Beware the New Year

With Patrick J. Fitzgerald working full-time to bring the corruption at the heart of the Bush presidency to light, and other investigations into the dark heart of this administration making substantial progress, the prognosis for 2006 may seem unnaturally bright – especially if, like me, you’ve been following every twist and turn of Fitzgerald’s probe. However, it wouldn’t hurt to take a walk on the dark side, if only to tamp our expectations down to a more realistic level. This means conducting a threat assessment: that is, listing and analyzing the major factors threatening the peace of the world, looming darkly just over the horizon….

The McCain Threat – It’s the beginning of a new political season and, even though congressional elections will come before the presidential election season officially begins, already the pundits are placing their bets, naming their favorites, and speculating about the race for the White House. We live, after all, in the Imperial Age, when Congress is merely an echo chamber – at least, when it comes to foreign policy – and the question of who will occupy the throne is all-important.

The one name on everyone’s lips is John McCain: the Washington punditocracy has always been the Arizona Senator’s biggest and most enthusiastic constituency, and they are working overtime to keep his name in the spotlight as the number one contender for the GOP nomination. This is because he is supposed to be a “maverick,” at least by Washington standards – which means deviating from the party line on relatively peripheral questions (campaign finance “reform,” how much to torture, etc.) while being more royalist than the king on issues of real import (the war, blind support for Israel, and support for foreign intervention in general).

McCain invariably does well in polls, but as the war in Iraq – and, perhaps, elsewhere – begins to dominate the political landscape, and his views on this subject become more widely known, his ratings will plummet. The reason is because there is no more enthusiastic supporter of the effort to “liberate” Iraq and remake the Middle East into the Middle West than Senator McCain – not even in George W. Bush’s White House. He wants more troops, more air power, more intervention in that troubled region of the world – more “boots on the ground,” as he likes to put it, is his answer to practically every foreign policy failure of the last decade or so. That was his line during the Clinton era, when another American president attacked a country (without UN approval) that had never attacked the U.S. or threatened our legitimate interests – and he’s reiterating the same old line when it comes to Iraq. As CBS reporter Rita Braverman once gushed:

“This is key. He acknowledged: ‘I fully appreciate this means young Americans may die, and I fully appreciate I take some responsibility for that.’ McCain’s own military service and his time in that POW camp gives him, perhaps, more authority to speak than any of the other power players on this subject. Americans may not agree with him, but at least they will not have to hunt for his meanings in a maze of obfuscation. And when you listen to him, you have no doubt that his words do not come from a committee of advisors but from his own convictions.”

The problem for McCain and the McCainiacs in the media is that the American people disagree with his convictions when it comes to Iraq, and are apt to be turned off by his reckless combativeness in the foreign policy arena. As his position on this vital issue becomes more well-known, his popularity will sink – and, in the end, it may be just a few neocons like Andrew Sullivan and Bill Kristol (together at last!) touting his manly virtues.

The Hillary Threat – While the neocons in the GOP are tooting McCain’s horn the loudest, the War Party isn’t neglecting the Other Party, by any means: they always hedge their bets, and have avoided having to endure a debate over the fundamentals of American foreign policy by controlling both parties during the last six or seven presidential elections. Their ace in the hole, this time around, is Hillary Clinton.

Hillary, like McCain, is a boots-on-the-ground enthusiast, calling for the introduction of more troops into Iraq and generally criticizing the Bush White House’s conduct of the war from the right. The Hillary Threat is much more lethal – and of more import to the War Party – than that posed by the “maverick McCain” because it is imperative that any real antiwar sentiment that bubbles up from the grassroots of the Democratic party be quickly stanched, and stopped. The very idea that Americans might have a substantive debate over foreign policy fundamentals—and in the midst of an increasingly unpopular war! – fills the neocons with terror, because they know this is one argument they are bound to lose. What to do?

If they can somehow manage to lock out the antiwar opposition, deny them a hearing beyond the primaries, and control the terms of the foreign policy debate during an election year, they will have succeeded in demonstrating how a highly effective and determined minority can manipulate the levers of power and defy the popular will. By cementing their control over the machinery of both parties, the War Party ensures that anyone who questions the basic assumptions of our interventionist foreign policy is delegitimized and generally disdained by the opinion-makers and the pundits. If that doesn’t work, the offender is subjected to a smear campaign and eventually demonized as a dangerous “extremist.”

These twin threats – McCain and the Medusa – have their anti-interventionist counterparts, like white shadows trailing in their wake. On the Republican side, McCain’s antithesis is Senator Chuck Hagel, whose thoughtful (albeit overly cautious) critique of Bushian hubris in the foreign policy realm could form the real basis of opposition to neoconservative Wilsonianism within the GOP. Hagel would do well to listen to voices on the Right such as Jeffrey Hart, who recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

“The Republican Party now presents itself as the party of Hard Wilsonianism, which is no more plausible than the original Soft Wilsonianism, which balkanized Central Europe with dire consequences. No one has ever thought Wilsonianism to be conservative, ignoring as it does the intractability of culture and people’s high valuation of a modus vivendi. Wilsonianism derives from Locke and Rousseau in their belief in the fundamental goodness of mankind and hence in a convergence of interests.

“George W. Bush has firmly situated himself in this tradition, as in his 2003 pronouncement, ‘The human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth.’ Welcome to Iraq. Whereas realism counsels great prudence in complex cultural situations, Wilsonianism rushes optimistically ahead. Not every country is Denmark. The fighting in Iraq has gone on for more than two years, and the ultimate result of ‘democratization’ in that fractured nation remains very much in doubt, as does the long-range influence of the Iraq invasion on conditions in the Middle East as a whole. In general, Wilsonianism is a snare and a delusion as a guide to policy, and far from conservative.”

There are many conservatives today who believe, more than ever, that the neoconservative project [.pdf] of imposing democracy at gunpoint in the Middle East is not only a fool’s errand, but quite possibly the biggest strategic disaster in our history, as potentially fatal to the Republic as the sacking of Washington by the British during the War of 1812. Only this time it is a fifth column within our walls that has succeeded in taking the American capital. It will take a revolt against the neoconservatives coming from the Right to dislodge them from their positions of power and prominence.

As Republicans pay for this war at the polls in the upcoming congressional elections, the time is ripe for some GOP presidential aspirant to say: “Enough!” If Hagel has the moral courage and the conviction to say it, he could transform his status as a dark horse into that of a serious contender, eventually dwarfing McCain as the media’s Republican favorite son while at the same time appealing to a broad spectrum of Republican voters.

In the Democratic party, the War Party is counting on the ability – or, rather, the tendency – of left-liberals to ignore or rationalize the problem of militarism in order to support their domestic policy goals. After all, “don’t you know there’s a war on?” is the perfect rationale for imposing government controls on the home front, and it is one that lefties may find impossible to resist. They no doubt recall FDR using it to great effect before and during World War II– forgetting that the architect of the New Deal was surely the most deceitful warmonger in our history.

The writer John T. Flynn – a trenchant critic of the militarist mindset and former liberal columnist for The New Republic in the 1930s, who later became a leading conservative – pointed out in his book As We Go Marching that conservatives often pave the way for more government spending and centralized controls in the name of “national security” by supporting war and preparations for war. The same principle operates – in reverse gear – in the case of ostensibly antiwar liberals. As history shows, they are all too often persuaded that the domestic “benefits” of operating in a wartime atmosphere – conducive to economic and social planning – outweigh the moral and material costs of war.

The War Party is counting on this kind of opportunism to quash antiwar dissent in the Democratic party and marginalize the candidacy of Russ Feingold. The Senator from Wisconsin voted against the Iraq war and was the only member of that august body to cast his vote against the PATRIOT Act. On domestic policy, he is the quintessential liberal, well to the left of the determinedly “centrist” Hillary. One can easily imagine the Democrats being persuaded that Feingold is too “extreme” to even think about carrying a single “red” state. If the Democratic “Leadership” Council can successfully invoke the specter of “McGovernism” – convincing Democratic delegates to ignore the antiwar grassroots for “pragmatic” reasons – the War Party can sell Hillary as The Only Alternative to four more years of Republican misrule.

I don’t want to get into specific predictions, but there are some general trends to watch for. Aside from the domestic political ramifications of America’s foreign policy of unrelenting aggression, one must remember that the aggression continues and is likely to take on new forms in the coming year. One new development to keep an eye on is the emergence of Vladimir Putin as a major figure in the demonology promulgated by the Western media. Hostility to Russia – a direct consequence of Putin’s efforts to resist encirclement and even defy the American hegemon – is rising in elite circles, including in the top ranks of both parties. Democratic and Republican lawmakers and policy analysts agree that, for dealing with Iran and arming Syria, Putin must be made to pay a price. Hillary supports the efforts of the Bush administration to “democratize” the Russian periphery and encircle Russia, and, along with John McCain, was a major enthusiast of the U.S.-financedOrange Revolution” in Ukraine – the chosen flashpoint for a fresh outbreak of the old cold war rivalry.

An “Open Letter” descrying Putin’s alleged slide into “dictatorship” signed by over 100 policy analysts, Washington insiders, and assorted neocons signaled the beginning of a new push by the War Party to open up a European front. Yesterday the Slavic bogeyman of the hour was Slobodan Milosevic: tomorrow, there is a good chance Putin will play that role.

The escalation of the war against the Iraqi insurgencies – yes, I mean that to be a plural – into a regional conflict is a possibility that will increasingly present itself in 2006. The New Year had barely dawned when reports of U.S. planning for a military strike on Iran were coming from UPI and the Jerusalem Post. It is Syria, however, that represents a real opportunity for the War Party to effect some “regime change” in the region: the process of setting up Bashar al-Assad as the latest edition of Ba’athist Evil in the Middle East is already well underway. Contrary to most of the evidence, including the most basic considerations of common sense, Syria has been tagged as the murderer of Lebanese entrepreneur-politician Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a Beirut car blast last year, and the UN “investigation” is taking on all the appearances of a propaganda campaign directed at Damascus.

Hillary has already signed on to the campaign to provoke a conflict with Syria, and she won’t hear any argument from McCain on this matter. When the alleged Democratic “dove” Nancy Pelosi touts her support of sanctions against Syria – in spite of the very valuable cooperation proffered by Damascus in tracking down Islamist terrorist cells – the chances of avoiding a military conflict with Damascus appear dim.

Finally, in listing possible threats, we shouldn’t forget the man who, more than any other, has brought us to the point we are at today – without whom the biggest military, diplomatic, and financial blunder in our history might never have happened. Because you can bet he hasn’t forgotten us.

I refer, of course, to Osama bin Laden. We haven’t heard from him in what seems like an awfully long time, and some folks – invariably those who tend to favor the Bush foreign policy – even speculate that he’s no longer among the living. This theory, however, amounts to the same sort of pollyanna-ish wishful thinking that characterizes so much of the “good news from Iraq” crowd.

Bin Laden is not merely alive: he is planning fresh attacks on the object of his unrelenting hatred, the United States of America. Al Qaeda has us squarely in their sights, and it is only a matter of time before they attempt to pull the trigger. This is the greatest danger, but, unlike the alleged threat posed by Saddam’s Iraq, it is all too real.

As resources are diverted to Iraq, instead of to the defense of the continental U.S. against terrorist attacks, our foreign policy of perpetual war on the Arab-Muslim world provides bin Laden with more than enough recruits. Our profoundly mistaken and perverse policies earn him the loyalty of millions of Muslims the world over, who see him as the only successful opponent of American aggression. In their eyes, bin Laden is a living symbol of Muslim defiance – the Islamist Pimpernel whose continued physical existence proves that the hegemon is not all-powerful:

Yes, America is under threat, and it is the responsibility of the peace movement to tirelessly point this out. We are under assault from a worldwide Islamist insurgency whose agents seek to bomb our cities, wreak havoc in the heartland, and visit a punishing blow to America that will make 9/11 look like a minor incident. In the face of this, the slogan of the anti-interventionists must be: Defend America First!

We must reject the jesuitical mental gymnastics engaged in by apologists for the invasion of Iraq who claim that “we’re fighting them in Iraq before they get to Iowa,” and initiate a realistic assessment of just what is required to defend the homeland. We must ask and answer a serious question: how do we guard against a potentially devastating repeat of the incompetence that permitted 19 hijackers to demolish the two biggest symbols of American supremacy and pride in a single blow? Last time, they killed thousands: the next time, it could be millions.

The recent statement [.pdf] of the 9/11 Commission on how unsuccessful we have been in implementing the measures recommended by the commissioners should have set alarm bells ringing, but instead an intended wake-up call put our politicians into a deeper slumber. I guess that’s what we ought to expect in the new, post-9/11 Bizarro World we’re living in, where up is down, wrong is right, and perpetual war signifies the pursuit of peace. And that, when we come right down to it, is just about the only prediction we can unequivocally make, without fear of contradiction: that the inverted “logic” employed by our leaders will continue to operate in its typically perverse fashion, failing to identify and deal with real dangers while noisily inventing new enemies who pose no real threat to our interests. In short, our Bizarro World foreign policy will continue to create new problems, while failing to solve old ones.

I get a lot of letters about my alleged “optimism,” most of them expressing some degree of skepticism while hoping that I’m right. Given the tone of the above paragraph, though, I fail to see how I qualify as an optimist. Panglossian is not a word I’d use to describe anyone who believes, as I do, that 9/11 rippled a hole in the space-time continuum, resulting in our current slide into a world where the laws of logic have been repealed. In such a world, the odds of restoring the rule of Reason are not good. If, before 9/11, the effort to arrest the tendency toward pride and even hubris that besets successful republics and sends them on the road to Empire faced long odds, success is even more problematic in the aftermath.

Yet, I am not a pessimist, either. What I’m counting on is the memory of the pre-9/11 political culture, and the remnants of an older American individualist tradition that amounts, some might say, to sheer orneriness: a contempt for the high-and-mighty that always brings down those would-be demagogues and aspiring dictators who, one day, over-reach and join the rogues gallery of American political has-beens. Whether enough of the old culture has been preserved to pull this off is an open question. The process of cultural and political corruption is well-advanced, but the patient is not terminal, at least not yet: recovery is still possible. That’s why I give such weight to the indictment of “Scooter” Libby and the multiple probes of prewar intelligence-gathering methods, the AIPAC spy case, and the numerous investigations into war-profiteering and other war-related scandals. They are a sign of a general reaction against the worst trends in American society – and, as such, they are a sign of genuine hope.

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is 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].