Transcript of the recent live Q&A with Prof Thomas Kidd, author of God of Liberty, on George Mason University’s History News Network.
President Obama insists on BP paying every dime for the damage caused, directly and indirectly, by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, America demands a limited liability guarantee from the Indian government for US companies selling nuclear power stations to India.
What if a Chernobyl-type disaster happened at an American-designed nuclear plant in the world’s second most populous country? And remember the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster and the shameful treatment of its victims by the American company Union Carbide.
History News Network, May 3, 2010
A little more than a year after Barack Obama succeeded George W Bush as president, United States military hardware and troops are transferring to the Afghan theater in yet another attempt to control the insurgency. Despite the ‘surge’ that General Stanley McChrystal asked for and President Obama approved after weeks of reflection, militants on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border continue to defy American power.
High-profile military operations against the Taliban in Helmand, and more recently in Kandahar, illustrate both abilities and limitations of a superpower. This is not new. The Soviet occupation forces went through a similar experience during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Like the Soviets, the Americans are increasingly finding that it is possible to wrest control of specific areas, but only as long as their troops are in occupation of those areas. As they move on for other operations, the insurgents make a comeback. More
I have now spent a week in India. This is enough for a visitor to begin to gain a new perspective on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and its impact. Attacks in all three countries in recent days are widely discussed in both print and broadcast media, when in more normal times the rowdy behavior by parliamentarians over the issue of women’s representation in the Indian Parliament would have eclipsed all others.
Last weekend’s suicide attacks in the Afghan city of Kandahar, which killed around 35 people and injured about 60, receive prominent coverage in the Times of India and many other newspapers. The bombers targeted a local prison and a police station in the city. The Afghan authorities expressed satisfaction that no prisoner escaped. But the casualty figures paint a more distressing picture and their impact is much more. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali, said two of the explosions occurred close to his home, but it was not damaged. Ahmed Wali is a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council.
Bombs in the southern Pakistani city of Lahore, less than 20 miles from the Indian border, caused death and destruction, as well as in Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province. And in an apparent plea to the Taliban, the Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, asked them not to target Punjab as his provincial government ‘would not take dictation from outsiders’. The Chief Minister is the brother of Pakistan’s main opposition leader and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
The Punjab chief minister said that extremism and terrorism were the consequences of wrong policies of a dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, for which the country was paying a heavy price. Further, in a pointed reference to the United States, Sharif accused Pakistan’s ex-military ruler of enacting a bloodbath of innocent Muslims at the behest of others only to prolong his rule. Coming from a mainstream political figure, these remarks represent the views of considerable sections of society in Pakistan.
As American pilotless aircraft continue to attack targets Washington claims to be Taliban and al Qaeda hideouts, and Pakistani forces under US pressure launch more raids in the north-western tribal belt, these political developments mirror the turmoil in military conflict between the foreign forces and the opposition. The Taliban say the latest suicide bombings in Kandahar are a warning to the NATO forces, whose commander Gen. McChrystal has recently said that his next big target after Marjah in Helmand Province would be Kandahar, Taliban’s spiritual center. In this sense, the carnage in Kandahar over the weekend is a sign of things to come. On the other hand, there are those in Pakistan accusing India of being behind the Lahore attack; and Indians accusing Pakistani intelligence of helping groups that are planning attacks in India cities.
The warning from Washington that Lashker-e-Taiba in Pakistan has hundreds of targets in India and worldwide on its list is a fillip to India’s counterinsurgency hawks.
(History News Network, November 2, 2009)
President Barack Obama is having a bad time. The health reforms he so confidently promised have been bogged down in Congress for months; his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said the other day that the pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp by January 2010 would take longer to fulfill; Obama’s top general, Stanley McChrystal, appeared to break military discipline by openly demanding forty thousand extra US troop for the Afghan War, warning his commander-in-chief that otherwise the mission would fail; the award of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama brought more scorn and disbelief than congratulations and encouragement; it generated an odd unity of purpose between the Left and the Right, his erstwhile supporters and bitter adversaries out to destroy his young presidency; and two decades after the United States defeated its superpower adversary, a resurgent Russia made plain that sanctions against Iran over its suspicious-looking nuclear program were not acceptable to Moscow.
History is full of contradictions between what American presidents offered and could deliver. Upon the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, President George Washington spoke of ‘the eternal rules of order and right’ and ‘the preservation of sacred fire of liberty’ in his inauguration address. In fact, American Indians and black slaves were to endure white oppression for a further two hundred years. One and a half centuries ago, history recorded that Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1865. In truth, re-enslavement occurred quickly under different laws and slavery was to persist for another century. More
(History News Network, George Mason University, Virginia, November 8, 2008 )
With the victory of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, America has undergone a revolution. I say this not only for its symbolism, undeniable though it is. The entry of a black man into the White House is a powerful symbol – something that has taken nearly two-and-a-half centuries since the American revolution of 1776 and almost a-hundred-and-fifty years since slavery was abolished under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Progress of this magnitude is the end result of a monumental struggle, often by people whose names will not receive the limelight they deserve.
A revolution must go beyond such boundaries. It must be a wider response to critical problems in society, an acknowledgement by the masses that things have got to change, or there will be a greater calamity. Above all, a revolution is not a coup d’état which involves seizure of power by a small group of people. It is a wider phenomenon that happens when the time has come. The 2008 election in America reflects all of this and much more. The last eight years of the presidency of George W Bush illustrate what damage can be done when the world’s most powerful nation goes rogue, squandering its capacity to do good. More
The season of party conventions will soon be over and America is poised for two months of hard campaigning to elect the next president. There will be debates between Barack Obama and John McCain and between their running mates. The media blitz will get more fierce. Personal attacks will entertain and appall. For the first time in American history, there is serious contender of mixed race for the White House. It makes the issue of race an integral part of the political debate. Some Americans are going to continue to raise it openly. More could well make their choice, after a long period of reflection, one way or the other, as late as the moment of casting their vote.
In the past, I have seen the American democracy at work from close. As I follow the campaign in 2008 from across the Atlantic in Britain, the distance gives me the opportunity of detachment. I hope it allows me a panoramic view of the political tides that are to sweep across America before polling day on November 4. And it makes it possible to look at the democracy in America alongside the leading democracies in Europe and the place citizens of different races and creeds have in them. My interest in America is abiding – a country where I first arrived as a twenty-two-year-old to work as far back as 1974. My young grandchildren are Americans and live there.
Already, I have seen opposite currents in the campaign. On the one hand, a desperate desire for change after eight years of war, economic hemorrhaging and damage to America’s image under the Bush presidency. On the other, the tentative allegiance of sections of potential Democrat voters, despite powerful pledges of support for Barack Obama from Senator Hillary Clinton and the former President, Bill Clinton. More