Presidents and secretaries of state have not always come entirely clean in explaining why they were doing things, especially military actions. They tend to leave out key motives: Think of Ronald Reagan invading Grenada in 1982 to save medical students who unaccountably found themselves in danger; George H.W. Bush conjuring up Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait, but not mentioning Iraqi control of global oil; or George W.
When it came to foreign policy and national security, George W. Bush was a "big idea" president. Whether one agreed or disagreed with them, overarching concepts and a defined perspective on history drove his decisions. So far, Barack Obama has not been a big idea president, at least in foreign and national security policy. His instincts have been more those of a lawyer, charting a careful course through specific challenges and gravitating to a middle path which minimized risk.
Cairo, Egypt -- On a hot July evening this past summer, toward the end of our interview, Aref Desouki, vice-chair of a faction of the liberal Ghad Party, suddenly got defensive. After dodging questions about Egyptian State Security’s infiltration of his party, the bespectacled, cane-carrying mathematics professor wanted to emphasize that political conspiracies aren’t unique to Egypt. “You are controlled in the U.S. by an underground government,” he said, completely seriously. “A secret government that is related to the Zionists and the Jewish-Christian Zionists.
On December 12, 2010, a suicide bombing was committed in central Stockholm by an Islamic terrorist who denounced the Swedish government for its “foolish support for the pig Vilks.” Vilks was the conceptual artist who had, in 2007, depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a “roundabout dog,” familiar to tourists as a street display in Sweden.
It may have come as a surprise to many people that Germany—the lynchpin of the NATO alliance on the European continent and a close ally of the United States since 1949—voted to abstain from the U.N. resolution authorizing force against Muammar Qaddafi. The country was a staunch advocate of humanitarian intervention in the Balkans, and it is most definitely not led by a government of leftists who are given to denunciations of American imperialism.
Radiation in Tokyo has not reached anything like harmful or even worrisome levels. And, although packaged foods have largely disappeared from convenience stores and some supermarkets, fresh food continues to be widely available. Indeed, there may be too much of it. The chef at the sushi shop where I had lunch on Friday complained that he couldn’t sell all the fish he had stock-piled—people were going home early rather than stopping by for a couple of beers and a round of nigiri-zushi before heading for the station. But this crisis threatens Tokyo’s inhabitants in more subtle ways.
I remember sitting by a pool in August 1990 with my friend Fred Siegel discussing George H.W. Bush’s “drawing a line in the sand” after Iraq had invaded Kuwait. “My comrades on the left can’t be against this,” I announced to Fred, but I was dead wrong. Within days, my own publication, In These Times, and others had raised specters of another Vietnam and of U.S. imperialism. I have had a similar experience of shock and awe today as I looked at various blogs and websites that air opinion on the left.
Fittingly enough, the world’s first airstrike came exactly a century ago, on an autumn day in 1911. Eerily enough, it came in Libya, where, one day during the Italian-Turkish war of 1911-1912, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti flew his paper-thin Taube monoplane over a camp of Turks and Arabs, dropped four hand grenades (having pulled the pins out with his teeth), and generated headlines such as this: “AVIATOR LT. GAVOTTI THROWS BOMB ON ENEMY CAMP.