The Lofty  

This blog has moved!

You Decide in 2004: Kerry or Scary?

A Breath of Fresh Air

News & Views

ABC News
Al-Ahram (Egypt)
Al-Jazeera (Qatar)
American Prospect
Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
Asia Times (Hong Kong)
BBC News
Chicago Tribune
Christian Science Monitor
Columbia Political Review
Dawn (Pakistan)
Deutsche Welle (Germany)
Drudge Report
Economist (UK)
Financial Times (UK)
Fox News
Google News
Guardian (Nigeria)
Guardian (UK)
Ha'aretz (Israel)
In These Times
International Herald Tribune
Jerusalem Post
Kurdish Media
Los Angeles Times
Mail & Guardian (South Africa)
The Nation
National Post (Canada)
National Review
New Republic
New York Times
New Yorker
NPR News
The Onion
Opinion Journal
People's Daily (China)
Progress Report
Roll Call
Tom Paine
Times of London
Turkish Daily News
Turkish Press
USA Today
Village Voice
Washington Monthly
Washington Post
Washington Times
Weekly Standard
Zaman (Turkey)

(For a news source that requires a username and password, use "thelofty" for both.)


(* means blog has been updated recently)


Terror and Liberalism

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria


Polyarchy by Robert Dahl

The Nazi Seizure of Power

The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen

Terror and Liberalism

Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

In Association with

The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck



An Economics Question

Now I'm no expert on this sort of thing, but instead of looking to artificial stock price numbers as an indication of a recovering economy, shouldn't we look at things like, you know, jobs and consumer behavior?

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that the DOW is nudging above 10,000 for the first time in a year and a half. But shouldn't we rely on numbers that are hard facts on the ground?

If we do we'll see that 2.3 million Americans are still jobless after having lost their jobs since Bush took office. Meanwhile a report from the University of Michigan suggests consumer sentiment is lagging.

It's great news when the stock market takes off, but let's not get the cart ahead of the horse here. It has been Republicans who have pointed to the "stock bubble" of the late 1990's as the cause of the Bush recession. Rubbish. But how quickly those views change when a speculative bubble will allow Republicans to say, "See? It is getting better!"

So which is it? Stock surge or hard numbers on jobs? Is it Clinton's fault or not? You can't have it both ways.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 6:13:00 AM

Saturday, December 13, 2003  


R.I.P. Senator Paul Simon

Former Illinois Senator Paul Simon died today after undergoing heart surgery. He was 75. Simon served as Illinois senator for two terms from 1985 to 1997. He was known as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, but perhaps most well known for his bowtie collection. The downstate Democrat was true to his image as an honest, straight arrow and took that message with him on the campaign trail in 1988 in his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president.

On a personal note, back when I was about four or five, my parents and grandparents and I went on a vacation to Holden Villiage, a mountainous Lutheran retreat camp in Eastern Washington state. On the ferry up Lake Chelan we discovered the senator and his wife were also on their way to Holden Villiage. Somehow I ended up sitting on the senator's shoulders as he carried me around - though the details are a bit foggy. I'm sure my parents remember it far better than I, but from then on we always got a Christmas card from Senator and Mrs. Simon.

No doubt he will be missed.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 6:01:00 PM

Tuesday, December 09, 2003  


Machiavelli Would Be Proud

Is this the new Wilsonian, freedom-loving, upholder of self-determination Bush that I've been waiting to see in action? No, of course not. This is the same old Bush - loving realpolitik more than Otto van Bismarck.

'Bush Opposes Taiwan Bid for Independence'

"We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo," Bush said, "and the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally, to change the status quo, which we oppose."

"It was the administration's strongest statement to date in opposition to Taiwan's plan to conduct a referendum on March 20 on whether the Taiwanese people want to demand that China withdraw hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan and renounce the use of force against the island."

Man, those darn Taiwanese. Always stirring up trouble, what with not wanting to have thousands of missiles pointed at them. Geez, so demanding.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 1:11:00 PM


Can The Dean Train Be Stopped?

I haven't said a whole lot about the Democratic Presidential primary race here, mainly because there isn't a ton of stuff to talk about until right before the actual primaries and caucuses when the rest of America bothers to pay attention. That said, I've been thinking over the possible scenarios for how the various candidates can win and as Howard Dean makes bigger and bigger gains, including today's gigantic endorsement by Al Gore, the number of scenarios is quickly dwindling.

If I had to put odds on the race right now, I'd say Dean has probably an 80% chance of locking up the nomination. For better or for worse it looks like the small state governor who was brushed off by many for those very reasons, is the dominant force in this race.

But he's not alone. As I see it the only other candidates who have a shot at knocking Dean off his pedestal are Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark. The past month has made that group the clear first tier and has further shown Edwards, Kerry and Lieberman the door.

John Edwards never really had the full package. Before September 11 he had everything a Democratic president needed. After that fateful day he seemed like a lightweight and has struggled to explain to people why he wasn't. I think he would probably be a great president - but in say, 2012.

John Kerry has continued his long, sad decline from self-proclaimed front-runner to pathetic struggler. Look at the polls, look at what he's resorting to, look at how many times he's shook up his campaign to no avail. It's increasingly clear that Kerry is toast.

Joe Lieberman was always an ineffectual campaigner with an unpopular campaign platform. While campaigning for the Democratic nomination, Lieberman often made it seem like he had signed up for the wrong primary. In an attempt to counter the lefty swing of Dean and others, Lieberman swung way the other way - making himself look like a watered down Republican, which of course he's not. It's not a winning message Joe, and frankly there just isn't anything exciting about a guy who looks like George Washington but without any of the cool Potomac stories and Revolutionary War bravery.

So that leaves Gephardt and Clark. Here's what I see for Gephardt:

He has to win Iowa. Period. At this point, with Dean's momentum towards an early clinch, the expectations game will be crucial. If Gephardt just squeaks by Dean in the Iowa caucuses Dean won't lose hardly any steam. Sure it would be a setback for Dean the way things are going now, but that's like saying it would be a setback for Brian Urlacher if I tried to block him. It just wouldn't matter.

OK, so Gephardt needs to win Iowa, and he needs to do it in impressive fashion. That's not entirely impossible at this point due to the nature of the Iowa caucuses. Right now the latest polls show Dean with a slight lead, but with the caucuses second choice voting, Gephardt is bound to pick up more of the Edwards, Clark and Kerry voters than Dean will. Since the polls have only been judging first choice, the day after the caucus could show a nice, unexpected (to the media) bump in Gephardt's numbers.

After Iowa Gephardt needs to not pull "a Gephardt." Whatever it takes, make sure there's some money left over for the next round. It will be important. Assuming a good expectations bounce from an Iowa win, Gephardt could do nicer than expected in New Hampshire a week later. "Nice" for Gephardt will mean third if he's lucky. This has been the plan all along for the Gephardt campaign, but with Clark's entry into the race that third spot got much harder to obtain. What a third place in New Hampshire would mean is a serious drop off by John Kerry. The way I see it New Hampshire will go Dean of course, but followed by a rising Clark, and then a fading Kerry struggling with a bumped up Gephardt. With a third place showing in New Hampshire Gephardt can legitimately declare it a good day and can go into the next week with some solid media attention.

On paper the February 3rd states look like they should be quite pro-Gephardt. Gephardt recently gained the endorsement of Rep. Jim Clyburn, the most influential Democrat in South Carolina. That should help his chances there where he will face stiff competition from Clark and Edwards. I see Clark winning South Carolina if Gephardt manages to coax enough steam from the Dean furnace (ed. What? Does that even make sense?). A third place finish in South Carolina for Gephardt would be a big showing considering Clark, Edwards and Dean all having strong chances there.

Gephardt also has good organization in New Mexico, though I have yet to see poll results that show him doing above average there. To be honest, Gephardt will need to outright win New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma to get his $200 and pass Go. When the media is keeping score, winning a state like North Dakota, with it's worthless delegate numbers will mean more than you'd think. To the media it's all about the number of states you win, not the number of delegates that state has.

Of course if Gephardt is doing as well as I've laid it out, he will of course win his home state of Missouri. Heck, even if he doesn't do that well in New Hampshire, as long as he wins Iowa and has a little cash in the bank, he'll win Missouri. That will be a solid point grabber, but one that won't help the expectations game much.

Assuming Gephardt is able to execute a game plan like this, he should have damaged Dean enough by February 7 that it will have become clear that it's a two man race to the end and Gephardt is the anti-Dean. That's what he should aim for, and really, the only way he can knock off the surging Dean.

Then there's Clark. His latecomer status will hurt him on the money front, though he seems to be doing quite well this quarter. His decision to sit out Iowa is probably a mistake, though when you come late you can't always have a go at it everywhere. Therefore, for Clark, the primary battle begins in New Hampshire.

Dean is expected to win New Hampshire and to win it big. For Clark, overtaking the freefalling John Kerry will be a first priority, but then he will also need to have an unexpectly large showing in New Hampshire. He'll need something in the high teens percentage-wise in order to come off as a winner compared to Dean's likely 45+ grandslam. With a solid second place in New Hampshire Clark will move on to the states where he should theoretically be stronger, but specifically South Carolina.

Clark will need to use his solid showing in New Hampshire to springboard a win in South Carolina. That will be of huge importance especially since the media has hyped the first southern state so much. Outside of South Carolina Clark will need to pick up wins in places like Arizona, Oklahoma and (assuming Gephardt has faltered) a solid pickup of the Show Me state.

(It should be noted though, that all of Clark's potential success will rely on Gephardt's successful Iowa win and subsequent stumble. Without it Dean rolls over both.)

Like Gephardt, Clark's stategy will rely on the February 3rd states. In order to get that far however, both will need a bigger than expected showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively. Regardless of any potential for a Dean trip-up, the former governor of Vermont will still be fighting it out well into the Spring. He simply has too many resources, too many active supporters and too much green in the bank. Both Gephardt and Clark will need to count on a swing of support from the media and the Democratic establishment in order to make their dwindling bank accounts stretch as far as possible. At some point the nomination will cease to be about resources and will be about the ideas. It's a shame that that moment might not come till early March.

Now to Dean. What can you say? The man is on a roll. The endorsement by Al Gore was unexpected, though I guess we should have seen it coming what with Gore's apparent discovery of left wing principles. Also, did I mention Gore invented the internet that Dean is using so effectively?

Seriously though, for Dean to win - even just on paper, not just with outspending his opponents - he will need to win by a nice margin in Iowa and then carry that momentum to New Hampshire and try to keep Clark and Kerry down. I have little doubt that if he wins Iowa he won't win it all. Once the ball starts rolling it's hard to stop.

Therefore, the way I see it, the inevitable could begin as soon as caucus-goers are on their way home on January 19. And even if Gephardt does manage to pick up that crucial win in Iowa, that doesn't necessarily even make it a clean dog fight to the end. It simply means that Gephardt and Clark will have another week or two to prove themselves and pull off a big upset somewhere.

So. Looks like Dean. Who's excited?

[cricket, cricket]

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 12:21:00 PM


The Promises of the Arab Revolt

Here's last night's project - a term paper on the relations between the British and the Arabs in those fateful days of the Arab Revolt during World War I. A little bit different than the usual political ramblings and sarcastic tidbits I usually post. Enjoy, and let me know what you think:

Promises and Possibilities – The Making of a Scarred Middle East

The history of the Arab independence movement during and after the First World War is a topic of hot debate. Many Arabs view the period as one in which promises were made about the future of an Arab state but were never brought to life due to deceit and dishonesty by the British imperial bureaucracy. To the British these "promises" are seen as misunderstandings and, unfortunate as they may be, the products of imprudent policy decisions in light of larger visions for the region. While Arabs view the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence as a clear agreement of delineation of a future Arab state, and it appears to be such by all accounts, it is also clear that there was unresolved disagreement on the future of Arab policy among the various British imperial outposts and even within the Cairo-based Arab Bureau itself. On both sides a question of scope and legitimacy plagued the authors of the documents in question as Sharif Hussein boldly declared himself the leader of all Arabs, while Sir Henry McMahon spoke on behalf of the British Foreign Office who's policy in the region never gained the direction and cohesion it needed in order to fulfill its promises. Various agreements and declarations were signed and put forth, most of them contradictory and later, unfulfilled. From the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence to the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration, British policy towards the region was disjointed to say the least. In the end the fluid nature of promises made and agreements declared left a sour taste in the mouths of nearly everyone involved, but especially the Arabs. It was they who turned out to be the biggest losers of Britain's foreign policy inadequacies, and ever since an overarching sense of mistrust for the West has dominated the Arab conscience. The consequences of those defining days have led to years of trauma and turmoil for the Middle East – trauma it is still trying to recover from today.

By the time the Ottoman Empire joined forces with the Axis powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, it had already been apparent for decades that the twilight of the Sultanate had arrived. With the takeover of the Ottoman day-to-day government by the Young Turks in 1909 a new attitude towards the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire took root. The Young Turks espoused a Turkish nation founded on ethnic grounds, and carried to its fulfillment by a strong sense of nationalism. As a result, nationalist sentiment among Arabs, which had been growing since the middle of the 19th century, exploded and secret societies were formed in intellectual meeting places across the Arab provinces. Much of the Arab nationalist thought of the period came out of Damascus, though Cairo was not silent on the matter either. By the time the war began it was clear to both Turks and Arabs that the nationalistic hostilities were mutual. In order to prevent attempts by Arab leaders to encourage rebellion among the Ottoman army's enlisted ranks, Turkish military leaders had Arab troops moved out of their home theater. In their place units of Turkish troops kept Syria, Iraq and the Hijaz under tenuous control.

As Arab resentment against Turkish nationalism boiled, and dreams of Arab independence grew, British policymakers in London, Delhi, Khartoum and Cairo scrambled to find a united policy towards the Middle East. For the British the Middle East had always been of critical importance for its trade routes with its eastern gem, India. With Ottoman control of the region precarious at best, it was clear that something new was to take place in the region south of Anatolia, west of Persia and east of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. As the preeminent European power in the region at the time due to its grip on Egypt and, most importantly, the Suez Canal, the British were determined to have a role in forming whatever was to fill the Ottoman vacuum.

In pursuit of a Middle East policy British policymakers for the region were often at crossroads between their empire's long-term objectives with its allies and their short-term aspirations to create their own independent Arab plaything under the leadership of an Arab of their choosing. One historian described the officers of Britain’s Cairo-based Arab bureau, where Middle East policy was ultimately made, as "a remarkably prescient group of sober-minded tacticians seeking to exploit opportunities proffered by the war, the Arab revolt and the Turkish decline in order to secure the region against imperial and commercial competitors."

To better understand the overriding conflict of interests' within British policy and the Arab mindset, I will focus first on the British relations with the Arabs and the various movements within the Arab factions, before turning to an analysis of the agreements with Britain's allies that ultimately trumped the promises made to hopeful Arab leaders and set the region on an entirely different course all together.

– The Arab Bureau and The Sharif of Mecca –
The Arab Bureau was formed by the War Ministry’s somewhat self-proclaimed Middle East expert Mark Sykes, later of Sykes-Picot fame, as an answer to the cacophony of policy objectives being pushed by officials from across the British Empire about what to do about the growing unrest in Arabia and how to wrangle it into the British sphere of influence. The Arab Bureau handled the fateful correspondence with Sharif Hussein that is the basis for much of the controversy in the region today.

Sharif Hussein of Mecca was a determined and devout opportunist, but one who managed to project his ambitions effectively as being reflective of a larger movement within Arab aspirations which may or may not have been authentic. Hussein was a resigned loyal Arab leader in the Hijaz during the reign of Sultan Abd Hamid II, though his loyalty was only as deep as it was forced to be. After the constitutional revolution in 1909 in which the Young Turks gained de facto control over Ottoman governance, Hussein was finally allowed to return to his home in the Hijaz after being a "guest" of the Sultan for 15 years. Once there he became increasingly hostile towards the Turkish nationalism that the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) redefined as the basis for the Ottoman Empire. From then on Hussein actively sought a way to free himself, and as part of his claim for greater legitimacy, the whole of the Arab people, from the grips of a dying empire. With the outbreak of war in Europe between empires, the time was ripe for Hussein to set his plans into motion.

But Hussein wasn’t the only Arab leader with a plan. From Damascus to Baghdad to the sands of the Arabian Desert, societies and tribes alike were forming to oust the Ottoman overlords. In Damascus a number of secret societies were forming under the suspicious noses of Turkish Ottoman officials. Most notable of these groups were al-Ahd and al-Fatat, two societies made up of Syrian intellectuals and traitorous Arab Ottoman officers who were waiting for the right moment to declare their revolt. In Iraq there was less action on the ground due to the British bureau in Delhi's hesitation to sow the seeds of revolt among Muslim populations in Iraq for fear of instability in India. However there were still a handful of Iraqis aware of the importance of the moment for the future of the Arab people and who loosely saw the potential for a revolt’s success. In Arabia Sharif Hussein seemed to be the logical leader of a revolt based in the Hijaz. He certainly had the credentials: he was able to trace his ancestry back to the Prophet himself; he was the official guardian of the Holy Places; and his base at Mecca was sufficiently distant from the bulk of Ottoman forces. However, he had competition. Ibn Saud of Najd, the eventual founder of Saudi Arabia, was a similarly powerful Arab tribal leader and could likewise trace his lineage back to the Prophet. Within the British Arab Bureau debate went back and forth about who would be a more capable leader and who would ultimately advance British interests in the region the most. Ultimately Hussein was seen as the strongest candidate based on British objectives, namely to secure the Red Sea coast for their trade with India, to maintain a foothold on the newly discovered oil in the Persian Gulf coastal regions of Basra province and along the Arabian coast, and to ensure a stable ally for future trade.

While these various groups of Arab intellectuals debated revolt plans and formulated their visions for the region's future, the British were equally disunited in their plan for how to get from point A to point B. Like the Arabs, the British knew the Ottomans were on their way out and that the means to that exit would be through a revolt by the Arabs. How to achieve that goal was anybody's guess.

– The Fateful Correspondence –
In October of 1914 Hussein thought his moment had come and he inquired to Lord H. H. Kitchener, the Consul General in Egypt, about the potential for British support of an Arab revolt initiated from the Hijaz. In what became the first of a controversial series of British pledges, Kitchener gave Hussein reason to be pleased:

"If the Sharif and Arabs in general assist Great Britain in this conflict that has been forced upon us by Turkey… Great Britain will guarantee the independence, rights and privileges of the Sharifate against all foreign aggression, in particular that of the Ottomans… It may be that an Arab of true race will assume the Khalifate at Mecca or Medina, and so good may come by the help of God out of all the evil which is now occurring."

Based on this reply, Hussein felt confident that his revolt would be well supported by the British and the end result of his rebellion would be something to the tune of an independent Arab state. No doubt Hussein could at least be assured that Kitchener's hope that the Caliph would be "an Arab of true race" was a good sign of the British desire to see Arab self-governance. Kitchener's objective in the letter however, was to provide sufficiently vague words of support for a movement that the British were still uncertain as to how to approach. For both men the opening letter was a positive step.

Now that Hussein had the tacit backing of the British, he began to formulate his revolt plans. At this time, in early 1915, Hussein was still keeping up diplomatic appearances with the Ottomans in Istanbul, though he had heard whispers of plans to have him removed. In a stroke of brilliant double-faced diplomacy, Hussein sent his son Faisal to Istanbul to protest the rumors of his impending overthrow, and along the way to meet with members of al-Ahd and al-Fatat in Damascus to get a sense for their enthusiasm for revolt. In Damascus Faisal convinced Syrian officers and intellectuals that a revolt would only be successful with the help of a European Power and that his father had been in contact with British officials who spoke positively of such a revolt. Buoyed by Faisal's message, the members of al-Fatat developed a series of demands for Hussein to make on behalf of all Arabs. These demands would be the basis for Hussein's first message to Cairo High Commissioner McMahon.

Encouraged by Kitchener's apparently propitious remarks Hussein followed the "Damascus Protocol" to the T' and demanded an Arab state that would include everything from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea, the Gulf up to the 37th parallel along the Persian border then along that parallel to present-day Mersin and south along the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. For a man who ruled no more than Mecca and the immediate vicinity and who had only some vague support from members of a mysterious society in Damascus, Hussein’s demands no doubt seemed overstated and a bit ahead of reality to McMahon. Based on his previous correspondence with Kitchener though, Hussein had little reason to suspect that his vast proposal for an Arab state would be met with anything but praise and offers of assistance. Therefore when McMahon replied that the Sharif's demands were "premature," and generally repeated Kitchener’s earlier sentiments about support for the "independence of Arabia," Hussein was displeased, to say the least. In his second letter to McMahon, Hussein retorted that McMahon’s response was one of "ambiguity" and that its tone was "cold" and "hesitant." Clearly Hussein had not expected his authority, based on little tangible evidence as it may be, to be questioned by the High Commissioner. To McMahon however, Hussein's broad demands and seemingly self-proclaimed authority to speak on behalf of all Arabs was something that not only needed more time to be studied, but needed independent verification. As luck might have it, independent verification had just arrived from across the front lines of Gallipoli by the name of Muhammad Sharif al-Faruqi.

Faruqi was an Arab officer in the Ottoman army - one of the many who had been shipped off to Gallipoli from Syria due to fear from Ottoman officials that a revolt was in the works in Syria. He also happened to be one of the mischievous Arab officers who, when in Syria, had been a member of al-Ahd and al-Fatat and had learned of Hussein's correspondence with the British and who had helped formulate the Damascus Protocol. As a result, when Faruqi began telling the British all about the supposedly large scale plans for revolt in the Hijaz and Syria they took notice. As Faruqi's claims checked out – at least as far as the British bothered to look – Hussein's claims of speaking on behalf of the whole Arab people gained tremendous credibility in the eyes of McMahon and his advisors. As a result McMahon's October 24 letter to Hussein displayed a marked turnaround from the previous response of August 30. In this, the most infamous letter of the correspondence between the two, McMahon agrees to nearly all the terms demanded by Hussein in his initial letter from July 14 – save a few quite important exceptions. These exceptions include removing the coastal lands west of Aleppo and Damascus from the future Arab state and to dismiss Hussein’s claims on areas around present day Antakya and Mersin since they were not considered Arab enough to constitute inclusion in the to-be-formed Arab state. Another qualification dealt with the status of British interests in the regions of Baghdad and Basra in Iraq. Other than these notable omissions it is important to note that McMahon did indeed agree to the creation of an Arab state – one with vast territorial realms no less – and called upon Hussein to take up the title of caliph, though curiously did not refer to him as "King of the Arabs," a title Hussein saw as less than that of caliph.

Hussein was, of course, thrilled that McMahon recognized his authority to speak on behalf of the Arab people and over the course of the next few exchanges Hussein attempted to clarify the status of the vilayet of Beirut and the other coastal regions omitted by McMahon while also making the necessary preparations to begin the revolt. Ironically, in his first letter of reply to McMahon, Hussein wonders what would happen to the British promise of an Arab state if the course of the war were to shift in favor of the Axis Powers and peace was concluded on their terms: "Therefore it is necessary to take these points into consideration in order to avoid a peace being concluded in which the parties concerned may decide the fate of our people as if we had taken part in the war without making good our claims to official consideration." Little did Hussein know but that he was foreshadowing beyond his worst nightmares.

It is important to note that during the course of the nine month correspondence between the two men, Faruqi had entered the picture and had done much to inflate the image of the relative strength of the Arab forces and to cast upon the British imagination a depiction of a large, devoted fighting force with little doubt about its ultimate success – but one which was still uncertain about which side to enter the war on. The truth was not quite as rosy or dramatic however. As McMahon and others would later learn, "Faruqi's statements to the British were permeated with inaccuracies, exaggerations and lies." Part of the reason McMahon issued the October 24 letter was due to Faruqi's insistence that while the Arab armies preferred the guidance and alliance of the British, they would not hesitate to unite with their fellow Muslims in Ottoman uniforms to fight off the British. As Faruqi presented it, the British needed to act quickly in order to ensure the support of the Arabs. As a result McMahon possibly overstepped his authorized bounds and set the basis for a controversy that would cripple trust in the region for years.

– The Disingenuous Deals –
Shortly after the end of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, but on completely different diplomatic channels, self-styled Middle East aficionado Mark Sykes concluded a secret deal with Britain's allies, France and Czarist Russia, about the future of the Middle East and portions of eastern Anatolia. To Sykes all the underlying difficulties in the region could be set aside in favor of a grandiose plan for peace and, above all, imperial control of the Middle East. According to the plan much of the Middle East was to be carved up into either French or British areas of influence or direct control. For France, direct control was to include the areas previously excluded from an Arab state by McMahon (though this had no bearing on Sykes’ plan) along the Syrian coast and a good portion of southeastern Anatolia. The French area of influence was to include a region roughly larger than present day Syria but went as far east as the vilayet of Mosul. For the British, the region of direct control would be largely the vilayets of Baghdad and Basra while British influence would extend along around the Arabian Desert and would include an odd shaped area running from Aqaba to Kirkuk. Palestine, as was all the rage in the age of the League of Nations, was to be governed by an international effort led by the victorious Allied Powers.

When Czarist Russia fell to the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1917, the bold Leninists in St. Petrograd felt compelled to embarrass their former allies as they called it quits on World War I by announcing the details of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The announcement shocked many Syrian Arabs who had been fighting bravely in the revolt on the understanding that the British had promised the Arab people a state. In Mecca though, the news of the secret agreement was met with what can be assumed to be feigned misunderstanding of the secret agreement's details. A good seven months after the public acknowledgement of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Hussein still had not bothered to seek clarification on what it meant for his promised Arab state. While the agreement failed to become the official document for the region, partially due no doubt to strong resistance to it from officials at the Arab Bureau in Cairo who held sympathetic views to Hussein's cause and for the prospects of the Arab revolt. To many in the Arab Bureau, Sykes was seen as "an incurable romantic, smitten with fanciful and often simplistic notions about the nature of civilizations, nations, and races." One of Sykes' visions for the region had a triple alliance or confederation between the Jews, Arabs and Armenians. Sykes, it seems, was great at coming up with naïve plans for a region of which he unjustifiably claimed great knowledge. Unfortunately for the Arabs, Sykes was not the only British official to take a stand in direct conflict with the promises made by McMahon.

Within just a few days of the Sykes-Picot agreement being made public, a letter from Lord Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild became public which declared the British government’s desire to see a Jewish home in Palestine:

"His Majesty's Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

The declaration was prompted by the urging of prominent Zionists close to the British government and was received by many Arabs as a horrible stab in the back. Not only had only a handful of Jews lived in historic Palestine at that time, they were to receive a "national home" which afforded Arabs no political rights, only vague "civil and religious rights."

To alleviate some of Hussein's concerns after the release of this declaration Director of the Arab Bureau, David Hogarth sent him a message saying, "Jewish settlement in Palestine would only be allowed in so far as would be consistent with the political and economic freedom of the Arab population." For Hogarth and others at the Arab Bureau the promises and plans being sketched out in London and Paris were frustrating to watch and were felt to be counterproductive to the Bureau’s goals in the region. While quite disjointed in its policy assessments, the Arab Bureau did attempt to stick to the promises originally made by McMahon and worked to meet those obligations as best it could.

In an attempt to counter the effects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (the same Sykes who created the Arab Bureau) officials at the Bureau made their own declaration to a group of Syrians in Cairo, the Declaration to the Seven. It has been referred to as "by far the most important statement of policy publicly made by Great Britain in connexion [sic] with the Arab Revolt." Why? Because by declaring that territory conquered by Arab armies in the revolt would remain as Arab territory, it made Britain’s pledge to the Arabs the clearest they had yet been. It defined four types of territory in the region: Arab territories that were free before the war, territories conquered by the efforts of Arab armies, territories conquered by British forces (but which would enjoy the principle of "the consent of the governed"), and lastly territories that remain in the hands of the Turks. Unfortunately by the end of the war even pledges as clearly defined as the Declaration to the Seven were overruled by the ambitions of the Great Powers. But not before a moment of the Arab dream was played out in Damascus.

– The Mandate System –
In March of 1920, as the Great Powers were still sorting out the post-war situation, the Arab revolt culminated in the successful enthronement of Faisal, son of Sharif Hussein, who had been the leader of the revolt army and who had played a critical role in the formation of the revolt’s logistical success. Unfortunately, once the Great Powers figured out what was to become of the Middle East Faisal’s days were numbered and he was forced into exile just months after taking his throne in Damascus.

However, just a year later, as the French and the British took hold of their new League of Nations mandates, the British found a way to incorporate Hussein’s family into the loose organization of ruler-to-map drawn states. As a result Faisal was offered the titular throne of the new collection of provinces brought under British auspices called Iraq, while his younger brother Abdullah was offered the throne of an even more contrived state, Transjordan.

– Conclusions –
The consequences of the events of these years cannot be overstated for the region. The legacy of unfulfilled promises upon the Arab conscience has left an indubitable scar on the prospects for reconciliation between the peoples of today's Middle East. It is hard to pin the blame for the events of those years on any one person or government. If anything the fluidity of the decision-making on both the Arab and British sides shows a lack of coherence even within the two camps. While the British struggled to define their imperial goals for the region before committing itself to unfulfillable promises, the Arabs were equally disorganized yet carried on as if they were ready to take on the world. This combination of British indecisiveness and Arab over-confidence in the face of a massive objective led to an air of broken promises and broken hearts from which the region is still struggling to recover.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 9:23:00 AM


Where There's A Law, There's A Loophole

"Hoping to spend as much as it wants on next year's elections, the National Rifle Association is looking to buy a television or radio station and declare that it should be treated as a news organization, exempt from spending limits in the campaign finance law.

"We're looking at bringing a court case that we're as legitimate a media outlet as Disney or Viacom or Time Warner," the NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said in an interview.

"Why should they have an exclusive right to relay information to the public, and why should not NRA be considered as legitimate a news source as they are? That's never been explored legally," he said."

You know, they make a good point. Why should some corporations be able to have unlimited air time while others have tight restrictions? It really makes no sense. McCain-Feingold is full of stuff like this. The thing surely has good intentions, but it made some ridiculous rules - some of which are no doubt unconstitutional.

By the way, where does Howard Dean stand on this? After all he and the NRA are best of buds...

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 5:23:00 PM

Sunday, December 07, 2003  


Up Is Down

I've been meaning to post this all day and make my snarky comments about it, but Blogger wasn't cooperating. Anyway, it looks like we finally have some experts in Arab psychoanalysis on the scene in Iraq:

"Underlying the new strategy, the Americans say, is the conviction that only a tougher approach will quell the insurgency and that the new strategy must punish not only the guerrillas but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating.

"You have to understand the Arab mind," Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. "The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face."

Sigh. Good thing Captain Brown has them Ay-Rabs figured out. I thought for a second there we were losing ground in Iraq. Good to know he understands the Arab mind so well.

Then there's this gem:

"With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them," Colonel Sassaman said.

Oh yeah, "fear and violence" usually convinces people that you're on their side. That's been working well for the American military ever since it liquidated entire Vietnamese villages in order to "save" them from the Viet Cong. Geez.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 5:00:00 PM


Big Goals Or Just Big Talk?

Thomas Friedman is getting a bit ahead of himself. In today's piece Friedman wonders where Bush's Wilsonian talking points came from all of a sudden. Bush campaigned as an anti-nation-building isolationist in 2000 but miraculously he's now, at least in his speeches, the strongest advocate of spreading democracy and freedom to the world. How can this be?

Friedman, as usual, finds a world leader or well respected political polemicist who says something that triggers in his head a fantastically simplistic explanation of the way the universe works. In this one Friedman quotes a Harvard professor who suggests that Bush has taken a cue from President Lincoln on how to make war a noble cause. As one of my favorite anti-warrior friends might say, "GUH." Tom, you're kidding right?

"It often happens," argues Michael Sandel, the Harvard political theorist, "that presidents, under the pressure of events, especially during war, find themselves needing to articulate new and more persuasive rationales for their policies - especially when great sacrifices are involved. This happened to Lincoln during the Civil War. At the outset, the purpose of the Civil War for Lincoln was to oppose secession and preserve the Union. It was really only after the battle at Gettysburg that Lincoln articulated a larger purpose for the Civil War - namely freedom and the elimination of slavery. Henceforth, the Civil War was not only to preserve the Union, but to bring about the promise of the Declaration of Independence - written four score and seven years earlier."

First off, where are the sacrifices? Bush hasn't asked any sacrifices of the American people, even when he probably could have gotten away with it. Instead he's drained the treasury with massively unbalanced tax cuts for people like himself and has left the government with a deficit ballooning to new record highs.

Second, let's get a little context here. The American Civil War and the Iraq War? Are you kidding me? The Battle of Gettysburg alone produced over 50,000 casualties. The Civil War produced more than 600,000 deaths over its four horrific years. We were fighting to preserve the American union - to keep a nation together in its darkest hours.

Can we even begin to say that about Iraq? Hardly. It was an elective war - one that sought casualties that needn't have occurred. And I say all this as a supporter of the war. Iraq wasn't a necessary war, despite what the Neocon's told us about Iraq's elusive weapons of mass destruction.

OK, but what is Friedman's point in this ill-advised comparison?

"In Lincoln's case the rationale for the war shifted, not because he couldn't find any W.M.D. in Dixie, but rather, argues Mr. Sandel, "because of the enormity of the sacrifice that the war was requiring. It no longer made moral sense that this great sacrifice could just be about keeping these states together, could just be about a political structure. It had to be about a bigger purpose and that was freedom and equality."

Is that really why Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation? I don't know. Those who have studied the American Civil War in depth would know better, but my inkling is that Lincoln wasn't that shallow. You don't become a great American president simply by making politically expedient decisions. A dramatic shift to huge worthwhile goals needs to be accompanied by something to back it up, something to prove that in the end we're not just trying to make Exxon and Shell happy.

Friedman seems somewhat skeptical of Bush's genuineness on this issue - something that I've been grappling with recently as well.

"Personally, I'm partial to Mr. Bush's new emphasis on the freedom and democracy argument, which for me was the only compelling rationale for the Iraq war.

"The question is how deeply Mr. Bush has internalized this democracy agenda, which is going to be a long, costly enterprise, and to what extent he can persuade Americans to stick with it. If you listen to him speak about it, it seems heartfelt, almost a religious conviction.

"But the fact is, Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address himself. Mr. Bush's democracy speeches were written for him. Only the future will tell us whether his attachment to this issue is the product of epiphany or expediency - or both."

Like Friedman I supported the war based on these very arguments of freedom and democracy. The weapons argument always seemed unsubstatiated to me, though I naively trusted the judgement of our leaders and figured they wouldn't just make stuff up. Silly me.

If Bush is serious about his new talking point, he should take a quick look at Africa. Also maybe someone should take a quick look at the democracy situation in places like Turkmenistan where the dictato... I'm sorry, president for life, has a solid gold statue of himself that turns with the sun. If that's democracy, where's the gold statue of me?

Proving the longevity of this new massive goal of freedom for all will take determination and will indeed require sacrifices. So far though, all we've seen is talk. Let's start proving it.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 7:32:00 AM