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The U.S. War on Terrorism
September 24, 2002
Lewis H. Lapham, Alan W. Bock, J. Victor Marshall, Seth Rosenfeld, Paul H. Weaver


David Theroux

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux and I’m the president of The Independent Institute. Before we proceed, I’m very delighted to take this opportunity to introduce Suzy Antounian who is vice president of the World Affairs Council of Northern California and is representing council president, Jane Wales who, unfortunately, was called out of town immediately last night on an emergency. Suzy. [Applause.]

Suzy Antounian

Good evening. Thank you. I would also like to welcome everybody to tonight’s program, “The U.S. War on Terrorism: Myths and Realities,” sponsored by The Independent Institute and co-sponsored by Harper’s Magazine and the World Affairs Council of Northern California.

The World Affairs Council aims to engage people in the exploration of issues and opportunities that transcend borders. To learn more about the Council and our diverse council, please visit our Web site at

I would like to commend The Independent Institute for having done a wonderful job in organizing today’s event. Tonight’s program features Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper’s Magazine and author of the new book, Theater of War. Following Mr. Lapham, we will have a discussion with a panel of distinguished journalists. They are Alan Bock, senior editorial writer, Orange County Register; Jonathan Marshall, former editorial page editor of the Oakland Tribune; Seth Rosenfeld, staff writer of the San Francisco Chronicle; and Paul Weaver, former Washington bureau chief of Fortune Magazine.

As you well know, there is much to discuss as world events and the prospects of war loom large these days. I will now turn the program to David Theroux so that we can get started. Thank you. [Applause.]

David Theroux

Thank you very much, Suzy. The Independent Institute regularly sponsors the Independent Policy Forum, a series of lectures, debates and seminars held here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We began a series of programs after 9/11 that were intended to examine some of the key issues involved in the conflict and the many, you might say, contentious matters that are at hand. In your printed program, please note that our next event will feature the renowned Pentagon official and whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who will be speaking on “Secrecy, Freedom and Empire: Lessons for Today from Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers,” based on his very important new book entitled, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

In all of our programs, we seek to get beyond Left and Right, and feature speakers who represent their own views, so that we all have a better opportunity to make up our own minds. For those of you who are new to The Independent Institute, we’re a public policy research institute located here in the Bay Area. We sponsor and publish comprehensive studies of major issues and we conduct many conference and media programs based on that. Please also visit our Web site at for further information on our programs, including our books, our quarterly journal. This is a copy of the current issue called The Independent Review, and also we encourage you to subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter called The Lighthouse, which you can do so on the homepage.

James Madison, the master builder of the U.S. Constitution noted that, “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” Indeed, President Bush now calls for a new foreign policy of unlimited, unilateral, and first strike intervention against all countries that might someday threaten U.S. supremacy. While those responsible for 9/11 remain at large, we now face the prospects of a war in Iraq and elsewhere, combined domestically with the Orwellian USA PATRIOT Act, TIPS domestic spying program, Department of Homeland Security, incarcerations without charge or trial, militarized law enforcement and airport security, national ID cards, and growing protectionism and corporate welfare.

Our speaker this evening has long been an insightful critic of human folly, especially that of war and the interest groups who feed off it. This evening we seek to facilitate a better discussion of the U.S. war on terrorism, so I would like to welcome all of our participants, and please hold your applause until I complete the introductions.

A San Francisco native, Lewis Lapham, became editor of Harper’s Magazine in 1971, having worked for the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Herald Tribune. The author of many books, he received the 1995 national magazine award for his Harper’s column, “Notebook.” Mr. Lapham has been the host of two PBS series and, for those who have not seen his new book, it’s called Theater of War—and here’s a copy.

As Suzy mentioned, our panel of journalists includes Alan Bock of the Orange County Register, also a columnist for He’s the author of the books, Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana, The Ecology Action Guide, and Ambush at Ruby Ridge.

Next to him, Jonathan Marshall is former editorial page editor for the Oakland Tribune, the recipient of many awards in journalism. He is the author of numerous books on foreign affairs, including the books, Drug Wars, The Iran-Contra Connection, and Cocaine Politics.

Next to him, Seth Rosenfeld from the San Francisco Chronicle won a landmark 17-year legal battle under the Freedom of Information Act, which forced the F.B.I. to release 200,000 pages of documents about its covert activities at the University of California to disrupt the Free Speech Movement and other activities.

Finally, Paul Weaver has been an editor with Fortune Magazine and The Public Interest, a professor at Harvard University, and a public affairs officer at Ford Motor Company. Among his books are News and the Culture of Lying, and The Suicidal Corporation. Please join me in welcoming our participants. [Applause.]

A couple of quick program format matters before we begin. After the discussion, we’ll have questions from the audience. On the card in your printed program, please simply jot down your question during the presentations and there will be ushers circulating the aisles to pick them up. After the question period, we’ll adjourn also, and Mr. Lapham will be available to autograph his book in the front, outer lobby. Now I’m most pleased to present Lewis Lapham. [Applause.]

Lewis Lapham

Well, I am honored greatly to be here. As you know, I’m from San Francisco, and it gives me great joy to come back to this city and to talk to so many people, so I thank you for coming.

I’ve written, over the last year, quite a lot about our ongoing war against terrorism, and it’s hard to know where to start. It is, of course, a war against an unknown enemy and an abstract noun, and we do know that shortly after 9/11, 2001, Mr. Rumsfeld explained that it was a war that could last for 30 or 40 years, or maybe forever.

It’s a war against all the world’s evildoers. It’s like the War on Drugs, or the War on Poverty, or the War on Lust, or the War on Pride. [Laughter.] It never ends [Laughter.] — from the point of view of Washington. Well, I think one of the things that we’ve learned in the last year or so, has been the distance between the military and foreign policy establishment in Washington, and what we can now call the American street. In other words, I don’t find, despite what the polls say — I never trust the polls anyway — but I don’t find a broad, eager sentiment for the War on Terrorism or for the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. The magazine has dissented over the last 12 months, and our newsstand sale has been going steadily up.

Not a lot of this opinion seems to show up in the mainstream media, and I begin to think that, from the point of view of the military–foreign policy establishment in Washington, the attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon can be seen as a blessing in disguise. No cloud without a silver lining, because consider what has happened. The attack rescued the presidency of George W. Bush. In August of 2001, the economy was beginning to fall into decline. The Republicans had lost control of the Senate. The only accomplishment that Bush had to his credit was the tax cut that benefited a very small and wealthy percentage of the population. The conservative compassion of the campaign of 2000 was looking not very compassionate and it was possible to confuse Bush with an ornament of the American corporate plutocracies, along the lines of a prize fish on a country club wall. [Laughter.]

Within a matter of days after the attack, he is suddenly pronounced the peer of Lincoln and Churchill. [Laughter.] These are the remarks of the Washington Post and the columnists in the New York Times, but also within another six weeks, we have the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, put forward by Ashcroft, who is our attorney general, and who believes, and who has said that, in the United States we have no king but Jesus. [Laughter.]

And he, as you know, he begins his meetings every morning at the Justice Department with people standing around in a circle of prayer, holding hands and singing songs of the attorney general’s own composition [Laughter.]. And these songs are available on the Internet. [Laughter.] I promise you, they are frightening to listen to. But so we have the PATRIOT Act, and I’m sure most of you in this room understand the seizure of police powers on the part of the government, that essentially, the government can now open anybody’s mail, tap anybody’s phone, search anybody’s premises without a warrant. That bill, by the way, passed through both houses of Congress with very few hours of debate. And we’ve also had two reorganizations of the F.B.I. in the last 12 months, with each reorganization improving upon the authoritarian prerogatives implicit in the PATRIOT Act.

The other blessing, of course, has been for the military budget. We now have, with terrorism and terrorists and Hussein, an enemy to take the place of the old Soviet Union. For many years, in my entire memory, the country has been at war. I can remember as a child in San Francisco, World War II. I can remember the ships in the bay, and I can then remember the very quick segue into the Cold War, into the National Security State, into heavier and heavier emphasis on secrecy and on security, more and more money being spent, our greatest store of treasure on our arsenal.

I could say that our greatest art works are our armaments, our missiles. They are the equivalent of the Chartres Cathedral or the Sistine ceiling. We lavish enormous intelligence, imagination, and money on these demonic weapons. I also — as has I’m sure everybody in this room — have lived under the fear, the threat of nuclear annihilation for the last 50-odd years. I remember internalizing that fear during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the missiles were supposedly en route from Cuba.

But again, the whole notion of the country at war, the notion that “war is the health of the state,” a phrase coined by Randolph Bourne in the early part of the century, is true. And now we have the War on Terrorism and the doctrine of preemptive action — forward deterrence — committing us to God knows what kind of military response, at any point in the world.

You could have said that the Soviet Union was as necessary to the American economy as General Motors or Iowa Corn, and it begins to look as if we can say the same thing about the War on Terrorism. But of course, we have to sell it — we can’t say that quite. We can’t say that it is such a naked commercial, or political, or hegemonic purpose, so we have to present it as a crusade. And President Bush has been doing that for a year, drawing the line in the sand between good and evil, an “axis of evil” discovered in the State of the Union address last January — and his language is religious. He sounds almost as if he is a medieval pope [Laughter.] summoning the faithful to, again, a never-ending war with the infidel. And this is backed up in the language of Ashcroft and in the language of quite a few of the people who are close to Rumsfeld and to Cheney in the Defense Department.

And what strikes me is the lack of dissent. We don’t seem to have very many voices in Congress arguing against the juggernaut, or trying to find what the real reasons for our forthcoming invasion of Iraq.

I listened to President Bush’s speech at the U.N. on September 12th and, although I could see that it was persuasive to some of our European allies, and possibly to some of our more friendly Muslim states in the Middle East, certainly, it seemed, it appealed to the editorial writers in The Times and The Post. But I found nothing in the speech convincing or making the argument for war. And then I remembered Donald Rumsfeld at a press conference, NATO press conference, last June in Brussels and he was being asked by some of the European reporters to come up with reasons, or proofs or, “How are we doing with the War on Terrorism?” and so on, and he assured them that there were many reasons, close at hand, top secret, not to be trusted to mere journalists, and then he went on to say that “you have to remember that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” [Laughter.]

So under those rules, the war can last forever and we all can be sent to jail — and I honestly don’t understand why more of the Democrats in Congress aren’t arguing the point or ridiculing some of the positions of the administration. [Laughter.] I am distressed by the contempt with which Rumsfeld and Cheney address, not only the American media, but the American people, and I’m surprised that that doesn’t arouse more anger.

Another example. Two weeks ago, I think it was two weeks ago, at Camp David, Bush was there with Tony Blair of Britain, and he held up a photograph of what purported to be an on-line, nuclear weapons facility in Iraq, and then went on to quote a report by the International Atomic Energy Commission saying that this photograph represented a working facility and was close to, or capable of, making a nuclear bomb. And this was offered in evidence. And within two hours of that demonstration on television, the International Atomic Commission pointed out that the photograph was four years old and that what was attributed to the report by the International Atomic Energy Commission was a complete distortion. The commission had never said that. There was no way that Hussein possessed the means or the capability to make a weapon, and the only report of that contradiction on the part of the International Atomic Energy Commission that I saw was in The Financial Times, a British newspaper. I never saw it in any of the American papers. It may have been there, but I didn’t see it in The Times or in The Washington Post.

So it’s similar to what happened in 1990, during the build-up to the first war against Saddam Hussein. Part of the pretext for the war was the amassing of Iraqi tanks on the border of Saudi Arabia, soon to be unleashed against the oil fields and against Riyadh, and this was one of the reasons for our intervention. A photograph, which was acquired through an independent source, a French satellite imaging company, was acquired by the St. Petersburg Times, and the photograph showed there were no tanks. That photograph appeared only in the St. Petersburg Times. It was offered to the networks, it was offered to the major newspapers, but because it was not a government handout, because it had not been given to them by the Pentagon, they didn’t print it.

And now, of course, we have a media that is largely the entertainment business, and the Pentagon learned one lesson in Vietnam, which was not to let the cameras or the reporters get too close to the news. They could get within five miles posed on the roof — tasteful wardrobe, desert tan, burning buildings in the background — but that was it. And so our news correspondents, the ABC news correspondents, cannot get very close to whatever is going on in Afghanistan. However, ABC is owned by Disney, and Disney hired Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced Top Gun and Black Hawk Down, to make an 18-part series called The War in Afghanistan, and to make it with the assistance of the Pentagon and that would be presented as news on ABC television.

So dissent is essential. Democracy depends on candor. It depends on people saying what they think, what they know, counting on their fellow citizens to respond in kind, that we try to tell each other the truth. That’s what makes democracy work. And I’m afraid that what we’re seeing here, toward the beginning of the twenty-first century, is the decay of the democratic republic and the rise of what the people in Washington like to refer to it as the New American Empire, and you read commentary like that in a neo-conservative press out of the mainstream journals. I have a wonderful quote. This is Charles Krauthammer in Time magazine, and it’s a remark that can be taken as representative of the attitudes in place, and I think representative of the attitudes backing the endless war on terrorism: “America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome. Accordingly, America is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations, and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable demonstrations of will.”

Now that to me is straightforward folly, hubris carried to a point that is tragic, because we do not have that kind of power. And when I’m thinking about dissent, I think of Paine. I mean, dissent has always been hard in this country. It never draws a cheering crowd. It’s not popular.

Paine, as you know, writes the founding document of the American Revolution, Common Sense. Shortly after the Revolutionary War, he goes to England and then he goes to France, takes part in the French Revolution. In England he writes a book called, Rights of Man — and the British aristocracy declare him an outlaw, and he has to flee for his life.

Then he goes to Paris, becomes a member of the French Assembly, and he argues after Louis XVI is in prison and the revolution of Robespierre, arguing the point as to whether or not to execute him, guillotine the king and the queen. And Paine stands up and argues against that. He says, “Look. You had a revolution. The argument is not with the person of the king. The argument is with monarchy. Why don’t you be the first nation in the world to declare null and void the death penalty?”

For that remark he is himself thrown into the Luxembourg prison and placed under the sentence of death by the guillotine, and misses it only by accident, by a few days. I mean, he is scheduled to die on a certain day in August, and the day before he is scheduled to die, the revolution turns against Robespierre, who is himself executed, which saves Paine. But when he comes back to the United States, he is reviled as a blasphemer, because he has written a book calling into question the authority of the Christian religion. And the United States is a very religious country. Was then, is now, which is one of the reasons that Bush has to sell the war, the endless “War Against Terrorism” as a religious crusade.

And John Adams describes Paine as, “An insolent blasphemer of all things sacred and transcendent, libeler of all that is good.” And Paine is not allowed to be buried in the United States in hallowed ground. He’s buried in the equivalent of a ditch in some property in New Rochelle, and throughout the nineteenth century, preachers all over the country would refer to him as “Old Tom,” which was a synonym for the devil. And there came a moment when some of Paine’s admirers wanted to maybe place his head on Mt. Rushmore, and Teddy Roosevelt, who was the head of the commission as to whose head went on Mt. Rushmore, [Laughter.] dismissed Paine as a “dirty little atheist.”

But Paine would have recognized the government now in Washington, I think, as what he was protesting against in Common Sense, a government federalist in its mistrust of freedom. I mean, the passion for secrecy on the part of the administration, and its mistrust of freedom, its mistrust of individuals — which is also evidenced in the USA PATRIOT Act — to me is awful to behold, imperialist in its bluster, evangelical in its worship of property. In the White House, we have a president appointed by the Supreme Court. In the Justice Department, an attorney general that believes that God wrote the Constitution, and in Congress, a corpulent majority that on matters of tax and regulatory policy votes it allegiance to the principles of hereditary succession and class privilege.

I’m just getting started, sorry. [Applause.] And that’s the right time, isn’t it?

Last point, the point is that dissent is always hard. Tocqueville knew that. Twain knew that. There’s a wonderful debate in 1900 in Madison Square Garden between Twain, who is the head of the Anti-Imperialist League, a man in his seventies. He wrote against the Spanish-American War and then against the American occupation of the Philippines, and couldn’t get those writings published during his lifetime because the editors thought they were unsuitable in the time of high and patriotic feeling. And he has this debate that is going on — I wish it were going on more vividly now than it is. In 1900, Twain is arguing what I take to be the democratic position, not for war, not for the American Empire. And on the other side, the best-selling writer of the day, best-selling writer in America in 1900, is Winston Churchill, who was 23 years old. And there’s a debate between these two men, one of them in his seventies and the other in his twenties, and it’s the same argument that we’re now having and it’s the same argument that we had during the Vietnam War. And I just wish there were more of the argument. Thank you. [Applause.]

David Theroux

Thank you, Lewis. We’ll have a chance to speak with Lewis more during the Q&A period. I’d like to start with our panelists. Our first panelist is Alan Bock.

Alan Bock

Thank you, David. Thank you, Lewis, and thank all of you. My goodness, what a wonderful turnout. I bring you greetings from Southern California, where I grew up, and where I still manage to live. I used to hate San Francisco before I ever came in contact with it. It’s one of those North/South kinds of things. But having actually come and visited a number of times over the years, this is such a wonderful place. And, again, we’re seeing the specialness of San Francisco tonight.

A good bit of the discussion of what role, if any, U.S. foreign policy played in the terrorist attacks last September 11th has been bullied out of the marketplace by the contention that any criticism of foreign policy, especially in the wake of 9/11, amounts to being an apologist for terrorism or a knee-jerk, “blame America first” type. “With the country under attack, now is no time to be rehearsing, yet again, the mistakes of the past or undermining our resolve by carping at the commander-in-chief. Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

The admonition not to carp is not consistently applied, however. I’ve heard a number of commentators given media time to lament the weakness and irresolution of the Clinton years, when the commander-in-chief, distracted by Monica, impeachment and everything else, fired missiles randomly and insufficiently, passed up several chances to nab Osama bin Laden on a silver platter. “If only our foreign policy had been more resolute, then maybe September 11th might never have happened.”

So apparently, it is fair game to criticize U.S. foreign policy and harp on the past. Fine! But let’s have criticism and backbiting from as many angles as possible. And I think we’ve had not enough different angles, so let’s get that game going.

Suggesting, as I will, that U.S. foreign policy and its intrusive interventionist character was a contributing factor to the terror attacks, is not an apology for terrorism. Even if al-Qaeda’s cause were as just and pure as, say, Woodrow Wilson’s, nothing could justify that kind of deliberate attack on innocents who had nothing to do with creating your real or imagined grievances. But, if we really want to reduce our vulnerability to terrorism, surely it can’t be out of bounds to try to understand the rage, madness, twisted ideas, or whatever it is that motivated these terrorists. [Applause.]

If we discover, as we will, that U.S. foreign policy contributed to that rage, we might decide not to change it. Life’s full of trade-offs. We might just decide that an attack on the World Trade Center every so often is a reasonable price to pay for being acknowledged as the sole superpower and the bringer of truth and enlightenment to the dark places of the earth where democracy has not yet triumphed. But at least we should discuss those risks and benefits openly and acknowledge that there are both risks and benefits to our policies.

I don’t know whether 9/11 can be classified strictly as blowback, the apparently C.I.A.-originated term that Chalmers Johnson, a professor emeritus at University of California, used to title his latest book. (And, incidentally, I went down and had lunch with him at his place down north of San Diego. What a delightful man.) But blowback is the unexpected, uninvited, negative aspects of an operation. And every operation has them, even the best planned and most successful have negative aspects to them, and sometimes they blow up right in your face.

But there is, at least, evidence of what motivated Osama Bin Laden. In statements prior to 9/11, he specifically listed the presence of U.S. troops and bases in the land containing Mecca and other holy Islamic places as one of his grievances. Now whether it was a real motivator or a pretext, I don’t think you could probably know without extensive psychological analysis, but it’s got to be significant that he mentioned it, so it ought to be worthy of some kind of discussion.

We know and had known that U.S. policy toward Israel — which I’m not as critical of as some people; I think it’s sort of support with “kvetching” — we know that it angers a lot of Muslims. The U.S. has troops in more then 130 countries and interests everywhere.

It may be unfair that others resent us and it is undoubtedly true that resentment is stirred up and manipulated by ambitious and unscrupulous opportunists, but fair or not, those resentments are there and are not likely to disappear. They’re part of the price of empire, hegemony, success, desire to share the benefits of your way of life, or whatever you want to call it, to describe America’s place in the world. Any reflective media person should know this.

It turns out, for example, as the Cato Institute pointed out in a couple of policy studies published prior to 9/11, which were, in turn, based on Department of Defense studies, that the presence of heavy concentrations of American positions, troops, or activity in some part of the world is closely correlated to increased terrorist activities. Now, that may not prove causality, but it’s kind of interesting. And it’s hardly a surprise. The presence of a foreign power, even a perfectly benevolent one, will breed local resentment. The Defense Department knew this intuitively. They studied it to try to get a handle on it. If we acknowledge that a foreign policy of intervention, preemption, or preventive war and nation-building carries risks as well as benefits, we’ll be in a better position to develop intelligent policies based on realistic information rather than theories and dreams.

A few years ago, political science professor James Kurth of Swarthmore College wrote a piece — I think it was in The National Interest — characterizing empires, using the categories of the age and qualities of the people they venerated. For example, he noted that the Roman Empire venerated the young, bold warrior — maybe in his late 20s or early 30s — whereas the Austro-Hungarian Empire venerated the guy with the white beard who had lived a number of years and accumulated experience and wisdom. You see all these portraits of these Austro-Hungarians with the silver hair and the great long beards. And he then characterized America as the adolescent empire, not just because we haven’t been at this empire business very long, but because we’re a culture obsessed with youth and beauty. We make Britney Spears and ‘N Sync enormously wealthy, and we want aging rock stars to sound just like they did “back in the day.” Unfortunately, our attention span in foreign affairs is about as long as that of somebody who is already bored with Britney and is searching aimlessly for the next big thing.

Now, that might not be a terrible thing to say about Americans. We are kind of self-obsessed, and we’re remarkably innocent. But on the whole, we kind of think of ourselves as benevolent and well intentioned, and outside of the narrow coterie of foreign policy professionals and defense intellectuals, whatever that term might describe. We don’t have the slightest interest in running an empire or telling the rest of the world what to do. We want to refinance our house, or get it decorated, or get the next big job, or follow our own enthusiasms rather than worrying about what some resentful loser on the other side of the world wants to do to you and yours because of what our leaders have been doing in our name.

Well, I think it may be time for us to take enough interest in foreign affairs to derail that small band of would-be world-fixers who are running things now and seem intent on getting us into more wars. Thank you. [Applause.]

David Theroux

Our next panelist is Jonathan Marshall. [Applause.]

Johnathan Marshall

Thank you very much. As I was considering what to say about the War on Terrorism, the title of tonight’s discussion, I realized the whole topic is actually passé. It has been since Bush gave his State of the Union address early this year and announced that the real issue was the “axis of evil.” And, of course, the War on Terrorism is now being relegated to the footnotes, except for our occasional anniversary memorials. The real issue, of course, today is Iraq, and soon to be Iran, North Korea, and whatever other country gets on the list of the axis of evil.

A couple of Bush’s admirers, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, writing in The Weekly Standard, a leading conservative magazine, lauded the administration for it’s expansive, new American foreign policy, a paradigm shift equal to the inauguration of anti-Communist containment. They said Bush has taken the War on Terrorism beyond a police action and transformed it into a campaign to uproot dangerous tyrannies and encourage democracy, making the world much safer for free peoples. So you can imagine where all of that will lead.

The chosen instrument of this new expansive policy that they are lauding, which goes far beyond the War on Terrorism, is what is so benignly called “regime change,” a nicely antiseptic term that we will soon be practicing on Iraq. I wanted to spend just a few minutes looking at the historical record — which unfortunately, most of the media have been wont to do — because regime change is not a new aspect of American foreign policy. It’s one that’s been going on — Lewis mentioned the intervention in the Philippines. You can go back even longer than that. But specifically looking at the Middle East, which is the focus of attention now, I thought it would be instructive to look at a few examples of regime change.

Our current target, Iraq, has tasted this medicine before — twice, in fact, with very interesting results. The first time was in 1963, when the C.I.A. station in Baghdad helped orchestrate a coup against the reigning general and put in a new group, including members of the Ba’ath Party who had been biding their time in Egypt. And they succeeded, with C.I.A. help, in overthrowing the government. The C.I.A. then handed over a list of people who were later killed by the new regime, and one of the people that was brought to power, who was a young member of the Ba’ath Party, was Saddam Hussein — brought to you by the C.I.A..

Several years of domestic turmoil passed and there was a second coup in 1968, also brought about with C.I.A. help. This time the Ba’ath Party was brought completely to power and the deputy in charge of the new regime was Saddam Hussein. In 1979 he took full charge as dictator of the country, and as you know, within two years he was the new darling of the Reagan-Bush I administration. Having invaded Iran in 1980, taking on America’s new enemy, the country that had, of course, seized the American embassy and was now spawning an Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East.

And as you probably know, the Reagan-Bush administration gave the Iraqi regime about a billion and a half dollars in credits to buy high-tech equipment, including weapons, gave them top-secret satellite imaging to help them wage their war against Iran, and even gave export licenses for the shipment of nearly two dozen shipments of anthrax, along with botulin toxin and other nice products that, no doubt, he put to good use.

The reason that Washington in that time was in bed with Saddam Hussein was that we were trying to rectify the damage that had been done in Iran, which, as I mentioned, as you all know, was the new American enemy.

The damage done there was also a product of regime change. In 1953 when the democratically re-elected government of Mossadeq had, a couple of years earlier, nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the British came to the United States saying, “This is unacceptable.” And jointly, British intelligence and the C.I.A. waged Operation Ajax, which was then long considered a great success story for the C.I.A., overthrew Mossadeq and put the Shah back on the throne.

The Shah, as you know, proceeded to kill thousands of people, throw tens of thousands into jail, spend and squander most of the country’s oil money on buying U.S. and European arms, until finally an underground led by a group of radical clerics, among them the Ayatollah Khomeini managed to win enough popular support to overthrow the Shah in 1979, delivering this vast new problem under America’s doorstep. So that was regime change number two or number three, if you count both Iraqi regime changes earlier.

The Iranian revolution spawned all of the modern examples of militant, political Islam that we’re seeing around much of the world, especially in the Middle East and South Asia. One of the places that was infected by the bug was Afghanistan. In 1979, Afghanistan was ruled by a secular regime, which was showing increasing pro-Soviet tendencies, and among other policies that the regime was conducting, were policies of land reform, opium suppression, and women’s rights, along with their pro-Soviet tilt in foreign policy.

The Carter administration approved in the summer of 1979 a program of secret assistance to the newly formed Mujahadeen, basically a group of ultra-conservative, rural groups, some of them warlords and others, who resented the central government’s modernizing tendencies. And as a State Department memo that summer said, “The United States’ larger interest would be served by the demise of the regime, despite whatever set-backs this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the government would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviet’s view of the socialist course of history being inevitable is not accurate.”

So as former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski has admitted, C.I.A. assistance started long before the invasion of Afghanistan, and indeed, was designed, in part, to provoke such an invasion. Brzezinski proudly told French interviewers three or four years ago that he was trying to provoke such an invasion so that the Soviets would have their own Vietnam, and to this day, he’s proud of that. He thinks that was a great victory.

Well, as we all know, in trying to create a Soviet Vietnam, the United States armed, trained, and supplied the new Mujahadeen — who were, of course, Islamic fundamentalists, many of them subscribing to the most militant sects of Islam promoted by extreme Saudi clerics. With Saudi support and support from Pakistani military intelligence, the C.I.A. supported a program of bringing in Muslim revolutionaries from all over the world to help with this revolt against the government of Afghanistan to create regime change. Ultimately, as many as 100,000 Muslims from around the world were brought into contact with this effort, and one of these, of course, was Osama bin Laden, who, in fact, headed some of the key houses where these Muslims were brought.

Well, today, of course, we’re paying the price. In Afghanistan, we’re still bogged down with no end in site and trying to repair the country that we helped tear apart. The two other countries I mentioned, where we did regime change, are now two of the three members of the axis of evil. And Iraq is preparing to take its third dose of regime-change medicine. I think it’s time we wake up and recognize, not only the tremendous human cost in the region itself, of policies that we’ve been conducting for years of regime change, but also the tremendous cost to the United States itself of such incredibly shortsighted and counter-productive policy. Thank you. [Applause.]

David Theroux

Thank you, Jonathan. Our next speaker is Seth Rosenfeld.

Seth Rosenfeld

Thank you very much. I am very honored to be here tonight with this panel before all of you to talk about these issues.

Attorney General John Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee last December, “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of last liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they only erode national unity and diminish out reslove.”

Does that mean we’re all under arrest? [Laughter] Seriously though, the purpose tonight is not to scare anybody. The purpose tonight is to discuss important issues, and I start from the premise that the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. have absolutely critical roles to play in protecting America. And from covering law enforcement for 20 years, I know these agencies are made up of very dedicated, hard-working people, and they deserve the tools they need and they deserve our support.

The purpose here is to ask reasonable and constructive questions that will ultimately give us the information that we need for informed decision-making and so make our nation stronger. These are questions that come straight from the smoking craters of the World Trade Center, from the air conditioned, top-secret, compartmented halls of the C.I.A., and from the elected chambers of Congress.

Consider the following. Since September 11th, the Bush administration and Congress have dramatically increased the government’s power to investigate and detain citizens and non-citizens without the standard constitutional protections. At the same time, the administration has imposed unprecedented secrecy, making it more difficult for Congress, the courts, and citizens to hold the government accountable. This is despite increasing evidence — including evidence this week and last week from Congress — that the federal intelligence agencies failed to properly respond to an astonishing number of indications that the al-Qaeda terrorists were plotting against America in the years leading up to September 11th. This is also despite past intelligence agency abuses, such as the F.B.I.’s campaign in the 1960s to get University of California President Clark Kerr fired, as recently disclosed in San Francisco Chronicle.

The USA PATRIOT Act — that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. [Laughter.] That’s a really nifty acronym for a piece of legislation that’s 343 pages long and amends more than 15 different laws. It was hastily approved by Congress and signed by President Bush on October 26th after little debate. Yet it is one of the biggest expansions of police powers in decades. Some examples of the government’s expanded powers under the act: F.B.I. agents may request business records, which could include library, bookstore, and subscription records, and possibly reporters unpublished and confidential notes when agents believe the information may be relevant to a terrorism investigation.

The person whose records are sought need not be a target of the investigation, and the library, bookstore, or publication that receives the court order is barred from even disclosing it. The act modifies the Bank Secrecy Act to require financial institutions to more closely track suspicious transactions and share reports about them, upon request, with government agencies, including the C.I.A.. The law also grants federal agents secret access to personal credit reports.

The act boosts the F.B.I.’s power to trace Internet traffic and collect electronic address and routing information that shows what Web sites law-abiding citizens are visiting. Agents need only certify to a court that the information is “relevant” to an ongoing criminal investigation.

The act also makes it easier for the F.B.I. to use wiretaps, bugs, and break-ins to gather intelligence about U.S. citizens by lowering the standard to get such warrants from the Secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

And finally, the act is harshest on immigrants. According to David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, the law allows the government to exclude aliens based solely on political views, deport them based on innocent political associations, and detain them on the attorney general’s say so.

Of course, the Justice Department has also proposed Operation TIPS, which would have used postal and utility workers to report suspicious activity inside people’s homes, but this plan brought so much criticism from Congress that the department has scaled it back, although it still plans to proceed with it.

Meanwhile, there is the increasing evidence that the previous laws, laws already on the books, that enable the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. to gather a huge amount of clues, indicated that bin Laden was targeting the United States.

Now, there is no evidence that the agencies knew specifically about the September 11th attacks, but there is substantial evidence suggesting that the agencies failed to properly respond to the clues showing the nation should have been more on guard. The Bush Administration has refused to say exactly what it knew before the attacks, and all this raises the question of whether the intelligence agencies truly needed such vastly expanded powers as provided by the PATRIOT Act and other measures.

At the same time, the administration has expanded powers and more billions of dollars to pursue terrorists. The Administration is closing down public scrutiny and reducing the possibility of accountability. Ashcroft has refused to fully reply to questions from the House Judiciary Committee about how it is using the PATRIOT Act even though the committee has primary responsibility for oversight of the Justice Department.

And not long after the terrorist attacks, President Bush issued an executive order that will keep secret papers of former presidents that were supposed to be made public under the 1978 Presidential Records Act. The Administration claims that the order will help protect national security, but some historians are concerned that President Bush is seeking to hide embarrassing information about administration officials who previously worked for his father or for President Regan.

Also last year, Attorney General Ashcroft issued a memo to all federal agencies saying the Justice Department would defend in court all decisions to deny Freedom of Information Act requests if there was any sound legal basis for withholding information. This reverses Attorney General Janet Reno’s policy, which required agencies to use their discretion to release information whenever there was no foreseeable damage. Critics believe the Ashcroft policy will encourage needless secrecy and potentially expensive litigation.

Here in the Bay Area, we have seen how a concentration of secrecy and intelligence powers can go awry during times of great international tension. During World War II and the Cold War, the nation granted the F.B.I. expanded powers to protect against spies and saboteurs, but the F.B.I. misused this power.

On June 9th, The Chronicle reported that thousands of pages of F.B.I. documents, obtained only after a 17-year legal fight, showed that in the 1960s the bureau engaged in wide-ranging and unlawful intelligence activities at the University of California. The F.B.I. did not want to release those documents. It claimed in court that the disclosure of the records was not in the public interest, that the information had to remain secret to protect law enforcement and national security. But five federal judges ordered the F.B.I. to release them, concluding the F.B.I. had engaged in unlawful spying.

Some of the documents show that the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. conspired to pressure U.C.’s governing board of regents to harass faculty and students involved in dissent, misled the White House. The F.B.I. misled the White House by sending President Lyndon Johnson allegations that U.C. President Clark Kerr had engaged in disloyal activity, even though the F.B.I. had previously investigated these allegations and found them false. The F.B.I. mounted a concerted campaign to get Kerr fired, a court found, because it disagreed with his campus policies and political views, even thought there was never any evidence that he was disloyal.

In a particularly ironic episode, an optional essay question on U.C.’s English aptitude test for high school applicants in 1959 asked, “What are the dangers to a democracy of a national police organization, like the F.B.I., which operates secretly and is unresponsive to public criticism?” Well, when J. Edgar Hoover heard this question, he hit the roof. He ordered [Laughter.] — he ordered his agents to mount what was, essentially, a covert public relations campaign intended to embarrass the university, and which forced the university to retract the question and apologize to the F.B.I..

But Hoover wasn’t satisfied. He ordered agents to check the backgrounds of all 6,000 professors and staff members of U.C. around the state. The result was a 60-page report. Among its findings: 72 faculty member and students were listed in the Bureau’s Secret Security Index, a list of people whom the F.B.I. considered potentially dangerous to national security during a crisis, and who would be detained indefinitely without judicial warrant.

The report also found that 141 professors had committed miscellaneous misdeeds such as writing a play that glorified the Chinese Communist Army. Fifty-four professors or their family members subscribed or contributed to publications that the F.B.I. deemed subversive, and 22 professors has been involved in “illicit love affairs, homosexuality, sexual perversion, excessive drinking, or other instances of conduct reflecting mental instability.”

After The Chronicle story appeared, Senator Feinstein asked the F.B.I. to respond. She wanted to know, “Does the F.B.I. still keep a list of citizens to be detained in the event of a national emergency?” The F.B.I. has yet to respond, and that leaves us wondering whether 17 years from now, we’ll be waiting to find out what the government is up to today. [Applause.]

David Theroux

Thank you, Seth. Our final panelist is Paul Weaver. [Applause.]

Paul Weaver

My assignment tonight is to say something about the media. And instead of talking about the media as institutions and relating them to foreign policy the way other people already have done, I thought I would talk a little bit about Lewis Lapham and the media. [Laughter and applause.] And that in itself is already a big subject.

Lewis has hinted at the fact that he was editor of Harper’s at a young age in the 1970s, and then he lost Harper’s and he got it back again in a dramatic turnabout of affairs. Lewis is a journalist, of course. You read him all the time in Harper’s every month, and now he has his latest book, mostly a collection of Harper’s columns and essays, which I recommend to you, and which I would like to give you a kind of reader’s guide to, and in the course of that, say a few words about Lewis Lapham and journalism and Lewis Lapham the journalist.

Journalism, I will define, borrowing from one of the James brothers — I can never remember which one. “Journalism is criticism of the moment at the moment.” It’s a very good definition. And it covers a very broad range of activity. There are lots of different kinds of journalists and lots of different divisions within the world of journalism. And one of the most basic of these is the division between editors and reporters and the equivalent in television and radio.

Lewis, clearly, is an editor. And if you want to understand his book and understand and appreciate his writing and his lecture this evening, it helps, I think, to realize that Lewis is an editor.

Now, an editor is defined by the fact that he has two main roles or functions in this world. One is to have lunch and the other is to define reality. [Laughter.] Now, you may think that that’s at once too light and too heavy for anyone person to do, let alone an editor, but actually, every editor does both of those things and, above all, does those two things.

They really do do a lot of their useful work going to lunch, chatting with authors and learning from them, but also sharing with them their view of the world. And that gets us to the second role of an editor, which is defining reality.

Modern scholarship of the media often defines the editor as a gatekeeper and his function is that of gate keeping — sort of letting fish up the fish ladder or not up the fish ladder — but that’s a very poor and limited definition of what an editor does. An editor controls. The editor controls everything in his publication, what it looks like, how long it is, who is in it, what subjects are covered, what subjects are not covered, who will be allowed in, who won’t, whose name won’t be allowed to be mentioned. Every nuance of every sentence is considered and validated by the editor and, if he doesn’t like it, he changes it. Editors are totally in control in the world of journalism, and Lewis is very much. I think you can see that in his writing.

So, as a writer then, what is Lewis like? Well, I would say he’s very much like an editor in his writing. By this I mean two or three different things.

First, there’s an amazing variety of disparate materials in a typical Lapham sentence or paragraph, and certainly in a typical Lapham page. There will be memories of his childhood in San Francisco growing up, looking out over the San Francisco Bay and seeing the navy ships at anchor during World War II. And three lines away from that there will be a brief summary of what Thucydides said. [Laughter.] And not far from that, there will be some report of a news story, according to The Associated Press, published three years ago on an obscure subject having to do with East Asia or American foreign policy. And then there will be flashbacks to 5th Avenue parties that he has been to. [Laughter.] And then back again to Thucydides or Aristotle. [Laughter.]

This somewhat unusual and exotic soufflé is actually very typical of editors. They learn through a variety of ways, and they have all these different sources of learning at their fingertips at all times. And they’re very personal. It’s a very solipsistic world in some sense. What unifies it is only the fact that it has all passed through and into his mind.

Now another related aspect of an editor, when he writes, is to be found in the fact that he doesn’t labor very heavily at any one point. Editors write in sort of flits, gracefully from one point to another point, from one bit of evidence to another memory, and back again. It all often hangs together, if he’s a good editor and writer, or if he has a good editor. [Laughter.] But you wouldn’t want to accuse this person of burning the midnight oil. His writing doesn’t reek of learned tomes gone through for hours, for weeks, for months, for years on end. Quite the contrary. There’s a kind of soufflé-like quality to the writing.

And a third point — and this is very interesting in Lewis’ writing — there’s a certain auteur, a certain air of — an unfriendly way to put it would be sometimes pompous, sometimes condescending, sometimes comic, but always tutelary and a little formal. There’s an air of that in much of his writing.

Now, to some extent, Lewis clearly aspires to write in a somewhat comic vein, and I actually think that there’s a close parallel between him and Mark Twain, but I won’t get into that, and at other times, he’s more scholarly, and I hear echoes of Henry Adams in Lewis’ writing and even poor Melville. [Laughter.] But, above all, I would simply say he writes like an editor. An editor knows the world is in need of his guidance and tutelage, and you can tell that in Lewis’s deft, amusing, interesting, informative, but tutelary writing.

Now, what is Lewis’ view of the world? Well, you might guess, or some people might guess, given his views expressed on foreign policy, for example, that he has left-wing affinities in his politics. Others, especially others who read him 20 or 30 years ago, imagine that he was a conservative, but actually he’s neither of those and never has been. Lewis is a Constitutionalist. That is to say he looks at the world sort of the way the Founding Fathers looked at their world. And what makes him weird, of course, is that the world has really changed a lot since the Founding Fathers were around. [Laughter.] But never mind. That doesn’t mean that the way Lewis looks at our world isn’t right. In fact, I think it is right. Without belaboring it too much, I would connect Lewis’s sort of Founding Fathers’ classical, almost ancient view of our modern world to the fact that he is a journalist.

In the book — and this is one of the best passages in the book — he tells the story of how he came back from the grand tour of Europe in 1957, or whenever, and realized that he had to get a job. And so he interviewed at three places. One was the White House, one was the Washington Post and one was the C.I.A.. And he got an interview at the C.I.A. and for this interview, he’d prepared. He’d read his Thucydides and boned up on the English monarchy succession and gone prepared to discuss high and historical matters of weighty importance for the new world power.

And instead he was asked three questions, the most important of which was, “Does Muffy Hamilton wear a slip?” Muffy Hamilton being, apparently, a girl much dated by Yalies in the mid ‘50s. So Lewis was horrified by this and instead he became a journalist [Laughter, applause], by which I mean really he committed himself to a line of work in which you are committing yourself to looking at the world from the viewpoint of more or less, ordinary citizen. A journalist doesn’t have any special expertise, doesn’t have any special authority.

He looks at the world with the authority of the ordinary, the amateur citizen, and he looks at the world, therefore, from the perspective of ordinary, everyday life, which is a perspective that has both moral and practical concerns blended in a complex way. And that’s why I think his voice is so valuable, and that’s why I hope you will all read him again soon, and with that, I will stop. [Applause.]

David Theroux — Question #1

Thank you very much, Paul. We have many questions, and so I will begin, and I’ll address the questions to the individual participants as we proceed. I’ll start with Lewis. The first question is, “If you were president, what would you do?”

Lewis Lapham

I’m just glad I’m not president. I’m the amateur citizen, as Paul Weaver just said, and I have no idea what I would do if I were president. I would be seeing the situation from a completely different perspective, and presumably, with a lot better information.

David TherouxQuestion #2
Second question, also for Lewis, is, “What was your opinion of Al Gore’s speech?”

Lewis Lapham

You mean the recent speech?

David Theroux


Lewis Lapham

I didn’t hear Al Gore’s recent speech, so I don’t have an opinion.

David Theroux

Al Gore gave a speech yesterday in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club that was, basically, calling into question many of the issues that the panel was raising.

Lewis Lapham

Well, I’m at a disadvantage because I didn’t hear it and I didn’t read it this morning, so I don’t know what to say.

David Theroux —Question #3
A question for the entire panel is, “What should we make of homeland security?” You want to start with Alan?

Alan Bock

I think it has such a Mussolinian sound to it, doesn’t it? [Applause.] You know, we’re on guard in the homeland, and we will make it secure from evil thoughts, and witches, and wizards, and other things that go bump in the night, and if the things that are bumping in the night are phantoms across the world, then we’ll, you know, sort of mold and exaggerate our perception of them.

You know, they failed on 9/11. These guys are the ones that were supposed to be protecting us, and instead of any heads rolling, they all got promoted and reshuffled around on the deck of the Titanic. That’s absurd. [Applause.]

Johnathan Marshall

Homeland security means, for me, mostly a new form of color-coding of our daily security, and I’m at a disadvantage because I’m color blind, so I can’t tell.

Seth Rosenfeld

Well, I guess homeland security gets back to how you define security and whose security it is, and that should be open to debate.

Paul Weaver

I guess I have two thoughts. First, when you look at its origin and the way it began, it was pretty clearly an exercise in media politics. The White House needed to do something, to put out an image of doing something fast and dramatic, and this looks fast. It was fast and it looks dramatic. So, on the one hand, I want to say it looks like a pretty much empty gesture.

On the other hand, let’s not underestimate what happens in Washington. They make all these dramatic and somewhat empty gestures, but real money and real power are eventually assembled in their names, and then someone gets his hands on the power and the money, and turns it to some objective, often not the one originally intended. So I don’t think we really know what homeland security in practice is going to mean, but it could mean something significant. We don’t know what it is. It might not be good. [Applause.]

David Theroux — Question #4

Our next question is also for the panel and the question is, “How can we deter future terrorists?” Alan?

Alan Bock

Well, let’s see. I mentioned rethinking American foreign policy, and I wrote at the time that we never should have sent the troops into Saudi Arabia in the first place. [Applause.] And we should have taken them out, not because Osama Bin Laden was kvetching about them, but because they didn’t serve American interests. And we need to reassess American interests and what they really are, and whether some of the things that we’ve been doing for years and years and decades — all those bases in Germany and South Korea and Okinawa, I mean, are they helping us to deter terrorism or are they stirring it up? The questions need to be asked — and get spread out. They like decentralized things, so the more we decentralize America, the better we are.

Johnathan Marshall

I think, first of all, we recognize that terrorism is a crime. It’s not something you wage war against. You wage concerted, organized, and cooperative police action against it, which means you try to maintain international cooperation, rather than shifting the whole subject towards regime change and getting the rest of the world mad at you.

Secondly, as many of us have pointed out, you rethink policies that are counterproductive in that they don’t achieve any of your core values, but do anger millions of people around the world, and thus lend aid and comfort to terrorists, whatever their particular motives may be.

And you don’t finally deter terrorists, necessarily. You do fight them, but you fight them wisely.

I might just make one other point, which is, if you notice where the huge increases in the military budget are coming, many of them are coming in things like new Stealth bombers, and weapons for fighting a new Cold War that have nothing at all to do with the alleged threat out there. And so, finally, you don’t waste precious national resources on threats that are irrelevant to the problem at hand. [Applause.]

Seth Rosenfeld

Well, certainly through a fair and equitable foreign policy that doesn’t seek to topple other people’s government and lead to blowback. Perhaps a certain amount of terrorism is unavoidable, and in those cases, we can protect against it through well trained, well funded and accountable law enforcement agencies.

It really comes as no surprise that the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. don’t have informants in the Middle East. They don’t have an adequate number of translators. If you’ve been covering federal courts over the years, you know that the F.B.I. doesn’t even have enough translators to transcribe tapes in mob cases, or organized-crime cases involving crime groups in different countries. So that’s something that could have been fixed a long time ago.

Paul Weaver

I don’t know about terrorists or terrorism, but we certainly were attacked by a group of specific terrorists, and that problem we should be doing something about. We should be responding. You can’t stand by and be attacked, just as the police department can’t stand by when people are murdering folks on the street. So that’s the part of the response that I think is important, and I’d like to see it done more aggressively — and with better focus. [Applause.]

David Theroux — Question #5

A question for Lewis. “Why do you think there’s more opposition in the British Parliament and public than here?”

Lewis Lapham

I think there’s more a tradition of political argument and dissent in England. De Tocqueville, when he comes to the United States in the 1830s, is surprised at how reluctant the Americans were to engage in free expression. I mean, they had it in their Constitution, but in practice they were often afraid of going against what he referred to as the tyranny of the majority. And I find the same thing here.

And when you look at the question period on C-SPAN in the Parliament, you see the rather fierce exchange of idea and opinion between the members of Parliament, and you don’t usually see that in our Congress, and you don’t really see it in our press either. And I would attribute it to our sometimes being too sensitive, not wanting to hurt each other’s feelings. And on September 11th [2002] when they were doing the Remembrance Day in New York, that was the theme of the whole day. Everybody must be made to feel comfortable. And we tend to do that. I once had a television show, and I’d have guests and panelists who would say that they would come on and want to argue with each other on some point, and in the Green Room they’d be very fierce in what they were going to say, and then when they got out in front of the camera, they all became very polite and circumspect. I just think it may be a national trait.

David Theroux — Question #6

A follow-up question in reference to the quote that you had from Krauthammer, the questioner asks, “How close do you think we are to the Lord Acton quote, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’?”

Lewis Lapham

Well, I think Acton is right, and I think power does corrupt. We get these naïve notions of Krauthammer — the sense that we can do as we will with the world. I mean, you read some of the policy institute papers that back up the neo-conservative foreign-policy positions, and people talk very blithely. I read one a couple of months ago where the people were sitting around a conference table in Washington and thinking that maybe they would drop an atomic bomb on Afghanistan — not for any specific military objective, but just to demonstrate to Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt and other countries in the Middle East what sort of thing could be done.

I mean, it was a very fantastic discussion and that, to me, is a form of corruption, when you get divorced from reality and think that you can do as you will, without some form of international cooperation, or some understanding of other people. [Applause.]

David Theroux —Question #7

Another question for the panel is, “What’s the relationship of oil to this issue?” [Applause.]

Alan Bock

I’m not going to say much. I think there’s some relationship. [Laughter.] What strikes me is that we talk about cheap Middle Eastern oil, and we never count the cost of all the military forces that are deployed in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. [Applause.] Years ago I did a column that tried to estimate all those costs, and what a gallon of oil or a barrel or oil would cost in those terms, and I can’t remember the numbers, but it’s a fantastic number, if you take all the costs into account. So it can’t possibly be for cheap oil, because the oil is not cheap, and it’s about to get a whole lot more expensive. So I must say that I’m kind of mystified. I think it’s a power game in which oil is a tool, but I’m not sure oil is the big thing.

Johnathan Marshall

Well, in 1991, you may remember, President Bush senior, at one point, was asked about why we needed to go to war and he said, basically, it was to protect our vital oil supplies. Very quickly he changed tune and said we were just intervening against Iraq to preserve democracy in that part of the world. [Laughter.] From that point on, we stopped talking about anything as concrete or as messy as oil.

But, sure, oil is a big factor. It has been from day one in our policy in the Middle East going back to the 1940s. I mentioned the coup that we sponsored in 1953 in Iran, following the government’s nationalization of the foreign oil consortium. The following year, the State Department oversaw the reorganization of a new, private, foreign oil consortium in which the United States had a very large interest. The 1963 coup in Iraq followed that government’s partial nationalization of foreign oil consortia.

It’s been a huge interest to the United States. It’s been a huge interest in recent years, as the United States has played a huge chess game trying to dictate the laying of oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea and from various countries in the former Soviet Union, all over South Asia. There was a period of several years when the United States supported the Taliban regime because it was considering an oil pipeline that would go through Afghanistan, to be built by Unocal. And the current member of the National Security Council who is the expert on Afghanistan was Unocal’s Afghan representative and lobbyist on that pipeline project.

So, yes, oil is a very important factor. The reasons are complex. Even if the cost of acquiring the oil exceeds the value of the oil, as Alan put it, there are particular interest groups who benefit from access to that oil, who have a disproportionate impact on our foreign policy, so they socialize the cost of getting that oil and they privatize the benefits. [Applause.]

Seth Rosenfeld

Well, to the extent that oil is a factor in our foreign policy — and perhaps a negative factor — it does raise a question that is not discussed very much anymore, which is, “What is the country doing to make itself less dependent on oil?” [Applause.]

Paul Weaver

And I would add only the thought that mostly what we’re talking about is cheap oil. Remember, in America a gallon of gasoline costs well under two dollars. Everywhere else in the world, it costs two, three times that much. And a lot of our diplomacy is aimed not at stabilizing supplies of necessary oil, but at making sure that we can drive enormous SUVs for a tiny fraction of what we probably really ought to be paying to run them.

That’s the part of this that troubles me more than that we’re defending national interests in oil — that, it seems to me, is an appropriate aim of policy. But defending really cheap gas — that’s dumb. [Applause.]

David Theroux — Question #8

A question for Lewis is, “Is President Bush using the military focus of the United States to carry out a family vendetta against Iraq?”

Lewis Lapham

I don’t know the answer to that question; you can’t read into the head of Bush. I’m told by people that know him that there is a vengeful streak in him, that he genuinely feels that Hussein is a villain who must be destroyed, and apparently, there is an angry hatred of Hussein, but where that comes from, I don’t know. I don’t know whether his father gave it to him. I don’t know how he comes by that. I don’t trust the kind of journalism or history that reads into other people’s heads.

I do think that Bush is a true believer, like Ashcroft. And they are both equipped with a messianic spirit, which I think is dangerous no matter where it shows up, whether it shows up on the side of an Arab jihadist or an American evangelist. I’m always wary of that messianic spirit. [Applause.] I think Cheney and Rumsfeld are cynical. [Applause.] Wolfowitz, I don’t know. Wolfowitz seems to me to be a zealot of some form with — I won’t say crazed idea — but some visionary notion that I think is probably very unrealistic. I’m not sure what the basis of the unreality is.

David Theroux —Question #9

A question for Jonathan Marshall is, “Isn’t mass retaliation against one’s enemies the only course to take?”

Johnathan Marshall

I guess it depends on what the enemy has done and who the enemy is. If there’s an enemy that’s identifiable and threatening your life or the life of your country, potentially so. But first of all, I think it’s incumbent upon us — and certainly part of all the rules of war that we claim to subscribe to — that we not massively retaliate against the entire civilian population of a country, so that we try to narrowly target our force and use force only when truly necessary.

I think the grave danger of the new Bush foreign policy is its messianic thrust. There’s a great many conservative realists — people like Brent Scowcroft, even Henry Kissinger, who are not exactly liberals — who have warned against this notion of preventive strikes against real and imagined potential future dangers. As they pointed out, if every country started practicing this kind of foreign policy, it would be deadly anarchy. It would be kind of a worldwide bloodbath. This is a radical foreign policy that’s being engaged in, not a conservative foreign policy. And I think we’re going out in search of enemies, rather than really trying to protect true national security. [Applause.]

David Theroux — Question #10

A related follow-up question for Jonathan is, “What actually is the story about nuclear weapons in Iraq?”

Johnathan Marshall

I’m really not an expert on that. I gather that both the report that Tony Blair released today in Parliament, from his own intelligence sources, and the recent report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, both concluded that this is not a prime threat. The big problem for Iraq is getting fissile material, i.e., uranium or plutonium that’s processed. And because they don’t have a reactor, and apparently have been unable to acquire this in large enough quantities, most experts that I’ve read and know about don’t think that this is an imminent threat.

It doesn’t mean that if he did get it, he probably could put a bomb together fairly fast. He probably wouldn’t be able to deliver it by a missile anyplace of consequence. But, of course, despite our billions of dollars spent on missile defense, the real problem today is that you could bring a weapon in a freighter and blow it up in New York Harbor.

I wouldn’t deny that there is a long-run threat that Hussein, left to his own devices, could get access to weaponry. But I would point out that the country that most recently acquired weapons of mass destruction, i.e., nuclear weapons, was Pakistan, which is now our great ally. And, personally, I’m much more concerned that some terrorist will bump off Musharraf and that some intelligence zealots who are fundamentalists will take over the country and we will have a bunch of crazies in control of nuclear weapons. I think we all ought to be much more concerned about that than what Saddam Hussein is up to right now. [Applause.]

David Theroux — Question #11

Another question for Lewis. “What is your view of the imperial presidency and presidential war powers?”

Lewis Lapham

Well, I would be opposed to the imperial presidency, and I would like to see the war powers granted in the way they were supposed to be granted by the Constitution, which is to say, by the Congress. A very straightforward answer. [Applause.]

David Theroux — Question #12

Another question for Lewis is, “Why do you think Tony Blair is so slavishly a supporter of Bush’s war policy?”

Lewis Lapham

Well, I don’t know. He is also a twice-born evangelical in the same way that Bush is, so there is this Christian notion of crusade somewhere in Blair’s thinking, but otherwise I don’t know.

David Theroux

Anyone else have a comment?

Alan Bock

I have a sort of a quick comment, as someone who considers himself a Christian. It’s really hard for me to find a whole lot of endorsement of preventive war, preemptive war, and even a whole lot of war at all in anything that Jesus said. It’s certainly been used over the centuries in ways that have had a lot more to do with the immediate power advantages of those who were calling themselves Christians at the time. And the Church has certainly been a very human institution in that it has plenty of flaws and faults, and tends to breed, sometimes at various times in history, people with sort of megalomaniacal notions. But I don’t find in the Gospels a whole lot that would give much aid and comfort to Wolfowitz or Ashcroft or Tony Blair. [Applause.]

Lewis Lapham

They are, presumably, readers of the Old Testament. [Laughter and applause.]

David Theroux — Question #13

Another question for Lewis is, “Considering lack of dissent over many of these measures, which are obviously dramatic changes, and the lack of debate, generally speaking, over these dramatic changes, what is your view of your being attacked by the Americans for Victory Over Terrorism?” [Laughter.]

Lewis Lapham

I didn’t know that I’d been attacked by such a group.

David Theroux

That’s the group that Bill Bennett and others have.

Lewis Lapham

Oh. Well, I would take that as a normal course of events. I mean, if that is the Bennett, Cheney, alumni trustees council crowd in Washington, they are very rabid supporters of the War on Terrorism, and they came out with a report during the fall of last year, in which they quoted 150 university students, professors around the country and accused them of being disloyal for saying very bland things, such as — I can’t remember they were so bland. [Laughter.] I mean, people would say, “War is not good,[ and that was enough to prompt an attack from Bennett on the grounds that that was somehow a disloyal remark. I mean the observations were of that character.

Johnathan Marshall

Just so the audience knows. Lewis was referred to by Bennett and Americans for Victory Over Terrorism as an internal enemy, so that we now have a Nixon-style enemies list, and Lewis will be able to wear this as a badge of honor.

Lewis Lapham


David Theroux — Question #14

Last question. “What can the average American do to learn more about what’s going on and do to affect these policies?” And it’s directed at Lewis.

Lewis Lapham

Well, read and write. As Paul Weaver would say, there are lots of ways of getting better information. There are magazines, there are Web sites, there is the foreign press.

The news is not something that is necessarily given to you. It’s something you have to make and participate in and form your own idea. Democracy is the hardest possible form of government because it requires a high degree of literacy, and then it requires paying attention.

So it’s not only informing yourself, but then trying to take a possibly political action. Maybe you run for office. Maybe you stage a complaint, or maybe you start a magazine. There are all kinds of ways of trying to express one’s opinion and objection, and one of them is this kind of a crowd in this kind of a room tonight. [Applause.]

David Theroux

I want to apologize for not being to be able to get to all of your questions. There are just many, many excellent questions. But I think this evening we’ve started, hopefully, a discussion and more.

On behalf of the Independent Institute, Harper’s Magazine, and the World Affairs Council of Northern California, I want to thank all of our speakers, especially Lewis Lapham, and our panel for their excellent presentation. [Applause.]

Before you all leave I want to remind you that Lewis will be in the outer lobby autographing his book, Theater of War, and for those of your who don’t have copies, I urge you to get a copy. We look forward to you joining with us at our next event.