Who Will Protest Obama’s War?

Libertarian youth must take the lead

by , November 25, 2009

Here we are on the verge of a momentous announcement – President Obama’s unveiling of his "comprehensive plan" for escalating the war in Afghanistan – and where is the so-called antiwar movement? Missing in action, as this news report reveals:

“‘There’s this trust that he’s going to fix it all,’ said Shara Esbenshade, 19, a sophomore at Stanford University and member of Stanford Says No To War. She says there are no antiwar marches on her campus, only vigils, educational events, and occasional protests against Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford after serving as George W. Bush’s secretary of state. ‘We’d really like to start doing more about Afghanistan,’ she added. ‘But students here rising up? I really don’t see that happening.’"

No need to ask who "he" is: it’s the Dear Leader, of course, the Big O: He Who Can Fix Anything. Well, I’ve got some really, really bad news for you, Shara, honey: he is getting ready to send somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 more troops to the Afghan front, and not only that, but he’s come up with a brand-new strategy, one that means they’ll be sending a lot more troops that way pretty damned soon.

What it boils down to is this: saying no to war entails saying no to Obama – and I have the distinct feeling that, forced to make a choice between their ostensibly antiwar sentiments and their devotion to the Dear Leader, Shara and her privileged, politically correct friends will reflexively choose the latter. Indeed, they already have, which is why Stanford Says No to War is lazing around, only stirring itself when a Republican rolls into view. But for how much longer can they rank on Condi Rice, who may indeed be a reprehensible warmonger but has, since the end of her tenure at State, been rendered relatively harmless?

Oh, but it’s too easy to go after a clueless 19-year-old: after all, why should it fall on Shara’s fragile shoulders to challenge the dominant political orthodoxy? Why blame her for the unlikelihood of her fellow students "rising up" anytime soon?

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems Ms. Esbenshade and her confreres are generally on the Left, and what’s left of the Left has a political conflict of interest when it comes to opposing U.S. military intervention overseas, as the above-cited article makes all too sadly clear:

"Mounting economic and academic pressures on today’s youth, intimidation by authorities, online distractions, and conflicted views about the ‘good’ war in Afghanistan, not to mention other causes such as health care and slashed school budgets clawing for attention, have conspired to snuff out antiwar activism on campus, experts and students say.

"They acknowledge, too, that U.S. President Barack Obama has paradoxically hampered the movement because many of the largely leftist protest groups haven’t wanted to openly oppose him so early in his first term."

Intimidation by authorities? Really? Will their professors give them a failing grade if they go out in the streets with signs proclaiming "Stop Obama’s War"? You’d think we were living in China, where all expressions of dissent are illegal and an unauthorized demonstration can earn you a free trip to the gulag. Yet even if there were indeed some real intimidation, then wouldn’t that in itself provoke a wave of defiant protest – as it has, say, in Iran?

No, this is excuse-making: the piece is closer to the truth with its invocation of "the good war" as a phrase that meaningfully relates to Afghanistan. As we begin to hear more and more about the potential goodness of this war – e.g., from feminists, such as Code Pink, who have now decided that withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be good for the cause of equal pay for equal work – we begin to hear more about the war’s potential usefulness in advancing the Obamaite big-government agenda. Here‘s Matt Yglesias, over at the Center for American Progress – the epicenter of Obama worship – musing over the prospect of a "war surtax":

"I’d like to see Paul Krugman or other advocates of more stimulus weigh-in on whether debt-financed escalation of military effort would have a beneficial impact on the labor market situation. I think it’s deplorable that U.S. political culture tends to regard military-related appropriations as exempt from normal budgetary considerations, but it’s possible that that’s a loophole worth taking advantage of in this case. All those new weapons purchases the Pentagon doesn’t want to estimate are manufacturing jobs for someone, right? Obviously this shouldn’t the primary consideration in dictating military strategy, but I do think a comprehensive look at the macroeconomic impact of defense policy choices – both the costs and benefits of hugely expensively military undertakings – is a necessary element of the strategic consideration."

How to balance the costs of the Afghan war – the thousands of Afghan and American lives lost, the horrific destruction wreaked on Afghan society, the screams of the horribly wounded, and the tears of mourners – against what Yglesias and his fellow Keynesians imagine will be the "benefits" of spending all that government moolah and doling it out to their political allies and corporate patrons?

These soulless policy wonks may believe this kind of calculus has no moral import, but for the rest of the human race the profoundly immoral and frankly repulsive nature of this arithmetical exercise is readily apparent. Yglesias himself has criticized our policy in Afghanistan and is skeptical of plans to escalate the conflict, yet he unhesitatingly unpacks the doctrine of military Keynesianism in order to advance his big-government agenda. He may think this is harmless, but as John T. Flynn presciently pointed out as World War II was ending:

"The great and glamorous industry is here – the industry of militarism. And when the war is ended the country is going to be asked if it seriously wishes to demobilize an industry that can employ so many men, create so much national income when the nation is faced with the probability of vast unemployment in industry. All the well-known arguments, used so long and so successfully in Europe … will be dusted off – America with her high purposes of world regeneration must have the power to back up her magnificent ideals; America cannot afford to grow soft, and the Army and Navy must be continued on a vast scale to toughen the moral and physical sinews of our youth; America dare not live in a world of gangsters and aggressors without keeping her full power mustered … and above and below and all around these sentiments will be the sinister allurement of the perpetuation of the great industry which can never know a depression because it will have but one customer – the American government to whose pocket there is no bottom."

The economic benefits Yglesias points to, however, come with some strings attached. As Flynn accurately predicted:

"Embarked … upon a career of militarism, we shall, like every other country, have to find the means when the war ends of obtaining the consent of the people to the burdens that go along with the blessings it confers upon its favored groups and regions. Powerful resistance to it will always be active, and the effective means of combating this resistance will have to be found. Inevitably, having surrendered to militarism as an economic device, we will do what other countries have done: we will keep alive the fears of our people of the aggressive ambitions of other countries and we will ourselves embark upon imperialistic enterprises of our own."

Keynesian militarism means a foreign policy shaped by a constant propaganda of fear. In order to justify outsized military spending, it is necessary to conjure threats of comparable stature, but once we take this path, there is no return to normalcy. For our own economic normalcy will come more and more to depend on generating a constant stream of foreign crises and an ever ready supply of enemies who cannot be safely ignored.

There are, in the long run, no net benefits to be had from the policy of military Keynesianism: our debt-driven military buildup can only end in bankruptcy and universal ruin. Yes, in the short run, certain workers and employers do indeed derive benefits from our foreign policy of unrelenting aggression, but their "jobs" are not in any sense productive: indeed, they are engaged in the "business" of wholesale destruction – of human lives and resources – so while their "work" benefits them, it hurts the rest of us immeasurably.

Of course, the Keynesians will have none of this. They believe that if the government pays us to build pyramids, blows up the finished product, and pays us to rebuild them, then they’re "kick-starting" the economy. So why not start a world war – wouldn’t that deliver a swift kick to our stubbornly mulish economy and save the Obamaites’ rapidly sinking political fortunes?

Well, because that would be morally indefensible, now wouldn’t it? Yet that is precisely what the administration is getting ready to do, as the announcement of Obama’s Afghan "surge" looms closer. The president won’t argue that the war will be good for the economy; he’ll leave that dirty job to his proxies over at the Center for American Progress, who, if they do good work, just might get invited to the latest "must attend" White House event.

All in all, we face a depressing prospect: the Left brain-dead with Obama idolatry, the Right neoconized beyond redemption – and no one left to oppose a futile, draining, and horrifically destructive conflict, a war we cannot afford and which directly contravenes our real interests as a nation.

No one, that is, except a clear majority of the American people, who, according to polls, think the battle for Afghanistan is not worth it. Here is a clear instance in which ordinary, everyday Americans are radically out of sync with partisan activists of both the Right and the Left – thus creating a huge opening for libertarians, particularly the campus arm of the movement..

The premier libertarian youth organization, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), is the fastest-growing political group on campus, these days, and no task would suit them better than assuming the leadership of the moribund, leftist-dominated antiwar movement. As Obama’s zombie-like cult follows him down the road to war – a war on a scale the much-reviled Bush administration never dared attempt – YAL can fill the vacuum, swell its own ranks, and, more importantly, dramatize the moral and political bankruptcy of the current administration, while drawing a clear and very dramatic line of demarcation between libertarians and Sean Hannity-type conservatives..

I have my issues with the organized libertarian movement, such as it is, and I have never endorsed any organization. YAL, however, is a different story: born out of the surge in libertarian activism generated by the Ron Paul campaign, it exemplifies the same staunch anti-imperialism married to (and derived from) a hard-core libertarian economic perspective. What I love about Rep. Paul is his obvious delight in mixing in denunciations of Obama’s domestic boondoggles with his informed and trenchant opposition to our global empire-building project.

If we’d only give up the empire, Paul averred during his presidential campaign, the savings would give us the resources to repair our decaying infrastructure, fund healthcare, and ameliorate a good many of the ills liberals say need fixing. Rather than do that, however, liberal Democratic members of Congress want to impose a war surtax and make us pay for the war on top of all the other nonsense.

Liberalism, in its modern incarnation, is intellectually bankrupt, and has been for quite some time, but it took the ascension to power of a decidedly liberal administration to highlight the demise of its moral authority. Young people looking for a comprehensive view of life, a principled perspective on the events shaping their world, are not going to find it in the cost-benefit analyses of dried-up Washington policy wonks who balance the economic "benefits" of mass murder against the weight of the dead.

Nor will they find it in the cynical pontifications of neoconservative militarists, who think they can pursue a "freedom agenda" while supporting a foreign policy that requires a huge and highly centralized federal Leviathan, one that eats up a good portion of the national income.

Libertarianism alone represents a coherent alternative to the tired, worn-out ideologies of the Right and the Left, and the war issue can underline this uniqueness like no other. If any organization has the spirit, and the numbers, to attempt this, it is YAL: growing by leaps and bounds, springing up on campuses coast to coast, its principled opposition to overseas intervention is exemplary.

Don’t wait for the sleepy-eyed Left to wake from its slumber. That may be a long time coming. If there are other groups on campus you can work with, fine, but libertarians must take the initiative – not only to make political gains, but because it is a moral imperative that we act.

Don’t be taken in by the "no one cares" meme, which invariably pops up in journalistic accounts of how the antiwar movement is in the doldrums. There is a populist anger out there that is easily attached to any issue, whether it be healthcare or the Afghan war. The "tea parties" showed us that.

Don’t wait for lightning to strike. You can start a prairie fire all on your own. The sagebrush is dry, and the weather is amenable: what’s needed is a spark. Has anybody got a match?

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Once again, we come to the end of a fundraising campaign, and as I write this, we still have a few thousand bucks to go. Which tells us, yes, the recession is still hitting hard – but no, our readers haven’t abandoned us.

To all who gave, enduring days – nay, weeks – of rude hectoring and endless reminders of our impending doom, I have to say my gratitude is boundless. Every time I sit down to write another column, as I have been doing for more than a decade now, I remember this extraordinary generosity, which has endured lo these many years, and it gives me the energy to soldier on – and do it with gusto!

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