Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Humor: Beat a Man with a Fish

American psyche

George Saunders
Saturday July 28, 2007
The Guardian

A recent headline indicates a number of disturbing American trends: Father Kills Bear Charging At Son With Log.


First of all, who's giving these animals logs? There's nothing in the world a respectable bear needs with a log. If that bear has a log, he has it for one reason: to kill somebody.

What bothers me about that bear story is this American tendency to step in and do everything for our kids. It would have been better if the father had just handed the kid the log, and said, "Son, throw this, hard, at that bear. Or you're dead." That way, the kid learns something. I'm sure we've all heard the biblical proverb, "If you teach me to fish, I fish for ever; if you kill my fish with your log, next time I'm hungry, I'm just going to come walking up to you with a log and a live fish." ...

Behind the Decline in News

At least someone's documenting this, if doing nothing about it:

AFL-CIO Weblog

Monday, July 30, 2007


So we're supplying arms to the very country that is arming a major part of the resistance against us -- not to mention the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers are from.

This administration has a unique ability to turn friends into enemies, assist our enemies and fuck this nation all at once. Even if we *do* bomb Iran, given our fiasco in Iraq, W will still be on both Iran's and Bin Landin's MVP list.

Via Foreign Policy

Saudis’ Role in Iraq Frustrates U.S. Officials — NYT, July 28

Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia — NYT, July 29

In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the American effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mayberry Machiavellis

Via Talking Points Memo:

John DiIulio's. It was DiIulio, the first director of the president's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who told Ron Suskind,
"What you've got is everything -- and I mean everything -- being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

W vs Simpsons

"As we think about this important front in the war against extremists and terrorists, it's important for our fellow citizens to recognize this truth: If we were to leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy would follow us home." -- George W. Bush February 15, 2007

Marge: "Homer, you'd better go out there and straighten things out."
Homer: "No, then they'll take you and the kids."
Angry Mob: "No we won't. We just want Homer."
Homer: "Err... then they'll take Grampa."
Grampa: "I'm part of the mob."
-- The Simpson's Movie

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No Longer Becoming a Police State

Crooks and Liars

Nonny Mouse Goes Down Under
By: Logan Murphy on Wednesday, July 25th, 2007 at 6:33 AM - PDT

(Guest blogged by Nonny Mouse)

The travel and tourist industry is one of the United State’s biggest money-makers, generating $103 billion in tax revenue every year. Without this tax revenue, every American household would pay nearly $1,000 more in taxes every a year. But while the travel business is flourishing internationally, tourism to America has been on a steep decline, dropping 36 percent between 1992 and 2005, with a loss of $43 billion in 2005 alone. The nation’s international tourism balance of trade declined more than 70 percent over the past 10 years - from $26.3 billion in 1996 to $7.4 billion in 2005.

People are simply choosing to go elsewhere. But as a follow-on to Logan Murphy’s excellent post on the increasing invasion of privacy by the soon-to-be approved Passenger Name Record for passengers entering international airports, allow me to present a personal view into why tourists are deciding not to spend their money visiting the States.

I moved from Great Britain to New Zealand last week, requiring a flight of 26 hours crammed into a big metal tube with about four hundred other brave souls, the vast majority of us packed into the Economy Class part of a 747, with the usual narrow seats, no leg rests, and poor overheated air ventilation that inevitably leads to sharing every virus on board with everyone else. I dropped at least half my on-board meals down my cleavage trying to eat with elbows pressed together, my ankles swelled to the size (and shape) of a small elephant’s, my calves were a mass of cramps, my eyes throbbed from trying to watch too many movies on a tiny screen eight inches from my nose, my back ached from trying to sleep at twisted, unnatural angles, and my throat tickled with what I knew would end up being a full blown head cold. No, long-haul flights are not fun. People take them because it’s about the only way to get where they really, really want to go. And I really, really wanted to go to New Zealand.

At least there was a chance for a small break once we’d landed in Los Angeles to change flight crews, restock the food galleys and drinks trolleys and refuel the plane, a chance to stretch our legs in the transit lounge and take a breath of fresh air. So you would think…

And you would be so wrong.

We were told to disembark with all our carry-on luggage, leaving nothing on board. Those who were flying from London to Auckland were told to line up against a wall in a corridor while those whose flights terminated at Los Angeles filed past and disappeared. And there, in a hot, cramped corridor we stood and waited. And waited. And waited. I finally couldn’t stand it, and asked where to find the ladies’ loo – to be ordered not to leave the line. (Sod that, thought I, or rather, my bladder) and I wandered up the queue to discover that we were being processed, slowly, one by one, by a single officer in a tiny booth. After a quick dash to a toilet, I made my way back down the line to where I’d left my new comrades-in-arms – Judy, a petite, smartly dressed 61-year-old Kiwi schoolteacher in London on compassionate leave going home to Auckland to see her terminally ill father, and Derek, a wiry Scots engineer with an acerbic sense of humour. ‘You bloody Yanks seem to think terrorism is something new and only ever happens to Americans,’ he groused to me. Being possibly the only bloody Yank going from London to New Zealand, I became by default the sole available representative for my fellow countrymen. ‘We’ve had the IRA and the French have the Algerians and the Spanish have ETA. Now you know what the rest of Europe’s been living with for the last few hundred years. Why don’t you lot just grow up?’ Heads around us nodded in irritated agreement.

To our relief, we were finally moved out of the corridor, all following another LAX official to what we were expecting to be the transit lounge… but to our collective dismay, we were herded into a bigger Immigration area, where all those who were not US passport holders filled out long green cards asking detailed personal information, to be handed over to US Immigration officials busy taking everyone’s fingerprints and photographs. There was some confusion about just what to do with me, as I was a US citizen, but was flying on to New Zealand. Eventually, I was given a shorter blue form to fill out. A couple of students with worried expressions – Germans, I think, judging from the language – were being led away by uniformed police who were having interpretation problems. It was a very repressive and rather frightening atmosphere.

Bear in mind here… we were all ‘non-stop’ transit passengers, due to get straight back on the same plane we’d just gotten off and fly on to Auckland, never setting foot outside the airport and onto American soil.

Judy, in her strong Kiwi accent, demanded from one of the officials standing guard around us why they needed to take our fingerprints or our photographs. ‘It’s the law,’ he mumbled, a bit shamefaced, and spouted a few disconnected bits of pre-memorized clichés about terrorism and security before stuttering to a halt and looking away. Not even the officials at the airport understood why.

The Immigration official at the booth was not so polite to her. ‘Take your glasses off,’ he demanded. I could see her stiffen, an elderly respectable schoolteacher unused to being so brusquely ordered around. ‘I beg your pardon? Why do I need to take my glasses off? What right do you have to take my fingerprints or my photograph?’

Again, came the refrain. ‘It’s the law’.

We finally were allowed, once we’d all been ‘processed’, to sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee in the transit lounge… for about fifteen minutes before they reloaded the plane. Judy looked angry and close to tears. ‘I’ve never been treated like this before,’ she said. ‘It’s all one thing when you read about it, but having to actually submit to being fingerprinted? I feel… violated. Like I’m some sort of criminal.’

Would she ever consider returning to the States, as a tourist?

Absolutely not. And the next time she flew from London to Auckland, she’d make damned sure the flight did not stop to refuel in America.

This was pretty much the general feeling of every passenger on that flight – none of them had ever intended to enter the United States; it was just a place they had to wait in transit to somewhere else. But their experience had soured them on even considering the States as a potential holiday spot to visit. It didn’t matter how cheap the US dollar got.

And they have friends and families, too. Some people don’t like it when their 61-year-old mothers are treated like potential al Qaeda terrorists.

While the rest of the world is enjoying a boom in tourism, and our own tourist industry is begging the government for a let-up on such draconian policies, the abysmal way we are treating air passengers – even those who have nothing to do with visiting America as tourists – is costing the country millions of dollars a day, our reputation as debased as our currency.

We are not becoming a police state.

We are one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stabbed in the Back!


Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

As the United States staggers past the third anniversary of its misadventure in Iraq, the dagger is already poised, the myth is already being perpetuated. To understand just how this strategy is likely to unfold—and why this time it may well fail—we must return to the birth of a legend.
* * *

The stab in the back first gained currency in Germany, as a means of explaining the nation's stunning defeat in World War I. It was Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg himself, the leading German hero of the war, who told the National Assembly, “As an English general has very truly said, the German army was ‘stabbed in the back.’”

Like everything else associated with the stab-in-the-back myth, this claim was disingenuous. The “English general” in question was one Maj. Gen. Neill Malcolm, head of the British Military Mission in Berlin after the war, who put forward this suggestion merely to politely summarize how Field Marshal Erich von Ludendorff—the force behind Hindenburg—was characterizing the German army's alleged lack of support from its civilian government.

“Ludendorff's eyes lit up, and he leapt upon the phrase like a dog on a bone,” wrote Hindenburg biographer John Wheeler-Bennett. “‘Stabbed in the back?’ he repeated. ‘Yes, that's it exactly. We were stabbed in the back.’”

Ludendorff's enthusiasm was understandable, for, as he must have known, the phrase already had great resonance in Germany. The word dolchstoss—“dagger thrust”—had been popularized almost fifty years before in Wagner's Götterdämmerung. After swallowing a potion that causes him to reveal a shocking truth, the invincible Teutonic hero, Siegfried, is fatally stabbed in the back by Hagen, son of the archvillain, Alberich.

Wagner had himself lifted his plot device from a medieval German poem, which was inspired in turn by Old Norse folklore, and of course the same story can be found in a slew of ancient mythologies, whether it's the fate of the Greek heroes Achilles and Hercules or the story of Jesus and Judas. The hero cannot be defeated by fair means or outside forces but only by someone close to him, resorting to treachery.

The Siegfried legend in particular, though, has nuances that would mesh perfectly with right-wing mythology in the twentieth century, both in Germany and in the United States. At the end of Wagner's Ring Cycle, the downfall of the gods is followed by the rise of the Germanic people. The mythological hero has been transformed into the volk, just as heroic stature is granted to the modern state. Siegfried is killed just after revealing an unwelcome truth—much as the right, when pressed for evidence about its conspiracy theories, will often claim that these are hidden truths their enemies have a vested interest in concealing. Hagen, as a half-breed, an outsider posing as a friend, stands in for something worse yet—the assimilated Jew, able to betray the great warrior of the volk by posing as his boon companion.

It was an iconography easily transferable to Germany's new, postwar republic. Hitler himself would claim that while recuperating behind the lines from a leg wound, he found Jewish “slackers” dominating the war-production bureaucracy and that “the Jew robbed the whole nation and pressed it beneath his domination.” The rape imagery is revolting but vivid; Hitler was already attuned to the zeitgeist of his adopted country. Even before the war had been decided, a soldier in his company recalled how Corporal Hitler would “leap up and, running about excitedly, say that in spite of our big guns, victory would be denied us, for the invisible foes of the German people were a greater danger than the biggest cannon of the enemy.”

It didn't matter that Field Marshal Ludendorff had in fact been the virtual dictator of Germany from August of 1916 on, or that the empire's civilian leaders had been stunned by his announcement, in September of 1918, that his last, murderous offensives on the western front had failed, and that they must immediately sue for peace. The suddenness of Germany's defeat only supported the idea that some sort of treason must have been involved. From this point on, all blame would redound upon “the November criminals,” the scheming politicians, reds, and above all, Jews.

Yet it was necessary, for the purging that the Nazis had in mind, to believe that the national degeneration went even further. Jerry Lembcke, in his brilliant work, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, writes of how the Nazis fostered the dolchstosslegende in ways that eerily foreshadowed returning veteran mythologies in the United States. Hermann Göring, the most charismatic of the Nazi leaders after Hitler, liked to speak of how “very young boys, degenerate deserters, and prostitutes tore the insignia off our best front line soldiers and spat on their field gray uniforms.” As Lembcke points out, any insignia ripping had actually been done by the mutinous soldiers and sailors who would launch a socialist uprising shortly after the war, tearing them off their own shoulders or those of their officers. Göring's instant revisionism both covered up this embarrassing reality and created a whole new class of villains who were—in his barely coded language—homosexuals, sexually threatening women, and other “deviants.” All such individuals would be dealt with in the new, Nazi order.
* * *

The dolchstosslegende first came to the United States following not a war that had been lost but our own greatest triumph. Here, the motivating defeat was suffered not by the nation but by a faction. In the years immediately following World War II, the American right was facing oblivion. Domestically, the reforms of the New Deal had been largely embraced by the American people. The Roosevelt and Truman administrations—supported by many liberal Republicans—had led the nation successfully through the worst war in human history, and we had emerged as the most powerful nation on earth.

Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow liberal internationalists had sounded the first alarms about Hitler, but conservatives had stubbornly—even suicidally—maintained their isolationism right into the postwar era. Senator Robert Taft, “Mr. Republican,” and the right's enduring presidential hope, had not only been a prominent member of the leading isolationist organization, America First, and opposed the nation's first peacetime draft in 1940, but also appeared to be as naive about the Soviet Union as he had been about the Axis powers. Like many on the right, he was much more concerned about Chiang Kai-shek's worm-eaten Nationalist regime in China than U.S. allies in Europe. “The whole Atlantic Pact, certainly the arming of Germany, is an incentive for Russia to enter the war before the army is built up,” Taft warned. He was against any U.S. military presence in Europe even in 1951.

This sort of determined naiveté had Taft and his movement teetering on the brink of political irrelevance. They saved themselves by grabbing at an unlikely rope—America's very own dolchstosslegende, the myth of Yalta. No reasonable observer would have predicted in the immediate wake of the Yalta conference that it would become an enduring symbol of Democratic perfidy. Yalta was, in fact, originally considered the apogee of the Roosevelt Administration's accomplishments, ensuring that the hard-won peace at the end of World War II would not soon dissolve into an even worse conflict, just as the botched peace of Versailles had led only to renewed hostilities in the years after World War I. The conference, which took place in the Soviet Crimea in February 1945, was the last time “the Big Three” of the war—Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin—would meet face-to-face. The U.S. negotiating team went with specific goals and was widely perceived at the time as having achieved them. Agreements were reached on the occupation of the soon-to-be-defeated German Reich, the liberation of those Eastern European countries occupied by or allied with Germany, the Soviet entrance into the war against Japan, and, most significantly in Roosevelt's eyes, on the structure of a workable, international body designed to keep world peace, the United Nations.

FDR's presentation of these agreements before a joint session of Congress that March met with almost universal acclaim. This was not surprising. Roosevelt, who had been at Versailles as a junior member of the Wilson Administration, was preoccupied with making sure that his vision for the postwar world did not founder on any partisan bickering with Congress. Before leaving for Yalta, he had briefed a group of leading senators from across the political spectrum on what he hoped to accomplish, and solicited their opinions and questions. The delegation he took with him to the Soviet Union was a bipartisan team of senior diplomats, advisers, and military men, and he continued to cultivate support from all quarters on his return to the United States. Such prominent Republican figures as Arthur Vandenberg, the once-isolationist senator from Michigan turned internationalist, and Thomas Dewey, Roosevelt's fierce opponent in the 1944 presidential race, expressed general support for the results of the Yalta conference. Taft and the right wing of the Republican Party were more skeptical, but offered no substantial criticisms.

Save for a few congressmen, newspaper publishers, and columnists on the extreme fringe of the right, this early Cold War consensus would survive until 1948. Then, Dewey's and the Republicans' stunning losses in the elections that fall, combined with a confluence of American setbacks abroad, served to revivify the right.

Not only did the Republicans lose a presidential election against a badly divided, national Democratic Party; they also lost the congressional majorities they had just managed to eke out in 1946, following fourteen years in the political wilderness. It now seemed clear that the Republicans would never return to power merely by supporting Democratic policies, or by promising to implement them more effectively, and the right wing gained traction within the party.

Meanwhile, the exposure of Alger Hiss as a Soviet agent followed, in relatively rapid succession, by the fall of Czechoslovakia's coalition government to a Soviet-backed coup, the Soviet attainment of an atomic bomb, and the victory of Mao's Communists over Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang regime in China, cast the entire policy of containment into doubt. Never mind that the right's own feckless or muddled proposals for fighting the Cold War would not have ameliorated any of these situations. The right swept them into the memory hole and offered a new answer to Americans bewildered by how suddenly their nation's global preeminence had been diminished: Yalta.

A growing chorus of right-wing voices now began to excoriate our wartime diplomacy. Their most powerful charge, one that would firmly establish the Yalta myth in the American political psyche, was the accusation that our delegation had given over Eastern Europe to the Soviets. According to “How We Won the War and Lost the Peace,” an essay written for Life magazine shortly before the 1948 election by William Bullitt—a former diplomat who had been dismissed by Roosevelt for outing a gay rival in the State Department—FDR and his chief adviser, Harry Hopkins, were guilty of “wishful appeasement” of Stalin at Yalta, handing the peoples of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states over to the Soviet dictator.

The right wing's dolchstosslegende was a small but fateful conspiracy, engineered through “secret diplomacy” at Yalta. Its linchpin was Hiss, a junior State Department aide at Yalta who was now described as a major architect of the pact. Hiss was a perfect villain for the right's purposes. He was not only a communist and a spy; he was also an effete Eastern intellectual right down to his name—and, by implication, possibly a homosexual. He had been publicly exposed by that relentlessly regular guy, Dick Nixon, as an unnatural, un-American element who had used his wiles to sway all of his superiors in the Crimea.

Just how he had accomplished this was never detailed, but it didn't matter; specificity is anathema to any myth. Bullitt and an equally flamboyant opportunist of the period, Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, offered a more general explanation. The Democrats, Mrs. Luce had already charged, “will not, or dare not, tell us the commitments that were overtly or secretly made in moments of war's extermination by a mortally ill President, and perhaps mortally scared State Department advisers.”

The idea of the “dying President” at Yalta was plausible to much of the public, who had seen photographs of Roosevelt looking suddenly, shockingly gaunt and exhausted throughout much of the last year of his life. To the right wing—which had conducted a whispering campaign against Roosevelt throughout his term in office, claiming that his real affliction was not polio but syphilis, and that he, his wife, and various advisers, including Hopkins, were “secret Jews” and Soviet agents—it all made perfect sense. To the many Americans who still loved Roosevelt and whose votes the Republicans needed, FDR himself could now become the Siegfried figure, a dying hero betrayed by the shady, unnatural Hiss.

All of this, of course, falls apart under the most cursory examination. Hiss was a “technician” at Yalta, relied upon mostly for his expertise regarding the planned United Nations, and—already suspected of espionage—he had played no policymaking role in a large, bipartisan delegation that included most of the nation's military and diplomatic leadership. Roosevelt was in severe physical decline and would die from a massive stroke some two months later, but his mind was still active and engaged. Chip Bohlen—who actually was at Yalta and who went on to become a leading Cold War statesman under both Republican and Democratic administrations—would echo many other observers in reporting that while Roosevelt's “physical state was certainly not up to normal, his mental and psychological state was certainly not affected. He was lethargic but when important moments arose, he was mentally sharp.”

Far from handing over anything to anyone, Roosevelt had actually persuaded Stalin to sign onto a “Declaration on Liberated Europe” that affirmed “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live” and committed the Big Three “to the earliest possible establishment through free elections of governments responsive to the will of the people.” More was not possible. The salient fact about Eastern Europe at the end of World War II was that the Red Army enjoyed an immense numerical advantage there. To dislodge it, the United States would have had to embark immediately upon another epic struggle, a vast new war for which the American people, already clamoring for demobilization, showed absolutely no enthusiasm. It is likely that the United States would have eventually prevailed in such a struggle, but only at a cost of American lives that would have dwarfed the total lost in World War II itself, and the further devastation of the very European countries we had sought to liberate.

As Bohlen told a Senate committee in 1953, “I believe that the map of Europe would look much the same if there had never been a Yalta conference at all.” Why this should have been surprising, and how it possibly reflected a failure of American foreign policy, is a mystery in any rational analysis of the situation. But any such analysis could never be made by the heroic state. Instead, Roosevelt and the nation he represented had to have been betrayed. The previous, disastrous policies advocated by the Republican right—ignoring the growing Axis threat, then leaving Western Europe defenseless while plunging into war in China—could be safely forgotten.
* * *

Republicans now began an almost continuous campaign against alleged Democratic conspiracies. Following Chiang's defeat, conservatives in Congress demanded to know “Who lost China?” and Robert Taft, discarding his much vaunted integrity, egged on Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt against the Truman Administration, urging him to “keep talking and if one case doesn't work out, he should proceed with another.” Yet it would take another hot war—and another expansion of the dolchstosslegende—to permanently enthrone the idea of a vast, treasonous left-wing conspiracy in the American psyche.

The outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950 was disturbing enough, but the defeat of General Douglas MacArthur that winter by invading Chinese forces sent shock waves throughout the United States. More than anyone else, MacArthur had brought about his own defeat, launching his troops up the Korean peninsula in separate columns, divided by mountain ranges, ignoring both orders from the White House to halt and plentiful signs that a massive Chinese force had already infiltrated the Korean peninsula. But while his subordinates scrambled to rally their reeling men, MacArthur moved swiftly to salvage his military reputation and his hopes for the presidency.

What the general proposed was a massive escalation of the war. U.N. troops would not only “blockade the coast of China” and “destroy through naval gunfire and air bombardment China's industrial capacity to wage war” but would also “release existing restrictions upon the Formosan garrison” of Chiang Kai-shek, which might lead to counter-invasion against “vulnerable areas of the Chinese mainland.” Above all, MacArthur urged that no fewer than thirty-four atomic bombs be dropped on what he characterized as “retardation targets” in Manchuria, including critical concentrations of troops and planes. Even this soon seemed insufficient. MacArthur later added that had he been permitted, he not only would have launched as many as fifty atomic bombs but also would have used “wagons, carts, trucks, and planes” to create “a belt of radioactive cobalt” that would neatly slice the Korean thumb from China. “For at least sixty years,” he said, “there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the north.”

MacArthur insisted the “only way to prevent World War III is to end the Korean conflict rapidly and decisively”—as if a massive, atomic attack upon the world's most populous nation would not, in itself, constitute World War III. When the Truman Administration rejected his proposals, the general announced that he was not being allowed to win—“An enormous handicap without precedent in military history.” The U.N. had to “depart from its tolerant effort to contain the war to the area of Korea” and accept his strategy to “doom Red China,” an opponent “of such exaggerated and vaunted military power.”

MacArthur conveyed similar sentiments to his conservative allies in Congress, writing House Minority Leader Joseph Martin that he was only trying to “follow the conventional pattern of meeting force with maximum counter-force, as we have never failed to do in the past,” and concluding: “There is no substitute for victory.” Martin gleefully aired the great man's views in a speech in Brooklyn, thundering, “If we are not in Korea to win, then this Administration should be indicted for the murder of thousands of American boys.” He added that “the same State Department crowd that cut off aid” to Chiang in 1946 now opposed invading China because this would show up their earlier mistakes. The only way to “save Europe and save Asia at the same time” was “to clear out the State Department from top to bottom.” After Martin repeated MacArthur's views on the House floor, Truman finally removed the general from his command. But the move seemed only to confirm that something was very wrong.

The right seized the opportunity to renew—and expand—its charges of dolchstoss. Republican Senator William Jenner of Indiana bellowed from the floor of the Senate that “this country today is in the hands of a secret inner coterie which is directed by agents of the Soviet Union. We must cut this whole cancerous conspiracy out of our Government at once. Our own choice is to impeach President Truman and find out who is the secret invisible government which has so cleverly led our country down the road to destruction.” Nixon, his new colleague, agreed in barely coded language, attacking “the whining, whimpering, groveling attitude of our diplomatic representatives who talk of America's fear rather than of America's strength and of America's courage.” He claimed that “top administration officials have refused time and time again to recognize the existence of this fifth column” or “to take effective action to clear subversives out” of the government.

Douglas MacArthur now became the martyred Siegfried, stabbed in the back by weaklings at home who were for some reason afraid of victory. It was the fault of these “whimpering,” “soft,” “cowardly,” “lavender” “appeasers,” so unnatural they were willing to “murder” American boys to cover up their own misjudgments. Communist treachery and appeasement were blended seamlessly with an emerging, postwar sex panic.

An entire, seemingly plausible narrative of treason was now firmly established. The conspiracy of spies, or sexual deviants, or both, had now expanded beyond Alger Hiss to include pretty much the entire State Department and maybe the rest of the executive branch. Taft, launching his third run for the Republican nomination, offered to name MacArthur as his vice president, and the general, while still harboring hopes of winning the nomination himself, agreed on the condition that he would have a voice in foreign policy and be put in charge of national security.

In their desire for power, Republican centrists soon joined this right-wing chorus. John Foster Dulles, now Eisenhower's secretary-of-state designate, denounced the very strategy of containment that he had helped to formulate and promised to “roll back” Communism everywhere, including in Eastern Europe. Eisenhower himself refused to disown McCarthy, even after the senator had impugned the patriotism of his longtime friend and mentor, George Marshall.

The Republican platform that Ike ran on in the fall of 1952 was a freefall into fantasy, a fatal compact by party moderates with a right wing that would eventually push them into extinction. For the first time since the Civil War era, one major American political party charged another one with treason. Democrats were accused of having “shielded traitors to the Nation in high places” and creating “enemies abroad where we should have friends.” Democrats were responsible for all “110,000 American casualties” in Korea, where they had “produced stalemates and ignominious bartering with our enemies” that “offer no hope of victory.” Republicans promised to “repudiate all commitments contained in secret understandings such as those of Yalta which aid Communist enslavements.”

United once more, Republicans brought this compilation of hysterical charges and bald-faced lies before the American people—who swallowed them willingly. Once in power, Eisenhower and Dulles immediately returned to managing the Democratic system of containment. Dulles met with MacArthur, listened respectfully to his plan to nuke Manchuria, allowed that it “could well succeed,” then shelved it without another word. No “secret understandings” to “aid Communist enslavements” were repudiated because, of course, they did not exist. The idea of “rolling back” Communism from Eastern Europe was taken seriously solely by the Hungarian people, who launched a brave rebellion against their Soviet occupiers in 1956, only to find that Dulles and Eisenhower were willing to offer them nothing more than sympathy.
* * *

The right's initial blindness toward first the Axis and then the Soviet threat in Europe; the disastrous military campaign waged by one of its icons; its feckless and even apocalyptic ideas for recouping its previous mistakes—all had been erased in much of the public consciousness by the stab in the back, a vote-winning tale of deviancy, subversion, and intentional defeat radiating from Yalta all the way to Korea. The Vietnam War, however, would call for yet another expansion of the dolchstosslegende.

Vietnam was the sort of war Republicans had been clamoring to fight for two decades. A liberal administration had started it, with misplaced bravado, but it had been egged on—even dared—to take the plunge into full-scale war by prevailing right-wing dogma. When the war soured, Republicans first tried to blame not the failed premise of the domino theory or the flawed diplomacy of the Kennedy Administration or the near-universal American failure to recognize Vietnam's boundless desire for self-determination—no, it was the old fallbacks of appeasement, defeatism, and treachery in high places.

Once again, we were told that American troops were not being “allowed” to win, if they could not mine Haiphong harbor, or flatten Hanoi, or reduce all of North Vietnam to a parking lot. Yet Vietnam was a war with no real defeats on the ground. U.S. troops won every battle of any significance and inflicted exponentially greater casualties on the enemy than they suffered themselves. Even the great debacle of the war, the 1968 Tet offensive, ended with an overwhelming American military victory and the Viet Cong permanently expunged as an effective fighting force. It is difficult to claim betrayal when you do not lose a battle.

Worse yet, Republicans could not provide any meaningful alternative strategy. Nixon was able to take office in 1969 only by offering a “secret plan” to get the boys home from Vietnam, not by promising to hugely escalate the fighting or risk a wider conflict. Richard Nixon became the first Republican president since the turn of the century to take office while a major war still hung in the balance, and now all the fantasies began to fall away. More than 21,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam during Nixon's time in office, and there were no Democrats to blame it on.

The only political hope for the administration was to turn its gaze outward—to blame the people themselves, or at least a portion of them. Nixon, as historian Rick Perlstein has observed, “had a gift for looking beneath social surfaces to see and exploit subterranean anxieties,” and he had been on hand at the creation of this game. Initially, the divisions he sought to exploit were much the same as those he had manipulated back in the 1940s, though they were now aimed at broad swaths of the general public—the children of the New Deal, as it were. The leading tactics included employment of the same sorts of code words so bluntly wielded twenty years before, along with a good deal more street muscle.

Over and over, antiwar protesters were called Communists, perverts, or simply “bums”—the last epithet from Nixon's own lips. The large percentage of college students in their ranks were depicted as spoiled, obnoxious, ungrateful children. Older, more established dissidents were ridiculed by Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, in a series of William Safire‒authored speeches, as “nattering nabobs of negativity,” and, unforgettably, as “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” These invectives were, of course, doubly disingenuous; it was Agnew and Safire who very much wanted such persons to be known by the damning label of “intellectual,” and what the vice president was really calling them was fags.

All these bums and effetes might be un-American, but their disapproval still was sufficient to demoralize our fighting men in Vietnam and thereby put them in imminent peril. And on hand to take the torch from an increasingly beleaguered Nixon was a new Republican master at exploiting subterranean anxieties, Ronald Reagan. As early as 1969, Reagan was insisting that leaders of the massive Moratorium Days protests “lent comfort and aid” to the North Vietnamese, and that “some American will die tonight because of the activity in our streets.”

The Nixon Administration now had its new Hagens. People who voiced their opposition to the war were traitors and even killers, responsible for the death of American servicemen, and as such almost any action taken against them could be justified. The Nixon White House even had its own blue-collar shock troops. Repeatedly, on suspiciously media-heavy occasions, construction workers appeared to break up antiwar demonstrations and beat up peaceful demonstrators. The effete protesters had been shown up by real working-class Americans—and their class allies in the police force eagerly closed ranks.
* * *

Neither Nixon, nor Agnew, nor the war would survive a second term. With the shameful, panicked helicopter evacuation of Saigon, U.S. prestige in the world dropped precipitously—but none of the other dominoes followed. Once again, by 1975, the American right should have found itself utterly discredited. A war that conservatives had fervently supported had ended in defeat, but with none of the consequences they had prophesied. Instead, the entire operating right-wing belief in “monolithic communism” was debunked in the wake of our evacuation from Saigon, as Vietnam attacked Cambodia, China invaded Vietnam, and the Soviet Union and China clashed along their border.

Yet the cultural division that Richard Nixon had fomented to try to salvage the war in Vietnam would take on a life of its own long after the war was over and Nixon had been driven from office in disgrace. It cleverly focused on the men who had fought the war, rather than the war itself. If Vietnam had been an unnecessary sacrifice, if world Communism could no longer be passed off as a credible threat to the United States, then the betrayal of our fighting men must become the issue.

Vietnam, for the right, would come to be defined mainly through a series of closely related, culturally explosive totems. The protesters and the counterculture would be reduced to the single person of Jane Fonda, embalmed forever on a clip of film, traipsing around a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun. The soldiers, meanwhile, were transformed into victims and martyrs. It became general knowledge that they had been savagely scorned and mocked upon their return to the United States; those returning through the San Francisco airport were especially liable to be spat upon by men and women protesting the war.

Of course, those who were able to return at all were the lucky ones. Soon after we had bugged out of Saigon, millions of Americans became convinced that American prisoners of war had been left behind in Vietnamese work camps, by a government that was too cowed or callous to insist upon their return. Numerous groups sprang up to demand their release, disseminating flags with a stark, black-and-white tableau of a prisoner's bowed head against the backdrop of a guard tower, a barbed-wire fence, and the legend: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN POW*MIA.

It would do no good to point out that there is no objective evidence that veterans were ever spat upon by demonstrators or that POWs were ever left behind or that Jane Fonda's addle-headed mission to Hanoi did anything to undermine American forces. The stab-in-the-back myth is much more powerful than any of these facts, and it continues to grow more so as time passes. Just this past Christmas, one Faye Fiore wrote a feature for the Los Angeles Times about how returning Iraqi veterans are being showered with acts of good will by an adoring American public, “In contrast to the hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago.” The POW/MIA flags, with their black-and-white iconography of shame, now fly everywhere in the United States, just under the Stars and Stripes; federal law even mandates that on at least six days a year—Memorial Day, Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, and one day during POW/MIA Week (the third week of September)—they must be flown over nearly every single U.S. government building. There has been nothing else like them in the history of this country, and they have no parallel anywhere else in the world—these peculiar little banners, attached like a disclaimer to our national flag, with their message of surrender and humiliation, perennially accusing our government of betrayal.
* * *

If the power of the stab-in-the-back narrative from Vietnam is beyond question, it still raises the question of why. Why should we wish to maintain a narrative of horrendous national betrayal, one in which our own democratically elected government, and a large portion of our fellow citizens, are guilty of horribly betraying our fighting men?

The answer, I think, lies in Richard Nixon's ability to expand the Siegfried myth from the halls of power out into the streets. Government conspiracies are still culpable, of course; ironically, it was Nixon's own administration that first “left behind” American POWs in North Vietnam. Yet this makes little difference to the American right, which never considered Nixon ideologically pure enough to be a member in good standing, and which has always made hay by railing against government, even now that they are it. What Nixon and a few of his contemporaries did for the right was to make culture war the permanent condition of American politics.

On domestic issues as well as ones of foreign policy, from Ronald Reagan's mythical “welfare queens” through George Wallace's “pointy-headed intellectuals”; from Lee Atwater's characterization of Democrats as anti-family, anti-life, anti-God, down through the open, deliberate attempts of Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove to constantly describe opponents in words that made them seem bizarre, deviant, and “out of the mainstream,” the entire vernacular of American politics has been altered since Vietnam. Culture war has become the organizing principle of the right, unalterably convinced as it is that conservatives are an embattled majority, one that must stand ever vigilant against its unnatural enemies—from the “gay agenda,” to the advocates of Darwinism, to the “war against Christmas” last year.

This has become such an ingrained part of the right wing's belief system that the Bush Administration has now become the first government in our nation's history to fight a major war without seeking any sort of national solidarity. Far from it. The whole purpose of the war in Iraq—and the “war on terrorism”—seems to have been to foment division and to win elections by forcing Americans to choose between starkly different visions of what their country should be. Again and again, Bush and his confederates have used the cover of national security to push through an uncompromising right-wing agenda. Ignoring the broad leeway already provided the federal government to fight terrorists and conduct domestic surveillance, the administration has gone out of its way to claim vast new powers to detain, spy on, and imprison its own citizens, and to abduct and even torture foreigners—a subject we shall return to. It has used the cover of the war to push through enormous tax cuts, attempt to dismantle the Social Security system, and alter the very social covenant of the nation. Incidents from the Terri Schiavo case to the teaching of “intelligent design” are periodically exploited to start new cultural battles.

Given this state of permanent culture war, it is not surprising that the Bush White House trotted out the stab-in-the-back myth when its Iraq project began to run out of steam early last summer. It was first given a spin, as usual, by the right's media shock troops, and directed at both Democratic and renegade Republican lawmakers who had dared to criticize either the strategic conduct of the war or our treatment of detainees. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page opined, “Where the terrorists are gaining ground is in Washington, D.C.” and noted that General John Abizaid, of the U.S. Central Command, had said, “When my soldiers say to me and ask me the question whether or not they've got support from the American people or not, that worries me. And they're starting to do that.”

Again, the link was made. Soldiers of the most powerful army in the history of the world would be actively endangered if they even wondered whether the folks at home were questioning their deployment. The right was looking for a target, and it got one when Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), appalled by an FBI report on the prisons for suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, compared them to those run by “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings . . . ”

The right's response was predictably swift and savage. The Power Line blogger Paul Mirengoff commented that the senator “slanders his own country. Normally that kind of slander is uttered only by revolutionaries seeking the violent overthrow of the government.” Rush Limbaugh harrumphed that “Dick Durbin has just identified who the Democrats are in the year 2005, particularly when it comes to American national security and when it comes to the U.S. military. These are the same people that say they support the troops. This is how they do it, huh? They give aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Yet for once, Rush was outdone. John Carlson, host of a Seattle talk show and Washington State's unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 2000, said of Durbin, “This man is simply a piece of excrement, a piece of waste that needs to be scraped off the sidewalk and eliminated.” Bill O'Reilly of Fox News launched a preemptive attack on his few liberal counterparts, urging that the staff of Air America be jailed: “Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all you clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send them over to the FBI and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything.”

Once the Republican media had secured the ground and set the terms of debate, the party's representatives in Washington jumped into the fray. When Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi called the war “a grotesque mistake” that was “not making America safer,” the as-yet-unindicted Tom DeLay retorted that Pelosi “owes our military and their families an apology for her reckless comments,” and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt claimed that Pelosi's words had “emboldened” the enemy.

All of the crucial elements of the stab-in-the-back charge were now in place. Critics of the war were not simply questioning its strategy or its necessity, or upholding the best of American traditions by raising concerns over how enemy prisoners were being treated. Instead, they were aiding the enemy, and actively endangering our fighting men and women. They were traitors and “revolutionaries,” individuals who were “conducting guerrilla warfare on American troops,” and “excrement” who could now be safely incarcerated “immediately” or even “eliminated.”

It remained only for the chief Republican strategist, Karl Rove, to appear before a conservative party fundraiser in Manhattan on June 22 and tie up a campaign that bore all of his usual earmarks.

“Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers,” Rove began, riffing on a proven theme from the 2004 presidential election, which sought to link Democrats not only with the terrorist attack on 9/11 but also with a generation of Republican assertions that liberals are “soft” on domestic crime. Rove then honed in on poor Dick Durbin's remarks: “Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year? Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.” (My italics.)

The conspiracy had expanded yet again. Not just Nancy Pelosi or Dick Durbin but all Democrats and all liberals were now firmly established as traitors, and it was not possible that they had made some honest gaffes; instead, their very motives were sinister.

When Rove's thunderous media offensive had finally subsided, however, a strange silence ensued. The popularity of his master, George W. Bush, continued to plunge in the opinion polls. Support for the war continued to plummet as well, and by July, Rove himself was thoroughly enmeshed in the Valerie Plame scandal, with all of the attendant implications about its manipulation of prewar intelligence. By November, Rove was forced to send out Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney themselves on a new “Strategy for Victory” campaign. Speaking on Veterans Day to an all-military audience at an army depot in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, Bush attacked Democrats who were saying they had been duped by the fraudulent intelligence the administration had used to secure their votes for war.

“These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will,” Bush told the soldiers assembled for his photo op. “As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them.”

Once again, criticism of the war in Iraq had been adroitly linked to criticism of the administration, and then to treason—something that would, somehow, magically empower the enemy and demoralize our own troops. Once again, unnatural enemies were striking at the heroic, Siegfried figures at the top of the administration, who struggled to get out their great truth that no intelligence had been manipulated and the Democrats were engaging in “revisionism.”

Yet still, somehow, Bush's numbers continued to plunge. What went wrong? How could such an infallible Republican strategy, conducted with all of the right wing's vast media resources at his command, have failed so utterly? How was it that the story of the stab in the back had lost its power to hold us spellbound?
* * *

What has really robbed the conspiracy theories of their effectiveness is how the war in Iraq has been conducted. Bush and his advisers have sought to use the war not only to punish their enemies but also to reward their supporters, a bit of political juggling that led them to demand nothing from the American public as a whole. Those of us who are not actively fighting in Iraq, or who do not have close friends and family members who are doing so, have not been asked to sacrifice in any way. The richest among us have even been showered with tax cuts.

Yet in demanding so little, Bush has finally uncoupled the state from its heroic status. It is not a coincidence that modern nationalism dates from the advent of mass democracy—and mass citizen armies—that the American and French revolutions ushered in at the end of the eighteenth century. Bush's refusal to mobilize the nation for the war in Iraq has severed that immediate identification with our army's fortunes. Nor did it begin with the Bush Administration. The wartime tax cuts and the all-volunteer, wartime army are simply the latest manifestations of a trend that is now decades old and that has been promulgated through peace as well as war, by Democrats as well as Republicans. It cannot truly be a surprise that a society that has steadily dismantled or diminished the most basic access to health care, relief for the poor and the aged, and decent education; a society that has allowed the gap between its richest and poorest citizens to grow to unprecedented size; a society that has paid obeisance to the ideology of globalization to the point of giving away both its jobs and its debt to foreign nations, and which has just allowed one of its poorer cities to quietly drown, should choose to largely opt out of its own defense.

Anyone who doubts that this is exactly what we have done need only look at how little the war really engages most of us. It rarely draws more than a few seconds of coverage on the local television news, if that, and then only well into the broadcast, after a story on a murder, or a fire, or the latest weather predictions. Even the largest and angriest demonstrations against our occupation of Iraq have not approached the mobilizations against the war in Vietnam, but a close observer will notice that we also have yet to see any of the massive counterdemonstrations that were held in support of that war—or “in support of the troops.” Such engagement on either side seems almost quaint now.

Who could possibly believe in a plot to lose this war? No one cares that much about it. We have, instead, reached a crossroads where the overwhelming right-wing desire to dissolve much of the old social compact that held together the modern nation-state is irreconcilably at odds with any attempt to conduct such a grand, heroic experiment as implanting democracy in the Middle East. Without mass participation, Iraq cannot be passed off as an heroic endeavor, no matter how much Mr. Bush's rhetoric tries to make it one, and without a hero there can be no great betrayer, no skulking villain.

And yet, a convincing national narrative, though it may be the sheerest, most vicious fiction, can have incredible staying power—can perhaps outlast even the nation that it was meant to serve. It is ironic that, even as support for his war was starting to unravel in May of 2005, George W. Bush was in the Latvian capital of Riga, describing the Yalta agreement as “one of the greatest wrongs of history.” The President placed it in the “unjust tradition” of the 1938 Munich Pact and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which together paved the way for the start of World War II in 1939. Bush's words echoed his statements of three previous trips to Eastern Europe, dating back to 2001, during which he had pledged, “no more Munichs, no more Yaltas,” and called Yalta an “attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability,” a “bitter legacy,” and a “constant source of injustice and fear” that had “divided a living civilization.”

The ultimate irony of Bush's perpetuating this ageless right-wing shibboleth is that for once it wasn't intended for home consumption. The Yalta myth has finally lost its old magic, here in historically illiterate, contemporary America. Nor did Bush make any special attempt to let his countrymen know he was apportioning them equal blame with Stalin and Hitler for the greatest calamities of the twentieth century.

Bush's pandering was directed instead to the nations he was visiting, in a region that still battens on any number of conspiracy theories. Why he should have so denigrated his own country to a few small Eastern European nations might seem a mystery, until one considers that this is the “new Europe” that Bush has solicited for troops for his Iraqi adventure . . . and where he appears to have found either destinations or conduits for victims of “extraordinary rendition,” en route to where they could be safely tortured in secrecy.

An American president, wandering the halls of Eastern European palaces, denounces his own nation in order to appease his hosts into torturing secret prisoners. Our heroic age surely has come to an end.

Zerglings and Exercise of Power

(This post is incomplete and needs some polish, but that will have to wait.)

Power is most often exercised vicariously.

A general does not often pick up a sword and enter the melee. Conversely, the private suffers much more for losing his rifle than a general suffers for losing a war.

The examples of the vicarious exercise of power are manifest. A street gang is led by a powerful central figure or figures while the actual crimes are often perpetrated by the lower-caste individuals at the behest of the leader. Likewise with the mafia, corporate customer support (has the phone company ever answered your call with a real human?), dictators, terrorists, Hitler's Brownshirts and just about every other election campaign.

In "Good" organizations, this arrangement is simply the multiplication of power. "Bad" organizations also gain isolation from their acts through the disavowal of responsibility for the zergling's* actions.

Indeed, it would seem that an ideal way to differentiate a "Good" exercise of power from a "Bad" one would be observing how the leadership reacts to reports of the actions of its zerglings. If they accept responsibility (financial, moral, or otherwise) they tend so set themselves apart from the groups that either fail to acknowledge the crimes or deny any relation. (An especially good leader might even accept responsibility for actions that are truly not the responsibility of the group).

* Not to go into much detail for those not familiar with the computer game StarCraft, but basically Zerglings are the "footsoldiers" of the evil Zerg against the spacefaring Terrans (humans). I chose to use the term "zergling" rather than "pawn" or "zealot" because:

- Pawn tends to indicate a person acting against his will. Pawn also implies a military unit that some entity claims responsibility for.

- Zealot can be defined as an extremist, fanatic or bigot. While those properties often are associated with the footsoldier, a large number of them are attracted to the position simply for the reason that it allows them to carry out sadism and anarchy while being relatively shielded from reprisal.

Hitler and the Origins of WWII

I've cut this down a bit from the original FFF posting. I encourage you to read the original post.

The parallels to our current situation are striking. Perhaps this is a well-worn path?

For more info on the "attack by Poland", see this Damned Interesting article.


It has long intrigued me why the German people supported Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. After all, every schoolchild in America is taught that Hitler and his Nazi cohorts were the very epitome of evil. How could ordinary German citizens support people who were so obviously monstrous in nature?


So here were two separate roads taken by German citizens. Most Germans took the road that Traudl Junge took — supporting their government in time of deep crisis. A few Germans took the road that Hans and Sophie Scholl took — opposing their government despite the deep crisis facing their nation.

Why the difference? Why did some Germans support the Hitler regime while others opposed it?

Each American should first ask himself what he would have done if he had been a German citizen during the Hitler regime. Would you have supported your government or would you have opposed it, not only during the 1930s but also after the outbreak of World War II?

After all, it’s one thing to look at Nazi Germany retrospectively and from the vantage point of an outside citizen who has heard since childhood about the death camps and of Hitler’s monstrous nature. We look at those grainy films of Hitler delivering his bombastic speeches and our automatic reaction is that we would have never supported the man and his political party. But it’s quite another thing to place one’s self in the shoes of an ordinary German citizen and ask, “What would I have done?”

What we often forget is that many Germans did not support Hitler and the Nazis at the start of the 1930s. Keep in mind that in the 1932 presidential election, Hitler received only 30.1 percent of the national vote. In the subsequent run-off election, he received only 36.8 percent of the vote. It wasn’t until President Hindenburg appointed him as chancellor in 1933 that Hitler began consolidating power.

Among the major factors that motivated Germans to support Hitler during the 1930s was the tremendous economic crisis known as the Great Depression, which had struck Germany as hard as it had the United States and other parts of the world. What did many Germans do in response to the Great Depression? They did the same thing that many Americans did — they looked for a strong leader to get them out of the economic crisis.

Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt

In fact, there is a remarkable similarity between the economic policies that Hitler implemented and those that Franklin Roosevelt enacted. Keep in mind, first of all, that the German National Socialists were strong believers in Social Security, which Roosevelt introduced to the United States as part of his New Deal. Keep in mind also that the Nazis were strong believers in such other socialist schemes as public (i.e., government) schooling and national health care. In fact, my hunch is that very few Americans realize that Social Security, public schooling, Medicare, and Medicaid have their ideological roots in German socialism.

Hitler and Roosevelt also shared a common commitment to such programs as government-business partnerships. In fact, until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which cartelized American industry, along with his “Blue Eagle” propaganda campaign, was the type of economic fascism that Hitler himself was embracing in Germany (as fascist ruler Benito Mussolini was also doing in Italy).

As John Toland points out in his book Adolf Hitler, “Hitler had genuine admiration for the decisive manner in which the President had taken over the reins of government. ‘I have sympathy for Mr. Roosevelt,’ he told a correspondent of the New York Times two months later, ‘because he marches straight toward his objectives over Congress, lobbies and bureaucracy.’ Hitler went on to note that he was the sole leader in Europe who expressed ‘understanding of the methods and motives of President Roosevelt.’”


Both Hitler and Roosevelt also believed in massive injections of government spending in both the social-welfare sector and the military-industrial sector as a way to bring economic prosperity to their respective nations.


One of Hitler’s proudest accomplishments was the construction of the national autobahn system, a massive socialist public-works project that ultimately became the model for the interstate highway system in the United States.

By the latter part of the 1930s, many Germans had the same perception about Hitler that many Americans had about Roosevelt. They honestly believed that Hitler was bringing Germany out of the Depression. For the first time since the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty that had ended World War I with humiliating terms for Germany, the German people were regaining a sense of pride in themselves and in their nation, and they were giving the credit to Hitler’s strong leadership in time of deep national crisis.

Toland points out in his Hitler biography that Germans weren’t the only ones who admired Hitler during the 1930s:

Churchill had once paid a grudging compliment to the Führer in a letter to the Times: “I have always said that I hoped if Great Britain were beaten in a war we should find a Hitler who would lead us back to our rightful place among nations.”

Hitler was a strong believer in national service, especially for German young people. That was what the Hitler Youth was all about — inculcating in young people the notion that they owed a duty to devote at least part of their lives to society. It was an idea also resonating in the collectivist atmosphere that was permeating the United States during the 1930s.

Hitler and anti-Semitism

While U.S. officials today never cease to remind us that Hitler was evil incarnate, the question is: Was he so easily recognized as such during the 1930s, not only by German citizens but also by other people around the world, especially those who believed in the idea of a strong political leader in times of crisis? Keep in mind that while Hitler and his cohorts were harassing, abusing, and periodically arresting German Jews as the 1930s progressed, culminating in Kristallnacht, the “night of the broken glass,” when tens of thousands of Jews were beaten and taken to concentration camps, it was not exactly the type of thing that aroused major moral outrage among U.S. officials, many of whom themselves had a strong sense of anti-Semitism.

For example, when Hitler offered to let German Jews leave Germany, the U.S. government used immigration controls to keep them from immigrating here. In fact, as Arthur D. Morse pointed out in his book While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy, five days after Kristallnacht, which occurred in November 1938, at a White House press conference, a reporter asked Roosevelt, “Would you recommend a relaxation of our immigration restrictions so that the Jewish refugees could be received in this country?” The president replied, “This is not in contemplation. We have the quota system.”

Let’s also not forget the infamous 1939 (i.e., after Kristallnacht) “voyage of the damned,” in which U.S. officials refused to permit German Jews to disembark at Miami Harbor from the German ship the SS St. Louis, knowing that they would be returned to Hitler’s clutches in Nazi Germany.

(The Holocaust Museum in Washington, to its credit, has an excellent exhibition on U.S. government indifference to the plight of the Jews under Hitler’s control, a dark period in American history to which all too many Americans are never exposed in their public-school training. See also my June 1991 Freedom Daily article “Locking Out the Immigrant” .)

Check out this interesting website, which details a very nice pictorial description of Hitler’s summer home in Bavaria published by a prominent English magazine named Home and Gardens in November 1938 Now, ask yourself: If it was so obvious that Hitler was evil incarnate during the 1930s, would a prominent English magazine have been risking its readership by publishing such a profile? And let’s also not forget that it was Hitler’s Germany that hosted the worldwide Olympics in 1936, games in which the United States, Great Britain, and many other countries participated. Ask yourself: Why would they have done that?

The Great Depression was not the only factor that was leading people to support Hitler. There was also the ever-present fear of communism among the German people. In fact, throughout the 1930s it could be said that Germany was facing the same type of Cold War against the Soviet Union that the United States faced from 1945 to 1989. Ever since the chaos of World War I had given rise to the Russian Revolution, Germany faced the distinct possibility of being taken over by the communists (a threat that materialized into reality for East Germans at the end of World War II). It was a threat that Hitler, like later American presidents, used as a justification for ever-increasing spending on the military-industrial complex. The ever-present danger of Soviet communism led many Germans to gravitate to the support of their government, just as it later moved many Americans to support big government and a strong military-industrial complex in their country throughout the Cold War.

Hitler’s war on terrorism

One of the most searing events in German history occurred soon after Hitler took office. On February 27, 1933, in what easily could be termed the 9/11 terrorist attack of that time, German terrorists fire-bombed the German parliament building. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Adolf Hitler, one of the strongest political leaders in history, would declare war on terrorism and ask the German parliament (the Reichstag) to give him temporary emergency powers to fight the terrorists. Passionately claiming that such powers were necessary to protect the freedom and well-being of the German people, Hitler persuaded the German legislators to give him the emergency powers he needed to confront the terrorist crisis. What became known as the Enabling Act allowed Hitler to suspend civil liberties “temporarily,” that is, until the crisis had passed. Not surprisingly, however, the threat of terrorism never subsided and Hitler’s “temporary” emergency powers, which were periodically renewed by the Reichstag, were still in effect when he took his own life some 12 years later.

Is it so surprising that ordinary German citizens were willing to support their government’s suspension of civil liberties in response to the threat of terrorism, especially after the terrorist strike on the Reichstag?

During the 1930s, the United States faced the Great Depression, and many Americans were willing to accede to Roosevelt’s assumption of massive emergency powers, including the power to control economic activity and also to nationalize and confiscate people’s gold.

During the Cold War, the fear of communism induced Americans to permit their government to collect massive amounts of income taxes to fund the military-industrial complex and to let U.S. officials send more than 100,000 American soldiers to their deaths in undeclared wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Since the 9/11 attacks, Americans have been more than willing for their government to infringe on vital civil liberties, including habeas corpus, involve the nation in an undeclared and unprovoked war on Iraq, and spend ever-growing amounts of money on the military-industrial complex, all in the name of the “war on terrorism.”

Crises versus liberty

While the American people faced these three crises — the Great Depression, the communist threat, and the war on terrorism at three separate times, the German people during the Hitler regime faced the same three crises all within a short span of time. Given that, why would it surprise anyone that many Germans would gravitate toward the support of their government just as many Americans gravitated toward the support of their government during each of those crises?


The three major crises faced by Germany in the 1930s — economic depression, communism, and terrorism — pale to relative insignificance compared with the crisis that Germany faced during the 1940s — World War II, the crisis that threatened, at least in the minds of Hitler and his cohorts, the very existence of Germany. That Hans and Sophie Scholl and other German students began circulating leaflets calling on Germans to oppose their government in the midst of a major war, when German soldiers were dying on two fronts, makes the story of the White Rose even more remarkable and perhaps even a bit discomforting for some Americans.

The most remarkable part of the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is the courtroom scene, which is based on recently discovered German archives. Sophie and her brother Hans, along with their friend Christoph Probst, stand before the infamous Roland Freisler, presiding judge of the People’s Court, whom Hitler had immediately sent to Munich after the Gestapo’s arrest of the Scholls and Probst.

The People’s Court had been established by Hitler as part of the government’s war on terrorism after the terrorist firebombing of the German parliament building. Displeased with the independence of the judiciary in the trials of the suspected Reichstag terrorists, Hitler had set up the People’s Court to ensure that terrorists and traitors would receive the “proper” verdict and punishment. Judicial proceedings were conducted in secret for reasons of national security, which is why Freisler threw Hans’s and Sophie’s parents out of the courtroom when they tried to enter.

At the trial, Freisler railed at the three young people before him, accusing them of being ungrateful traitors for having opposed their government in the midst of the war. His rant went to the core of why many Germans supported Hitler during World War II.

From the first grade in public (i.e., government) schools, it was ingrained in German children that, during times of war, it was the duty of every German to come to the support of his country, which, in the minds of the German officials, was synonymous with the German government. Once a war was under way, the time for discussion and debate was over, at least until the war was over. Opposition to the war would demoralize the troops, it was said, and, therefore, hurt the war effort. Opposing the government (and the troops) in wartime, therefore, was considered treasonous.

Keep in mind that at the time the Scholls were caught distributing their anti-war and anti-government leaflets — 1943 — Germany was fighting a war for its survival on two fronts: the Eastern front against the Soviet Union and the Western front against Britain and the United States. Thousands of German soldiers were dying on the battlefield, especially in the Soviet Union. Whether they agreed with the war effort or not, the German people were expected to support the troops, which meant supporting the war effort.

Lies and wars of aggression

One might object that, since Germany was the aggressor in the conflict, the German people should have refused to support the war. That objection, however, ignores an important point: that in the minds of many Germans, Germany was not the aggressor in World War II but rather the defending nation. After all, that’s what they had been told by their government officials.

An aggressor nation will inevitably try to manipulate events so as to appear to be the victimized nation — that is, the nation that is defending itself against aggression. In that way, government officials can tell the citizenry, “We are innocent! We were just minding our own business when our nation was attacked.” Naturally, the citizenry can then assume that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the war and will be more willing to defend their nation against the attackers.

That is exactly what happened in Germany’s invasion of Poland, which precipitated World War II. After several weeks in which tensions between the two nations were heightened, German soldiers on the Polish-German border were attacked by Polish troops. Hitler followed the time-honored script by dramatically announcing that Germany had been attacked by Poland, requiring Germany to defend herself with a counterattack and an invasion of Poland.

There was one big problem, however — one that the German people were unaware of: the Polish troops who had done the attacking were actually German troops dressed up in Polish uniforms. In other words, German officials had lied about the cause of the war.

Now, some might argue that Germans should not have automatically believed Hitler, especially knowing that throughout history rulers had lied about matters relating to war. But Germans took the position that they had the right and the duty to place their trust in their government officials. After all, Germans felt, their government officials had access to information that the people did not have. Many Germans felt that their government would never lie to them about a matter as important as war.

Also, keep in mind that under the Nazi system Hitler had the sole prerogative of deciding whether to send the nation into war. While he might consult with the Reichstag or advise it of his plans, he did not need its consent to declare and wage war against another nation. He — and he alone — had the power to decide whether to go to war. Therefore, given that Hitler was not required to secure a declaration of war from the Reichstag before going to war against Poland, there was no real way to test whether his claims of a Polish attack were in fact true.

After the German “counterattack” against Poland, England and France declared war on Germany. (Oddly, neither country declared war on the Soviet Union, which also invaded Poland soon after Germany did.) Thus, in the minds of the German people, England and France were coming to the aid of the aggressor — Poland — necessitating Germany’s defending itself against all three nations.

Loyalty and obeying orders

German soldiers, of course, were also expected to do their duty and follow the orders of their commander in chief. Under Germany’s system, it was not up to the individual soldier to reach his own independent judgment about whether Germany was the aggressor in the conflict or whether Hitler had lied about the reasons for going to war. Thus, German soldiers, both Protestant and Catholic, understood that they could kill Polish soldiers with a clear conscience because, again, it was not up to the individual soldier to decide on the justice of the war. He could entrust that decision to his superior officers and political leaders and simply assume that the order to invade was morally and legally justified.

Once troops were committed to battle, most German civilians understood their duty — support the troops who were now fighting and dying on the battlefield for their country, for the fatherland. The time for debating and discussing the causes of the war would have to wait until the war’s end. What mattered, once the war was under way, was winning.

Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo, explained the strategy:

Why, of course, the people don’t want war.... Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship....

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Recognizing and opposing evil

Some might argue that Germans, unlike people in other nations, should not have trusted and supported their government officials during the war because it was obvious that Hitler and his henchmen were evil. The problem with that argument, however, is that throughout the 1930s many Germans and many foreigners did not automatically come to the conclusion that Hitler was evil. On the contrary, as we saw in part one of this article, many of them saw Hitler as exercising the same kind of strong leadership that Franklin Roosevelt was exercising to bring the United States out of the Great Depression and, in fact, as implementing many of the same kinds of programs that Roosevelt was implementing in the United States. (For more on this point, see the excellent book published last year Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933–1939, by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.)

Moreover, while it’s true that throughout the 1930s Hitler was harassing, abusing, and mistreating German Jews, many people all over the world didn’t care, because anti-Semitism was not limited to Germany but instead extended to many parts of the globe.

Don’t forget, for example, about how the Roosevelt administration used immigration controls to prevent German Jews from immigrating to the United States.

Even as late as 1938 U.S. officials refused to let German Jews disembark at Miami Harbor from the SS St. Louis, knowing that they would have to be returned to Hitler’s Germany.

Even after the outbreak of the war, when the severity of the Nazi threat to Jews skyrocketed, the constantly shifting maze of U.S. immigration rules and regulations prevented Anne Frank and her family, along with lots of other Jewish families, from immigrating to the United States.

Some might say that the German people should have ceased supporting their government once the Holocaust began. There are two big problems with that argument, however. First, the German people didn’t know what was going on in the death camps and, second, they didn’t want to know. After all, the death camps and the Holocaust didn’t get established until after the war was well under way and when Hitler’s power over the German people was absolute — and brutal.

How was the average German supposed to know about what was going on inside the death camps? Suppose a German walked up to a concentration camp, knocked on the gates, and said, “I have heard that you are doing bad things to people inside this camp. I would like to come in and inspect the premises.” What do you think would have been the answer? Most likely, he would have been invited inside the compound, as a permanent guest with a very shortened life span.

After all, what government is going to permit its citizens to know its most secret operations, especially during times of war? Not even the U.S. government does that.

For example, what do you think would happen if an American citizen today discovered the location of one of the CIA’s secret overseas detention facilities and then knocked on the front door, saying, “I’ve heard rumors that you are torturing people here. I would like to come in and inspect the premises to see whether those rumors are true.”

Does anyone honestly think that the CIA would let the person inside those supersecret facilities? Now, imagine a situation in which the United States is fighting a major war for its survival against, say, China on one side, and an alliance of Middle East countries on the other. Suppose also that the United States is almost certain to lose the war and that foreign troops are slowly but surely closing in on the U.S. president and his cabinet. What are the chances that the CIA would permit an American citizen to inspect the insides of its prisoner facilities under those circumstances? Indeed, what are the chances that any American is going to make such a demand under those circumstances?

Most Germans did not want to know what was going on inside the concentration camps. If they knew that bad things were occurring, their consciences might start bothering them, which might motivate them to take action to bring the wrongdoing to a stop, which could be dangerous. It was easier — and safer — to look the other way and simply entrust such important matters to their government officials. In that way, it was believed, the government, rather than the individual citizen, would bear the legal and moral consequences for wrongful acts that the government was committing secretly.

Of course, government officials encouraged that mindset of conscious indifference. Don’t concern yourselves with such things, they suggested; just leave them to us — after all, we are at war and these are things that are best left to your government officials.

No doubt that by the time World War II was well under way some Germans were thinking that the time for protesting had been during the 1930s, when Germans were reaching out for a “strong leader” to get them out of “crises” and “emergencies,” and when protests against the government were much less dangerous.

Patriotism and courage

All this, obviously, places Hans and Sophie Scholl and the other members of the White Rose in a remarkable light, one that even many Americans might find discomforting. After all, it’s easy for an American to look at Nazi Germany from the perspective of an outsider and one who has the benefit of historical knowledge, especially about the Holocaust. The interesting question, however, is, What would Americans have done if they had been German citizens during World War II? Would they have opposed their government, as the members of the White Rose did, or would they have supported their government, especially knowing that the troops were fighting and dying on the battlefield?


They were asking Germans to embrace a different and higher concept of patriotism — one that involves a devotion to a set of moral principles and values rather than blind allegiance to one’s government in time of war. It was a type of patriotism that involved opposition to one’s own government, especially in time of war, when government is engaged in conduct that violates moral principles and values.

The story of the White Rose is one of the most remarkable stories of courage in history. At the trial, Christoph Probst asked Freisler to spare his life, an understandable request given that his wife had recently given birth to their third child. Neither Sophie nor her brother Hans flinched. Sophie bluntly told Friesler that the war was lost and that German soldiers were being sacrificed for nothing, a statement that, from the looks on the faces of the military brass attending the trial in the film, momentarily hit home. She said that one day Freisler and his ilk would be sitting in the dock being judged by others for their crimes. She bluntly told him, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

Freisler quickly issued the preordained verdict — Guilty — and sentenced the defendants to death, a sentence that was carried out at the guillotine three days after they had been arrested. After all, as Freisler declared, Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friend Christoph Probst had opposed their government during time of war. In Freisler’s mind — indeed, in the minds of many Germans — what better evidence of treason than that?

Friday, July 20, 2007

W's Enablers

We are still in Iraq due to either fear, gullibility or profit on the part of W's enablers.

Any and all of those are shameful reasons.

All the President’s Enablers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times:
Via Economist's View

In a coordinated public relations offensive, the White House is using reliably friendly pundits — amazingly, they still exist — to put out the word that President Bush is as upbeat and confident as ever. It might even be true.

What I don’t understand is why we’re supposed to consider Mr. Bush’s continuing confidence a good thing.

Remember, Mr. Bush was confident six years ago when he promised to bring in Osama, dead or alive. He was confident four years ago, when he told the insurgents to bring it on. He was confident two years ago, when he told Brownie that he was doing a heckuva job.

Now Iraq is a bloody quagmire, Afghanistan is deteriorating and the Bush administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate admits, in effect, that thanks to Mr. Bush’s poor leadership America is losing the struggle with Al Qaeda. Yet Mr. Bush remains confident.

Sorry, but that’s not reassuring; it’s terrifying. It doesn’t demonstrate Mr. Bush’s strength of character; it shows that he has lost touch with reality. ...

Mr. Bush ... still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.

This week’s prime example is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who made headlines a few weeks ago with a speech declaring that “our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests.” Mr. Lugar is a smart, sensible man. He once acted courageously..., persuading a reluctant Ronald Reagan to stop supporting Ferdinand Marcos ... after a stolen election.

Yet that political courage was nowhere in evidence when Senate Democrats tried to get a vote on a measure that would have forced a course change in Iraq... Mr. Lugar, along with several other Republicans who have expressed doubts about the war, voted against cutting off debate...

Thanks to that vote, nothing will happen until Gen. David Petraeus ... delivers his report in September. But don’t expect too much.., the general’s history suggests that he’s another smart, sensible enabler.

I don’t know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn’t gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don’t think it’s standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.

In the article, General Petraeus told us that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously.” And those security forces were doing just fine: their leaders “are displaying courage and resilience” and “momentum has gathered in recent months.”

In other words, General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner. And the best guess has to be that he’ll do the same thing three years later.

You know, at this point I think we need to stop blaming Mr. Bush for the mess we’re in. He is what he always was, and everyone except a hard core of equally delusional loyalists knows it.

Yet Mr. Bush keeps doing damage because many people who understand how his folly is endangering the nation’s security still refuse, out of political caution and careerism, to do anything about it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Beginning of the End for W

The Chalice of Fear lies in the corner. Quaffed in mouthfuls, its contents had for years given him almost unlimited political power. The remains of each mouthful mixed with vile spittle could be spewed into the faces of the gullible to fuel their war-lust. Now overturned, its last remaining contents mix with the blood of the newly dead before soaking into the earth beside its legions of earlier victims.

Standing amongst the vast waste of mangled bodies, excrement and destruction it has wreaked, the conservative politician hears the faint sounds of the 2008 elections approaching from far away. Handcuffed to one arm is George Bush... still babbling profanity and words of war.

"Time for a shape-shift", he thinks. Time for demons to quickly change colors, time to claim that they were against war all along. The weaker demons will beg for mercy. They will say that their evil acts were just following orders. They will try to rationalize their foolishness.

But the greater demons know the best way is to slough off the mask of religious righteousnous that has served for so well and to transform into the visage of indignation. "How dare those others act in such as way!", he'll bellow, sacrificing the lesser demons as necessary to give him time to zip up his new cloak.

But how to deal with the George Bush that is handcuffed to one arm, still babbling profanity and shrieks for more war? How to get out of these handcuffs fast enough to separate himself from this maniac before being slaughtered by George's surviving countrymen?

The demon betrays a subtle smile. "I'll claim that it is I placed him in arrest to save the nation from chaos." He presses the wrinkled from his new wardrobe. Why would they not believe him now? They believed everything before.

Sidney Blumenthal at Salon

July 19, 2007 | One of the more memorable and revealing statements explaining the nature of the Bush administration buildup to the invasion of Iraq was offered in September 2002 by then White House chief of staff Andrew Card. "From a marketing point of view," he said, "you don't introduce new products in August." Five years later, a period longer than the Civil War and World War II, the administration is preparing to present its case for continuing the surge in Iraq. But rather than waiting for September, when Gen. David Petraeus is scheduled to deliver his report, the administration has moved up the marketing to July.

The familiar props are rolled out, like the well-worn and peeling painted backdrop for a production of a traveling Victorian theatrical troupe, and members of the audience are expected to watch with rapt fascination, as though they had never seen this show before. The negative response to the preview does not alter the same old script.

The usual atmospherics are pumped up -- sudden panic and fear, an elusive and ubiquitous enemy that assumes many guises and shapes, cherry-picked information to provide a patina of verisimilitude to the danger, followed by a march of authority figures to rescue us. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, held a press conference on July 11 to announce that he had a "gut feeling" that the terrorist threat was dire. Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on his final tour of Iraq Tuesday, proclaimed a "sea change." Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice frantically telephoned moderate Republican senators, urging them not to defect from support of the president's position.

Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern supporting players wander through, like Frances Townsend, President Bush's homeland security advisor, who, Tuesday, entered right into the White House press room to declaim about the terrorist threat, only to confirm the administration's failure to destroy al-Qaida and expose her own bafflement: "You're assuming it's a zero-sum game, which is what I don't understand."

Gen. Petraeus is promised as the dramatic hero who will stride to triumph in the last act. The author of a recent study of counterinsurgency who has not previously fought such a war, he has been thrust into the spotlight partly because his halo is yet untarnished. Bush's unpopularity disqualifies him from the "Mission Accomplished" moment. So he pushes out his handpicked general and walks behind his chariot, hoping the cheering of the crowd will be also for him. In his July 12 press conference, Bush mentioned Petraeus 11 times, his name flourished as a talisman for "victory." The generals with the greatest experience with the Iraq insurgency, who opposed Bush's surge, such as Gen. John Abizaid, an Arabic speaker, have been discharged or reassigned. The burden on the ambitious general to produce a military solution is unbearable and his breaking inevitable. But for now, Petraeus' tragedy foretold is being cast as the first dawn of a happy ending.

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 Khalid Abdul Fatah Daud Mahmoud Mashadani, 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.