December 23, 1999


I don't want to read too much into it, but I think it is just possible that some of the guardians of the Warfare State at the neo-conservative Weekly Standard (but the two articles I'm discussing are not available online; there is, however, a rather good David Gelernter piece on Rembrandt) are a bit worried about whether their worldview can or will prevail in upcoming American political battles.

The first piece is by John R. Bolton, now with the American Enterprise Institute and an assistant secretary of state during the Bush administration. He bemoans what he calls "how completely American policy toward Saddam Hussein has collapsed,'' with Exhibit A being the fact that the U.N. Security Council keeps dithering over whether to create a new version of the old UNSCOM Iraqi weapons inspection program. Bolton acknowledges that "the proposal's practical effectiveness is dubious at best,'' but still cries in his beer that it has been held up "for eight long months, by explicit Russian (and tacit Chinese and French) veto threats.''


Bolton claims that after the Gulf War Saddam had two principal goals: breaking free of he international weapons inspection program and escaping international sanctions. "Before Saddam could achieve either of these objectives, of course, the U.S.-led Persian Gulf coalition would have to fragment politically. Which, unfortunately, is exactly what's happened.''

Bolton places the bulk of the blame for this fragmentation on the Clinton administration, which he thinks has "been inattentive to, and feckless about, foreign policy in general.'' If Madeleine Albright had only used her vast influence on Kofi Annan, maybe things would not be in such woeful shape.

Bolton doesn't give any consideration to the possibility that, eight years after the Famous Victory, other countries are ready to move beyond a condition of permanent war with Saddam. Nor does he give more than a nod to the idea that, if the Bushies really wanted to remove Saddam from power – which he thinks should be the explicit cornerstone of current policy – they should have done so when they had overwhelming force, backed by a powerful international coalition, during an actual war (even if it was, like most modern American wars, an undeclared and probably unconstitutional one).


It was George Orwell, in his book 1984 who coined the term "permanent war for permanent peace.'' The book makes it clear that this was a cynical slogan employed by a brutal totalitarian regime in part to keep the huddled masses living in fear so they would be easier to control.

At the end of the millennium, however, in the country that proudly proclaimed itself the center of the Free World during the Cold War, the idea that the nation should be engaged in a condition of permanent war falls easily from the keyboards of those who represent the party that used to claim it was for limited government. Bolton notes that "Iraq is still subject to a desultory American air campaign (we now drop bombs filled with cement in order to minimize Iraqi casualties)'' but this is hardly enough to suit his lust for all-out aggression against the Evil Saddam.

He also shows no concern at all for the Iraqi people, the purported victims of the evil Saddam about whom numerous American leaders have occasionally shed crocodile tears. Not only does he not consider the possibility that the concrete bombs are being used because the U.S. has run out of legitimate military targets and is raining tons on civilian targets just to keep in practice. He doesn't begin to acknowledge the fact that it is the Iraqi people, not Saddam Hussein, who have suffered from the economic embargo he wants to see strengthened and intensified.


Here's where it gets interesting, however, suggesting the quite real possibility that Saddam hawks like John Bolton, in their heart of hearts, suspect that not only do very few foreign countries have any enthusiasm for keeping a permanent war on Saddam going, but hardly any of the American people want to keep it going either.

He first notes that the overarching goal of getting rid of Saddam "is not a question the Clinton administration can be depended on to address by itself; seven years of incompetence have left the White House and State Department with precious few options to reverse the downward drift of our Iraq policy'' So he hopes (and he probably knows it's hoping against hope) that "the current crop of candidates has a major opportunity to reinvigorate the US response to Saddam Hussein.''

How? He thinks they should make it explicit that if elected they would make removal of Saddam an explicit and paramount goal of American foreign policy, and even that "Saddam's fate should be the catalyst for a larger debate ... Should force be employed not only to solve an immediate strategic problem, but also to eliminate the regime which has precipitated it?''

Text-only printable version of this article

Alan Bock is Senior Essayist at the Orange County Register and a weekly columnist for WorldNetDaily. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995). His exclusive column now appears every Thursday on

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Wouldn't it be interesting if a candidate put it in such explicit terms? How do you suppose that would go over? I can almost imagine John McCain saying it, but I find it difficult to imagine that it would gain him much electoral support.

The American people were willing to be stirred up about Saddam Hussein in 1990-91 and probably would have supported an assault on Baghdad back then to take him out, even if they knew that the rhetoric about the worst threat since Hitler was a bit overblown. After all, Saddam really is a tyrant who has ambitions to unsettle his neighbors. But they have processed the conduct of that war and the aftermath. They know now that Saddam is far from an overarching strategic threat but a local if troublesome pipsqueak.


Americans don't seem to be too exercised about continuing feckless (although destructive to many people in Iraq besides Saddam and his allies) bombing of Iraq. But are they ready to gear up for another war in the Persian Gulf?

I don't think so. And I don't think anybody who seriously wants to be elected president thinks so either. In fact, I don't think John Bolton thinks so. He hopes one of the presidential contenders musters the courage and leadership to make Iraq a major campaign issue, and soon. If one doesn't, "if we miss the opportunity, there is little hope that we will ever get another.''

That strikes me as remarkably good news. The keepers of the Warfare State or at least some of them) are worried that the political process won't give them the chance to take out one of their enemies.


Another article in the same issue of the Standard, by Lawrence Kaplan of The National Interest concentrates on bashing Congressional Republicans who are so impudent as to question perpetual military and diplomatic engagement and aggression in the rest of the world and insist on "grappling over questions presumed to have been settled half a century ago.''

Oh, those upstarts who don't know that once the elites have settled a matter and influenced the writing of the history textbooks, the matter should be forever closed to discussion! How can they have the nerve to intrude on the counsels of the anointed with their picky questions and doubts?


Kaplan notes that "this is hardly the first time Republicans have been split down the middle with respect to the aims of American foreign policy.'' In 1952, when Eisenhower won the nomination and the election, he was peppered from behind by pesky quasi-isolationists from the Taft wing, who had the insufferable nerve to question the Marshall Plan and NATO. But Ike won the election.

Unfortunately, in Kaplan's view, he made too many bows to party unity after he was elected, which meant he was unable to carry out a foreign policy aggressive enough to suit Kaplan. And then "the gap between the Eisenhower administration's aggressive hyperbole and the reality of its tentative foreign policy led to the justifiable impression of American hypocrisy – most notably, in the case of the Hungarian uprising.''


Mr. Kaplan urges the next Republican president to hark back to the example of Theodore Roosevelt, who also "found his vision of America's global role hamstrung by Republican isolationists. And so he wielded executive power to send the US fleet around the world, dispatch forces to South America, engineer our acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone, and win a Nobel Prize for brokering peace between Japan and Russia.''

Fascinating. Leave aside for the moment that the United States is already far more intimately involved, with heavy, expensive commitments, in more places around the world than Teddy-Boy could have imagined. And leave aside the assumption that it should be virtually instinctive for a Republican to be eager to expand and use executive power unilaterally in the face of significant congressional opposition.

Would a Republican President elected in 2000 – let's stick with the conventional wisdom and say George Bush or maybe John McCain – really want to spend a good deal of his political capital being "in-your-face'' to his own party for the sake of global adventurism? Maybe, if there's a near-universally-perceived crisis of some sort. But for a continuation of the Clinton fiasco in Kosovo or an uprising in Indonesia or Pakistan? If enough congressional Republicans are firm and vocal on the matter – and it's likely at least some would be – a president would probably think twice about making some pipsqueak imperialist mission a make-or-break issue.


And I think the keepers of the Imperial Flame at the Weekly Standard have the same impression, except that what I would call hopes they would call fears. The enthusiasts for American global hegemony seem to have this uneasy feeling that maybe, just maybe, their enthusiasms are not widely shared. That's why they run articles urging presidents and presidential candidates to be more aggressive in putting down the pretensions of the "neo-isolationists''

Again, I don't want to make too much of this. But I think this just might be a sign of imperial weakness and therefore good news.

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