The Massachusetts Supreme Court advisory, stating that nothing short of marriage for same-sex couples would satisfy the state constitution, has sent legislators throughout the nation as well as President Bush scrambling to define marriage as between "one man and one woman."
These legislative attempts are doomed, because there is no clear, scientific and strict definition of "man" and "woman." There are millions of people with ambiguous gender -- many of them already married -- who render these absolute categories invalid.
There are at least three ways one might try to codify gender under law -- biologically, psychologically and culturally. On close inspection, all of them fail.
Biologically, one must choose either secondary sexual characteristics -- things like facial hair for men or breast development for women -- or genetic testing as defining markers of gender. Neither method is clear-cut. Some women show male secondary characteristics, and vice versa. Before puberty, things are not necessarily any clearer. A significant proportion of all babies have ambiguous gender development. It has been longstanding -- and now, increasingly, controversial -- medical practice to surgically "reassign" such babies shortly after birth so that they will have only one set of sexual organs.
Sometimes doctors guess wrong, and children are "reassigned" and raised as males, when they are genetically female, and vice versa.
In one condition, androgen insensitivity syndrome, genetic males are born with a genetic immunity to androgens, the hormones that produce male sexual characteristics. Though they are genetic males, these children typically grow up looking like females, although they have no internal female organs.
Although figures are imprecise, experts in intersexuality, such as Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling of Brown University, estimate that persons born with some degree of ambiguous gender constitute approximately 1 percent of the population. This means that there are 2 million Americans who may be biologically ambiguous.
Psychologically, another dilemma for those who seek to codify gender is the condition known as gender dysphoria, in which a person feels that their true gender is the opposite of that in which they were born. These individuals are often referred to as "transgendered." Some experts estimate as many as 1.2 million Americans are transgendered. Gender dysphoria is a matter of personal identity and has nothing to do with sexual orientation. A male-to-female transgendered person may be attracted to women or to men.
Finally, human societies around the world recognize individuals who are culturally female or culturally male no matter what their physical gender. The "berdache" is an umbrella term used by Europeans to designate a man who is culturally classified as a woman, and who may be a "wife" to another man. The practice is perhaps best known among the Zuñi Indians of Arizona, but is widely seen in other tribal groups as well. Outside of North America, the hijra of India, a cultural "third gender," is important in ceremonial life. Hijra are classified as "neither man nor woman," but they may marry males. These examples of cultural gender ambiguity are only two among dozens throughout the world.
If the United States tries to enact a national law defining gender conditions for marriage, it is only a matter of time before the law falters on one of these rocks of ambiguity. There are undoubtedly existing marriages where the wife is a genetic male or the husband is a genetic female. In a medical examination, if it is determined that this genetic fact is discovered, is the marriage then voided? When post-operative transgendered persons wed, whom will they be allowed to marry -- persons with the opposite set of chromosomes, or people with the opposite set of genitalia?
There has already been one Texas decision where two "women" were allowed to marry, because one of them had originally been a male. We can expect far more stories like this should this legislative circus proceed.
William O. Beeman teaches anthropology at Brown University.
The Bush administration is trying to sell the disastrous war in Iraq to the American public as a vehicle for promoting democracy in the Middle East. This approach is misbegotten, especially given the vehicle the United States has chosen to promulgate democratic institutions -- the Iraqi Governing Council.
Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction, the original reason given by the White House for the war, were never found. The administration was forced to admit that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 tragedy, thus eliminating their second reason. With these linchpins in the official justification for the war removed, the entire logic of the operation collapsed.
Even the mantra, "The Iraqis are better off without Saddam," began to fall flat, as U.S. mercenary redevelopers Haliburton and Bechtel proved unable to turn on the power and water and as killings of Iraqi citizens became part of the routine of daily life.
Then the worst disaster of all for the Bush administration occurred: American public support for the war dipped precipitously.
President Bush's Nov. 6 speech before the National Endowment for Democracy reflected this latest attempt to staunch the hemorrhaging U.S. public opinion on the war. Bush painted a rosy picture of the creation of democracy in Iraq, which would spread throughout the region. "The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution," Bush claimed. The president echoed these sentiments in two other speeches within the next week, and Secretary of State Colin Powell followed suit in a speech of his own.
Then on Nov. 9, Robin Wright and Rajiv Chandrasekran reported in the Washington Post that the administration was thinking of sacking Iraq's Governing Council. This is the hand-picked, largely exile group that the United States established as window dressing earlier this year to give the appearance of Iraqi local control. Earlier this year, Washington hailed the Council as proof of its good intentions in transferring power to Iraqis.
The Governing Council proved problematic from its first meeting in July. Its mix of exiles and unknown figures gave it low credibility among Iraqis. Moreover, Ambassador Paul Bremer, the U.S. viceroy in Iraq, always had veto over the council's actions. And Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi confidant of Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle who hopes eventually to rule Iraq, was placed on the Council. Bremer did this despite numerous warnings that Chalabi was utterly discredited as a potential leader among Iraqis.
The Council began to unravel almost as soon as it began its work. One Council member, Aquila al-Hashimi, was assassinated on Sept. 24. Another, prominent Shi'a cleric Mohammad Bahr al-Uloom, quit after the United States failed to protect an important Shi'a shrine in the holy city of Najaf. After having appointed 25 interim ministers, the Council had nothing else to do, and its members frequently failed to even show up for meetings. They were reportedly out trying to make the most of their temporary positions by peddling their dubious influence and consolidating supporters for future political moves.
The Council's behavior shows how astonishingly incompetent the U.S. administration has been in trying to transfer power to Iraqis. If the disintegration of the Governing Council was not enough, President Bush continued to tout its existence as proof of American commitment to the founding of democracy in Iraq in a speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation on Nov. 12.
It becomes increasingly clear that the Bush administration is not going to tolerate anything like free elections in Iraq. There are too many people the administration would like to declare ineligible. United States officials have made it clear that they will not allow Shiites to win, or former Baathists, or Kurds, or anyone with connections to Iran. This leaves almost no one left to run, except members of the former exile community.
First among the acceptable candidates will be Ahmad Chalabi, of course, but he and his ilk among the exile community will never be able to rule without using authoritarian methods.
Ambassador Bremer was recalled to Washington for talks on Nov. 12, to try and untangle the mess with the Governing Council. Internationalizing the process, as America's European partners have repeatedly suggested, would lend it credibility and remove the stigma of American dominance. The United Nations or another international body, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been monitoring elections and election processes internationally for many years, would be ideal for this task.
But the Bush administration is now so desperate to earn credit for some modicum of success that they are unlikely to turn over the reigns either to the broader international community or to the denizens of "Old Europe." It appears that President Bush's need to control the process trumps his desire to see acceptable democratic institutions established in Iraq.
PNS contributor William O. Beeman teaches anthropology and directs Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is author of the forthcoming "Iraq: State in Search of a Nation."
The assassination of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim in Najaf on August 28 is the opening volley in the coming Iraqi Civil War. The United States will reap the whirlwind.
One of the most consistent and ominous prewar warnings to the Bush administration by Middle East experts was that removal of Saddam Hussein without the most careful political and social engineering would result in the breaking apart of Iraq into warring factions that would battle each other for decades.
The hawks in the White House would not listen. They were so wedded to the fantasy scenario that the removal of Saddam in an act of "creative destruction" would result in the automatic emergence of democracy. They brushed aside all warnings.
Present-day Iraq was three provinces of the Ottoman Empire before World War I. It was cobbled together by the British for their own convenience after that conflict. The British installed a king, the Saudi Arabian son of the chief religious official of Mecca (Faisal, of Lawrence of Arabia Fame) and glued the whole mess together with the resident British Army.
The three regions were incompatible in ethnicity, religious confession and interests. The Sunni Muslim Kurds occupied the north. The Sunni Arab Bedouins occupied the center and Southwest. The Shi'a Arab and Persian population occupied the South and Southeast. Of the three groups, the Shi'a were largest, with 60 percent of the population. With oil, an outlet to the Persian Gulf and good agricultural land, they would be the natural dominant force in the state the British created. The Kurds would be important, too, because they lived in the region of the country with the largest oil reserves.
However, the British wanted the Sunni Arabs, the smallest faction of the population, to be dominant. They wanted this both to reward Saudi Arabians for helping them fight the Ottomans, and because they had existing clients in the sheikhs who ruled the Arab states of the Gulf.
When the British were finally expelled, and their Saudi ruling family deposed in Iraq in a 1958 nationalist coup, the new Ba'athist Iraqi nationalist rulers had a supremely unruly nation on their hands. The only way to keep power in Sunni Arab hands, and away from the Shi'ites, was through ruthless dictatorship and oppression. Saddam Hussein was the supreme master of this political strategy.
Ayatollah al-Hakim's family was victimized by this oppression. Virtually every one of the Ayatollah's male relatives was executed by Saddam's regime. He fled to Iran for years of exile, returning only after Saddam was deposed by the United States. He became one of the principal leaders of the Shi'a community, and a symbol of rising Shi'a power in post-War Iraq. His triumphant return to Iraq and the holy city of Najaf was one of the most celebrated events in recent Iraqi history.
It is still not known who set off the explosion that killed him at the shrine of Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. It could have been Sunni Arab factions who fear the rise of Shi'a dominance in Iraq, or it could have been his own Shi'a supporters, disappointed with him for cooperating with American policies in Iraq. Or it could have been someone else. What is clear is that his death will now forever be a rallying cry for the Shi'ite community against its enemies.
It is notable that in Shi'ism virtually all significant leaders have been "martyred." Of the 12 historical Imams of the Ithna 'ashara branch of Shi'ism dominant in Iraq and Iran (Ithna 'ashara means "twelve" in Arabic), ten are buried in shrines in Iraq. Their tombs are ever-present reminders of the oppression and struggle of the Shi'a. Now Ayatollah al-Hakim will join them, and with the power of a saint, will inspire generations of grimly dedicated young warriors, determined to wreak vengeance and assert the power of their community. They will be led by his own paramilitary group, the Badr brigade.
Shi'a fury will be directed at the Sunnis to the north. It will also be directed toward United States as the occupying force who both did nothing to prevent this tragedy, and further continued the British doctrine of Sunni favoritism by insisting that the Shi'a religious leaders would never be allowed to come to power. In any case, the forces of retribution are about to be unleashed in a manner hitherto unseen in the region.
Could the United States have done anything to prevent this tragedy? Of course it could have. As the occupying power U.S. officials knew acutely about the danger to Ayatollah al-Hakim. Since Washington opposed the rise of Shi'a power in Iraq, charges of American indifference or even complicity in his death will soon be flying.
The final question Washington must now face is How to stop this inevitable civil war? When the factional shooting starts, where does the U.S. army, caught in the crossfire, aim its own guns?
PNS commentator William O. Beeman is Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is author of the forthcoming book, "Iraq: State in Search of a Nation."
"Bush is in trouble," he said.
This was neither a columnist nor a politician. It was my barber, Phil. And when Phil says that Bush is in trouble, he is.
Phil was born in the United States, but his parents are from Mexico. His Spanish is fluent. His intimate barbershop in San Jose reflects much of contemporary American society. His customers are U.S. citizens, but born everywhere: California, the Midwest, Latin America, East and Southeast Asia -- they all come through. The TV is tuned to CNN, when there are no sports to watch.
"We knew that Saddam was a bad guy, but how many bad guys are there in the world? Are we going to go after them all?" Phil asks. "And where are all those weapons?"
I expect that Phil's words are being echoed in many barber shops, beauty salons, taverns, ball fields, golf courses and around a lot of kitchen tables this month as Americans begin to ruminate on the Bush administration's actions in Iraq.
It feels like public opinion on the war is beginning to turn. Like Phil's, the unquestioned support of many for the war is beginning to erode. But why should there have been strong support in the beginning and during the conflict, and slippage now?
I think that the anthropologist, Margaret Mead, knew the answer. She would certainly have understood Phil. Mead witnessed four world conflicts: World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. She knew a lot about American attitudes toward violence and conflict, and she would have understood Phil very well.
In her classic work, "And Keep Your Powder Dry," and in numerous other writings, Mead pointed out that Americans have four prevalent attitudes toward the use of violence:
- First, Americans see themselves as resorting to violence only in defense, never for aggression.
- Second, Americans say they use violence for altruistic, never for selfish purposes.
- Third, though Americans must put up a strong defense, they are never bullies.
- Finally, for Americans, violent action is a "job" with a finite length.
The Bush administration sold Americans the conflict in Iraq based on just these principles.
It was essential that the war be seen as defensive. Therefore there had to be weapons of mass destruction ready for imminent use. There also had to be an implicit tie between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, since the war had to be tied to an actual attack on American soil.
It was also essential that the war be conceptualized altruistically as a "war of liberation" designed to "bring democracy to Iraq" rather than a "war for oil" or a "war to establish American hegemony."
Because Americans are not bullies, every instance of civilian death, or destruction of non-military targets had to be seen as "accidental" or "collateral damage."
Finally, as President Bush stated on March 17, two days before military action began, the war had to be billed as short and limited in scope. Americans would do a job and get out.
Americans were in full support of the war, because it was sold to them using principles in which they already believed. In many ways, they were provided with rhetoric they could not resist. It was the sales job of the century.
However, for Phil and others, the bases on which Bush administration sold the war are cracking.
The defensive purpose of the war is now being called fully into question. Weapons of mass destruction have not been found. The al-Qaeda connection remains non-existent.
The altruistic nature of the war is being overwhelmed by stories of profiteering by American industrial interests with ties to the administration, like Halliburton, and continual reference to Iraq's oil resources. The idea that the United States was bringing democracy to Iraq is fading as American viceroy Paul Bremer establishes his own hand-picked counsel of transition leaders headed by Ahmad Chalabi, widely viewed as an American puppet. The majority Shi'a population has been excluded from the process.
Americans are increasingly seen as bullies. They are no longer defending anything in Iraq, and so are treated as unwelcome occupiers by the citizens, who protest and fire on them. Some 41 have died since May 1, when President Bush declared that military action in Iraq had ended; some in accidents, others from enemy fire.
Finally, it looks like the idea of the Iraqi mission as a self-terminating job is a vain hope. The American military will be there for a very long time.
So, for Phil and for others, the Iraqi war looks like it was sold under false premises, and they are beginning to wonder why they bought it.
Margaret Mead had one other observation that is relevant here: Americans value straight dealing, and hate being cheated. When they are cheated, their anger knows no bounds.
Bush is in trouble.
William O. Beeman teaches anthropology at Brown University. He is editor of eight volumes of the work of Margaret Mead dealing with contemporary society.
The war in Iraq has produced an unintended consequence -- a formidable Shiite Muslim geographical bloc that will dominate politics in the Middle East for many years. This development is also creating political and spiritual leaders of unparalleled international influence.
It is easy to see the Shiite lineup. Iran and Iraq have Shiite majorities, and so does Bahrain. In Lebanon, Shiites are a significant plurality. In Syria, although they are a minority, they are the dominant power in government. They are the majority in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and have a significant presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The United States is used to thinking of the world in terms of individual nation-states. But the Shiites are a transnational force.
The United States unwittingly supplied the key linkage for this bloc. By destroying the secular government of Saddam Hussein, it brought that country's Shiite majority to the fore, revealing a solid line of Shiite majority nations from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
This force is magnified because devout Shiite followers have a primary loyalty to spiritual leaders rather than secular officials, and that leadership is supremely well equipped to secure the loyalty of its followers. Shiite leaders are organized, well funded, and set up to provide charitable aid, health care and social welfare -- a social safety net notably absent in the U.S. occupation so far.
The task of keeping tabs on Shiism is made somewhat easier for Washington since the city of Najaf is rapidly becoming the Vatican of the Shiite world and lies in the heart of the American occupation. Najaf is where Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, is buried. Ali's descendants are revered by Shiites as the only legitimate spiritual leaders of Islam.
On May 19, more than 1,000 Shiite protesters marched in Baghdad to protest the American presence in Iraq. The crowd cried, "No, no for America! Yes, yes for al-Hawza!" The Hawza is the influential council of Islamic clerics in the city of Najaf. Understanding the Hawza is a key to understanding how the Shiite community is organized.
The strength of the Shia community lies in its independent and dynamic leadership. Unlike the Sunni community, Shiites have no legal schools, and therefore no absolute, fixed interpretations of Islamic law. Each believer chooses a spiritual leader -- a person "worthy of emulation," usually an ayatollah. The Imam Ali Foundation, run by the powerful Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Hussaini Sistani, provided the following explanation in response to a query about the role of the spiritual leader. "You do what the [leader's] expert opinion says you should do, and refrain from what his expert opinion says you should refrain from without any research ... on your part. It is as though you have placed the responsibility of your deeds squarely on his shoulders."
The spiritual leader is also well financed by his followers. Since Muslims must give alms as a basic religious duty, ayatollahs provide a place for these alms to be deposited. Most of them run extensive charitable organizations, many with enormous monetary resources.
The combination of financial resources and untrammeled influence over their followers makes the clerics very powerful men indeed. Fortunately, most are responsible to a fault with their power.
The Hawza assembly is necessary because ayatollahs are in competition for authority and influence. Therefore some sort of council helps provide a unified voice for the community of believers. This does not entirely prevent rivalry, especially since a number of ayatollahs are returning from decades of exile.
The latest to return is Ayatollah Baqer al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SAIRI), who has a military group, the Badr Brigade, at his beck and call. A rival to al-Haqim is Muqtada al-Sadr, whose father, revered cleric Mohammad al-Sadr, was assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999. Muqtada is not yet an ayatollah, but his fiery charisma has attracted many young followers.
The most revered cleric, with enormous influence and effective control over the Hawza, is Ayatollah Sistani. He seems reluctant to make dramatic pronouncements, favoring the politics of balance. A few savvy Bush administration officials hope Sistani will serve as a stabilizing force in the reconstruction period. However, they should not be too sanguine about this. Sistani is committed to Shiite rule in Iraq, and has indicated that he is losing patience with American occupation. The loyalty of his followers throughout the Shiite community could make him one of the most powerful spiritual and political figures in the world.
PNS contributor William O. Beeman is the author of "Language, Status and Power in Iran," and two forthcoming books: "Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding," and "Iraq: State in Search of a Nation."
President Bush characterized the May 12 suicide bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as being carried out by "killers whose only faith is hate." In fact, the devastating attack was a calculated, political act that was probably not orchestrated by al Qaeda and not directed primarily against the United States.
A thorough understanding of the incident -- a repeat of a similar attack that took place in 1995 -- might help the United States to act in a responsible and measured manner.
Both the recent bombings and the 1995 attack were made against the same target. This was the Vinnell Corp., a Fairfax, Va., company recently acquired by Northrop-Grumman that trains the 80,000 member Saudi Arabian National Guard under the supervision of the U.S. Army.
The Vinnell operation represents everything that is wrong with the U.S.-Saudi relationship in the eyes of anti-monarchist revolutionaries. The corporation, which employs ex-military and CIA personnel, has close connections with a series of U.S. administrations, including the current one. It has had a contractual relationship to train the Saudi Arabian National Guard since 1975. The corporation was instrumental in the American "Twin Pillars" strategy, whereby both the Saudi Arabian regime and the Shah of Iran would serve as U.S. surrogates in the Gulf region to protect American interests against the possible incursion of the Soviet Union.
Even before the first Gulf War, when the United States established a formal military presence in Saudi Arabia, Vinnell was a "stealth" military presence in the Kingdom. It was seen as a military colonizing force. The Saudi Arabian National Guard, by extension, was seen as a de-facto American military force.
Additionally, the Guard has the specific duty of protecting the Saudi Royal Family, which the revolutionaries see as corrupt. Without the National Guard, the family would be weakened, perhaps to the point of dissolution.
Thus, since the Vinnell operation looks to revolutionaries like a body of United States-sponsored mercenaries shoring up the National Guard, and by extension, the royal family, striking the Vinnell operation is a logical strategy to damage the Saudi regime.
There is another reason for attacking Vinnell. The dissidents know that the United States has agreed to withdraw the 5,000 troops stationed at the Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan Air Force Base. However, the withdrawal would not cover the Vinnell contract employees, who presumably will stay in Saudi Arabia and keep propping up the regime. Since the revolutionaries want all Americans out of Saudi Arabia, they are looking to the ouster of this group as well as the troops based at the Prince Sultan base.
Furthermore, the compound that was bombed was a relatively easy target. It was not as heavily defended as an embassy or ministry.
This is not the first attack involving Vinnell. In 1995, the terrorists attacked the Saudi National Guard Headquarters, where the Guard was trained by Vinnell. The bomb killed six people and injured many more. Among the dead were five U.S. citizens, including two soldiers. Two Saudi opposition groups took responsibility for the blast, the Tigers of the Gulf and the Islamic Movement for Change. Both have previously criticized the ruling Saudi monarchy and U.S. military presence.
The facts of this earlier attack call into question the theory that the al Qaeda operation was responsible for the May 12 bombing. Ali al-Ahmed, executive director of the Washington-based Saudi Institute for Development and Studies, said on the PBS NewsHour of May 13 that this was a "home-grown operation" that borrowed ideas from al Qaeda but was not directed by Osama bin Laden.
Americans have become used to thinking of al Qaeda as the primary terrorist opponent of the United States. The Bush administration has encouraged a public view of al Qaeda as a highly organized group with omnipotent, worldwide reach. This has led to a general view that every group espousing violent political change is an emanation of Osama bin Laden's machinations. That view is inaccurate. Insofar as it has a structure at all, al Qaeda is a group of loosely affiliated cells, many of which have no knowledge of the operations of the others.
Groups opposed to the Saudi regime have been in continual existence for decades, predating bin Laden's activities. As soon as their leaders are arrested or killed, they regroup and renew their attack. It is more likely that al Qaeda, a relatively new organization, sprang from these earlier groups, rather than the other way around.
Currently the United States is wedded to a bipolar, black-and-white view of the world. On one side are the United States and its friends. On the other are the dark forces of terrorism.
So strong is this formulation, and so self-centered the American worldview, that Washington no longer seems able to entertain the thought that there might be revolutionary groups that have entirely local reasons for their actions. This tragic attack might well have taken place if the United States had not had a presence in Saudi Arabia. However, the existence of a quasi-military command force in the form of the Vinnell Corp. virtually guaranteed that Americans would be caught in the cross fire of what was arguably a local revolutionary action.
PNS contributor William O. Beeman is director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years.
Most Americans have never heard of Michael Ledeen, but if the United States ends up in an extended shooting war throughout the Middle East, it will be largely due to his inspiration.
A fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Ledeen holds a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin. He is a former employee of the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. As a consultant working with NSC head Robert McFarlane, he was involved in the transfer of arms to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair -- an adventure that he documented in the book "Perilous Statecraft: An Insider's Account of the Iran-Contra Affair." His most influential book is last year's "The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We'll Win."
Ledeen's ideas are repeated daily by such figures as Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. His views virtually define the stark departure from American foreign policy philosophy that existed before the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. He basically believes that violence in the service of the spread of democracy is America's manifest destiny. Consequently, he has become the philosophical legitimator of the American occupation of Iraq.
Now Michael Ledeen is calling for regime change beyond Iraq. In an address entitled "Time to Focus on Iran -- The Mother of Modern Terrorism," for the policy forum of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) on April 30, he declared, "the time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon."
With a group of other conservatives, Ledeen recently set up the Center for Democracy in Iran (CDI), an action group focusing on producing regime change in Iran.
Quotes from Ledeen's works reveal a peculiar set of beliefs about American attitudes toward violence. "Change -- above all violent change -- is the essence of human history," he proclaims in his book, "Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago." In an influential essay in the National Review Online he asserts, "Creative destruction is our middle name. We do it automatically ... it is time once again to export the democratic revolution."
Ledeen has become the driving philosophical force behind the neoconservative movement and the military actions it has spawned. His 1996 book, "Freedom Betrayed; How the United States Led a Global Democratic Revolution, Won the Cold War, and Walked Away," reveals the basic neoconservative obsession: the United States never "won" the Cold War; the Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight without a shot being fired. Had the United States truly won, democratic institutions would be sprouting everywhere the threat of Communism had been rife.
Iraq, Iran and Syria are the first and foremost nations where this should happen, according to Ledeen. The process by which this should be achieved is a violent one, termed "total war," a concept pioneered by the 19th century Prussian general, Karl von Clausewitz in his classic book "On War."
Ledeen's take on this idea is wedded to ideology. In summarizing his book "The War Against the Terror Masters" on the American Enterprise Institute Web site, he writes: "We wage total war because we fight in the name of an idea, and ideas either triumph or fail ... totally." In his reckoning, force is the only reliable strategy to enforce our ideology on our enemies. In the same summary he claims, drawing inspiration from Machiavelli: "We can lead by the force of high moral example ... [but] fear is much more reliable, and lasts longer. Once we show that we are capable of dealing out terrible punishment to our enemies, our power will be far greater."
Consequently, Ledeen has excoriated both the State Department and the United Nations for their preference for diplomatic solutions to conflict; and the CIA for equivocating on evidence that would condemn "America's enemies" and justify militant action.
"No one I know wants to wage war on Iran and Syria, but I believe there is now a clear recognition that we must defend ourselves against them," Ledeen wrote on May 6 in the Toronto Globe and Mail.
Though he appears on conservative outlets like the Fox television network, Ledeen has not been singled out for much media attention by the Bush administration, despite his extensive influence in Washington. His views may be perceived as too extreme for most Americans, who prefer to think of the United States as pursuing violence only when attacked and manifesting primarily altruistic goals toward other nations.
Clearly a final decision has not been made on whether the United States will continue military action in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. But Ledeen has a notable track record. He was calling for attacks against Iraq throughout the 1990s, and the U.S. invasion on March 19 was a total fulfillment of his proposals. His attacks against the CIA and the State Department have contributed to the exclusion of these intelligence bodies from any effective decision making on Iraq. His attacks on Iran, even when Iran was assisting the United States, helped keep the Bush administration from seeking any rapprochement with Tehran. Were it in Ledeen's hands, we would invade Iran today.
Given both his fervor and his influence over the men with the guns, Americans should not be surprised if Ledeen's pronouncements come true.
PNS contributor William O. Beeman teaches anthropology and directs Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is author of "Language, Status and Power in Iran," and two forthcoming books: "Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding," and "Iraq: State in Search of a Nation."
Iraq is like the legendary Hydra, the many-headed monster that grew two new heads every time one was cut off. Having decapitated the Iraqi state, the Bush administration is now watching as the new heads, in the form of carpetbagging pretenders to office, spring up daily.
The chief carpetbagger is Ahmad Chalabi, self-appointed head of the Iraqi National Council, an overseas Iraqi resistance movement that emerged in the early 1990s. Chalabi, an American-trained mathematician, has been a darling of the American right since the first Gulf War.
Arab leaders in the region as well as the CIA have continually warned the White House that he is a thief, a charlatan, an incompetent and a poser. He first appeared as an opposition leader following his embezzlement trial in absentia in Jordan in 1989. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison for stealing $250 million from a series of businesses he controlled for the Petra Bank, Jordan's third largest bank. Despite this criminal background, he is the poster child for the Bush theory of Iraqi reconstruction.
Following a meeting with State Department officials in April 1993, Chalabi spoke at the right-wing neocon bastion American Enterprise Institute. Chalabi, a Shi'ite, said just what the then-nascent neocons, who would later populate the George W. Bush White House, wanted to hear. He voiced opposition to Saddam, saying he could be easily defeated, expressed opposition to Iran and said that Iraq could easily develop democratic institutions. Asserting that Iraq's middle class could be the "democratic core" of a new government, Chalabi said, "There is nothing in Islam that contradicts democracy."
After arriving in Baghdad on April 21, he further endeared himself to Washington by denouncing the United Nations' potential role in rebuilding Iraq. In doing so he repeated a cheap anecdote that surely came from Karl Rove's office, about Kofi Annan smoking a cigar with Saddam Hussein.
Chalabi is obviously a "good Muslim" in the White House view, as opposed to the Shi'ite sheikhs now fomenting demonstrations throughout the country, calling for America to go home. Although the Shi'ites are the majority in Iraq, and would lead the nation were a truly democratic election held today, such a scenario is clearly in opposition to American long-term wishes.
However, there is factional fighting among the Shi'ites as well.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, arguably Iraq's most revered Shi'ite spiritual leader, gave an interview to the Arabic newspaper Al Hayat on April 18, through his son. Sistani's son spoke of "serious dangers that are directed at the religious figures," including al-Sistani himself. Georgetown University Middle East scholar Daniel Blumberg, who translated the interview, interprets these dangers as opposition from other Shi'ites.
One of those Shi'ite rivals is Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the few surviving descendants of Ayatollah Mohamed Bakr al-Sadr, who was executed on Saddam Hussein's orders in 1980.
Muqtada al-Sadr is only 22, but a firebrand. Reporter Lara Marlowe of The Ireland Times quotes one Shi'ite in Baghdad: "The young people in Najaf follow Muqtada, but the older ayatollahs say he doesn't have enough knowledge."
U.S. troops arrested one of al-Sadr's lieutenants, Shaikh Muhammad al-Fartusi, and two other clerics at a Baghdad checkpoint when they gathered a huge crowd of Shi'ites in Baghdad to denounce the United States at Friday prayers. Al-Fartusi said in his sermon that the United States could not impose a formal "democracy" on Iraq that allowed freedom of individual speech but denied Iraqis the ability to shape their own government.
Al-Fartusi's arrest provoked a big demonstration of 5,000 Shiites in front of the Palestine Hotel.
Other pretenders to leadership seem doubtful, but just may insinuate themselves into a permanent job. Muhammad Mohsen al-Zubaidi, an Iraqi dissident who used to live in Iran, announced recently in a press conference in a Baghdad hotel that he had been declared interim mayor of Baghdad.
Al-Zubaidi's new office was announced through IRNA, the Iranian National News Agency. Al-Zubaidi's Iranian residence raises suspicions that he may be a stalking horse for Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim, who founded of the Council of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (SCIRI) in 1982. Al-Hakim comes from a respected Shi'ite clerical lineage. He lives in Iran, has many followers in both Iran and Iraq, and is worrisome to the Bush administration.
Finally, there is the American retired general Jay Garner, America's chosen "viceroy" in Iraq, who expressly rejected al-Zubaidi as interim leader of the Baghdad government upon his arrival. Garner prefers to be called "coordinator of civilian administration." A conservative and an outspoken supporter of right-wing Israeli political positions, he is even less likely than any of the above candidates to garner support from Iraqis, except for one fact -- he has all the money, and all the guns.
William Beeman teaches anthropology and directs Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is author of "Language, Status and Power in Iran," and two forthcoming books: "Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding," and "Iraq: State in Search of a Nation."
The stated purpose of the war in Iraq was to defend the United States from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Thus far no weapons have been found. Moreover, according to United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix and two top Iraqi scientists who have given themselves up, there are none of any significance to be found.
Hans Blix has not been interviewed in the American media since the war began on March 19. However, he gave an extensive interview to the Spanish newspaper, El País on April 9 in which he made it clear that the United States' claim that intelligence sources had proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was doubtful at best.
Blix pointed out that U.S. intelligence services seemed to be collecting military reconnaissance information rather than evidence of weapons of mass destruction. This made it necessary for Blix to strictly delimit his activities to protect the integrity of the inspections process.
"The intelligence agents seemed to be collecting data that later were used to attack Iraqi military objectives," Blix said. "Therefore, when I was charged with the inspection effort, it was necessary to clarify the point: we would be an independent body. We would be able to receive information from the intelligence services. But this process would be a 'one way street.' The intelligence services would contribute their data, and we would perform the verification of that data. I always told them that we were not going to 'reward' them with new data collected by us.
"The greatest prize for those intelligence services and their governments would be for us to find those weapons of mass destruction.... For example, to give them an idea whether the sources that had provided the information were valid or not. But that was all. This attitude did not please them."
Blix felt that this arrangement was justified because U.S. intelligence services could not be trusted to tell the truth about their information. U.S. intelligence about Iraqi atomic weapons development and mobile laboratories had proved false.
"Consider the case of the production of contracts for a presumed Iraqi purchase of enriched uranium from Níger," Blix said. "This was a crude lie. All false. The information was provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency (OIEA) by the U.S. intelligence services. As for the mobile laboratories, in attempting to verify the data that was passed on to us by the Americans, we only found some trucks dedicated to the processing and control of seeds for agriculture."
Blix goes on to point out that once the Iraqis began to cooperate, after he delivered a rebuke to them at the United Nations on Jan. 27, Americans became increasingly upset and started to criticize him. Finally, as the weather began to heat up and threaten the military operation, the United States completely lost patience in the inspection process and abandoned it.
When asked if he believed that weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq, Blix expressed cautious doubts. "I originally thought that the Americans began the war believing that they existed. Now, I believe less in that possibility. But, I do not know. Nevertheless, when one sees the things that the United States tried to do to show that the Iraqis had nuclear arms, such as the non-existent contract with Níger, one does have many questions."
Blix's doubts seem to be confirmed by scientists who have recently turned themselves in to U.S. troops. In Baghdad, Lt. General Amir al-Saadi, a special adviser who oversaw Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, turned himself in. In an interview with the German television network ZDF, he insisted Iraq had no chemical or biological weapons and that there had been no justification for an attack on his country.
Another scientist, Jaffar al-Jaffar, is being held outside Iraq at an unknown location while being interviewed by U.S. officials. According to the Arab Times of Kuwait, Jaffar has no direct knowledge of the location of any weapons of mass destruction and is being detained in the hope he can provide names of others who might know such locations.
If no weapons of mass destruction are found, the war in Iraq will mark the second failed military mission since the Sept. 11 tragedy. The first was the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly to destroy the Al Qaeda network and capture Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Al Qaeda is resurgent in southern Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar remain at large.
It is perhaps for this reason that the White House has been so adept at converting both the Afghanistan and Iraqi conflicts into "wars of liberation." This redefinition of their original purpose may play well with the American public, but it is causing the United States to lose all credibility with Middle Easterners, who see "liberation" as a well-worn code term for "conquest," and the search for weapons of mass destruction as mere pretext for the extension of American hegemony over the region.
William Beeman teaches anthropology and is director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is author of "Language, Status and Power in Iran," and two forthcoming books: "Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding" and "Iraq: State in Search of a Nation." The translations of passages from Blix's El País interview are his.
Iranians are cautiously preparing for war with the United States. The signs are all there.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi returned on Monday from a trip to Turkey where he discussed preserving Iraq's territorial integrity, but undoubtedly also discussed a possible American incursion in Iran, according to his spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.
Responding to a question on the recent threats raised by U.S. officials against Iran, Asefi said: "If you mean political, economic and cultural threats, I have to say that the country has faced such threats since the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. We are not concerned about any U.S. military threat."
Read: "We are concerned about a U.S. military threat."
This was reinforced on the same day by Iran's army chief, Major General Mohammad Salimi, who called on the country's armed forces to prepare for any confrontation with "probable foreign threats."
Iranians also recently pressed U.K. Defense Minister Geoff Hoon with questions about possible military action against Iran. Hoon claimed that no such action was proposed by the United Kingdom. The assurances rang hollow, however, as it became clear that Hoon, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Straw were unwilling to speak for the United States. Straw said uneasily that although there was "no case whatsoever for taking any action," it would "worry me if it were true" that Iran and Syria were being lined up by the United States.
Iranians may be overly cautious. There is reported dissention in the White House about moving into Iran. The office of Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, has prepared invasion plans for both Syria and Iran. However, they have not yet been presented to the National Security Council or the president. Moreover, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice is reported to be opposed to any further military action in the Middle East.
However, the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as well as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials have called for action against Iran does not make the Iranians feel safer. Moreover, it was Condoleeza Rice who accused Iran of supporting "terrorists" two months after the tragedy of September 11. Finally, a Los Angeles Times poll in the first week of April found 50 percent of Americans favoring "military action" against Iran if it "continues to develop nuclear weapons." Never mind that Iran has no nuclear weapons at present and has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Iran's nervousness may simply be a habit. Iranians have been skittish about the possibility of American intervention for 50 years. Ever since 1953, when the CIA overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq to install the U.S.-backed Shah, they have assumed that the United States wanted to take over their nation in one way or another. The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 expelled the United States. But just 25 years later, Iranians find themselves caught in an uncomfortable American pincer movement, between U.S. troops to the west in Iraq and in Afghanistan to the east.
The first target in a military conflict between the United States and Iran would likely be Iran's nuclear generating plant in the southern port city of Bushehr. Journalist Charles Digges, writing for the Norwegian environmental foundation Bellona, quotes American and Russian officials who suggest that a strike on Bushehr might be disguised as an "accident." Such an action could sour relations between Washington and Moscow, since the Russians helped the Iranians build the plant.
Washington has claimed that Iran is using the plant to generate fuel for nuclear weapons, not for power generation.
It is certain that any strike against Iran would be enormously more complex than the present invasion of Iraq, and would likely be more than America could handle in a ground war. Iran is almost four times the size of Iraq, with a complex terrain involving some of the most formidable mountains and deserts in the world. The population is three times as large as Iraq's, and Tehran, the capital, has more than 12 million people. The young Iranian population provides a potential fighting force of 10 million males.
Given these statistics, the United States would need to spend hundreds of billions to pursue such a conflict, with gargantuan losses of American life and no guarantee of any success.
Beeman is author of "Language, Status and Power in Iran," and two forthcoming books: "Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding," and "Iraq: State in Search of a Nation."