Have No Illusions

by , October 09, 2008

I have to admit once being not enamored of, but hopeful about the candidacy of Barack Obama. In “The Year of the Insurgents,” I underlined why I thought the conventional wisdom about this election year was dead wrong, and I was right about that. But what I wasn’t right about was the extent to which Obama would be willing to deviate from the foreign policy elite’s party line when it comes to the pressing issues of the day. We all know where Obama is right – or, as we used to say in the Sixties, “right on.” The importance of negotiations, the profound strategic and moral wrongness of the Iraq war, the sheer craziness of a neocon-run foreign policy – these are the basics that have brought many millions to rally ’round Obama’s banner. They were also the reasons for my initial enthusiasm for the previously unknown senator from Illinois, aside, that is, from his apparent thoughtfulness and his seemingly inherent presidential mien.

As the campaign progressed, however, it soon became all too obvious that a candidate raised up by the “antiwar” wing of the Democratic Party was and is a committed interventionist – and, not only that, but one who is still maintaining some of the hoariest old clich├ęs of interventionist dogma, such as the apparently intrinsic aggressiveness that animates the Russian elite, the supposed centrality of Israel’s security to our policy in the Middle East, and the moral imperative of “humanitarian” interventionism, starting in Darfur and ending God knows where.

His speech to the AIPAC conference was, perhaps, the low point of his campaign: the pandering, once started, didn’t stop. Of course, we had been warned when, early on, he declared an attack on Iran wasn’t “off the table,” and his reiteration of this stance in front of Israel’s amen corner – he would, he averred, do “everything, and I mean everything” to stop Iran from going nuclear – was hardly composed to offer us any solace.

Everything? Really? What about dropping nukes on Tehran or other major population centers? I don’t want to exaggerate the degree of Obama’s slide into a moral abyss, but the man is known to measure his words, yet that time he clearly abandoned his customary caution, and, as they say, let it all hang out. The mask slipped, if only for a moment – and it wasn’t pretty, was it?

On another vitally important issue, the renewal of the Cold War with Russia – a project dear to the hearts of neocons everywhere – Obama is hardly distinguishable from John McCain. Indeed, as I pointed out in my analysis of the last debate, the two of them seemed to be competing to see who could be more warlike and provocative when it came to the issue of the Caucasus. Particularly disturbing is Obama’s complete denial of what happened in Tskhinvali, the Ossetian capital city, when the Georgians went in and slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians. The candidate echoed the War Party’s bizarre inversion of the established facts, insisting that Russia had invaded Georgia, instead of Georgia invading Ossetia and Abkhazia.

This is no small point: Obama deliberately overlooked the very real human cost of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s Napoleonic ambitions in the region, because there can be no doubt he knows better. As McCain gleefully pointed out during the first debate, the Obama campaign initially took a very different position, decrying violence on both sides and calling for a cease-fire. In McCain’s view, giving the thousands of Ossetians slaughtered by Saakashvili any acknowledgment at all is inexcusable. Outside of that, however, McCain is right: Obama did indeed change his position, perhaps after due consultation with his advisers. This is strong circumstantial evidence that he did have at least some idea of what really went on in Ossetia, and subsequently chose to ignore it.

This is not just an obscure foreign policy point with major moral implications – it is a huge issue, having to do not only with the regional secessionist movements that beleaguer Russia’s “near abroad,” but also with the much larger question of whether we are going to face off with the Kremlin in a replay of the Cold War years.

Absent the existence of international communism as an organized movement centrally directed from Moscow, a new Cold War would seem an impossibility – but don’t worry, the War Party is quite capable of pulling it off, as we have seen. Since Putin’s rise to power, we have heard the drumbeat loud and clear: Russia is “resurgent,” the Kremlin is in a newly “aggressive” mode, and Russian “authoritarianism” is on the march.

Well, to be sure, Russia is no libertarian paradise: far from it. Yet, looked at objectively, the Russians have come a very long way since the days of the gulag. Vladimir Putin’s many Western critics compare his rule to that of his predecessor, former Communist Party local chieftain Boris Yeltsin, and somehow conclude that Yeltsin’s regime was freer. But Yeltsin’s Russia was the closest to a genuine kleptocracy that the world has yet seen. Those who looted the Russian economy took everything, including the kitchen sink, stashing a great deal of their stolen cash in Western bank accounts. Today, the exiled oligarchs lash out at Putin’s Russia because they’re all on the lam – under indictment for truly spectacular acts of larceny that make our own quite considerable financial scandals pale in comparison.

How much of this cash is finding its way into the Obama campaign, perhaps indirectly, is hard to say. What isn’t hard to say, however, is that Obama has the full support of one of the world’s chief Russophobes: George Soros, the man who almost single-handedly funded the network of “pro-democracy” and pro-Bosniak front groups that brought us NATO’s war on the former Yugoslavia.

As much as Obama denounces the Iraq war, all the factors present in the Iraqi adventure were present in Bill Clinton’s Balkan escapade, up to and including the existence of a “pro-U.S.” guerrilla group that provided us with “intelligence” later exposed as pure invention. In both cases, the outcome of U.S. intervention was the ascent of a violent and authoritarian group to power. Additionally, in Kosovo, as in Iraq, the triumphant U.S.-supported faction carried out ethno-religious “cleansing” that involved the death and displacement of many thousands.

Yet all of this has been conveniently overlooked by the Western media and the “antiwar” liberals who hate George Bush but valorize the Clintons as the “saviors” of the Balkans. These same liberals will follow Obama into battle wherever he chooses to intervene – of that we can be sure.

It’s the same old partisan politics, and one of the unfortunate facts of life that weighs particularly heavy on us here at Antiwar.com. It’s just something we’ve always had to live with and have learned to endure. In the 1990s, when the Clintons were in power and Milosevic was the Hitler du jour, many conservatives gravitated toward anti-interventionism – and this Web site. During the Bush II era, that changed rather dramatically, with the War Party taking up residence on the Right, and the peaceniks returning to their contemporary stomping grounds on the Left.

This reversal of polarities has happened before – indeed, I once wrote a whole book about how the phenomenon has played out in the history of modern American politics – and it’s dizzying to contemplate how many more times it will reoccur.

Standing above the partisan fray, defying the rather outmoded categories of “Left” and “Right,” Antiwar.com will continue to warn its readers of the dangers posed by all political factions to the peace of the world. Yes, we’ve had a very rough eight years, and it will, indeed, be a welcome relief to confront a new adversary in the White House – and, make no mistake about it, if and when Obama is elected president, he will be an adversary, and a most formidable one. Unlike George W., he’ll be an articulate exponent of his brand of interventionism, which promises to be no less dangerous simply because it’s less brazen than its predecessor.

During the Obama years – if I may be so bold as to project that far into the speculative future – a great portion of the “antiwar” Left will fall away and eagerly sign up for whatever military crusades Obama has in store for us. On the other hand, a growing faction of the Right will remember their Clinton-era “isolationism” (i.e., opposition to wars that have nothing to do with America’s real interests) and find their way back to this Web site.

In any case, no matter who wins in November, we’re more than ready for him, because we start with the understanding that he is our adversary. We have no illusions about the candidates who are running for the White House this year, and none about the two “major” parties whose institutionalization, in law and custom, belies the “democratic” virtues we supposedly embody as a nation. We face the future without any hope of a quick victory. Long-term optimism married to short-term pessimism: that’s my own strategic outlook and personal temperament. As a guiding editorial standard for Antiwar.com, it’s served us well.

America’s bid to become a global empire is a project that can end only one of two ways: in utter disaster – financially, as well as militarily and morally – or as a disastrous course averted just in time. We are fighting, day and night, to ensure the latter result. But there are no guarantees.

The illusions generated by the Obama campaign will be dissipated soon enough. Until then, however, you know you can turn to this Web site for clear-headed and nonpartisan commentary on what’s really going on in the world of foreign affairs – analysis without illusions.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I‘m excited – about an ad!

It isn’t very often that I get excited about advertisements – in fact, it’s never happened! – but if you’ll look at the top of the front page of Antiwar.com, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The American Conservative isn’t just another political magazine, and this isn’t just another ad. We’re building a broad-based anti-interventionist movement here at Antiwar.com – and The American Conservative is a part of it, and an important one. You don’t have to be a lefty to be for correcting our crazed foreign policy, and TAC is the proof of it. Every two weeks, they publish some of the best antiwar material being put out, by such authors as Andrew Bacevich, Leon Hadar, Patrick J. Buchanan – oh, and myself. I’ve been an associate editor of TAC since the beginning, and I’m proud to say that I had a piece in their very first issue.

The current issue will be of interest to my readers. Check out my take on the proposal for a “league of democracies” over at The American Conservative. Also, in the same issue, you might want to look at Anthony Gregory‘s great review of my recently republished book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement. The latter is available to subscribers.

You know, you really ought to subscribe: for the first three months, it won’t cost you a thing. That’s right – you can go here and get a free three-month online subscription to TAC.

As an associate editor, I’m proud to be connected to one of the best political magazines around, an invaluable ally of the anti-interventionist cause. Go check it out today!

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