As Bob Dylan put it, “the times they are a changing!” – and that is certainly the case when it comes to the debate over US foreign policy this election season. A recent article in the Boston Globe, summarizing the observations of a group of Brown University students who tracked the foreign policy discourse of the candidates, underscored what is happening on both sides of the partisan divide:
“As we watched, Republican voters rejected every candidate who favored their party’s traditional hardline foreign policies, including Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio…. Trump, the presumptive nominee, has broken with foreign policy dogma on a host of issues. He asserts that decades of foreign wars have not been good for the United States – hardly a traditional Republican view.”
The Democratic party, too, is experiencing what these youthful observers describe as a “foreign policy identity crisis”:
“Clinton, the likely nominee, is an activist by nature and supports escalation from Afghanistan to Syria to Ukraine. Her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, has condemned her ‘very aggressive policy of intervention’ and said he does not believe the United States should be ‘the world’s policeman.’ Yet though Sanders effectively pushed Clinton further left in terms of domestic policy, he was unsuccessful in changing her deeply held foreign policy views.”
The two parties are undergoing a process of “role reversal,” as these students put it, right before our eyes. Trump is now attacking “trigger happy Hillary,” while Mrs. Clinton is parrying these thrusts with accusations that “dangerous Donald” lacks the steadiness of an Establishment politician who sticks with the familiar script that casts America in the role of “the indispensable nation” destined to police the world.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the evaporation of the international communist movement as a credible threat to US national security, American conservatives have been steadily moving – in fits and starts – back to their historic position of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations. Neoconservatism was an anomaly, a tangent occasioned by the alleged necessities of the cold war: its life was prolonged by the 9/11 attacks, but as the effect of that signal event wore off, and as the country exhausted itself in a futile (and losing) military campaign to make the Middle East into an Arabic version of Kansas, the rebellion against the neocons gathered strength and finally triumphed. No matter what the fate of Trump’s candidacy, and in spite of his other controversial views, he has succeeded in overthrowing the old GOP foreign policy orthodoxy and replacing it with what he calls a policy of “America First.”
And while this inward-looking nationalism has its problems and contradictions, the direction the Right seems to be moving is an unmistakable victory for anti-interventionists: the terms of the foreign policy discourse have been shifted in a fundamental way, and – much to the neocons’ chagrin – there is no going back.
On the left, too, the anti-interventionists are on the offensive. Although they have not succeeded in overthrowing the Establishment – thanks to a rigged primary system, Mrs. Clinton has all but clinched the nomination – Sanders has directly challenged Clintonian interventionism and he is taking his fight all the way to the Democratic party national convention. Sanders’ critique of the bipartisan foreign policy “consensus” springs from the same roots as Trump’s: correctly perceiving an economic and even a spiritual crisis on the home front, Bernie wants America to come home and concentrate on solving our domestic problems – which threaten to overwhelm us even as we go marching off to “liberate” the world.
This turmoil is cause for optimism – and, indeed, in researching this column, I took at look back at one of my old columns, “The Case for Optimism,” in the course of which I wrote the following:
“To be sure, the military-industrial complex gets rich off our wars, but the fact is that their rising stock values are making the rest of us poorer – and, increasingly, the American people (and people all over the world, for that matter) are well aware of it. Which brings us to the third major factor limiting the War Party’s future prospects: technological advances that make the acquisition of knowledge much easier.
“It used to be that we had to rely on government officials and their journalistic camarilla for information about America’s far-flung military interventions: back in 1914, for example, very few Americans could place Sarajevo on a map, and even fewer knew of the complex political and social factors that led to the fateful assassination of an Austrian archduke in that city, an event that eventually dragged us into the Great War. It was easy to fool the people into believing a conflict that would destroy European civilization at its zenith was really a war to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’
“Today the job of the war propagandist is much harder, and the reason is the Internet. While most Americans still probably couldn’t place Sarajevo on a map, they could easily choose to do so with a few keystrokes – and therein lies the big problem faced by warmongers these days.”
The case for optimism has never been stronger. The War Party is beleaguered, besieged, and beside itself with panic because the American people are finally waking up. A lot of this is due to the Internet – and the existence of Antiwar.com has played a part in all this.
For twenty years we’ve been debunking the lies of the War Party and building up a slow but steady momentum on behalf of a real movement to change American foreign policy. And now the big breakthrough is coming, with a real mass rebellion against the bipartisan “consensus” that insists America’s proper role is to police the world. With our country facing a growing internal crisis, and the foreign wars we’re engaged in turning into disasters on every front, the American people are rising up and demanding an end to the Empire.
The part Antiwar.com plays in all this is key – because the voters don’t necessarily have the facts on hand. Ordinary folks don’t have the time or the inclination to research what’s really going on in Syria, or what the facts are about who’s paying the lion’s share for NATO. They have jobs, families, lawns to mow and kids to take to soccer practice – they don’t have time to become foreign policy experts!
So when some bought-and-paid for “expert” is cited in the media as being absolutely certain that some tinpot despot has “weapons of mass destruction,” or that Vladimir Putin is definitely plotting to march on Paris tomorrow, they may be skeptical of the need for Uncle Sam to intervene – but they don’t know enough to contest “expert” opinion. This is how the Beltway crowd pulls the wool over people’s eyes every time. Yet there is an antidote for the poisonous lies being spread by the War Party – and that’s Antiwar.com.
However, we can’t continue our work without your support – your financial support. Unlike the Beltway “experts,” we don’t get millions of dollars from the arms industry, nor do foreign countries fund us as they fund the Washington think tanks. We are independent, and we serve only our readers – you. But that means you have to do your part.
We’ve raised $29,000 in from a small group of our most generous (and well-heeled!) donors – but there’s a catch. We can only draw from this fund to the extent that we match it. And that’s where you come in.
Our current fundraising campaign has been ongoing for the better part of the last two weeks, and we’re now approaching make-or-break time. The matching funds are here, and it’s all in your hands now. We’re counting on you to put us over the top.
Twenty years ago we started our campaign to effect a fundamental change in US foreign policy – and now we really do have a chance to achieve our goal. No, not immediately: nothing worth accomplishing comes so easily. But the big difference now is that victory is within sight: it’s no longer inconceivable that the bipartisan interventionist “consensus” can be displaced – because today it’s being challenged on every front, from the right as well as the left.
After a long march through the wilderness of the 1990s and into the new millennium, we are finally beginning to see a real turnaround in public opinion. Help us make the last few miles of our long march – help us change the way America interacts with the rest of the world.
The big breakthrough is upon us! That’s why it’s more important than ever that you make your tax-deductible donation to Antiwar.com today.
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.