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The Political Animal

The Revolution with No Name

delalibWhen it seemed to some at the end of the Cold War that we had also reached the end of history, more than ever, every act of rebellion and revolution seemed cause to celebrate an elevated human spirit. After a long winter of merely staving off an enemy’s further success, now freedom was rising with people uprising, and cheer was in the air. We got, relatively peaceful and colored (orange and rose), revolutions and “springs” that sprang of the hope – so richly did the sap of it rise in great municipal squares around the world – that all that is necessary to topple tyranny is for good people to yearn in multitudes together in city centers, suffer only small losses against brutish police while their uplifting cause is broadcast to the world via iPhone and tweeted the encouragement of the well-fed and meaning.

Hold, now, candles up to the night, under music, for the next inspiring Apple or Nike commercial.

Nothing could stop universal liberation now.

Except as it turned out, lots of the colors faded, and the springs were either false or soon broken, which many people, it seemed, failed to notice. More begin to now.

The course of revolutions was never swift and sure, glorious or quickly final. There were counter revolutions, restorations, and failed republics, great dictators along the way before decades might cast a shadow of the original dream. The promise of the French Revolution was not soon borne out: eighty one years passed between the storming of the Bastille and the final establishment of republican government never again to depart.  Three quarters of a century after the Russian Revolution waited the collapse of Soviet barbarity and then Yeltsin on a tank  just to deliver, so far, ninety-three years later, Vladimir Putin on horseback.

The American Revolution stands more and more exceptional, especially for those who make Exceptionalism the currency of their daily political barter and harangue, though not so exceptional that many of the same won’t pretend that all it requires is a freedom agenda and a perpetual footing for war to spring the world’s restive and aspiring masses, properly watered, into the same colorful bloom.

For many, after Iraq and Afghanistan and those departed springs, it could be Syria that has taken so much the bloom off that rose, though there was Iran in 2009 before it. The right’s interventionists predictably made the failure of that revolution Barack Obama’s failure, though never a credible case was made by never a soul that a president’s greater public encouragement of the “Green” revolution would have led to anything other than the same dismal end with many more dead in the street.

Somewhere now in the consciences of some, not in those of others, arises amidst the inspired freedom calls also the moderating memory – the recollection, in the moral vision of King, that while, he hopefully told us, the arc of history bends toward justice, it is in the first place long. What is it that we provoke with our policies and acts, our encouraging words and cheers, and how, most importantly of all, have we prepared not others, but only ourselves to face what it is that we invoke in the world?

What do we invoke in the world? American troops still in Iraq and not to leave Afghanistan even after thirteen years if some would have their way. The same people would have led the U.S. to enter – oh, let us not argue for the moment over just how – the Syrian civil war. They wanted us, too, to be “all Georgians now” in 2008, when Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And now there is Ukraine, hotter by the day, with Venezuela just a little on the back burner. North Korea, too, there is always the threat of North Korea, and if, likely, no negotiated settlement is reached with Iran over its nuclear program – just how many air campaigns, missile strikes, policing actions, proxy wars, full-fledged attacks, and all out wars do the impassioned eminences of American imperial militarism believe the United States can conduct at once or in just a decade or two, after a decade or two, without inflaming the world and putting the torch to America’s own democracy?

What is neither reasonably nor honorably, which is not to say  uncontested about Ukraine:

  • that Victor Yanukovych was the most corrupt of oligarchs and a malleable instrument of Russian imperial policy
  • that Russia’s invasion of Crimea is both illegal and unjustifiable.

Still, it is so that not many conclusions necessarily follow from these truths.

From the start there have been divisions over the identity and nature of those behind the anti- Yanukovych protests, with Timothy Snyder in The New York Review of Books and Steven Cohen in The Nation prominent opponents pitting freedom-loving liberals against the right wing nationalists the Russians want to cast as fascists. Snyder does not have to be wrong for Cohen to be partly right. Not all American revolutionaries were Tom Paine and Alexander Hamilton. Some retained their monarchical tastes. And do we not receive our very terminology of political right and left from the French Revolution? And did not the Bolsheviks out maneuver a host of competing and more moderate parties during the Russian Revolution? A revolution is never one thing.

Going back to the 2004 Orange Revolution, the evidence of Ukrainian liberal leaning toward the West is clear enough, particularly in the western Ukraine. The problem of Ukraine 2014, whatever the Russians say, is not who is behind the uprising, but what the West thought it was doing in Ukraine and what thought it gave to what the Russians would do when the West did it. The evidence is that what the Europeans and the U.S. thought they were doing was far too simple minded, and that barely a competent thought was given to what the Russians would do.

One does not have to be Henry Kissinger, characteristically unmindful of moral considerations, not to be James Kirchik, treating geopolitical fault lines as cause for a modern crusade on a high horse to the New Jerusalem. One need not be Kirchik to know which side acts more, in King’s words, to uplift human personality, or Kissinger to know when acts are better guided by the possible. The world is not remediated by zealotry.

The most telling words of anyone, by far, in these events were uttered by Vladimir Putin himself when he finally spoke to the public.

I think they sit there across the pond in the U.S., sometimes it seems … they feel like they’re in a lab and they’re running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding consequences of what they’re doing.

This striking observation reveals much. First, for the man who in the past year has emerged as the American right’s latest master strategist, the personal resentment – what should not guide the policy of master strategists – is palpable. Second, the words nonetheless confirm what many on the right have already charged – that Putin holds Obama in contempt. Third, Putin is right. The conclusion of amateurish fooling around in Ukraine, without “understanding consequences of what they’re doing,” is escaped only through partisan rationalization.

But a greater understanding of the mistakes here escapes both Putin and Obama’s home front critics. When all those EU diplo-  and technocrats were luring Ukraine toward membership, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, declaring the EU could get fucked, was picking and choosing who should govern Ukraine after a successful rebellion, it was not, clearly, just the Americans who were wearing lab coats. And it was not the Obama administration, but many of its current critics, before this administration, who have publicly desired all these years to bring the “defensive” lines of NATO right to the borders of Russia, about which the Russians were expected to think what – “Oh, we know, you’re the good guys, we shouldn’t worry”?

Steven Cohen has been infuriated by his own critics calling him a Putin apologist – and why should anyone so intimately connected to The Nation ever be considered tainted by anti-American apologetics – yet it is true that one can, without Cohen’s soft sell of Putin’s autocracy, understand matters from a Russian perspective. It is what fundamentally competent strategists do, and what is required to be done if one wants actually to accomplish a strategic goal and not simply posture about it before the alter of world-historical righteousness.

What stretch of imagination is required to recognize that Putin would not perceive Nuland’s and all the others’ lab set ups benignly? Nuland et al. may envision themselves as no more than traveling preachers tending to their flock’s greater yearning for nearness to democracy, but how much empathetic projection is needed to intuit that Putin, or any Russian leader, would likely see them as outside agitators firing up the flock, stirring up trouble in his own neighboring parish, about which, it just so happens, he cares a little and has an interest? How much geography and history must one know to recognize the significance of Ukraine to Russia? Or that Crimea, once, in 1954, in very different times, literally given to Ukraine for Soviet administrative and political purposes, would not now, seemingly pick-pocketed from Russia’s geopolitical hip, be simply given up with a shrug and a smile? “Oh, well, you win this time. Come back at ya with Mexico when I get a chance.”

Unsurprisingly, entreaties to true believers that they try reversing roles have been facilely dismissed. The U.S., they insist would hardly, in contrary circumstances, invade and annex part of Canada. The easy reply to that easy claim is that, no, obviously, the United States is not Russia. To whom other than rankest of crank extremists on either end of the political spectrum does that case need to be made? Less facile is to wonder just how obvious it is that the United States would not act similarly. American interventions in behalf of national interests are a twentieth century historical marker. Had the Canadian or Mexican governments been toppled during the Cold War by Marxist leaning street protests, how hard is it to conjure the frenzied calls, particularly from the right, for American action? In fact, the United States has maintained possession of Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, occupied by treaty signed under the duress of colonial domination, even as the internationally recognized government of Cuba has for more than fifty years protested that continued foreign occupation. Once the American Civil War was over, the U.S. began covertly to supply arms to Juarez in Mexico, in opposition to the French-installed Emperor Maximilian. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine declared that European interference, not in a neighboring country, but anywhere in the Western Hemisphere would be considered “manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

None of this is to argue an equivalence between the United States and Russia. These commonalities alone create none such. Rather it is to hold out Russian interest in Ukraine as obvious and its response to events easy to have anticipated. That Putin would seek to regain Crimea, which had long been part of Russia. That he might opportunistically lie in wait for eastern Ukraine. That no election in May will invalidate the license Putin feels now even more strongly, as has the West all along as well, to work clandestinely to shape the future of whatever Ukraine will remain. Still, unprepared for the response so far, Western voices rail against it as a behavioral outlier.

When freedom agenda crusaders, particularly, rail so obviously about how good we are, and how bad is the autocrat of the day, they despoil statecraft with a simplistic Manichaeism. In this mode of thinking, Putin knows he is bad – chooses to be bad, like Satan in rebellion against God. He mentally spurns and is rejected by the goodness he recognizes and that in a better world would have been his. His opposition to “us” is thus a kind of private wound, a closely nurtured insufficiency that justifies itself in devilishness, while all the while he actually knows just how bad he is.

This is a misunderstanding of personality at its core.

While it is standard operating procedure to identify all of Putin’s lies, which, of course, are many, identifying Putin particularly with lying exhibits just that core misunderstanding. The autocrat is not fundamentally a liar, but a bullshitter.

Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth. On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires.

Regarding Ukraine, we see that Putin does more than simply lie, in the claim, for instance, that uniformed troops in Crimea without insignia are not Russian, which no one believes: greater, he fakes the context of Ukraine entirely. The authentic individual lie is meant to deceive, to be mistaken in the greater context for the truth. Bullshit, however, is intended to confuse, so that the truth disappears. This is what all autocrats intend, the vanishing of the truth beneath the panorama that is their vision of the world – the extension of their own egos. The truth that is manifest in history is that autocrats believe in what they are doing.

To strategize against the likes of Putin, then, one must work with that understanding, along with historical and geopolitical fundamentals. From that perspective, there is no question of the autocrat’s commitment to negotiations as a matter of preferred principle, some shared belief that talking together,  regardless of conflicting interests, is always preferable to conflict. The autocrat will employ – as Assad has done – Mao’s policy of fight, fight, talk, talk until one way or the other he gains as much as possible of what he wants. (And, yes, the date on that linked article about Iran is 2005, under the Bush administration, not 2014.)

Effective negotiations against the autocrat will have two characteristics. They will offer the autocrat a less costly, limited win more easily achieved than through other means, and they will deliver to democrats their own limited win that blocks any near-term further success by the autocrat through continued conflict or subterfuge. Absent that second characteristic, democrats will have been outmaneuvered, as the U.S. thus far has been outmaneuvered on Syria, where a failure even to come close to meeting the February 6 deadline for the removal of all chemical weapons has been allowed to pass with barely comment from the Obama administration, let alone action of any kind. At the same time, the administration had a vision of Syrian peace talks, but, astonishingly, apparently believing that Assad actually wanted to talk, rather than use the talks to delay, had no strategy for the talks whatever beyond the idea of them. And now there is the distraction of Ukraine.

Contrary to the belligerent harangues of American militarists, however, the West and the Obama administration have not been outmaneuvered because they – really, the U.S. – are not prepared to shake a militant fist at every trouble spot and throw punches often. They are adrift because they had no coherent strategy either to accomplish the kind of end they sought in Ukraine. Obama has a proper global vision for the twenty-first century – a U.S. that resorts to military action only rarely, in vital or self-defense, and no longer multiple times a decade in vestigial Cold War defense of imperial interests, no longer in bearing the burden of ill-conceived humanitarian interventions on behalf of everyone else,. There is, too, the belief that in time, centers of power and concern will shift to Asia. All this is good, but it is a partial geo-strategic position, not a plan for getting there. Not a plan, most of all, for how to act in long term consonance with a part of the nation’s vital self-definition: a great democracy standing unselfishly, yet with a mature understanding of historical development, in support of democracy for all nations.

One senses that Obama embraces such a national self-definition with very great, truly conservative reserve. Thus he has no regional and global strategy for playing this role, and was as unprepared as were the Europeans for the entirely foreseeable response of Putin, who quite reasonably, by his lights, took developments in Ukraine as aggressive meddling in his interests. The militarists will assert that they are advocating the aggressive resolve that won the Cold War. But for all the necessary military preparedness, Western success in the Cold War was ultimately a holding action in which one side outlasted the inner contradictions of the other. On a contrasting track, with the exception of Korea, nearly every coup, proxy war, or semi-proxy war the U.S. fought during the Cold War was just as ultimately a disaster, for the U.S., the third nation involved, or both.

It is probable that a long end game in Ukraine would have been no different with planning than it may be now: re-absorption of Crimea into Russia, with some or all of the remainder of Ukraine, amid continuing contention with Russia, aligned now toward the West. Adequately prepared, with continuing contention thus perhaps moderated, and with all the pro forma legal and diplomatic objections to the Russian annexation of Crimea, Ukraine might have been successfully framed as a win for democracy – because it would have been, as it still may be – rather than as a crisis.

To avoid careening from one crisis to another, however, a clearer vision of future roles is required. The militarist American right will prefer a long continuation of the United States’ Cold War imperial leadership. That self-destructive vision needs to be dimmed. However, inadequately, Obama’s presidency came at the right time finally to begin to turn those lights out. More, though, is needed. Some clearer articulation of a more sharply defined strategy is required by a center-left neither committed to defining the American role via military action nor allergic to the legitimacy of it. A coherent expression of the international role of democracies in the twenty-first century must be formulated. An evangelizing freedom agenda is simply cold warriorism without the defensive rationale. It is a formula for endemic and destructive global conflict, which is an occurrence in nature sufficient to need no assist from the laboratory coats. Still, democratic nations cannot be expected in their intercourse with other nations not, by their very nature as democracies, to give expression to the character and promise of political freedom. They cannot be expected not to share their knowledge of this freedom and its rewards with those who seek it. But we must always understand what we are doing when we do so in any given context, with what chances of producing good rather than harm to those we hope to help, and to even more around them. We must consider how it advances a larger project, or retards it. We must consider the conflicting interests of others, and we must do it without the kind of righteous arrogance that produced during the Cold War, in Graham Greene’s words, a self-delusive American innocence of good intentions, in Vietnam, that was “like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”

Essential to any new strategy will be a significantly elevated role for Europe and other democracies. Europe particularly has enjoyed a nearly free ride on the American people and their economy for over six decades. One strong expression of American leadership can be leadership to end that state of affairs and to bring mature democracies more fully into actively funding and engaging the defense of freedom. Another will be a recognition that the United Nations has run its course. It is exhausted as an instrument of assertive and effective action in support of the many supreme paper principles it has enunciated over its life. It is used by the worst tyrants in the world, through cynical manipulation of ideal expressions and exercise of institutional powers, to thwart actual amelioration and change in the world, such as what might have been possible in Syria without the veto power of Russia and China. It is time to start on the long course of superseding the United Nations with a new Global Union, in which the extent of a member nation’s institutional role is determined by a measure of its actual adherence to organizationally expressed principles of democratic practice and human and civil rights.

That would be a freedom agenda too, and the beginnings of a plan to help the many future Ukraines the world and history still has to offer.

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Churchill Doctrine

No, it’s not his but you never heard of it. It’s mine. I’m naming it for him. I think he’d be pleased. If not, I’m sure he’ll let me know.

Thinking back to Newt Gingrich’s recent plunge through the previously known floor of debased political rhetoric (he’s an explorer, that one, of perpetually undiscovered depths of cultural depravity), there is significantly more to be observed than I offered in Ship of Fools II. As a reminder, here is what Gingrich said to National Review Online, widely quoted, building on a Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza:

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

“This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president,” Gingrich tells us.

“I think he worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating — none of which was true,” Gingrich continues. “In the Alinksy tradition, he was being the person he needed to be in order to achieve the position he needed to achieve . . . He was authentically dishonest.”

“[Obama] is in the great tradition of Edison, Ford, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates — he saw his opportunity and he took it,” Gingrich says. Will Gingrich take it back in 2012? “The American people may take it back, in which case I may or may not be the recipient of that, but I have zero doubt that the American people will take it back. Unlike Ford, the Wright Brothers, et cetera, this guy’s invention did not work.”

“I think Obama gets up every morning with a worldview that is fundamentally wrong about reality,” Gingrich says. “If you look at the continuous denial of reality, there has got to be a point where someone stands up and says that this is just factually insane.”

What I am interested in today, actually, is the less obviously contemptible stuff, rather than the demon-seed “outside our comprehension” phraseology, and all of the insidious assertions about deceit, opportunism and alternative, defective world views. Suffice it to say about all of that commentary that it is pure ideological antagonism, an intellectual shell masquerading as substantive analysis. Like psychoanalyzing the Iraq War as Bush II’s enacted usurpation of the father, Bush I, it is nothing more than a projection of political opponents’ own inability to dignify ideas contrary to their own. They reduce them, then, to pure psychological drive or flawed, corrupted personality.

There is, though, amid all the garbage that is Gingrich’s long-term deposit on the American Main Street, the one personal attack that connects to the one genuine idea in his National Review comments. Bill Clinton, of course, was trashed just as savagely by the Right as is Obama. But like any good fighters, the Right’s shock troops attack areas of weakness. We needn’t review what those were for Clinton. For Obama, it is the opportunity, despite his, in fact, quintessential Americanness, to portray him as “the other,” the foreigner, the alien. This effort is all over Gingrich’s pretense of political critique. While Obama’s election was a tribute to the current best in America, conservative opposition to him has been a reflection of the worst. No, it hasn’t been as bad as this kind of thing. But because it is so widespread, so prevalent among segments of the national commentariat and leadership, and so rationalized and thus unrecognized, it is like an undiagnosed disease. The Ku Klux Klan is a wart. This disguised xenophobia is a cancer.

What is the idea? “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior.” Let’s examine that. Why Kenyan? You ever hear of Kenyan anti-colonial behavior, particularly, as a phenomenon, as a concept? Is it different from Congolese anti-colonial behavior? Or Malaysian? Or Vietnamese? Well, obviously, it was Kenyan for Gingrich only because that is Obama’s paternal home country, his African home country – another opportunity, while actually getting at an idea, to invoke Obama the alien. Interestingly, though, amid the general dismay over Gingrich’s comments, no one has taken him on regarding that idea. There are reasons, to be analyzed on some other occasion, for the Left’s – and I mean a sane Left – avoidance of this debate. I’ll touch on it now only briefly to make a different point.

Was Kenya not a colony of Britain? Should Kenyans enjoy a historic pleasure at their past as a British colony? How’d we feel about ours? Kenya has only been free of British rule since 1963. That’s 47 years. Forty-Seven years after American colonists declared their independence from England, the United States was only eleven years past a second war with England. Just that year, it told European powers to stay out of its hemisphere. Monroe stated in his Doctrine

as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

He further stated,

We owe it, therefore, to candour and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.

Have the Kenyans, the Africans in general, and all once colonized nations not the same right to reject not just colonization as a prospect, but colonization as an idea, as did once the former American colonies? From where does it come, this idea that “anti-colonial behavior” is some dark force,  product of a foreign idea that Americans should fear and reject? Was not the American Revolution anti-colonial behavior?

Here are two enabling causes of Gingrich’s treatment. One, of course, is the full extent of postcolonialism as a Far Left analysis and ideology as it has developed over the post World War II ear – the kind that leads people to sympathize with the Iraqi insurgency or with the cultural norms of societies that oppress women. But extreme, even perversely contrary manifestations of an idea are not grounds to negate the idea, only the extremity itself. Though conservatives would love to have it so, Communism as a system may have provided empirical refutation of many ideas, but the ideas of social justice and economic equity were not among them. The excesses of Far Left postcolonialism do not wipe from world history the record of European colonialism, its abuses and devastating long-term consequences. The Right would like always to minimize the sins of Western civilization, in part by pitching them far into a past it will argue we should maturely move beyond, but as we see, for the youthful United States, forty-seven years was not so far in the past.

What is the other cause of Gringrich’s behavior? Why, of course, that it is African postcolonialism of which he speaks. The Untied States, as now a long-time great power, is not aligned in the world political mind, or in the conservative mind, with one-time colonies, but with the civilization of their colonizers that it leads – and (here, now, is the point) their European, Western culture. However independently American culture may have developed from its European origins – so that Europeans themselves love to hate it and hate to love it – there are its origins nonetheless.

But we know that the nation is changing, if not in its origins – which cannot literally, and should never in its ideas and cultural foundation, be altered (we are always unalterably, in part, what we have been) – in its current and developing character. As much as the Right would seek, in its unceasing reactionary nature, to stave off modernity, the waters of the world flow and mix with ever diminishing impediment, to form new seas and spring new rivers, and nothing in the geopolitics of the earth, or the Untied States, will stop it.

Nothing represents the change more visibly than the election of the first Black president, a president whose father was born in Africa, not emigrant Europe, and whose place of birth was colonized in the post-Columbian era, not a colonizer in it. That is profound change. This president – this son of a man born in the colony when it was still a colony – takes office and (ah, you were wondering what Churchill had to do with any of this) returns to Britain a bust of Winston Churchill that had been lent to George W. Bush, as a symbol, after 9/11.

Now Churchill was a great man, a man almost beyond human dimension – but he was not beyond human dimension, and he was not always, in all things, so great. People are like that. They are contradictory and complex, admixtures of so many different elements. Literary people usually have little difficulty accommodating this human reality. Literature humanizes. Politics lionizes or demonizes. For the narrow-minded Right, Churchill must be a lion always, and nothing provided a greater symbol of Obama’s cultural threat, from the start of his presidency, than the return of that bust. Why did Obama return the bust? There was never an official explanation, beyond the fact that it was a loan, made specifically to one President who had expressed admiration, and now there was a new President. One person sagely anticipated the return, and the reason, before its occurrence.

As it is often the case, family history cuts both ways. In Kenya, the land of Obama’s father, the signifier “Churchill” carries nothing but negative connotations. Several times in his long political career, Churchill was responsible for Britain’s empire, which until 1963 included Kenya. It was his government which in 1952 declared the so-called Kenya Emergency – an attempt to quash a rebellion against colonial rule known as Mau Mau. For the next eight years, suspected rebels were routinely detained, tortured, hanged and shot. According to Caroline Elkins, the colonial soldiers killed between fifteen and twenty thousand Kenyans in combat, while up to one hundred thousand perished in the detention camps. One of those who endured torture in a British prison was Hussein Onyango Obama, US president’s Kenyan grandfather. Traces of this story can be found in Obama’s memoir Dreams from my Father as well as in a few interviews; much more is sure to come. For now, it behooves us to remember it when Obama sends his Churchill packing. The time for the Anglo-American “special relationship” to move beyond Churchill is long overdue.

If it were your father’s homeland, and this were the history, how would you feel about the person responsible for it?

When I visited the shtell of my father’s birth in Ukraine, I visited, too, the medieval city of Kamianets-Podilskyi, to which, my father told me, he had sometimes made the ten-mile walk as a little boy. One of his aunts lived there. The Jewish population of the city, as well as many thousands of Hungarian Jews who had been transported there, was executed in August 1941. But in the several decades before my father’s departure around 1920, well over one hundred thousand Jews were murdered in Ukraine in pogroms conducted by Cossacks. When one crosses the bridge spanning the deep canyon that forms a natural defense for this one time fortress city, one is greeted at the gate of the city by an imposing twenty-five foot statue of a dashing Cossack, his twin pistols crossed in either side of his belt, his dramatic mustache flowing. Should I find it on loan to the White House on the day I assume office (you didn’t know?), what shall I do with it?

One day, we should dream, there will be a President of the United States who is American Indian. He or she will have a choice of complex and conflicting emotions, but if she should find that the previous president was an admirer of Andrew Jackson, and had his portrait on loan from the National Gallery of Art, what shall she do with it – Andrew Jackson, who brutally waged war against several Indian nations and who abrogated existing treaties and forced the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, and the Muscogee from their lands and onto deadly trails of tears?

The President of the United States is a symbol of the nation, and has responsibility to more than his personal history. Yet he is a person, too, and his personal history becomes part of American history. This is what the Right seeks to forestall. But all this is part of the complexity of human history and human being. I say that the American Indian President gets to send Andrew Jackson packing, for another President to retrieve if she wishes. Maybe he even tells the nation why, and a historically mature and wise people understand, as I hope they’d understand my rejection of the Cossack. As they should understand Obama’s silent turn from Winston Churchill.

That’s the Churchill Doctrine, not very grand, and pretty simple to understand, it seems to me. We come to terms with the truth and legacy of colonialism. And until we do, until the Right and the likes of Gingrich do, they continue to live in The Dominating Mentality of Conquest.

AJA

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