Taking Out Lieberman

The War Party has usually managed to maintain control of American foreign policy through its virtually ironclad grip on the political process. This has been achieved by its mastery of the two-party system that has enshrined the Democrats and the Republicans as the only two real options for American voters. Even when the American people opposed interventionism – as in the run-up to World War II, for one example – the pro-war elites manipulated the political process and made sure that the voters were presented with two warmongering candidates instead of just one. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, a carefully stage-managed delegate-selection process gypped Eugene McCarthy out of the Democratic presidential nomination. At the level of presidential politics, the system failed only once, in the case of George McGovern, and has worked since then with ruthless efficiency in making sure the people of the United States never get to vote on the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

This is how we get into wars, despite popular antiwar sentiment, and it is how we stay in them – regardless of the huge percentage of the American public who say our present occupation of Iraq is pointless. Yet there are signs the War Party’s stranglehold over the leadership of at least one major party is beginning to fray. This unraveling is a response to the grassroots antiwar sentiment that is energizing a burgeoning number of Democratic Party activists – both old and new – forcing the moribund leadership to either come out against the occupation of Iraq or else join Sen. Joe Lieberman, the president’s most stalwart supporter when it comes to the war. Indeed, Lieberman is more royalist than the king, attacking any idea of a drawdown in troops as impermissible, and even demanding an end to all discussion of withdrawal.

This last is what the Lieberman wing of Democrats has always been about: limiting debate, shutting down discussion, and policing the party’s candidates and organizational structure at the precinct level to ensure that no challenge to interventionism and militarism arises from the grassroots. They are the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, forerunners of today’s neoconservatives, who were more warlike than many Republicans in the Cold War era, and always insisted that politics must stop at the water’s edge, i.e., foreign policy must never be debated, and the grand bipartisan consensus in favor of global intervention must be allowed to continue unchallenged, forever.

The neoconservatives are usually thought of as being exclusively Republicans, but this ignores their history as a political and ideological tendency – and the background of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, notably Richard Perle, a Jackson aide; Elliot Abrams, former chief of staff to Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan; and such neocon notables as Ben Wattenberg, Joshua Muravchik, and Marshall "The Moose" Wittmann, the present-day sage-in-residence at the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the main organizational caucus of these latter-day Jacksonians. And no profile, however brief, of the neocon wing of the Democratic Party would be complete without at least mentioning The New Republic magazine, house organ of the War Party’s "liberal" fighting corps, embodied by TNR editor Peter Beinart. Beinart’s recent book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, advises us to forget how wrong he was about the wisdom of the current war and trust him when it comes to framing American foreign policy in terms of a struggle akin to the ideological conflict between the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War era. It is, in short, neocon-inspired "democracy"-promotion with a multilateralist gloss. Beinart compares himself and his fellow pro-war liberals to the "Truman Democrats" of yesteryear, who fought and won against the followers of Henry Wallace and the forces of "appeasement."

It was Truman, of course, who set the precedent of assuming the power to send troops overseas short of a war declaration – a feat not even Franklin Roosevelt, who openly aspired to be a dictator, dared attempt. As the American republic began to morph into an empire, it was thought necessary – by the leaders of both parties – to give the chief executive imperial powers, i.e., the power to make war without consulting anyone. In 1950, when President Truman dispatched U.S. troops to Korea, only a few Republicans opposed this usurpation of the Constitution and warned that Americans would one day regret standing idly by and letting it happen. "If the president can intervene in Korea without congressional approval," said Sen. Robert A. Taft, "he can go to war in Malaysia or Indonesia or Iran or South America."

And so it wasand is.

In any case, the Truman Democrats are having a hard time these days: the party’s grassroots – and specifically the so-called "net-roots" – are having a real impact, for the first time since the Vietnam War. Lieberman’s fervent support for the war has provoked opposition, and he faces a party primary, with millionaire Ned Lamont, who has made the war the major issue of the campaign, gaining steadily in the polls. Lamont is making such major inroads that Lieberman, scared to death of losing his Senate seat, has started petitioning to appear on the ballot as an "Independent" – a confession of extraordinary weakness so close to the Aug. 8 primary election date.

Lieberman’s support for the war is an albatross hung around his neck, but apparently, like any true ideologue, he is willing to go down for the sake of "principle" – in this case, the principle that we can and must spread "democracy" at gunpoint throughout the Middle East. As the co-chairman of the revived Committee on the Present Danger, Lieberman serves as front man for the most radical wing of the neoconservative movement: such preeminent warmongers as James R. "World War IV" Woolsey, Ken "Cakewalk" Adelman, Frank Gaffney, and Midge Decter, among many others.

At the founding meeting of the CPD, Lieberman inveighed against "defeatism":

“The terrorists can never defeat us militarily. But they can divide us and defeat us politically if the American people become disappointed and disengaged, because they don’t appreciate and support the overriding principles that require us to take military action. The same, of course, is true for our allies in Europe, Asia, and throughout the Muslim world. They need to better understand and embrace our purpose and what it means for them.

“What we are fighting for in Iraq and around the world is freedom. What we are fighting against is an Islamic terrorist totalitarian movement which is as dire a threat to individual liberty as the fascist and communist totalitarian threats we faced and defeated were in the last century.

“What we are fighting for is an expanding worldwide community of democracies. What we are fighting against is the prospect of a new evil empire, a radical Islamic caliphate which would suppress the freedom of its people and threaten the security of every other nation’s citizens."

But of course "the terrorists" (i.e., the Iraqi insurgents) can – and are – defeating us militarily. They are victorious as long as they can maintain the present state of stalemate.

As for the disappointment of the American people when it comes to this war, it stems from being lied to – and being led into a quagmire.

The idea that the neo-medievalism of Osama bin Laden & Co. represents as great a threat as communism and/or fascism is absurd on its face: the international Communist movement, at its height, represented millions of committed ideologues who were, in turn, backed up by the nuclear-armed Soviet Union and its satellites. In practically every country on earth, the Kremlin’s highly-disciplined agents agitated and recruited to their cause, rising in response to Moscow’s call, and keeping a low profile when discretion was the order of the day.

The Islamist revolutionaries, on the other hand, can claim no such advantages: they do not hold state power anywhere, and their following is largely confined to the Middle East and North Africa, with little outposts of support in South Asia. Furthermore, this fantasy of "a new evil empire," in the form of a worldwide Islamist "caliphate," is not a very convincing bogeyman. Aside from the futility of uniting a largely dysfunctional Arab-Muslim community of nations – which would only achieve dysfunction on a much larger scale – this so-called "caliphate" would threaten no one in the West. Israel – which, last time I looked at a map, was not situated in the West – would be the only potential loser.

As for the comparison to fascism and National Socialism: Nazi Germany, at its height, commanded the mightiest war machine on earth. Hitler was the master of Europe, and his armies were marching on Moscow, encircling the remnants of resistance to German hegemony by seizing North Africa and preparing to move on the Brits. Where is a comparable force anywhere in the Muslim world? Lieberman and Beinart are living out an episode of historical fiction, in which they are the heroic truth-tellers who dare to swim against the current of opinion within their own party. They do battle in the name of fighting for "democracy" against the latter-day Wallaceites and "appeasers" – who, the implication is clear, are soft on the war because they are secretly (or not so secretly) sympathetic to the enemy.

According to Lieberman, if Democrats oppose this futile war launched on the basis of a lie, then the terrorists will have won, because we will have allowed them to “divide us and defeat us politically.” If you’re antiwar, you’re pro-al-Qaeda. This is what Lieberman’s message has been, and he is just as consistent on this question as George W. Bush – if a bit more vehement about it.

The Lieberman-Beinart view that we are engaged in this epic battle – akin to the struggle against Hitlerism and Stalinism – is shared by exactly no one who knows anything about al-Qaeda or the Middle East and has an ounce of common sense. Both communism and fascism were mass movements that seized power in several countries and were capable of waging a conventional military assault on the United States. Those radical Islamists who have declared war on America are the numerically small vanguard of a worldwide insurgency capable – for now – only of engaging in small-scale guerrilla struggles. Communism was a universalist creed: the appeal of both communism and fascism was much wider than al-Qaeda’s, which can only hope to recruit the most alienated and temperamentally suited to its cause. Few who aren’t already zealous Muslims will be converting to radical Islamism.

Unless, of course, we go with the Joe Liebermans of this world, launch a worldwide crusade to "liberate" the Middle East – and confirm bin Laden’s characterization of the West as an inveterate aggressor and would-be destroyer of the Muslim world. In that case, the Lieberman-Beinart worldview will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].