The Season of Hope

I’ve been waiting for this moment for quite a long time, but I have to say I don’t feel a whole lot of satisfaction about having been proved so indubitably right:

"As the U.S. stumbles, or is pushed, into another unwinnable land war in Asia, the anti-war protestors of the future will come from the ranks of the Right. Buchanan, and the editors of this magazine, in alliance with other conservatives and libertarians, stood firm against the war hysteria that preceded Gulf War I. This time around, with the stakes even higher, that same alliance has the potential to expand its ranks to include the overwhelming majority of Americans. Let our rulers unleash the dogs of war to mask their own corruption: they will ignite a social and political explosion that will make the sixties seem relatively tranquil."

I wrote that in the June 1998 issue of Chronicles magazine, at the end of a piece entitled "Wagging the Dog," wherein I pointed out that the evidence of Saddam’s aggressive intent was nil, that the U.S. was starving and sickening many thousands by imposing sanctions, and that an invasion would lead to a civil war, the break-up of Iraq, the rise of Iran, and significant political turmoil in the U.S.:

"Some Republicans… bravely spoke out. Representative Steven E. Bayer, of Indiana, dared ask: ‘Why are emotions running so high at the White House? Why are the tom-toms of war sounding?’ Representative Ron Paul, of Texas, excoriated his jingoist colleagues for ‘trying to appease the military industrial complex and appear tough for campaign ads.’ He complained that ‘once hostilities begin, debating the policy which created the mess is off-limits; the thinking goes that everybody must support the troops by blindly and dumbly supporting irrational and irresponsible policies.’ The only solution, he concludes, “is a pro-American constitutional policy of nonintervention.’ But ‘unfortunately, we cannot expect such common sense to prevail in the current political climate.’"

Those were the Clinton years, when it was neither unusual nor even treasonous for a Republican to question the administration’s war moves against Iraq: as Ron Paul pointed out in the South Carolina GOP presidential debate the other day, we bombed Iraq for years before launching the present disastrous enterprise, all the while tightening deadly sanctions like a noose around the necks of ordinary Iraqis. What kind of hatred this produced was brought home to us on September 11, 2001, in a highly dramatic occurrence of a concept popularized by Chalmers Johnson in Blowback, his classic study of the socio-cultural, political and military costs of interventionism.

When Ron Paul dared to make this point at the South Carolina debates, the debate-is-off-limits dictum he foresaw all those years ago was invoked by Giuliani, the rest of the so-called frontrunners, and the MSM – although, at this point, they may have some trouble enforcing it. Giuliani’s thuggish behavior, and the efforts of his militant supporters to close down all debate about the consequences of U.S. foreign policy for the security of this country, won’t be enough to stem the rising tide of criticism, coming from the right as well as the left.

We are in for a good deal of political turmoil in this country, and Ron Paul’s heroic efforts to bring sanity back to Republican thinking about foreign policy isn’t the only manifestation of the winds of change.

The U.S. Senate just voted against withdrawing the troops from Iraq, in defiance of the overwhelming majority of Americans at this point, and the strain on our increasingly brittle political system is such that something’s got to snap, and soon. My guess is that the first casualty of the oncoming turmoil will be the two-party system.

There’s a good reason why New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel recently dined out at the high-profile Palm restaurant in D.C., and it wasn’t on account of the halibut the former ordered and the Nebraska beef enjoyed by the latter. Both of these guys are rumored to be considering independent presidential bids: Hagel specifically mentioned the possibility of running on an independent ticket with Bloomberg when he appeared on "Face the Nation" the other day.

Make no mistake about it – Bloomberg’s billions in partnership with Hagel’s biography and crustily independent views – especially about the Iraq war – could do a lot more than merely shake the political landscape. If Ron Paul is the peace party’s David up against a GOP Goliath, then the Bloomberg-Hagel team is Samson threatening to level the very foundations of the War Party’s political dominance – the two party system.

The War Party operates like any other lobby in American politics, and that is by working on the "squeaky wheel" principle: the secret of a minority lobby’s success is that they are passionately and single-mindedly committed to their cause. Because of this motivational advantage, they exercise pressure way out of proportion to their real numbers and very often wind up getting what they want – whether it be a government subsidy, a regulation designed to benefit some economic player, or a war launched to benefit certain financial and foreign interests.

These interests have naturally gravitated to the two major parties, ensconced themselves in the leadership, and established networks of influence in state and local organizations, carefully and craftily leveraging their power to keep the antiwar faction down and satisfied with purely symbolic gestures. The Democratic leadership has been performing a delicate balancing act, paying lip service to the demands of their antiwar constituency while fighting to maintain funding, albeit attached to mostly imaginary (i.e. non-binding) benchmarks. As far as doing anything concrete to bring the war to an end – forget it.

Although the invasion was launched by a Republican president, the Democrats bought into it from the beginning – and, in spite of their ostensible position in favor of ending the war as soon as possible, they are increasingly playing a key role in waging it. In any case, the recent Senate vote speaks volumes about the sincerity of their "antiwar" rhetoric.

When it comes to foreign policy, the differences between the two parties have rarely given the voters much of a choice. In the "debate" over this vital issue, our options are limited to the varieties of interventionism – the unilateralist, macho-style preemptive imperialism of the Republicans, or the touchy-feely "humanitarian"-yet-just-as-deadly interventionism of the Democrats, with Iraq and Kosovo being the operative examples, respectively.

On the other hand, there has always been a populist "isolationist" anti-Washington sentiment out there, centered largely in the West and the Midwest, which at one point found a home in the Republican party, not only in the wing represented by Robert A. Taft, but also among the Midwestern progressives, such as William Borah and Gerald P. Nye. Ron Paul is the proud legatee of an "Old Right" tradition that included both libertarian and progressive aspects.

This populist "America First" sentiment was inchoately given voice by Ross Perot, who adamantly and presciently opposed meddling in Iraq, and was one of the galvanizing factors that fueled the meteoric rise of the Perot movement. Now that we’re slipping over the abyss in the Middle East, this populist anti-interventionist tendency in American politics is even more pronounced – and yet neither party seems all that eager to mine it for votes, financial support, or new activists.

The Republicans, for their part, are busy trying to close down all debate about the war: it’s significant, in a scary way, that the neo-authoritarian Giuliani’s first response to Ron Paul was to demand a retraction. As for the Democrats, they are mainly concerned with tamping down antiwar sentiment in their own party so they can get on with the real business of Washington: trading favors to build a political machine and entrench themselves in power.

With no political outlet, no means to oppose a policy that the overwhelming majority of the American people oppose – with increasing bitterness – the underground river of dissent that has been running through the country since 9/11, slowly building up steam until it became a torrent, is ready to burst through to the surface.

Ron Paul’s guerrilla campaign to take back the GOP from the neocons, the Bloomberg-Hagel insurgency that might or might not rise up from the wheat fields of Nebraska and Manhattan’s concrete canyons – these are just the beginnings of the resistance, the first acts of the new radicals in American politics who are neither "right" nor "left" but merely intent on subverting the neoconservative project of authoritarianism on the home front and perpetual war abroad.

Contrary to some of my critics, I don’t agree that these movements are contradictory or in any kind of competition: Ron Paul would certainly have been helped, not hurt, by the entrance of Hagel in the race for the GOP’s nod, and even at this point Hagel launching an independent bid would do much to legitimize Paul’s position in the eyes of the media. (As for Hagel, he could always point to Paul and say – at least I don’t go as far as that guy! Not that I would recommend he do any such thing …)

We’re in for some stormy weather, this political season, that much is nearly certain. The Republic is being buffeted about by some pretty strong winds, and the hull is filling up with water. Yet I have hope that the ship of state won’t sink: in the end, the storm will have some clearly beneficial effects, starting with clearing the air of noxious clouds and other detritus that have long been poisoning the political atmosphere. When push comes to shove, in spite of the damage to this or that political institution or grouping, it will all be to the good, because a fresh breeze will blow through Washington, a sign of spring – and hope.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, 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].