Confessions of an Unreconstructed ‘Isolationist’

An appeal to our readers

by , February 12, 2014

I was going to write about this very interesting essay by David Rieff in The National Interest today, and weave in another fascinating piece by William Lind in The American Conservative – unfortunately, necessity has dictated another course.

The response to our fundraising drive has so far been quite disappointing. If this goes on – well, I don’t even like to think about it.

I think we deserve a lot better – so let’s take a look at our history.

Antiwar.com was founded in 1995 by our webmaster, Eric Garris, in response to the wild-and-crazy interventionism of the Clinton years – which in many ways prefigured, both in rationale and style, the "humanitarian" meddling of the present administration. Although the Soviet Union was gone, and the cold war supposedly ended, Washington wasn’t willing to give it a rest – indeed, the Kremlin’s collapse emboldened the empire-builders on the Potomac to push their sphere of influence ever-eastward. They found a ready pretext in an alleged "humanitarian crisis" festering in the former Yugoslavia.

This is not to deny that there was real suffering in the region. The Serbian leadership which had dominated the region was being challenged by restive Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, and Kosovars, all of whom had their dreams of independence during the long years of Communist rule. Washington took those dreams, in the case of the Bosnians and Kosovars, and turned them over to their sock-puppets – and the results, some sixteen years later, aren’t pretty. Both Bosnia and Kosovo, the two stepchildren of Bill and Hillary Clinton, are the mutant offspring of this "liberal imperialism," as David Rieff calls it: the region is plagued by violence, worsening poverty, and some of the worst corruption on earth.

At the time almost no one opposed the "humanitarian" mission of our wise rulers: oh, there were a few Republican congressmen, but their opposition, for the most part, was dictated by partisanship of the worst sort, and soon dissipated. The commentariat, including the "mainstream" news media, was firmly in the interventionist camp, and played their all-too-familiar role as servitors of the State (Department). Indeed, the chief foreign correspondent for CNN, Christiane Amanpour, was married to top State Department official James Rubin: it was later revealed that the government was using CNN as a cover for a "psyops" scheme to influence public opinion.

In short, Washington used the suffering of the Yugoslav peoples to impose yet more suffering – in the name of "liberation."

We here at Antiwar.com saw through this "humanitarian" Potemkin Village – and quite clearly foresaw the ruin of what had been a relatively prosperous and peaceful part of the world. Back then I was writing a daily column entitled "Wartime Diary," and the pace of work was furious: we had no time to edit, proofread, or do all the things a real news organization must do in order to gain the confidence of our readers. But we won that confidence anyway, I guess on the sheer strength of our drive to get the real story out there. We didn’t fundraise – we didn’t have time. People sent in money anyway, unsolicited.

Eric was still working at his Real Job, and clandestinely doing Antiwar.com at his desk: the Internet, back in those days, was a New Thing, the significance of which hadn’t quite dawned on most people, and certainly not on the mandarins of the legacy media, who still lorded it over the national discourse. This ignorance, we knew, was our secret weapon: well, perhaps I shouldn’t say "we," because I was initially a skeptic of the new medium. Eric, however, had the vision to see that the world of Dead-Tree Media was doomed to obsolescence, and that we were in the vanguard of a revolutionary new technology that would take down the media mandarins before too long.

He was right. Antiwar.com’s readership grew by leaps and bounds, extending our reach into the darkest corners of the world. At this point, we began to try and professionalize the operation: thanks to the Center for Libertarian Studies, which took us under their wing, we were granted nonprofit tax-exempt status, and later branched out on our own with the Randolph Bourne Institute. Thanks to the really incredible generosity of our longtime friend Colin Hunter, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, we had a paid staff – and a real organization, due entirely to Alexia Gilmore, Colin’s partner, who not only kept the books but also herded all these libertarian cats into some semblance of order.

So we were in great shape, but American foreign policy – not so much. Clinton was periodically bombing Iraq, and, worse, setting up the legislative framework for Ahmed Chalabi and his fellow "heroes in error" to pull off one of the biggest con jobs in recent history. With the enthusiastic support of the Clinton administration and both parties in Congress, Chalabi and his gang were put on the US payroll, and the regime change operation went into motion, not stopping until George W. Bush proclaimed "Mission accomplished!" – and over half a million dead littered the Iraqi landscape (not counting those murdered by the sanctions).

The Bush years were the worst. The 9/11 attacks pulverized the antiwar movement, which we had been patiently helping to rebuild, and the remnants were driven into shocked silence – except for us, Susan Sontag, and a few other brave souls, who were soon pilloried in the court of public opinion. In the days and weeks after September 11, we received hundreds of death threats – a period coinciding with the beginning of the FBI’s “preliminary investigation” into Antiwar.com and its staff. In addition, this site was subjected to constant denial-of-service attacks on an almost daily basis: we soon had to switch to a new server and upgrade our security.

On the other hand, an amazing thing happened: our traffic doubled, then tripled, and then went straight up into the stratosphere. Suddenly we went from addressing an audience of thousands to one in the hundreds of thousands. Too busy with the added work load to stop long enough to be intimidated, we soldiered on, arguing against the occupation of Afghanistan, and, when Iraq was targeted, insisting that there were no "weapons of mass destruction" hidden under Saddam’s palace, as the neocons and their liberal interventionists allies claimed with little solid evidence.

We were attacked from the left as well as the right: professional "anti-extremist" witch-hunter Chip Berlet stupidly labeled us "Buchananite isolationists" and the neocon right chimed in, calling us every name in the book. Oh, they knew we were libertarians, but back then libertarianism wasn’t such a Big Thing, and in the general hysteria surrounding 9/11 it was relatively easy to bamboozle their indoctrinated followers into believing anything.

The smears came thick and fast, with neocon David Frum leading the charge in National Review with a cover story on the "treason" of a long list of conservatives and libertarians – including this writer – who foresaw the double disaster that would soon engulf Iraq and Afghanistan.

Writing at the height of the neocons’ triumph, Frum said conservatives must "turn our backs" on the "traitors" in their midst, including not only Pat Buchanan but also Bob Novak, Tom Fleming, and Joe Sobran, as well as myself. Frum’s evidence of my "treason"? Let him speak for himself:

"The week after the fall of Kabul, Raimondo acknowledged that though the Afghan war seemed to have succeeded, disaster lurked around the corner: ‘The real quagmire awaits us. . . . When the history books are written, Operation Enduring Freedom will be hailed as a great success – provided it doesn’t endure much more than a few weeks longer.’"

In retrospect, my prediction is spot on: however, in the springtime of the neocons – Spring of 2003 – this was not so readily apparent. Not that I’m claiming to be Nostradamus or anything: at the time, it was clear to anyone with even a half-baked knowledge of Afghanistan’s history that the Americans’ attempt to remake the country would ultimately fail. It was only a matter of time, as the Russians and the British had learned the hard way, and plenty of intelligent people knew this – but few were willing to speak out publicly. Those who were willing didn’t have much of a platform. Antiwar.com’s writers had both the platform and the nerve.

In the end, we were proved right – but not after a long, exhausting struggle against the Conventional Wisdom and its enforcers. And there was little satisfaction in such a Pyrrhic "victory" – not only was Iraq in ruins, with hundreds of thousands dead, but the political landscape at home was no friendlier to opponents of US intervention abroad. Already the war drums were beating, this time exhorting us to attack Iran.

The age of Obama presented us with new opportunities – and new and bigger problems. What had been the antiwar movement evaporated with such swiftness that it was almost possible to believe the huge demonstrations had all been but a dream. Yet the war danger was unabated, as we said from the beginning – and that was yet another lesson it took Americans a bit of time to learn.

Yet learn it they did – with not a little help from Antiwar.com. Years of tirelessly exposing the neocons’ con game finally began to achieve some measurable results: articles about their secretive little movement and their dubious motives began appearing in the "mainstream" media, and as the wars went from bad to worse "neocon" became a term of opprobrium.

While I don’t normally toot my own horn, in this case I won’t shy away from taking some degree of credit for this: I don’t know how many columns I wrote detailing the history and methods of the neocons, but it was a lot. I also wrote a book about how they had succeeded in hijacking the conservative movement and turning it into what I called the War Party. Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement received high praise from George W. Carey, and earned a second edition from ISI Books along with an introduction by the influential Georgetown University professor. Although I didn’t get rich on the royalties, the book had more of an impact than I ever imagined it would: first published in 1993, it is still in print and selling well.

But this isn’t about me: I’m just a cog in the Antiwar.com machine, and a relatively small one at that. The team that puts this site together hasn’t changed much over the years, except for one thing – it’s gotten smaller. Some have moved on to new careers – Jeremy Sapienza, who used to do much of the technical work as well as blogging, opened up a really cool café in Brooklyn – while the necessity of making cutbacks due to our financial situation led to some big layoffs more recently. With our staff cut down to the bone, and with all the added political problems brought on by the ascension of Obama to near godhood on what used to be the Left, we basically had to start all over again – but I think we have risen to the occasion.

One of our biggest successes occurred during the Syrian "crisis." When the President announced his plans to bomb Syria, we worked day and night to mobilize our readers around a telephone campaign to pressure Congress into voting "No!" And our readers responded: in coalition with a wide range of other groups, few of which had access to an audience as large as ours, we inundated members of Congress with calls until their lines were tied up for hours.

The war was called off by a White House that could clearly see it had been decisively defeated – and the world breathed a sigh of relief. No, we aren’t taking all the credit for this, of course: but we did more than our share, and we have good reason to be proud of our work.

This is an example of what we can do, of what the American people are capable of when they are awakened. Yet someone must do the awakening – and, in this age of "liberal" interventionism, that job has been largely left to a very small group of publicists and activists, including us.

The problem is we can’t do our job without your support – that is, your financial support. It’s all well and good to cheer us on from the sidelines, but we frankly need something a bit more substantial. Antiwar.com doesn’t have any billionaire backers who regularly pump funds into our perpetually empty coffers – although we would certainly have nothing against such a comfy arrangement, we don’t expect it. Not after nearly two decades of swimming against the tide and holding off our creditors until the last possible moment.

Look, I would much rather be writing about other things, but as I said at the start: necessity calls. This fundraiser has been quite scary, so far, and I need your help to bring Antiwar.com through it. I’ve tried to outline what I believe are our successes, even while acknowledging we’re very far from perfect. What I’m trying to say, in my halting way, is that I believe Antiwar.com has earned your support. Over the years we’ve provided our readers with an invaluable service: a survival guide to the Age of Constant Warfare. That’s worth something.

Your donation to Antiwar.com is one-hundred percent tax-deductible: instead of giving all your tax dollars to the War Machine, you have the option of donating it to the cause of peace and civil liberties. Do I have to say anything more?

Only this: the fate of Antiwar.com is in your hands. Please make your contribution by going here.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Read more by Justin Raimondo