Beyond Ideology

[Editor’s note, Nov. 1: Justin Raimondo is traveling. His column will return Friday.]

(The following is the text of a talk given at Duke University before a joint meeting sponsored by the Libertarian Party of North Carolina and the Green Party.)

The theme of this forum, “Beyond Ideology,” is very appropriate to our present situation, because it is absolutely necessary that we put aside ideology – for just a moment – and confront the emergency that we all face.

“Emergency?” you ask. “What emergency?”

The war in Iraq is now reaching the point where the administration faces a choice: Bush must either escalate or get out. I’d be willing to bet the farm that he’ll choose – has already chosen – the former.

What we have to understand is that the Iraq war is really the first phase of a regional war: the so-called “liberation” of Iraq, after all, was meant by the administration to spark liberal revolutions throughout the Middle East, and this hope – or expectation – has not diminished, even in spite of the disaster now unfolding in Baghdad. Indeed, their whole outlook is bound to “explain” the failure of their policies so far in terms of the limitations imposed on them. There is a whole school of thought, that extends from neoconservative Republicans to supposedly antiwar Democrats, which blames the failure of the occupation to contain the insurgency on the need for more troops. We didn’t start out with enough troops, say these critics, and the Bush administration has “mismanaged” the war. The so-called “national security Democrats” have their own plan to “win” the war – with only a minority calling for withdrawing our troops. And even these folks maintain that we will have to maintain a watchful presence elsewhere in the Middle East, in the Gulf emirates perhaps, or bases in East Africa.

We didn’t just invade Iraq – we invaded the Middle East, and the war that has engulfed Saddam Hussein’s former dominion cannot be contained within its borders. War doesn’t respect national boundaries, and tends inevitably to spill over such artificial barriers and spread like wildfire. And that wildfire will eventually consume the entire region – unless we act to stop the next war before it starts.

While the antiwar movement is protesting against the war in Iraq, the War Party is already well into the planning of the next war. Their target is Iran, and their method is remarkably similar to the scenario played out in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. First we have the issue of “weapons of mass destruction,” specifically nukes, which Tehran is said to be developing in defiance of the international community and Iran’s treaty obligations.

Yet there is no solid intelligence that points to this: the CIA is telling us that it will be at least a decade before the Iranians have the capacity to develop a usable nuclear weapon, and the Iranians themselves tell us that they have no intention of building such a weapon. On the other hand, we have dubious exile groups, like the National Council of Resistance, that are being used just as Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress was used, to funnel dubious “intelligence” to the White House, Congress, and the media. A so-called “Iranian directorate” has been set up in the Pentagon, run by the same folks who brought us the Office of Special Plans, the kitchen where so many of Judith Miller‘s “scoops” about the advanced state of Saddam’s WMD were concocted.

Get ready for phase two of the Middle Eastern wars.

The campaign against Iran is proceeding, on the political and diplomatic front, with a full-scale demonization campaign, the chief demon being President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is the new Hitler, we are told, a man who denies the Holocaust, plots the destruction of Israel, and sits at the center of an international terrorist web, a spider waiting to strike the U.S. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, according to the neocons’ conspiracy theory, is but a cat’s-paw for Tehran: Hassan Nasrallah is just a front man for Ahmadinejad, and has no independent political base or support.

This is laughable, of course, on its face: Hezbollah is the single largest and best organized party in Lebanon, operating a network of charitable and educational organizations that are firmly rooted in the country, and not just among the Shi’ite Muslims. There are many Christians and Druze who belong to and benefit from Hezbollah’s organization, and this idea that they are a purely sectarian organization, and, as such, part of an international terrorist conspiracy, is just plain wrong: they aren’t sectarians, they’re nationalists. Their concerns are limited to Lebanon, and their enemy is Israel, not the U.S.

So, too, the Iraqi insurgency is not an adjunct of al-Qaeda, but a nationalistic response to the occupation. Resistance to the Americans and their British allies is the one factor that unites all the factions, whether Shi’ite or Sunni. If anything unites Iraq, it will be that. The insurgency will last as long as the occupation, and nothing short of complete American withdrawal will end it. The United States, however, has no intention of leaving Iraq, in spite of hints that the Bush administration is considering its options. I wouldn’t count on Jim Baker to engineer a “soft landing” for the U.S. in Iraq – there is no such option.

It is a mistake to look at Iraq in isolation, because then the invasion doesn’t make any sense. Why did we go to war with Iraq? This question vexes the war’s critics, because they aren’t looking at the War Party’s plans for the entire region. Their goal is to “transform” the Middle East, to change the political culture of the region from above, so to speak: that is, at gunpoint. If, somehow, the countries of the Middle East were turned, overnight, into democracies, they would become – in theory – less aggressive, since democracies are supposedly inherently peaceful.

And yet the two model democracies of the West, Britain and the U.S., hardly conform to this rule. The British carved out a vast empire, and did not always employ sweet reason in attaining it: we inherited the imperial mantle, and are sinking slowly under the sheer weight of it.

The great irony of our war of “liberation” is that the longer and harder we wage it, the less free we become: the more we insist on “exporting” democracy to foreign lands, the less democratic we become. The reason is because war is the health of the State, as Randolph Bourne put it: war increases and centralizes State power, strengthening it and imposing a social and political conformity that armed struggle requires. American society, in short, is becoming rapidly militarized, so that all social factors – the economy, the political landscape, the life of the nation itself – are mobilized to a single end.

We have seen the effects of George W. Bush’s perpetual “war on terrorism” – since 2001, we have witnessed a wholesale assault on our civil liberties, including the repeal of habeas corpus and the rise of the surveillance state. The president’s role as commander in chief has subsumed his civilian identity and functions, and under this rubric he claims, literally, the right of life and death, judge, jury and executioner, over citizens and non-citizens alike. He has become, in short, little more than a dictator, and Congress, routinely supine in times of war, has let him get away with it. And all in the name of a war that is supposed to protect and defend America from totalitarians. This paradox, which has been widely noted, is slowly dawning on many conservatives, as well as liberals.

War generates authoritarianism – and it also generates more wars. The present war doesn’t exist in isolation from the rest of reality: it cannot be conveniently compartmentalized so that we can live a normal life, that is, the life of a free people, while it rages. The longer it goes on, the more it eats away at the very foundations of our republic: the moral, political, and economic pillars that hold up the roof of the social order. And keep in mind that this war is supposed to last for at least a generation, if not longer, according to our leaders. That’s more than long enough to fatally undermine the values that make life in America worth living.

The War Party in America operates at a great advantage over the antiwar movement: to begin with, they are in power – and, I might add, barring some entirely unforeseen upsurge of rebellion, they will stay in power no matter which major party controls the White House and Congress. This means they have the initiative – and they have the tremendous resources of the U.S. government at their disposal.

Secondly, the War Party dominates the elites, not only in the government but also in the media and academia. While the average Joe and Jane might favor a foreign policy in which the U.S. minds its own business and doesn’t go around the world deciding which countries need “regime change” – and maybe complete demolition – and which deserve a pat on the head and a pot of gold, the elites long ago decided that such a policy would amount to a dreadful “isolationism,” and that “everybody knows” we must be “involved” in the world. That this “involvement” cannot consist merely of peaceful interactions, like commercial transactions and cultural exchanges, is a foregone conclusion.

Because they dominate the elites, the War Party also dominates the two major political parties. It may be that the people oppose the war plans of this administration, or any other, but there is a way to get around that: the people can’t vote for peace if it isn’t on the ballot. Of course, I don’t need to remind you, here in North Carolina, how difficult it is for a so-called third party to get ballot status – this state presents third-party activists with a unique challenge. As an example of the stranglehold the interventionists have on the political process, I would point out that, in a year when the Iraq war is the major issue in races all across the country – and when opposition to the war is at an all-time high, representing nearly 60 percent of voters – the Democrats’ congressional campaign, led by Rahm Emanuel, opposed antiwar candidates with a slate of their own pro-war candidates in the Democratic primaries. In many instances, the Democratic candidate is more pro-war than the Republican.

These arrows in the War Party’s quiver are all quite valuable in ensuring that the foreign policy “consensus” remains static in spite of radical shifts in public opinion on the subject. Yet there is one factor that gives them an incalculable advantage, and that is the weakness of their opposition. The Peace Party – for lack of a better designation – is divided, without comparable resources, and lacks the dedicated constituency of its adversary.

The basic division, into “Left” and “Right,” is particularly acute this time around. Back in the Vietnam era, we didn’t have too many conservatives who opposed the war – aside from a few libertarians here and there, the antiwar movement of the 1960s was pretty exclusively a left-wing phenomenon. This time, however, there is a significant – and growing – contingent of antiwar conservatives, exemplified by the editors of The American Conservative magazine, including Patrick J. Buchanan, who have been savagely critical of this war and have come to question the entire rationale for our foreign policy of global intervention.

Yet, to listen to many on the Left, you’d never know that many on the Right are coming to see the error of interventionism: there is no acknowledgment that the antiwar movement is broader than the political space between Noam Chomsky and Katrina vanden Heuvel. In making this point, I speak from personal experience: as the editorial director of Antiwar.com and a committed libertarian, I’ve watched with dismay as tiny left-wing antiwar groups – with nowhere near our audience of 100,000 readers daily – dominate the planning and platform of major antiwar events. The left-wing antiwar coalitions have never asked a member of the Antiwar.com staff to address or even help promote one of their events. The reason: we’re libertarians, and, as such, are outside their universe of politically acceptable alternatives.

The weakness of the antiwar movement is never more apparent when it comes to the issue of Iran: here, after all, is a case where the War Party is clearly planning to make a major move. The propaganda campaign we are hearing is strikingly similar to that which preceded the invasion of Iraq. The same scenario is being laid out: an ostensibly repressive regime, more “weapons of mass destruction,” Israeli calls for action, and a powerful array of establishment figures in both major parties calling for some sort of military action. The great advantage of the War Party is that these guys plan well in advance, while the Peace Party merely reacts. There is every indication that efforts to influence this administration to make a military strike at Tehran preceded the invasion of Iraq.

What’s more, the supposed allies of the antiwar movement in the Democratic Party are considerably more aggressive when it comes to Iran than even the Bush administration. Hillary Clinton – the party’s leading presidential candidate – has denounced what she calls “appeasement” of Tehran by the U.S., and has added her full-throated voice to demands from the neoconservatives that Bush get serious about stopping Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The Democrats’ critique of the Bushian foreign policy is limited to means, not ends. The problem, though, is that it is the goals and assumptions of that policy that must be challenged, not the details.

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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].