The other day on Twitter someone tweeted me the news of the latest drone strike in Yemen, with the taunting message: “Congrats, @JustinRaimondo.” I had to laugh, and bemoan my fate: “I am now to be held responsible for everything the Trump administration does, especially their failure to go full pacifist!” Of course, you don’t have to be a pacifist to oppose our drone campaign, in Yemen or elsewhere, as I do, but the comment and my response underscore a basic flaw in the thinking of Trump’s anti-interventionist critics.
I have been writing this column for over twenty years, commenting on current events as they impact the US on the international stage. I’ve watched as this country fought a series of unnecessary and debilitating wars, exhausting its resources and sacrificing the lives of its young people in bloody crusades from Belgrade to Baghdad. I’ve navigated the tides of public opinion, as support for this suicidal policy waxed and waned, according to the caprices of the moment and the push and pull of external events. And if I can draw a single important lesson from all this experience, it is this: the albatross of empire won’t be easily lifted from our necks.
There are too many interest groups with both a financial and psychological stake in maintaining the status quo. The worldwide string of bases, alliances, protectorates, and US-protected corporate enclaves that make up the architecture of empire are so vast, and so profitable (for the war profiteers), that the task of dismantling it is the work of generations.
There was a window of opportunity that opened after the collapse of international communism and the end of the cold war that might have cut that timeline short. The events of September 11, 2001, put an end to that bright hope. Just as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended the hope of the biggest antiwar movement in our history – the America First Committee – that we might stay out of the European war, so 9/11 put on hold the idea that America could finally put down the sword and “come home” after the decades-long cold war.
In short, the lesson of the past twenty-plus years is that we must take the long view. As a corollary to that, anti-interventionists must understand that ours is a battle of ideas. The enemy is the concept that America must maintain a hegemonic position on every continent, that we are entrusted with upholding and defending the “international liberal order,” and that we alone are capable of carrying out that supposedly sacred task. It is a conceit that arose in the wake of World War II and it has guided US foreign policy since that time. Both parties have historically agreed that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” and, since 1952 – when the America First “isolationist” wing of the GOP led by Sen. Robert A. Taft was finally defeated — bipartisan support for our policy of global intervention has been de rigueur for all major presidential candidates.
That is, until now.
Although we are still in the grip of what I call the 9/11 Effect, the aftershocks of that seminal event have largely worn off. A war-weary public, and a visible decline in our economic condition, has turned the public inward and greatly decreased the War Party’s influence. The key to maintaining that influence was always in maintaining the political isolation of the anti-interventionist forces, which were largely confined to the far left wing of American politics. As long as the neoconservatives dominated the GOP, and “centrists” maintained control of the Democratic party, the postwar foreign policy consensus reigned supreme for the simple reason that the American people were never given a choice. As Garet Garrett, the Cassandra of the Old Right, put it in 1952:
“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 will 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.”
More than half a century after those words were written, it has been put to a vote in the 2016 election, and the winner is someone who is challenging – in a fundamental way – the very basis of the longstanding internationalist consensus. I’ve detailed the various ways in which Trump has issued his challenge in this space, at length, and so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say that his revival of the “America First” tradition is, in and of itself, a mortal threat to the War Party, and they recognize the danger he poses to them. That’s why every faction with an interest in maintaining the Empire – the neocons, the liberal internationalists, the national security bureaucracy, the CIA, the cold war Democrats – have pulled out all the stops in their unrelenting assault on the Trump administration. They know who their enemies are.
That Trump is inconsistent, and an imperfect vessel, hardly needs to be said. That the danger of war still looms over us is also a fact that none can deny. Yet all this is irrelevant in the face of the conceptual victory his winning the White House represents. Here is a candidate who campaigned against GOP foreign policy orthodoxy, explicitly rejecting the legacy of the Iraq war and even going so far as to call out the Bush administration for lying us into that war. Even if he had been defeated in the general election, Trump’s triumph in the Republican primary signaled the end of neoconservatism as a viable political force, at least inside the GOP. What this means is that the War Party’s monopoly on the foreign policy positions of both parties is ended: Garrett’s lament is now outdated, because the voters do have a choice. They can choose between republic and Empire.
Yes, the Trump administration will take many actions that contradict the promise of their victory: that is already occurring. And we are covering that in these pages, without regard for partisan considerations: and yet it is necessary to step back and see the larger picture, looking past the journalistic details of the day-to-day news cycle. In short, it is necessary to take the long view and try to see what the ideological victory that was won this past November augurs for the future.
If we look past Trump and his administration and scout out what the road ahead looks like, the view is encouraging: the obstacles that loomed large in the past – the neoconservative hegemony in the GOP, the war hysteria that dominated the country post-9/11, the public’s largely unquestioning acceptance of what the “mainstream” media reported – have been swept away. What’s more, a global rebellion against regnant elites is threatening the status quo. All the elements that make for the restoration of our old republic are in place, including a growing mass movement in this country that rejects the old internationalist dogma.
Ideas rule the world: not politicians, not parties, not range-of-the-moment fluctuations in public opinion. This isn’t about Trump, the politician, or the journalistic trivia of the moment: we are engaged in a battle of ideas – and, slowly but surely, we are winning.
No matter what one thinks of Trump, or his appointees, the election of 2016 is without doubt the biggest victory opponents of empire have enjoyed since the country turned its back on the interventionism of Woodrow Wilson and enjoyed a “return to normalcy” in 1920. The victor that year was Warren Harding, who declared: “America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.” After the posturing Teddy Roosevelt’s aggressive imperialism and the more studied “idealism” of Woodrow Wilson, America was ready to return to the foreign policy of the Founders.
This time, after years of constant warfare, and the stunning realization that our empire has brought us nothing but financial and moral ruin, Americans are again seeking a return to normalcy – or, as Trump would put it, they want to “make America great again.” Having gone down the road that Rome once trod, Americans stand at the abyss of inexorable decline – and they want to turn back.
Yet the road back is by no means an easy one. External events – unpredictable by their very nature – may intervene once again. After all, the history of mankind is the record of chance, human caprice, and endless folly. Yet I am optimistic at this recent turn of events: barring some unforeseen catastrophe, the future is brighter than it has been for quite some time. The chances are good that we may yet become a normal country again, as opposed to a bloated empire beset by external enemies and internal rot. Perhaps not in my lifetime – I’m 65! – but, if all goes well, at least I’ll have seen the beginning of the end of the War Party’s bloody reign.
Since I take the long view, that’s good enough for me.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.