The War Party Returns

Repudiated at the polls, they're back – in a new liberal guise

by , June 01, 2009

Whatever happened to the neocons, those creatures of legend whose fulminations led to the worst strategic disaster in American history? Oh, don’t worry, they’re still around and up to no good – out of power, but not out of mischief-making schemes to drag us into yet another war, this time on a scale much bigger than their previous "accomplishment."

The Weekly Standard, Rupert Murdoch’s gift to the War Party, is no longer delivered in multiple copies to the White House, but that doesn’t mean editor Bill Kristol is totally bereft of influence in Washington. Kristol & Co., having disbanded their Project for a New American Century [.pdf] – which played a key role in dragging us into Iraq – have come up with a new vehicle, the Foreign Policy Initiative, which recently co-sponsored a conference with the head of the Center for a New American Security (the Obamaites’ favorite foreign policy think-tank) and the Center for American Progress, the Soros-funded headquarters for progressives such as Matt Yglesias. The subject was the "Af-Pak" front, and the attendees, whatever their other political differences, were in agreement that our new president is on the right track as he escalates this latest surge in the "war on terror."

The reason for this ideological harmonic convergence is simple enough to see: in spite of Obama’s alleged commitment to "change," so far our foreign policy is Bushism without Bush – a policy of perpetual war, albeit without the Bushian bells and whistles.

Not that the administration will ever admit to this essential continuity. In a move that underscores the stylistic differences between the new crowd and the old, the Pentagon recently issued a diktat to its minions, notifying them that "this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT]. Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.'”

Appearances are everything to this administration, whose top guns are understandably sensitive to the charge, coming from the more principled element of the Democratic Party base, that the revolution has been betrayed. The president’s defenders note that none of this should come as any surprise to those who listened to what Obama actually said on the campaign trail, and they’re right about that: he constantly charged that the Bushies had "neglected" the Afghan front and that we were fighting "the wrong war." Once in office, he would fix that, he vowed – and that is precisely what he is doing.

Yet one has to note that the Bushian terminology at least had the virtue of honesty. This new crowd, which supposedly disdains all ideology and is devoted to a streamlined, hard-as-nails "pragmatism," is slipperier than a greased-up eel in a frying pan. "Overseas Contingency Operation" indeed!

The euphemism is comical, yet not totally meaningless. Within it lies a hint of what the Obamaites intend, or, at least, what they say they intend. Being sensitive barometers of the political zeitgeist, the Obamaites are perfectly aware of the war-weariness of the American people. Even if you call it an "overseas contingency operation," a war in these hard times is likely to grate much harder on people’s nerves as they listen to the latest news from the Af-Pak front. Yet to call the current war a contingency is to imply that there’s going to be an end to it, and, not only that, but that the end is in sight, if still a decade or so off.

This, one assumes, is progress of a sort, but one has to wonder: what is the administration’s current overseas operation contingent on? Or, in plain English, what event, or series of events, would cause us to declare victory and come home?

The answer to this question is lost in a maze that would baffle the Minotaur, tangled up in so many contingencies, what-ifs, and weasel words that it would take an analyst of Alexandrian abilities to cut the Gordian Knot of this conundrum.

In taking a stab at it, however, one is forced to conclude that the term "Long War" is forbidden precisely on account of its accuracy. Whatever contingencies will bring America’s post-9/11 madness to an end lie in the far future. We ought to take seriously that U.S. general who recently said we’re preparing to stay in Iraq for the next decade or so, regardless of the 2011 cutoff point stipulated in the recently signed U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement [.pdf].

I empathize with those who had hope for a significant change in American foreign policy, yet the evidence that we are making an even bigger
military footprint in the Middle East and Central Asia seems irrefutable. The one hope left is that the Obamaites will really crack down on the Israelis, who are intent on building new settlements with your tax dollars, and who are moving steadily toward a particularly nasty form of ultra-nationalism, one that represents a direct threat to U.S. interests in the region.

The chances that an Israeli provocation will lead to a full-scale Iranian assault on U.S. troops stationed in Iraq are quite high at the moment, and that is one big reason for increased strains on the "special relationship." The Obama administration seems headed for a showdown with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a hard-liner who, in the context of his ferociously rightist cabinet, is a relative moderate. With Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli version of George Lincoln Rockwell, in charge of the Foreign Ministry, it looks like we’re going to be in for a long, bumpy ride.

Yet the Obama administration, in making a big issue out of the settlements, is paving the way for Israeli "concessions" that still leave Tel Aviv with de facto control over large swathes of Palestinian land. Even minus the settlements, the peace plan one envisions coming from the Obamaites leaves Israel lording it over a demilitarized Palestinian castrato-state, one that acts as a kind of human shield for Israel’s expansionist designs. The Israelis need only agree to stop torturing their Palestinian helots quite so harshly – perhaps by letting food and medicine into Gaza – in order to successfuly goad the U.S. into provoking a war with the Iranians. The U.S. stance on Iran is reportedly Obama’s chief bargaining chip in his testy negotiations with Tel Aviv – a price that, if it is ever exacted, will be paid in blood, American and Iranian (but never Israeli).

The fundamentals of U.S. foreign policy – a policy based on the grandiose delusion that the U.S. can and must retain hegemonic power in the world in order to ensure its own security – haven’t changed a single iota. According to our commander in chief, that fanatics are plotting against America in a cave somewhere in Waziristan is reason enough to launch a decades-long occupation and nation-building project in the wilds of Central Asia. As long as these baddies find a "safe haven" for their plotting, there is no country in the world that’s safe from a future as a battle zone. This is the Bush doctrine of preemptive warfare carried to its logical, Bizarro World conclusion: in keeping the peace we must invade and conquer the world.

What has changed, however, is the willingness of the American people to put up with an "overseas contingency operation" without end. Therefore the Obamaites have to tread very carefully, even as they carry out the same old policies under a freshly minted rubric, mindful that the natives are already getting restless, albeit not quite yet as restless as Ted Rall.

I remember way back when Rall’s rhetoric was considered radical; the Iraq war, he averred, was "a war waged under false pretexts by a fictional coalition led by an ersatz president." In 2003 and thereabouts, when news announcers had yet to take off their flag lapel buttons and Phil Donahue was getting unceremoniously ousted from the airwaves, Rall was accurately calling the Iraq war as lost and demanding Bush’s prosecution as a war criminal. In those dark days, Rall’s views – quite aside from his style – were considered beyond-the-pale radicalism. Today, we have members of Congress, including the speaker, calling for what amounts to a war crimes tribunal to sit in judgment on Bush administration officials. Yesterday’s radicalism, in this instance, is today’s growing consensus.

Similarly, I believe, Rall’s recent piece calling for the president to resign on account of his serial betrayals, especially on the foreign policy front, will prove to be a prophetic reading of the zeitgeist to come. I agree with Katrina van den Heuvel, editor of The Nation, who, in an interview with Antiwar.com’s Scott Horton, compared Obama to another Democratic president with a liberal domestic agenda who got bogged down in a no-win, no-sense war: Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The War Party, driven from power by the Bush defeat, has regrouped and had a makeover: in their new guise as nation-building humanitarians, they’re not making war – they’re conducting an Overseas Contingency Operation. Instead of the damn-the-torpedoes approach taken by his predecessor, this president is not averse to euphemism and what passes for subtlety in pursuing the very same ends. Yet the real contingency here is the patience of the American people, which is fast coming to an end. How long the Obamaites can delay the inevitable revolt is a matter of pure speculation. However, I’m willing to bet it’ll be sooner than they fear.

Read more by Justin Raimondo