Foreign Lobbyists and the Making of US Policy
"Politics stops at the water’s edge" is an old aphorism that aptly describes the history and current trend of American politics. The period marking the run-up to World War II was the last time we saw any meaningful discussion of America’s role in the world. Ever since that famous victory, the interventionist consensus has been bipartisan and broad, at least in elite circles. All the newspaper editors, the TV anchors, the policy wonks, and the bloggers-of-note agree: we must go global. The only other choice is a debilitating "isolationism," economic as well as diplomatic-military, that would consign us to an autarkic well of loneliness.
This narrative has dominated the foreign policy discourse lo these many years and given rise to what other writers have referred to as "the imperial presidency," the extra-constitutional bloating of the executive authority. This tendency has been taken to its ultimate extreme by the Bush administration, whose legal theorists impart to the president near-dictatorial powers in wartime. Given what ought to be the GOP’s signature slogan – wartime all the time – the implications for the survival of the republic are ominous. However, it was a Democrat – Harry Truman – who set the fatal precedent when he called American troops to defend South Korea without bothering to go to Congress for permission. Ever since then the precedent has not only held, it has gone largely unchallenged. Politics may indeed stop at the water’s edge, but a president’s authority really begins there: he is the supreme arbiter of our foreign policy, a virtual dictator in that vital realm, whereas his authority over domestic policy is not even remotely comparable.
This brazen Bonapartism is merely the logical outgrowth of a foreign policy initially taken up with alacrity by the Democrats: first, with Woodrow Wilson at their head, and later on with FDR leading the charge. Both dragged us into easily avoidable foreign wars. Both cracked down on internal opposition, jailing antiwar protesters, instituting censorship via U.S. government control of the mails, and utilizing British and other undercover agents to neutralize the opposition.
This latter factor – the role of foreign agents – played a much greater part than is usually credited to the Brits, whose underground operation in the U.S. was detailed in Thomas E. Mahl’s classic study, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the U.S., 1939-44. (Gore Vidal wrote a wonderful novel with this subject as background). Setting up an extensive network among the Anglophile elites who dominated the U.S. ruling class, especially in the Northeast, British agents organized a broad array of pro-interventionist front groups, infiltrated and disrupted antiwar organizations, and were instrumental in launching a smear campaign against prominent war opponents.
Today, the Anglophiles who once governed us have given way to new elites, who are even less constrained by the traditional limits imposed on foreign lobbyists by law, custom, and propriety. In the old days, all of this was done covertly, as the subtitle of Mahl’s book puts it, while today American politicians think nothing of taking foreign money and becoming militant advocates of their paymasters’ cause. Look at John McCain’s relationship with Randy Scheunemann, the paid lobbyist for Georgia, who has so many intimate connections to the military-industrial complex and its various front groups that he is a kind of one-man War Party all by himself. Scheunemann is McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, and, given the candidate’s full-throated fulminations against the allegedly revived Russian "threat," the Georgia lobby is certainly getting its money’s worth.
This lobby’s power and influence is not limited to the GOP. Although the Republicans have certainly taken up their cause with inordinate vehemence, the Democrats are far from immune. Joe Biden, before being elevated to co-Messiah status alongside Barack Obama, had just returned from a quick trip to Tbilisi, where, with other Democratic leaders, including Rep. Howard Berman of California, he pledged "solidarity" with the Georgian invaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, egging Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on to further provocations. Both Biden and Berman support Georgia’s proposed membership in NATO, a move that would pledge us – and the Europeans – to ensuring and maintaining Georgia’s "territorial integrity."
What this means, in reality, is that we are going to go to war with the nuclear-armed Russkies over the issue of maintaining national boundaries set by Joseph Stalin, Georgia’s own homeboy – with us defending Stalin’s legacy and the Russians eager to break with it. It was Stalin, after all, who embedded Ossetia and Abkhazia in what he called "Georgia" – all the better to keep them from getting too uppity for their own (and the Kremlin’s) good.
The Georgia lobby and the Israel lobby have much in common, including key supporters and personnel, as well as geopolitical and economic links. Israeli defense companies, which are virtually part of the Israeli state, armed the Georgians, and the IDF trained Georgian troops in preparation for the day they would – as the mainstream media puts it –"retake" (i.e., invade and crush) the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Aside from the close relationship between these two U.S. puppets, both Georgia and Israel have an interest in stoking the fires of militant interventionism in American politics, as the crusading impulse helps their respective causes. Once the Americans begin to wonder where all this military and diplomatic support to troublesome and quarrelsome allies is getting them, the jig is up – which is why, for example, the Georgians are hard at work in Denver, as the New York Times reports, meeting with Democratic Party honchos and making their case with a fair amount of success.
The Russians are in Denver, too, but have limited their goals to damage control, and they aren’t likely to make much progress. In one of the most successful inversions of reality ever attempted, the Western media has convinced its audience – and even itself – that Russia invaded Georgia, instead of Georgia invading South Ossetia. The bombing and devastation of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, never happened, according to our media. The dead are denied or disdained by Western "observers." In any case, the Georgia lobby and its allies don’t want us to watch what is going on in the region very closely. They’d rather we stuck to the simplistic narrative of Big Bad Russia versus Poor Little Democratic Georgia.
That is how the War Party operates, and they are quite good at it. Their success is due, in large part, to the ignorance of the American public when it comes to complex issues centered on the internal struggles of obscure overseas nations, which naturally very few of us understand. So we invent a convenient narrative, one that rationalizes a policy decided in advance, which is then sold to the American people under false pretenses.
The pygmies who rule us would have us forget or discount George Washington’s famous warning, in his "Farewell Address" – which they deride as archaic – that "nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests."
By encouraging Saakashvili in his invasion of South Ossetia, and now indulging in the spectacle of no less than three major American political figures traveling to Tbilisi to pledge their "solidarity" – Cindy McCain and Dick Cheney, as well as Biden – this rule against "passionate attachments" is being thrown by the wayside. Our politicians are utterly heedless that this "gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation."
Washington towers so far above the likes of Biden, Cheney, and their colleagues in both parties that the distance can only be measured in light years. As America stumbles into the next Cold War, waxing rhapsodic about the alleged virtues of Georgian "democracy" and provoking the Russians needlessly, the words of the Founding Father have special relevance for today.
The problem with our foreign policy and the making of it is that the most vocal, the most motivated, and the most well-funded groups make a lot of noise – and provoking a war requires maximum noise-making, 24/7. That’s what the War Party is up to these days, and that’s why Antiwar.com is around, standing guard on the battlements of truth. Too many Americans get their "news" filtered through the distorting lens of a bipartisan "consensus" that rationalizes a foreign policy of perpetual war and enables an endlessly preachy arrogance. Antiwar.com reports the real news, and does so without fear or favor. We are the necessary antidote to a media concoction of half war propaganda, half unverified rumor – but our continued existence is by no means guaranteed.
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Read more by Justin Raimondo
- Two Cheers for ‘Isolationism’ – May 19th, 2013
- Our Civil Liberties, RIP – May 16th, 2013
- Raping the World – May 14th, 2013
- The Price of Peace – May 12th, 2013
- Boycott Israel? – May 9th, 2013