When Satire Becomes Reality

Welcome to Bizarro World

by , September 09, 2009

Google News has lately taken to labeling Antiwar.com’s news articles, including this column, as "satire." To take one particularly unfortunate example, an article by Fred Reed on the furor over the photo of Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard’s tragic death in Afghanistan was so classified on the Google search engine. This, I believe, is proof positive of what I call the Bizarro Effect, a direct result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. What happened was this: the sheer force of the explosion as those planes hit the World Trade Center and slammed into the Pentagon forced us into an alternate dimension where up is down, news is entertainment, and a rational critique of U.S. foreign policy is considered sheer amusement. Here in Bizarro World, everything is upended: not only our morals, but our grasp of reality, and, indeed, the concept of reality itself. As one top White House aide in the Bush administration put it to a skeptical journalist:

"The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."’

Eight years almost to the day after those planes tore a hole in the very fabric of the space-time continuum and changed our lives forever, the same gang of shysters and would-be world-conquerors is busy creating – and, when necessary, recreating – its own self-referential reality. In Washington, D.C., it’s very easy to fall into this kind of thinking. Because it doesn’t matter which of the two state-approved parties is in power at the moment. When it comes to foreign policy, both agree on the fundamentals, i.e., the absolute imperative of maintaining a globe-spanning empire of satraps and military bases, like cold sores running across the face of the world.

Hosted by reluctant and resentful "allies," for the most part precarious protectorates perpetually teetering on the brink of collapse, this growing enterprise feeds an increasing horde of tax-eaters, government contractors, foreign lobbyists, and "national security" profiteers such as Blackwater and Halliburton. In short, a lucrative and ever-expanding industry has grown up around America’s imperial conceits, one that provides a ready-made – and fully bipartisan – constituency for interventionism worldwide. It’s just a question of adapting to the style of whatever administration is in power.

To say the War Party is making inroads in Obama’s Washington is a definite understatement. In the councils of state and the "mainstream" media, they’re firmly in the drivers’ seat and determined to head right over the Afghan cliff – except for one problem. The American people are recovering from the Bizarro Effect, or at least a great many of them are, because it looks like a majority are now opposing our Afghan crusade.

This president, far more than his predecessor, is ultra-sensitive to changes in the political temperature: being an opportunist of the first order heightens one’s awareness (and fear) of the latest trends, so the War Party must buttress his resolve with a united front show of support. Thus the latest epistle from the gang that brought us "victory" in Iraq

A group of prominent neoconservatives has recently issued a letter urging the president to ignore rising doubts and dissenting views and proceed with his plans to escalate the Afghan war. "There is no middle ground," they sternly aver. Indeed there is not, and the neocons are eager to crush any semblance of dissent within the ranks of the connected and powerful, such as George Will‘s recent call for withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is what this letter is really all about.

As Obama’s base registers growing opposition to yet another fruitless, unwinnable war, the president is coming to rely on support from the neocons to buttress elite opinion in the wake of alarming events on the "Af-Pak" front. Support from Democratic party ward-heelers and the "national security Democrats" over at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) – the relatively new think-tank that has provided Obama an impressively long list of recent national security appointments – isn’t enough. Polls show the Af-Pak campaign is losing the support of ordinary Americans, and a real mobilization of the elites – on the Right as well as the liberal "Left" – is required to drown out the rising chorus of dissent. The defection of a prominent conservative has them in a real tizzy, and they are spinning furiously to explain why no one should be paying attention to Will or, indeed, to anyone who deviates from the Washington consensus that perpetual war is our necessary fate.

The rhetoric of the letter is basic neocon boilerplate, a rerun of the many letters issued by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which began pumping for an invasion of Iraq shortly after its founding in 1997. PNAC, under Bill Kristol’s guidance, transformed the Iraq war from a bloody-minded fantasy of a few war-crazed ideologues into an appalling reality. Having hung this albatross ’round all our necks and created what the late Gen. William E. Odom described as "greatest strategic disaster in United States history," they reappear to affix their imprimatur on Obama’s Afghan adventure.

What’s interesting, however, isn’t the rhetoric, but the list of prominent individuals who have signed on to Kristol’s latest stroke of strategic genius. If you look at the list, there’s a whole new cast of neocons that’s making its debut, with only a few of the signers – Kristol, a few Kagans, a single Podhoretz, and old standbys like Joshua Muravchik, Eliot A. Cohen, and Danielle Pletka – retreads from the past. Where’s Richard Perle? Are his entrepreneurial activities taking up all his time, or has a heretofore unknown "shame factor" suddenly kicked in? Paul Wolfowitz, too, appears to have been given the old heave-ho, and the only Podhoretz I see listed is John, whose familiarity with the intricacies of military doctrine is second only to his up-close-and-intimate knowledge of New York City pizzerias. Where’s Norman? Here, after all, the opening shots of World War IV are being sounded, and one would think the grand old man of the War Party would want a front row seat.

Old warmongers never die, they just keep writing their memoirs – but now a fresh crop of young Myrmidons is springing from the earth, and these immigrants from Hell are intent on carrying on the fight first taken up by PNAC, which has undergone a much-needed makeover and adapted itself to the new political environment. Now organizing under the rubric of the "Foreign Policy Initiative," Kristol & Co. have recruited such notables as Steve Biegun, whose claim to fame is his exalted position as Sarah Palin’s foreign policy guru.

Oh well, they don’t make neocons the way they used to: they have to work with what they have. Be that as it may, a second generation of neocons is making waves, and these are, to some extent, retreads of a different sort: leftovers from the McCain campaign and a few token Democrats mixed in with the usual suspects.

However, this is not a partisan endeavor: indeed, there has been a lot of cross-pollination of the Obamaites and the neocons, with Kristol and his buddies getting together with the gang at CNAS (and don’t forget the Center for American Progress) to cheer on Obama’s war. And now that the hybridization process has taken root with the appointment of Richard Fontaine, McCain’s former foreign policy adviser, as a senior fellow at CNAS, the trail for the neocon influx into the ranks of the national security bureaucracy has been pioneered. You can bet others will take that same route to power and influence.

The bile directed at Will underscores the War Party’s horror at the sight of real conservatives suddenly rediscovering prudence and applying it to foreign policy. It also highlights the soft underbelly of the bipartisan pro-war Popular Front that has controlled the conduct of American foreign policy since the end of World War II. Postwar "conservatives" were increasingly willing to overlook the exponential growth of government in order to gain liberal acquiescence for unrestrained militarism: indeed, this arrangement worked quite well during the Vietnam era, until a popular revolt short-circuited the deal, just as it worked for all the years of the Bush Interregnum, as Democrats voted funds for the war and larded up military appropriations bills with plenty of good old-fashioned pork even after they gained control of Congress.

As the debate over domestic politics, such as healthcare legislation, reaches an impasse, look for some sort of grand compromise – a tradeoff. It’s no accident that the neocons are now urging the Republicans to back away from populist "extremism," and among the signers of the FPI letters is one David Frum, who has become a vocal opponent of Rush Limbaugh and other intransigents, seeking to moderate the radical populism that energizes the GOP base. Frum, a Canadian who excoriated conservatives and libertarians – myself included – as "traitors" for opposing the Iraq war, is now turning on his erstwhile friends at National Review and has started his own "New Majority" Web site, where he regularly inveighs against right-wing populism (especially Ron Paul) and urges Republicans to compromise when it comes to healthcare. But he is ready to go to the barricades to uphold the Republican "principle" of mass murder as the preferred way of dealing with our problems overseas.

It’s easy to see some sort of coalition developing between the pro-war Republicans in Congress and the Obama loyalists when it comes to foreign policy, in return for an end to the GOP’s "obstructionism" when it comes to issues like healthcare, regulation, and even taxes. The green shoots of such an alliance will certainly blossom more fully once the Democratic Left gets its act in gear and starts to raise questions on the floor of Congress about the direction we are taking in Afghanistan. Already, voices such as Sen. Feingold‘s are being heard, but don’t worry, all you warmongers out there, the Neocon Cavalry is coming over the hill – the 101st Keyboarders, to be exact. Help is on the way!

What the neocons fear most is people like George Will: thinking conservatives who are beholden to no orthodoxy except their commitment to a rational interpretation of the facts and the preservation of our old Republic against the depredations of the prideful and the opportunists among us. Will won’t "deal," and neither will Pat Buchanan – another conservative much demonized by the neocon Right as well as the Left – and neither will the editors of such publications as The American Conservative, Chronicles, and, yes, even this Web site, all of whom are part of a growing popular movement that questions both the practicality and morality of maintaining an empire. I have long maintained in this space that the defection of a significant portion of "movement" conservatives from the ranks of the War Party would spell doom for the bipartisan interventionist "consensus" and inaugurate a new era of questioning the very basis of our failed foreign policy. Will’s defection is the first step, and I have the feeling – a good feeling – there’s more where he came from…

In a world where it’s increasingly hard to tell satire from fact and the blackest humor from the grimmest reality, it’s no wonder Google mistakes Antiwar.com for a site devoted to sheer amusement. It’s hard to live in that kind of a world, I know, but there are increasing signs that the public is recovering from the Bizarro Effect. Our elites, as usual, are a bit behind the curve, but I have hope that they’ll soon be forced to catch up.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Google labeling Antiwar.com stories "satire" was a technical glitch, of course, due to be corrected in a few days, but, heck, it was a convenient way to make my point.

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