The “gaffe” (i.e., truth-telling) committed by GOP chairman Michael Steele continues to reverberate from one end of the political spectrum to the other: the latest wave to come crashing onto the shore is Ann “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” Coulter. I very much doubt she ripped off my headline – “Bill Kristol Must Resign” – although it was posted well before her column went up. Great minds think alike, and, in any case, it seems we agree on the subject of Steele’s alleged heresy: it’s Kristol who ought to resign as the unelected leader and Grand Strategist of the GOP, and Steele who ought to stay.
Sure, her piece is intensely partisan: like “other recent Democratic ventures into military affairs,” she avers, the occupation of Afghanistan “isn’t likely to turn out well.” According to her, we “won” in Iraq, because that country is relatively well-educated and prosperous, as opposed to Afghanistan: “literacy rate, 19 percent; life expectancy, 44 years; working toilets, 7.” Translation: the measure of civilization is knowing when you’re defeated. Bush was right to invade Iraq, and right to ignore the Afghan front after toppling the Taliban: after all, Iraq “had vast oil reserves; and is situated at the heart of a critical region” – an argument that raises the question: then why not invade Russia – or, say, Kazakhstan – which also fits that description? But never mind: if the first half of her piece merely reiterates the same old neoconnish talking points, then the second half breaks some new ground in the continuing evolution of Ms. Coulter (and, perhaps, her legion of admirers on the right).
Mocking the liberal sloganeering of the Bush years, she writes that among her favorites is “Iraq didn’t attack us on 9/11!” and goes on to make a trenchant point: “Of course,” she writes, “neither did Afghanistan. But Democrats were in a lather and couldn’t be bothered with the facts.” She’s right: Democrats who argued (and continue to argue) that we were fighting the “wrong war” ignored reality in the interests of trying to appear “tough” for purely political purposes. Having nicked us with her stiletto, Ann gets out her machete and chops away:
“At this point, Afghanistan is every bit as much Obama’s war as Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson’s war. True, President Kennedy was the first to send troops to Vietnam. We had 16,000 troops in Vietnam when JFK was assassinated. Within four years, LBJ had sent 400,000 troops there.”
I love numbers: they’re so exact, so final, especially when we’re talking about the number of casualties. Here are more numbers which are beyond dispute:
“In the entire seven-year course of the Afghanistan war under Bush, from October 2001 to January 2009, 625 American soldiers were killed. In 18 short months, Obama has nearly doubled that number to 1,124 Americans killed.”
Liberal supporters of this
administration, who nonetheless are increasingly uneasy with the course
of Obama’s war, must find this uptick ominous, which, along with
the rise in the unemployment numbers, augurs a tough election year for
their party. Democrats will claim she’s citing these statistics for
purely partisan reasons, but so what? That doesn’t make them any less
true. And there’s more than mere partisanship at work here. What’s
astonishing – in a good way – is that Ann revises the standard right-wing “we-were-stabbed-in-the-back-
“Republicans used to think seriously about deploying the military. President Eisenhower sent aid to South Vietnam, but said he could not ‘conceive of a greater tragedy’ for America than getting heavily involved there.”
General Douglas MacArthur agreed: so did such stalwarts of the Old Right as John T. Flynn, the conservative radio commentator of the 1940s and 50s, who, in a radio address delivered on July 30, 1950, warned [.pdf] that President Truman’s pledge to help the French hold on to their colonies in Indochina would end in disaster: “If we are preparing to make war to save Asia from dictatorships we will waste every dollar, every pound of steel and every precious life that is snuffed out in that foolish adventure.” Flynn’s prescience prefigured the verdict of history, and Coulter apparently concurs. Is she rediscovering the lost wisdom of the conservative movement’s pre-cold war legacy? I don’t know what’s on her reading list these days (however, Ann, if you’re listening, I would recommend this, this, and especially this), but it sure isn’t The Collected Writings of Victor Davis Hanson.
It sounds to me like change is in the air:
“As Michael Steele correctly noted, every great power that’s tried to stage an all-out war in Afghanistan has gotten its ass handed to it. Everyone knows it’s not worth the trouble and resources to take a nation of rocks and brigands.”
Oh, but some of those rocks are worth quite a lot, from what I hear, and this begs the question: worth it to whom? Why, to our own white collar brigands, of course, but that’s a point Coulter is not yet ready to make. Instead, she indulges in her hilarious brand of biting humor:
“The greatest fighting force in the world is building vocational schools and distributing cheese crackers to children. There’s even talk of giving soldiers medals for not shooting people, which I gather will be awarded posthumously. Naomi Campbell is rougher with her assistants than our troops are allowed to be with Taliban fighters.”
Funny, and all too true, but I would go further and point out that as long as our soldiers are helping little old ladies cross the street in Kabul, it’s okay for them to be leveling Kandahar, as far as the Obama-ites are concerned. This is the whole rationale behind the brand spanking new “counterinsurgency doctrine” cooked up by our “humanitarian” interventionists, presided over and implemented by Gen. Petraeus and hyped by the publicists over at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). It’s a vision of a kinder, gentler US imperialism that conservatives like Coulter – and realists of all persuasions – rightly see as dishonest, impossible, and downright bizarre.
Yet all this is just a prelude to the real challenge posed by Coulter to the foreign policy orthodoxy as decreed by Kristol and the gang over at the Weekly Standard:
“But now I hear it is the official policy of the Republican Party to be for all wars, irrespective of our national interest. What if Obama decides to invade England because he’s still ticked off about that Churchill bust? Can Michael Steele and I object to that? Or would that demoralize the troops?”
“I thought the irreducible requirements of Republicanism were being for life, small government and a strong national defense, but I guess permanent war is on the platter now, too.”
Since 9/11, the irreducible primary of our foreign policy has been permanent war [.pdf], and the GOP has been the primary (albeit not exclusive) proponent of the new militarism. Nine years after the invasion of Afghanistan, however, and nearly two years after the implosion of the US economy, the nation grows weary. Yes, even Ann Coulter grows tired of it all: far from invading their countries, killing their leaders, and converting them to Christianity, conservatives are more concerned with taking back their own country, getting rid of their clueless leaders, and preventing secular liberals from banning Christianity altogether – and more power to them.
The complaint that Coulter’s dissent is just partisanship, and that if the Afghan war were being prosecuted by a Republican administration, Ann would be cheerleading the war and denouncing dissenters as traitors is a) an assumption too far, and b) irrelevant. With a full-bore regional conflict brewing, possibly drawing in Iran, Pakistan, and India, the antiwar forces can’t be too choosy about their allies – especially when “antiwar” Democrats are so easily pushed around by the White House, which can easily punish those who take their grandstanding too far and actually vote against funding the war. I can just hear Daniel “Eeyore” Larison lamenting that the next war – against Iran – will see Ann leading the charge, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, we anti-interventionists must take what we can get.
I often complain about the “left-right” paradigm that tends to obscure the underlying issues when it comes to foreign policy, and prevents any original thought, but blind partisanship has certain advantages which we would be foolish to abjure. The great advantage of the two party system is that when one party, the party in power, goes to war, the other party finds reasons to oppose it. In theory, this should create a system of natural checks and balances, which would serve to rein in the worst excesses of which statesmen are capable. The problem, as I have said so often in this space, is that the two political parties are merely the “left” and “right” wings of a single party, the War Party. In recent times, neoconservative dominance of the GOP – which means an ideological commitment, as Ann noted, to permanent war – has upset this natural balancing act. A neocon-dominated GOP has given the Obama-ites a blank check to do whatever they want, driving the policymaking elite to untenable extremes – and the nation over a cliff.
Politics, they say, stops at the water’s edge, but after nine years of futile crusading at enormous cost in lives and treasure, this rule looks about to be broken, just as it was during the Vietnam era. Back in the 60s it was the left that questioned this bromidic adage, but the old-time Marxists are now either right-wing social democrats of the Tony Blair school, or else neoconservatives of the David Horowitz type. The radical anti-imperialism of the 60s generation has been swallowed whole by the Obama cult, and thoroughly digested.
What we may be witnessing is the birth of anti-interventionism on the right, or, rather, the rebirth of the Old Right. Ron Paul was the trailblazer who endured the yammerings of Rudy Giuliani, and the catcalls of the neocons, calmly and clearly making the case against the empire, and for a foreign policy that puts America – the territory and people of the United States – first.
While the neocons who launched this era of permanent war were and are unabashed imperialists – Kristol’s magazine ran an article by Max Boot called “The Case for American Empire” – they spent most of their energy arguing for the acquisition of de facto colonies. The COIN theorists gathered around CNAS, who populate the upper levels of the Pentagon’s policy shop, are focused on how to hold on to them. Their “clear, hold, and build” strategy is designed to build fake “nations” – satraps really – from the bottom up, where before there had only been loose confederations of clans.
All the zeal for social experimentation that energizes the self-described “progressive” mentality will be brought to bear on the Afghan peoples: we aim to feed them, clothe them, educate them, and win them over. This is the Obama-ite prescription for long term success in Afghanistan, and it will fail for the same reason the Soviets failed at this Sisyphean task. The Soviets, too, tried to “liberate” Afghan women, even as they bombed civilians and rounded up and disappeared those who resisted. They built schools, and hospitals, and libraries filled to the brim with propaganda, which went unread by their proud and sullen subjects – who eventually rose up against them, and sent them packing, a fate that would have overtaken the puppet Communist regime even without US aid to the mujahedin.
Ms. Coulter and her fellow right-wing populists have to go through the experience of Obama-ism, particularly in its international aspect, before they learn the lesson that interventionism abroad means – must mean – big government on the home front. You can’t have a republic, founded on the principle of limited government, and at the same time come into possession of an empire, particularly one as unprecedented in its global reach as the American imperium: it is one or the other. A point is reached where a choice must be made – and Coulter, it seems, has made hers.
Shrugging off the detritus of her previous incarnation as the War Goddess of the neocon right, the Boadicea of the Bushian crusaders, Ann is shedding her hawkish internationalist feathers for those of the American eagle, fitting symbol of a new nationalism. Not the militaristic nationalism of the Weekly Standard “national greatness” crowd, but a deliberate policy of minding our own damned business unless provoked (and then: watch out!). In foreign policy terms, this means an unblinkered realism that rejects the “nation-building” utopianism of the neocon right as well as the “progressive” left, and puts narrowly conceived American interests first.
A ferocious battle is shaping up for the heart and soul of the conservative movement, and, by extension, the Republican party. The neocons aren’t about to give up their hard won gains without a fight to the bitter end. By the time it’s over, and the smoke clears, we’ll have imbibed such a quantity of articles about the rise of a dangerous new “isolationism” that we’ll be prone on the floor, gasping for breath. All sorts of historical bogeymen will rise from the grave, their spirits conjured by the high priests of the War Party: Father Coughlin will spring to life as if he’d never been interred. In one of a series of documentaries on “right wing extremism” aired on MSNBC, Chris Matthews flashed a picture of the anti-Semitic radio preacher who praised Nazi Germany, denounced FDR as the pawn of “Jewish bankers,” and opposed US involvement in the European war. The “progressive” wing of the War Party thinks they can hold back the growing rage of the American people with arcane incantations and ritual curses, but this will backfire when the economic factor kicks in.
Faced with the spectacle of their own country falling apart at the seams, Americans are increasingly hostile to the idea that we need to be “nation-building” in Afghanistan, or anywhere else but right here at home. Once the Republican party grasps the political opportunity this offers them – or, at least, some Republicans do – the Obama-ites’ game is up. Eager to prove how “responsible” they are when it comes to issues of national security, the Democrats will no doubt foolishly allow this, lured by the myth of traditional Democratic “weakness” when it comes to war-making and keeping the nation safe (two separate issues which they habitually conflate). If this realignment takes place on account of partisanship, and purely for political reasons, then that’s the kind of opportunism I can live with quite happily.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
One other happy result of the Coulter piece is that it has the neocons split, with David Frum over at his very weird web site – featuring banner endorsements by Joan Walsh and Stephen Colbert, no less! – complaining that one of his Frum-drones was dropped by David Horowitz’s Frontpage for daring to criticize Coulter. As an added bonus, Frum blames it all on Ron Paul. One can only look forward to seeing more neocon heads explode as the controversy progresses throughout the right-blogosphere. What next? Will Christopher Hitchens write a screed comparing her to Anne Morrow Lindbergh – “The Other Ann(e)”! One awaits these developments with bated breath ….