“For the libertarian, the main task of the present epoch is to . . . discover who his friends and natural allies are, and above all, perhaps, who his enemies are.” THE MAIN DANGER
Opposition research that is what we do here at Antiwar.com, on a daily basis, and so our main task can be reduced to a simple exhortation: “Know thy enemy!” But who are our enemies? It is a question that boils down to: who and/or what is the main danger to the peace of the world?
THE ICARUS SYNDROME
If the sheer number and variety of military adventures is the standard to be used, then surely the US government is the first and foremost candidate for the job. And in the last decade of the twentieth century the pace and ferocity of these interventions has surely accelerated: under Clinton alone, the US lashed out at the Serbs and the Iraqis, the Haitians and the Somalis, the Afghans and the Sudanese, and threatened to intervene on numerous occasions. Well, we don’t know the exact number of such threats, but then threatening has become the leitmotif of American foreign policy in the post-cold war world. These days, the brazen belligerence of the US goes way beyond arrogance and all the way to hubris, the old Greek conception of a pride so overweening that it literally begs to be toppled, like Icarus felled for daring to approach the sun.
What underscores the essential tragedy that is human history is that the fate which awaits us was foreseen in its entirety, at the midpoint of the last century and the beginning of the cold war era. If you do a computer search for references to the Old Right author Garet Garrett, you’ll come up with dozens of links to various columns of mine. I return to him again and again because his words, written at the dawn of the cold war, ring prophetic in the post-cold war world. At the end of his lyrical and wry account of The American Story (Chicago: Regnery, 1955), long since sadly out of print, Garrett posed the question we now face:
“How now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?
“Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.
“To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?
“. . . Be that as it may, how now do you project yourself? Will you go on crashing the barriers of time and space? And when you can travel so fast that you arrive ahead of your own sound, what will you bring to the world at that speed? Not peace. Peace would be happy to fly no faster than a dove.”
AN AMERICAN GULLIVER
Long since become an alarming portent on account of the hyperactive interventionism of the past ten years, the US stands astride the world, a global Gulliver lording it over the Lilliputians. But at the apogee of its power, the US is subject to the irony of world hegemony increased vulnerability. Garrett was dead on right: there is indeed no security at the top of the world. So marked is this increased danger to the people and territory of the continental US that both major political parties have now signed on to some version of a Missile Defense System, the so-called “Star Wars” program that will shoot down missiles with computer-guided laser beams. Donald Rumsfeld, Dubya’s designated defense secretary, is a big fan of this favorite conservative hobbyhorse a boondoggle made possible by what the foreign policy analyst Chalmers Johnson calls the principle of “blowback.”
BOOK OF THE YEAR
“Blowback” is the geopolitical equivalent of the natural law that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, a kind of dialectical chain-reaction that leads inevitably to a blow-up, an explosion or, in the case of the old Soviet Union, another kind of empire, an implosion, a crisis in which the center did not (could not) hold. In Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire surely the best foreign policy book of the year Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, compares the US-initiated and supported suppression of the 1980 Kwang-ju rebellion in South Korea to the 1956 Soviet intervention in Hungary, making the case that the same internal contradictions that beset the Kremlin apply to the US and in spades. Furthermore, Johnson makes the vital point that while the majority of Americans suffer the consequences of our foreign policy in, for just one example, the rising tide of terrorism, the reason for such an irrational policy is that some profit by it. As Johnson puts it:
“Many may, as a start, find it hard to believe that our place in the world even adds up to an empire. But only when we come to see our country as both profiting from and trapped within the structures of an empire of its own making will it be possible for us to explain a great many elements of the world that otherwise perplex us.”
WHEN WILL THE BUBBLE BURST?
Johnson’s analysis of the ultimate form of economic blowback, a kind of worldwide economic meltdown brought on by the distorting effect of the policy of American hegemonism, is of particular interest to conservative critics of globalism. Johnson’s important thesis is that the policy of American imperialism had a distorting effect on the world economy, and implanted in it a fatal flaw. It disturbed and diverted the normal evolution of developing nations, making them economically dependent on their political and especially their military relationship with the US. He also mounts an interesting and effective attack on the “free trade” panacea pushed by Republican politicians and ostensible free-marketeers. Taking Japan as the archetypal case in point, Johnson points out that the lack of true “free trade” trade reciprocity had a debilitating effect on both the Americans and the Japanese. In the case of the former, it led to the deindustrialization of the heartland: the deterioration of the steel, auto, and other heavy industries created a “Rust Belt.” The ranks of American working class families were decimated. In Japan, the result was a great deal of malinvestment. Japanese economic planners manipulated the controls of their industrial policy machine, and reduced interest rates to zero. The worldwide economic “bubble” created by American and Japanese policy planners burst around 1998, when the Japanese economy plunged into recession. Johnson makes the important point that, in trade negotiations with the Japanese, the Americans were subject to the ultimate form of “blowback.” US negotiators were faced with the following agonizing choice: would the US prefer that suddenly impoverished Japanese holders of US government securities converted their assets to cash? This would result in the bursting of the American bubble and the beginning of a worldwide economic meltdown. In his important book, Johnson presents the outlines of an alternative, non-Marxist theory of American imperialism: “Marx and Lenin were mistaken about the nature of imperialism,” he writes. “It is not the contradictions of capitalism that lead to imperialism but imperialism that breeds some of the more important contradictions of capitalism. When these contradictions ripen, as they must, they create devastating economic crises.”
PROFITEERS OF EMPIRE
As the US economy trembles on the brink of a new downturn, with the steepness of the decline as yet to be determined, Americans would do well to consider who benefits and who loses as a result of our policy of imperial overstretch. Who profits from “Star Wars”? Who got the contract for constructing US military facilities in the Balkans? Who profits as long as our unrelenting war on Iraq keeps large quantities of oil off the world market? The answers to these questions amount to a veritable rogues gallery of bigtime Republican corporate contributors and supporters. In view of this stark fact, any illusions conservative opponents of intervention may have about the incoming administration are bound to dissipate rather quickly. What will be notable about the foreign policy pursued by Dubya’s nest of “Vulcan” advisors will be its continuity with that of the Clinton era: militantly interventionist but far more focused on two particular regions, namely the Middle East and Russia. Like Clinton, George W. Bush will pursue NATO expansion, incorporating the Baltics and perhaps even Romania and Bulgaria, while continuing to intervene in the Caucasus on behalf of the Georgians and Azerbaijanis against the alleged “threat” of Russian revanchism. Of course, to even imply that this interest in what may be the most oil-rich region of the world has anything to do with the corporate connections of certain prominent politicians and policymakers would admit to belief in a “conspiracy theory,” and is therefore out of the question. What we can say, however, and get away with, is that the old aphorism exhorting us to “follow the money” is always advice well-taken.
BUYERS AND SELLERS
Our enemies, then, are the corporate and political interests that profit from war, and preparations for war, materially and in terms of extending their political power. Their political satellites and intellectual henchmen, who make up the rank-and-file of the War Party, are motivated by the perks and privileges routinely accorded to all apologists for the political status quo: not only financial support, but prestige as oracular founts of the conventional wisdom TV talking heads who tell us what we think or ought to think of each and every war of conquest even before it breaks out. In the coming year, the profiteers of empire will be especially busy selling the whole panoply of “good works” the US is performing overseas, from Colombia where we are ostensibly fighting a “war on drugs” to the Middle East, where we are ostensibly fighting another bogey of the modern world, “terrorism.” Whether the American people are buying it is another question.
COLOMBIA AND CONTINUITY
The new year brings the war drums beating louder than ever, and, in spite of the hopes of many noninterventionist conservatives, the new administration is already dancing to the beat. As I pointed out in my last column, secretary of state-to-be Colin Powell already has Iraq in his sights, and the Caucasus is another likely target. But the weak underbelly of the Bushian foreign policy may turn out to be another ticking time-bomb that blows before the next year is out. The recent assassination of the former head of the Colombia “peace commission,” set up to arrive at a negotiated settlement to Colombia’s century-long civil war, does not bode well for the future, to say the least. Here, again, we see the theme of the essential continuity of American foreign policy: the Colombian intervention was a program initiated by Clinton and Al Gore that will be carried out to its logical conclusion full-scale US military intervention on a regional scale by their Republican successors. As in Vietnam, the case of Colombia illustrates the old political adage that Democrats like to start wars, while Republicans are always stuck with finishing them. It is a role, however self-defeating and debilitating politically, that the GOP seems perfectly willing to play. THE RISE OF THE PEACE PARTY
Where and when will dissent raise its head? From the Right comes the new conservative skepticism where overseas intervention is concerned. Republican opposition to the Balkan misadventurism of the Clinton administration is not likely to be assuaged by GOP control of the White House. The paleoconservative critics of American globalism will continue to extend their influence, and their protests will be loud in the face of a stepped-up war drive in the Middle East. On the left, opposition to Bush per se will translate into opposition to his foreign policy, but the key fact is that the policy of global intervention is truly bipartisan in character: the rise of Ralph Nader and his Green Party as a voice of noninterventionism on the Left is a hopeful sign. In short, the response to the prospect of US military intervention anywhere in the world is likely to engender opposition from both ends of the political spectrum, and generate a movement of which Antiwar.com is an enduring and essential component. I am proud to say that we have endured, since the first days of the Kosovo war, and we will continue to stand at our post, giving you the real news of the world, unfiltered, uncensored, and unafraid.
A NOTE TO MY READERS
After a long-delayed vacation, during which I got the chance to reenergize my batteries, I am ready to once again take up my regular duties as a thrice-weekly columnist in this space. Please continue to send me your feedback, which is much appreciated, and be sure to check out our other columnists for the best and most up-to-date foreign policy analysis on the Internet.