The People Speak

When even the pro-war London Telegraph starts having second thoughts about the wisdom of staying in Iraq, you know the War Party’s goose is cooked:

“Three years after the original invasion, supporters of the war should assess the situation with pitiless clarity. Three years is more than enough time to have trained a new generation of police recruits and native soldiers.

“The continuing insurgency can no longer be regarded as a mopping-up exercise, or a prolongation of the military campaign. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether our troops are containing a civil conflict that would be occurring anyway, or whether they are in fact exacerbating the unrest by their presence.

“A bit of both, is the honest answer; but, with each day that passes, the truth tilts towards the latter. No one likes living in an occupied country. Even the kindest and most disinterested of foreign soldiers eventually become resented by all sides.”

Written in response to a British poll that shows the majority of Tony Blair’s long-suffering subjects have had it up to here, the Telegraph‘s editorialists pioneer new frontiers in disingenuousness: they aver “no one” intended to stay in Iraq indefinitely (except for the architects of those “enduring bases“) and try to blame the stubbornness of our rulers in overstaying their welcome in Iraq on… the antiwar movement (!):

“Those who had marched against the invasion barely paused to touch up their placards before campaigning for the immediate evacuation of the troops. Their attitude drove some supporters of the war into a bloody-minded determination to see things through, almost regardless of the merits of the case.”

As the occupation falls to pieces and Iraq dissolves into the chaos of civil war, the War Party’s excuse is: “Noam Chomsky made us do it!” You can’t get more pathetic than that.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter what rationalization the laptop bombardiers conjure to make themselves feel better – what matters is that the War Party is in full retreat, stumbling and tripping over itself as its headlong flight turns into a rout.

Just as people who are just now beginning to speak out against the invasion and occupation were cowed by the overwhelming tide of war hysteria in the aftermath of 9/11, so the chickenhawks and their amen corner in the media are caught up in the backlash against the unfolding disaster. According to the YouGov poll, the Brits have passed the tipping point on the question of Iraq: 57 percent are now saying the war was a mistake to begin with. That’s up 3 percent from the last poll. Fifty-five percent want the troops out.

In the U.S., too, public opinion has undergone a sea-change: opposition to the war has not only increased, but there is every indication that Americans are undergoing a fundamental shift in attitudes toward foreign affairs. A recent Pew poll showing that “isolationism” – defined in the poll as a foreign policy in which America “minds its own business” – is on the rebound is backed up and elaborated on by a just-released Yankelovich survey, in which the Bush administration’s cherished goal of exporting “democracy” to the far corners of the globe comes in dead last in a list of preferred international objectives. And it isn’t just liberals and Chomsky acolytes who scoff at this administration’s grandiose goal of “ending tyranny in our world,” as the president put it in his second inaugural address. According to Yankelovich:

“Even among Republicans, only three out of ten favored pursuing it strongly. In fact, most of the erosion in confidence in the policy of spreading democracy abroad has occurred among Republicans, especially the more religious wing of the party. People who frequently attend religious services have been among the most ardent supporters of the government’s policies, but one of the recent survey’s most striking findings is that although these people continue to maintain a high level of trust in the president and his administration, their support for the government’s Iraq policy and for the policy of exporting democracy has cooled.”

The War Party’s base is seriously eroding, and they can’t maintain their present level of aggression – never mind launch new wars – with this level of public support. A new propaganda campaign – and, perhaps, a fresh provocation, some sort of Gulf of Tonkin-like incident – is going to be necessary in order to dispel the present mood and ratchet up the war hysteria once again.

What the War Party is counting on, in the end, is its ironclad control over the two-party system and its all-pervasive grip on Congress: this, they hope, will suppress the effects of widespread discontent and prevent popular antiwar sentiment from upsetting their future plans. They are counting on their well-organized and lavishly financed efforts to counter the rising tide of public opinion, and are hoping, at the very least, to keep the governing elites on their side. If no major party candidate offers the people a clear choice between war and peace, if the Democrats as well as the Republicans push a foreign policy of “preemptive” aggression and global intervention, then – they hope – the antiwar majority can be rendered impotent. No wonder they want to “export democracy” to the rest of the world – it’s the system that keeps them in power, while masking their anti-majoritarian, anti-populist rule in the shiny raiment of democratic idealism. A more self-consciously cynical doctrine would be hard to invent.

Whether this will work is highly questionable, however: the skepticism of the public toward the pronouncements of government officials and their media scribes is reaching a new peak. Not since the dark days of the Nixon administration and the crimes of Watergate has public distrust of and contempt for our overlords reached such a peak. The spirit of rebellion – and even revolution – is in the air. Manning the battlements of Established Opinion, all the “experts” and Washington “insiders” are mobilizing en masse to tell us we can’t just leave, reminding us of the “Pottery Barn” principle (you broke it, you buy it), and denouncing as “isolationist” anyone who tells it like it is. None of this may matter, however, as the tide of popular discontent gives way to massive anger: at some point, people decide to take things into their own hands.

It isn’t just us anti-interventionist ideologues, from The Nation to The American Conservative, who are calling for a swift withdrawal from Iraq and environs. And it isn’t just about Iraq, either. The American people are clearly opposed to this administration’s policy of “liberation.” They want only to be liberated from the prospect of endless war culminating in national bankruptcy. They desire nothing less than a complete reevaluation of America’s proper role in the world – and a turn away from Empire. They want their old Republic back, and pine for what Jeanne Kirkpatrick described at the end of the Cold War as “a return to normalcy.” And one way or another, they shall have it. Any politician who dares to stand against this tide is likely to be swept aside and replaced as other, more compliant figures bend with the gale.

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].