On the Road to Empire

As Iraq descends into chaos and the nascent Iraqi state implodes even before it is born, support for a continued U.S. military presence in the region is plummeting: a new poll shows a whopping 62 percent of Americans think the war is going badly, up from 54 percent just last month. The really shocking news for the administration, however, is that a Zogby poll, conducted in cooperation with Le Moyne College, shows 72 percent of U.S. troops serving in Iraq believe we ought to get out by the end of the year; almost 25 percent want out right now.

These poll numbers give a whole new meaning to the oft-repeated phrase "Support our troops." What we in the antiwar movement have been saying all along – "Support our troops: bring them home now" – is now being said by those who are actually doing the fighting. How long can the U.S. occupy a country that not only doesn’t want to be occupied, but where the occupiers are themselves increasingly reluctant to take up the task?

This is not to say that the U.S. military has been turned into a branch of the American Friends Service Committee. If you look at the breakdown on the specific questions asked of soldiers in the field, a full 53 percent say "the U.S. should double both the number of troops and bombing missions in order to control the insurgency." They are in seeming agreement with the diminutive Napoleon of the neocons, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who said the other day that he thought “we have not had a serious three-year effort to fight a war in Iraq."

The president will find himself increasingly pressured by the neoconservative Right to escalate the war, in spite of popular sentiment, while the Democrats – eager to get out in front of the Republicans on national security issues and show how "tough" they are – will be braying "Who lost Iraq?" Hillary Clinton is calling for more troops to be sent.

The issue has gone far beyond Iraq: the civil war now breaking out in earnest shows every sign of taking on regional dimensions, as National Intelligence Director John Negroponte acknowledged the other day. The Iraqi civil war is looking like a dress rehearsal for a wider Shi’ite-Sunni conflict – a religious world war.

Negroponte went on to say how terrible this would be: "The consequences for the people of Iraq would be catastrophic,” he said:

"’Clearly, it would seriously jeopardize the democratic political process on which they are presently embarked. And one can only begin to imagine what the political outcomes would be.’ Saudi Arabia and Jordan could support Iraq’s Sunnis, Negroponte said. And Iran, run by a Shi’ite Islamic theocracy, ‘has already got quite close ties with some of the extremist elements’ inside Iraq, he added."

Critics of the war pointed to this possibility as a reason not to invade Iraq in the first place. We were not listened to. On the other hand, the extreme wing of the War Party, the neoconservative Right, has been yelling "Faster, please!" and dreaming of a regional war, urging the president to take on Syria, Iran, and even the Saudis. For them, the inevitable regionalization of the war was a good reason to invade Iraq.

Recent developments in Iraq have cut the ground out from under the "moderates" and "centrists," and verified – in quite different ways – the two "extreme" positions, out now and escalate now. That is why the Democratic fence-sitters, who won’t call for withdrawal yet constantly criticize the conduct of the war, haven’t gotten much traction out of the war issue. Instead, the political instincts of leading Democratic figures have them trying to outflank the Republicans on the right with the dissing of Dubai and a visceral demagogic appeal to widespread hatred of all things Arabic.

With our political system under permanent lockdown, with no outlet for the antiwar sentiments held by the majority of the American people, we are being pushed into a war of potentially global proportions, one that will prove far costlier than just the invasion of Iraq.

The regionalization of the war, and the widening split in Islam, are successes so far as the War Party is concerned. "Creative destruction is our middle name," says neoconservative guru Michael Ledeen, and there is no better phrase for a civil war. For the Iraqis and U.S. policymakers – as well as the Republicans – the chaos in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. For the neocons, however, it is a great victory. They have achieved half of exactly what they wanted, and now it remains for them to lure us into war with Iran and push their project to completion.

If they have to do that under a Democratic administration, then so be it. Whether the Republican establishment succeeds in keeping John McCain at bay, or whether he bolts the party to lead a "Bull Moose" bipartisan coalition, the neocons – the vanguard of the War Party – will prove strategically flexible enough to attach themselves to whomever is left standing. In any case, they see this as a long-term commitment: it took them a decade to foment this war, and it will doubtless take another decade – they figure – to win it.

What victory looks like, to a neocon, is easy enough to see: Max Boot, Niall Ferguson, and a host of others have drawn a picture of an American Empire based loosely on the British model. U.S. bases will dot the map of the Middle East, standing sentinel over a gaggle of emerging "democracies," with American viceroys lording over it all.

Whether or not they want it, the American people are possessed of an empire. They are faced with a choice: to rid themselves of it, or to become possessed – and ultimately destroyed – by it. It will, in all probability, be one of the most short-lived empires in world history, one that will be brought down almost immediately by the domestic economic consequences of acquiring it. A region-wide Middle East war would send the price of oil skyrocketing – and bring the economies of America and much of Europe to a grinding halt. Caught in the vise of a worldwide depression and growing political turmoil, the last remnants of America’s constitutional order would begin to come apart at the seams, ushering in an era of repression at home and constant wars abroad.

There is just one way to prevent this: Americans must reject the temptations of empire. The vaunting of our superpower status, the calls to "global leadership" that have permeated the rhetoric of presidential speechwriters since the end of World War II, the new militaristic spirit that glories in its own brute, uncontested power – all this Americans, in their current corrupted state, find tempting. The key is focusing their attention on the costs – and these are becoming clearer as the war drags on.

What we are doing here at Antiwar.com is helping to build a healthy skepticism of interventionism in general, which, we hope, will culminate in the revival of what the elites disparagingly refer to as "isolationism" – which is simply a policy of minding our own business, as one Pew poll posed the question.

If this be "isolationism," then let the War Party make the most of it. As the American people are handed the bill for their orgy of extroversion, including an ongoing threat of terrorism on their own territory, they are bound to find the idea of isolation increasingly attractive. Now, if only we can prevent the warmongers from destroying the country before the people wake up – that is our great challenge.

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].