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Understanding America and the Bush administration

 
 
blatham
 
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2005 05:05 pm
Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, has recently published a book titled "America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism". It's an extraordinary work and I can't recommend another book more highly than this one for those who wish to understand America in 2005 and the political landscape we are moving through.

I'm going to quote pieces from the book here from time to time in hopes that some or many of you will order the book and set to a careful reading. If not that, then at least that the ideas will gain some broader distribution.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2005 05:07 pm
Trying to understand America and the Bush administration is an oxymoron. Even Americans don't understand America or the Bush administration.
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Feb, 2005 05:21 pm
Traumatized by the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, Americans very naturally reacted by falling back on old patterns of belief and behavior. Among these patterns has been American nationalism. This nationalism embodies beliefs and principles of great and permanent value for America and the world, but it also contains very great dangers. Aspects of American nationalism imperil both the nation's global leadership and its success in the struggle against Islamist terrorism and revolution.

More than any other factor, it is the nature and extent of this nationalism which at the start of the twenty-first century divides the United States from a largely postnationalist Western Europe. Certain neoconservative and Realist writers have argued that American behavior in the world and American differences with Europe stem simply from the nation's possession of greater power and responsibility. It would be truer to say that this power enables America to do certain things. What it does, and how it reacts to the behavior of others, is dictated by America's political culture, of which different strands of nationalism form a critically important part.

Insofar as American nationalism has become mixed up with a chauvinist version of Israeli nationlism, it also plays an absolutely disastrous role in U.S. relations with the Muslim world and in fueling terrorism. One might say, therefore, that while America keeps a splendid and welcoming house, it also keeps a family of demons in its cellar. Usually kept under certain restraints, these demons were released by 9/11...


This book seeks to help explain why a country which after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had the chance to create a concert of all the world's major states - including Muslim ones - against Islamist revolutionary terrorism chose instead to pursue policieis which divided the West, further alienated the Muslim world and exposed America itself to greatly increased danger. The most important reason why this has occurred is the character of American nationalism, which in this book I analyze as a complex, multifacted set of elements in the nation's political culture....

Under the administration of George W. Bush the United States drove toward empire, but the domestic political fuel fed into the engine was that of a wounded and vengeful nationalism. After 9/11, this sentiment is entirely sincere as far as most Americans are concerned, and it is all the more dangerous for that. In fact, to judge by world history, there is probably no more dangerous element in the entire nationalist mix than a sense of righteous victimhood. In the past this sentiment helped wreck Germany, Serbia and numerous other countries, and it is now in the process of wrecking Israel.

(Introduction...page 1-4)
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theantibuddha
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 08:12 am
blatham wrote:
Section from the book


Sounds like an interesting book. I probably won't read it because I try to steer clear of politics where possible, but it sounds quite reasonable and balanced from the section you quoted.

Thanks for sharing.
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 08:53 am
Nationalism is one word to use. But the sentiment is universal.

If a member of any group is attacked, the group immediately marshalls to fend off other attacks. You don't need a general for this--or a President. It is human nature. A pack of dogs fights together--no one taught them about nationalism.

It happens here in the political pages. I'm sure you've seen members of the same group---on both sides--rush to the defense of a member of their group.

When attacked, your part of the world--or your intrinsic relationship with the world as you know it, is under attack.

To remain unchanged in the face of an assault is to be apathetic to the deepest aspect of living--and that would be weird.

Why would he refer to Israel's self-protection as chauvinistic nationalism? Why is Israel's different?
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theantibuddha
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 09:22 am
Lash wrote:
Why would he refer to Israel's self-protection as chauvinistic nationalism?


Isn't all nationalism chauvinistic?
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 09:29 am
You'd think so--but if you read the excerpt-- only Israel's is described that way.

See--

"Insofar as American nationalism has become mixed up with a (((---chauvinist version--- of Israeli nationlism))), it also plays an absolutely disastrous role in U.S. relations with the Muslim world and in fueling terrorism. One might say, therefore, that while America keeps a..."

I'm not trying to strike a pose on this. But, I'd like this phrase explained to me--if anyone thinks they know what this might be trying to say.
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theantibuddha
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 09:35 am
Lash wrote:
You'd think so--but if you read the excerpt-- only Israel's is described that way.


Oh yeah... I didn't see that. Whoops.

Maybe next time I should read more thoroughly than a skim <blush>.
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 09:45 am
Quite alright. You earned points with me previously. That faux pax only used up half of them.

(hee)
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theantibuddha
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 09:50 am
Lash wrote:
Quite alright. You earned points with me previously. That faux pax only used up half of them.


"Yes points... these reward points of which you speak, they just build up until you trade them in for rewards of your choosing. How many points would it take one to rule the world? Ah yes, so perfect. Those unsuspecting humans won't know what hit them when I use these "points" of theirs against them. Mwahahahahha.... what?" - Imagine that in my best invader Zim imitation.
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 09:55 am
This gives me an idea....

I shall keep a tally of points in my signature--so people know when they are in danger! For the unsuspecting humans...
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 10:07 am
Lash wrote:
You'd think so--but if you read the excerpt-- only Israel's is described that way.

See--

"Insofar as American nationalism has become mixed up with a (((---chauvinist version--- of Israeli nationlism))), it also plays an absolutely disastrous role in U.S. relations with the Muslim world and in fueling terrorism. One might say, therefore, that while America keeps a..."

I'm not trying to strike a pose on this. But, I'd like this phrase explained to me--if anyone thinks they know what this might be trying to say.


Lash

The connection between the US/Israeli relationship and the Muslim terrorist threat to the US (and Muslim anger against the west more generally) is clear, I assume.

So you seem to be seeking clarification of why Lieven might write "American nationalism has become mixed up with a chauvinist version of Israeli nationlism".

'Chauvinist' is defined as:

1) Militant devotion to and glorification of one's country; fanatical patriotism.
2) Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one's own gender, group, or kind: "the chauvinism... of making extraterrestrial life in our own image"

The modern Likud version of Israeli nationalism is a radical version, and matches the definitions above. Partly that is a consequence of the Likud platform or ideology, but also as a consequence of Sharon's personal affiliations with the settler movement, and as a consequence of political realities there where the radical or fundamentalist religious parties hold significant power and influence.

It is odd, but true, that little of the more moderate voices in Israeli politics are much heard here in North America. One has to keep track with Ha'aretz or other sources to get a real sense of this. The following piece might give some perspective... http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17591
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 10:28 am
The Two Souls of American Nationalism

Like other nationalisms, American nationalism has many different faces, and this book does not pretend to explore all of them. Rather, it concentrates on what I take to be the two most important elements in the historical culture of American nationalism and the complex relationship between them...

The first of these strands in American nationalism...has been described as the "American Creed," and idea I also describe as the "American Thesis": the set of democratic, legal and individualist beliefs and principles on which the American state and constitution is founded. These principles form the foundation of American civic nationalism and also help bind the United States to the wider community of democratic states...As the term "Creed" implies, they are held with an ideological and almost religious fervor.

The second element forms what I have called the American nationalist "antithesis" and stems above all from the ethnoreligious roots. Aspects of this tradition have also been called "jacksonian nationalism,"...
Rather than the simple, monolithic identity of a Polish or Thai ethnoreligious nationalism, this tradition in the United States forms a diffuse mass of identitities and implulses, including nativist sentiments on the part of America's original White population, the particular culture of the White South and the beliefs and agendas of ethnic lobbies...

These strands in American nationalism are usually subordinate to American civic nationalism stemming from the Creed, which dominates officaial and public political culture. However, they have a natural tendency to rise to the surface in times of crisis and conflict. In the specific case of America's attachment to Israel, ethnoreligious factors have become dominant, with extremely dangerous consequences for the war on terrorism.

The reason why "civic nationalism", rather than "patriotism" is the appropriate name for the dominant strand in American political culture was well summed up in 1983 by one of the fathers of the neoconservative school in the United States, Irving Kristol: "Patriotism springs from love of the nation's past; nationalism arise out of hope for the nation's future, distinctive greatness...The goals of American foreign policy must go well beyond a narrow, too literal definition of 'national security.' It is the national interest of a world power, as this is defined by a sense of national destiny."...

If ...Kristol's distinction between patriotism and nationalism is valid, then it must be acknowledged that nationalism, rather than patriotism, is the correct word with which to describe the characteristic national feeling of Americans. And this feature also links the American nationalism of today to the unsatisfied, late-coming nationalisms of Germany, Italy and Russia, rather than to the satisfied and status-quo patriotism of the British....

One way of looking at American nationalism and the troubled relationship with the contemporary world which the nation dominates is indeed to understand that many Americans are in revot against the world which America itself has made.
(page 4-7)
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 10:54 am
The Bush administration wields maximum secrecy with minimal opposition. The White House press is timid. The poor, limp Democrats don't have enough power to convene Congressional hearings on any Republican outrages and are reduced to writing whining letters of protest that are tossed in the Oval Office trash.
February 27, 2005

W.'s Stiletto Democracy

By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

It was remarkable to see President Bush lecture Vladimir Putin on the importance of checks and balances in a democratic society.

Remarkably brazen, given that the only checks Mr. Bush seems to believe in are those written to the "journalists" Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Karen Ryan, the fake TV anchor, to help promote his policies. The administration has given a whole new meaning to checkbook journalism, paying a stupendous $97 million to an outside P.R. firm to buy columnists and produce propaganda, including faux video news releases.

The only balance W. likes is the slavering, Pravda-like "Fair and Balanced" coverage Fox News provides. Mr. Bush pledges to spread democracy while his officials strive to create a Potemkin press village at home. This White House seems to prefer softball questions from a self-advertised male escort with a fake name to hardball questions from journalists with real names; it prefers tossing journalists who protect their sources into the gulag to giving up the officials who broke the law by leaking the name of their own C.I.A. agent.

W., who once looked into Mr. Putin's soul and liked what he saw, did not demand the end of tyranny, as he did in his second Inaugural Address. His upper lip sweating a bit, he did not rise to the level of his hero Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Instead, he said that "the common ground is a lot more than those areas where we disagree." The Russians were happy to stress the common ground as well.

An irritated Mr. Putin compared the Russian system to the American Electoral College, perhaps reminding the man preaching to him about democracy that he had come in second in 2000 according to the popular vote, the standard most democracies use.

Certainly the autocratic former K.G.B. agent needs to be upbraided by someone - Tony Blair, maybe? - for eviscerating the meager steps toward democracy that Russia had made before Mr. Putin came to power. But Mr. Bush is on shaky ground if he wants to hold up his administration as a paragon of safeguarding liberty - considering it has trampled civil liberties in the name of the war on terror and outsourced the torture of prisoners to bastions of democracy like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (The secretary of state canceled a trip to Egypt this week after Egypt's arrest of a leading opposition politician.)

"I live in a transparent country," Mr. Bush protested to a Russian reporter who implicitly criticized the Patriot Act by noting that the private lives of American citizens "are now being monitored by the state."

Dick Cheney's secret meetings with energy lobbyists were certainly a model of transparency. As was the buildup to the Iraq war, when the Bush hawks did their best to cloak the real reasons they wanted to go to war and trumpet the trumped-up reasons.

The Bush administration wields maximum secrecy with minimal opposition. The White House press is timid. The poor, limp Democrats don't have enough power to convene Congressional hearings on any Republican outrages and are reduced to writing whining letters of protest that are tossed in the Oval Office trash.

When nearly $9 billion allotted for Iraqi reconstruction during Paul Bremer's tenure went up in smoke, Democratic lawmakers vainly pleaded with Republicans to open a Congressional investigation.

Even the near absence of checks and balances is not enough for W. Not content with controlling the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and a good chunk of the Fourth Estate, he goes to even more ludicrous lengths to avoid being challenged.

The White House wants its Republican allies in the Senate to stamp out the filibuster, one of the few weapons the handcuffed Democrats have left. They want to invoke the so-called nuclear option and get rid of the 150-year-old tradition in order to ram through more right-wing judges.

Mr. Bush and Condi Rice strut in their speeches - the secretary of state also strutted in Wiesbaden in her foxy "Matrix"-dominatrix black leather stiletto boots - but they shy away from taking questions from the public unless they get to vet the questions and audiences in advance.

Administration officials went so far as to cancel a town hall meeting during Mr. Bush's visit to Germany last week after deciding an unscripted setting would be too risky, opting for a round-table talk in Mainz with preselected Germans and Americans.

The president loves democracy - as long as democracy means he's always right.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
0 Replies
 
blatham
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 10:59 am
ci

Nice to see you back! I'd like to, as much as possible, reserve this thread for passages from Lieven's book. Inevitably, some discussions will arise, and that's just fine, but I'd like to keep them to the passages when I get time to type them in.
0 Replies
 
Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 12:37 pm
Apparently the author is too dense to see that most of what we Americans do is simply for purposes of self-preservation. Based on those quotations, this book is presented in a scholarly manner, but shows an utter lack of understanding.
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Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 12:44 pm
Quote:
Apparently the author is too dense to see that most of what we Americans do is simply for purposes of self-preservation.


Bull. What we are doing has nothing to do with self-preservation, and you know it (and no, I don't want to hear your repeated 'they might have had something and we can't take that chance' argument again)

OFFENSE IS NOT DEFENSE!!!

Cycloptichorn
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 12:45 pm
And what falls outside that 'most'?
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 01:20 pm
Cyclop, But don't you think bringing democracy to the whole world will prevent future terorrist activities? *snide, scorn, and dumb remark, ofcoarse!
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2005 01:24 pm
The best defense IS a good offense.

Don't you think chauvinistic nationalism on Israel's part is really an intense effort to stay alive?
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