The media hates Republicans, and so naturally they’re elevating Texas Governor Rick Perry to the status of a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender who must be taken seriously. After his last embarrassing run – embarrassing not only for him, but for the much-maligned state of Texas (see the video above) – one would think he’d put his presidential aspirations in the back of the garage, along with that Stairmaster he never uses. But no: dumber than a steer who’s been zapped by a cattle-prod and still won’t move, Perry is going along with the joke. He’s been busy lately inveigling himself into the good graces of those Republican grandees who think they can dictate whom the candidate will be. And he’s doing that by taking on the prospective candidate the GOP Establishment is determined to stop at any cost: Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).
This job was supposed to be left to former UN ambassador John Bolton, but given his almost nonexistent name recognition, his abrasive personality, his one percent base of support, and that distinctively Prussian mustache – for cryin’ out loud! – there’s some doubt Bolton could even make it into the presidential debates. So Perry is auditioning for the role of Rand’s designated nemesis – and if his recent op ed in the Washington Post is any indication, he’s doing as well at that as he did in that fatal 2011 debate – when he forgot what agencies he supposedly wants to abolish.
The first paragraph deploys the "isolationist" epithet twice, but it’s tempered by what can only be called appeasement: "I can understand the emotions behind isolationism," he avers. "Many people are tired of war" – but Gov. Perry isn’t among them, as the rest of his piece makes clear. What’s interesting, though, is that he feels obligated to apologize for dissing those bad old "isolationists": "Unfortunately," he writes, " we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our nation even further."
In a more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone, Perry goes on to bewail how "disheartening" it is "to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq. The main problem with this argument is that it means ignoring the profound threat that the group now calling itself the Islamic State poses to the United States and the world."
So how and why is a group financed and run by our Saudi "allies" suddenly a threat that requires us going back to Iraq – a country 999 out of 1,000 Americans never want to hear of again? One expects to hear the old "safe haven" argument, which kept us in Afghanistan well beyond our expiration/exhaustion date, but no, Perry has come up with a new one: the They-Have-US-Passports argument. Not only is the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham [Syria] (ISIS) scarier than even al-Qaeda, according to Perry they are so "adept at recruitment" that they have "thousands of people with European passports fighting" in their ranks, "as well as some Americans." So, you see, the threat to our precious bodily fluids emanates from the fact that "any of these passport carriers can simply buy a plane ticket and show up in the United States without even a visa."
Does Perry think the feds don’t have a very clear idea of who these American jihadis are? Why oh why do we have this all-pervasive surveillance of the American people if not to pick out these individuals and put them on the terrorist watch list? Of course, that’s assuming the government is actually doing its real job rather than what we know they’re doing – which is spying on ordinary Americans for no good reason – but surely it would be far easier and much less costly to identify these potential culprits from a distance, as opposed to re-invading Iraq. Perry is the one screaming about the lack of border security, so presumably under his presidency (shudder!) this would become a top priority.
Perry’s lame argument gives way to an extended discussion of just what Ronald Reagan would do in this situation, a ritual performed by every GOP presidential aspirant as a matter of course. Yet Perry’s version of what a Reaganite foreign policy transplanted into today’s world would look like elides the entire history of how the cold war actually ended: in negotiations rather than confrontation, as Reagan signed a nuclear disarmament treaty, hailed glasnost and perestroika, and was denounced by some of the very same neocons who are now giving Perry such bad foreign policy advice.
Last time around the GOP presidential racetrack, Perry conferred "for hours" with Douglas Feith, former defense secretary for policy at the height of the Iraq war, as well as Bill Luti, whose "Office of Special Plans" during Feith’s tenure manufactured "talking points" that made it what Mother Jones magazine called "the lie factory." As the chief source of those lies, Ahmed Chalabi, came under investigation for being an Iranian double agent, Feith hurriedly resigned rather than face the music.
Perry’s problem is that this horse is too lame to run. Indeed, hoping my readers will let me stretch the equine analogy to its limit: if neoconservative foreign policy can be likened to a racehorse, this one would’ve been put out of its misery long ago. Saddled with the Feith-Luti gang, the Perry-for-President bandwagon is going to be stuck in the mud at the opening bell. The reason is because Americans aren’t just tired of war, as Perry admits – they’re tired of the warmongers, i.e. the same all-too-familiar neocons who lied us into Iraq the last time.
One almost has to feel sorry for Perry, who can’t seem to stop embarrassing himself: his "argument" for intervening in Iraq is so contradictory that he winds up pulling back at the end of his op ed. He stupidly brings up the "red line" – the one Obama said he was drawing around Syria’s chemical weapons – and attacks the President for using it as a "rhetorical device rather than a promise of action." The problem for Perry is that the American people were horrified at the "promise of action" in Syria and rose up as one to demand that the President drop his plans to bomb. Obama wanted to act, the political class was chomping at the bit to act, but ordinary everyday Americans said "No!" – and Obama wisely drew back. Just like Perry does in the latter half of his op ed:
"There are no good options in Iraq or Syria. The window to shape events for the better passed years ago. The lousy choices we face today are the price of failed leadership. Nonetheless, the president can and must do more with our military and intelligence communities to help cripple the Islamic State. Meaningful assistance can include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and airstrikes."
So it’s too late to charge in there guns blazing, and we can blame everything on Obama. "Nonetheless" we can do something – which just happens to be exactly what Rand Paul has come out in favor of. For far from advocating "inaction," the junior Senator from Kentucky has indeed said he’s for using our "hi tech" military to do everything Perry wants us to do – he’s even said he "would not rule out" air strikes.
Perry’s argument is cowardice standing in fear of itself: he doesn’t dare come out and say we need to send ground troops back to Iraq, although his neocon advisors would dearly love to see that happen. On the other hand, he doesn’t say he would never do it: he simply doesn’t mention the prospect in hopes that no one will bring it up. Ah, but Sen. Paul brought it up in his response:
“Unlike Governor Perry, I am opposed to sending American troops back into Iraq; I support continuing our assistance to the government of Iraq. I support using advanced technology to prevent ISIS from becoming a threat.
“I also want to stop sending U.S. and arms to Islamic rebels in Syria who are allied with ISIS, something Governor Perry doesn’t even address. I asked Governor Perry, ‘How many Americans should send their sons and daughters to die for a foreign country, a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves?'”
This is the question Perry – and his neocon puppeteers – don’t want to answer because they can’t tell the truth without being driven out of the public square. The overwhelming majority of Americans aren’t just opposed to re-entangling ourselves in that mess – they don’t think the war was ever worth fighting. And that includes half of Republicans.
This is a nearly insurmountable barrier for the War Party – and any presidential wannabe who plans on running as their chosen candidate. Sure, the warmongers will shower him with plenty of moolah and take out ads attacking the alleged "isolationism" of Paul, but the problem is they have to reverse a verdict that’s already been handed down by the court of public opinion: Iraq was a disaster, and going back there will only exacerbate the failure. And whose failure is it? Although both parties were complicit in dragging us into that quagmire, the Republicans are taking the lion’s share of the blame because the war defined the Bush era.
Does the GOP want to be stuck with that albatross hung around their necks forever? That will ensure their permanent status as a rapidly-shrinking minority party – which is just what the GOP Establishment is supposedly trying to prevent. So the party’s "grandees" are faced with a seemingly insoluble contradiction: they insist they are all about picking a "winner," but refuse to dump their losing obsession with maintaining and expanding our foreign policy of global meddling.
Perry’s op ed, and his appearance on "Face the Nation," where he was confronted with Sen. Paul’s rebuttal, was supplemented by the obligatory appearance of John McCain on CNN’s "State of the Union," during which the Senator went into the usual neocon riff about the alleged history of the "isolationist" movement:
"’Senator Paul is part of a wing of the party that’s been there ever since prior to World War I in our Republican Party, and that is a withdrawal to fortress America,’ McCain said, comparing Paul to American isolationists who wanted to keep the US out of World War II."
McCain needs a course in basic history, starting with the history of his own party: the GOP in the run up to World War I was solidly in favor of intervening. Indeed, one of McCain’s heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, demanded we go to war long before Woodrow Wilson dragged us into it. Henry Cabot Lodge, the influential Republican Senator from Massachusetts, was a major proponent of intervention, and military "preparedness," and applauded Wilson’s decision to enter the war. Lodge’s main worry was that Wilson would conclude a peace without demanding unconditional surrender.
In any case, the same tired bromides about how refusal to go along with another cockamamie neocon scheme to involve us in a foreign war is "isolationism" isn’t going to cut it, this time. Both McCain and the nutso Peter King (R-IRA) – who’s threatening to cut into Bolton’s one percent by running for President – keep evoking the shade of Charles Lindbergh as if the Battle of Britain were still raging, but they are merely underscoring their own irrelevance.
It may be true that for the neocons it’s always 1939 – but the rest of us aren’t stuck in that time-warp. ISIS isn’t Nazi Germany: it isn’t even Fascist Italy. The very idea that this ragtag army – subsidized and supported by our "allies" in the Gulf – poses a threat to the territory of the United States is a gruesome joke: gruesome because the consequences of taking such a view seriously would result in many more thousands of American (and Iraqi) deaths in the second part of a war that was a disaster from the beginning.
The neocons have a major problem: their own party, the GOP, is rebelling against their hegemony in the foreign policy realm. If Sen. Paul succeeds in breaking the neocons’ hold, he’ll have destroyed the monopoly the War Party has enjoyed when it comes to the vital issue of our relations with the rest of the world. This has been their greatest strength: never having to encounter any real opposition in the arena of presidential politics. The pro-peace camp has never been defeated – because they’ve never been heard.
All that may be changing – and that’s why nary a week goes by without some stand in for the neocons – Dick Cheney, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, McCain, Lindsey Graham – unloading on Sen. Paul. The great irony of these attacks is that they accomplish the exact opposite of what’s intended: instead of hurting Paul’s presidential aspirations they help him by underscoring the fact that his views – unlike his opponents’ – are exactly in accord with the views of the American people.
So keep it up, guys. Or, as George W. Bush would put it: "Bring it on!"
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.