of insecurity. For the most part, the alarms about immigrants as threats are exaggerated. And the policy choices driven by these concerns -- much larger border security measures in particular -- are costly in a globalized economy and unnecessary for security in any case.

The ferocious law-enforcement reaction to 9/11 overwhelmed Arab and Muslim communities. At the same time, other immigrants, legal or not, were affected, and most of those migrants are from Latin America, particularly Mexico. So the initial focus of attention, reflecting the ethnicity of the 9/11 attackers, actually affected a much broader swath of people in or hoping to enter the U.S. Only now are we seeing the consequences of this sweeping vigilance.

Muslims in America, about equally from South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Southeast Asia, were targeted along with their institutions. Several hundreds or thousands of men were detained for months or longer without being charged with crimes, and many were deported for minor infractions. Muslim charities were targeted by the FBI, with many of them closed down and a number of them prosecuted. Transnational labor migration was sharply curtailed. Student visas were more difficult to obtain. Mosques were and are under constant surveillance. Many Muslims and Christian Arabs felt intimidated about speaking out on foreign policy and security issues, particularly the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The rationale for the U.S. government's action was that these people potentially support terrorism. Yet we now know, through the Report of the 9/11 Commission, that there were no domestic conspiracies of any significance at the time of the attacks, and there have been none revealed since. Of the more than 400 U.S. prosecutions of individuals on terrorism-related charges, virtually none charged were involved in a plot against America. "Another 500 people have been charged with immigration violations," said a Washington Post investigation last year, "after an initial report linking them to a terrorism or homeland security threat." Still, little or nothing has come to light suggesting a domestic conspiracy -- nor, indeed, terrorists coming into the country illegally.

Insecure borders

The effort to round up Muslim and other Arab men continues. It is preventative in many of its features, as with the Palmer raids of the 1920s: "a broad-based approach," writes legal scholar David Cole, seeking "to neutralize all persons who [the Justice Department] thought might pose a potential future threat. This preventive approach, unmoored from concepts of individual culpability, would prove to be a recurring feature of law enforcement in times of crisis." This legal aggressiveness, notably, proceeds simultaneously with efforts to tighten airport and seaport security, which have been roundly criticized as inadequate, inept, or fraught with corruption.

It also proceeds while the attention of the public has shifted. Due to a harsh immigration control bill passed by the House of Representatives -- which would make entry by unauthorized immigrants an aggravated felony -- a sharp, new focus on the security of the U.S. Mexican border is apparent.

Several factors are shaping the increasingly fractious debate about Mexican immigration. Security is most prominent: many politicians and commentators have posed the Mexican border as a security threat. Migration has long had security implications, but mostly linked to "social" security -- jobs, welfare, etc. Today it is the threat of terrorism that frames debate. The fear -- thus far, unfounded -- that al Qaeda will sneak across the "unguarded" 2,000-mile border accounts for the urgency. In fact, the House bill is called the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.

The security anxieties mix with the more ordinary opposition to Mexican migrants, a longstanding tendency in American history. Related to issues of overwhelmed border area hospitals and schools, competition for low-skilled jobs, and the effect on wages, this opposition focuses its ire on the 10-12 million who are "illegals." While the overall impact of immigration, including unauthorized workers, is a net positive for the U.S. economy, the localized effects can be difficult for border states, particularly as government support for social services has declined over time. The effect of unauthorized immigrants on wages of American workers, another hot-button issue, is uncertain.

So measures such as electronic fences, deployment of national guard troops, roundups of unauthorized workers in places of employment, and expanded border patrols are advocated to keep illegal immigrants out and provide an added shield against al Qaeda. Some have suggested the same for the Canadian border. But do such policies work?

Clash of globalizations

Such measures have not worked in the past with respect to Mexican workers. As migration theorist Douglas Massey points out, the higher levels of security in heavily trafficked areas such as San Diego merely dispersed the entry points as well as the unauthorized migrants once they were inside the U.S. In effect, he notes, these policies have transformed a "regional movement affecting three states into a national phenomenon affecting all 50 states [and] a seasonal movement of male workers into a settled population of families." Because these heightened-security measures raise the costs of entry, the workers tend to remain in the United States much longer than they once did, while the overall numbers continue to climb.

This reflects the powerful relationship between immigration and economic globalization, including the loosening or elimination of borders, a feature of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. When debated in the early 1990s, NAFTA was pictured as a solution to illegal immigration. As scholar Peter Andreas observed several years ago, this "solution" actually "fuels such immigration in the short and medium term... The combination of NAFTA and the side-effects of Mexico's own domestic market reforms will add as much as several hundred thousand to the number of Mexicans who migrate to the United States annually though at least the end of the century." This has proved to be precisely correct.

Nor should it be surprising, since the integration of the North American economy was one NAFTA's goals, and that integration -- in trade, capital and investment, communications, legal harmonization, etc. -- must include the labor force as well. But another globalization, that of a worldwide security net and deterrent to violent, non-state actors, is at cross purposes with this long wave of economic reform. The "securitization" of migration, a global phenomenon of ever-expanding security envelopes, makes it much more difficult for migrants to cross borders, even as the world economy demands such movement.

Effects on communities

For Latinos in the United States, the perceived level of intimidation has gone up markedly since 9/11. In a lengthy survey of Californians taken a year ago, the University of Southern California reports that since 9/11, 55 percent of Hispanics felt "less secure." Eighty percent said they "worry more about the future" than before 9/11. Thirty-seven percent report making less money than before 9/11, and 72 percent of those attribute those losses to 9/11.

Interestingly, perhaps paradoxically, of those Middle Easterners polled in this survey, 42 percent said they feel less secure since 9/11; 70 percent worry more often; 29 percent say they are making less money. All of these are about 10 percentage points lower for Middle Easterners than for Latinos. The one exception is in racial or ethnic discrimination: significantly more than half of Pakistani, Iranian, and Arabic respondents say they have been victims, which is much higher than for Latinos. For all groups, remittances -- a source of income for developing countries that far exceeds official aid programs -- have dropped sharply.

These figures may reflect the impact of harsher immigration policies, rhetoric, news media coverage, and vigilante groups. "The 'collateral consequences' of such policies," writes migration scholar David Hernandez, "inflict hardships on immigrants' families," such as "financial and emotional distress, increased risk of fatal disease, and increased social risks to vulnerable children. Many of these consequences of immigrant detention fly under the radar of public opinion or concern, and have been termed 'invisible punishment.'" This may be true particularly of a mixed-status family in which one or more family member is a citizen and one or more is not. This mixture characterizes one in four families in California and one in six in New York. The effects on families of criminalizing unauthorized immigrant workers would surely be devastating, especially for children, a very high percentage of whom are citizens.

A concern among some observers -- particularly in light of what we know of the terrorist bombings in Madrid and London and the alleged plot in Toronto -- is that deep disaffection among immigrant groups, aggravated by intense anger at wars in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly, create social volatility. A feedback loop of global scope may be feeding insecurity among immigrants and natives alike.

Solutions and non-solutions

The Department of Homeland Security, the most prominent domestic response to 9/11, is now seen as poorly planned and managed. Now it is likely to be given new border security tasks in response to the unsubstantiated concerns about the Mexican border spurred by a few politicians, anti-immigration groups, and supportive news media. DHS will post more border patrols and other highly visible (but ineffective) fixes. And like border militarization, making 11-12 million unauthorized immigrants into felons is a policy that cannot be implemented and would be haphazardly punitive. It is also unnecessary.

More promising ideas would forge a route to citizenship for the millions here and a guest worker program for those who wish to come. Both should appeal to those worried about security. The veneer of false identities would be stripped away from those here as they apply for citizenship. The criminal networks of human traffickers -- "snakes" and "coyotes" -- would be rendered useless by a guest worker program. (During the Bracero program, a guest worker scheme of 1942-64 occasioned by labor shortages of the Second World War, unauthorized immigration was reduced dramatically.) Border patrols can then focus on actual security matters, if any arise.

The security anxieties sparked by immigration are disproportionate to the actual problems posed. The arrest of people on legitimate terror lists was obviously an overdue measure. But otherwise there is little cause for alarm from immigrants. Economic opportunity, social cohesiveness, and national safety are not threatened by the ordinary labor migration that has enriched the United States for three centuries. Unauthorized immigration is well understood by scholars, and reasonably promising solutions are available. If the political process is working properly, the dislocations caused by previous mistakes in immigration policy should be readily and humanely correctible.

The Cold War on Terror

[Editor's Note: This story is part of a series of Audits of the Conventional Wisdom, a project of the Center for International Studies at MIT.]

Since the autumn of 2001, following the shocking attacks of September 11, President Bush and his advisers have repeatedly likened the war against terrorism to the confrontation with Nazi Germany in the Second World War and the long struggle with Soviet communism in the Cold War. But the current anti-terrorist campaign and the related war in Iraq are significantly different from those earlier contests.

Where resemblances occur, they are not comforting to our political values. And the comparative lessons that the U.S. government is proffering are not the ones that are relevant to dealing with terrorism. Mr. Bush signaled these comparisons in his speech before Congress nine days after the attacks, when he said the terrorists "follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies." The analogy, particularly to the Cold War, has been repeated many times since by the president, the vice president, and their lieutenants.

After the London bombing in the summer of 2005, two top aides wrote, "At its root, the struggle is an ideological contest, a war of ideas that engages all of us, public servant and private citizen, regardless of nationality. We have waged such wars before, and we know how to win them." The "war of ideas" theme remains prominent, as is the division of the world into those who are "with us or with the terrorists," as the president put it. The threat from al Qaeda and other jihadists, and the American response, are understood primarily in military terms.

As the 2006 National Security Strategy states, "We will disrupt and destroy terrorist organizations by: direct and continuous action using all the elements of national and international power... ; defending the United States, the people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders... ; denying further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by convincing or compelling states," etc.

These frames -- freedom v. oppression, the world divided, the necessity of readiness to use overwhelming military force -- are directly borrowed from Cold War thinking. But are the perception of the threat and the construction of the response appropriate?

Lessons of the Cold War

The Cold War was a great power contest that had many dimensions. There was a "war of ideas," and there were military confrontations. But there were also proxy wars, vast alliances, and institutions for managing the conflict -- indeed, it was a highly formalized affair, with mechanisms, treaties, ambassadors, and so on specifically dedicated to defusing potential conflict. It was, most important, an inter-state competition. The states could and did speak with each other, negotiate with each other, trade with each other, sustain cultural and educational exchanges, and the like, for decades.

While the causes of the end of the Cold War remain a contentious topic, there is much to suggest that these dense networks, institutions, global norms, rational discourse, and civil society advocacy had enormously powerful effects in lowering tensions and opening opportunities to conclude the rivalry. The military competition was essentially a stalemate. Up to the end, American hardliners warned of Soviet nuclear superiority, for example, or their numerical advantages in the European theater. And the major proxy war -- Vietnam -- was a colossal failure for the United States.

The Cold War was ended by engagement, rather than "destroying the threat," and that is a powerful lesson. But because of the highly formal and state-centric nature of the confrontation, one has to ask if there is any relevance to the "twilight struggle" with Soviet communism.

One could say, parenthetically, that the Second World War was also fundamentally different from the current antiterrorism campaign. Like the Cold War, it was state-centric, and militarily colossal in scale. It required massive mobilization and shared sacrifice. With the end of the conflict, there was dedication to rebuilding the vanquished countries and empowering multilateral institutions.

The contrast with today could not be sharper. At home, the Cold War also reverberated through governance, politics, and society. The creation of a new national security state in the late 1940s was fraught with symbolism as well as concrete changes in politics. A new "red scare," internal surveillance, and other anti-communist tropes filled America for many years.

Democratic socialism was tarnished as a political alternative. Groups opposing the nuclear arms race or military interventions were targeted and scorned. Government secrecy grew; science and other such endeavors were affected. Internal conspiracies of any significance were never, or rarely, discovered, yet the impact of fear -- or the political utilization of fear -- had immense and deleterious consequences for democratic values in the United States and in many countries allied with the West.

A Different War

The threat from al Qaeda and similar groups is wholly different from the menace of the Soviet Union. The latter, despite chronic weaknesses, had thousands of nuclear weapons, enormous conventional forces, and many allies. Al Qaeda is nothing like a state. Its ideology is largely a cry against alleged Western mistreatment, rather than a successor system rooted in European philosophy (as was communism and fascism). Since the spectacular attacks of 9/11, al Qaeda has provoked little actual violence in the West. The London and Madrid bombings, small in scale, were the work of local, self-styled malcontents.

Law enforcement and intelligence operations by the United States and many other countries have likely had some useful effect in diminishing the number of potential or actual al Qaeda members and operations, although a very small number of plots have come to light, and none in the United States. The war in Afghanistan, while notably unsuccessful in arresting Osama bin Laden, has surely disrupted his operations and deprived him of a friendly central government. These kinds of counter-terrorism activities have been successful, perhaps, but they bear little resemblance to strategies of the Cold War.

What does bear a striking resemblance is the war in Iraq. Like Vietnam, it has been pursued to teach lessons and demonstrate resolve. Like Vietnam, it began with popular support that suddenly eroded as rationales built on false premises dissolved. Like Vietnam, the high toll in casualties and insecurity threatens the entire region’s future, even as the intervention was promoted in terms of protecting or promoting stability and democracy. Like Vietnam, the war in Iraq is increasingly a distraction from other security priorities and opportunities, is corrosive of alliances, and is economically costly. And, like Vietnam, it is creating new enemies.

Another regrettable similarity with the Cold War is the effect on American politics and democratic values. The creation of a new security state apparatus mirrors the initiatives begun in the late 1940s. Not only has military spending reached heights never seen during the Cold War, but now the government has newly expanded powers of surveillance, secret courts, targeted communities, and, most prominently, a new federal bureaucracy that institutionalizes the anti-terrorism campaign.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and special offices in the Justice Department, FBI, and elsewhere, buttressed by the USA Patriot Act and its successor, are now embedded in the political life of the state and society. As they have been in previous red scares, immigrants are subjected to particularly onerous attention. The federal government’s broad encroachment on civil liberties and its political use of fear are not rooted in a demonstrable domestic threat.

Virtually none of the 300-plus indictments on "terrorism related" activities since 9/11 have involved anything remotely resembling a domestically based plot against America, and the 9/11 Commission found no such thing, either. Despite this, according to some analyses, fear of terrorism determined the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. The cultivation of fear by federal authorities also built initial support for the war in Iraq -- "we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," was one official’s memorable stratagem.

While some of the most alarmist rhetoric and policy assertions have been diminished by the embarrassments of the Iraq war and the suddenly lower threat assessments since the 2004 election, much of the domestic security apparatus has been deeply institutionalized. DHS is a $30 billion-plus agency. The USA Patriot Act was renewed by Congress in 2006 despite a concerted effort by civil libertarians to block it. The debate on immigration pivots partly on the unsubstantiated threat of terrorists entering from Mexico.

The administration has stoutly defended its domestic surveillance, retentions of suspected terrorists, and other extraordinary measures. Every sign points to a permanent antiterrorism campaign within the United States that will consistently cause friction with civil liberties and democratic process. This impact of the war on terror within the United States is perhaps the strongest parallel to the Cold War, and equally unnecessary and futile.

Rethinking Terrorism

Al Qaeda is neither Nazi Germany nor Soviet Russia. It is a tiny revanchist network that is dangerous in limited ways. This is not to say it cannot wreak havoc; if, in an unlikely case, it acquired nuclear or biological weapons, it could obviously be very destructive. Also, its non-statehood protects it from the deterrence value of the U.S. nuclear arsenal -- another important, if chilling, difference from the U.S.-USSR standoff, and one that should earn more attention in resources and focus from the White House.

Yet to raise the jihadists to the status of a global "totalitarian" threat is foolish and counterproductive. And, as we have already seen, it has fearfully led the American people to support an extremely costly invasion of Iraq and a stronger state at home that is undermining democratic values.

Perhaps most destructively, the war on terrorism worsens some of the factors that contribute to Muslim wariness of the West. Israeli hardliners were extolled as a model for dealing with terrorism, and the American refusal to recognize Hamas’s electoral victory in Palestine belies Washington’s talk about democratization. The anti-terrorist targeting of many Muslim organizations in the United States appears discriminatory. The war in Iraq has been carried out callously with regard to human security. The confrontation with Iran appears to be a case of nuclear "orientalism." Continued U.S. backing for repressive Arab regimes remains a sore point with Arab democrats, and repressive regimes are being bolstered in Central and South Asia.

The nation needs to take stock of what has worked and not worked in the anti-terrorism initiatives of the last five years, separating out (if possible) the fractious topic of Iraq and wanton claims of success on other fronts. A body of empirical literature on other struggles against politically violent groups is growing, and is informative. We can learn from such analysis, and guide our national and international efforts accordingly.

But most of all, we should stop referring to the anti-terror effort as another epic episode of America’s triumphal battle against totalitarianism. The analogy is weak, and it is leading the country to support poor -- even catastrophic -- policies in the anti-terror effort.

Security the Progressive Way

The Democratic Party is missing a golden opportunity to beat the GOP on homeland security issues. Although the 2004 election hinged on Americans' concerns about domestic terrorism, the Democrats typically give the subject unimaginative or predictable responses: Spend more money for first responders, roll back the USA Patriot Act and plug the holes in America's very holey defenses against evildoers. There is a much more attractive option: Seize upon homeland security to reshape social and economic priorities.

The Bush administration strategy for homeland security that has gradually emerged from the trauma of 9/11 emphasizes preventive deterrence against Muslim communities in the United States, protection of dangerous facilities and enhanced capacity for police, firefighters and health professionals to respond to a terrorist attack. President Bush has consistently opted for "hardening" American society and its economy, the domestic counterpart of his anti-terrorism campaign worldwide. The costs – in dollars, values and vulnerabilities – are very high, however, and the actual protection bought is uncertain.

The hardening of society began with a crackdown on Muslims in America. Terrorist-related prosecutions, harassment of Muslims and other Arab Americans and surveillance and disruption in these communities has included at least 200,000 FBI interviews, "special registration" for thousands of Muslim men, as well as hundreds of deportations. All of this has produced no evidence of a domestic terrorist threat lurking in American society. In fact, the 9/11 Commission report could uncover no such plot, and the nearly 400 indictments by the Justice Department are a parade of inconsequential misdemeanors or actions unrelated to al Qaeda. This is not just about civil liberties – there is a larger danger that Muslims are being targeted by federal authorities as a permanent internal threat. We are witnessing the re-emergence of a cold war culture in a new U.S. security apparatus and compliant social and political institutions.

This is not to say there is no threat, of course. America still faces a risk of attacks by al Qaeda from abroad, and the danger is growing as a result of the Iraq war.

The anti-Muslim juggernaut also twists the role of society itself in protecting ourselves from terrorism. Alienating and isolating Muslims, Arab Americans, South Asians and other immigrant communities is foolish on moral grounds and as a means to achieve antiterrorism goals. What we should be fostering from these communities is cooperation, not alienation.

But the Bush administration is intentionally fostering mistrust and anxiety. Through the endless stream of higher alerts and its alarmist rhetoric, it is nurturing an ethos of fear as civic virtue. It sponsors, for example, programs in schools and civic education that emphasize being alert to the possibility of terrorists in one's community. As Steven Heydemann and Amaney Jamal point out in a new study for the Social Science Research Council, "Through such initiatives, the Corporation for National and Community Service and other government agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations linked to these agencies, are integrating norms of homeland security as a defining element in the broader relationship between citizens and government. It is being used to reframe commitments to civic education, with a special focus on bringing homeland security themes into K-12 curricula in public schools. It is also becoming more prominent in the governance of other activities long associated with the vitality of civic life in the United States, including volunteering, community service, and charitable giving."

A recent example is the expensive "public discourse project" of a new organization promoted by 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton: the America Prepared Campaign, which pushes an urgent, family regimen to "be ready" for terrorist attacks.

So Bush's version of homeland security – defined as a need to be watchful, suspicious and defensive – is the core value being promoted in federal education and other social initiatives. It seeps into popular culture, most notably in the odious television hit 24, and combines neatly with right-wing religious ideologies. This is, to be sure, consistent: Bush is spending a colossal amount of money to toughen airport security, harden targets like the Washington Monument and intimidate the Arab world with military force, measures that might produce marginally more security. But along the way, he is insinuating values that breed mistrust of others at home and abroad.

Democrats have largely bought into the Bush policy, though in a lighter version. The sum of John Kerry's domestic security proposals last year was to plug holes in defenses (air cargo, ports, nuclear plants, etc.) and spend more money on first responders. But there is a much more attractive and assertive set of policies available that match up well with progressive priorities. American society could be activated in ways that integrate security with a new provision of social goods, providing tangible benefits for Americans while minimizing the nation's vulnerabilities to al Qaeda and its successors.

Progressives are caught in a bind because no one knows whether the threat of terrorism is potentially catastrophic. How to respond? Instead of advocating the endless social and physical hardening that gains us little and incurs enormous costs – and looks like parroting of the White House – we could pursue policies that minimize risk and maximize the ability to respond. Along the way, other benefits would accrue, benefits that fulfill progressive goals of equity, community and sustainability.

Consider the nation's energy system. Today it is a complex of petroleum-based technologies and nuclear power plants, all of which are vulnerable in some way – equally true for the petrochemicals that are overused in manufacturing and agriculture. The conventional answer to these vulnerabilities is hardening: literally, as with cement barricades and containers, or via stepped-up surveillance and other security measures. Few if any political leaders ask if the system itself needs rethinking. A large-scale investment in renewable energy and conservation, for example, would yield results that might be more expensive than fossil fuels are currently, but would bring many safety and security benefits, and less pollution. (According to reports of the testimony of the captured al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of his strategies was to steal gasoline delivery trucks and blow them up.) It would also address the petroleum dependency that is a root of the terrorism threat.

The most hazardous energy facilities are located in places where poor and working-class people live: They are most vulnerable, and they are least well protected. Vulnerabilities are not evenly distributed in society. When catastrophes strike, the poor suffer most. Eric Klinenberg's recent book Heat Wave shows graphically how a heat wave in Chicago most severely affected the poor and elderly; the tsunami in Asia is another grisly example. Redressing this imbalance, and improving society's overall resilience to terrorism, would include upgrading public health systems (for example, more neighborhood clinics), improving mass transit, developing alternatives to hazardous materials and their transport, and a myriad of other infrastructure reforms that would require social agreement to work optimally. Having local solar arrays or windmills to produce power is one example: Safe and clean energy should trump aesthetic concerns, but in any event would be subject to strong citizen participation. (This was Amory Lovins' insight more than a quarter-century ago, including its counterterrorism logic.) The benefits outweigh the sacrifices, however, and along the way we would garner an increase of trust in public institutions – the sense of equity and fair play – that are essential to a long-term antiterrorism effort.

That this vast reconfiguration of how we derive and use fuel, chemicals, etc. would be costly is an understatement. Rejiggering the energy system alone would reach into the trillions of dollars, and would have to include alternatives to the internal-combustion engine. (This will have to be done within 50 to 75 years anyway, because of declining global oil production.) Since 9/11, however, homeland security expenditures, both public and private, have totaled something like a half-trillion dollars, and this does not include the costs of military interventions in the Persian Gulf region since 1990.

Apart from new jobs in the security industries, these expenditures have produced little in the way of public goods or "social capital." We do not have better social or physical infrastructure, better schools or a stronger sense of justice. We do have more encumbrances, more mistrust, more anxiety – possibly greater security – but few if any outcomes for a better society.

Consider another example of creating social goods with enhanced security: improving the public health system. Building local public clinics to deal effectively with infectious diseases, immediate and unencumbered access for the uninsured, vaccination programs, attention to children and youth, and so on would provide protection in these specific areas, and would also create a new opportunity to reach people in the underserved areas that are most exposed to the risk of disasters and social dislocations of all kinds. Such clinics serve as educational platforms as well as health providers. And, in the process, they would demonstrate a level of caring in society that is now spotty at best.

In the unlikely event of a biological-weapon or similar attack, a layer of protection would be in place, one that not only could provide health services but would be an empowering link in an essential social network. Consider how anthrax or other "bioterror" diseases manifest themselves – often with only gradually worsening symptoms – and how reluctant uninsured people are to go to a hospital, even when they are ill. A bolstered public health system – nationwide, connected, technically sophisticated and trained for multiple threats, terrorism included – would be a layer of defense; it would demonstrate to the public that the government is serious about reducing vulnerabilities; and it would have manifold benefits for combating other diseases and social ills.

Reducing vulnerabilities does not mean al Qaeda cannot strike America. By reducing the number of potential catastrophe targets, however, and by bolstering the social and physical infrastructure of response, the possibilities for suffering a debilitating loss are reduced. But if reducing vulnerabilities simply means hardening, with no effort to decrease vulnerabilities, and social response is based purely on fear rather than positive inducements, then it will be difficult to sustain attention to and investment in homeland defenses. The "securitization" of America will remain expensive and paranoid, while the most important elements of improving security through social organization will be forfeited.

A reconstruction of energy choices, public health, mass transit and trust in government seems a daunting task. But a precedent for undertaking such vast social change is visible in "how we have come to manage the safety imperative over the past century," as Stephen Flynn, a former White House security adviser, notes in his book America the Vulnerable. Enormous strides were made in everything from flame-retardant children's clothing to food safety to the handling of hazardous materials in manufacturing. The economy adapted, and in fact new industries and jobs were created to provide this added layer of safety. Over this same period, safety became a broader social concern – safety in schools, safe access for the handicapped, safety in driving, safety in the natural environment, safety in relationships. While this was hardly a seamless triumph, the safety issue was engaged broadly, in part because ordinary people could see beyond the costs and inconveniences to the benefits for themselves and their communities. As Flynn notes, "If we are smart in how we construct a security deterrent, we will achieve other benefits."

Thinking about homeland security in this same way would give progressives a decided edge in the debate about how best to protect Americans in the age of global terrorism. Does America want to deal with vulnerabilities arising from its petroleum facilities? Then get serious about reducing petroleum dependencies. Does America want to have a truly effective first-responder system? Then get serious about dispersing and upgrading public health networks. Does America want to enhance trust in the public institutions needed to combat terrorism? Then get serious about building public institutions that deserve respect, provide services, protect civil liberties and expand public goods.

Every war – indeed, every great national challenge – has not only demanded sacrifice but has reordered social relations and yielded new public goods in return. World War II, for example, brought the GI Bill, advances in racial integration and other such rewards. It is worth examining that tradition and reinventing it as a galvanizing core of a progressive antiterrorism agenda.

Banned in America

At the end of July, the U.S. Government revoked a work visa for Tariq Ramadan, one of the world's most important Muslim scholars, on the grounds that he is a terrorist threat. Ramadan, Swiss-born of a prominent Egyptian family, was offered a prestigious chair at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The case illustrates, sadly, both the hyper-sensitive tendencies of the government – possibly, in this case, responding to anti-Muslim groups – and the kind of action that alienates America's five million Muslims and millions more around the world.

For the 42-year-old Tariq Ramadan looks like a dream come true – a brilliant philosopher of Islam and its evolving place in the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, who argues for a modernized Islam that favors pluralism, tolerance, feminism, and educational achievement. His work is rooted in Islamic traditions, but fully aware of the demands, challenges, and opportunities presented by the contemporary Western world. For those of us that are alarmed by the Bush administration's rough treatment of Muslims at home and abroad, but troubled by anti-modern tendencies among some Muslims, Dr. Ramadan is a measure of hope. It is hope vested not only by his eloquence, but his enormous following among Muslim youth.

So what happened with the visa? The Department of Homeland Security, apparently acting under provisions of the USA Patriot Act, requested the State Department to reverse an earlier decision to grant the visa. This is done to those who have used a "position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity." There is virtually no evidence that is public suggesting that Ramadan has ever espoused terrorism. As immigration expert Paul Donnelly wrote in the Washington Post a few days after the imbroglio erupted, "Notre Dame officials insist that they have reviewed every charge against the Swiss scholar and agree with the likes of Scotland Yard and Swiss intelligence, which have found them to be groundless."

The controversy around Ramadan came from a statement on French intellectuals – that some, like Bernard Kouchner and Bernard-Henri Lïàvy – were adopting "communitarian" rather than "universalist" perspectives in viewing the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war in Iraq. Translated, this means Jewish intellectuals were siding with Israel and against Muslim concerns. This point-of-view, while perhaps indiscreet, hardly qualifies as anti-Semitism, and Ramadan has been outspoken among European intellectuals in his condemnation of the rising tide of attacks against Jews in Europe, a position that has earned him plaudits in the Israeli press, including an approving interview in Haaretz.

But this is not enough for the attack dogs of the right. And here it gets interesting, because it is widely rumored that Ramadan's appointment to a major American university, one strongly associated with serious theological study, would not have been challenged if not for the intervention of anti-Muslim groups. Graham Fuller, a Mideast expert who is a senior RAND analyst and former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, told the Chicago Tribune, "pro-Likud organizations want to block people who can speak articulately and present the Muslim dilemma in a way that might be understandable and sympathetic to Americans. They succeed by presenting this as a security matter. There is no way Homeland Security would initiate this on its own."

The usual suspects on the extreme right, such as Daniel Pipes and his small industry of Web site organizations, have been tarnishing Ramadan with a cascade of innuendo. Ramadan's grandfather was a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; his father might have had Osama bin Laden as a student; "intelligence agencies suspect" him of coordinating a meeting of al Qaeda leaders, etc. The list goes on without proof, relevance, or in many cases plausibility.

In an eloquent piece yesterday in the Chicago Tribune, Ramadan himself responded to the charges made by Pipes and others, forcefully refuting each allegation by laying out the facts. Then he added this, by way of explaining himself to readers:

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Rethinking Homeland Security

The second anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 atrocities is a good time for new scrutiny of increased "homeland security." The massive effort is expensive, misdirected, and possibly even dangerous.

Homeland security measures began as a round-up of Muslim men within days of the attacks. "Security" has quickly grown into an enormous bureaucracy and legal juggernaut. Thousands of Muslim men in America have been detained in prison. Hundreds of Arabic, South Asian, and Muslim men have been deported for visa violations, and dozens have been charged with crimes. The budget for the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) exceeds $100 billion.

Anyone who enters a skyscraper, a museum, or a ballpark just about anywhere sees the heightened security: metal detectors, searches of bags, identification procedures�all of these are costs borne largely by local and state governments, the private sector, and consumers. Cities and states are told to tighten security and bleed the resources from education budgets or incur debt to do so. The raising of the federal alert from yellow to orange alone costs local law enforcement millions of dollars in overtime for police.

Some Democrats have raised concerns about the money going into this colossal undertaking, saying funds aren�t going to the places needing it most. Republicans have marched almost completely in locked step with the White House. Both parties are missing two fundamental points. First, we need to ask whether a terrorist threat warranting such spending and fear actually exists. If the answer to that is yes, even tentatively, then we should demand a homeland security effort that provides something positive and tangible. Second, if we face years or even decades of terrorism, and, most acutely, terrorism using weapons of mass destruction, then we need to make sure that the funds are going to the right place and not just to a few more dollars to firefighters or police departments.

Are we at risk for future terrorist attacks? Since the 2001 attacks about two dozen cases have been brought against alleged terrorists in Buffalo, Seattle, Chicago, Oregon, Northern Virginia, Tampa, and Detroit. In reading the indictments and plea bargains of these cases, one is struck by the lack of concrete evidence of any major conspiracies or actions against the United States itself. Most involve discussions about "jihad," going to Afghanistan or Pakistan to train or fight, setting up target practice locally, and sending money to organizations listed as being terrorist. Many of these cases resulted in convictions on relatively minor charges. In at least two of the cases, defense attorneys insist, plea bargains came as a result of threats by the federal prosecutors that the defendants would be taken to military tribunals, held in isolation, and possibly executed. All in all, given the thousands of interrogations and the actual cases brought, it can safely be concluded that internally, at least, no significant threat exists. None even hinted at weapons of mass destruction or anything as dangerous as a truck bomb.

Despite this, many people agree that homeland security must be a priority. To enhance security in a way that most benefits the American people, we need to think creatively. Security is not just about organizing military preparedness or more sophisticated techniques of surveillance and detection. It should instead be regarded as a function of social organization, of how American society and its institutions are organized. We will achieve enhanced security at home only by creating an America where people are better educated, better employed, healthier, more just, and more equitable.

Regrettably, our current government is far from this thinking. The Bush administration has scarcely mentioned the social contributions necessary for greater security. The only distinctly social activities urged by the White House seem limited to neighborhood "watch" committees and tattling, and praying. Public discourse on homeland security has been rather formless, rotating around vaguely articulated threats, frantic efforts at military and first-responder readiness, and fitful bureaucratic consolidation. Even the color-coded alert system seems now to be largely disregarded or ridiculed.

How should we think differently about homeland security? Like many aspects of American life, exposure to risk is not allocated equally across American society. Vulnerability is, in part, contingent on one�s social position. Those who are malnourished, poorly housed, poorly educated, and poorly informed have a different "vulnerability profile" than do those who are well off, live in secure neighborhoods, are well educated and well informed.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg�s recent book, "Heat Wave," showed how the 700 deaths in Chicago�s 1995 heat wave were not random, but had strong socioeconomic markers -- the poor and the old were most vulnerable, confirmed again by early reports about thousands of fatalities in France from this summer's heat wave. This would also be true for many kinds of terrorist attacks.

Social vulnerability, and the strategies needed to protect Americans, are linked to larger patterns of social inequality. The poor tend to live near potential hazardous facilities like power plants or seaports. The elderly tend to be less able to adapt to disruptions in public services or emergency conditions. Those who rely on publicly funded institutions are also most vulnerable to the cutbacks in public services in part necessitated by increases in spending for the military and homeland security. Because the nation�s politicians are not accounting for such effects, the priorities and expenditures tend to reinforce existing patterns of social inequality.

Two social, economic, and physical infrastructures essential to our lives can serve as illustrations: public health and transportation. Virtually all functions of protection and response involve the public health system. The smallpox vaccination controversy, the anthrax scare, and the September 11 attack itself highlight this fact. The capacity of public health infrastructures to adapt to new homeland security requirements is questionable; the system is already overburdened. Even the relatively tiny smallpox vaccination program is straining public health agencies. Underfunded and underappreciated, public health practitioners must cope with multiple and immediate threats�HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies, gun violence, West Nile Virus, to name just a few. Because of the fiscal crises of the federal and state governments, health efforts are being cut back, while new homeland-security mandates, many of them without funds, are flowing in.

Similarly, many of the nightmare terrorist scenarios of attack involve the nation�s enormous transportation infrastructure and the routes into the country from foreign lands. Airport security is one obvious focal point; subways are gradually becoming another. But consider less visible frailties. Tens of millions of shipments of hazardous materials �chemicals like chlorine, or petroleum fuels�occur annually in the United States. Using the nuclear storage site in Nevada would require nearly 92,000 shipments of nuclear waste, 80 percent by truck. The Oklahoma City bombing of underscores trucking issues, and today the trucking industry is resisting security improvements (like extra locks, or background checks on drivers) as too costly. Seaports and pipelines are ticking time bombs, and even railroad lines are insecure, sometimes with loaded cars of hazardous materials sitting in unguarded yards. Most of the suggested fixes for such vulnerabilities are more police and surveillance, which are inadequate, costly, and raise civil liberties qualms. We need to rethink how and why we are vulnerable, and how we can reorganize the ways we live to reduce vulnerability.

Rethinking Homeland Security

How, then, to proceed? The public should be demanding a tangible return on its investments in homeland security, one in which benefits accrue whether or not a terrorist attack occurs. Consider again the example of transportation of hazardous materials. Millions of miles of roadways and pipelines, the hundreds of transit facilities, the petroleum trucks delivering fuels to millions of homes and businesses�these cannot all be guarded. Instead, petroleum dependency and use of other hazardous materials should be regarded as unnecessary luxuries of a bygone era.

The vulnerabilities of energy supply and transportation have a long trail from unstable regions like the Persian Gulf: from there it is transported on tankers, through seaports, into refineries and storage, onto roadways, and into our neighborhoods. Each point is vulnerable and lethal. This are profoundly inappropriate given the new realities of insecurity. The fundamental challenge is to reduce our petrochemical dependency. We need an urgent national dialogue on the tradeoffs between oil consumption and renewable resources. There are costs in change, but also benefits: a cleaner environment, healthier communities, more control over resources�and more security.

The public health system is another example. Investing in the public health system is a sound idea. But we should also be investing much more in understanding how to contain new and re-emerging infectious diseases. This requires a commitment to global health surveillance and cures, because, as the SARS epidemic reminds us, the vectors of globalization carry disease as well as goods. We should help American hospitals to meet many different kinds of demands from all constituencies�providing enlarged "surge capacity" in emergency rooms, for example, which supports communities afflicted with flu or contaminated with anthrax. We should revisit the idea of neighborhood health clinics, both to alleviate the inequality of access to basic health care and to mount the most efficient response to bioterrorism. We need an overall commitment to the very idea of the social benefits of health and the necessity of a vital public-health system.

It is quite possible that America will not suffer another significant terrorist attack. But as we commemorate those who died on September 11, 2001, we should also demand more from our government. More investment into the public welfare will not only improve our society, it may help prevent another tragedy.

John Tirman is program director at the Social Science Research Council in Washington, D.C.

What Lurks in the Ruins?

The war against Iraq is on the road to failure in its most important, durable objective: to transform this construct of British imperialism, Baathist oppression, and American fantasies into a willing replica of Western democracy.

The results of the war cannot be measured by the U.S. military capacity to control Baghdad, occupy the entire country, and eradicate the odious Saddam Hussein regime. Discovering chemical and biological weapons may also be a trophy of the war. But the key goal -- articulated time and again by the Bush administration, supportive Democrats, and even some hawkish progressives -- has been to liberalize Iraq, thereby setting an example for nearby Muslim countries and altering the Middle East forever. But because of the way both the war is being conducted and the plans for postwar Iraq are designed, this vision of a democratic oasis in the desert of Muslim despotism is appearing more and more a mirage.

The fantasy of the good hegemon bringing liberation to the Iraqi people is being shattered first by events on the ground. The resistence in the south, the delay of the relief effort, the uncertain reception granted to the liberators, and the deep supply of contenders for the hearts and minds (and souls) of Iraq's majority Shi'ite population make for a very dispiriting specter for American warriors. Reports of the casualties from Baghdad and Basra are especially troubling.

The deprivations of war, the civilian deaths, the ruined lives, the smoldering cityscapes will not soon be forgotten, and, for the locals, who fired the weapons is practically irrelevant. The war planners did not count on this, we are now often told, and the struggle through the news media to assign blame to Saddam loyalists for war crimes and dirty tactics scarcely matters outside the precincts of Fox News and CNN. The fact that the United States started the war that is visiting havoc on the people of Iraq is the central fact shaping the social narrative that will guide politics in the south for the foreseeable future. The longer the fighting and deprivation last, of course, the sturdier and darker that narrative becomes.

This disquiet in the Iraqi Shi'ite population is not inert. Among those oppressed by the Baghdad regime are the Muslim clerics who finally see their main chance to liberate their people on their own terms. They look very similar to the fearsome ayatollahs of Iran that drove Presidents Reagan and Bush the Elder to embrace and support Saddam in the 1980s. Today, twenty years after supplying money, intelligence, military equipment, and political blessings to Saddam -- saving his regime in the brutal eight-year war with Iran -- many of the same decision-makers in Washington are opening the door to Shiite militancy. The Ayatollah al-Hakim, with his 15,000-strong Badr Brigade of well-trained Iraqis at the ready, waits across the river to re-enter history in his sacred homeland. He may do so brashly, inviting an American military reprisal, or he may wait until the occupiers have gone home and then move easily into the scarred terrain of his youth. Then we will see the hero's welcome "our boys" so unfairly were denied.

Nor is al-Hakim the only contender for Iraqi loyalties. There will be others -- clan leaders, for example, or rivals among religious outliers and former military men. Reports of an active presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is Sunni, also present a sobering notion for those who will govern Baghdad.

This scenario is all the more disconcerting if seen alongside the Pentagon's postwar planning. While close-lipped and probably scrambling to adjust to the less-than-celebratory climate in Iraq, the planners by the Potomac have designed governance to ensure that security and civil order are the premium objectives of the first months and years. Shadow ministers from Rumsfeld's stable will govern behind Iraqi puppets. Even the State Department's suggestions for these consuls -- former ambassadors who know a little about the Arab world -- were rejected by the Secretary of War.

The Iraqi exile groups that the U.S. government carefully nurtured for a decade, notably the rapacious businessman Ahmed Challabi (whose habits of embezzlement are a recurring joke among Iraqi ex-pats), may be credible interlocutors for the transition, but this, too, smacks of imperialism: The British installed a king in the 1920s and did not even bother to find an Iraqi candidate. The record of returning exiles under the aegis of a foreign power is not encouraging.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is unlikely to have a role except, as always, to clean up behind the elephants' stampede; Tony Blair can explain that to the Labour conference this summer as he fights for his job.

The chief of civil administration is not to be an appointment of Kofi Annan but of Richard Perle: Michael Mobbs, a K Street law partner of Doug Feith, the undersecretary of defense, Perle crony, and member of the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Cheney warrior caste. Mobbs has no qualifications for this exalted position apart from his political loyalty. His boss is Jay Garner, a retired army general working for a defense contractor, who now oversees the Pentagon office that includes humanitarian relief and reconstruction in addition to civil administration.

The military itself has expressed a strong preference not to have to police Iraq after the war, specifically hoping to avoid getting in the middle of what they call "green-on-green" violence. This is understandable, but the alternatives are not readily apparent, unless they can cajole the U.N. to send in some poor Salvadoran and Cambodian vets to put themselves in harm's way. Estimates of the needed force range from 50,000 to 200,000, a very large contingent. That after a few weeks or months they would be seen by Iraqis as occupiers is almost a certainty. But the United States, which has all but abandoned Afghanistan, cannot so easily cut loose from Iraq: The diplomatic, economic, and political stakes are too high.

So it is likely that U.S. administrators and soldiers will soon come into conflict with the Shiites who comprise 60 percent of Iraq. Whether this is peaceful political competition or something nastier is difficult to say. But sooner or later, the Shi'ite clergy will vie for power, not just in the south, but for the entire country. Only a strategy of divide and conquer will keep an Iran-friendly regime out of Baghdad. And that is precisely what the United States is doing.

Early reports of relief efforts indicate that the U.S. military is favoring certain Shi'ite clerics over others to distribute food and supplies and in essence to assume temporary posts as local administrators. Politicizing aid is a no-no in humanitarian circles, and the relief NGOs are squawking. But this is where the high-stakes game really begins, and the Bush administration is playing it hard, if fitfully.

Public disagreements between State and Defense about postwar Iraq signal very serious disputes in Washington, and, remarkably, demonstrate astonishing incompetence in planning. But in such a catfight the Pentagon has the sharpest claws. Hence, Challabi's presence in Nassariyeh in early April, well before other Shiite or Sunni exiles. Hence, the favoritism among Shi'ite clergy (Rumsfeld sternly warned that al-Hakim was being told to stay in Iran).

Creating many poles of Shiite influence in Iraq may be the best way to keep them out of power, but it's a big gamble. The fracas about who among Americans would be the shadow ministers is what's getting the attention of the news media, which always gravitates to the political squabble in the imperial city. What is far more important in the long run is how the Shi'ites are fragmented, what social and political forces might bring them together, how they interpret the war, their relations with Iran, and their view of Iraq as the political unit cobbled together by the British Foreign Office in the 1920s. The latter is pregnant with meaning for the Kurds in the north, who could again feel excluded from Iraqi governance and attempt to split away and give birth to their long-denied sovereign state, a move that would be aborted forcibly (and preemptively) by Turkey.

It is quite difficult to see how the Bush administration can prevent any or all of these effects of the war. Maintaining a pro-American regime -- and pro-Israeli, too, a goal articulated by U.S. officials with cheeky candor -- would seem to require a very long occupation while muscling into Iraqi politics to prevent anti-American clerics from coming to power. This is particularly necessary if, as expected, the United States begins to militate against Iran.

That is not the vision of Iraqi liberation we were offered, nor would it sit well with an increasingly insolent Arab world. It would strengthen the hand of the mullahs in Iran, where liberal reform is rickety, and it would unsettle others in the region in unpredictable ways. But Bush, who certainly resembles his idol Ronald Reagan in his string of good luck, might yet enforce the strategy of conquer-and-divide, and avoid the catastrophe that lurks in the ruins of war.

John Tirman, program director at the Social Science Research Council, is author of "Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America's Arms Trade."

Hegemon Down

bushAmong the many risks President Bush is taking in his relentless drive against Saddam Hussein is what theorists call "imperial overreach": the specter of draining American global power suddenly and irrevocably. A war that goes badly -- with high casualties, spiking oil prices, Arab and Muslim unrest, and so on -- would invite the view that Bush had miscalculated and that the shine was off the American apple.

But now we're seeing signs of this possible decline before the expected assault on Baghdad. The president may have tacitly acknowledged this as well as he backs away from confrontation, not in Iraq but in North Korea.

Keep in mind that the notion that America is losing its hegemonic status has come before, most famously in Yale historian Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" (1989). The vision of the United States weakening perilously seemed far from reality in the go-go-'90s, and today's imbroglios may be sending another false signal of decline. But there is some striking evidence that Bush's swagger is really a totter.

North Korea provides the most obvious evidence. Their misbehavior is far more egregious than Iraq's. They are in cahoots with the likes of Pakistan and others in a proliferation club that could pose very genuine dangers all over the world. They probably do not have nuclear weapons but are not far away, and are much closer than Saddam is. The internal repression and deprivation are unspeakable. If ever there were a case for "liberation" this would be it. But the Bushies are talking instead of shooting. Why?

One obvious reason is that the United States does not want to conduct two major wars at once, though capability is not the issue. More significantly, our longtime ally, South Korea, is in effect telling us that we must deal or leave. Japan is quietly backing them up. China and Russia -- two of our great-power rivals of the coming decades -- are involved and will take a leading role if we were to remain belligerent. If Bush did not pursue a negotiating strategy, our friends and allies would squeeze us out of the "American lake". Unmistakably, this is a case of declining influence.

Of course, there are other reasons to talk our way out of the Korean mess and keep the tank engines warm for the run to Baghdad. Muslims may wonder at the double standard. Perry Anderson, writing in New Left Review, explains that the Middle East is "a region in which -- unlike Europe, Russia, China, Japan, or Latin America -- there are virtually no regimes with a credible base to offer effective transmission points for American cultural or economy hegemony."

Establishing a platform for American-led globalization in the center of the oil-producing world is a rather inviting project. It explains the White House rhetoric about establishing a "model" for Arab democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq. (No such new model is required for East Asia.) So, rightly, Bush says it's not "about" oil or finishing the job for Daddy Bush. It's about finishing the job for Coke and Calvin Klein and MTV and Disneyland in the desert.

This is the imperium that American elites deny, but is well understood everywhere else. That it will be a very tricky feat in a country that is 55 percent Shi'ite and teeming with blood feuds is putting it mildly. If the project fails, either because of military setbacks or post-Saddam chaos, then the American brand will be tarnished forever. Recruits for al Qaeda and other dissident movements, whether violent or merely bumptious, will surely rise in the coming decade, and many will even contend for political power in Muslim countries, regardless of the outcome in Iraq. How serious such challenges will be is very difficult to predict, because they will become increasingly isolated, American hegemony or not.

The more important counter to Washington's designs, however, is not the Arab street or intemperate mullahs, but our allies. The drive to take over Iraq is most upsetting to the Europeans, who are emerging, after a long post-communist slumber, as our main global rivals for economic and political leadership.

And Europe, apart from Tony Blair, is none too happy about Bush's plans in the Persian Gulf. Among a number of other strategic issues, this is driving a permanent wedge between the longtime allies, and here is the highest cost for the United States. An invigorated Europe (if it can remain united as it expands toward Russia) will provide the most attractive model for development (one of quasi-socialist democracy), has the strongest ties to its old colonial dominions of the third world, and will soon surpass the United States in all the measures of strength except the military.

At the same time, they are attempting to contain the military power of the United States through the single mechanism most despised by the American right wing: the United Nations. As it stands now, in mid-January, a Swedish bureaucrat in a UN agency is foiling the plans of the Bush warriors. Hans Blix, who heads the inspections in Iraq, has rightly told the world that his inspectors need more time, and that the inspections themselves are an element of containment in Iraq (The discovery of a dozen empty chemical warhead shells on January 16 is evidence that the inspections can work if given time.)

France and Germany are insisting that another Security Council resolution is required before a war can commence. Russia is showing signs of similar insistence. Without Blair, Bush's ability to wage war in Iraq would be wholly stymied by the dense political web that is Europe. If Bush goes ahead anyway, an irreparable breach will do in the Atlantic alliance, and American power -- which has dominated Western Europe for 60 years -- will be the poorer. If he is hemmed in by the U.N. and Europe, it is, as with the Koreas, another acknowledgment of America stumbling on the downward slope.

Of course, Europe could bow and war could proceed. But even if a war in Iraq goes well militarily, Bush may have doomed the American imperium. At the apparent height of U.S. economic, political, and military power, the hegemon will be gradually but surely brought down, and new powers -- Europe, and eventually China, Russia, and India -- will begin to rise irrevocably to fill its place.

John Tirman is program director at the Social Science Research Council, Washington, DC.

Unintended Consequences

All wars have unintended consequences. No matter how cautious generals and political leaders are, war sets in motion waves of change that can alter the currents of history. More often, generals and political leaders are not troubled by long-term side effects; they are sharply focused on achieving a victory and war's aims. The result is that the unseen and unintended occur, at times as a bitter riptide which overwhelms the original rationales for engaging in armed combat.

This unpredictable cycle of action and reaction has thwarted U.S. policy in southwestern Asia for 50 years. It began with attempts to contain the Soviet Union and control the oil-rich fields of the Persian Gulf, and continues today in the popular assault in Afghanistan to destroy the al-Qa'ida terrorist network. In that half century, nearly every major initiative led to an unexpected and sometimes catastrophic reaction, for which new military remedies were devised, only again to stir unforeseen problems. The cycle, regrettably, may be repeating again.

The half-century history begins with CIA intrigue in Iran. The original spigot of Middle Eastern oil, Iran was long dominated by Britain and its oil company, British Petroleum. During World War II, strongman Reza Kahn, a Nazi sympathizer, was deposed by the British in favor of his son, Reza Shah, who in turn was shunted aside by the increasingly assertive parliament, the Majlis. In 1951, the Majlis elected as premier Mohammed Mossedegh, a nationalist reformer, who quickly sought control over Iran's oil wealth. The British, aghast at seeing 50 percent of BP's stake in Iran nationalized, sought his ouster, which the CIA provided in 1953. The Shah was reinstated and ruled with an iron fist, enabled by lavish American military aid.

The overthrow of Mossedegh remains a bitter memory for Iranians, and for Muslims more widely. While he was mainly a secular nationalist, even Islamic militants bewail his fate as another instance of Western interference and violence. In the years of the Shah's rule, many of the beleaguered reformers gravitated toward the ulama, the clerical class, who were relatively independent of the regime. So U.S. policy, which targeted the left as possible Soviet sympathizers or threats to oil interests, had the unintended effect of strengthening the political power and sophistication of the ulama.

By the 1970s, the Shah had become a self-styled regional power, flush with an unfettered flow of weaponry from the United States. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, neither a wallflower when it came to arming allies against perceived Soviet expansionism, had bluntly dismissed the Shah's pleas for military supremacy, but President Nixon embraced the Shah without restraint. Not only were the newest jet fighters and other advanced weaponry made available, but endless commercial ties were created, bringing thousands of Americans to Teheran. In 1971, the Shah's oil minister launched a cascade of price increases that rocked the American economy for nearly a decade, but it was American guns and products that the ever-richer Shah and his cohort really sought. A widely perceived decadence eroded whatever support the regime maintained, and by the late 1970s, the Shah was struggling against the now-familiar Muslim "street" that detested the Westernized elite and resented their fabulous oil riches in the midst of poverty. In 1979, the Shah abdicated and left Iran in a stew of disarray. It was only a matter of months before the Islamic Revolution came to full flower.

The Devastating Aftermath

Apart from the war in Vietnam, where millions died, the U.S. role in imposing and sustaining the Shah in Iran is perhaps the most invidious episode in America's foreign policy. The consequences are colossal, and malignancies continue to appear. Among the first of these was the change in Soviet policy toward the region, and specifically in Afghanistan.

The Soviets had meddled in Afghanistan for years, supporting its on-again, off-again communist party. A mildly pro-Soviet regime in Kabul was under intense pressure from Islamic radicals in the late 1970s, however, and Moscow kept a wary eye on the chaotic events in neighboring Iran. As Islamic militancy gained in the post-Shah governments in Teheran, the Kabul regime became less and less tenable. In the Kremlin, the Soviet leadership opposed intervention until the Afghan regime was in complete turmoil. A high-level Russian, Georgy Kornienko, notes it was Defense Minister D.F. Ustinov who finally convinced the others to intervene:

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Elections and Democratic Dreams

Elections change history in unexpected ways. This is the twentieth anniversary of one such election, when Ronald Reagan was voted into the White House. No one foresaw the changes that election day wrought on his key issue -- namely, the bitter and dangerous rivalry with the Soviet Union. The unexpected outcome was not only the rivalry's sudden and spectacular demise, but the way it unraveled.

The November 4, 1980 election gave the presidency to Reagan over incumbent President Jimmy Carter, but it also heralded the beginning of a remarkable social movement. On that same day, in 59 of 62 local referenda throughout western and central Massachusetts, a resolution was passed that demanded a halt to the superpowers' nuclear arms competition. Organized by the Traprock Peace Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, the referenda's overwhelming support in a period of heightened fear of and hostility toward Moscow -- the sentiments that propelled Reagan's candidacy -- lead a number of political activists, intellectuals, and philanthropists to seize the opportunity to organize on a grander scale.

The result was the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and allied organizations that swiftly altered the landscape of the debate over nuclear weapons and U.S.-Soviet relations. Within months, hundreds of non-profit groups had sprung up to challenge longstanding beliefs about the necessity of nuclear deterrence and military prowess. And within two years, Reagan himself was forced to acknowledge that nuclear weapons were not usable, and soon began to negotiate the sort of arms-reduction agreements he had run against in 1980. Congress became newly emboldened to restrain Reagan's darker impulses, even imposing unilateral arms control on space weapons and nuclear tests.

The ideas for disarmament and cooperation fostered by the anti-nuclear movement seeped into the Kremlin and were embraced soon after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985. Notions of "cooperative security" and "non-offensive defense," developed in the West and brought to Gorbachev by American and European intellectuals, gradually infused official Soviet thinking.

When Reagan's presidency was rocked by the Iran-contra scandal in late 1986, he immediately took up Gorbachev's peace overtures and, just a few months later, both signed the first treaty to reduce nuclear weapons and sketched out the reductions still being realized today.

One can argue many influences on this extraordinary history, but the peace movement -- possibly the largest citizens' crusade in American history -- was fundamental in articulating the public demand that pressured and encouraged leaders to take risks to end the nuclear danger. The fact that this peace movement was born, in effect, on the same day that Reagan's presidency was also given birth is particularly poignant.

What surprises lurk in the politics of this election? The obvious parallel to 1980 is the anti-globalization forces that rocked the world's trade ministers in Seattle less than a year ago. Those groups, from the anarchic to the scholarly, were nurtured in a similar way -- a few activists and critical intellectuals, backed by a handful of progressive donors, gradually building a movement and a case against the ill effects of a globalized economy.

This, indeed, is the pattern for most successful attempts at profound political reform: a cohort of innovative thinkers allied with grassroots activists change the social values underlying the political culture, and some attentive political leaders respond creatively. This is happening, and will happen, again and again, here and abroad. A safe bet is that the anti-globalization movement -- which insists on higher wages, better working conditions, and environmentally safe practices in manufacturing -- will be the first to confront the new president, with possibly profound consequences.

But it may be that there are other social forces swirling beneath the surface that will rise quickly to alter the course of history. Elections are not just about presidents, after all, but about democratic dreams of a better life.

John Tirman is author of Making the Money Sing: Private Wealth and Public Power in the Search for Peace, published this autumn by Rowman & Littlefield. He is a program director at the Social Science Research Council in New York.

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