January 9, 2002


David Talbot and the rise of Warrior Liberalism

This war has already increased the power of government by leaps and bounds, and liberals were quick to sense their opportunity. Senator Tom Daschle wasted no time in going on the offensive on the tax issue, and the liberal punditocracy, from Al Hunt to the Washington Post, gleefully proclaimed that "big government is back!" The Democratic Party's "amen corner" in the intellectual community is remaking itself in the image of a new warrior liberalism, one that combines the airy-fairy one-world Wilsonianism of the Clintonian Democrats with the "it's all-about-me"-ism of their disgraced and increasingly ludicrous leader. Writing in Salon, the online journal of Left Coast Clintonianism, editor-in-chief David Talbot details his own conversion to the New Hawkishness in relentlessly self-referential terms, blithering on about how both his children "are prone to florid nosebleeds." Mercifully, however, he states his essential thesis at the outset, a great convenience when it comes to Talbot's extended bout of self-contemplation:

"From the Gulf War on, the hawks have been on the right side in all the major debates about U.S. intervention in the world's troubles. The application of American military power – to drive back Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, stop Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal campaigns in the Balkans, and destroy the terrorist occupation of Afghanistan – has not just protected US interests, it has demonstrably made the world safer and more civilized."


Talbot also berates his fallen hero for not intervening in Rwanda, and even calls for the revival of a military draft. This last is done in the name of egalitarianism, of course. As long as everybody fights and dies in a foreign war, it's okay with Talbot: equality, in the liberals' litany, is an absolute good. That all slaves are equal has never bothered egalitarians in the past, and it troubles them even less now. The post-9/11 left-liberal agenda is perfectly served by the war fever. Even, amazingly, the anti-military agenda of the Clintonians, which they never bother to hide.


For a great deal of Talbot's screed is directed at Colin Powell, the resident dove in an administration of hawks: Salon's editor echoes the neoconservative charge that Powell failed to "finish the job" during the Gulf War. The Pentagon, Talbot points out, is the most "isolationist" force in American politics, and the generals (embodied by Powell), in their reluctance to promiscuously intervene overseas, have been the ones most traumatized by the "Vietnam syndrome." The generals, in short, are cowards, and it's time our brave liberals, like Talbot – who avers that political leaders must themselves be willing to personally fight the wars they advocate, or else have their children as stand-ins – called them on it.

Good Lord! Is there nothing this opportunistic chameleon won't say to satisfy his need to feel self-righteous? From "give peace a chance" pacifism to more-macho-than-thou – the David Talbots of this world are in the forefront of every trend.


Notice how the new liberal dispensation conforms almost perfectly with the neoconservative line on every foreign policy issue since the Gulf War. Talbot recants marching against that war, and goes on to embrace the Big Lie of Serb "exterminationism," without mentioning that the victims of the "genocide" supposedly carried out by the Serbs in Kosovo turned out to be a few hundred Kosovar terrorists. Talbot rejects the "pacifistic" legacy that supposedly motivated him and his fellow peaceniks to oppose the Vietnam War, and goes on to explain how he came to be an advocate of projecting American military power as a "civilizing" force in the world.


From "give peace a chance" to "give war a chance" is not that great a betrayal for our spineless 1960s-style left-liberals, who never believed in anything but their own specialness to begin with. It is just that specialness, after all, which exempts them from having any moral compunctions about such a shamelessly unprincipled reversal.


And so Left Coast liberals who want to transform the whole world into Marin county join with "compassionate" conservatives, like Michael Barone, who can only be truly inspired by visions of "national greatness": together they have created a new national consensus in favor of Empire. And to think that this is only Part I of Talbot's liberal interventionist manifesto! The next installment, we are promised, will deal with the question of whether (or, no doubt, how) to invade Iraq. Oh boy, one can hardly wait…

But really, we needn't even read it: for Talbot, the dove sprouting hawk feathers, lays the groundwork for imposing "democracy" on the Middle East in the first part of his essay. According to him, Saddam Hussein is "the most bloodstained and dangerous dictator in power today." Somehow the remaining Communist countries seemed to have slipped his mind. Is Saddam really more demonic than the rulers of, say, North Korea? What about China – and Cuba? The dark lord of the Cuban gulag is no less sinister than the Butcher of Baghdad – yet how come we don't hear any calls for a Bay of Pigs II coming from Talbot's direction?


Here, at the end of history, the conservative lion lies down with the liberal lamb, and all are united in a single party: the War Party. Left, Right, and center, all are marching off the precipice, ready to sacrifice the remnants of our old Republic because, after all, everything's changed, and it's time to make the Big Change – from republic to Empire.


That both wings of the same War Party are going along with this massive US invasion of Central Asia should come as no surprise. There has been virtually no debate over foreign policy for some 25 years, and the whole purpose of the war consensus is to make sure that this remains the case. There has been a very effective campaign by the court intellectuals – the Andrew Sullivans and David Horowitz clones on the right, and the Christopher Hitchens-David Talbot brigade on the left – to demonize any and all dissent. Anyone who breathes so much as a word of criticism is immediately caricaturized as a supporter of Al Qaeda, a Johnny Walker who ought to be stood up against a wall and shot. And, who knows, before this is all over, it just may come to that….


As for the opponents of the War Party, on the right as well as the left, what hope is there, after all? The dogs of war are unleashed, and the mob is howling down our message. Let them howl, then. Our time will come. The military draft Talbot, in his perverse nostalgia, pines for, would create a mass movement in response, and wake up the young to the folly of their elders. The cycle, having come full circle, would be repeated again – although, perhaps, this time with new intensity, since the stakes are higher.


Make no mistake about it: what is at stake here is whether or not the US is going to fight World War III. The propaganda campaign to invade and conquer Iraq is, in effect, a proposal to invade and conquer the entire Arab world: to start and "win" a civilizational war in order to seize the the world's oil supplies, appease the Israeli lobby – and subjugate a billion-plus Muslims in the process.


This is madness, but who will dare to say it in the present atmosphere? The War Party is hoping that they can set the terms of the debate, and that, therefore, no real debate will ever occur. What they want is to intimidate any potential opposition from consolidating, and, if necessary, even illegalize most opposition to their war plans. While this latter may seem far-fetched, or even completely out of the question, think of how quickly that could change if another terrorist attack is carried out successfully.


We are but a few steps away from imposing martial law in this country, and, if that comes, there will be opposition: the blood of the Founders has not been entirely diluted. Of one thing you can be sure: this final transition to Empire will not take place without a furious fight. Whether victory is likely for the partisans of our old Republic, or even possible, is the kind of speculation that every writer should avoid, unless he is ready, willing and able to go in for writing novels. In the present circumstances, all I can do is cite the prescient words of Garet Garrett, which must serve as a warning and a guide to action:

"What you have to face is that the cost of saving the Republic may be extremely high. It could be relatively as high as the cost of setting it up in the first place, one hundred and seventy-five years ago, when love of political liberty was a mighty passion, and people were willing to die for it."


Whether that mighty passion can be rekindled, or has flickered out beyond hope of revival, is a subject for a book, rather than a mere article. But remember that the passion of a few can over come the apathy, lethargy, and ignorance of the many, and that in any battle worth fighting it is always the most passionate who will likely win out. I can say, without oversimplifying matters, that the American people will never fight for Empire, and that a war for conquest can only be disguised as a war for vengeance, or justice, for so long. So, to the antiwar movement, left and right, I can only say: be patient. Our moment has not yet arrived. Until it does, let us expose the lies of the War Party and get ready for the day when the people are ready to hear the truth. That day, I reckon, is not far.


Let us also take consolation in the undoubted truth that the antiwar movement is a lot better off without Talbot and his fellow greybearded hippies. It was they, after all, who gave the movement its wimpish, wishy-washy tie-dyed look: let them celebrate the alleged "liberation" of Afghan women by the US and its pet "freedom fighters" of the moment, and fatuously declare, as Vanity Fair's resident socialist did, that Afghanistan has been "bombed out of the Stone Age."

The Left is merely doing what comes naturally: warmongering is one of their most sacred traditions. It was, after all, the American Communist Party that beat the war drums the loudest just prior to our entry into the last world war. It was the Commies and their tens of thousands of fellow travelers at the time who denounced the antiwar movement as "Hitler's fifth column" and called for their prosecution as "traitors" well before Pearl Harbor. This leopard never really changed its spots, except superficially, and is now rapidly reverting to its natural coloration: a screaming blood-bright red.


War, as Randolph Bourne famously averred, is the health of the State. Every giant step on the road to centralized government and state socialism was taken under the pretext of a "wartime emergency," and every attempt to increase government power is invariably declared to be a "war." The "war on drugs," the "war on poverty," the "war on teenage pregnancy," the list of social engineering schemes launched in the style of a military campaign describes practically all of the major failed government boondoggles of the past forty years.

In wartime the State is all-powerful and its legitimacy is unquestioned – except in defeat. Government officials can get away with anything in the name of winning a war – and so the idea is to declare one as often as possible. The Left's almost religious faith in the power of government to cure practically all social ills is ideally suited to a time of perpetual crisis, dislocation, and fear. Big Government, once thought to be totally discredited, is now making an amazing comeback – and that's why Talbot and the folks at Salon have suddenly seen the light and learned to love the bomb.


While a grand "anti-terrorist" alliance goes on a hunt for Muslim terrorists, what is forgotten is that the US was and still is backing these very same Muslim terrorists in southeastern Europe. Al Qaeda was and still is a presence in the Balkans, where bin Laden's "mujahedeen" fought side-by-side with Bosnian Muslim military units and the Kosovo Liberation Army: one has difficulty believing that the few arrests recently made in Bosnia even scratched the surface of the Evil One's underground assets in the region. So I am pleased to report that Chris Deliso, a very talented and knowledgeable scholar of Byzantine civilization whose writings have often graced our pages, is traveling to Macedonia – the center of the Balkan maelstrom – within days. He will be sending us reports from that now-forgotten battlefield, so look for his byline: this is going to be very interesting….

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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 US 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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