Editorial note: This is an excerpt from a pamphlet published in 1996, Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans. We republish it now, in successive installments, because the rise of Barack Obama as the putative Democratic presidential candidate augurs the rise of a new liberal internationalism the very same sort of policy that led us to bomb Belgrade, one of the oldest cities in Europe, and paved the way for the establishment of the gangster state known as Kosovo.
This was deemed a "humanitarian intervention": we were told that the Serbs were "ethnically cleansing" the Kosovars from their own territory, and that tens of thousands had been slaughtered. As is the case with other more recent military actions, it all turned out to be a crock: the tens of thousands dead shrunk to a few thousand, including victims from both sides in what was, after all, a civil war.
Hillary Clinton recently had the nerve to call the Kosovo war an example of "how it should be done." If the near-complete emptying of Serbs from Kosovo and Bosnia, the burning of churches, and the establishment of a radical Muslim enclave in the heart of Europe is a Clintonian "success," then one has to wonder what failure would look like.
It isn’t just Hillary, however, whose penchant for "humanitarian" interventionism poses a potential danger to peace. Barack Obama, too, has shown a weakness for this militaristic form of moral self-indulgence. He is surrounded by advisers of the "liberal internationalist" school, such as Samantha Power, who pines to send U.S. troops to Rwanda and criticized the Clintons for not dispatching troops to the Balkans fast enough.
It was the Kosovo incursion that set the stage for the Iraq invasion, from the rhetoric of "liberation" to the mechanics of "nation-building." Operation Allied Force had all the elements that were later developed to the max in Operation Enduring Freedom an allied group that provided phony "intelligence," i.e., war propaganda, and had the same hubristic, hectoring style. Militant interventionists, such as John McCain, jumped on board the war bandwagon because they realized that a precedent had to be set in the post-Cold War world, an assertion of American hegemony.
Today, we are all paying the consequences.
– Justin Raimondo
Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party
Kagan’s “clarion call to Republican internationalists” is directed at an increasingly tiny and ineffectual band of losers, has-beens, and self-anointed ideological oracles, including failed presidential candidate Arlen Specter, who was regularly booed off the stage at GOP events, and Richard Lugar, not even a blip in the primaries. Among the internationalists only Dole, the anointee of the Eastern Republican Establishment, has any following or prestige.
Dole’s position as more militant than Clinton on the issue of arming the Bosnians provoked an unprecedented split with his top lieutenant, Trent Lott, not to mention many Senate Republicans; as for the House Republicans, Dole and the freshmen are polar opposites on this issue as on so many others. By signing on to Clinton’s Bosnian adventure, Dole has linked himself to the President’s policies, no matter how many qualifications and equivocations he utters, and when the Bosnian house of cards collapses, and the shooting starts, Dole will share the blame with Clinton, his partner in crime.
Phil Gramm opposed NATO intervention in Bosnia on the narrow grounds that Bosnia is not a member of NATO. Like Dole, Gramm insists on arming and training the Bosnian Muslims, and says that “in all probability” he would support “an international effort” to “bring a balance in military power.” Malcolm “Steve” Forbes bows to the noninterventionist consensus in the GOP and says we have no “vital interest” in Bosnia, but then proceeds to explain that we certainly need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Europe and around the world, thus establishing his internationalist credentials beyond dispute. Most despicable of all is the role played by former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, once a hot GOP presidential prospect, who has been holding private meetings with Republican senators urging them to support intervention. What motivates Cheney to join the Bosnia lobby? In 1995, Cheney took a private sector job as CEO of Halliburton, a Texas oil and gas company. Halliburton is the parent company of Brown & Root, which the Pentagon has contracted with to give logistical support to U.S. troops in Bosnia. The Halliburton subsidiary is being paid $1.5 billion to dig latrines, erect tents, cook meals, lay down electrical wiring, and do laundry.
(In his testimony before Congress, Secretary of State Warren Christopher solemnly declared that $1.5 billion would be the total cost of the Bosnian mission.)
The bipartisan, left-right coalition that has dragged us into the European maelstrom is linked by disparate but congruent interests. The intellectuals, embodied in the Sontag-Podhoretz alliance, play a vital role in the interventionist movement; foreign lobbyists also play an important part: less visible is the key role played by those who directly profit from war and preparation for war, what we used to call the military-industrial complex, in Dwight Eisenhower’s memorable phrase. While both the left-wing peace movement and the neocons have suffered ideological reversals as a result of the end of the Cold War, the arms manufacturers have taken a real hit were it hurts in their profit margins. Determined to make a comeback, the arms lobby has its men in Washington, men like Dick Cheney, for whom the policy of global interventionism is but a marketing strategy for their product.
This wing of the interventionist movement has always had a base inside the GOP and the ostensibly conservative movement. But the dawning of the post-Communist era has seen a considerable shrinkage of this constituency; combined with a partisan reaction to Clinton’s policy, the constituency for jingoism in the GOP is down to virtually nil. Yet only a single candidate has tapped into the anti-interventionist sentiment that runs deep in American society, only one candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination has spoken out forcefully and articulately against Clinton’s globaloney. “History will look back on this Bosnia adventure as a turning point,” said Patrick J. Buchanan:
With the cold war over, the Soviet empire dissolved, the U.S. decided on a permanent military presence in Europe, accepting prime responsibility for Europe’s security and peace, in perpetuity. No referendum was ever held on this momentous decision.
Why are we doing it? Because, we are admonished: If we do not, U.S. global leadership is gone, and NATO itself will perish. But does anyone believe Europeans, free riders for 50 years on U.S. defense, will inform us we may no longer protect them, if we do not put 20,000 troops into Bosnia?
“Our foreign policy establishment,” says Buchanan, “is behaving with all the hubris of the Best and the Brightest.” Listing the post-Cold War commitments of the U.S., from Europe to the Middle East to the Korean peninsula, he says: “This is not statesmanship, it is imperial overstretch. We are inviting a day when our enemies, seeing that we cannot conceivably cover all our IOUs, are going make a concentrated run on the bank.”
Buchanan was right on target: it was little noticed, in all the attention being lavished on Bosnia, that the U.S. has heavily reinforced the Persian Gulf region, sending more ships to the area and stationing more troops in the sheikdoms of Oman and Qatar. Also barely noticed was a proposal, floated by the Israeli government, that it is time to deploy American “peacekeepers” in the Golan Heights yet another tripwire in the Middle East that could easily set off a major conflict.
A Policy Fraught With Danger
The introduction of U.S. troops into a region that has been the scene of the bitterest continuous warfare in European history creates a situation that is fraught with peril, not only for the United States but for the whole of Europe and the world.
To begin with, Bosnia is literally one giant booby trap. During the Titoist era, Yugoslavia was the single largest manufacturer and exporter of landmines, as well as a wide variety of other explosives. The United Nations estimates that there are eight million mines planted in Bosnia’s bloodstained soil, and they will take their inevitable toll. Hundreds will die, and many more will be horribly wounded and disfigured, even if the cease-fire holds.
The explosive heart of a volatile region, Bosnia is also a political landmine waiting to go off. While the ostensible rationale for the intervention is to keep the war from spreading, the main effect of the occupation will be to draw in as many neighboring countries as possible. Already Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have queued up to do their bit, and are sending contingents of “peacekeepers” in the hopes that they will one day be considered for full NATO membership. Many of these nations have invaded Serbia in the past, notably the Bulgarians, Romanians, Italians (and the Greeks, if you go back far enough). The introduction of troops belonging to any of these nationalities is a provocation, and can only lead to trouble. Even more provocative would be the introduction of Turkish troops in the region. In the context of the meteoric rise of the Muslim fundamentalists in Turkey’s 1995 Parliamentary elections, in which the Islamic Welfare Party won the highest number of votes, the South Slavs look to the East with growing alarm. The legendary bloodlust of the Janissaries, the cruelty of the Ottomans, the barbaric religious persecutions: all of these are prominent colors woven into the tapestry of the South Slav culture. The prospect of Turkish troops enforcing a Bosnian “peace accord” could be the spark that sets off a regional conflagration.
The scene of the first incident involving U.S. troops may not occur in Bosnia, but in neighboring Macedonia, another administrative district of the former Yugoslavia that has declared itself a nation. Like Bosnia, Macedonia is a bewildering mosaic of warring ethnic and religious factions, a cauldron bubbling with ancient blood feuds. The Albanian minority, which clamors for independence, also agitates in neighboring Kosovo, a province of Serbia, where Albanians are the majority. The historical significance in the mythos of Serbian national feeling, combined with growing Albanian irredentism in the region, makes for an explosive mixture.
Again, the interventionists claim that their policy is meant to avoid spreading the war. But the truth is that the Dayton Accord has lit what may turn out to be a very short fuse. The accord, in effect, not only makes Bosnia-Herzegovina an American/NATO protectorate; its signing heralds the beginning of an American-Muslim alliance in the region. That is how it is perceived in the Balkans, and this perception could destroy the regional balance of power by encouraging Albanian expansionism and Muslim nationalism, with Kosovo as the flashpoint.
The irony of the Right-interventionist argument that the future of NATO is at stake is that this “peacekeeping” operation runs a high risk of sparking an armed conflict between two members of NATO: Turkey and Greece. The two have faced off in Cyprus, and more recently a military confrontation was barely avoided over an uninhabited island four miles off the coast of Turkey. Both nations nurse a simmering rivalry that dates from the fall of Constantinople. The Greeks are unlikely to be enthusiastic about increased Turkish influence on the European side of the Bosporus. In addition, Greece bitterly resents the American presence in and diplomatic recognition of Macedonia, which they claim is really a part of Greece. Until recently, the Greeks maintained a complete economic blockade on the landlocked Macedonians; the dispute was over the design of Macedonia’s flag, which the Greeks claim is somehow an affront to their national pride.
Other would-be “peacekeepers” in the region have motives that Susan Sontag would not approve of: the Bulgarians are eager to recover bits of land lost in the last redivision of the Balkan spoils; they also have claims on Macedonian territory, which participation in the NATO operation might tend to validate. Another eager applicant for the job of “peacekeeper” is Hungary, with a long and bloody history of aggression in the region, first as one of the principal components of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then as one of Hitler’s puppet states, which helped the Nazi implement their program of genocide against the Serbian people.
The Kosovo time-bomb could go off at any time; if and when it does, all of these other players in the game of Balkan intrigue would line up on one or another side of the Greco-Turkish divide. The fray would soon be joined by outsiders: not only the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, and other NATO powers, but also the Russians, the Iranians, and a good part of the Islamic world would be irresistibly drawn into an ever-widening war.
This is the greatest danger of a truly perilous course, the one consequence of his policy for which history will not soon forgive Bill Clinton that he has set the stage for World War III.
What You Can Do to Bring the Troops Home
The Clintonian Left and the neoconservative Right have jumped on the Bosnian “peacekeeping” bandwagon with two feet: the Left, because the military occupation of the Balkans is a projection of their failed domestic agenda, and the “respectable” Right because, as far as the neocon gang over at the Weekly Standard is concerned, any excuse to support the idea of an American Empire on which the sun never sets is justified and must be defended.
Both camps are united in touting increased military spending (now to be called “peace spending”) and an economy centered around preparations for war. Both support the inevitable deficits and mountains of debt that will ensue from this intervention and a whole series of “peacekeeping” operations paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Both seek to divert attention from the domestic economic and spiritual crisis, and toward a vision of Empire fundamentally alien to the American character.
The program of the Republican opposition must be clear and unequivocal: the complete and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the Balkans, with no conditions. All plans to arm and train the Bosnian Muslim government forces should not only be abandoned but publicly repudiated. The Dayton Accord must be declared invalid on two grounds: 1) it is unworkable, and 2) it was not signed by legitimate representatives of the Bosnian Serbs, who went unrepresented at the conference.
Since the President is not likely to repudiate his own policy, no matter how obviously misguided and disastrous, the only avenue open to opponents of intervention is Congress. Clinton’s “peace mission” would not be happening if it were not for the passive collaboration of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as well as the active support of Bob Dole: nor can it continue without the cooperation of the Republican congressional leadership. While the GOP rank-and-file is solidly against Clinton’s Bosnian adventure, and this is reflected in the votes of the Republican-controlled House that steadfastly refused to endorse Clinton’s policy, the leadership is selling them down the river, quietly going along with the President. Worse, they are punishing House Republican freshmen such as Mark Neumann (R-Wisc.) who dared attach a rider to a defense appropriations bill that cut off all funding for the Bosnian operation. Neumann was kicked off a key congressional subcommittee and threatened with having his reelection fundraising seriously impaired if he didn’t get with the program.
The world-savers, the foreign lobbyists, the NATO enthusiasts, and the American Lasters are a tiny minority of the American public; the people overwhelmingly oppose Clinton’s phony “Peacekeeping.” Yet, the interventionists occupy powerful positions in the foreign policy establishment: not only in government, the political parties, the news media, and academia, but among the literati and the glitterati, the Hollywood trendsetters, the professional victimologists, and the international do-gooders, all of whom have lined up behind Clinton’s campaign to enforce world “peace” at gunpoint.
This is how a nation that never wanted to get involved in the Balkans has been dragged into the quagmire. If the elites are allowed to get away with it, without significant opposition, the precedent they set will put America on the road to ruin. Today, U.S. troops are patrolling the no-man’s-land between Serbia and the Muslim-Croat “Federation”; tomorrow they may be in Chechnya, or Moldova, or any of a number of secessionist states, patrolling the no-man’s-land between Russian troops and rebel armies.
The Bosnia Lobby: Organizing for Intervention
The chief advantage of the interventionists is that they are well-organized and well-financed. George Kenney, in The Nation, blows the cover off the interventionist lobby, writing that “much of the early war was fought not on the battlefield but through high-powered (and high-priced) lobbying firms. Since later 1992,” he reveals,
there has also been a splendidly effective volunteer corps of journalists, think-tank analysts, Capitol Hill staff and administration hawks pushing the Bosnian, and secondarily Croatian, cases .The result is that everywhere that counts in America, it is almost impossible to be too anti-Serb.
The ink on the Dayton Accord was barely dry when the neocons came out with a full-page ad in the New York Times, hailing the intervention. Their front group is called the American Committee to Save Bosnia, the activist arm of a well-financed lobby that includes the nonprofit “nonpartisan” Balkan Institute, whose letterhead reads like a Who’s Who of militant do-gooders hailing from all the most respectable precincts of the political spectrum: Albert Shanker, Norman Podhoretz, Richard Perle, and Jeane Kirkpatrick join hands with Hodding Carter, Henry Louis Gates, Saul Bellow, Fouad Ajami and the omnipresent Sontag in lobbying for intervention on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims. Here is the grand alliance that is truly all-embracing: Council on Foreign Relations types such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Frank Carlucci stand alongside celebrities such as Walter Cronkite and international jet-setter Bianca Jagger. Balkan Institute Executive Director Marshall Harris and Associate Director Stephen Walker are two of the three officials who quit the State Department in a huff in August, 1993, because the Administration wasn’t hawkish enough for their tastes.
The activist arm of the interventionist lobby, the ACSB, and something called the “Action Council for Peace in the Balkans” (chaired by Hodding Carter), not content with having achieved its goal of massive U.S. military intervention in Bosnia, is gearing up to make sure our stay is a long one. In a letter to supporters announcing the ACSB’s third annual “Grassroots Conference on Bosnia and the Balkans,” held February 3-4, 1996, in Washington, D.C., Stephen Walker warned Committee supporters that, “we have entered a new and potentially tragic phase of the Balkan conflict.” He does not mean the tragic inevitability of American lives being lost, and the great danger to American troops, who have been plonked down in the middle of Europe’s oldest and deadliest vendetta, but the prospect that the Dayton Accord will lead “to Bosnia’s ultimate partition or extinction as a state.”
This is what it means to be the agent of a foreign power: to place the interests of another country, in this case Bosnia, above the interests of one’s native (or adopted) land. Americans have a right to ask these Bosnia-Firsters, given the nature of their mission and activities, if they have registered as such with the U.S. State Department, as required by law.
Naturally enough, the ACSB, as the unofficial American voice of the Bosnian fundamentalist regime, invited the Honorable Sven Alkalaj, Bosnian ambassador to the U.S., to be the keynote speaker at their 1996 conference. Among the most interesting panels were “The Politics of Bosnia: Congress and the 1996 Election,” featuring Mira Baratta, described in the program as “Foreign Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Dole,” and Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair’s pet leftist and a fanatical interventionist. Baratta criticized Clinton for “caring only about Clinton” and blasted him for stipulating an October deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal. Urging the attendees to “keep the heat on” and “make Clinton assume a leadership role,” Baratta declared that the assembled foreign lobbyists must “ask tough questions and demand results.” She warned of the need to fight “isolationist knee-jerk reactions to Clinton’s ineffective internationalism” and bemoaned the fact that it would be tough to reimpose economic sanctions on the Serbs. And, of course, no conference of Bosnia-Firsters would be complete without concluding remarks by Susan Sontag.
A whole brace of organizations, all of them stuffed to the ceiling with Establishment figures of various sorts, has suddenly sprung into existence: the Balkan Institute (founded 1995), the ACSB, the Action Committee for Peace in the Balkans (apparently a special group designed to appeal to the Left), and even a student activist organization, with the almost unbearably self-righteous and crudely propagandistic name of “Students Against Genocide” (SAG).
When the official program of the conference was over, it was time to get down to the real business at hand: the workshops for grassroots activists. “Words Into Action: Lobbying, Letter-Writing, Protests, and the 1996 Agenda” dealt with such questions as “which activities are best suited for the political environment in the U.S. during the implementation phase of the Dayton accord and the 1996 Presidential election?” In the workshop on fundraising, attendees were instructed as to “how grassroots activists can raise money for humanitarian efforts, as well as their own activities, and use fundraising as part of their outreach program.” These Fifth Columnists of the nineties conduct their propaganda work under the guise of “humanitarian aid” and “reconstructing Bosnia.”
The ACSB and allied organizations are carrying out a two-pronged assault: by bringing pressure to bear on the President and members of Congress, and by spreading Bosnian government propaganda to make their case to the general public. There is apparently no lack of money for all these activities. Registration for their two-day national conference was a mere $45, about one-third the usual cost of such conferences. Whether or not the Bosnian government or some Arab states are financing the Bosnia lobby, either overtly or covertly, the links between the Izetbegovic regime and its American cheering section are fairly public, one might even say brazen. One of the signers of the full-page New York Times ad, neocon national security maven Richard Perle, a former Undersecretary of Defense under Reagan, served as a “consultant” to the Bosnian Muslim government during the Dayton negotiations, along with former State Department official Paul Williams, who also attended the ACSB conference. The Bosnian lobby, supported by the wealthy Arab states, and with access to virtually unlimited funds, is pouring campaign contributions into pro-interventionist congressional candidates of both parties. Most of all, these agents of a foreign power are determined to defeat those brave Republican freshmen who stood up for America and defied their own sellout”leadership” by voting to deny funding to the Bosnia mission.
These stalwart souls cannot bear the entire burden of the battle alone. What is needed is a grassroots anti-interventionist opposition, a movement that puts America first, that opposes foreign aid and foreign wars and the foreign lobbyists who generate both. There are many indications that such a movement is coming to national prominence, chief among them the “talk radio” phenomenon, the nerve center of a burgeoning noninterventionist movement that could easily be mobilized. Often credited as the spark plug that energized the Republican sweep of ’94, talk radio hosts and their audiences have been harshly critical of the whole Bosnian project from the very beginning.
Wanted: A Lobby for America
In the mid-Fifties, the anti-interventionist writer Garet Garrett, who had been editor of the anti-New Deal Saturday Evening Post, foresaw the dilemma we face today:
How now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?
Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.
To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?
The interventionist lobby certainly knows where it wants American to go from here. The theoreticians of interventionism envision a global “commonwealth” of nations, based on the British model, with the U.S. as guarantor of global peace and the financier of first- and last-resort; in other words, an American Empire. From their vantage point in the imperial capital, Washington DC, the architects of what George Bush called the “New World Order” will dispense justice in the Balkans, regulate international trade for the benefit of their favorite multinational corporations, and redistribute American tax dollars to the four corners of the globe.
Americans do not ordinarily pay a lot of attention to foreign policy. The average person cannot find Bosnia on a map (even Bill Clinton, the alleged policy wonk, incorrectly placed it in “the center of Europe”); and as for the intricacies of the three-sided civil war, its complex history and obscure origins, they haven’t a clue. And so the first task of the anti-interventionist movement is one of education. First, educate yourself: then, educate others. Pass this booklet on to a friend, or order extra copies. When Americans discover what the elites have planned for them, they will throw off the burden of Empire and demand their old Republic back.
The next step is to speak out against the U.S. military occupation of the Balkans: demand that local candidates for Congress take a position, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, and get involved, even if only in a small way, in the growing movement to bring our troops home. Foreign lobbyists and their domestic fifth column are working overtime to sell the Bosnian intervention to the American people. American patriots, in defending the authentic interests of the nation against this relentless assault, can do no less.
As late as 1995, President Clinton was vowing never to put American ground troops in the Balkans. A year later, 25,000 American soldiers took up their positions in Tuzla and surrounding areas, in spite of overwhelming opposition at home. Such is the terrifying power of the foreign lobbyists in this country.
In researching this pamphlet, the one fact I came across that really shocked me was the sheer firepower at the disposal of the Bosnia lobby. As detailed in the main text, no less than three major organizations, the Balkan Institute, the American Committee to Save Bosnia, and the Action Council for Peace in the Balkans, have been launched in the last year or so, for the sole purpose of dragging us into the Bosnian civil war on the Muslim side.
These groups do not lack funding: they emit a continuous stream of propaganda in the forms of pamphlets, news releases, periodicals, conferences, demonstrations, and an Internet website. Their effectiveness as a lobby is made possible by the fact that they have welded together a political action machine designed to exert maximum pressure on Congress and the President.
But an apparently unlimited budget is not the only, or even the chief advantage of the Bosnia Firsters. They also have unlimited access to (and editorial sympathy of) the mainstream media. As George Kenney put it, “everywhere that counts in America, it is almost impossible to be too anti-Serb.”
The network of interlocking organizations working on behalf of the Bosnian Muslim cause is truly impressive; their lists of endorsers reads like a roster of every Establishment icon, from government to academia to the entertainment industry, a veritable Who’s Who of Everyone Who Counts in America.
Among all these Bosnia Firsters, these Europhiles and aspiring “anti-fascists,” these high-priced public relations firms and slick Wall Street lawyers who speaks for America?
This was the question that haunted me as I read through the voluminous propaganda and reviewed the numerous activities of the Bosnia lobby. Amid all the foreign lobbyists those who clamored for foreign aid, military aid, humanitarian aid, loan guarantees, special favors and dispensations where is the lobby for America? Who will stand up for a foreign policy that puts America first?
Such a lobby has not existed in this country since the 1940s, when the original America First Committee was founded on September 4, 1940, fifteen months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The AFC grew out of a student antiwar organization, led by R. Douglas Stuart, Jr., son of the first vice president of the Quaker Oats Company. After linking up with General Robert E. Wood, chairman of the board of Sears, Roebuck & Co., the AFC went national, set up a Chicago headquarters, and began running newspaper ads attacking the interventionist policies of the Administration. With a speakers bureau, a variety of publications, local chapters, and rallies in cities and towns all across America, America First eventually grew to 850,000 members organized in 450 chapters.
It was a grand coalition, encompassing conservative Republicans such as William R. Castle, Undersecretary of State in the Hoover administration, the liberal Chester Bowles, and the populist progressives Phillip LaFollette and Senator Burton K. Wheeler. Conservatives saw Roosevelt’s determination to get us into the war as part of his domestic strategy to impose socialism on American industry. With war would come wage and price controls, the militarization of the economy, and compulsory unionism. Liberals (in the older sense) saw the prospect of war as the prelude to an all-out attack on civil liberties. The result would be censorship, and political repression that would make Woodrow Wilson’s fairly draconian crackdown on the antiwar opposition seem mild in comparison. Both left- and right-isolationists argued in favor of America’s traditional foreign policy of nonintervention, maintaining an impregnable defense, and ensuring the integrity of the Western Hemisphere.
The AFC coalition was the final stage in the development of the progressive isolationists in their journey to the Right side of the political spectrum. In the course of a struggle against war and militarism, their views on domestic matters underwent a transformation; or, perhaps, one could say their views matured under the pressure of events. For the populist-progressive critique of bigness and centralization was in no way incompatible with the conservative critique of the New Deal: it was the fight against FDR’s drive to war that convinced them that, while Big Business (the “war trust”) often manipulated the state to its own advantage, Big Government was the source of the problem and the real threat to our liberties.
The career of John T. Flynn, head of the AFC’s vitally important New York chapter, and a member of its national committee, is dramatic evidence of this political evolution. As a columnist for that paragon of enlightened liberalism, the New Republic, Flynn backed FDR in 1932, and devoted his journalistic energies to exposing fraud and abuses in the financial markets. Like many progressives, he was shocked at the corporatist initiatives that came out of the Administration, especially the National Recovery Act. The blizzard of alphabet-soup agencies created by unprecedented government spending led him to the conclusion that the New Deal would have to culminate in war. It would be politically impossible to maintain the level of spending the President required, and he would need conservatives the internationalist wing of the Republican party to get his program through Congress. By combining national defense with the need to employ and otherwise subsidize large numbers of people, the President could solve his political and economic troubles in one blow.
As the liberals gave up their noninterventionist principles and joined with the Stalinists in the Popular Front drive to war, Flynn’s New Republic column become controversial and was eventually discontinued. In an article for the Yale Review, Flynn attacked the President and his aide, Harry Hopkins; FDR responded with a note to the editor in which he declared that Flynn had become “a destructive rather than a constructive force.” The President went on to say that, in his opinion, Flynn
should be barred hereafter from the columns of any presentable daily paper, monthly magazine or national quarterly, such as the Yale Review.
This is precisely what happened, not only to Flynn but to a whole generation of old-fashioned liberals, assorted progressives, and Old Rightists who were victimized by the Smear Bund, their careers ruined or else seriously compromised. Garet Garrett, who blazed away at the President’s policies, both foreign and domestic, in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, met a similar fate, along with Albert J. Nock and Oswald Garrison Villard.
We often hear of the alleged terrors of the McCarthy period, especially in Hollywood; for years, a veritable army of second rate actors, screenwriters, and movie colony sycophants have been whining about the persecution of Bolshevik subversives during the Fifties. But the treatment they had to endure was a Sunday School picnic compared to the blacklisting of isolationist writers, journalists, politicians, and, yes, actors, during the previous decade. A good example is the actress Lillian Gish, who was a member of the national committee of America First and a frequent speaker at their rallies. As Wayne G. Cole tells it:
in August, 1941, [Gish] privately told General Wood that because of her active role in America First she had been blacklisted by movie studios in Hollywood and by legitimate theater and had been unable to find employment acting. Her agent finally got her a movie contract offer, but it was made on the condition that she first resign from America First and refrain from stating that reason for her resignation. She needed the work. Consequently (though still opposed to the American involvement in World War II), Miss Gish resigned from the committee, gave no more speeches at America First meetings, and never made public the reason for her action.
Flynn’s book, As We Go Marching, written during the war, integrates the progressive abhorrence of war and militarism with the conservative analysis of the dangers of socialism and economic centralization. Flynn saw the growth of state power under FDR and the President’s war drive, as dual aspects of a unitary system; war and preparations for war fueled the economic engine of the emerging welfare state, and provided the political backing from conservatives who were willing to countenance socialism in the pursuit of “preparedness.”
The postwar phase of Flynn’s career was as a staunch Old Right conservative, a radio commentator and the author of many books attacking socialism and all its works. Unlike many on the Right, he remained a noninterventionist during the Cold War years, opposing the Korean war, warning against involving ourselves in the Vietnam quagmire, and predicting that the Communist empire would ultimately be impaled on its own sword. He ended his public career largely forgotten, and the legacy of America First ignored or disdained by the New Right of William F. Buckley, Jr., and the ex-Communist intellectuals grouped around National Review magazine, who were embarked on an interventionist crusade of their own.
The course of Flynn’s development as a writer and ideologue illustrates perfectly the primacy of foreign policy views in determining the ultimate political stance of a given individual or movement. From the time he served as an advisor to the Nye Committee, to his radio broadcast of July 30, 1950, when he warned against defending French colonialism in Indochina, his views on domestic matters changed while noninterventionist was a constant. So it was also with most of the Midwestern progressive isolationists in Congress, such as Senators Wheeler, Nye, and Johnson, and that whole wing of the Republican party, which in the postwar years was led by Senator Robert A. Taft. It was Congressional Republicans, led by Senator John W. Bricker, who foresaw the danger of international treaties overriding American laws, and sought to pass a constitutional amendment protecting our national sovereignty. Taft and his Republican supporters in Congress opposed NATO, foreign aid, and the general policy of meddling supported by internationalists of both parties.
During the fifty-year interregnum, in which the Right jumped on a Cold War bandwagon driven by internationalist liberals, the heritage of the America First Committee was largely forgotten; and, if remembered at all, always by its enemies, who merely repeated the smears and slanders retailed by the Russia-Firsters of the forties.
Now that the Cold War is finally over, and conservatives are getting back to their ideological roots, the spirit of the America First movement is once again rising up from the grassroots. While the elites construct elaborate international “architectures” and grand alliances, ordinary Americans say: enough is enough! Now is the time for an organization that says: no more foreign wars, no more foreign aid, and, most of all, no more foreign lobbyists!
I am happy, and proud, to announce that such an organization now exists: it is called the America First Political Action Committee, in tribute to the original America First Committee, which fought so valiantly against such formidable enemies.
Against the policy of internationalism, which sees this country as only one province of the “New World Order,” albeit the richest, America First has a vision of America as conceived by the Founders: sovereign, free, and unassailable.
Against the folly of global interventionism, which ordains an American protectorate in the center of Balkan minefield, America First counterposes the foreign policy of our nation’s Founders: peaceful trade relations with all countries, entangling alliances with none.
Against the royalist view of the Presidency, espoused by some alleged conservatives, as empowered to involve the nation in war without the people’s consent, America First seeks to restore the original letter and intent of the Constitution, which reserves this power to Congress alone.
Against the frankly imperial pretensions of the bipartisan foreign policy Establishment, America First raises the banner of our old Republic. Big Government at home and big commitments overseas are two functions of the same system, what the late Murray N. Rothbard called the “Welfare-Warfare State.”
The main enemy is at home, not in some godforsaken swamp on the other side of the world, and America First is fighting the war on three fronts:
- The educational front: War propaganda is a tissue of lies interwoven with half-truths, quarter-truths, and extravagant untruths. The best defense against lies is full exposure: and that is a primary task of America First. This pamphlet is the first in a series that will address the question of war and peace in the nineties from a pro-American perspective.
- The lobbying front: America First is building a grassroots movement that can mobilize against a foreign aid bill in a matter of hours. Local chapter development, with the goal of building a letter writing campaign and a phone tree network in every congressional district, is a major priority. As virtually the only Washington representatives of a viewpoint held by the vast majority of Americans, America First will serve as a focal point for growing noninterventionist sentiment on the Hill.
- The political front: Ultimately, the battle to take back our country’s foreign policy from the builders of a New World Order will be fought and won at the ballot box. The original America First Committee was organizing to play a pivotal role in the upcoming congressional elections in the months before war overtook them. We intend to carry on their mission, to raise the banner of a noninterventionist foreign policy in the post-cold war electoral arena.
Congressman Mark Neumann, freshman Republican from Wisconsin, had the temerity to attach a rider to the defense appropriations bill that would have forbidden spending money on the Bosnia mission. The House passed his rider, but he was called up on the carpet by the GOP leadership and kicked off a key committee. Military contractors threatened that he would have a hard time raising funds for his reelection campaign.
Mark Neumann, and others like him, need your support. That is a major reason for the America First Political Action Committee: to stand by the Mark Neumanns of this world, when it really counts.
The Bosnian mission signals the beginning of a whole new era in U.S. foreign policy, one that is pregnant with the possibility of a third world war. The end of the Cold War has merely provided the interventionists with a brief pause, a slight breather before they are once again off in search of new dragons to slay.
There isn’t a moment to lose; with the U.S./NATO military occupation of the Balkans, the internationalist agenda is already well along the way to fruition. In the name of “peace,” the Clinton Administration and its foreign policy allies inside the Republican party are setting the stage for a new European war.
In his trenchant brochure on U.S. foreign policy, the conservative writer Garet Garrett noted that “between government in the republican meaning, that is, Constitutional, representative, limited government, on the one hand, and Empire on the other hand, there is mortal enmity. Either one must forbid the other or one will destroy the other. That we know. Yet never has the choice been put to a vote of the people.”
Well, now it will, finally, be put to a vote of the people. With the refounding of America First, the bipartisan blockade imposed on American foreign policy in the postwar period has been broken. The revived America First Committee is the nation’s first line of defense against foreign lobbyists, war profiteers, and their henchmen in government. Join us in our fight.