A Fearful Christmas

Orange is not exactly a Christmas color: more like Halloween, but then there is definitely a Halloween-ish quality to our chieftain of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, who raised the color-coded terror alert from an “elevated yellow" to “high” orange, and furthermore warned:

“The information we have indicates that extremists abroad are anticipating near-term attacks that they believe will either rival or exceed the attacks that occurred in New York and the Pentagon and the fields of Pennsylvania.”

In a case of extraordinarily bad timing, Bob Novak’s column the next day detailed the panic setting in among Democratic party leaders at the near certainty of Howard Dean’s nomination:

“The Democratic savants I have contacted can only shake their heads over his stubborn insistence that Saddam Hussein’s capture has not made the country safer.”

Those “savants” haven’t a clue. Ridge proved that Dean is absolutely right: the country, far from being safer, is more vulnerable than ever before. Or else why is the Department of Homeland Security spreading fear and insecurity far and wide? Said Ridge:

“The U.S. intelligence community has received a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports. These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland, around the holiday season and beyond. …Recent reporting reiterates – and this is a constant stream of reporting – that al-Qaida continues to consider using aircraft as a weapon. And they are constantly evaluating procedures, both in the United States and elsewhere, to find gaps in our security posture that could be exploited.”

Oh, but not to worry! We’re on the job, Ridge assures us. Ah, but just in case, he says, in his dorky, hapless way, it’s always good to be prepared:

“I have said many times before that homeland security begins at home. I guess it means I’m saying it again. Your awareness and vigilance can help tremendously. So please use your common sense, and report suspicious packages, vehicles or activities to local law enforcement. Go over your family emergency plans, and if you haven’t developed one by now, please do so.”

Get out the duct tape, Martha! And, hey, what’s that suspicious package doing under our Christmas tree? Somebody call the cops!

Why is Ridge telling us all this? If it’s true, and we really are facing the imminent threat of another 9/11, I would think that the authorities would implement security procedures in utter secrecy. Isn’t the idea to keep the enemy in the dark as much as possible?

Every time our esteemed Director of Homeland Security opens his mouth I feel less safe. One wonders if that’s intentional: if they deliberately appointed someone who might make a good principal of the local high school, but hardly seems the type to be in charge of such a vitally important and deadly serious agency. Just to scare the bejesus out of us.

And at that he is surely succeeding. According to Ridge and other federal officials, the would-be terrorists are still fixated on the airliner-as-weapon-of-mass destruction, only this time may be planning to home in on American targets from neighboring Mexico and Canada, where security is relatively lax. One report has it that the terrorists are trained as professional pilots working for foreign airlines, but that’s just the beginning of the bad news. A plethora of plots, according to raw intelligence reports, are in the making, and their methods and geography are wildly disparate. One particularly scary report headlined by Matt Drudge reports:

“Much of the recent intelligence makes broad references to large urban areas, including New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, while other pieces of intelligence cite such obscure locales as Rappahannock, a county in Virginia, and Valdez, Alaska, where tankers load oil from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, according to several senior U.S. officials.”

The “massive volume” of intelligence has our protectors “confused,” according to this report, and that is certainly reassuring to know. Oh, but don’t you fret, says Ridge and our clueless President, just “go about your business.” And kiss your sorry ass goodbye….

As our officials run around like chickens with their heads cut off, reduced to reacting to whatever signals the terrorists choose to send out, the soft underbelly of the Empire is exposed for all the world to see. Something so big and complex cannot be successfully defended against this kind of assault.

We may be winning on the battlefields of Iraq – and wherever else the neocons’ would march – but if we lose the battle on our own turf – if we lose New York, or much of Los Angeles, not to mention Rappahannoc County – can we credibly claim victory?

Gee, we sure could use some of those National Guardsmen fighting insurgents in Iraq over here right now, guarding bridges, dams, trains, and airports – all of which are under threat, according to U.S. government officials. Iraq is “the central front” of the war on terrorism, says the President. But this is refuted as the nation braces for a massive body blow that could come anywhere, at any time.

Dean was right to say that the conquest and occupation of Iraq hasn’t made us one whit safer, but it’s much worse than that: it has made us less safe than ever before in our history. The American homeland hasn’t been in this much danger since the burning of Washington by the British in the War of 1812.

That is the crowning irony of empire. We have gained the whole world, or a good deal of it, but at a cost we are only now beginning to calculate. In 1955, Garet Garrett, the Old Right author and journalist, summed up our present predicament:

“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?”


Blessed with the voice of a poet and the insight of a prophet, Garrett foresaw America’s imperial predicament, just as the last remnant of the old anti-interventionist conservative trend he exemplified was gasping its last breath. An elegiac tone pervades his writings. Garrett knew his side was losing, but he didn’t go down in silence: as a writer he was clearly addressing the future, in such works as Rise of Empire, Ex America, The Revolution Was, and The American Story, his last published book, from which the above is taken.

Garrett was the first generation of the modern conservative movement in this country, the “Old” Right that opposed the New Deal and FDR’s drive to get us into another world war. That his works are being reprinted, including a volume of his antiwar editorials for the Saturday Evening Post, and finding an audience is part of a growing trend on the part of many conservatives to reclaim their lost heritage.

Readers of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, are familiar with the concept of the Old Right. It was an alliance of conservatives, libertarians, and independent contrarians who opposed the centralizing, militarizing, homogenizing power of the Leviathan State, and stood on the barricades defending their old Republic until the last man had been picked off the ramparts. In writing that book, my hope was that I was not only describing the history of that movement, but also helping to quicken its rebirth. As I begin work on a second, completely revamped edition of that book – with a new title, and a lot of additional material – I am pleased to report that the Old Right is indeed back, and getting stronger and more variegated by the day.

The Old Right was never a centralized, monolithic movement, but rather a coalition of conservative businessmen, populist progressives, libertarian intellectuals (e.g., Garrett, H. L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov, Rose Wilder Lane), anti-interventionists, and plain ordinary Americans who feared – hated – Conrad Black’s hero as a would-be dictator and conniving warmonger.

Back in those halcyon days, before the ex-lefties now known as neocons imposed the Soviet idea of a “party line” on the conservative movement, the Right was a peaceable kingdom in which all manner of tendencies engaged in friendly competition for the attention and allegiance of rank-and-file activists: traditionalists, libertarians, and “fusionists” who sought to reconcile the demands of tradition with the requirements of a free society.

The “new” Old Right is repeating much the same pattern, with the latest addition to the family being the “fusionists” who take their name from the set of ideas developed by Frank S. Meyer, the conservative theoretician who graced the earlier incarnation of National Review – before that journal was, sadly, taken over by party-lining neocons.

The decline of National Review, and its evolution into the voice of Big Government Conservatism, is a subject that clearly troubles the editors of the new fusionist online journal, Conservative Battleline, sponsored by the American Conservative Union. In “The Problem of National Review,” published in the first issue, the editors ask:

“Where was the premier magazine of American conservatism during the greatest assault on limited government in the last 40 years?”

Central to the fusionist rebellion against neoconservative domination of movement institutions, such as National Review, is a clear understanding that we can’t have limited government and an empire on which the sun never sets:

“In recent years, National Review had editorially proclaimed colonialism as a reasonable replacement for a foreign policy based upon George Washington’s narrowly defined U.S. interests with few entangling alliances. But 9/11 had loosened all restraints against the historic conservative position as each week became a celebration of new world areas into which American power (and soldiers’ lives) should be thrust by people who had as yet to accept that dangerous assignment themselves. NR was cynical enough in its treatment of the War that it defended jailing detainees at ‘Gitmo’ without legal counsel on the basis of past court decisions holding this appropriate as long as a war was in progress. It ignored the fact that National Review itself had proclaimed this war will not end until terrorism is eliminated everywhere in the world. Consequently, that war will never end and presumably neither would the internment of the enemy detainees.”

War without end, and the overthrow of our constitutional form of government: is this the “conservative” program of the new millennium? I think not, say the fusionists, who repudiate – in spirited polemics – the “national greatness” conservatism embraced by the Weekly Standard. Noting Standard editor Bill Kristol’s call for more troops in Iraq, the editors of Conservative Battleline opine:

“Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is criticized for only wanting to ‘bring the level of U.S. forces down.’ President Bush himself has already announced a reduction and it looks as if he has an exit strategy rather than a victory strategy. The Weekly Standard does not like that one bit. We will have to wait and see whether the editors are so determined that they will create their own special, special forces unit to make up for the ‘parsimony’ of the administration’s commitment of American lives and fortunes to their goal of eternal peace and democracy in the Middle East.”

What a great idea! Let’s send Bill and his fellow laptop bombardiers to Iraq! No doubt the Neocon Special Forces will dispense with the prohibition against gays in the military: how else could we enjoy the spectacle of Andrew Sullivan in uniform – and with those “killer muscle glutes” – dodging RPGs and trying hard not to ogle anyone in the showers?

Conservative Battleline is the latest addition to the Old Right “family,” and to them we give a hearty welcome. They are part and parcel of the same movement represented by Chronicles magazine, The American Conservative, and that loose coalition of libertarians who look to Murray N. Rothbard as an ideological exemplar, including the founders of this website.

Speaking of Chronicles, my article, “The Communitarian Warlord,” appears in the December issue, wherein I examine the cult of “communitarianism” lorded over by Amitai Etzioni, onetime confidante and advisor to Bill and Hillary, and now representing the touchy-feely “communitarian” wing of the War Party. Sorry, it’s not online: you’ll just have to subscribe. Or you can order a copy ($3.95 plus shipping) by giving them a call, toll-free, at: 800-397-8160.

Speaking of The American Conservative, check out the latest revelations by Karen Kwiatkowski about the shenanigans going on in the legendary “Office of Special Plans” – the secretive cabal of intelligence analysts, free-lance ideologues, and others who fed the White House bogus “evidence” of Iraqi WMDs and links to Al Qaeda. Part I introduces us to the rarified world of Pentagon analysts and bureaucratic infighting, Part II (sorry, not online: you know, you really ought to subscribe) shows how the intelligence-gathering process was subverted by the War Party. The third and final installment, which appears in the upcoming issue of The American Conservative, may prove to be the most interesting: a foreign connection, with unusual access to the Pentagon and its secrets, is named – and nailed. Ms. Kwiatkowski is not only a patriot, she writes with style, and comes across like the heroine of a Robert Heinlein novel: competent, tough, observant, and unconventional, with a woman’s eye for color and detail and a no-nonsense approach to life.

While the fearmongers shamelessly broadcast their panic, and we are forced to endure the trials and tribulations of an Orange Christmas, we do have a few presents under the Christmas tree. Let us give thanks for the progress we have made, and the growth of a new upsurge of anti-interventionism, coming from the Right as well as the Left. Like the ghost army conjured by Aragorn that turned the tables against the armies of Sauron, the return of the Old Right could prove to be the decisive factor in the defeat of our modern-day Orcs.

Give thanks, also, that the neocons are discredited, and for rumors that Paul Wolfowitz, the principal intellectual architect and defender of this war, is on the way out. Time magazine reports that, having served as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s intellectual “alter ego,” the Wolf is coming to a parting of the ways with his sponsor:

“That allowed Wolfowitz to push the whole Bush team to the right, which also let Rumsfeld align himself with that crowd when it served his purpose to do so. The Rummy and Wolfie show may soon go off the air. It is widely believed in national-security circles that Wolfowitz may leave the Administration sometime in 2004. He has become too controversial for Bush to promote to Defense Secretary; Wolfowitz believed that U.S. troops in Iraq would be greeted with rose petals. He remains unbowed about the postwar effort.”

Unbowed, but not undefeated. Wolfie and his fellow neocons have aroused resentment on the Right as well as the Left, and if Bush gives any indication that he’s ditching them before the election you’ll be amazed at how quickly they’ll turn. If Howard Dean captures the Democratic nomination, and the President moves to the center on foreign policy, continuing to disengage in Iraq – and, under political pressure, even comes up with a timeline for withdrawal – a third party ticket of renegade Democrats is just the sort of vendetta campaign the neocons specialize in.

Last time, you’ll remember, Bill Kristol and Marshall “We are all Shachtmanites, now” Wittman, corralled John McCain: this time, why not Lieberman-Zell Miller? Or even the megalomaniacal McCain, again, who seems to wilt whenever he’s out of the spotlight.

The Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz split is noted in Conservative Battleline, in a piece by Donald Devine detailing his visit to Iraq, in which he expresses the discomfort of the fusionists at prolonging this foreign adventure any more than is necessary, and hopefully opines that we are seeing the beginning of the end:

“The good news is that the end of the U.S. occupation is in sight and the military and civilian leaders are moving enthusiastically and rationally to implement the plan. President Bush has already announced that the number of troops will be reduced from 132,000 to 100,000 by April 2004. The scattered forces necessary during the interim are being consolidated in an operation ‘local standoff’ so that they will become less vulnerable to attack, especially in Baghdad, after the Iraqis take control. One senior officer predicted that the number of fixed locations would be down to a handful by April in Baghdad and to a few score in the rest of the country. He flatly said the occupation would be over by the end of 2005, with the remaining coalition troops left in isolated and well-defended forts.”

The news of Wolfie’s departure, and the Rumsfeld-neocon split are two of the brightest ornaments on our Christmas tree, but before we get too excited as we rush to open our presents, I guess I’ll have to play the Grinch by asking if it isn’t already too late to put our hopes in the pragmatists, who let themselves get pragmatically sucked into the Iraqi quicksands and are now scrambling desperately to get out.

A war, once started, has a momentum and a rhythm all its own: at any rate, the pace of events is not in American or British hands, but firmly under the control of the insurgents, who don’t have to win, but only have to survive – and persist. They, after all, aren’t going anywhere: we’re the foreigners, bound to leave, sooner or later, taking our culturally specific ideas of democracy and individual rights along with us. So they are continually on the offensive, and we are slated to play defense – that is, until we get tired of it and leave, no longer willing to pay the price, in blood and treasure.

And of course the main characteristic of war is that it is chaos: anything can happen. A battle can spill over a vaguely-defined border, and spread, engulfing everything in its path. You can’t limit chaos. Once unleashed, it metastasizes, like an expanding black hole consuming everything in the vicinity. If we aren’t out of Iraq long before “the end of 2005,” as Devine writes, by that time we may have already been through the streets of Damascus and well on our way to Beirut.


This is my last column for the week. We’re having a major Christmas celebration, in spite of our wet blanket government officials. But I figure this column is long enough to keep my readers busy at least until Monday. See you then….

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].