The idea that the United States government should not intervene in the internal affairs of other nations is heresy. After World War II, both political parties and nearly all the nation’s elites agreed on one thing: we have an “obligation” to pursue and maintain a position of “world leadership.” Without the US to guide them, it was inferred, the nations of the globe would soon sink into a maelstrom of malevolence and violent conflict, the sea lanes would be threatened, and International Anarchy would be the inevitable result.
There were, to be sure, a few skeptical voices that continued to be heard, but they were either drowned out by the interventionist din, or eventually browbeaten into silence. In the Washington, D.C. of today, to even question the right and obligation of the US to meddle in the affairs of nations the world over is to be considered an Unserious Person, relegated to the fringes, and unceremoniously tuned out. The foreign policy Establishment’s success in policing the discourse has been astonishingly successful, given the First Amendment. This success is due to the sheer weight of years of propaganda emanating not only from the Washington think tanks, but from the organs of popular culture: novels, television, films, and the popular media in general, constantly reinforcing the message, which is that the Empire is a Good Thing.
That this message is contradicted by the other major theme of imperialist propaganda – which is that America isn’t an empire, after all, and never was – is but a bothersome minor detail. After all, this is the same country whose political and intellectual elites rhapsodize over its alleged benevolence whilst in the same breath justifying the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a moral necessity, the same nation that boasts it’s “the land of the free” while imprisoning a greater percentage of its population than Communist China. Hubris-induced blindness not only allows such contradictions: it thrives on them.
Lately, however, those long-silenced voices of dissent have been revived. Two unwinnable wars and a third in the making have provoked a reaction, on the right as well as the left, and the Establishment is once again up in arms about the growing “danger” of “isolationism.” This is a longstanding complaint among our elites, who disdain the “provincialism” of ordinary Americans which causes them to hesitate when confronted by yet another US-induced “crisis” supposedly requiring our intervention. Don’t those rubes – who don’t even have passports, most of them! – realize we have a Moral Duty to Fulfill our Responsibilities – that we have a “responsibility to protect” which it would be morally irresponsible to protest?
Americans, they’ve decided, have to be protected from their own narrow-minded and selfish inclination to mind their own business, and so the campaign against “isolationism” has begun. This is the first common fallacy about anti-interventionism that calls out for refutation: the charge that anti-interventionism is “isolationism.”
The “isolationist” canard first arose in the run-up to World War II, when the War Party deployed it against those who saw no American interest in bolstering the Soviet Union against National Socialist Germany, and preferred to let Stalin and Hitler fight it out until both collapsed from sheer exhaustion. The “isolationists’” advice was ignored, however – and what followed was fifty years of a “cold war” as the world teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation.
The charge that opponents of our policy of global intervention are “isolationists” is a non sequitur: that is, it does not follow from the anti-interventionist premise, which is that our interests are best served by steering clear of foreign wars of aggression. To rule out military aggression is not to abjure other, less intrusive relations: trade, for one. Indeed, a warlike policy would seem to rule out expansive trade relations with a great part of the world outside our system of alliances and protectorates. Besides that, however, there is no such ideology as “isolationism”: not even the North Koreans, who pursue a policy of engagement and even close cooperation with China, can be so labeled.
Another charge that comes up whenever anyone utters a protest, however mild, at our endless efforts to make the world safe for Goodness and Light, goes something like this: So, you’re defending the regime of (Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, or whatever Hitler-of-the-month is in our sights at the moment)? Why, that guy is a moral monster! He has murdered and repressed his own people: he’s killing them in the streets at this very moment!
This is another non sequitur: to oppose intervention in, say, Syria, says nothing about one’s attitude toward the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the country’s hereditary dictator. Yet, in spite of its illogic, this is always the first charge hurled at the antiwar protester. As evidence that even the most specious fallacy will find some adherents, a few opponents of interventionism have embraced the “logic” of their ostensible opponents and become defenders of the indefensible. To blindly defend whatever tinpot dictator the regime-changers have targeted is to set oneself up for deserved marginalization: in the event alleged atrocities come to light and are verified, the anti-interventionist case is discredited – to say nothing of the moral opprobrium that comes with defending a tyrant.
In the case of Syria, it’s undeniable the regime has killed many in an effort to quash the rebellion, just as it’s pretty clear armed “protesters” are doing much of the killing themselves. What of it? People are killed all over the world by their own governments for no good reason other than the authorities can get away with it: to intervene in even just the worst cases would lead on an endless wild goose chase and soon exhaust our limited resources. Proponents of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine – a recent variation of the “humanitarian” interventionism favored during the Clinton years – protest that while we cannot intervene everywhere, we must intervene on occasion when it is practical and morally imperative that we do so.
However, this argument evades the essential issue at the core of the foreign policy debate, which is: what’s a foreign policy for, anyway? Is it to Do Good, or to defend the country? Which leads us to the next charge leveled against us anti-interventionists: Don’t we have to preemptively take action against our enemies before they take action against us – and wouldn’t a non-interventionist foreign policy preclude such a “defense”?
The answers are no and no. It is hard to imagine under what circumstances a threat could be so potentially devastating that it would justify preemptive military action. After all, the United States is in no danger of being conquered by a foreign power: and, in spite of Rick Santorum’s paranoid ravings about Iran’s plans to invade South America and march on the Alamo, it shares no border with its antagonists.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that such a threat exists, and is discovered: a non-interventionist commander-in-chief would have no principled reason to hesitate, short of verifying the nature and extent of the threat – since attacking the enemy would be a defensive act. As I headlined an early editorial on the 9/11 attacks: “Kill ’em – And Get Out!” (Emphasis added.) A decade later, however, we’re still there, “nation-building.” In allowing ourselves to be drawn into the ongoing Afghan civil war we succumbed to the dangerous slippery-slope logic of interventionism: if a little intervention is necessary, more would be better, the best defense is a good offense. Except it just isn’t so.
The fallacies about anti-interventionism are legion, and refuting them all in a single column is just not possible, try as I might. Among the more absurd: anti-interventionists are “pacifists” (refuted by the above), “unpatriotic” (supporters of the Founders’ foreign policy are the real patriots), and heartless realists (although the interventionists’ heedlessness when it comes to the casualties of war is left unmentioned). These are all canards that have been refuted many times over, and yet they keep popping up whenever the War Party is on the march.
Which means these accusations come up pretty often, these days, because the War Party has been on the march for over a decade. That’s why Antiwar.com is such an invaluable resource for those who believe peace in our lifetime is still possible. Our job is debunking the lies of the War Party, and we’ve been on it 24/7 for the past sixteen years. We can’t continue to do our job, however, without your financial support.
We are presently fighting an uphill battle against forces that very much want to drag us into attacking Iran. The war drums are sounding the same beat that created such an unholy din during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq: “weapons of mass destruction” are once again rearing their imaginary heads, and the “mainstream” media is in lockstep with government officials and politicians of both parties proclaiming the reality of the Iranian “threat.”
It’s all lies, of course, but a lie told repeatedly – and loudly – becomes the conventional wisdom if it’s allowed to go unrefuted. This is the reason for Antiwar.com: to provide a timely counterpoint to our sycophantic media and their elite paymasters and patrons, who feed us a diet of straight war propaganda and maintain uneasy control of the foreign policy discourse.
Yes, their control is uneasy and uncertain, because the American people are preoccupied more than ever with just surviving in an increasingly difficult economic and social environment. While our own institutions are rotting from within, rife with corruption, cronyism, and outright criminality, we’re charging around the world trying to right every wrong. It just doesn’t make sense – unless you live in the world of official Washington, D.C., in which case you undoubtedly believe there isn’t a problem in the world government – specifically, our government – can’t solve, or shouldn’t go bankrupt trying.
This split between the elites and ordinary Americans has never been greater than it is today: indeed, when it comes to the subject of foreign policy, the gulf between the two is a veritable chasm. This is an emerging reality that works to our advantage: the American people are waking up, after having had the wool pulled over their eyes so energetically and for so long. The development of the internet is one big factor in this equation, and Antiwar.com’s great success in building a substantial audience and actually getting the anti-interventionist case out there is truly something to celebrate. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we still have a long road to travel before something approaching a sane foreign policy is on the agenda in Washington. The great divide between the elites and us commoners has yet to be bridged – so that the peasants with pitchforks can make their case before the castle gates.
Look, I hate – really hate – repeatedly dunning my readers for cash, but it can’t be helped: unlike the War Party, we don’t have a bottomless Treasury, and we can’t just create money out of thin air to keep going. We depend on you, our readers, to maintain a bare-bones operation – one that nevertheless manages to shine a constant and merciless spotlight on the overseas machinations of our rulers. If that light ever went out, it would be a disaster for the forces of reason and peace – and you know it.
So please, don’t make me carry on this way much longer: it’s important that we make our fundraising goal this time around, more important than it’s ever been. And you know that, too. Make your tax-deductible contribution today.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can read my latest commentary on the future direction and significance of the Ron Paul campaign here, in the latest issue of Chronicles magazine, where my regular column, “Between the Lines,” appears each month.
Speaking of new books, whatever one may think of Pat Buchanan’s latest book – the ostensible reason he was fired from MSNBC – one has to raise a few questions about it before joining the chorus of politically correct idiots who celebrate his dismissal as a victory for the forces of liberalism and light. Pat raised the banner of opposition to America’s post-cold war drive to dominate the world back when no major political figure or commentator dared entertain such thoughts, let alone express them in public. He had everything to lose – a lucrative and influential position as television commentator and conservative leader – in speaking out against the first Gulf war, and warning that our foreign policy of global meddling would invite some pretty dire consequences. It’s a tribute to his integrity that he didn’t hesitate for a moment.
He was proved right, in time – but not before the same gang of would-be Grand Inquisitors that got him fired last week launched a smear campaign such as hadn’t been seen since the 1930s, when the Communists and their many fellow travelers tarred antiwar conservatives with the “Nazi” brush. The charges against Buchanan never stuck: the country hadn’t been fully corrupted by political correctness and partisan hysteria. The times, however, they are a changing – and not for the better.
Felled by an alliance of professional victimologists and what Buchanan unforgettably called “Israel’s amen corner,” they’d been gunning for him for years, and as “anti-racist” hysteria grips the Washington Beltway like fear of witches gripped the inhabitants of Salem, Massachusetts, they finally got their man.
One thing I find interesting, however, is this: in the space of less than two weeks, the two most prominent anti-interventionists on American television, Buchanan and Judge Andrew Napolitano, found themselves without a platform. Of course, it’s just a coincidence this occurred at precisely the moment when the war hysteria in Washington is reaching a fever pitch – or is this a case of clearing the decks before the shooting starts?