Frogs in a Pickle

Bush recently issued an executive order, Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq, which has raised some alarms in the blogosphere.

Sara Robinson at Orcinus explains why this is alarming:

It’s that B clause that concerns me — and should concern all of us who blog, comment, organize, write letters, and otherwise exercise our rights to agitate against this unholy war. "Undermining the efforts" is a term that can be defined very, very broadly. And since those of us opposing this war have been told repeatedly, from the beginning, that our efforts to change our fellow citizens’ minds were in fact treasonous acts that undermined the war effort, emboldened America’s enemies, and harmed our troops, it’s not unreasonable to believe that those warnings are now being backed up by official action. "At risk of committing significant acts of violence" is more overbroad weasel-speak: How many of us have said things that could be construed (at least by the certifiable paranoids in the White House) as a threat of violence against the Bush Administration?

This government has now asserted — without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress — its right to take away our houses, cars, savings accounts, the stuff of our lives, on the say-so of the President and his Treasury Secretary. They are not kidding. What we do here, what I am doing right now (unless I choose my words very carefully) is being done in defiance of the Law According to George Bush.

When the President can take away your life’s savings without due process, under authority of a law no people’s legislature ever approved, for simply disagreeing with his policies and publicly stating your intentions to do something about them, we are treading so close to that line [between proto-fascism and the real thing] that it’s hard to tell whether we’re actually over it.

And, worse, we’ve reached the point where these outrages seem to occur weekly — bigger and more blatant every time, but by now we’ve seen so many so often that we’re inured. We don’t even know where to start fighting. In any other administration we’ve ever had, this one act on its own would be an impeachable offense. In this one, it’s just another drop in an overflowing bucket.

Commenters to Sara’s article have been taking issue with whether this order really is as bad as she thinks, and there certainly is room for disagreement. I want to put this type of debate into context, by highlighting an excerpt Sara also posted in the same article, from Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free. Mayer was an American Jew who traveled to Germany after World War 2, to document the mindset of ordinary Germans, who revealed how their country slid into fascism:

"Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty."

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have….

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way."

The debate about whether this executive order is serious or not, is part of the uncertainty Mayer talks about. The cabal commits some outrage, which knocks some of us off balance, creating rage and uncertainty, we try to sort it out, and then we adjust and life goes on. We regain our balance. The net effect, to use a parable, is the familiar story of the frogs who were slowly boiled to death by ever so slowly increasing the temperature.

The ease at which this happens is captured in the title of a DailyKos diary on the same topic, Bush Declares Martial Law. Country Yawns, Changes Channel. This diary refers to yet another diary that talks about why the founders of this country really revolted against England. It’s not what you think:

Contrary to the beliefs of many, American colonists did not go to war against the British because of taxes.  Colonists went to war against the King because the British government had become so corrupt, so despicable that the colonists feared if they didn’t take drastic action, this corruption would flow across the pond to America.  Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1775 (quoted from The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn):

. . . when I consider the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this old rotten state, and the glorious public virtue so predominant in our rising country  . . . I fear they will drag us after them in their plundering wars which their desperate circumstances, injustice, and rapacity [greed] may prompt them to undertake; and their wide wasting prodigality [living the high life] and profusion is a gulf that will swallow up every aid we may distress ourselves to afford them.  Here [Franklin was writing from England] enormous salaries, pensions, perquisites, bribes, groundless quarrels, foolish expeditions, false accounts or no accounts, contracts and jobs, devour all revenue [which will serve] to corrupt and poison us.

Why is this important now?  Because when you read Bailyn, you will clearly see that we are facing a crisis equal to that faced by the colonists.  Corruption, waste, war, and greed is swallowing up the America that other countries admired before and rallied around after 9/11.  We are facing the same constitutional crisis the colonists faced in the late 1700s.  They had been governed by the British constitution, which the colonists felt the King and his "minions" were plotting to weaken and dissolve.  Here is another passage from Bailyn:

For their power and interest is so great that they can and do procure whatever laws they please, having (by power, interest, and the application of the people’s money to placement and pensioners) the whole legislative authority at their command.  So that it is plain . . . that the rights of the people are ruined and destroyed by ministerial tyrannical authority and thereby  . . . become a kind of slaves to the ministers of the state.

Sound familiar?  Pass whatever laws they please, apply the people’s money however they choose and for whatever purpose they deem fit, whole legislative authority at their command.  This could have been written in the early 21st century and rather than saying it of King George III in 1775, it fits perfectly with King George II of America.

I can add nothing to this, other than to urge you to read the whole illuminating piece. I’ll close with Sara’s conclusion:

The America that would accept this kind of edict in silence is not the America that we grew up in. Something has changed. We are poised to accept this like we’ve accepted every other insult. It’s hard to imagine that, even when bloggers and other dissenters start losing their property, that there will be tens of thousands in the streets to protect us. As long as the forms are still there, and the system continues to do what it must to sustain itself, we will simply be collateral damage.

If we accept the forcible removal of our property without due process, forcible removal of our lives will not be far behind. And there are people eager to accomplish this: according to Barna Research, there are about 50 million hardcore fundamentalists who have been eagerly awaiting the day, training and planning and praying for the chance to do just that — to take out their frustrations on the liberal traitors whom they have been taught to believe are responsible for everything that’s wrong with their lives. They believe, in their bones, we have stabbed God’s America in the back; and they are out for vengeance. This is the edict that will provide "legal" support and justification for their first tentative steps toward mob rule.


Our own moonbat has graciously agreed to be a partner blogger here at The Mahablog. Although his blogging time might be a bit erratic and irregular, he says — day job, and all that — I am sure what he posts will add a little freshness and variety to the place.

Recent guest bloggers Donna and biggerbox also still have blogging privileges here (I assume you guys got the email) and I hope they will feel moved to post something now and then. (Don’t be shy!)


The Guardian reports that Sunni insurgents in Iraq are forming a coalition to better resist the American occupation of their country. Seumas Milne writes,

Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the Guardian.

In their first interview with the western media since the US-British invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups – responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed forces and police – said they would continue their armed resistance until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians. …

… Leaders of the three groups, who did not use their real names in the interview, said the new front, which brings together the main Sunni-based armed organisations except al-Qaida and the Ba’athists, had agreed the main planks of a joint political programme, including a commitment to free Iraq from foreign troops, rejection of cooperation with parties involved in political institutions set up under the occupation and a declaration that decisions and agreements made by the US occupation and Iraqi government are null and void.

The aim of the alliance – which includes a range of Islamist and nationalist-leaning groups and is planned to be called the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance – is to link up with other anti-occupation groups in Iraq to negotiate with the Americans in anticipation of an early US withdrawal. The programme envisages a temporary technocratic government to run the country during a transition period until free elections can be held.

I’d like to rub some rightie noses in this section:

Abd al-Rahman al-Zubeidy, political spokesman of Ansar al-Sunna, a salafist (purist Islamic) group with a particularly violent reputation in Iraq, said his organisation had split over relations with al-Qaida, whose members were mostly Iraqi, but its leaders largely foreigners.

“Resistance isn’t just about killing Americans without aims or goals. Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. We are against indiscriminate killing, fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy,” he said. He added: “A great gap has opened up between Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to that.”

Every time there’s a news story about Sunni or Shia militants badmouthing al Qaeda, righties celebrate that Iraqis support “our” struggle. No, they support “their” struggle, and “their” struggle is as much against us as it is against any other foreigners messing around in their country and killing their people.

One of the Sunnis said “Peaceful resistance will not end the occupation. The US made clear it intended to stay for many decades.” However, “Now it is a common view in the resistance that they will start to withdraw within a year. ” The perception that we really are fixin’ to leave (which would, alas, be a big surprise to President Bush) seems to have spurred the insurgents toward political organization.

Wayne White, of Washington’s Middle East Institute and a former expert adviser to the Iraq Study Group, said it was unclear, given the diversity within the Sunni Arab insurgency, what influence the new grouping would have on the ground.

He added: “This does reveal that despite the widening cooperation on the part of some Sunni Arab insurgent groups with US forces against al-Qaida in recent months, such cooperation could prove very shortlived if the US does not make clear that it has a credible exit strategy.

Now, if we had smart leadership who wanted to do the right thing by Iraq — and note that if we really did have such leadership we wouldn’t have gotten into this mess — that leadership might seize upon this development as part of an exit strategy. We might say here’s our proposed timetable for withdrawal; all we need from you is cooperation in reducing violence, and we’re outta here.

Juan Cole writes that Sunnis want constitutional changes before they will cooperate in a parliamentary re-alignment that would free Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki from dependence on the Sadr block.

The Iraqi Accord Front, however, has not only not rushed to embrace the new alliance, but has threatened to call a vote of no confidence on al-Maliki itself. The Sunni Arab members of parliament generally feel betrayed that they entered the political process in December 2005 on promises that they would have the opportunity to revise the constitution (which they largely rejected). But no such opportunity seems forthcoming. Among their major objections is to the provision of the constitution allowing for the formation of new regional confederacies (i.e. a Shiite one in addition to the present Kurdish one.) The main proponent of this plan is the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, so that getting a stable alliance between it and the Sunni Arabs strikes me as a stretch.

Alissa Rubin of the New York Times reports that al Sadr is busy, too.

After months of lying low, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has re-emerged with a shrewd strategy that reaches out to Iraqis on the street while distancing himself from the increasingly unpopular government.

Mr. Sadr and his political allies have largely disengaged from government, contributing to the political paralysis noted in a White House report last week. That outsider status has enhanced Mr. Sadr’s appeal to Iraqis, who consider politics less and less relevant to their daily lives.

This is giving me a headache.

Timothy Garton Ash writes at The Guardian blog page that Americans are waking up to the scale of the disaster in Iraq, and we want out.

So Iraq is over. But Iraq has not yet begun. Not yet begun in terms of the consequences for Iraq itself, the Middle East, the US’s own foreign policy and its reputation in the world. The most probable consequence of rapid US withdrawal from Iraq in its present condition is a further bloodbath, with even larger refugee flows and the effective dismemberment of the country. Already some 2 million Iraqis have fled across the borders and more than 2 million are internally displaced. Now a pained and painstaking study from the Brookings Institution argues that what its authors call “soft partition”, involving the peaceful, voluntary transfer of an estimated 2 to 5 million Iraqis into distinct Kurdish, Sunni and Shia regions, under close US military supervision, would be the lesser evil. The lesser evil, that is, assuming that all goes according to plan and that the American public is prepared to allow the troops to stay in sufficient numbers to accomplish that thankless job – two implausible assumptions. A greater evil is more likely.

In an article for the web magazine Open Democracy, the Middle East specialist Fred Halliday spells out some regional consequences. Beside the effective destruction of the Iraqi state, these include the revitalising of militant Islamism and enhancement of the international appeal of the al-Qaida brand; the eruption for the first time in modern history of internecine war between Sunni and Shia – “a trend that reverberates in other states of mixed confessional composition”; the alienation of most sectors of Turkish politics from the west, and the stimulation of authoritarian nationalism there; the strengthening of a nuclear-hungry Iran; and a new regional rivalry, pitting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

For the US itself, the world is now, as a result of the Iraq war, a more dangerous and hostile place. At the end of 2002, what is sometimes tagged al-Qaida Central in Afghanistan had been virtually destroyed and there was no al-Qaida in Iraq. In 2007, there is an al-Qaida in Iraq; parts of the old al-Qaida are creeping back into Afghanistan; and there are al-Qaida emulator groupuscules spawning elsewhere, notably in Europe. Osama bin Laden’s plan was to get the US to overreact and over-reach itself. With the invasion of Iraq, President Bush fell slap-bang into that trap. The US government’s own latest national intelligence estimate, released earlier this week, suggests that al-Qaida in Iraq is now among the most significant threats to the security of the American homeland.

About that National Intelligence Estimate — Sidney Blumenthal writes,

At his July 12 press conference, Bush elevated al-Qaida to enemy No. 1 in Iraq and mentioned it 31 times, asserting that not supporting his policy would lead to “surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaida.” Asked about the soon to be released National Intelligence Estimate on al-Qaida, Bush claimed it would state, “There is a perception in the coverage that al Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September the 11th. That’s just simply not the case.”

One day later, on July 13, Bush held a meeting at the White House for a small group of conservative pundits, giving them a glimpse into his state of mind. David Brooks of the New York Times described his “self-confidence.” Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard quoted him saying, “I’m optimistic,” even though he also said, “I understand the polls. This is an unpopular war!” At his press conference, Bush had said, “There is a war fatigue in America.” And he pointed to his head. “It’s affecting our psychology.” During his meeting with the conservative writers, he mocked his critics. Kate O’Beirne and Rich Lowry of the National Review quoted him as saying: “How can he possibly do this? Can’t he see? Can’t he hear?” The son of a president explained that no one could really understand what it meant to be president. “You don’t know what it’s like to be commander in chief until you’re commander in chief,” he said, according to participants. His critics could not possibly understand him. But he was obviously peeved. Washington, he complained, was filled with “a lot of talkers.” Yet Bush pledged, unbidden, that he would not listen to these critics. “I’m not on the phone chatting up with these people writing these articles, ascribing motives to me.” Such are the reflections of the so-called self-confident president.

On Tuesday, the executive summary of the new NIE on al-Qaida was made public. But it did not fit the administration’s marketing campaign. Al-Qaida, the report stated, has “protected or regenerated” itself in the northern provinces of Pakistan. It also said that the terrorist group would “probably leverage” its contacts with the group known as al-Qaida in Iraq, an “affiliate,” and “the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland.”

The next day, Wednesday, the U.S. military made a timely announcement of the capture of Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a courier for al-Qaida in Iraq. After two weeks in detention, he confessed to hand delivering messages from al-Qaida leaders Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, suggesting that the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques vociferously defended by the administration indeed work.

The latest NIE, however, is a strange product. According to highly reliable sources in the intelligence community, no new intelligence at all is reflected in the NIE. Its conclusions, on one level, are a rehash of obvious facts that anyone who reads a daily newspaper could glean, such as the protected status of al-Qaida in frontier regions of Pakistan. Other conclusions lack contextual analysis, partly because of the continuing pressure from the administration to politicize information and cherry-pick intelligence. The NIE, for example, does not explain that al-Qaida in Iraq, while lethal, is a very small part of the Sunni insurgency, and that a number of Sunni insurgent groups are its sworn enemies. Nor did the NIE note how few foreign fighters are in Iraq and what a small percentage of insurgents they constitute. (A Los Angeles Times story published on July 15 reported that of the 19,000 Iraqi prisoners held by the U.S. military there, only 135 are foreign fighters, and nearly half are Saudis.) The NIE is utterly devoid of political analysis.

According to intelligence sources, CIA director Michael Hayden has been under attack within the administration from Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives since testifying frankly to the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that urged a strategic redeployment of U.S. forces and new diplomatic efforts in the region, which were rejected by President Bush. A virtual paralysis is setting in within the intelligence community. Analysts are even anxious about putting their names on their reports. While they are homogenizing information, the administration is still unhappy with the result, as it was with the new NIE.

For the embattled president, filled with “self-confidence,” the “motives” he doesn’t wish critics to examine turn out to be far more utopian than the military success of the surge, as he explained to his conservative interlocutors. “There is such a thing as the universality of freedom. I strongly believe that Muslims desire to be free just like Methodists desire to be free.” Beneath the seething chaotic violence, beyond the tribal and religious strife, past the civil war, the Iraqis, according to the president, under their robes are no different from American Methodists. There’s nothing more to understand. If only we can prevail, they can be just like us. The rest is marketing.

And speaking of Rich Lowry — he actually wrote something sensible about this. No, really. I was stunned. He wrote,

Bush believes the spread of liberty is “inevitable.” If that is the case, why not spare ourselves all the effort and let the inevitable flowering of liberty take hold?

I am no Middle East expert. Maybe the Iraqis could work things out, somehow, if we just got out of the way. Or maybe there will be a bloodbath when we leave, as Timothy Garton Ash. The only certainty is that President Bush is utterly out of control and utterly incapable of managing the situation in Iraq.

From an editorial in today’s New York Times:

The nation’s anguish over the Iraq war was kept on hold in the Senate yesterday as the Republican minority maintained serial threats of filibuster to buy time for President Bush’s aimless policies. Last week, the House debated and voted along party lines for a timetable for an American troop withdrawal by next spring. But a similar measure was allowed no such decisive expression in the Senate. Instead, the G.O.P. insisted on the approval of a “supermajority” of 60 of 100 senators before putting to a vote a measure that would apply real pressure on the president to shift his disastrous course in Iraq.

Republicans have the right to filibuster under centuries-old rules that this page has long defended. It is the height of hypocrisy for this band of Republicans to use that power since only about two years ago they were ready to unilaterally ban filibusters to push through some of Mr. Bush’s most ideologically blinkered judicial nominees.

But beyond that, the Republicans are doing the public a real disservice and playing an increasingly risky hand by delaying sober consideration of the war. The filibuster threat on Iraq also is part of a broader Republican tactic of demanding supermajorities on a raft of major issues in the hopes of paralyzing the Senate and then painting the Democrats as a do-nothing, marginal majority.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tested the opposition’s stated appetite for unhampered debate by staging an all-nighter Tuesday replete with cots and pizzas. A measure containing a withdrawal timetable failed to get the 60 votes it needed, but it did draw a 52-vote majority, including four Republicans, that amounted to more handwriting on the wall for Bush loyalists. A year ago, a nonbinding withdrawal measure drew 39 votes. The tide is shifting, even if the White House and its Republican backers won’t recognize it. …

… In postponing real action to September and beyond, Republicans laughed off the all-night debate as a “slumber party” of “twilight zone” theatrics by the Democrats. In fact, Bush loyalists seem trapped in the twilight zone, ducking their responsibility to represent constituents by applying credible pressure on the president to come up with an end to his sorry war.