The Return of the Chickenhawks

What a joy to see Ron Paul take down Newt “Chickenhawk” Gingrich in front of millions of Americans. Slogging through fifteen Republican presidential debates was totally worth it just to witness this defining moment. Dianne Sawyer, who sounded like she was on Quaaludes, raised her eyebrows quizzically as she asked him if he stood by his previous characterization of Newt as a “chickenhawk.” Her tone implied she thought this a little harsh. Paul took this opening and ran with it:

“I think people who don’t serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments – they have no right to send our kids off to war … I’m trying to stop the wars, but at least, you know, I went when they called me up.”

Ouch! Having drawn the first blood of this presidential gladiatorial contest, the good Doctor moved in for the kill:

“We have hundreds of thousands coming back from these wars that were undeclared, they were unnecessary, they haven’t been won, they’re unwinnable, and we have hundreds of thousands looking for care. And we have an epidemic of suicide coming back. And so many have – I mean, if you add up all the contractors and all the wars going on, Afghanistan and in Iraq, we’ve lost 8,500 Americans, and severe injuries, over 40,000. And these are undeclared wars.”

Gingrich’s response was worse than if he had said nothing at all:

“The fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question. My father was, in fact, serving in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta at the time he’s referring to. I think I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like as a family to worry about your father getting killed. And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with.”

The trap, so carefully set, was sprung: “I need one quick follow-up, said Paul with a gleam in his eye:

“When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids – and I went.”

The applause was the loudest of the evening. Newt’s puffed up persona seemed to visibly shrink as he stood there on the stage, reduced to squealing like a stuck pig:

“ I wasn’t eligible for the draft! I wasn’t eligible for the draft!”

This encounter dramatizes more than just the smarminess of the Newtster: it gives voice to a populist anger directed at our warmongering elites, one little-discussed aspect of widespread resentment over the growing class divisions in American society.

You’ll recall that prominent members of Team Bush, from the President and Vice President on down, were draft dodgers who presided over two unnecessary wars and did their best to gin up a third. As ordinary Americans turned against this policy of perpetual war, the “chickenhawk” meme came into general circulation, with the exemplar being one of those overweight bespectacled neocons explaining – in a tone of high-pitched truculence – that we needed to go to war because, as overweight, bespectacled neocon Jonah Goldberg put it:

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

This was the core of the argument made by the more honest neocons, such as Michael Ledeen, cited by Goldberg and deemed the “Ledeen Doctrine.” Who cares about “weapons of mass destruction” and Condi Rice’s visions of “mushroom clouds” – war is a positive good, and the military is to be venerated as a kind of priesthood.

This elevation of the military came back to haunt them when prominent military figures publicly dissented from the War Party’s let’s-democratize-the-Middle-East program: the neocons then hurriedly came up with arguments against the military “interfering in politics.” The anti-chickenhawk backlash continues unabated, however, as we saw in the GOP presidential arena the other night, with Gingrich’s public humiliation at the hands of the libertarian Spartacus.

Nothing offends a neocon more than being called a chickenhawk. The epithet really ruffles their feathers, and they’re quick with a comeback: “It’s absurd to say one needs to have military experience in order to argue for the merits – or demerits – of a particular war.” It’s true that anyone can make any argument they wish: however, it is also true that not all opinions are equal. Certain voices carry with them a special authority, and others less so. To cite one example: in the debate over whether we should go to war with Iran, the opinion of a pencil-necked geek like Bill Kristol, the little Lenin of the neocons,who has never been anywhere near a war, carries much less weight than that of Admiral William Fallon, the former chief of the US Central Command who resigned rather than go along with the Bush administration’s efforts to goad Iran into war.

In the context of a presidential debate, this question of whose argument carries how much weight is crucial, because we are electing a commander-in-chief, a role that has taken on increasing importance as Congress ceded its war-making power to the executive branch. Today, in defiance of the Constitution, the President can take us to war without a declaration from Congress – and without even bothering to consult the people’s elected representatives. We have Harry Truman to thank for that.

In view of this history, presidential aspirants must show they have some kind of standing when it comes to the question of war and peace. Before he can be trusted with the power to unilaterally take the nation to war, a candidate must prove he has some understanding of what a grave responsibility is to be placed on their shoulders. This is what makes most of the Republican pack look and sound so brazenly unpresidential: their blithe willingness – nay, eagerness – to go to war at the drop of a hat.

Santorum echoes the Iranians’ empty boast about closing the Strait of Hormuz and blocking access to oil even as he advocates an all-out war that would surely achieve the same result. He also indirectly criticizes the Bush administration for signing an agreement with the Iraqis setting a date for US withdrawal, citing this as a sign “America is soft so they can be pushed around.”

Newt, for his part, would not be content with limited US military strikes against sensitive targets in Iran. It won’t work, he says: instead, such strikes should be undertaken “only as a first step towards replacing the regime.” The second step, one assumes, is a full-scale US invasion of Iran – a step sure to be applauded by his Secretary of State-in-waiting, John Bolton.

Bolton has long championed the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (Peoples’ Mujahideen, or MEK), an Islamo-Marxist cult widely hated in Iran. Under a Gingrich administration we would witness the spectacle of the US Army installing in power a group currently on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Romney, too, has his MEK connection: this is the only terrorist group I know of that is allowed to maintain an unofficial embassy in Washington through various front groups, and which enjoys such widespread support on Capitol Hill. Could it have something to do with the large amounts of cash the MEK front groups in Washington are throwing around? Where there’s cash, there’s Newt, which may have something to do with his endorsement of the MEK’s accelerated campaign to get the group removed from the terrorist list.

Perry parlayed his role as the chief buffoon among the candidates by opining that he would send US troops back into Iraq:

“The idea that we allow the Iranians to come back into Iraq and take over that country, with all of the treasure, both in blood and money, that we have spent in Iraq, because this president wants to kowtow to his liberal, leftist base and move out those men and women. He could have renegotiated that time frame.

“I think it is a huge error for us. We’re going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in at literally the speed of light. They’re going to move back in, and all of the work that we’ve done, every young man that has lost his life in that country will have been for nothing because we’ve got a president that does not understand what’s going on in that region.”

Speaking of those who do not understand what’s going on in that region, Perry is perhaps unaware the timetable for withdrawal was negotiated by the Bush administration, not Obama and his “liberal, leftist base.” Not to be outdone by Perry, Gingrich chimed in with the suggestion that “if you’re worried about the Iranians in Iraq, develop a strategy to replace the Iranian dictatorship and Iraq will be fine.” Problems created by the Iraq war are to be solved by launching yet another war. The neocon “solution” is always the same.

Asked about going back to Iraq, Romney averred that the proposition would face a “high hurdle,” but wouldn’t rule it out:

“You’d have to have a president that explained those interests to the American people, that also indicated how we’re going in. We’d go in with – with exceptional force. We would indicate what – how success would be defined, how we would define, also, when we’re completed, how we’d get our troops out, and what would be left behind.”

Back to Iraq – can Romney be serious? He could talk until he was blue in the face and he’d still be a long way from convincing the overwhelming majority of Americans who say the Iraq war wasn’t worth it in the first place. Can someone so clearly out of touch with the sentiments of the American people really be elected to the highest office in the land? Romney is touted by his conservative supporters as the one most likely to beat Obama, and yet one has to question the electabiilty of a candidate so deluded as to think the American people could be talked into re-occupying Iraq.

Ron Paul is such a star at these debates because his foreign policy views are like kryptonite to the would-be Republican Supermen who would “save” the nation from Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonial” mentality, as Speaker Gingrich so eloquently put it. I’ll continue to watch just for the sheer entertainment value, if nothing else.


I’ll also note that John Nichols, writing in the Nation, predicted exactly what did happen at the ABC/Yahoo/WMUR debate. “The real entertainment,” he wrote on January 6, “is likely to come when the two white-haired guys start going after about who did what in the war—or, in Gingrich’s case, who did what to avoid the war.”

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].