The Amash Rebellion

Foreign Policy, military spending, and the "fiscal cliff"

by , December 14, 2012

Americans are sick and tired of war, they are incredulous when they see their own country going down the tubes while our preening politicians plot "regime change" in faraway lands, and they positively hate "foreign aid. So why – if the US is a "democracy," and government reflects the popular will — are we threatening Iran, training Syrian "rebels," and increasing military and economic assistance to key allies? The reasons are rooted in our two party system, and the "left-right," red-state/blue state mindset that dominates our politics.

While the two major parties are in conflict so often that "responsible" centrists make whole careers our of descrying "Washington gridlock," on the other hand their relationship is also characterized by symbiosis. With the Democrats as the party of the Welfare State, and Republicans the party of the Warfare State, when budget time rolls around the debate boils down to guns-vs-butter (to conjure a phrase from the Sixties). This showdown at the congressional corral usually results in the Democrats getting their butter, the Republicans getting their guns, and we just keep printing and borrowing money.

That’s the deal that has kept what Murray Rothbard called the Welfare-Warfare State humming, lo these many years, with nary a peep of meaningful protest from either the left or the right. This cozy arrangement, however, is coming apart.

What’s different, this time around, is that the "fiscal cliff" looms large. In belated recognition of the fact that we are, after all, bankrupt, and living on borrowed money (and, perhaps, borrowed time), our esteemed solons have set up a "fiscal cliff" scenario: if a budget agreement isn’t reached in a specified time period, "sequestration" will go into effect, with huge cuts (huge, that is, by Washington standards) slated to take effect in virtually every area of government. Yes, even including the "Defense" Department – but it’s best to ignore the howls coming from the Pentagon, the neocons, and the military-industrial complex.

That these "cuts" in the military budget will actually keep spending at an historic high underscores a typical Washington ruse: anything less than projected spending (which is always ascending) is a "cut," even if it isn’t. Ever since 9/11, military spending has skyrocketed, and – in spite of everything, including our looming "fiscal cliff" – shows no signs of slowing down.

That this level of spending is unsustainable without tax increases, or an "austerity" budget that would create some real pain for the most vulnerable and politically powerless, has created a conundrum for the Republicans, who are supposedly opposed to tax hikes. Backed into a corner, they must choose between their love of lavishing taxpayer dollars on the military — even going against the recommendations of the Pentagon — and their "principled" opposition to higher taxes.

Guess which choice they’re making.

Rather than cut a single dime from a trillion dollar military colossus, they’re suddenly "open" to the idea of "revenue enhancement" (never say the t-word!) – and the GOP leadership is busy purging those conservatives who have spoken out against this brazen betrayal. Reps. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) were recently kicked off the House Budget Committee for not toeing the party line on military spending. Walter B. Jones, the heroic Republican congressman who made passionate speeches against the Iraq and Afghan wars, formerly on the Financial Services Committee, has met the same fate, along with a passel of House conservatives who have signaled their willingness to consider real cuts in military appropriations. As Rep. Amash put it:

"I can tell you that to different degrees, Tim Huelskamp and even Walter Jones have taken positions on military spending that are a little more open to compromise on that issue — working with Democrats to try and find ways to reduce spending… I don’t know if that’s the common thread for sure, but it’s certainly true about all of us that we’re more open to that. I think they [Republican leaders] are willing to raise taxes to avoid any defense cuts, and I think they’re willing to take any deals, even bad ones, to avoid defense cuts."

The neoconservative charlatans who constitute the intellectual and political leadership of the GOP have never really believed in their small government "no-new-taxes" rhetoric: that’s just boilerplate they dust off and display on purely ceremonial occasions (like presidential primaries). When push comes to shove, however, and they are forced to choose between fiscal sanity and America’s imperial pretensions, they always choose the latter – or, at least, the leadership does.

What’s significant here is that there is a growing grassroots hostility on the right to our foreign policy of global interventionism, a movement that was finally given a voice and a vehicle by Ron Paul’s historic campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Tens of thousands of activists from all sides of the political spectrum came together to work at the grassroots and energize a youth-oriented movement that amazed the "experts" and gave the folks at Fox News nightmares. The nightmare is that the Republican deal-makers, who have sold out their conservative constituency time and time again on the tax issue, are finally facing a rebellion within their own party – one that threatens to put them out of business.

That’s why John Boehner isn’t exercising his usually hyperactive tear ducts mourning the demotion of Amash and friends: the Speaker, not known as a harsh disciplinarian, cannot tolerate dissent on this issue because it’s at the root of the bipartisan symbiosis that keeps the Welfare-Warfare State alive and growing. Amash and his fellow Ron Paul Republicans won’t "deal" on the budget, they won’t engage in the guns-for-butter log-rolling Boehner is so eager to engage in, and so they have to go.

If you find this depressing, think again: for the first time since the days of Robert A. Taft, there is open dissent in Congress when it comes to paying the cost of empire. While such "isolationist" sentiment has always been popular outside the Washington Beltway – a fact constantly bemoaned by our interventionist elites – that such heresy is now being heard in the hallowed halls of Congress, rather than just on the talk-radio circuit and around kitchen tables, is good news indeed.

For many years, Ron Paul’s was a lone voice in Washington: when some "foreign aid" boondoggle came up for a vote, his was often the only dissenting "nay!" He’s retiring, now, to pursue the fight for liberty in other venues, but the echo of his principled dissent will still be heard in the growing caucus of Ron Paul Republicans he leaves behind in Congress. On the left, too, there is a growing contingent of Democrats – albeit not nearly enough — who are joining with their pro-peace GOP colleagues to demand real cuts in military expenditures, as this joint letter makes plain.

At a time of shrinking resources, and all-around austerity politics, the guns-for-butter deal-making in Congress is no longer tenable, either financially or politically. People on both sides of the political spectrum are finally waking up to reality: the American empire is bankrupt. We are faced with a stark choice: retrenchment or decline. Republican rhetoric about a new "American century" fell flat on its face in November, and if that party is to have a future – which, at this point, is somewhat in doubt – it is in dire need of an ideological makeover.

In the orgy of post-election gloating that has dominated the liberal-left media, we’ve heard much about how the Republicans need to ditch their anti-tax "dogmatism" and get with the tax-and-spend zeitgeist confirmed and supposedly "mandated" by Obama’s victory. Grover Norquist, author of the "no tax hike" pledge, has become the favorite whipping boy of the MSNBC crowd. We have heard from the David Frums of this world, who largely agree with this critique and excoriate the "Tea Party" types for their insensitivity to the requirements of "practical" politics. But of course a neocon like Frum would rather the GOP abandon its no-new-taxes pledge than to cut a single dime from, say, our $3.5 billion annual tribute payment to Israel, or the $300 million per day we spend on prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

The kind of makeover the Republicans need was previewed by Ron Paul, when he pointed out we could solve our immediate budget crisis if only we would cut ourselves free of the burden of empire. When the nascent Republican grassroots rebellion against the neoconservative dogma of perpetual war and empire-building becomes a veritable revolution, that is when the GOP will arise from the ruins of its self-destruction. That revolution will triumph when some canny Republican politician finally realizes that it isn’t the fiscal consequences of our foreign policy that are the problem – it’s the policy itself, i.e. the bipartisan interventionist consensus that keeps US troops stationed in Germany more than half a century after the end of World War II.

This prospect naturally poses a mortal threat to the present Republican leadership, which is why Boehner is cracking down: but that’s all to the good. It shows they’re afraid – and, what’s more, they have good reason to be afraid.

For years, we here at have been hammering away at conservatives who take their "small government" ideology seriously, hoping to convince them that, as the old-fashioned conservative Garet Garrett put it:

"Between government in the republican meaning, that is, Constitutional, representative, limited government, on the one hand, and Empire on the other hand, there is mortal enmity. Either one must forbid the other or one will destroy the other."

The Amash rebellion is one sign that our message has not fallen on deaf ears.


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