It’s hard being a neocon these days. Discredited by the utter failure of the Iraq war, and thoroughly exposed in the media as having played the key role in lying us into that disastrous conflict, the neoconservative project [.pdf] seems to have come to a standstill.
Oh sure, they’re still around, thanks to the op ed page of the Washington Post – which they seem to own – and also due to Fox News, which trots out Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol any time commentary a cut above Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity is required. However, their pronouncements don’t carry the same weight they once did: after all, these are the same people whose predictions of a "cakewalk" in Iraq echo down through the years, mocking their credentials as credible spokesmen for anything. Yet the neocons are nothing if not persistent, and especially persistent is David Frum, the author of the infamous "axis of evil" speech, a phrase that rightly came to be seen as the war cry of Bushian militarism run amok.
After the post-Bush implosion of the GOP, Frum, unchastened and unchanged, left National Review – whose editors, no doubt, had grown weary of his self-appointed role as the Vyshinsky of the Right – and went on to found a new web site dedicated to "reforming" the conservative movement, which, in his view, had deviated from the neocon party line sufficiently to require extensive reeducation. Thus was born the "New Majority" web site (which Frum has since changed to FrumForum, after having discovered that he’s not representative of anything close to a majority, but more like a party of one). He also wrote a book which recommended that the GOP back off of all this "limited government" rhetoric, and resign itself to the growth of the Leviathan that had taken such a gigantic leap forward during the reign of his former boss: the most Republicans can hope for, he avers, is to trim the growth of government around the edges. However, Frum’s real concern, as usual – as is true of all neocons – is foreign policy.
With Obama in the White House, and two wars on the presidential agenda, what the neocons fear most is a revival of what they call "isolationism" on the Right. Viscerally hostile to the "tea partiers" in any event – too libertarian, and too populist for Frum’s refined tastes – he has lately begun sniffing around for signs of "isolationism" and "resentment" among the conservative grassroots. The latter is bad because it indicates disdain for the elites, and neocons are philosophically committed to an elitism of a sort that neither Russell Kirk nor Albert Jay Nock (and perhaps not even the late Bill Buckley) would recognize. (The Straussian connection to neoconservatism is too well-documented to be discussed at length here. See this, this, and this.)
"Isolationism" is bad, in the Frumian view, because it means that America’s relentless post-9/11 rampage through the Middle East will come to an end – and he and his neocon confreres aren’t having any of that. Militarism is the very core of the neoconservative idea, the essence of what makes for what David Brooks, in his pre-New York Times incarnation, dubbed "national greatness" conservatism. These "great men" have a world to win, and they aren’t about to let the right-wing populist hoi polloi – with whom they hooked up in a marriage of convenience, and are now eager to dump – stand in the way of their fun. A panicky piece in the FrumForum, a bit of reportage by one Tim Mak, informs us that:
"With news emerging that a hypothetical Tea Party party would beat out the Republican Party in a three-way matchup, FrumForum sought to explore what a Tea Party party’s foreign policy platform might look like by interviewing Tea Party protesters during the Capitol Hill protests this past Tuesday.
"While virtually all of the Tea Partiers interviewed by FrumForum expressed support for American troops overseas, their comments indicated that a Tea Party party foreign policy could very well be isolationist in nature.
"’I think a tea party foreign policy would probably be none. A tea party foreign policy would be working on getting the U.S.A. back together… Our economy is in disarray. I don’t think this is a time to worry about foreign policy when our country is about to collapse. It’s time to take care of ourselves,’ said Nate Wiggim, recently profiled in the Tea Party documentary."
The Frumians hate that documentary, because it fails to feature the supposedly "extremist" elements Frum and his co-thinkers over at DailyKos.com would prefer to focus on. Indeed, reading the FrumForum reporting on the tea party phenomenon, one might as well be reading the latest from Markos Moulitsas and/or the Huffington Post: "fringe," "conspiracy theorists," and of course "racist" are the least of the epithets that constitute the Frumian critique in its entirety. Mixed in with all this is the idea that the new right-wing populism is shaping up as "isolationist." Senor Mak interviews some prominent tea-partiers, and is absolutely positively appalled:
"’It was a foolish decision to go to Afghanistan in the first place… [while] our own country’s borders are left open,’ continued Wiggim. ‘We have all this globalization. We don’t produce any of our own products, we always import everything. We need to focus on ourselves before we worry about any other country’s foreign issues.’"
Frum is an "open borders" conservative who believes the best thing we could do about our porous borders is "nothing." Besides, bringing up this issue, even in a national security context, is "racist." Forget about defending our borders, i.e. the actual territory of the continental United States, which is al-Qaeda’s primary target. Better to send our sons and daughters off to die in a distant field in the name of "democratizing" the wild men of Afghanistan.
Unlike a certain "paleoconservative" foreign policy "expert," Wiggim and his confreres are not at all intimidated by the "conventional wisdom" that our engagement in Afghanistan was or is inevitable, not to mention just or practical: they don’t care about getting links from Andrew Sullivan and the boys over at The Atlantic. Wiggim represents a growing number of grassroots right-wing populists who are once again emerging, as they did in the Perot movement, to scare the bejesus out of the elites, left and right. Which is why they’re getting attacked from both directions at once, not only from the Kossacks and the Hollywood Huffington-ites, but also from the neocons of Frum’s ilk.
The FrumForum reporter goes on to examine the depths of the tea-partiers’ "isolationist" depravity:
"Others expressed concerns that a robust foreign policy that extended American power around the world might conflict with the Tea Party movement’s concern for rising government spending. ‘When it comes to foreign policy… whatever policy is being developed needs to be fiscally responsible and isn’t going to burden the United States in debt,’ said Jenny Beth Martin, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, pointing out that while she wasn’t ‘necessarily opposed’ to having troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was costing the government quite a lot of money to maintain a presence."
Martin and the movement she is part of are on the cusp of learning the great lesson that conservatives of the cold war era failed to absorb: that the idea of maintaining a global military presence, including an empire of bases and an interlocking network of overseas military and financial "interests," rules out the limited-government agenda they so passionately embrace.
Of course, some, like William Buckley, did see the contradiction between limited-government constitutionalism and our foreign policy of global intervention, but drew the wrong lesson. In 1952, Buckley wrote that the Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union made it imperative for the U.S. to maintain “large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington – even with Truman at the reins of it all.” In fact, he contended, “we have got to accept Big Government for the duration – for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores."
One might write this off as indicative of the youthful Buckley’s penchant for hyperbole, but, as it turned out, his commentary proved to be a prescient vision of post-cold war futurity. This acceptance of Big Government, and embrace of "a totalitarian bureaucracy within our own shores," was epitomized by the Bush administration, which not only launched two wars and a massive assault on our constitutional liberties, but also grew government to gargantuan proportions and rang up an astronomical debt.
Today we are once again faced with a choice: perpetual war, and the extinction
of the conservative ideal of limited government, or a foreign policy that makes
fiscal and moral sense, i.e. one that puts America first. It looks like a growing
number of people – not just tea partiers, but a plurality of Americans, 49 percent
– long for a foreign policy in which America minds its own business, as a Pew
poll recently put it.
It may not be long before the tea partiers, in their majority, begin to realize that, yes, it is necessary to oppose continuing the occupation of Afghanistan – and a war that has lasted longer than both world wars combined – if they want to realize their political goals. Jeffrey Johnson of Atlanta, Georgia, cited in the FrumForum piece, has already made that connection:
"Under these harsh economic times, we need to pull back on our foreign spending, both from a military and financial aid standpoint… The troops should be withdrawn to reduce the financial tension on the United States. I would not have deployed troops to [either country]. We’re fighting something we can never win."
One can hear the hair standing up on the back of the FrumForum "reporter"’s neck as he avers:
"Some of the protesters invoked Ron Paul’s non-interventionist approach in explaining their foreign policy stances. ‘At heart, I’m increasingly a Ron Paul guy on foreign policy. We can’t be the world’s policeman… Iraq and Afghanistan could be too much for us to handle. The people there have to stand up. It’s their country,’ said John Tidwell of Bristol, Virginia."
The neocons hate Ron Paul, because he is the symbol of everything they have always opposed: liberty, populism, and, most of all, the Old Right, the pre-Buckley pro-free market "isolationist" movement that opposed the New Deal and Roosevelt’s wartime dictatorship. Paul’s supporters, organized in the Campaign for Liberty – and their very active youth section, Young Americans for Liberty – are the most well-organized and consciously ideological strain of the tea party movement. They also have the advantage of seniority: many of them were going to tea parties – yearly "Tax Day" demonstrations – long before it was cool.
However, the Paulian influence is increasingly being felt as the spearhead of a much broader anti-interventionist trend, not just on the right but generally, which is why otherwise conventionally conservative politicians like Rep. Josh Chaffetz (R-Utah) have found it necessary to express skepticism over Obama’s Afghan "surge" and come out for withdrawal.
The poor Frum-sters are scared out of their wits that conservatives are beginning to wake up to the fraud perpetrated by Frum and his fellow neocons for eight horrifically long years. The subtext of fear in Mr. Mak’s reportage jumps out at you as he concludes:
"As the tea party movement takes steps to translate their policy aspirations into political outcomes, conservatives should watch out for a new wave of Buchanan-esque isolationism. As these FF interviews indicate, support for the spreading of democracy in the world and even for free trade may wane as Tea Partiers either become more active in the GOP or start their own party."
The Frum-sters are terrified of the tea party crowd, and, from their perspective, with good reason. The movement was sparked by the TARP bailouts: right there, according to the Frumian dispensation, we are in dangerous anti-elitist territory, although the anger of the protesters is charitably characterized as "understandable." In his piece on the tea partiers, Mak writes:
"Jenny Beth [Martin] tells a poignant story about the repossession of her home, located on a busy street. One can’t help but feel pity for someone who had to bear the humiliation of having their earthly possessions strewn haphazardly across their front yard for all the passing traffic to see."
Yes, avers Mak, that’s all well and good, but the real priority is that the tea partiers have got to start policing their movement, ridding it of "undesirables" and "nuts" – no, not the discredited neocon nuts, or their failed Republican sock-puppets, but those evil "isolationists" whom Frum tried to read out of the conservative movement on the eve of the Iraq war.
In an infamous article for National Review, which this Canadian had the nerve to title "Unpatriotic Conservatives," Frum declared that the late Robert Novak, Buchanan, and an entire brigade of anti-interventionist conservatives and libertarians (including myself) who had the temerity to oppose George W. Bush’s ill-fated misadventure, were nothing less than traitors, "anti-American" supporters of terrorism (and, of course, anti-Semites all).
This, by the way, must have been National Review‘s tenth attempt – not counting Buckley’s embarrassingly ill-written and incoherent book, In Search of Anti-Semitism – to excommunicate Buchanan from the ranks. None succeeded, of course, and now Frum, the would-be political enforcer, has himself been cast out of the National Review fold, exiled to FrumForum and those left-liberal media outlets looking for a "conservative" to bash the Right. As the political scales begin to shift, and the right becomes increasingly anti-interventionist – partially in response to left-liberal support for Obama’s wars – the relentlessly pro-war Frum will find himself increasingly welcomed by the President’s media cheering section.
This neocon-liberal anti-populist alliance should come as no great surprise: as I’ve pointed out and predicted many times before, the neocons are not married to any particular party, since their true allegiance is to the War Party. They go where the power is, and whisper in the King’s ear. Theirs’ is a movement aimed at the elites, not the masses, and that brings us to the crux of the issue.
The very form of the Pew poll cited above is emblematic of what has got the tea partiers – and Americans more generally – in such an angry mood. The pollsters toted up two separate sets of numbers: one for the ordinary people, and the other set for the members of the Council on Foreign Relations, an elite group of policy wonks, heavy-hitters, and Washington insiders – in short, the sock-puppets of the financial and political elites that run the country, and preside over a global empire they desperately seek to maintain. Is it any surprise, then, that not a single member of this elite group thought we should mind our own business, while the hoi polloi – who have to pay for the whole wretched enterprise, in cash and the lives of their children – had the opposite opinion? On the bailouts, Obama-care, and the war – in short, on all the pressing issues of the day – we see this increasing divide between the people and the elites that rule in their name.
The Frums of this world hate and fear this polarizing trend, because they know how it will end: with a rising of the people against the tyrannical and increasingly unhinged elites, who will stop at nothing – including starting diversionary wars – to maintain their grip on the national purse.
Writing in the June 1998 issue of Chronicles magazine, I predicted:
“As the US stumbles, or is pushed, into another unwinnable land war in Asia, the antiwar protesters 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 may have been a bit ahead of my time, but, then again, that’s the value of reading this column regularly: you get to see farther over the horizon than the next election, or the next blog post. The Washington know-it-alls, the self-styled "experts," and the intellectual Praetorian Guard of the "too big to fail" crowd are riding for a fall. God willing, I’ll live to see it. We may not have "freedom in our time," as a libertarian slogan of the late 1960s put it, but revenge in our time is good enough for me.