Riders of the Storm

As rebellions sweep the Middle East, US rulers are desperate to preserve the empire

by , May 16, 2011

The tides of history are moving fast, these days. It’s hard for the average human being – who, after all, has a life to live, filled with troubles that are small in scale but no less earthshaking to the individuals experiencing them – to make sense of it all. Indeed, even the so-called “experts” are baffled, at this point – with US policymakers among the most clueless, and the most resistant to the great sea change enveloping much of the world.

As Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad unleashes his security forces on youthful protesters, across the way the Israelis are doing the same as youthful Palestinians mark the “Nakba” by demonstrating – and being fired on for their trouble, with 20 killed as of this writing. In Yemen, the “President” declares he’s not going anywhere, as protesters demand his exit, and in Bahrain King Hamad – a key US ally – is defiantly holding on to his throne in spite of demands that he step down.

In short, all the old regimes are besieged by the same storm, clinging desperately to power like barnacles on a rock – but with none of the staying power of those indefatigable mollusks. Without falling into some determinist eschatology, it’s safe to say, I think, that all of these regimes are doomed: the Israelis by demography, the Arab monarchies by the very forces of modernity that ended the reign of kings in Europe (and America) long ago.

The cultural and economic trends driving this liberating tsunami through a formerly somnolent region are complex and I don’t pretend to have an overarching analysis of its causes and trajectory. What I do know, however, is that this rising tide in the Arab world can be charted to match skyrocketing commodity prices that have condemned many to slow starvation, and the rest to a much lowered standard of living. The Arab middle class is being killed in its cradle – but not before it fights to survive.

When you’re hungry, and out of a job, familiar humiliations become intolerable. Israel’s propagandists are telling us the Syrian government is behind the protests at the formerly quiet border between Syria and the Golan Heights: the Syrians are supposedly trying to divert attention from the Ba’athists’ domestic atrocities. On the other hand, Damascus sounds a similar note, ascribing anti-government protests in its own streets to the work of the Mossad. These two may fight it out on the field of public diplomacy, and denounce each other as evil incarnate, yet both Tel Aviv and Damascus are basically on the same side – fighting against a human tide that threatens their carefully-constructed prison societies, once thought to be escape-proof and now revealed as rather rickety.

It could end in a new Arab Enlightenment, the restoration of a high civilization that fell into Ottomanized decay and eventual ruin, or it could climax in a orgy of self-immolation and a regional war that will plunge the Middle East back into the darkness. Yet it is possible to draw at least one conclusion from the current chaos, and it is this: the US must get out of the way.

This is true for all kinds of reasons, starting with our own economic troubles. The same worldwide economic downturn roiling the Arab “street” is awakening the American “street,” and the peasants are beginning to mutter and reach for their pitchforks. Their homes, their livelihoods, their basic assumptions about life are threatened, and – like their Arab cousins thousands of miles away – they are angry, puzzled, and in a rebellious mood. Who can blame them? When they go food shopping, the price of a cucumber has doubled since last week: the price of a scrawny chicken, whose breasts resemble those of an anorexic fashion model, has tripled – while the cost of driving to market continues to rise with ominous speed. We’re angry, and who can blame us?

Anger seems to be the defining emotion of our era, the one thing that binds an American housewife shopping for dinner with her equivalent across the ocean – a blind, often misdirected fury at the way things are. Instead of fulfilling the vision of the flower children, who hailed the Age of Aquarius as a time when all would join hands and sing “Kumbaya,” it turns out the future is a world where all join hands and sing “Off with their heads!” “We’ve had enough!” “Down with the regime!”

All very encouraging, for a libertarian like myself, you might think: but not so fast. Demagogues are good at manipulating people’s emotions, and emotions are what many if not most use for brains, and so the danger that the new regime will rival the old in its cruelty and violence looms just as large as the prospect of freedom.

For most people – most Americans, at any rate – foreign policy is a realm best left to the “experts,” i.e. those in the pay of war profiteers, professional do-gooders (who are wont to do more harm than good), and eccentric billionaires with delusions of grandeur. That’s who funds most of the think-tanks that infest Washington and disfigure the foreign policy landscape, like tacky shopping malls plonked down in the middle of a cow pasture: they are paid to repeat the same bromides about America’s “global leadership” and the divine mandate of NATO to persist for all eternity.

It’s their job to construct and defend the complexarchitecture” of the American empire, and provide “competing” visions of American hegemony that are merely variations on a single theme: the permanence and absolute benevolence of American power. One faction may prefer intervening in, say, Iraq, to diddling about in Libya, but these public quarrels mask an underlying unanimity. All agree that our fate is always to be directing traffic at the crossroads of the world – they just differ about what rules to enforce. With some few and heroic exceptions, in the rarefied realm of international affairs and analysis none question our role as global cops.

Understanding the reasons for this radical lopsidedness in the foreign policy “debate” has led me to a greater understanding of how interventionism works: that is, of the underlying principles that govern the making of American foreign policy. It has led me to develop my own theory of foreign policy “realism,” a view that takes into account the central motivation of any and all governments, which is to maintain and extend their own power – at home as well as abroad.

All governments are inherently aggressive. They embody the principle of coercion, however masked and prettified by “law.” This is why I chuckle (softly, to myself) whenever I hear peace advocates babble on – good-heartedly, and with the best of intentions – about how this and that war is a violation of “international law.” One cannot speak of “law” in regard to these entities, since, by their very nature, each – in its own mind – is a law unto itself.

This is not to say antiwar activists shouldn’t constantly agitate for the peaceful resolution of inter-state conflicts: that, after all, is our job. Yet we cannot fight armed with delusions. The pipe dream that we will somehow transform these engines of aggression – these modern States – into instruments of mercy can only lead to confusion, inevitable disappointment – and the backdoor to eventually supporting some superficially praiseworthy project that serves the War Party’s purposes, depending on which wing of it (the “left” or the “right”) is in power. We see this at the present moment in widespreadliberal” support for the Libyan intervention, and whatever future wars President Obama may have up his sleeve.

The “international law” delusion is closely related to another widespread shibboleth, this one endemic among conservatives: the idea that liberal democracies are somehow less aggressive than their authoritarian and totalitarian competitors. This untrue truism is undone by simply looking at the history of the past decade, a time when the greatest and most liberal democracy of them all has invaded two and a half countries, exhausting itself in the process and killing hundreds of thousands in Iraq alone. On the other hand, we don’t see China – the authoritarian/totalitarian model at this moment in history – going around trying to effect “regime change” and projecting its military to the four corners of the earth. Instead, they’re buying up our debt, and collecting interest in the form of sweat off the unlined brows of the next generation.

Part of the reason for this relatively pacific authoritarianism is structural: a tyrannical regime must spend a good deal of its resources repressing and otherwise “convincing” its own people that they live in a utopia – or that no other life is possible to them. The rulers of these States live in a constant state of paranoia, and so their energy is invariably directed inwards, at the Enemy lurking under the bed. Like their democratic counterparts, their primary goal and motive is maintaining their own power, pelf, and privileges, although the means utilized are quite different. In analyzing state action, therefore – and the most characteristic action of all States is war – this prime motivation must be our starting point.

War is a good way to convince a people the regime must be endured, but democracies are similarly prone to this enforced “unity.” If the last ten years haven’t taught us that, then we’ve collapsed into collective senility, and lost the capacity to learn anything – the penultimate symptom of imperial decline.

I would argue that the “democracies-are-more-peaceful” doctrine amounts to a Bizarro World interpretation of world history in the modern era: it is an actual inversion of the reality, which clearly points to the exact opposite conclusion – that democracies are particularly prone to launch lunatic crusades and go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. John Quincy Adams, who worried the passions of the crowd would overcome the freshly minted Republic and drag us into the vortex of Europe’s wars, had good reason to warn against the messianic temptation. Alas, to no avail.

We are in the business, here at Antiwar.com, of reminding Americans of Adams’ sage advice, and it isn’t always easy. As I said above, the foreign policy realm is almost completely dominated by the big Washington think-tanks and the “mainstream” media is their very effective conduit, the means by which they inject war propaganda into everyday life and induce recurrent waves of war hysteria.

Fear, resentment, racism, and just unfocused all-embracing anger – the spirit of the age – are unleashed in these periodic bursts of collective rage directed at a foreign enemy. The job of the national security “intellectuals” is to rationalize this inchoate emotion and direct it at a specific target – the target of the moment, whether that be Moammar Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or whomever.

It’s always important, in the art of war propganda, to personalize the Enemy, to fixate on a particularly unattractive and easily hated face. This is a vital part of generating the war “narrative,” as it’s constructed by the media. All stories need characters, and it’s much easier on the War Party if our wars are depicted as a showdown between the Forces of Evil, represented by whomever is being held up as the New Hitler, and the Forces of Good, symbolized by whatever angel in human form occupies the Oval Office at the time.

In the context of American democracy, this works out well for the War Party, because the President’s partisans – at least half the electorate – will invariably back the intervention out of party loyalty, at least initially. Meanwhile, the other half – cowed by the “rally ‘round the flag” emotionalism that follows any US military action – is invariably divided, with some for and others more inclined to be critical. In any case, this gives the President wide latitude in choosing his targets.

While authoritarian regimes, such as in China, have other means to persuade and otherwise “unify” their subjects – the Gulag, the torture rack, the secret police – war is often the first recourse of a democratic government to marginalize the opposition as disloyal malcontents. War hysteria as a political tool kept George W. Bush in office for two long horrific terms, in the course of which he and his bankster friends looted the country and left us in a state of advanced destitution. His successor is selling himself for a second term as having succeeded in brilliantly fighting the wars started by his predecessor – and is daily threatening to start fresh conflicts, from the shores of Tripoli to the sands of Central Asia.

The “realist” school of foreign policy analysis asks us to look at State actions without illusions. In applying this principle to the internal dynamics of the policymaking process, it is impossible to see it in terms other than competing interest groups – lobbyists – seeking to direct State action in a way that advances their own agenda. Principles of abstract justice, moral considerations, and even the much-evoked concept of US “national interests” have little or nothing to do with it: in a Darwinian competition between rival economic and political interests, the winner comes out on top on Election Day.

In our age of Empire, what this means is that the foreign policy of the United States is directed by and embodied in one person, and that is the President. In wartime, his role as Commander-in-chief is magnified, and outweighs his civilian persona. Because the Constitution has been abandoned, and Congress has ceded its war-making powers to the executive branch, the way is paved for an American Napoleon – the very figure whose rise the Founders so dreaded. Luckily for us, no modern Caesar has arisen to play that role – at least not yet.

That dark possibility is not ruled out, however, even by impending bankruptcy. Financial disaster may inhibit America’s ability to successfully maintain its overseas empire, but that hardly means our rulers will stop trying. The signs of change are all around us, with the Middle East ablaze and the anarchic contagion threatening to unravel the “world order” so jealously defended by our elites. Yet the rulers of empires are slow to recognize change, especially as it is happening: their bureaucracies are too self-interested to absorb and analyze information that threatens their social position and economic interests. Their court “intellectuals” are handsomely paid for working full-time to ensure official Washington never has to face the harsh reality – until, of course, it’s too late to avoid a head on collision with the world as it really is.

Our job here at Antiwar.com is to lift the veil of illusion from the eyes of our fellow Americans so that they can see the world as it really is, not as our rulers would like it to be. This is a job we used to expect the “maintream” media to perform – but no longer. The run-up to the invasion of Iraq proved their inability beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Yes, democracies can be and often are more aggressive on the international stage than autocracies, and yet once an authoritarian state goes to war, there is no discussion, no debate, only unanimity enforced at gunpoint. So while peace advocates in democratic societies face certain disadvantages built into the very structure of the polity, they also enjoy one inestimably important advantage: they are free to speak out (in varying degrees) and publically oppose the course their government is taking. They can educate the public and provide a counterweight to official propaganda – and that, in short, is what we’re all about.

The formulation and execution of American foreign policy is the outcome of competing interests – both domestic and foreign – and these interests are focused, powerful, and, most of all, well-funded. The think-tanks promoting the idea that the US military must be used to ensure and protect corporate interests – say the interests of Big Oil – abroad, are generously funded by those companies. The Washington policy wonks who push for ever-larger “defense” budgets – even in the face of the federal government’s imminent financial meltdown – can only pay their overpriced mortgages and bloated college tuition bills on account of the “charitable” contributions of the weapons-makers. Do you think they go begging to their rank-and-file supporters, like we do?

Speaking of which: No doubt you’re aware, by now, that this is the first week – the first day! – of our seasonal fundraising drive. If all of the above hasn’t convinced you that Antiwar.com is worth having around, then – for once – I am at a loss for words, albeit only temporarily.

For what seems like forever we’ve been exposing the lies of the War Party, tirelessly unraveling the webs of deceit woven to shroud the war crimes of our rulers. Starting from the very first day of the Kosovo war, and coming full circle to the Libyan intervention – another war of conquest undertaken in the name of “humanity”! – we’re still around, still standing, and not only that but our audience has grown way beyond what we ever imagined at the beginning.

When once we were almost a lone voice, crying out in the wilderness, warning of the disasters our foreign policy of global intervention would bring on our heads, today we are joined by a variety of other voices, on the right as well as the left. Arguments once only heard on this web site, and a few others, are now being echoed in the general discourse – and are even being heard on the floor of Congress.

They are being heard on the campaign trail, too. With a presidential election coming up, a lot of the resources that usually go to independent institutions such as Antiwar.com are being eaten up by political contributions, and yet – now more than ever – it is vitally important that foreign policy issues are raised and actually debated.

That’s why we exist: but we can’t continue to exist without your support. It’s as brutally simple as that. Unlike the pro-war think-tanks, and the in-house pundits of the corporate media, we depend on the kindness of strangers – people we’ve never met, but who have met us, in the sense that they’ve come to depend on this web site for their window on the world. We try to keep that window as clear and transparent as freshly-cleaned glass, all the while giving our readers not only the news unvarnished by partisan loyalty but also the means to analyze and understand what is happening in the world.

Yes, we’re libertarians, and we make no bones about it: and yet, while ideology gives us a framework for understanding world events, one that differentiates us from both progressives and conservatives, it also gives us the means to build bridges to both. For libertarianism is an ideology that disdains the left/right paradigm, and proposes an alternative way of looking at the political landscape and classifying its various inhabitants, one that defines all these forces in their relation to State power. In America, as in the rest of the world, the great battle pits the Powerful against the Powerless. On this battlefield, we’ll take our allies where we can find them.

That’s how I, a libertarian of some notoriety, can make my appeal to both liberals and conservatives, and even hope to succeed in doing so. That’s why, if you’re not a libertarian, or even vaguely a sympathizer, ensuring the existence of this web site is a good investment. Because, after all, who else is doing what we have been doing for all these years? And the need for what we’re doing has never been greater. Now that Obama is in office, much of the former antiwar crowd has turned tail and run off to join the presidential cult. Who is left to do the job that must be done?

We aren’t doing it alone because we can’t do it alone. We need your help – and, yes, your tax-deductible donation. It takes money to run this little outfit – not a lot, by the standards of Washington’s think-tanks. In comparison to them, we’re spending less than a pittance. It’s David versus a financial Goliath: we don’t have any billionaires sending us checks. That’s why we have to turn to you, our loyal readers – and the burgeoning crowd of newcomers who have been converging on this site of late – for the support we need to get us through a rough patch. And, believe you me, every fundraising campaign qualifies as a rough patch. It’s a long, excruciating process, what with the fundraising thermometer rising with ominous slowness – and, sometimes, not moving at all.

Yes, yes, I know – these are hard times for everyone. A rough patch is our lot, it seems, for quite some time. It’s precisely because of that, however, that the urgency of our mission is increased – due to the temptation, inherent in our democracy, of our rulers to divert us with foreign wars. The harsher our internal economic and political conditions become, the more prone the powers that be are to relieve the pressure in some senseless military expedition – and achieve that magical “national unity” we keep hearing so much about.

Please, give as much as you can as soon as you can – so we can get this fundraising campaign over as soon as possible and get back to focusing on what is, after all, our assigned task: fighting the War Party on every front. Fundraising, of course, is a vital part of that fight, but, for me, it is by far the least enjoyable aspect of a job otherwise perfectly suited to my talents, such as they are. It’s kind of like going to the dentist: you know it has to be done, and you approach it dutifully, but nevertheless dread the prospect of having to actually do it. Yet here I am, gritting my teeth, holding out my empty cup. Please, let’s fill it as soon as we can – so I can get back to doing what I do best, and that is …. Well, I’ll let my readers fill in the rest.

Read more by Justin Raimondo