The Year of the Insurgents

by , February 23, 2008

Back in December, I said this election year would be characterized by the collapse of the alleged "front-runners" – i.e. presidential candidates favored by the pundits and the Beltway know-it-alls – and so it has come to pass. Barack Obama has upended the supposedly inevitable Hillary, and the GOP electorate, too, has humbled those formerly exalted as "major" candidates. What explains this inversion of expectations, as I put it last year, is the rise of a new politics in this country:

"The paradigm that best describes what is happening on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond, isn’t ‘right’ versus ‘left,’ ‘Christianism’ versus secularism, or red-versus-blue state mindsets, but populist demands for change against our hidebound, insular, arrogant elites in the media as well as in government. And no issue has underscored the growing chasm between the people, on the one hand, and the Washington-New York axis of power, on the other, than the war in Iraq. The intersection of the war, as an issue, with the growing populist rebellion against the status quo portends a revolution."

John McCain and plenty of conservatives – especially the neocons – are now deriding Obama as a purveyor of platitudes, whose rhetoric recalls Gertrude Stein’s opinion of her birthplace, Oakland, California: "There’s no there there." But of course there is a there there – and it’s called Iraq.

Obama has become more outspoken in his opposition to the Iraq war as the campaign has progressed, and not only that but has denounced the "mindset" among our rulers, and the leaders of both parties, that led us into that trap to begin with. This has legitimized his standing as the outsider in the year of the insurgents, and given heft to his soaring rhetoric, which, you’ll note, is often delivered in terms of an anti-interventionist riff, such as in this very substantive speech laying out his foreign policy vision for America.

Yet it’s hard to please some people, especially antiwar people on the right – and there are more of them than you might imagine – when it comes to Obama’s candidacy. Here is Daniel Larison, a paleoconservative writer – and blogger-in-chief over at The American Conservative, who has also posted at the Antiwar.com blog – warning explicitly not to be fooled by the alluring siren song of Obama-ism:

"Given the rather grim prospects for antiwar voters this election, it is understandable why many look to Obama and think that they have found someone they can trust. But this is a mistake. It isn’t that Obama is wrong on Iraq, but that he has happened to be right about it basically in spite of his own foreign policy views."

If you follow the link above, you’ll arrive at my last peroration on the subject of Obama: yet Larison’s affixing a warning label on Obama’s medicine for the masses – keep away from children and over-enthusiastic antiwar voters – isn’t really necessary. I have pointed out Obama’s flaws at length, and in detail, in these pages, and there’s no need to reiterate all that here. Larison also reminds us that Obama had the wrong position on Israel’s latest attack on Lebanon, and that he kowtowed to AIPAC on this and other issues: all undeniably true. He also tells me something I didn’t know about top Obama advisor Samantha Power: that she has no great love for us "Copperhead isolationists," as she puts it, which is always good to know.

Of course, I never said that Obama intends to fundamentally alter the direction and basic assumptions of US foreign policy – although his pledge to end the "mindset" that led to US intervention in Iraq implies an attempt to do so. Yet it is undeniable that he is directly appealing to antiwar voters and the populism that resents the arrogance of our elites – in both parties – who have ignored the popular will:

"When we end this war, we can recapture our unity of effort as Americans. The American people have the right instincts on Iraq. It’s time to heed their judgment. It’s time to move beyond Iraq so that we can move forward together. I will be a President who listens to the American people, not a President who ignores them."

"When we end this war" is a phrase that he repeats throughout his standard stump speech, these days, and it has become the leitmotif of his campaign. No, he isn’t a pure anti-interventionist: he’s no Ron Paul. Yet he is, without a doubt, the antiwar candidate this election season, and that is precisely why he has a good chance to win the White House. It is also a good reason for anti-interventionists of the left, the right, and the center to cheer.

Of course, paleocons like Larison may oppose Obama on grounds other than foreign policy, but, as for myself, I take my direction from the late Murray N. Rothbard, who rightly saw that the issue of war and peace is the decisive question, which – all by itself – determines whether we’re going to have liberty or tyranny.

It was on these grounds that Rothbard, the founder of the modern libertarian movement – and the real intellectual energy behind the founding and early years of the Cato Institute – supported none other than Adlai Stevenson for President, and later joined the "League of Stevensonian Democrats" (LSD) to press John F. Kennedy to appoint Stevenson Secretary of State. As Rothbard related in his recently-published memoir, The Betrayal of the American Right:

"It was time to act; and politically, my total break with the Right came with the Stevenson movement of 1960. In 1956 I had been for Stevenson over Eisenhower, but only partly for his superior peace position; another reason was to try to depose the Republican “Left” so as to allow the Old Right to recapture the party. Emotionally, I was then still a right-winger who yearned for a rightist third party. But now the third-party lure was dead; the Right was massively Goldwaterite. And besides, Stevenson’s courageous stand on the U-2 incident – his outrage that Eisenhower had wrecked the summit conference by refusing to make not only a routine, but a morally required apology for the U-2 spy incursion over Russia – made me a Stevensonian. Politically, I had ceased being a right-winger. I had determined that the crucial issue was peace or war; and that on that question the only viable political movement was the “left” wing of the Democratic Party. By consistently following an antiwar and isolationist star, I had shifted – or rather been shifted – from right-wing Republican to left-wing Democrat."

Of course, Rothbard was never a "left-wing Democrat," and yet his emphasis on the centrality of foreign policy made it seem so, at least to the superficial observer. Rothbard realized that, irrespective of the rhetoric about the "free market" and "individual liberty" that came out of the mouths of conservatives, objectively the result of their policies – specifically, their foreign policy of relentless aggression and confrontation with the Soviet Union – would lead to the exact opposite of their stated intentions. He saw that, as long as we were leading a global crusade, and pouring billions down the "anti-Communist" rat-hole, building up a huge military apparatus and national security bureaucracy – complete with an arsenal of nuclear weapons that could destroy the world several times over – our liberties, indeed our very lives, would be threatened with extinction.

The same holds true today. Obama may be a left-wing Democrat, with economic views quite the opposite of my own – although, in truth, I believe he’s significantly less of an old-style statist than is Hillary – and yet I can cheer his ascendance as the Democratic nominee because he is, after all, the antiwar candidate in this race. And, no, it doesn’t matter that he’s not consistent – i.e. that he’s no Ron Paul – and for two reasons:

1) The voters believe he’s the exact opposite of the Cheneyites who have seized control of the foreign policy levers: that ‘s why he’s always talking about "reclaiming" the ship of state from their grip, and that’s what’s propelling his campaign. This election, if Obama is nominated, will be a referendum on the war, and on our interventionist foreign policy in general. The neocons know this, which is precisely why they loathe him – and will do anything to stop him.

Larison avers: "When we see neoconservatives go after Obama and his advisors, it is tempting to want to defend them against baseless charges, and to the extent that we can draw attention to the accusations that Obama’s critics have been hysterically throwing at him over Israel, then we should do that as a way of showing their style of fearmongering and misrepresenting others’ views. But we shouldn’t forget that" he’s just fool’s gold, and not the Real Deal.

Yet I have to say that, unlike the paleos, who still retain a sentimental attachment to the GOP, the neocons know who their real enemies are. They are also political realists, who realize that, once catapulted into the White House by a massive wave of antiwar/anti-interventionist sentiment, Obama’s unlikely to be willing to pay the political price of launching another war, in, say, Pakistan.

2) We don’t have a lot of time to turn the ship of state around and set a new course – because the course we’re on is headed straight for the rocky shores of fiscal catastrophe. As Ron Paul has constantly pointed out, our present policy of guns-and-butter cannot be sustained: the value of the dollar is falling dramatically, and the economic crisis is upon us. The central bankers of the world aren’t scurrying around trying to shore up the shaky foundations of our financial system just because they need the exercise. There is a very real danger that, unless we stop the bleeding of our resources into the charnel house of Iraq, we could be plunged – and very shortly – into a major worldwide depression. The complete collapse of the American economy is not out of the question – unless the war is ended, and soon.

Ending the war would send a signal to the markets that the worst excesses of the Bush era are over, and that the country just might return to some version of fiscal sanity before long. Naturally, I don’t have a lot of faith in Obama’s economic nostrums, which would be costly as well as counterproductive – yet not nearly as costly and damaging to the economy and the nation as a whole as the McCainiac program of perpetual war and unmitigated militarism at home and abroad.

In short, what we are facing is nothing less than an emergency: the present policies cannot be continued, without incurring the grave risk of a major catastrophe, either economic or military-political. The sand in the hourglass is fast diminishing. Obama is far from perfect, and yet his every speech and public pronouncement refutes the opening line of Larison’s complaint: "Given the rather grim prospects for antiwar voters this election …"

That is not "given," not at all. It is quite enough that Obama wants to end the war in 2009, and bring all our troops home. More than that, in these dark days, we have no right to expect or hope for. Yet it is enough, for now.

It remains to be seen to what degree Obama’s imperfections in the realm of foreign policy will impact our lives: if and when he decides to invade, say, Pakistan, or "liberate" Darfur, those who propelled him into the White House will either follow him, blindly, or else begin to question the doctrine of interventionism in principle. It is the latter that the anti-interventionist movement must directly address, in the event of a betrayal by an Obama administration. This is how people learn – they have to go through certain experiences in order to come out, at the end of it, transformed. That is how many liberals, who initially supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to join the old America First Committee (yes, it’s those "Copperhead isolationists," Samantha!): it is how many of today’s liberals, such as Glenn Greenwald, have become sympathetic to Ron Paul and certain aspects of libertarianism.

And while I’m on the subject of electoral politics and options for antiwar voters: it looks like Ron Paul is re-energizing his presidential campaign. That’s good news: the more options we have, the better. The year of the insurgents has also had its effect on the right, with Paul pulling in a good 10 percent of the Republican primary voters – and possibly more, if, as I believe he might, the Good Doctor runs as a third party candidate. Now imagine – and it’s not hard – a scenario in which the Clintonian "super-delegates" snatch the nomination away from Obama, and spark a wave of populist anger. Paul, if he’s on the ballot in the general election, could have a real impact, because Obama’s voters, in a very real sense, are his voters.

The anti-interventionist movement – that is, the movement to make a fundamental change in our foreign policy of dominationism – is bigger than any political candidate, or party. We don’t endorse candidates here at Antiwar.com, and not just because we’re a nonpartisan nonprofit foundation: in order to succeed, and really make that change, we’re going to have to transcend party, and even ideology, and come together as Americans to stop the carnage and the tragic loss of resources, both human and material. Politicians and parties come and go, but we’re in this for the long haul.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I can’t believe what a hectic week this has been, what with our fundraising campaign and all the major developments on the international and domestic scenes. I’m rushing to write this, so I can write the copy for our Friday fundraising page: and, I have to tell you, I’m getting just as sick of it as you are. But, you know what? It will continue as long as it has to in order to ensure our survival, because we don’t have any choice. It’s been slow going, but we’re getting there. Now, we just have to get over this last hump – and here’s where your contributions are even more important than before. Because if we don’t make it, we’ll have to start making major cutbacks – and you won’t like that, I can guarantee it.

So, please, if my work has been valuable to you over the years, now is the time to make that extra contribution that could put us over the top. If ever we needed your support, it’s now – so don’t hesitate. Do it now.

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