The forces for reform and democratisation will become so overwhelming in the next few months that in a year's time, and despite setbacks and more tragedies on the way, Egypt will be becoming a democracy.
It is out of the question that an Egypt with minor experience in democracy can put together enough of these components in 12 months to establish a fully democratic order.
Events have moved fast in Egypt in the past ten days. Huge demonstrations calling for the resignation of Egypt's ageing president, Hosni Mubarak, have rocked the country. Mostly peaceful for the first week, they have turned violent leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. In an attempt to calm the protesters Mr Mubarak appointed a vice-president, his first in his 30-year reign. But his attempts at conciliation look too little, too late. The protesters want him to go now. Cairo's walls are daubed with slogans telling him so: "game over, Mubarak".
A debate is raging not just in Arab countries but all over the world about whether democracy in Egypt is possible or desirable. The history of revolutions is mixed. Those who have long mourned the dearth of democracy in the Middle East are full of hope that this will be an "Arab spring". Others remember more gloomily the massive protests in Iran in 2009. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians surged onto the streets after a disputed election, calling for democracy, freedom and change in Iran. The government crushed the opposition Green movement with an iron fist and a year and a half later, there is no sign of any significant reforms in Iran.
Others are more doubtful. Even if the protests succeed in unseating Mr Mubarak, it is unclear what the future holds for Egypt. After three decades of Mr Mubarak's authoritarian rule, many of Egypt's institutions look rotten to the core. Corruption is rife, press freedom is curtailed, and any elections that have been held have been rigged by the ruling party.
Some worry whether democracy would be a good thing in Egypt at all. Their concern is that in the absence of those institutions, chaos will reign. Or perhaps worse in their minds, were elections to be held, they fear that they would be hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that has been Egypt's best-organised and most prominent opposition force for many years. They point fearfully to Palestinian and Lebanese elections where Islamists have done well. Israel is particularly uneasy, anxious about the end of its "cold peace" with Egypt and the instability that could bring.
Others argue that Islamists are not antithetical to democracy; look at Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia. They say too that Egypt has a well-educated middle class, a sophisticated elite and enough of a sense of national pride to turn the chaos of this week's demonstrations into the beginnings of democracy. Egypt has reached a tipping point, they say. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no stuffing it back in. Egyptians have tasted freedom and are now shrugging off autocracy and seizing their chance for democracy.
We have two of the best-qualified people in the world to debate these issues on our website. They are both long-time Middle East watchers. Anoush Ehteshami, who is proposing the motion, is professor of international relations at Durham University, and has written extensively on Middle Eastern politics—foreign and domestic—and security in the region. Daniel Pipes, opposing it, is the founder and director of the Middle East Forum, a think-tank, and has written extensively about Islam and militant Islamism, within both the Middle East and the West.
Events may overtake this debate. We will try to keep up with them. I want to encourage the audience to comment and vote. A bit of democracy in action would be a good thing.
The scale of protest in Egypt since early January 2011 has been unprecedented and energising, even for a country used to riots and open expressions of discontent. The situation in Egypt in early February remains tense and the path opening up between the state and society is uncharted. But change is in the air, and against the backdrop of rapid regime change in Tunisia and protests taking root in many neighbouring Arab countries, one is left with a sense of anxiety that we are reaching a tipping point in the region. Change in Egypt will tip the balance towards the advocates of meaningful and rapid reform in the rest of the Arab region. So, what happens in Egypt in the coming days will have deep and long-lasting impact. Egypt, a country whose modern history can count only three presidents in office since 1954, is pivotal to the direction and intensity of change, and yet this is an Arab country ill equipped for rapid change. Its ruling political party institutions are strong, and despite the spectacular burning of the National Democratic Party (NDP) headquarters on Friday 28th January, the state machinery remains penetrated by party members and Mubarak loyalists. Also, the wider security establishment is thoroughly controlled by the Mubarak-created ruling elite. So, the imminent end of this regime and this president may have been exaggerated—for now.
In the months to come, though, even if Hosni Mubarak survives this intense period of domestic and Western pressure, I expect the political character of the establishment to change—towards what could be loosely referred to as a rocky road to democratisation. The widening of the political base and the broadening of public space will take place and in this process reformist forces will, like rainwater pouring into the cracks of rocks, penetrate the crust of the regime and the institutions and bureaucracy for so long dominated by the NDP and Mr Mubarak's allies and cronies. As they do they will flex their muscles and drive for transparency and the rule of law. Once these are established, the opposition will build on its street base to proceed towards negotiations.
Internally, the opposition forces will organise around a broad "rainbow" coalition, which will of course have to make its own compromises if it is to stick as a credible force. But this coalition is unlikely to survive the transition phase, and as open elections beckon we will see the consolidation of parties and platforms competing for power. The Muslim Brotherhood will be pitted against nationalist, liberal, pan-Arab, secular parties and this will be good for democracy and democratisation. The process will be long and painful, but the train of change has already left the station and with Mr Mubarak no longer a presidential candidate in 2011 his NDP has quickly lost its political fig leaf and also its legitimacy as the country's ruling party. With the NDP fatally weakened, I would anticipate the next president and indeed the next parliament to be wearing very different political clothes. What the leadership will be like is not the issue; the important point is that the new political leaders will have arrived in their posts credibly and with the open and transparent support of the electorate.
Externally, too, the constellation of forces lined up against the incumbent is likely to insist on a credible democratisation process being introduced in the next few weeks. Again, even if Mr Mubarak survives the current period of pressure, his regime will find it almost impossible to secure external support without the introduction of change and dialogue with the opposition. Mr Mubarak will have to give an inch and with every inch the opposition will try to take a foot. The balance will shift and the shift will become irreversible over time. Another external dimension is of course the country's trade and investment relations. Instability is anathema to business but it is unlikely that authoritarian stability will be acceptable either. In the age of the internet and the sight of the masses lined up against the incumbent, the international business community will find it impossible to support the president or advocate investment in the country. Economic imperative will generate its own pressures against the government and the momentum for broad economic reforms and transparency will provide more energy for pro-reform forces. Egypt cannot isolate itself from external pressure and that pressure now is for liberalisation and democratisation.
So, on balance, I believe that the forces for reform and democratisation will become so overwhelming in the next few months that in a year's time, and despite setbacks and more tragedies on the way, Egypt will be becoming a democracy.
Two reasons lead me to assert that the Arab Republic of Egypt will not boast a democratic political system this time next year.
First, democracy is more than holding elections; it requires the development of civil society, meaning such complex and counterintuitive institutions as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, multiple political parties, minority rights, voluntary associations, and freedom of expression, movement and assembly. Democracy is a learned habit, not an instinctive one, which requires deep attitudinal changes such as a culture of restraint, a commonality of values, a respect for differences of view, the concept of loyal opposition and a sense of civic responsibility.
Further, elections need to be practised to be made perfect. Ideally, a country starts electing at the municipal level and moves to the national, it begins with the legislative branch and moves to the executive. Simultaneously, the press needs to acquire full freedoms, political parties should mature, parliament should gain authority at the expense of the executive, and judges should adjudicate between them.
Such a transformation of society cannot take place within months or even years; the historical record shows that it takes decades fully to implement. It is out of the question that an Egypt with minor experience in democracy can put together enough of these components in 12 months to establish a fully democratic order.
Second, whichever scenario plays out, democracy is not in the offing.
• If Hosni Mubarak stays in power, unlikely but possible, he will be more of a tyrant than ever. As shown by his actions in recent days, he will not go quietly.
• If the military asserts more directly the power that it has wielded behind the scenes since its coup d'état of 1952, Omar Suleiman, the newly-appointed vice president, would presumably become president. He would make changes to the system, eliminating the most obvious abuses under Mr Mubarak, but not fundamentally offering Egyptians a say in the regime that rules them. Algeria 1992, where a military-backed government repressed Islamists, provides a precedent.
• If Islamists come to power, they will foment a revolution along the lines of Iran in 1979, in which their belief in God's sovereignty trumps political participation by the masses. The inherently anti-democratic nature of the Islamist movement must not be obscured by the Islamists' willingness to use elections to reach power. In the prescient words of an American official in 1992, the Islamists forward a programme of "one person, one vote, one time".
However looked at – abstractly or specifically – Egyptians are in for a rough ride, without the prospect of choosing their leaders.
Clueless on CairoDAVID HANSON
My three-week victory, your seven-year mess
It is difficult trying to figure out what the left’s position is on democracy and the Middle East. Here’s a brief effort.
Once upon a time, a number of prominent liberals — among them Thomas Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid — thought it was a good idea to remove Saddam Hussein and supplant his Baathist rule with democracy. I say that with confidence since one can watch the speeches of the senators in question on YouTube debating the 23-writ authorizations to use force in October 2002, in addition to reading the New York Times and Newsweek editorials between 2002-3 of prominent liberal columnists. The New Republic stable of authors was particularly in favor of the Bush-Cheney “just war” to invade Iraq. Jonathan Chait (who would go on to author an infamous essay about why “I hate George Bush”) and Peter Beinhart were especially hard on the fellow left for not joining the Bush effort.
By early 2004, almost all that liberal support had entirely dissipated, predicated on two developments. First, a presidential election was just months away and Bush’s war was no longer “mission accomplished” but turning into a campaign liability. Second, a resistance had formed under hard-core Islamists that was beginning to take a heavy toll on American forces. No WMD had been found, and it was now easy to suggest that one could withdraw support for building democracy in Iraq because two of the 23 writs for going to war were no longer operative, the effort was probably lost, and George W. Bush might well deservedly not be reelected.
No matter. Bush pressed on. His polls sunk yet he was barely reelected. His ongoing “democracy” agenda got little support from those who once had enthusiastically praised the Iraqi adventure and had proclaimed their belief in universal human rights. Few came to Sec. of State Rice’s support when in 2005 she chastised Hosni Mubarak’s regime to grant fundamental rights. Fewer saw any connection between Saddam’s fate and America’s pro-democratic stance and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the fright of Mr. Gaddafi who gave up his WMD arsenal, or the sudden willingness of Pakistan to harness Dr. Khan.
Instead, “spreading democracy” was seen by the left as a wounded George Bush’s quirky tic. His talk about “universal” freedom was ridiculed more as a manifestation of a sort of evangelical Christianity than genuine political idealism. Bush’s zeal for democracy, then, was orphaned: the right was now realist again (“they are either incapable of democracy or not worth the effort to implant it”) and the left multicultural (“who are we of all people to say what sort of government others should employ?”).
Then and now
Note especially that Barack Obama, both as senator and presidential candidate, derided the war, declared the surge as failed, and wanted all troops out of Iraq by March 2008, regardless of the effect on the struggling Maliki government. That Bush also confronted Putin over the putdown of Georgia, allowed a plebiscite in Gaza, and warned of the anti-democratic tendencies of a Chavez or Ahmadinejad was drowned out by Iraq. Remember that these were the days of Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore calling for a right-wing fundamentalist insurgent victory in Iraq, and novels and films envisioning the assassination of George Bush.
Fast forward to the presidency of Barack Obama. I think it is fair to suggest that all talk about promoting democracy was dropped entirely, and for three reasons: anything Bush had promoted was de facto tainted (“reset”); Obama’s multiculturalism accepted that all indigenous governments were more authentic than an imported Western democracy (cf. his silence over the brutal putdown of the Iranian dissidents); Obama was busy courting China and Russia, two authoritarian and powerful governments that could complicate any pro-democracy pressure on lesser states.
Better to be enemies
I note in passing once more that when it was a question of “tilting,” Obama usually seemed more fond of the anti-democratic than the democratic alternative: Syria and Iran were courted, Israel was snubbed; Colombia was ignored, Cuba and Venezuela got “outreach”; Eastern Europe was taken for granted, autocratic Russia was romanced. In short, whether because of Pavlovian anti-Bush tendencies, multicultural preference for authentic indigenous leadership, or wishing a stage for the postracial, postnational Obama to charm our enemies and achieve a “breakthrough,” Obama cared little at all about promoting human rights (note that all Obama’s once shrill civil rights bluster about Guantanamo, tribunals, renditions, preventative detention, the Patriot Act, Iraq, and drone attacks was dropped — on the cynical but correct premise that the left would still idolize a President Obama even if he parroted Dick Cheney).
Back to Egypt
All of which brings us to Egypt. I think it would also be fair to say that the administration has been caught entirely surprised. Far from being a sort of national liberationist of the left, Obama is simply confused — his advisors now telling him that Mubarak must go, that he must go sometime, that the demonstrators are genuine democratic patriots, that they are dupes who will be pushed aside by the Muslim Brotherhood, which itself is either sinister or in fact reformed and a possible future U.S. partner.
In turn, the president seems to voice the last advice he was given, and so we are to assume two things: one, his make “no mistake about it” declaration will change and soon be rendered obsolete as conditions on the ground in Egypt change; two, he will artfully inject himself into the breaking news by the overuse of the now accustomed “I, my, mine” as he is self-constructed to be the catalyst for all that is becoming good and a long harsh critic of all that is turning bad. In other words, Obama will talk far too much and seek to turn someone else’s revolution into a showcase of his own rhetoric. And in adolescent fashion, Obama will reveal private conversations he has had with Egyptian leaders, both breaking confidentiality and portraying his interlocutors as either agreeing with his own advice or nodding to his dictates and directives.
What do I derive from all this? Hillary was right about her 3AM slur, and Obama is acting as any 2-year Senate veteran might in such a crisis. There is no consistent support from the left for democracy movements overseas. Strongmen like Gaddafi, Ahmadinejad, and Assad are weirdly seen as either untouchable or genuine in a way a Mubarak or a Jordanian king is not. And the latter are vulnerable only when it looks like they may fail; if they seem stable, we hear not a peep from Obama about their human rights records.
In short, the left has not yet sorted out its adherence to multiculturalism and its supposed support for human rights, which are usually antithetical. It apparently believes that any pro-democratic criticism of Obama’s tepidness is not worth the damage that might accrue to his agenda of universal health care, more entitlements, and left-wing domestic appointments. Whereas on the right there are three fissures over Egypt — neocon support for the protestors, realist support for Mubarak to keep a lid on things and change slowly, isolationist desires to keep the hell out of another costly obligation — on the left these days it is basically trying to explain postfacto Obama’s herky-jerky policies as coherent, successful, and idealist.
Predictions? I think unfortunately we may go the 1940s “we can work with Mao”/1970s “no inordinate fear of communism”/2000s “jihad can mean a personal struggle” route, where liberals believe that totalitarian nationalists somehow admire the American Revolution and our lack of a colonial heritage, and, as closet moderates, wish to work with us. That translates into a backdoor courtship with the Muslim Brotherhood, in the fashion we did with Khomeini, and ends in a decade or so with a Sunni Ahmadinejad and the betrayal of the present protestors — again, in the manner we did the Iranian moderate reformers in 1979-80 and again in 2009.
How odd that in support of the brave secular protestors in the streets of Cairo, we are already talking about not demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood — the existential enemies of every idealist now trying to win a free society from Mubarak, the dictator/non-dictator who must go now!, very soon, after he transitions a new government in the summer, when a new president is elected in the fall, or, as future events dictate, not at all.
Abrupt Change of Authoritarian Regimes-
The Tunisian and Egyptian political eruptions were pretty much totally unexpected by the governments of the United States and of other countries, and by the vast majority of experts on Egypt and the Islamic world. To be sure, experts were aware that the government of say Egypt was not popular among many segments of the population, including The Muslim Brotherhood, most intellectuals, and many members of the growing middle class. However, the timing and speed of the uprising there (and in Tunisia) was rather a complete surprise since Mubarak and Ben Ali were in power for over 20 years, and seemingly in rather complete control.
I was first impressed by the unexpected and speedy nature of the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in 1979 when a combination of religious and leftwing groups forced the Shah of Iran from power. Until very close to the end he looked invulnerable: he seemed to be in full control of a strong and well-equipped army, and had an active and dreaded secret police, the SAVAK, that imprisoned anyone who vocally attacked the government. That the overthrow was unexpected is objectively measured by the stability of the international value of the Iranian currency, the rial, until just a few weeks before the Shah was ousted. Had the overthrow been anticipated, the value of the currency would have plunged as Iranians and others tried to get out of rials into dollars and other hard currencies. The rial did plunge in value shortly after the revolution appeared to be succeeding.
The rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union is another telling example. In 1989 my wife and I took a train from West Berlin through East Germany to go to Warsaw. The customs agents in East Germany were unpleasant, and the East German government headed by Erich Honecker seemed totally in charge. Much to my surprise, less than six months later, close to one million younger men and women were demonstrating in the streets, and the government was soon quickly gone, along with most of the Russian empire.
The unexpected nature and the speed of the overthrow of these and other authoritarian regimes is what is so glaring and challenging to theories of authoritarian rule. Analytically, what happens is that over time such a regime may be shifting in unnoticed ways from stable equilibrium positions, where the government is in rather complete control, to an unstable equilibrium where seemingly small events trigger massive changes, including the ouster of the government. The overthrow of the government may be quick and without much violence, as in the East German and Tunisian cases, or involve considerable violence, as during and especially after, the Iranian revolution.
Such unstable equilibria are sometimes called “tipping points”. This term was first used to describe rapid changes in housing neighborhoods from being mainly white and Christian to “tipping”, and then rapidly becoming mainly black or Jewish. A neighborhood may remain basically say all white until a few black families move in. If more black households move in over time, their fraction may become large enough that many white residents begin to panic, and put their houses up for sale. After that the neighborhood quickly “tips” into becoming a mainly black neighborhood.
The basic underlying reason that authoritarian regimes fall quickly, with or without violence, is that, as Posner emphasizes, they do not have any natural succession process. A strong man like Mubarak would be in power, but as he ages and gets weaker who is to succeed him? His son or confidants? Opposition groups may begin to see opportunities, or the unhappiness and frustration of young people and others may spontaneously erupt into mass demonstrations, as in Egypt, or in Iran after frustration over the outcome of the presidential elections two years ago. Sometimes these demonstrations succeed, as in Tunisia and apparently now in Egypt, and sometimes they fail, as in Iran after those elections, and in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations in China.
Will similar demonstrations spread to the rest of the Arab world in North Africa and the Middle East that without exception have non-democratic regimes? Already the Jordanian government and a few others have started to make concessions to the opposition, including giving greater representation to various disaffected groups. I do not know how many of these governments will change radically and speedily. The theory offers little guidance on the timing of major political changes, but I do believe that large changes in this region toward freer elections and greater representation will occur before very long.
The Internet, Facebook and other online social networks, are changing the dynamics of the political landscape in all countries, including Islamic countries. In addition, the middle classes are growing in importance throughout Middle East and North Africa. As a result, these countries will experience the same aspirations for greater freedom of expression and greater representation in the government, as is found in other parts of the world. Eventually, these aspirations will force a conversion of the political institutions of these Islamic countries into something that may not be the same as Western democracies, but will offer more contested elections, greater political and social freedoms, and probably also greater economic freedom.
'I Didn't Raise Taxes Once'
Refreshing the President's memory.
Bill O'Reilly's Fox interview with President Obama on Sunday was fascinating, and not merely because Mr. Obama made clear he's an ardent fan of these pages. What really caught our attention was the President's claim that "I didn't raise taxes once. I lowered taxes over the last two years."
The Presidency is demanding, and with the Egypt mess and his other duties, perhaps Mr. Obama has forgotten some of his tax achievements. Allow us to refresh his memory. In his historic health-care bill, for example, there is the new $27 billion "fee" on drug companies that is already in effect. Next year, device manufacturers will get hit to the tune of $20 billion, and heath insurers will pay $60 billion starting in 2014—all of which are de facto tax increases because these collections will be passed on to consumers as higher costs. Of course, these are merely tax increases on business.
Death Is Small Price to Pay for Egypt Freedom: Shahira Amin
“The army is the people’s army and Mubarak is no longer our president!”
On the 13th day of the uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the anti-regime protesters’ chants still ring loud.
I walk briskly toward the square, past the long queues of people impatiently waiting to get in, and join the protesters who have now set up makeshift camps. Today’s “newcomers” have to pass several security checkpoints before they are finally allowed in. Army personnel and volunteer citizens conduct body searches and look through people’s belongings for weapons. They also check personal IDs.
Amr Khalil, a 22-year-old student, tells me he has been waiting for more than an hour to get in. But the long wait seems to have only strengthened his resolve: “They want us to give up and go home,” he says. “But we’ll just keep coming back -- until Mubarak steps down.”
The crowds inside the square appear to have thinned out as a semblance of normal life returned to Cairo. On Sunday, banks reopened and Cairo streets filled up with vehicles. The city’s notorious traffic jams were a welcome sight for many locals unaccustomed to the sight of their bustling city void of cars as it has been in recent days.
“We’re achieving gains here,” says Amal Mahmoud, a 30- year-old pharmacist. “They are small victories, but victories all the same.”
The regime has made some concessions since the start of the revolution. First, President Hosni Mubarak reshuffled his Cabinet, then the leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party resigned. On Saturday, Safwat el Sherif, secretary-general of the NDP and highly unpopular with most Egyptians, also stepped down.
The use of violence in recent legislative elections had left parliament with almost no opposition. Egypt’s most fraudulent vote to date had succeeded in driving the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood from parliament, but it also cost the ruling party its credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people.
There are more victories at this historic protest: On Sunday, a national dialogue started between Vice President Omar Suleiman and the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition force in Egypt. The talks also included representatives of other political forces in the country, including the liberal Wafd party, the leftist Tagammu and members of a youth committee chosen by the activists who launched the protests calling for the ouster of Mubarak. Independent political figures and businessmen have also been invited to join the discussion on constitutional amendments and the way out of the crisis, which has taken a heavy toll on the country’s economy.
Spirit of Unity
For some, the biggest gain is the spirit of unity and solidarity that now seemingly binds all factions of Egyptian society. The common cause of bringing down Mubarak has united Muslims and Copts like never before. Egypt’s mostly Muslim population and its minority Copts, who make up about 10 percent to 15 percent of the nation’s inhabitants, have experienced sectarian tensions in recent years. But today a Coptic priest and a Muslim sheikh stand side-by-side during a mass for the “martyrs of the revolution.” Fingers entwined in a show of interfaith solidarity, they chant “We are one.”
I, too, am walking away today from Tahrir Square with my own prize victory: The presence of camera crews from Egyptian state television filming the protest. I quit my job on Egypt’s English-language satellite channel (part of state television) last Thursday for what I considered to be its biased coverage in favor of the regime. Angered by my inability to tell the story as it is because of media censorship, I walked out determined not to be part of the regime’s propaganda machine.
Foreign networks raced to air my public criticism of the state media’s misleading coverage. Its presenters were telling their audience the Muslim Brotherhood had instigated the protest when it had been young activists from the 6th of April Movement and the “We are all Khaled Saeed” group, named after the young man in Alexandria who was beaten to death by police in June last year. The focus of state media coverage was the pro-Mubarak rallies, rather than the revolution itself.
My resignation after 22 years as senior anchor and correspondent on state TV captured the attention of the international media partly because it happened to coincide with a government crackdown on foreign journalists in Egypt. Many were attacked and their equipment destroyed in an effort to hamper their reporting of the crisis.
Following criticism by the West, newly appointed Premier Ahmed Shafik appeared in an interview and urged TV authorities to do away with the censorship. He asked them to present all sides of the story -- apparently giving the green light for airing the views of the anti-regime protesters.
For state television, this is a complete turnaround and I was pleased to see a shift in the way the story has been covered over the past 72 hours.
As I left the square, I saw a mother lean over her seven- month-old baby. “Papa and I are here for you today. We have not known freedom but we want to make sure you will.”
That, I told myself as I walked to my car, is precisely why tens of thousands of Egyptians are gathered here. For them, even death is a small price to pay.
by Walter E. Williams
Sam Kazman's "Drug Approvals and Deadly Delays" article in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (Winter 2010), tells a story about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's policies have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. Let's look at how it happens.
During the FDA's drug approval process, it confronts the possibility of two errors. If the FDA approves a drug that turns out to have unanticipated, dangerous side effects, people will suffer. Similarly, if the FDA denies or delays the marketing of a perfectly safe and beneficial drug, people will also suffer. Both errors cause medical harm.
Kazman argues that from a political point of view, there's a huge difference between the errors. People who are injured by incorrectly approved drugs will know that they are victims of FDA mistakes. Their suffering makes headlines. FDA officials face unfavorable publicity and perhaps congressional hearings.
It's an entirely different story for victims of incorrect FDA drug delays or denials. These victims are people who are prevented access to drugs that could have helped them. Their suffering or death is seen as reflecting the state of medicine rather than the status of an FDA drug application. Their doctor simply tells them there's nothing more that can be done to help them.
Beta-blockers reduce the risks of secondary heart attacks and were widely used in Europe during the mid-'70s. The FDA imposed a moratorium on beta-blocker approvals in the U.S. because of the drug's carcinogenicity in animals. Finally, in 1981, FDA approved the first such drug, boasting that it might save up to 17,000 lives per year. That meant as many as 100,000 people might have died from secondary heart attacks waiting for FDA approval.
In the early 1990s, it took the FDA more than three years to approve interleukin-2 as the first therapy for advanced kidney cancer. By the time the FDA approved the drug, it was available in nine European countries. The FDA was worried about the drug's toxicity that resulted in the death of 5 percent of those who took it during testing trials. This concern obscures the fact that metastatic kidney cancer has the effect of killing 100 percent of its victims.
Kazman says that if we estimate that interleukin-2 would have helped 10 percent of those who would otherwise die of kidney cancer, then the FDA's delay might have contributed to the premature deaths of 3,000 people. Kazman asks whether we've seen any photos or news stories of the 3,000 victims of the FDA's interleukin-2 delay or the 100,000 victims of the FDA's beta-blocker delay.
These are the invisible victims of FDA policy. In the 1974 words of FDA commissioner Alexander M. Schmidt: "In all of FDA's history, I am unable to find a single instance where a congressional committee investigated the failure of FDA to approve a new drug. But, the times when hearings have been held to criticize our approval of new drugs have been so frequent that we aren't able to count them. ... The message to FDA staff could not be clearer."
That message is to always err on the side of overcaution where FDA's victims are invisible and the agency is held blameless.
Kazman's day job is general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute that's done surveys of physicians and their views of the FDA. On approval speed, 61 to 77 percent of physicians surveyed say the FDA approval process is too slow. Seventy-eight percent believe the FDA has hurt their ability to give patients the best care.
But so what? Physicians carry far less weight with the FDA than "public interest" advocates and politicians.
When the FDA announces its approval of a new drug or device, the question that needs to be asked is: If this drug will start saving lives tomorrow, how many people died yesterday waiting for the FDA to act?
Indicting the Messenger
BBC Joins Smear Campaign Against Assange and Wikileaks
By ISRAEL SHAMIR
The campaign by the establishment press against Julian Assange is intensifying. CBS’s 60 Minutes tried to trash him last Sunday, but Assange left CBS’ interviewer, Steve Kroft, floundering. Last Sunday also saw New York Times editor Bill Keller consume several thousand words in the NYT’s Magazine abusing Assange with disgraceful lack of scruple, Assange being a man who gave the New York Times some actual news scoops, instead of its regular staple of gastroporn from Sam Sifton. Here Israel Shamir reports, with some personal involvement, on the impending slurring of Assange on the BBC, and the attacks on him in The Guardian. AC/JSC
I picked up the phone on the third ring, and a melodious British voice informed me that the BBC wanted to include me in its Panorama program. The BBC wanted to hear my views on the world, and was especially interested in Wikileaks. Oh what a glorious moment! I felt myself puff with pride. There is something about “the Beeb” that makes my heart flutter! I have always been partial to their style, and I considered it an honour to have the BBC listed on my CV, even though it was over thirty years ago. When I worked in Bush House on the Strand, the BBC’s Panorama was one of the best investigative programs anywhere - and suddenly here they are, soliciting my comments! Eager to build a relationship of trust, I answered all their preparatory questions with an unvarnished honesty. I thought I had done well; they offered to fly me to London, or if that were inconvenient they would fly out and speak to me in Moscow – civil chaps, aren’t they?
Looking back, the signs of danger were easy to see. They were producing a program about Wikileaks, but they had no plans to interview Julian Assange. Perhaps he is too busy? Furthermore, the questions began to take on a sinister tone. I shrugged off the feeling as a by-product of all the dirty politics we were discussing, but a few telephone conversations later my ill feelings finally seeped into my swelled head and it dawned on me what was going on. These nice chaps from the BBC were actually collecting dirt to use against Wikileaks! I was being played for a sucker. Suddenly I felt like Julian Assange, face to face with the honey trap.
The clincher was a letter I just received from producer John Sweeney, outlining the substance of the broadcast. It does not read like a television show, it reads like a criminal indictment. Every wild accusation is listed, and those without a shred of evidence are given pride of place. Most amazing of all, the Sweeney letter includes some lines lifted from a missive I had sent to Julian some time ago. The words were taken out of context and they were a misquotation of the original, but I recognise my prose. Some questions immediately spring to mind. How did the BBC get their hands on my private correspondence? Does the BBC actually steal private mail, or do they hire out? Ominously, this is not the first time this has happened to me. Another private letter of mine was (mis)quoted by The Guardian’s investigative editor David Leigh. Is it too conspiratorial of me to recognise a disturbing pattern? Could it be that the alleged three stolen laptops of Julian Assange found their last resting place at Leigh&Sweeney after a brief sojourn at Langley?
John Sweeney and David Leigh are cut from different cloth, but they both know how to play the journalism game. Leigh smoulders with jealousy. He plays the Salieri to Assange’s Mozart, but he thinks of himself as the unsung hero of Wikileaks. A hero? Rather, a villain. As Bill Keller of the New York Times admitted it was Leigh who “concluded that these rogue leaks (he engineered them) released The Guardian from any pledge”. Since then, he’s started his own private war against Wikileaks. His liaison with Sweeney was a convenient one. Sweeney is the sort of guy you assign to smear Mother Theresa. He has skated along thus far because only the very rich might contemplate suing the BBC, but he has been found by a court to be a libeller at least one time. Sweeney’s lunatic outbursts of fury are calculated to intimidate interviewees and have been preserved for posterity. It is all too plain to me now why Assange and company refused to have anything to do with Panorama and its pre-planned outcome. It is all too obvious to me now why they came hunting for your humble narrator.
The Panorama program on Wikileaks will run on February 7, 2011, the very day that the trial of Julian Assange will be reopened. The result of the trial is unpredictable, not so the program. Assange has more than a chance before the British courts, but if this Sweeney letter is anything to judge by, Panorama will leave no survivors. This is the British version of The Empire Strikes Back, the ultimate response to those who try to challenge mainstream corporate media’s hold over the public mind. In the meantime, the FBI and Scotland Yard have been keeping busy, making as many as 45 raids on various premises connected with Wikileaks, so that the alliance between the BBC and The Guardian is an ethereal mirror of some very earthy, if not subterranean, activity.
I doubt we will see the BBC’s Panorama make any attempt to examine what was disclosed by Wikileaks. I’m sure they will neglect to include Julian Assange’s philosophy of clarity as the people’s weapon against conspiracies of powerful; nor will they discuss the wilful redacting of the cables by The Guardian, or their arbitrary use of misleading headlines. I do not think they will investigate The Guardian’s journalistic attempts to destroy Julian Assange, including publishing an anticipatory book about the fall of Wikileaks. I wonder if they will inquire into OpenLeaks, the Guardian-sponsored alternative to Wikileaks, and how their version of “transparency” might be used to unmask whistleblowers and deliver their leaks back to their masters.
BBC producer John Sweeney in front of the Westminster Magistrates Court (where
Assange's hearing was due to take place) on 14 December 2010. Sweeney was
interviewing someone who arrived with him, and NOT the demonstrators. Photo by Paul de Rooij.
The one thing I do expect to see: smears! Some of these smears will deal with the alleged rape. I am no prophet, but I am willing to bet they will not mention these salient facts: the fact that the alleged victim was seen enjoying the company of the alleged rapist the day after the alleged crime, and the breathless twitters sent by the alleged victim after the alleged crime about how “amazing” it was to hang out with Julian and the Wikileaks crew. They will certainly not bring up Karl Rove’s involvement in the entrapment, nor will they list the complainant’s connections to the CIA. I suspect they will not bother to interview the eminent Swedish judge Brita Sundberg-Weitman about why she thinks the extradition request is illegal, and why she thinks that the people behind the request are pursuing their own agenda. I doubt the program will quote Swedish attorney Marianne Ny, who said that it is better to keep a man in jail even if he turns out to be innocent.
Judging by Sweeney’s letter, there will be more than smears; there will be megasmears! Israel Shamir (that’s me) is a veritable lightning rod for smear jobs. Some folks can’t take the heat, and frankly, I don’t blame them. The Sweeney letter accuses me of being an “anti-Semite” and a “Holocaust denier”. Presumably it will be repeated in the broadcast.
To ensure their case is fireproof, the BBC has hired expert “anti-Semitism fighter” Professor Richard Evans – the BBC spares no expense when the game is afoot. Evans was an expert witness in the David Irving libel trial, and walked away with what some claim to have been more than $500,000 for “fighting” anti-Semitism. Under cross examination, Evans, under oath, had stated that he would not publish a book and thereby gain further profit from his participation in the trial. Yet of course he did publish a book, and yes, he profited from it. Without his reputation as an “anti-Semitism fighter”, his “glumly unimaginative style … [that] makes Evans’s account like a long draft of flat beer” (as George Walden wrote in Bloomberg) would leave him on the margins of life. I’ll be glad to refute Professor Evans’s insights, but let’s maintain a proper historical perspective. I’d reserve my comments untilafter the BBC hires Evans to analyse the anti-Semitism of George VI, Shakespeare, Eliot and Marx.
I have written hundreds of pages on the topic, but for the benefit of the reader I’ll sum it up. Naturally, as a son of Jewish parents and a man who has lived in the Jewish state, deeply and intimately involved with Jewish culture, I harbour no hate to a Jew because he is a Jew. I doubt many people do. However I did and do criticise various aspects of Jewish Weltanschauung like so many Jewish and Christian thinkers before me, or even more so for I witnessed crimes of the Jewish state that originated in this worldview.
As for the accusation of “Holocaust denial”, my family lost too many of its sons and daughters for me to deny the facts of Jewish tragedy, but I do deny its religious salvific significance implied in the very term ‘Holocaust’; I do deny its metaphysical uniqueness, I do deny the morbid cult of Holocaust and I think every God-fearing man, a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim should reject it as Abraham rejected and smashed idols. I deny that it is good to remember or immortalize such traumatic events, and I wrote many articles against the modern obsession with massacres, be it the Jewish holocaust of the 1940s, the Armenian massacre of 1915, the Ukrainian “holodomor”, Polish Katyn, Khmer Rouge etc. Poles, Armenians, Ukrainians understood me, so did Jews – otherwise I would be charged with the crime of factual denial which is known to the Israeli law. It takes Evans and Sweeney to feign indignation.
I am not offended easily by morons. However, this ‘denier’ rhetoric keeps many of my erstwhile associates at arm’s length; no one likes being labelled, and I do not wish these labels to be rubbed off onto my friends, especially those like Julian Assange who never were interested in the subject. My Zionist opponents are obsessed with race and holocausts; I am not. Moreover, these days I take time off from my long involvement with Jewish topics, an involvement that began with translating the works of the modern Hebrew writer S.Y.Agnon, moved on to translating the medieval Hebrew works of Samuel Zacuto, and then finally had a go at undoing the crimes of Zionism. I do not renounce anything I’ve said or wrote, but there is life outside this subject. Wikileaks is the best example of this. Wikileaks has changed the face of the Middle East more radically than my ramblings ever could. Without Wikileaks, Al-Jazeera would never have published its Palestine Papers, and Tunisia and Egypt would not have begun their battle away from dictatorship and towards freedom.
These attacks on me have two reasons: one, to undermine Wikileaks and Julian Assange by association with me, “antisemite and denier”; two, to undermine my efforts to give you, readers, the cables unfiltered by the embedded media. I have been mainly involved with the post-Soviet space, and from that vantge point I have delivered cables to very different media outlets, to the mainstream Russkiy Reporter, the mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda, to the opposition Novaya Gazeta, to the Naviny, an independent site in Belarus because I did not like The Guardian’s arrangement of keeping embedded media in full control. If it worked in the East, it may work in the West: we may free ourselves from their mind control.
I believe the viewers of Panorama are too smart to be misled by ad hominem attacks. I believe you will judge Julian Assange and also me by what we do: breaking the conspiracy of the powerful against the powerless. This is what the BBC is trying to make us forget. We have spent too much time and space dealing with their indictments of the messengers. Instead, we should indict them for trying to distract us from the message.
Edited by Paul Bennett
Texas booms while California busts!
Among the states, it has become clear there are two competing visions of political economy in America, embodied by California and Texas. One vision involves the economic devastation that comes of an overregulated economy. The other reveals the prosperity unleashed by smaller government.
Broadly speaking, the two states have many similarities. They have diverse economies, large urban areas, a border with Mexico and similar demographic make-up, with Hispanics a third of the population. Yet one state is failing and one state is succeeding.
California is facing budget shortfalls in excess of $20 billion each year for the next five years, and acquires $25 million in new debt each day. “We’ve been living in fantasy land. It is much worse than I thought. I’m shocked,” then California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, D, told the Los Angeles Times.
By contrast, when Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, campaigned successfully for a third term this year, he ran ads touting the fact that his state has billions in surplus. In fact, Texas was one of only six states that did not run a budget deficit in 2009. Perry, with characteristic Texas humility, has taken to taunting California on his Facebook page. Texas is expected to run a two-year, $15 billion deficit going forward. But this still doesn’t have observers worried. Texas legislators closed a $10 billion deficit in 2003 without raising taxes.
Already the Texas legislature has proposed $73.8 billion over the next two years or “exactly what the state comptroller said Texas will earn in revenues over the next two years,” according to the Associated Press. The Texas legislature operates under the radical assumption that the government can only spend what it earns.
While Texas has been affected by the economic downturn, its 7.9 percent unemployment rate is well below the national average of 9.8. At 12 percent, unemployment in California is well above average.
Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of Texas’ superiority is that Americans have been stating their preference for the Lone Star State with their feet.
Between 2000 and 2009, California had a domestic outflow of 1.5 million people, while Texas had 850,000 move in from other states. From 2008 to 2009, Texas’ population inflow was double that of any other state.
So how have two similar states ended up in such radically different situations? The answer is smaller government.
What Texas is doing “appears as right-wing science fiction to many California legislators and pundits. They claim that serious reform of the tax code is unrealistic, that a large state has many duties to fulfill, and that it is irresponsible to call for a return to a 19th century view of the role of government,” write economists Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams in their annual report “Rich States, Poor States.”
Texas has no state income tax or personal capital gains tax and a small 1 percent gross receipts tax on business. In contrast, California’s 10.3 percent personal income tax is the second highest in the country, and the Golden’s State’s top marginal rates for corporate income and capital gains are 8.84 and 10.55 percent, respectively.
“We hasten to add that the last time we checked, Texas still had literate kids, navigable roads and functioning hospitals, which one would think impossible given the hysterical rhetoric coming from defenders of California’s punitive tax system,” write Laffer, Moore and Williams.
Texas is easily weathering the economic storms, while state services and infrastructure in California are on the verge of collapse. The contrast between the two state economies serves as a warning to the whole country.
Egypt, Israel and a Strategic Reconsideration
By George Friedman
The events in Egypt have sent shock waves through Israel. The 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel have been the bedrock of Israeli national security. In three of the four wars Israel fought before the accords, a catastrophic outcome for Israel was conceivable. In 1948, 1967 and 1973, credible scenarios existed in which the Israelis were defeated and the state of Israel ceased to exist. In 1973, it appeared for several days that one of those scenarios was unfolding.
The survival of Israel was no longer at stake after 1978. In the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the various Palestinian intifadas and the wars with Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, Israeli interests were involved, but not survival. There is a huge difference between the two. Israel had achieved a geopolitical ideal after 1978 in which it had divided and effectively made peace with two of the four Arab states that bordered it, and neutralized one of those states. The treaty with Egypt removed the threat to the Negev and the southern coastal approaches to Tel Aviv.
The agreement with Jordan in 1994, which formalized a long-standing relationship, secured the longest and most vulnerable border along the Jordan River. The situation in Lebanon was such that whatever threat emerged from there was limited. Only Syria remained hostile but, by itself, it could not threaten Israel. Damascus was far more focused on Lebanon anyway. As for the Palestinians, they posed a problem for Israel, but without the foreign military forces along the frontiers, the Palestinians could trouble but not destroy Israel. Israel’s existence was not at stake, nor was it an issue for 33 years.
The Historic Egyptian Threat to Israel
The center of gravity of Israel’s strategic challenge was always Egypt. The largest Arab country, with about 80 million people, Egypt could field the most substantial army. More to the point, Egypt could absorb casualties at a far higher rate than Israel. The danger that the Egyptian army posed was that it could close with the Israelis and engage in extended, high-intensity combat that would break the back of Israel Defense Forces by imposing a rate of attrition that Israel could not sustain. If Israel were to be simultaneously engaged with Syria, dividing its forces and its logistical capabilities, it could run out of troops long before Egypt, even if Egypt were absorbing far more casualties.
The solution for the Israelis was to initiate combat at a time and place of their own choosing, preferably with surprise, as they did in 1956 and 1967. Failing that, as they did in 1973, the Israelis would be forced into a holding action they could not sustain and forced onto an offensive in which the risks of failure — and the possibility — would be substantial.
It was to the great benefit of Israel that Egyptian forces were generally poorly commanded and trained and that Egyptian war-fighting doctrine, derived from Britain and the Soviet Union, was not suited to the battle problem Israel posed. In 1967, Israel won its most complete victory over Egypt, as well as Jordan and Syria. It appeared to the Israelis that the Arabs in general and Egyptians in particular were culturally incapable of mastering modern warfare.
Thus it was an extraordinary shock when, just six years after their 1967 defeat, the Egyptians mounted a two-army assault across the Suez, coordinated with a simultaneous Syrian attack on the Golan Heights. Even more stunning than the assault was the operational security the Egyptians maintained and the degree of surprise they achieved. One of Israel’s fundamental assumptions was that Israeli intelligence would provide ample warning of an attack. And one of the fundamental assumptions of Israeli intelligence was that Egypt could not mount an attack while Israel maintained air superiority. Both assumptions were wrong. But the most important error was the assumption that Egypt could not, by itself, coordinate a massive and complex military operation. In the end, the Israelis defeated the Egyptians, but at the cost of the confidence they achieved in 1967 and a recognition that comfortable assumptions were impermissible in warfare in general and regarding Egypt in particular.
The Egyptians had also learned lessons. The most important was that the existence of the state of Israel did not represent a challenge to Egypt’s national interest. Israel existed across a fairly wide and inhospitable buffer zone — the Sinai Peninsula. The logistical problems involved in deploying a massive force to the east had resulted in three major defeats, while the single partial victory took place on much shorter lines of supply. Holding or taking the Sinai was difficult and possible only with a massive infusion of weapons and supplies from the outside, from the Soviet Union. This meant that Egypt was a hostage to Soviet interests. Egypt had a greater interest in breaking its dependency on the Soviets than in defeating Israel. It could do the former more readily than the latter.
The Egyptian recognition that its interests in Israel were minimal and the Israeli recognition that eliminating the potential threat from Egypt guaranteed its national security have been the foundation of the regional balance since 1978. All other considerations — Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest — were trivial in comparison. Geography — the Sinai — made this strategic distancing possible. So did American aid to Egypt. The substitution of American weapons for Soviet ones in the years after the treaty achieved two things. First, they ended Egypt’s dependency on the Soviets. Second, they further guaranteed Israel’s security by creating an Egyptian army dependent on a steady flow of spare parts and contractors from the United States. Cut the flow and the Egyptian army would be crippled.
The governments of Anwar Sadat and then Hosni Mubarak were content with this arrangement. The generation that came to power with Gamal Nasser had fought four wars with Israel and had little stomach for any more. They had proved themselves in October 1973 on the Suez and had no appetite to fight again or to send their sons to war. It is not that they created an oasis of prosperity in Egypt. But they no longer had to go to war every few years, and they were able, as military officers, to live good lives. What is now regarded as corruption was then regarded as just rewards for bleeding in four wars against the Israelis.
Mubarak and the Military
But now is 33 years later, and the world has changed. The generation that fought is very old. Today’s Egyptian military trains with the Americans, and its officers pass through the American command and staff and war colleges. This generation has close ties to the United States, but not nearly as close ties to the British-trained generation that fought the Israelis or to Egypt’s former patrons, the Russians. Mubarak has locked the younger generation, in their fifties and sixties, out of senior command positions and away from the wealth his generation has accumulated. They want him out.
For this younger generation, the idea of Gamal Mubarak being allowed to take over the presidency was the last straw. They wanted the elder Mubarak to leave not only because he had ambitions for his son but also because he didn’t want to leave after more than a quarter century of pressure. Mubarak wanted guarantees that, if he left, his possessions, in addition to his honor, would remain intact. If Gamal could not be president, then no one’s promise had value. So Mubarak locked himself into position.
The cameras love demonstrations, but they are frequently not the real story. The demonstrators who wanted democracy are a real faction, but they don’t speak for the shopkeepers and peasants more interested in prosperity than wealth. Since Egypt is a Muslim country, the West freezes when anything happens, dreading the hand of Osama bin Laden. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was once a powerful force, and it might become one again someday, but right now it is a shadow of its former self. What is going on now is a struggle within the military, between generations, for the future of the Egyptian military and therefore the heart of the Egyptian regime. Mubarak will leave, the younger officers will emerge, the constitution will make some changes and life will continue.
The Israelis will return to their complacency. They should not. The usual first warning of a heart attack is death. Among the fortunate, it is a mild coronary followed by a dramatic change of life style. The events in Egypt should be taken as a mild coronary and treated with great relief by Israel that it wasn’t worse.
Reconsidering the Israeli Position
I have laid out the reasons why the 1978 treaty is in Egypt’s national interest. I have left out two pieces. The first is ideology. The ideological tenor of the Middle East prior to 1978 was secular and socialist. Today it is increasingly Islamist. Egypt is not immune to this trend, even if the Muslim Brotherhood should not be seen as the embodiment of that threat. Second, military technology, skills and terrain have made Egypt a defensive power for the past 33 years. But military technology and skills can change, on both sides. Egyptian defensiveness is built on assumptions of Israeli military capability and interest. As Israeli ideology becomes more militant and as its capabilities grow, Egypt may be forced to reconsider its strategic posture. As new generations of officers arise, who have heard of war only from their grandfathers, the fear of war declines and the desire for glory grows. Combine that with ideology in Egypt and Israel and things change. They won’t change quickly — a generation of military transformation will be needed once regimes have changed and the decisions to prepare for war have been made — but they can change.
Two things from this should strike the Israelis. The first is how badly they need peace with Egypt. It is easy to forget what things were like 40 years back, but it is important to remember that the prosperity of Israel today depends in part on the treaty with Egypt. Iran is a distant abstraction, with a notional bomb whose completion date keeps moving. Israel can fight many wars with Egypt and win. It need lose only one. The second lesson is that Israel should do everything possible to make certain that the transfer of power in Egypt is from Mubarak to the next generation of military officers and that these officers maintain their credibility in Egypt. Whether Israel likes it or not, there is an Islamist movement in Egypt. Whether the new generation controls that movement as the previous one did or whether they succumb to it is the existential question for Israel. If the treaty with Egypt is the foundation of Israel’s national security, it is logical that the Israelis should do everything possible to preserve it.
This was not the fatal heart attack. It might not even have been more than indigestion. But recent events in Egypt point to a long-term problem with Israeli strategy. Given the strategic and ideological crosscurrents in Egypt, it is in Israel’s national interest to minimize the intensity of the ideological and make certain that Israel is not perceived as a threat. In Gaza, for example, Israel and Egypt may have shared a common interest in containing Hamas, and the next generation of Egyptian officers may share it as well. But what didn’t materialize in the streets this time could in the future: an Islamist rising. In that case, the Egyptian military might find it in its interest to preserve its power by accommodating the Islamists. At this point, Egypt becomes the problem and not part of the solution.
Keeping Egypt from coming to this is the imperative of military dispassion. If the long-term center of gravity of Israel’s national security is at least the neutrality of Egypt, then doing everything to maintain that is a military requirement. That military requirement must be carried out by political means. That requires the recognition of priorities. The future of Gaza or the precise borders of a Palestinian state are trivial compared to preserving the treaty with Egypt. If it is found that a particular political strategy undermines the strategic requirement, then that political strategy must be sacrificed.
In other words, the worst-case scenario for Israel would be a return to the pre-1978 relationship with Egypt without a settlement with the Palestinians. That would open the door for a potential two-front war with an intifada in the middle. To avoid that, the ideological pressure on Egypt must be eased, and that means a settlement with the Palestinians on less-than-optimal terms. The alternative is to stay the current course and let Israel take its chances. The question is where the greater safety lies. Israel has assumed that it lies with confrontation with the Palestinians. That’s true only if Egypt stays neutral. If the pressure on the Palestinians destabilizes Egypt, it is not the most prudent course.
There are those in Israel who would argue that any release in pressure on the Palestinians will be met with rejection. If that is true, then, in my view, that is catastrophic news for Israel. In due course, ideological shifts and recalculations of Israeli intentions will cause a change in Egyptian policy. This will take several decades to turn into effective military force, and the first conflicts may well end in Israeli victory. But, as I have said before, it must always be remembered that no matter how many times Israel wins, it need only lose once to be annihilated.
To some it means that Israel should remain as strong as possible. To me it means that Israel should avoid rolling the dice too often, regardless of how strong it thinks it is. The Mubarak affair might open a strategic reconsideration of the Israeli position.
The Roots of Ronald Reagan's Ambition
A novel he read as a boy set him on a life-long course.
Simi Valley, Calif.
Ronald Reagan's status as a mythic figure was demonstrated on Sunday as 1,500 guests gathered at the Reagan Presidential Library to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday. Liberals have come to accept his strengths and even acknowledge some of his accomplishments, while conservatives have raised even higher his pedestal. Yet unanswered questions about the Gipper linger.
His son, Ron Reagan, notes that even though his father was on public display his entire adult life, for "even those of us who were closest to him, [there was a] hidden 10% that remains a considerable mystery." One mystery: How could a boy who spent much of his youth alone, was picked on by bullies, and was so nearsighted that he was chosen last for playground games, acquire the ambition to run for president four times?
There are tangible clues. One is that Reagan consciously set out to become a hero at an early age. "I'm a sucker for hero worship," he wrote in his 1990 autobiography "An American Life." Heroism was a recurring theme of his presidential speeches, from his first inaugural to his 1984 State of the Union address in which he celebrated "unsung American heroes who may not have realized their dreams themselves but who then reinvest those dreams in their children."
Rumsfeld's 'Slice of History'
In an interview, the former secretary of defense explains how Washington feuds harmed Iraq policy, and why the surge was less vital than you think.
'I'd read other folks' books about things I'd been involved in . . . and I'd think, 'My goodness, that's not my perspective,'" chuckles former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in an interview last Friday. "I remember talking to [former Secretary of State] George Shultz and he said, 'Don, that's the way it is. Everyone has their slice of history and you need to write yours one day so that it is part of the records.'"
History, meet Mr. Rumsfeld's view. With today's release of "Known and Unknown"—the 78-year-old's memoir of his tenure as defense secretary under George W. Bush and Gerald Ford, his years in the Nixon administration and his three terms as an Illinois congressman—"Rummy" is offering his slice of history. As befits a man who has spent decades provoking Washington debate, his chronicle is direct and likely to inspire some shouting.
The usual Rumsfeld critics (including some in the Bush family circle) are rushing to categorize it as a "score-settling" account, but that's a predictable (and tedious) judgment. At the heart of Mr. Rumsfeld's book is an important critique of the Bush administration that has been largely missing from the debate over Iraq. The dominant narrative to date has been that a cowboy president and his posse of neocons went to war without adequate preparation and ran roughshod over doubts by more sober bureaucratic and strategic minds.
What Mr. Rumsfeld offers is a far more believable account of events, one that holds individuals responsible for failures of execution. He describes a White House with internal problems, at the heart of which was a National Security Council overseen in Mr. Bush's first term by Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Rice's style of management, argues Mr. Rumsfeld, led to indecision, which in turn led to the lack of a coherent post-invasion plan, to a sluggish transfer of power to Iraqis, and to a festering insurgency. If nothing else, this gives historians something valuable to ponder as they work on an honest appraisal of the Bush years.
Mr. Rumsfeld tells me that he sees his 815-page volume as a "contribution to the historic record"—not some breezy Washington tell-all. In his more than 40 years of public service, he kept extensive records of his votes, his meetings with presidents, and the more than 20,000 memos (known as "snowflakes") he flurried on the Pentagon during his second run as defense secretary. Mr. Rumsfeld uses them as primary sources, which accounts for the book's more than 1,300 end notes. He's also digitized them so readers and historians can consult the evidence first-hand at www.rumsfeld.com.
And yes, he has every intention of using this material to change history's view of past controversies—some that go way back. One example: The book notes a "particularly stubborn . . . myth": the charge that, as White House chief of staff, Mr. Rumsfeld pushed President Ford to appoint George H.W. Bush as CIA director, in order to banish a rival. Mr. Rumsfeld cites the memo he provided the president—"at [Ford's] request"—evaluating the strength of CIA candidates. It shows that, in fact, he placed the elder Mr. Bush "below the line" on his list—meaning, he was not a "top recommendation" (ouch).
Mr. Rumsfeld devotes an early chapter to his meditations on the purpose of the National Security Council (NSC), accompanied by his judgment that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice did a poor job of airing and debating substantive disagreements between the State and Defense departments. Rivalries between State and Defense are nothing new, yet Ms. Rice's most "notable feature" of management, writes Mr. Rumsfeld, "was her commitment, whenever possible, to 'bridging' differences between the agencies, rather than bringing those differences to the President for decisions."
"Condi Rice is a very accomplished human being," he says in our interview, and "she had an academic background. Blending things and delaying things is okay in the academic world. She developed a very strong relationship with the president, which is critically important. And yet one of the adverse aspects of the way things functioned—and I wouldn't use the word 'dysfunction'—is that things did get delayed, and the president didn't get served up, in a crisp way, options that he could choose among."
The memoir relates notable instances when this dynamic played out, but none with more consequence than the muddled plan for postwar Iraq. The Defense Department pushed early on "to do what we'd done in Afghanistan"—where a tribal loya jirga had quickly anointed Hamid Karzai as leader. "The goal was to move quickly to have an Iraqi face on the leadership in the country, as opposed to a foreign occupation." Mr. Rumsfeld's early takeaway from NSC meetings was that "the president agreed."
Yet Colin Powell's State Department was adamantly opposed. It was suspicious of allowing Iraqi exiles to help govern, claiming they'd undermine "legitimacy." It also didn't believe a joint U.S.-Iraqi power-sharing agreement would work. These were clear, substantive policy differences, yet in Mr. Rumsfeld's telling, Ms. Rice allowed the impasse to drag on.
The result was the long, damaging regency of Paul Bremer as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority—which Mr. Rumsfeld believes helped inspire the initial Iraq insurgency. Mr. Bremer, who set up shop in one of Saddam's opulent palaces, continued to postpone the creation of an Iraqi transitional government. He instead appointed a "governing council" of Iraqis but refused to give even them any responsibility. The result: delays in elections and in building post-Saddam institutions.
"You are always better having a president look at each option, at the pros and cons, and make a decision among them, than trying to merge them," says Mr. Rumsfeld, especially when positions are "contradictory to a certain extent."
Mr. Rumsfeld also faults today's Washington culture, with a hyperaggressive Congress and more "litigious society." During his earlier Washington years, recalls Mr. Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger wrote clear memoranda outlining "the pros and cons" for the president. But in the modern NSC there's a reluctance to write things down—lest it land in an investigation.
The lack of clear decision-making also led to blurred authority, which Mr. Powell's State Department used to get the upper hand in turf battles. Ms. Rice used it too, in late 2003, to wrest more personal control over postwar operations via her "Iraqi Stabilization Group"—a job for which Mr. Rumsfeld writes that Ms. Rice and her staff did not have "the interest or skill."
Officially, Mr. Bremer reported to Mr. Rumsfeld. But he "viewed himself as the president's man, had a background in the State Department, and a relationship with Condi Rice," says Mr. Rumsfeld. So Mr. Bremer chose what guidance he preferred, which Mr. Rumsfeld describes as the equivalent of having "four or eight hands on the steering wheel." Critical issues—whom the U.S. should support, who should have power, how quickly to turn over authority—lingered. I ask Mr. Rumsfeld why he didn't simply fire Mr. Bremer. He says he couldn't. Mr. Bremer was "a presidential envoy" and served at Mr. Bush's pleasure.
Mr. Rumsfeld somewhat shields the president in his book. When the president was brought options, insists Mr. Rumsfeld, "he was perfectly willing" to make decisions. Then again, the book makes clear that Mr. Bush was aware of the ugly conflicts between State and Defense. And there's no getting around Mr. Bush's responsibility as wartime manager and Ms. Rice's boss.
Mr. Rumsfeld is less blunt about his own department's mistakes, though he does sidle into them. One question is why it took so long to replace Gens. George Casey and John Abizaid, on whose watch the Iraqi insurgency grew. Mr. Rumsfeld's memoir notes that no one on the NSC or the Joint Chiefs had recommended they be removed by the autumn of 2006, Mr. Rumsfeld's last months on the job. Yet he does acknowledge a visit in September of 2006 from retired Gen. Jack Keane, a key architect of the surge, who warned that the two generals were not "sufficiently aware of the gravity of the situation." When I ask Mr. Rumsfeld if they were indeed left in Iraq too long, he concedes: "In retrospect, you could make that case."
He isn't as willing to acknowledge that he was slow to address Iraq's insurgency. It was never one insurgency, he says, but rather it "evolved, and took different shapes." The first wave, he says, was "Saddam and his Baathists attempting to regain power" aided by "criminals" whom Saddam had released from jail. Then came the influx of terrorists—"facilitated through Damascus"—coming to fight against Americans. Al Qaeda joined the fray, as did a Shiite uprising under Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. "We couldn't lose any battles over there, but we couldn't beat them militarily," he says. "Because there was no one to beat. It was a totally unconventional asymmetrical circumstance."
Mr. Rumsfeld thus takes an unorthodox view of the significance of President Bush's surge, which began to take effect in early 2007. He argues that by 2006 things were, in fact, improving in Iraq. The Anbar Awakening—which Mr. Rumsfeld credits as beginning in the fall of 2006—"had convinced a lot of Sunnis they didn't want to be associated with al Qaeda," and "the government of Iraq was evolving the ability to take on some of the radicals" with the help of Iraqi security forces that had become "very capable."
As a result, he argues, the force of President Bush's surge was as much "psychological" as anything else. "The president's decision galvanized the opinion in Iraq. It said: 'Look, if you think it is going to go to the insurgents, you are wrong.'" The fact of the statement, argues Mr. Rumsfeld, mattered as much as did the increase of troops "tactically or strategically."
Though viewed by many as the spear of Mr. Bush's "freedom agenda," Mr. Rumsfeld also expresses misgivings about "nation-building." He disagrees with the "Pottery Barn rule"—attributed to Mr. Powell—that "if you break it, you own it," arguing Iraq was already broken under Saddam. While he acknowledges that the U.S. had security obligations to Iraq, he expresses discomfort with Mr. Bush's broad promises for democracy, and he worries that countries too frequently develop an overreliance on the U.S.
This is part of his answer when I ask what went wrong (again) in Afghanistan. He notes that committed "Islamists" don't just "disappear." "We've given them a chance, a good chance, to fashion a country that can have the kind of security that the Taliban didn't permit. The Afghan people have to decide."
Mr. Rumsfeld's critics are bitter that his memoir didn't go the obvious commercial route, serving up a grand apology for his role in the wars. Yet readers might be appreciative to find themselves in possession of a serious memoir, more in keeping with the older Washington tradition of Dean Acheson or Henry Kissinger. As might the historians.