Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Bush's Boundaries for Peace - Why Washington's "benevolence" is misguided.

George W. Bush's peace initiative issued on Monday was a triumph of misguided benevolence. It is possible that one day Bush may be recognized for being the first U.S. president to insist that an Arab people are capable of being democratic, tolerant, and free. But for the moment, his plan is disappointing evidence of the administration's bizarre sense of Middle East priorities.

Initially touted as a means of ending the violence between Palestinians and Israelis, Bush's proposal metamorphosed into a blueprint for getting rid of Yasser Arafat. This was Ariel Sharon's priority and Bush has made it his own; more than a half-century of Arab-Israeli antagonism has been reduced to one man.

More pressingly, the administration failed to address three questions raised by its own proposal: What incentive does Arafat now have to end the violence? What incentive does the Palestinian Authority have to implement reform when it has been accorded pariah status? And what incentive do the Palestinians have to accept a proposal that imposes on them a sequence of onerous conditions, with only vague promises of statehood in return?

In the end, Bush's proposal was the following: If the Palestinians change their leadership and work towards democracy-a tall order in a political system barely left standing-they will at most win U.S. recognition for a future Palestinian state and aspects of provisional sovereignty. According to U.S. officials, a possible time frame for this is 18 months.

Only then can the Palestinians and Israelis begin discussing, over a three-year period, final status issues, including borders, Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Bush offered no commitments, abandoning more detailed proposals that the U.S. had offered in the past. On final boundaries Bush noted only that Israel's withdrawal would be to "secure and recognized borders," a term Sharon has used to defend retaining large swathes of occupied land.

On settlements too, Bush was elusive. While he did call on Israel to cease settlement activity, the president did not specify whether the practice of expanding existing settlements must end. If the U.S. is thinking in terms of an almost five-year time period, the question is crucial, since Israel can take advantage of the loophole to occupy much more land.

The assumption that the Palestinians will change their leadership and overhaul their political system to win U.S. recognition for provisional statehood is patently silly. The Bush proposal fails in every category that characterizes a serious mediation effort: It offers no incentives to the Palestinians; it fails to impose balanced concessions on the parties; and it seeks the ouster of one of the interlocutors.

One thing is clear: Sharon no longer sees an obstacle to exiling Arafat. That doesn't mean, however, he will soon send him packing. The Israelis now have much to gain by keeping Arafat around. The Palestinians have no intention of changing their leader, and Israel may just let him languish, an enduring obstacle to U.S. support of Palestinian statehood.

Bush's plan was notable for what it did not mention. It ignored the Saudi peace initiative approved by the Arab League summit, and the proposal of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Though Mubarak and the Saudi foreign minister, Saud Al Faysal, recently met Bush in Washington, it was Sharon whom Bush listened to in the end. However, by sidestepping the Arab plans, Bush neutralized the Saudis and Egyptians as sponsors of his proposal.

Neither did the president bring up the idea of an international conference. In this too he followed in the path set by Sharon, who floated the idea during Operation Defensive Shield, but then retreated when he realized it might be to his disadvantage. However, without a conference the Arabs are denied an institutional context to pledge eventual normalization with Israel, undermining another of Bush's stated aims.

The president failed to mention the thousands of Palestinian prisoners recently picked up in the West Bank. Well before the current Intifada, Israel provoked Palestinian rancor by disregarding signed agreements for prisoner releases. By not mentioning the latest arrests, Bush implied that those detained were guilty. Yet he will not convince Palestinians to adopt the rule of law while allowing Israel to impose occupation law.

Bush may have satisfied Sharon and Israel's supporters in his administration, but he may also have provided myriad reasons for the violence between Israelis and Palestinians to continue.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Passion Play - Soccer and the new world order

In June 1982, as Israeli forces invaded Lebanon, students at the American University of Beirut sat around a dormitory television watching a World Cup soccer match. At halftime they switched to the news to see how far the Israelis had advanced. When the game resumed, however, the channel was flipped back. A spectator, annoyed that his newscast had been even momentarily interrupted, pulled out a gun and fired into the set.

He would have been better off saving his bullet. The next day a new TV set appeared and Lebanon's ambient Armageddon was again relegated to secondary status. For weeks the bombardment of the Lebanese capital scarcely perturbed a public awaiting the outcome of a war that mattered more to them, one hosted that year in Spain, and waged several times daily between 22 players running after a ball for roughly 90 minutes.

Strange behavior has long been the norm among World Cup aficionados. Yet in the past decade soccer's appeal has multiplied immeasurably. FIFA, the international body governing the sport, estimated the combined audience for the 1998 tournament in France at 34 billion. The figure will surely rise during the World Cup contest presently being held in Japan and South Korea (the tournament is held, like the Olympics, every four years). Were a sport to represent globalization at its most essential, it would be soccer.

More meaningfully, soccer personifies the benefits of globalization, as well as its worst flaws. It is a blend of multinational administrative corruption, salutary free-market capitalism, and old-fashioned chauvinism.

If international sporting bodies could be banana republics, the model would be FIFA. On the eve of the World Cup, the organization's president, Joseph Blatter, was re-elected to a four-year term, despite accusations of corruption and mismanagement from within his own executive committee. Michel Zen-Ruffinen, his general-secretary and former protégé, prepared a long paper documenting Blatter's misdeeds.

Nothing came of it. Blatter won another mandate principally because he knew where to distribute FIFA patronage. He split the organization's African bloc, thus outmaneuvering his only rival, Issa Hayatou, who heads Africa's soccer confederation. When all was over, the previously squabbling delegates held hands and sang. Blatter, with Soviet-like panache, then purged Zen-Ruffinen and forced his other detractors to backtrack.

Ironically, Blatter merely exploited new power alignments in international soccer. All national federations in FIFA have one vote, regardless of their size, so that Blatter's favors to smaller Third World countries helped ease his victory. For all his many faults, the president truly maneuvered on a world stage, which is precisely what critics had argued the sport previously failed to do when it privileged soccer powerhouses in Europe and Latin America.

But Blatter's abuse of soccer's globalization will eventually consume him. The reason is the market. For over two decades a Brazilian rogue, Joao Havelange, ran FIFA. The stakes in the sport were smaller, so Havelange was able to administer the body like a farm, without transparency. As soccer became a massive commercial venture, FIFA could no longer evade the spotlight or prevent member states from demanding a larger cut of the sport's profits. Blatter's errors are today in full view. Unless he reforms FIFA, in particular its finances that he so liberally employed to garner support, Blatter will be ousted like any failed CEO.

Far away from FIFA's byzantine politics is love of the sport and soccer's knack for spawning intangible passions. As The Economist noted recently: "Football is not just a sport or a business. At the top level it is also closely intertwined with politics and national pride." While the rhetoric of globalization has focused on transnational harmony, international soccer has continued insolently to assert -- and prosper from -- national differences.

Though the worst manifestation of this trend is fan hooliganism, soccer is mostly a healthy bastion of the nation-state. It serves a valuable role as national unifier or, less obviously, amicable divider. Within the United Kingdom, for example, there are separate English, Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish federations, and FIFA's desire to merge the four will surely backfire. More fundamentally, soccer, the most ecumenical of sports, is a reminder of how hollow the language of global integration can sound in -- or on -- certain fields.

Saturday, June 1, 2002

The Devil and Daniel Ellsberg - From archetype to anachronism.

Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg, by Tom Wells, New York: Palgrave, 692 pages, $32.50

In 1973, as his world began falling apart, Richard Nixon demonstrated his rhetorical prowess to his press secretary, Ron Ziegler. The topic was a break-in at the office of Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Ellsberg was a former consultant at the RAND Corporation who had leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War.

Nixon wanted dirt on Ellsberg, so his men dispatched a ham-fisted outfit to Los Angeles to see what Fielding had. When the White House came under suspicion, Nixon complained to Ziegler, "The president knows a hell of a lot of things, but does he know what the Christ some dumb assholes are going to do? -- .Goddamn to hell, I didn't tell them to go fuck up the goddamn Ellsberg place." As Tom Wells notes in Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg, the president not only knew about the Fielding break-in but was probably the one who ordered it in the first place.

It was arguably Ellsberg's greatest triumph: He had roused the self-destructive impulses of a president and an administration that he felt had betrayed the American people by allowing the war in Vietnam to continue. Some would nominate Ellsberg's role in exposing the Pentagon Papers as his finest moment, but despite the furor that their release provoked they largely disappeared into the sludge of post-Vietnam skepticism in the U.S. They were a valuable confirmation of the worst fears of those opposed to the war, but they were too bulky and intricate a collection of documents to affect most of the public. Indeed, the difficulty of Wells' book is that he describes a man and an event that, while interesting, have left virtually no enduring impact on American society.

What's more, he does so in a book that goes on forever. Wells strives to emulate the epic quality of other Vietnam-period biography-cum-Zeitgeist-accounts, such as Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie or David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, but Wells has neither author's talent, nor does he much care for the man at the center of his research.

Besides, Ellsberg does not rate a 600-page book, particularly from an author who tends to confuse perspiration and inspiration: Wild Man is overloaded with other people's quotes, doggedly hunted down, so that one is never sure whether Wells' discomfort with Ellsberg springs from his own misgivings or from those of the myriad sources he cites.

There was a time when biography produced art, not phone books. Uncertainty was part of the bargain, so that the great biographers were -- are -- those tolerant of their subject's complexities and flaws. Wells is not, which leads him into a stifling form of deconstruction as he vainly hunts for clarity in Ellsberg through an unfiltered inventory of detail. To see how biography should be done, one might read René Grousset, the great French historian, whose description of Pompey in his Figures de Proue (1949) is both a tribute to brevity and a remarkably apt description of Daniel Ellsberg: "What was it his ambition to attain in the Republic? A sort of moral presidency to which, after the services he had rendered, he had some right? To rule, with or without a formal title? Especially to accumulate honors, many honors, which would have satisfied his vanity and his irresolution, but which his secret mediocrity would have prevented him from turning into something redoubtable?"

This is more or less the Ellsberg of Wild Man. Wells describes someone who is an egotist and a megalomaniac, with writer's block and a taste for sex. But that description fits many people. What makes Ellsberg relevant is that he is an archetype of a particular era -- the late 1960s -- whose values have aged badly in America's collective memory. The motives that led to the release of the Pentagon Papers would be ridiculed in this post-September 11 climate, where compliant loyalty to the state is commonly regarded as an obligation.

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931, to Jewish parents with a passion for Christian Science. The young Daniel was acknowledged as brilliant, a quality his mother, Adele, sought to exploit by channeling the boy into piano playing. Harry, the father, was an aloof engineer, disliked by Adele's family and apparently indifferent to the piano. Wells follows a hackneyed route in recording the psychological influences on Ellsberg: an ambitious mother who "was not, it seems, a nurturing sort," and a detached father who would interrupt this convenient Freudian tableau by having a car accident that killed Adele and their daughter. Afterward, the young Daniel, no longer manacled to the keyboard, would feel a sense of release. Though he plainly loved his mother, he later said that he never cried at her death.

Ellsberg's reserve showed, if nothing else, that he was policy analyst material. In 1958 he was invited to join the RAND Corporation, the private, nonprofit research institution in Southern California founded after World War II by the Air Force to advise the government on military issues. This came after a dazzling romp through Harvard, where Ellsberg was invited to join the university's select Society of Fellows. He later earned a doctorate on the subject of decision making under uncertainty, at a time when game theory was all the rage. Revealingly, Ellsberg had earlier enlisted in the Marine Corps, a move that would raise eyebrows from acquaintances in academe. He would describe himself as being "a liberal on domestic matters and, on foreign policy, a tough guy."

At RAND, Ellsberg tasted the malicious nectar of high secrecy. He rubbed elbows with the institution's nuclear strategy gurus -- Herman Kahn, Albert Wohlstetter, Bernard Brodie -- and gained access to confidential U.S. war plans in order to study nuclear command and control issues. Ellsberg found the plans dangerously rigid, though Wells goes to some length to prove that Ellsberg overstated his importance in formulating an alternative policy. Wells cannot abide Ellsberg's hyperbole, but throughout the Kennedy and Johnson years this self-promoter was involved in very important government projects, always propelled by friendly patrons and a reputation for being a genius. His Washington career began in 1964, when Ellsberg landed at Robert McNamara's Pentagon as special assistant to John McNaughton, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. There he would start working on Vietnam.

Vietnam would come to inhabit Ellsberg, transforming him completely. Ellsberg left the Pentagon for Saigon to join a team led by Gen. Edward Lansdale, who had become a counterinsurgency sage after defeating the Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the 1950s. Ellsberg's exposure to the conflict -- in particular, his forays into distant districts where few

Americans traveled -- convinced him that the U.S. pacification campaign was failing. It would take time for him to turn against the war -- too much time, some argue -- but at least he did so, in contrast to, say, his more experienced friend John Paul Vann, a former Army officer who acted as a U.S. adviser during the war and who until the very end believed the conflict to be winnable.

After returning to RAND, Ellsberg began copying the Pentagon Papers, hoping that their exposure of a decade of official dissembling on how the war in Vietnam was conducted would force the government to pull out of the conflict. As Wells persuasively argues, Ellsberg's delay in leaking the papers was motivated by an enduring desire to be part of the Establishment. Harvard men such as McGeorge Bundy and Henry Kissinger pursued the kinds of careers that Ellsberg thought should be his by right, although they had a ruthless discipline he lacked. By the time the papers were published, Ellsberg had largely undermined his chances of becoming a senior policy official. The reason was that his recognized brilliance was overtaken by a reputation for being inefficient and unable to write -- a fatal liability in a world where power is measured by one's aptitude to generate timely papers and memoranda.

Though Ellsberg copied and privately circulated the Pentagon Papers, his involvement in their publication by The New York Times in June 1971 was less simple than is often believed. He had initially tried to leak the papers through members of Congress, whose immunity would have allowed Ellsberg to protect himself legally, but he was rebuffed. He also allowed scholars at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) to copy part of his set. Finally, after much dithering, Ellsberg met with Neil Sheehan of the Times. After reneging on a publication agreement with Sheehan, he allowed him to see some of the documents but told him not to copy them. Sheehan ignored the request, combined his duplicates with those he had received from the IPS, and published them, giving the Times an exceptional scoop.

The Nixon administration took the matter personally. This may seem odd, since the papers described the duplicity of the previous Democratic administrations. But at the time, Nixon and Kissinger were attempting to secure an "honorable peace" to cover a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, which meant that the war had to drag on. The Pentagon Papers created an uncomfortable context for this strategy by highlighting the fact that the lies about Vietnam were continuing under the Republicans.

Small wonder, then, that Nixon personally targeted Ellsberg. The president's plan was to do to the leaker what he had done to Alger Hiss: to gather information that would sully him in the public eye.

Henry Kissinger was especially discomfited. In 1968 he had hired Ellsberg to help prepare National Security Study Memorandum 1, which outlined options for withdrawing from Vietnam. Kissinger's bureaucratic instincts told him he should be among the shrillest of Ellsberg's detractors. Soon he was spreading word that Ellsberg had shot at peasants from helicopters in Vietnam, a peculiar -- and false -- accusation from someone whose widening of the war led to the deaths of almost 1 million Cambodians and Laotians.

When that was not enough, Kissinger accused Ellsberg, again falsely, of being homosexual. One is reminded of the spiteful, throwaway remark Kissinger directed at Christopher Hitchens recently, when he accused the journalist of being a Holocaust denier, words he was subsequently made to eat.

The criminal charges against Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers were dismissed because of government tampering with the evidence against him, and his star began waning almost immediately afterward. Ellsberg tried to expand on the moral presidency he had been led to believe was his, but his secret mediocrity got the better of him. His historical purpose served, he became an afterthought. Though he continued to play a part on the '70s protest circuit, particularly against nuclear proliferation, by 1981, when a conservative Republican returned to the White House, Ellsberg had become a vague memory. Under Ronald Reagan, illegal concealment would again be fashionable, and there were no Ellsbergs to give the game away. Instead, the person best personifying the spirit of the day was Oliver North.

Yet it was not Reagan but Bill Clinton who would symbolically inter what Ellsberg (who still hits the lecture circuit) represented. The first baby boomer president had all the generational ambiguities that Ellsberg once had (though he was considerably younger), but he cast them aside for the sake of power. Clinton's jovial abandonment of principle, and America's willingness to play along, created a setting where someone like Ellsberg, though no moral paragon himself, appeared obsolete. The line of confrontation in the 1990s was no longer between a potentially corrupt state and a civil society defending its liberties. What Ellsberg lost in the process the republic did, too, and to its detriment.