The expected Election Day Republican “wave” that broke over our heads is a disaster for the anti-interventionist cause in the immediate sense – but there may be a silver lining.
The disaster is embodied in the various GOP warmongers who will be placed in key positions in Congress, and a good case could be made that among the worst of the worst will be the probable majority leader in the House: Eric Cantor.
Cantor is a walking, breathing stereotype, a neocon through and through, who pays lip service to the “tea party”-ish idea of limiting government spending, but is in reality committed to lavishing tax dollars on any project as long as it can be somehow construed as contributing to US security. Thus, ForeignPolicy.com references his views on “foreign aid” and the budget:
“Cantor told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the president’s proposed budget might have to be rejected outright if Republicans take power – after separating out U.S. aid for Israel, of course.”
Cantor is a big fan of Israel’s, and has gone so far as to say that, in the context of tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv over the settlements and other issues, “Israel is not the problem” – leaving unspoken the presumption the US is at fault. In line with the Israel lobby’s campaign to goad us into war with Iran, he demands that the US cease negotiations with Tehran, impose draconian sanctions unilaterally, and openly threaten the use of force.
Another rabid Republican interventionist is Sen. John Kyl, the junior Senator from Arizona, and currently the minority whip. If the Republicans take the Senate, he’ll be in a position to stake out his claim on foreign policy issues, in which he has taken an inordinate interest in the past. His major shtick is opposition to the START treaty, and he shares this opposition with his Senate Republican colleague, Jim DeMint, of South Carolina. As ForeignPolicy.com puts it:
“Most incoming Tea Party candidates don’t focus on foreign policy, but many will owe allegiance to DeMint because he has been filling their campaign coffers. They could be inclined to follow suit with his unilateralist, militaristic worldview, which many see as based on his neoconservative ideology rather than a realistic pursuit of U.S. interests in [a] multipolar world order.”
One example of his influence over the tea party candidates: DeMint was an early endorser of Rand Paul, whose move toward neoconnish foreign policy positions provoked my ire in this column. Now that Rand has been elected, will he embrace the neocons, or will he stay true to his nationwide libertarian constituency? Of course, if we were talking about his father, Ron Paul, we would have nothing to worry about. As it is, however …
Senator John McCain will retain his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and, if the GOP wave is big enough to take the Senate, he’ll be the chairman. Together with Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), who is slated to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the two of them will be pressuring President Obama to keep capitulating to Gen. David Petraeus and the hawks in the Pentagon. The crunch will come when it comes time to “draw down” the troops in Afghanistan, in the summer of 2011.
Far worse than anyone I have yet mentioned is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, who never saw a war she didn’t salivate at the prospect of and has called for the assassination of Fidel Castro. She is a militant supporter of Israel, constantly criticizes the US for not kowtowing quickly enough to Tel Aviv, and is a vocal supporter of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a Marxist terrorist organization that has provided much of the phony “intelligence” purporting to show Iran is developing nuclear weapons. She will be chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee when the GOP takes the House.
The big problem with a Republican-dominated House is that those GOPers who take an interest in foreign policy issues are invariably hawks: these are the committed neocons, like Cantor and Kyl. The tea partiers, for their part, avoid the issue, focused exclusively as they are deficits, taxes, and budget-cutting.
There is, however, a silver lining to all this: the Empire is going bankrupt. Our invasion of Iraq is estimated by economist Joseph Stiglitz to cost some 3 trillion dollars, when all is said and done. Neocons Bill Kristol and the heads of the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation came out with an op ed warning the tea party types not to go near their precious “defense” budget with the cost-cutter’s knife. But the tea partiers are unlikely to listen to Kristol & Co., or, indeed, any members of the Republican establishment, who, after all, presided over the spendthrift Bush administration all the while proclaiming their support for what they called “big government conservatism.”
Objectively, the momentum for cost-cutting will run up against the neocons’ militarism, and a conflict seems inevitable. Yet nothing is inevitable when it comes to human affairs, so we’ll just have to see what happens.
Another discouraging aspect of the GOP’s triumph is that it will give Obama very little room to maneuver on domestic matters – and he’ll have little choice but to concentrate more of his attention on foreign policy. This is not good, from an anti-interventionist viewpoint, because the President will no doubt use foreign policy issues to gain Republican support for his domestic initiatives. This increases the influence of the McCain-Cantor-Petraeus more-troops-to-Afghanistan lobby – but it gets worse….
Although I have often suggested that Obama might turn to war in order to pump some semblance of life into the economy, now we have David Broder, the mandarin of the establishment columnists, saying the same thing. After describing the President’s helplessness before the vagaries of the business cycle, he avers:
“What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.
“Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II. Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise, and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
“The nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.”
Aside from the fact that the war did not lift us out of the Depression – see Robert Higgs for the real story – this scenario is perfectly credible. As a self-described political pragmatist, the President is prone to taking the easy way out, and while the economy may not improve as war preparations are ratcheted up, this is not likely to deter either Obama or his Keynesian economic advisers, who believe that any and all government spending – including military spending – is the key to recovery.
In the short term, the contours of the electoral disaster for the antiwar movement are large, but in the mid-to –long term the contradictions of the “tea party” movement may start to rip this winning coalition apart. Are “defense” expenditures and extravagantly expensive “nation-building” projects boondoggles, or are they essential for the survival of the Republic? This is a debate that will break out in the GOP sooner rather than later, and the results should be … interesting.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The American Conservative magazine is back, after a short hiatus, and I have the cover article. Go check it out here.
The Antiwar.com Autumn tour is far from over. Next up:
NOVEMBER 10, 6:30 p.m. Western Connecticut State University (Westside Classroom Building, WS Room 218, 43 Lake Avenue Ext., Danbury, CT 06811). Hosted by the Ridgefield Liberty Co-op. $1,000 prize essay contest encourages students to submit a thoughtful essay after the talk. Free admission.
On November 11th, the Boston Chapter of Come Home America will be hosting my talk on “How We Can Organize a Left-Right Alliance Against the War Parties—and Why We Must.” The event will be held at the Arlington Street Church (351 Boylston Street, Boston, MA) at 7 p.m. Free admission.
NOVEMBER 18, 7:30 p.m. University of California at Berkeley (20 Barrows Hall, Barrow Lane and Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704). Hosted by Students for Liberty. Free admission.