January 1, 2003

I doubt it.

To get some idea of what we're in for in 2003, take a gander at this news report from South Korea's Yonhap News Agency:

"Seoul, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) – The United States would deploy some 690,000 troops to augment the 37,000-strong American military presence already here if war should break out on the peninsula, a Defense Ministry report showed Friday. The augmented forces would comprise of Army divisions, carrier battle groups with highly-advanced fighters, tactical fighter wings, and marine expeditionary forces in Okinawa and on the U.S. mainland, according to the '1998-2002 Defense Policy.' The ministry published the report instead of a white paper."

How to put such an army in the field short of instituting conscription is an interesting problem that the Pentagon and this administration will have to face in the coming year. Is it a coincidence that Charlie Rangel is floating his proposal for a draft at just this moment? Probably, and yet, despite the skeptics, there is such a thing as synchronicity. With the economy showing no signs of recovery, and a large pool of unemployed youth hanging about, what better way to mop up a pool of discontent and potential protest?

As the Korean crisis pushes its way to the front of the queue, overshadowing the Middle East in the severity of its possible consequences, my October prediction that Iraq would have to be put on the back burner is coming true.

When Pyongyang raised the specter of nuclear annihilation – not only of South Korea, where 37,000 American troops are stationed, but also of Japan, another U.S. military redoubt and a close ally – alarm bells went off in Washington, awakening even George W. Bush from his Iraqi-centric trance. Oh, they're putting a brave face on it, with Donald Rumsfeld blustering that "no one should doubt" that the U.S. can fight and win two wars at once, and even Colin Powell is butching it up for the cameras, declaring:

"What he wants is for us to believe we're in a state of panic and therefore we have to give him whatever he is demanding and appease bad behavior. That's what we are not going to do."

But panic has clearly set in. As The Australian put it:

"Pyongyang's nuclear gambit has stunned and embarrassed the Bush administration. 'They thought they had time to deal with Kim later, but time has run out,' commented former UN nuclear inspector David Albright. Said a befuddled Western diplomat: 'We know it's nuclear brinkmanship, but why is Kim taking us to the brink so fast?'

"'I feel like I'm staring into the gates of hell,' said a dazed nuclear expert in Washington."

It's a sentiment shared by many in the War Party, albeit not for the same reasons as the rest of us. Although we are supposed to believe that a U.S. invasion of Iraq is "inevitable," the struggle within the Bush administration over the course of U.S. foreign policy, and the direction of the "war on terrorism," is far from over. While the neoconservatives gunning for war in the Middle East certainly have the President's ear, and his sympathy, reality has a way of intruding on ideology, especially from the perspective of the Oval Office.

As John McLaughlin and Eleanor Clift concurred on The McLaughlin Group this week, Colin Powell deserves the title "Person of the Year" for having slowed the rush to war against Iraq. Clift pointed out that the President has gone with Powell, rather than the neocons, at every important turn in the road that may not lead to war after all.

The War Party thought they had won the fight, and that they had a deal with the Bushies: but the UN inspections process, which could last out the new year, short-circuited the drive to war in the Middle East. The North Korean crisis has pulled the plug entirely. Our laptop bombardiers – all dressed up and nowhere to go – are in an impatient and increasingly ugly mood. The target of their ire: the Bush family.

As I predicted in a column written at the end of November, the neoconservative assault on Bush has already begun, and will accelerate in the coming year. The first shot across the bow is a story in the New York Sun, a newspaper launched as the neocon alternative to the New York Times, which tries to frame the $500,000 donation of a Saudi prince to Phillips Academy as some sort of criminal act. The story sports a headline that could have come out of the imagination of the late hate-monger Meir Kahane: "Saudi Arabian Prince Gives $500,000 To Bush Scholarships Critics Call Andover Donation 'Disgusting.'" Oh, those dirty disgusting Ay-rabs, how dare they donate money – how dare they exist!

It all makes a twisted kind of sense, however, because it's coming out of the mouth of Stephen Schwartz. This ex-Trotskyist-turned-Muslim- turned-whatever's convenient, kicked out of the Voice of America for his extremist views, is cited by the Sun as an authoritative source:

"The donation appears to be targeted to curry favor with President George W. Bush, the son of the man the scholarship fund is named after. 'It's disgusting,' the senior policy analyst for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Stephen Schwartz, said. 'It's vulgar. It shows that powerful Saudis still think the way to improve a relationship is to buy a relationship…. [Prince Alwaleed] gives money to lay the basis for Saudi influence and now he's starting with the elite youths. And he just happens to pick the prep school the president's father attended? There's something profoundly wrong with this."

There is something profoundly wrong with someone who expects us to swallow the idea that the President of the United States has been bought for a measly half million bucks. Not that Schwartz believes his own smears for a minute: they are intended, not as credible accusations, but as gross insults uttered for sheer shock effect.

It's like the followers of Lyndon LaRouche who routinely accuse the Queen of England of being behind the international drug trade and plotting to subvert the "elite youths" of the American aristocracy: as demented as the LaRouchies might be, they don't really think they're convincing anyone. The idea is to shock and desensitize their audience to a steady stream of lies, one more outrageous than the other, in the hope that a lie, told often enough, becomes a lingering suspicion.

The LaRouchies are fringe nutballs, but the neocons are nutballs with connections. Schwartz is not just a lone nut peddling his conspiracy theories on streetcorners. The same smear is taken up and amplified by James Taranto, of the Wall Street Journal, a sure sign that the rest of the neocon Borg will soon take up the cry.

It seems like only yesterday – indeed, it was only yesterday – that David Frum, the President's former speechwriter – and author of the phrase "axis of evil" that caused all this trouble in the first place – was licking his lips at the prospect of Iraq falling into our lap like an overripe apple:

"Like it or not, the U.S. will have acquired responsibility for administering Iraq's oil wealth in such a way that it ceases to be a curse for Iraq's people. People inside the U.S. government are already thinking hard about that problem. It's time that the U.S. public joined the debate."

That was then: this is now. The administration is being forced to think hard about another, far more pressing problem, and the neocons – who could almost taste that big juicy apple – are going to have to go hungry, at least for now, and perhaps indefinitely. And don't think the War Party hasn't noticed. The squalling has already started. Here's one of the more frenetic ones:

"The endless postponement of the Iraqi D-Day, now as routinely rolled over as those Soviet five-year plans, is all part of some cunning Bush 'rope-a-dope' strategy. So is Colin Powell's recent statement that the administration isn't looking for regime change in Baghdad. So is the ongoing mantra of 'the Saudis are our friends, no matter how many of us they kill.' It's true that lulling the enemy into a false sense of security can be very cunning. But only if the sense of security does, indeed, turn out to be false. And a lot of what the Bushies do barely falls into the lulling category."

Oh, they're mad alright, in more ways than one. The measure of the neocons' anger – and real hatred – is spelled out by Canadian columnist Mark Steyn in no uncertain terms:

"When Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudis' Washington ambassador, was revealed to have funneled money, unwittingly or otherwise, to the 9/11 killers, why did Alma Powell and Barbara Bush rush to phone her to commiserate? The connection between Saudi 'charitable giving' and terrorism is well-known. The most benign explanation is that the princess is an idiot, and Americans are dead because of her idiocy. The wife of the secretary of state and the mother of the president have no business comforting a stooge of their country's enemies."

Whereas Schwartz impugned the integrity of the President's father, Steyn takes on a far more formidable target: Barbara Bush. And they say there is no such creature as a "neocon"! Such a highly specialized division of labor is impressive in a movement that supposedly doesn't exist.

The Steyn-Schwartz conspiracy theory that ties in the Bush family with the alleged Saudi government connection to 9/11 is shared by the Tinfoil Hat Left, which claims that the Bush family connections to the Saudis as well as the shadowy "Carlyle Group" and Big Oil, somehow "prove" that "Bush knew." In effect, according to the Reynolds Wrap Left, we bombed ourselves on 9/11. How long before Schwartz, Steyn, Taranto & Company starts marketing the dingbat-ism of Mike Ruppert, Cynthia McKinney, and the English edition of The Forbidden Truth?

What these conspiracy theorists have in common, aside from the Bush family in their sights, is that they are similarly unconvincing. As I pointed out last year, the "evidence" that links Princess Haifa's bank account to terrorist activities is so tenuously circumstantial (scroll down) as to be practically nonexistent. It amounts to a friend of a friend of a friend of an acquaintance who was the object of Princess Haifa's charity and might have assisted the 9/11 hijackers in some indirect manner. Yet to Steyn it has been mystically "revealed" that she "funneled money" to the terrorists.

As for the Ruppertians and The Nation, which published The Forbidden Truth in the U.S., they are even less coherent. The former seem to base their theory on the testimony of a supposed CIA "agent" named Delmart "Mike" Vreeland who was jailed for fraud in Canada, is seeking "political asylum" there, and claims to have secret "inside information" on 9/11. The Forbidden Truth reads like it was written on a good dose of Afghan heroin: dreamlike scenarios, unsourced and vaguely described, drift into one another aimlessly, in what appears to be an example of the "magical realist" school of foreign policy analysis. Like the neocons, however, the authors of this batty book are fixated on the Saudis as well as the Bush family as the alleged root of all evil:

"The question is why developed countries need to do commercial deals with Saudi Arabia and if those commercial deals are why they must close their eyes about the reality of the Saudi Arabian kingdom. Since the 18th century, Saudi Arabia has been focused on conquering the world."

The vengefulness of the neocons may isolate them out there on the margins along with Mike Vreeland and the Tinfoil Left, or the Democrats may take up a watered-down version of the Schwartz-Steyn-New York Sun fantasy scenario and retail it to the masses.

In any event, the focus of this administration is being forcibly diverted away from Iraq and the Saudis: the neocons' view of the threat to our interests and those of our allies, centered as it is in the Middle East, is bound to seem archaic in the coming year. Will we go to war in 2003? If we do, it is far more likely that the enemy will be Kim Jong Il, not Saddam Hussein. Instead of the bloodless rerun of Gulf War I everyone was expecting, Korean War II will costs tens of thousands of American lives – and millions of Koreans, North and South. Not to mention the Japanese, who have already seen North Korea's missiles being "tested" over Japanese airspace, and are bound to be targets if it comes to war.

So don't get too excited about the happy prospect of avoiding a war in the Middle East. As much as I am gladdened by the sight of the neocons going ballistic over their disappointment – now we'll see their real colors come out, all of them a nasty shade of bile green – I fear we have jumped out of the frying pan and directly into the flames.

Happy new year? I don't think so….

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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