Blowhards, Left and Right

by , September 28, 2004

Watching MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough reporting from West Palm Beach, Florida, yelling over the storm, and momentarily drowning out the hurricane winds – until his microphone connection was cut – gives new meaning to the word blowhard.

Joe’s a typical right-wing blowhard in the Rush Limbaugh mold: except, unlike the oleaginous Rush, Joe looks the part: that chin, which resembles the prow of a ship – a destroyer – and the angular planes of his face, like something carved out of unyielding granite, or Botox-ified flesh. The eyes: bright and blank, unclouded either by doubt or thought. But most of all there is that voice: grating, raspy, filled with disdain for “anti-American” peaceniks like myself, and pumped up with the monumental conceit that characterizes the neocon mentality.

While everyone else, including rescue workers, sought shelter, Machismo Joe planted himself at the center of the storm. The wind was fierce, but he struggled mightily against the gale, forcing himself to stand ramrod straight as the forces of nature battered his inflexible frame. God, how I wished Hurricane Jeanne would blow him out to sea, as far from human civilization as possible.

For this uncharitable flight of fancy I make no apology. Scarborough, Limbaugh, and the Blowhard Brigade are, after all, accomplices to mass murder in Iraq. As U.S. soldiers stand up against the gale force winds of nationalism and Islamism, the Blowhard brigadistas content themselves with braving the storm of protest at home, stubbornly refusing to admit either error or responsibility for Bush’s “catastrophic success.” They stand ramrod straight and stiff, inflexibly insisting – in spite of everything! – that the “liberation” they predicted would be a “cakewalk” is the first step along the road to transforming the region.

General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, appearing on Sunday’s Meet the Press, warned Americans to grit their teeth and prepare for a “long war in the Middle East and Central Asia.” Central Asia?! Abizaid was quick to note that this wouldn’t “necessarily” mean the introduction of American troops, but certainly he gave the War Party a thrill when he named Uzbekistan as one possible battleground. If you think Iyad Allawi, the American sock-puppet in Iraq, is a thug, wait until you meet our good friend Islam Karimov, the absolute dictator of the Uzbeks….

On the same program, Bob Novak repeated his prediction that the Bush team has already decided we’re getting out of Iraq in 2005, and noted reports that Rumsfeld has already announced the first phase of the withdrawal. We have reason to suspect, however, that Rummy’s gambit is a feint, a tactical maneuver in preparation for yet another Sicilian expedition, this one even farther afield.

U.S. troops may begin to pull back from the streets of Baghdad and other major cities, but what about those permanent bases they were supposed to be building, 14 at last count? They sure are signing contracts for a lot of construction over there, with Halliburton subsidiary KBR doing a bang-up business “in the several billion dollar range.” As The Nation‘s Tom Engelhardt has noted, this is a subject largely uncovered in the English language media, but in the Middle East they were all over this story early on. The Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm, reporting on plans for these bases back in November 2003, noted the forward-based strategy they portended:

“The sources explained the choice of these locations for permanent Anglo-American deployment by saying that they cover most of the territory of Iraq, and are linked to the Iraqi borders in all four directions, giving them strategic importance in defining the future course of the ‘new’ Iraq. The choice of these locations is also linked to the aim of deterring neighbors of Iraq who might attempt to threaten Iraqi territory in the future.

“Observers say that the choice of these positions discloses the American perspective regarding the future of the country. This perspective is that they must, through their presence in Iraq, control the keys to movement in virtually all directions while maintaining a high level of flexibility of action throughout the Arab region as a whole.”

I don’t disbelieve Novak’s contention that the realists in the Bush administration are pushing, with some success, for an exit strategy from Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s recent comments, as Novak noted on Meet the Press this Sunday morning, seem to confirm this happy prognosis. But don’t get too happy, too fast. Given this administration’s record, and Novak’s contention that even Paul Wolfowitz is signing on to the “out now” gambit, one has to wonder if they’re just clearing the decks for the next phase of a protracted conflict that will one day see American troops in Tashkent.

The troop realignment touted by the administration and its neoconservative amen corner also involves the creation of new military bases, albeit fewer. Anyone who expects Bush’s second term to be relatively uneventful, as far as the prospects for further U.S. military interventions are concerned, ought to be wondering what the heck we are doing basing American troops in troubled Azerbaijan, smack dab in the middle of a bloody civil war.

That’s where the blowhards come in. Just as in the run-up to war with Iraq, you can bet there’ll be no dearth of them lined up to mouth the same platitudes, spin the same fantasies, and hurl the same smears at anyone who doubts that we are fighting in faraway Uzbekistan to keep Nutley, New Jersey, terrorist-free. Abizaid made this argument regarding Iraq on Sunday, along with Bill Safire, and, as the War Party turns its sights on fresh countries to target, demonize, and demolish, the Joe Scarboroughs, the Rush Limbaughs, and, on a slightly more nuanced level, the neoconservative belligerati over at the American Enterprise Institute and National Review magazine will join in the chorus, rationalizing and even celebrating this orgy of what neocon guru Michael Ledeen calls “creative destruction.”

In a column written last week, I speculated briefly on what lessons had been learned so far, by some in the elites, from what is clearly becoming recognized as our massive failure in Iraq: we’re good at smashing states, I concluded, and not so good at rebuilding them. But what if that was the point all along?

Without the Scarborough-Limbaugh-New York Post axis of demagogy, the policy of perpetual war waged for the benefit of Israel, our central Asian satraps, and the petro-military industrial complex, would be so completely discredited that it would lose all legitimacy, along with the pro-war leaders of both parties.

The Blowhard Brigade is more indispensable than the 82nd Airborne in making sure U.S. interventions are carried out successfully all over the world – as long as we define “success” down, in this case, to mean the utter destruction of those nations unfortunate enough to be chosen for “liberation.”

In each case, whether it be Uzbekistan or Pakistan or some other -stan too obscure for any normal person to know about, fresh lies will be invented, new “threats” will be imagined, heretofore undiscovered “links” to the ever-more-mysterious and diffuse al-Qaeda will be uncovered by the same dubious “intelligence” sources as before.

In time, of course, the entire edifice will be exposed as pure fabrication, a Potemkin village of disinformation. But there’s no need for the War Party to worry, because not a word of it will get out to the vast majority of the American people – who are still laboring under the misperception, deliberately encouraged by this administration, that we went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein was bin Laden’s co-conspirator in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I, for one, am not at all surprised that the Kerry people have finally taken to talking about the failure of policy represented by the attack on Iraq. The polls show that this is the number one issue on people’s minds, and the faltering Democrats, in a panic that the prospect of power seems to be slipping from their grasp, may turn, in desperation, to truth-telling, at least to some extent. But antiwar activists expecting to witness the marriage of the Kerry campaign and the antiwar movement at the upcoming presidential debate on national security, to be held this Thursday, are likely to be left waiting at the altar. Such a union will never be recognized by the Kerry people, let alone consummated – except in the Clintonian sense.

The silence of the antiwar movement during this election season – no major rallies, events, or public expressions of protest at precisely the moment when the disaster in Iraq is reaching a crescendo – is due to the unfortunate expectation that the Kerry camp will speak for them. But Kerry isn’t cooperating with their messianic longings: beyond his outright opposition to a timely U.S. withdrawal, there is the Democratic candidate’s inability to come up with any overarching critique of the larger Bushian plan, which envisions a “transformation” of the Middle East. He agrees with the president that implanting “democracy” in the Middle East is a goal that is not only possible but necessary. He doesn’t challenge the strategic orientation that celebrates, in some sense, the U.S. as an imperial colossus astride the globe – he just wants to make it a multinational project. The idea of global interventionism doesn’t strike most Democratic officeholders at the congressional level as evidence of a fatal hubris – they just want us to intervene the “smart” way, which, from what one can tell, means a policy of empire-building on the cheap.

Due to Kerry, and in fear of giving dissident antiwar candidate Ralph Nader indirect support, the antiwar movement seems to have taken a vow of silence. But silence, in this context, equals capitulation, and even complicity. Aside from this partisan passivity, however, there’s yet another problem: antiwar activists are going to have to come up with imaginative strategies in order to garner a modicum of attention this election season.

One way to do it is by taking up a new tactic adopted by partisans in both parties: where oh where are the antiwar 527 committees getting their message of “out now” on television? If the Swift Boat vets can do it, why can’t we?

Oh sure, Moveon.org has a few ads out hitting Bush on the war, but nowhere is the cry for an exit strategy – and a swift exit – ever raised. Where are the ads asking – nay, demanding! – both candidates sign on to a “no new wars” pledge? You know, just like taxpayer groups ask candidates to pledge “no new taxes.”

As we head into a presidential election and the death toll in Iraq climbs steadily higher, partisan blowhards of the liberal left as well as the neoconized right are trying to shout down dissident voices. Nader, the only clear and consistent voice for peace with a large national audience, is routinely calumniated by all too many of the very people who claim to agree with his antiwar message.

As the Kerry legal machine drains resources away from the Nader campaign, forcing them to pour money into fighting frivolous challenges to their ballot status from Pennsylvania to California, the voice of the anti-interventionist movement in this country is stilled almost to a whisper, relegated to an undercurrent in the polls, and finally factored out of existence by the “experts.”

I was disgusted to hear, on this Sunday’s action-packed edition of Meet the Press, Doris Kearns Goodwin flap her lips about how Kerry “can’t be antiwar” – he just “can’t”! she cried. What nonsense – and why should we care what that tired old plagiarist and court historian thinks? Who put her in charge, anyway?

In all the commentariat, which will be endlessly parsing and measuring the candidates’ words after Thursday’s debate, where are the antiwar voices? Oh, there’s a few: Pat Buchanan and Bob Novak will voice the same skepticism toward America’s imperial designs as they have been doing since Gulf War I, and Seymour Hersh may find his way onto a few television programs here and there. All in all, however, the “conventional wisdom” that we’re “stuck” in Iraq, and are, in some sense, forced to “stay the course” is entrenched – even as the largely unspoken prospect of permanent stalemate looms, for the first time, as a distinct possibility. 9/11 dispelled the myth of American invulnerability in a single day, but it will take far longer, I’m afraid, for the myth of American military invincibility to suffer the same fate.

In the meantime, we all suffer, starting with the people of Iraq and our soldiers in the field. The pundits, the media, and the politicians have an inherent bias in favor of global military intervention and endless war that renders the debate over foreign policy a virtual monologue. That’s why depending on the Democrats, or any other political grouping, to do our fighting for us isn’t going to work: it’s why the antiwar movement needs to speak in its own voice, in its own name, clearly and unambiguously calling for a U.S. withdrawal – and rather more expeditiously than in four long and bloody years.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

We’re constantly getting requests for speakers, and now we’ve established a mechanism to deal with it: the Antiwar.com Speakers Bureau is up and running! If you’re looking for a way to spice up your club meeting, campus forum, or whatever, give us a call. I’ve listed a series of talk titles that give some idea of what to expect:

  • “Why This War?”

  • “The War Party: Who They Are, and What They Want”

  • “Libertarianism versus War”

  • “Israeli Spies in the Pentagon? What’s Up With That?”

  • “Trotsky’s Revenge: How the Neocons Hijacked U.S. Foreign Policy and Lied Us Into War”

Or you can name your own topic, and I’ll do my best to address it.

You can also book Alan Bock, Ivan Eland, or Nebojsa Malic, all Antiwar.com columnists and experts in their respective fields.

While I don’t claim expertise, by any means, I’m sure I can guarantee that you’ll find that I have a unique perspective on the war, and American foreign policy in general, one not usually found in antiwar circles. In other words, it won’t be the same old same old, if you know what I mean.

So if you’re interested in scheduling a speaker, get in touch with Michael Austin, the speakers bureau coordinator, at: 408-733-4350, or email austin@antiwar.com.

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