They were supposed to be different: Republicans for peace, conservatives against empire, leading a grassroots insurrection to overthrow the neocons and restore the Republic. It was Mr. Libertarian goes to Washington. Mr. Frodo goes to Mordor.
Yet, when the chips were down in a crucial contest, they all folded. Senator Rand Paul and the entire Congressional “Liberty Caucus” (including Rep. Justin Amash, and Rep. Thomas Massie) have now all yielded to the War Party and ultimately opposed the Iran nuclear deal.
Of all foreign policy issues, this should have been the easiest on which to stand fast. Opposition to the Iraq War is an essential, distinguishing position of “liberty Republicans.” And in so many ways, the anti-Iran campaign is a rerun of the march to war on Iraq.
The same rogues gallery of Israel-firsters and imperialists are leading the march. The media are helping them propagate the same lies and hysteria over a fabricated WMD crisis and trumped up terror ties.
The same child-sickening and civil society-debilitating sanctions are being imposed. It is all with the same ultimate aim of bombing, regime-changing, and likely invading and occupying a Middle Eastern country that does not totally bend its knee to Washington and Tel Aviv.
And if not obstructed, it will again culminate in the chaotic ruin of a civilization, the killing of hundreds of thousands, the uprooting of millions, and a further massive squandering of American blood and treasure. Only this time would be even worse, because it would involve a nation of 77 million.
To put it in perspective, with these clear parallels in mind, imagine if President Clinton had tried to thaw relations with Baghdad in the 90s, which would have knocked the wind out of the neocons’ push for war on Iraq throughout and following that decade.
Now imagine if “non-interventionist libertarians” in Congress then worked against the detente that would have prevented the Iraq War: the worst disaster and atrocity of recent times.
That is how serious and unforgivable the opposition of Rand Paul and the Liberty Caucus to the Iran deal is. That is how foolish it is to rest your hopes for peace on politicians.
He was supposed to be different: a hero for hope; a champion of change; a one-man rebuke to the bellicose jingoism and unilateral arrogance of the Bush administration. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize early in his first term on his perceived promise alone.
Yet, Obama only perpetuated and expanded the Long War that Bush began.
He launched a futile “surge” in Afghanistan that squandered over 1,500 American lives (74% of total U.S. casualties in that war ).
He had hardly “ended” Iraq War II before launching Iraq War III (the War on ISIS) over a handful of foreign-soil murders and internet snuff films.
When the Arab Spring emerged, he did not welcome it as an assertion of self-determination and a cue for the US empire to exit graciously, as some of his supporters might have expected their “peace President” to do.
Instead, when the Arab Spring reached the US client states of Egypt and Yemen, he supported counter-revolutions to reimpose dictatorship and restore their client status. And now that the new puppet ruler of Yemen has been overthrown, he is backing a vicious Saudi war to reinstall him.
And when the Arab Spring reached “rogue states” Libya and Syria (global empires see every non-client as a rogue), he co-opted, militarized, and radicalized the uprisings. He armed and abetted jihadists, sending both countries spiraling into civil war and chaos, and forcing hundreds of thousands to either flee into Europe or drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying.
On top of all this, he launched multiple drone wars (which have set precedents for the assassination of American citizens and the routine assassination of anonymous targets), imperialist pivots to Asia and Africa, and a new cold war with nuclear Russia after fomenting a civil war in Ukraine.
Far from fulfilling Hope for peace and delivering a Change in US foreign policy, Barack Obama has joined the likes of Henry Kissinger as just one more war criminal with a Peace Prize.
For pro-peace libertarians, conservatives, and progressives alike, their recent attempts to vote away the Bush administration’s legacy of war have been utter failures.
So will it ever be. War is vital to the State. The State was born of war and is nourished by it. This irresistibly conditions the incentives of those who hold its offices. The State is a war machine and cannot be repurposed for anything contrary to its function.
This is especially true for a global empire with a vast, vested, and nested deep state bureaucracy and military-industrial complex.
Even worse than such failures and reversals for short-term peace are their ripple effects on the prospects for long-term peace.
Ideology is what ultimately decides whether there will be war or peace, tyranny or freedom. And so when office-seekers and office-holders use their prominent positions to impact ideology for the worse, it can be even more damaging long-term than the direct effects of their policies.
For example, Rand Paul has not merely embraced many of the War Party’s policies, but has adopted its talking points. By doing so he is in practice working to undo his own father’s most important advances for peace (although thankfully not very effectively, since he’s not making much of impact in any direction).
What Ron Paul accomplished for peace, he did so by using his position, not as a policy lever, but as an educational pulpit. He spent his time in Congress giving speeches and voting no. And even his no votes were speeches in a sense: registered statements of protest. They almost never directly affected policy, since he never made political deals.
He used his Presidential campaigns in the same way: essentially pirating the excessive bandwidth the media allots to the Presidential campaigns to broadcast the philosophy of peace and liberty. His campaign was far more an educational campaign than a political one.
His success was spectacular. With one conspicuous act of courage and statement of principle in particular, he changed the minds of multitudes and launched a movement.
It happened during a televised Republican Primary debate for the 2008 election. On that stage, Ron Paul radically distinguished himself from the rest of the candidates by characterizing the 9/11 attacks as blowback from the US government’s interventionist foreign policy.
Rudy Giuliani, the “mayor of 9/11,” immediately anathematized Ron Paul for blaspheming the greatest sacrament of the Holy Homeland and demanded a retraction.
Ron Paul treated Giuliani’s demand as a lovely opportunity for more speaking time to use to hammer his point home even harder: to elaborate on his public mini-lecture on the concept of blowback. What to most would have been a backtrack-inducing, career-ending incident was for Ron Paul a movement-launching, teachable moment. Countless people have said that they became anti-war after watching Ron Paul in those debates, and particularly after that moment.
Rand Paul has been criticized for never seizing his own “Giuliani moment” in the 2016 campaign. But it is worse than that. His campaign trail showings have been rife with statements that are actually antithetical to his father’s “Giuliani moment.”
In his exchange with Giuliani, Ron Paul famously said:
“They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there.”
This was a rebuttal to Bush’s catchphrase: “They hate our freedoms.” The ludicrous implication is that our female drivers and voting booths are so offensive to our attackers’ Islamist sensibilities that it drives them into complex international campaigns of murder-suicide.
This was the crude narrative that Ron Paul heroically dispelled for so many. Terroristic guerrilla wars against empires often draw from religious extremism to galvanize their warriors. But that does not change the fact that they are primarily driven by opposition to imperial domination.
Rand, however, seems to be working to restore the crude narrative his father had combatted. He has adopted as his oft-repeated foreign policy slogan: “The enemy is radical Islam.” In his announcement of his candidacy he said:
“Without question we must defend ourselves and American interests from our enemies, but until we name the enemy, we can’t win the war. The enemy is radical Islam. You can’t get around it. And not only will I name the enemy, I will do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind.”
According to Rand then, and contrary to Ron, the challenge before us is not defusing extremism by ending the interventionism that energizes it. It is not about “just coming home” as Ron always preached. It is not about thereby ending the war, but about “winning” it. Our chief problem is not our blowback-generating empire, but our foreign “enemy.” And our enemies aren’t “attacking us because we’re over there”; they are attacking us simply because they embrace radical Islam. Their religion makes them, not just haters of freedom, but “haters of mankind.” With this, Rand actually one-ups Bush. They don’t just “hate us because we’re free”; they hate us because we’re human!
This is the worst kind of simple-minded, jingoistic rhetoric and “analysis” parading around in the mantle of liberty. It is a “Giuliani moment” in the sense that it sounds like something Giuliani himself would say while denouncing Rand’s father.
And it is incredibly pernicious.
It hardly matters whether Rand Paul’s concrete foreign policy proposals are technically non-interventionist if you look at their fine print, as some of his die-hard supporters are so adept at doing. After all, it’s not like he is going to win, for all his pandering “pragmatism.”
What truly matters is the public’s basic foreign policy worldview. Do they see today’s global turmoil as chiefly a problem of empire and intervention? Or do they see it as a Manichean struggle between unalloyed champions for goodness and incorrigibly evil foreign villains? With the former, we will have peace. With the latter, war. By pulling public discourse toward the latter, Rand Paul has in effect joined the War Party. (Although, again, thankfully he hasn’t had very much pull to speak of.)
So will it ever be. Politics and the State demand such pandering and compromises. It is a truly rare individual who can stand firm and resist that demand. American history records only one.
Campaign rhetoric is one way in which politicians can adversely affect ideology. The other chief way is through the object lessons offered by their actual policy records.
For example, during the 2012 election, I predicted that:
“…Obama’s continued foreign meddling would sow the seeds of further conflict and global instability. Yet this failure would be blamed on his ostensibly ‘soft’ foreign policy, thereby giving peace a bad name.”
I dare say my prediction has been borne out by events. This is especially true because Obama’s militarism has been largely covert and by proxy, and therefore under the media radar. This obscures the true cause of the “blowback” that has since ensued, making it easy to blame Obama’s high-profile “dovish” policies, like his Iraq “withdrawal” and his refusal to bomb the Syrian and Iranian regimes.
Indeed, that is the propaganda drumbeat being pounded every day by the War Party, with considerable success.
Hardly anybody tells the truth that ISIS returned to Iraq from Syria as conquerors on the march due to Obama’s major interventions in Syria in support of ISIS’s allies in the uprising against the regime. “What Syrian interventions?” most would reply.
Instead the War Party is able to make the superficially plausible accusation that ISIS conquered north-western Iraq because Obama pulled most of the American troops out of the country, weakling “peacenik” that he is. The lesson this false record imparts is: “Don’t ever leave. If you don’t want terrorists gaining ever more power, you’re just going to have to occupy the rogue states you invade forever.”
And hardly anybody tells the truth that the refugees now flooding Europe or drowning in the Mediterranean are fleeing civil wars fomented by Obama in Syria and Libya. Again, “what Syrian intervention?”
And because Obama adopted the “moderate” policy of “merely” bombing Libya, as opposed to invading and occupying it, most Americans are not even aware of that war of regime change and its role in cauldronizing that country.
Thus Obama’s low-profile war-waging enables the War Party to instead blame the refugee crisis on his high-profile, “dithering” failure to directly bomb and overthrow the Syrian regime.
And if you think things would be any different with a President Bernie Sanders, you’re fooling yourself.
Just as the market took the blame for the blowback from the low-profile market interventionism of Reagan and Bush Jr, peace is taking the blame for the blowback from the low-profile foreign interventionism of Obama.
Reagan and Bush maybe did less direct damage to the market than the candidates they defeated would have. But this was very likely outweighed by the long-term damage they did to the reputation of the market. Similarly, Obama has maybe waged less war than Mitt Romney would have. But this will very likely be outweighed by the long-term damage he has done to the reputation of peace.
This is one reason it never makes sense to support the lesser short-term evil; in politics, such a choice will very likely wind up being the greater long-term evil.
If peace had any chance in politics, it would have found true champions (or at least one!) in the members of Congress swept into office by public regret over the Iraq War, and a true deliverer in the President with a clear mandate to repudiate the warlike Bush legacy.
But politics is inherently pernicious to peace. Far more promising are such worthy endeavors as education (like Ron Paul’s movement-making teaching tour), economic activism (like the BDS movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine), resistance (like Thoreau’s tax-resistance to the Mexican-American War), and generally clamoring for peace (like the hugely successful Vietnam protest movement and the 2013 rejection of a direct war on Syria, which was accomplished through sheer expression of opinion).
Stop looking to Commanders-in-Chief and other officers of the imperium to be the deliverers of peace. They have always let us down, and they always will.
For more details on how exactly peace and freedom can be attained without direct engagement with the political machine, see my essay, “Let’s Boycott Hate Season.”