January 24, 2003

Who, what, and why

[Justin Raimondo is on the road. What follows is the text of a speech he delivered on Thursday to the Palestine Center conference, at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C.]

How is it that U.S. policy in the Middle East has essentially nothing to do with vital American interests? How is it that, in the midst of a war against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, the United States is about to launch a war on the entire Arab-Muslim world, pursuing a policy that pleases the Evil Imam to no end? What is behind the relentless drive to war with Iraq – a country that has never attacked us, and represents no military threat to U.S. territory or forces?

Foreign policy is supposed to be about an abstract concept that goes under the rubric of "the national interest." But since I am a libertarian – that is, someone who believes in the primacy of the individual – this kind of rhetoric doesn’t impress me. Since only individuals can have interests and the means to pursue them, such a concept as the "national interest" is highly suspicious, to say the least. So the question, when it comes to foreign affairs, is really whose interests are being served by a given policy. The idea that some noble, disinterested goal is being achieved, like the growth of "democracy" or the protection of the legitimate rights of our allies, is an illusion perpetrated by the beneficiaries of those policies.

Likewise, the conceptual theory of foreign policy, that traces the origin of a given government’s actions in the international arena to abstract ideas and official ideologies, is utter nonsense. This confuses the rationalization with the motivation. Ideals, noble and ignoble, are the masks behind which governments conceal their real goals, which can be boiled down to a single purpose: the maintenance and expansion of the ruling elite’s power on the home front.

This dynamic is built in to the nature of all governments everywhere, no matter what form they take. A fascist dictator, a democratically-elected President or Prime Minister, the hereditary tribal chief – all must constantly reinforce their own legitimacy in the eyes of the public, or at least some significant portion of it, in order to retain their positions. The dictator of a one-party state cannot base his rule solely on keeping the population terrorized: he must devote an awful lot of resources to propaganda directed at his own subjects. He isn’t all-powerful, not really, and he knows it. If, one day, the majority (or even a significant minority) of his subjects decide to withhold their sanction from the system, and simply cease cooperating, the dictator’s goose is cooked. The Soviets, to their great chagrin, learned this lesson too late.

In a democracy, the process of obtaining popular consent for government action involves elections, in some form, but in all other respects is essentially similar, albeit vastly more complicated. Foreign policy gets made like every other policy: as part of the horse-trading and mutual back-scratching that characterizes the political process.

Having said this, we can now at least begin to imagine the answer to our initial question, and yet it still seems quite mysterious that our policy is not only morally misguided but also so directly opposed to our own interests, objectively understood. Why are we alienating the entire Middle East at such a crucial conjuncture? As Professor Paul W. Schroeder of the University of Illinois pointed out in regard to the upcoming invasion of Iraq:

"It would represent something to my knowledge unique in history. It is common for great powers to try to fight wars by proxy, getting smaller powers to fight for their interests. This would be the first instance I know where a great power (in fact, a superpower) would do the fighting as the proxy of a small client state."

That "small client state" is, of course, Israel, a nation that makes up for its smallness in a geographic sense for the large-scale heft and reach of its American lobby. And, in the age of "democratic" imperialism, it helps a great deal to have an American lobby.

The old-line Zionist organizations in America are one component of Israel’s amen corner in the U.S., naturally enough, but these are probably by far the least influential and are certainly not a decisive factor. Traditionally liberal, Democratic, and pro-secular, these groups have very little influence in the Republican party. However, the two other principal tendencies that make up the pro-Israel lobby, the neoconservatives and the Christian conservatives, are both deeply ensconced in the GOP. Acting in tandem, and playing complementary roles, they have co-opted American foreign policy and made it the instrument of Israel’s right-wing Likud party.

Of these two groups, the neoconservatives are dominant, not numerically – there are only a few dozen of them, after all – but ideologically. Half of them are newspaper columnists, and the other half are influential writers and academics, who shuttle between jobs in government and cushy niches at influential Washington thinktanks. The neocons are the generals and the Christian conservatives of Jerry Falwell’s ilk are the spear-carriers—and naturally it is the former who are far more interesting, so we’ll start with them.

Neoconservatism is a political tendency that grew out of the American left: its initial cadres came out of the Communist movement and especially the Trotskyist tradition. These were high-powered Marxist intellectuals who lost their faith in socialism, hated the Kremlin, and down through the years retained little of their original ideology except a monomaniacal hatred of Stalin and his heirs, and an overriding belligerence. Whatever stand they took on domestic issues shifted with the political winds, but the neocons were consistent about one thing: the need for an aggressive foreign policy. Back when they were Trotskyists, they insisted on the necessity of "permanent revolution" and attacked the Stalinists for not doing enough to export the Revolution abroad. Now that they are conservatives, of a sort, they insist that we must export "democracy" abroad, and criticize the White House whenever it fails to display the proper crusading spirit. The career of Christopher Hitchens demonstrates this syndrome in its purest form.

When the cold war ended, the great enemy the neocons had railed against for half a century was suddenly gone – along with the rationale for a foreign policy of global interventionism. The energizing factor that had fueled American interventionism since the end of World War II, an implacable enemy, disappeared overnight – and did not reappear until 9/11/01. From the fall of the Berlin wall until the fall of the twin towers we had a blessed interregnum of quasi-peace, and the possibility that American conservatives would return to the problem of how to shrink the size and power of Big Government here at home.

But it was not to be.

For that whole decade, the neoconservatives had pined away for lack of an enemy, and had fought off the natural inclination of their fellow conservatives to concern themselves with domestic issues. But when the twin towers fell, the neoconservative movement was energized as never before. With its number one platform plank a policy of global empire-building, the movement was in a perfect position within the Republican party to finally implement its idea of exercising what Bill Kristol calls "benevolent global hegemony." We must become global hegemons for our own protection, they aver, starting with the Middle East.

Much has been said and written about the neoconservative attachment to Israel, but it is a mistake to attribute this fealty entirely or even primarily to ethnic and religious allegiances. It is true that many neoconservatives are of the Jewish faith, but neoconservatism is a set of ideas, not an ethnic but an ideological construction, which explains why there is such a creature as a non Jewish neocon: Bill Bennett and Michael Novak come immediately to mind. To say nothing of Michael Barone. The idea that neocon is a synonym for something else is a vicious canard meant to deflect criticism.

The special place that Israel enjoys in the heart of every neoconservative is due to its nature as a self-created entity: that is, one that reflects their concept of America itself as a country founded on an abstract idea rather than an allegiance to a certain place with a definite history. Israel, also, was America’s staunchest ally during the cold war, and represents all the values that stand in such stark contrast to its neighbors: modernity, democracy, Western culture, all the things that neocons fervently believe must be spread over the entire earth, by force if need be.

So how does this tie in to the "born again" Christians, who make up such an integral part of the Republican party machinery? The interface of these two disparate groups, with their wildly different histories, is the contemporary conservative movement, where support for Israel is unconditional. The neocons insinuated themselves into the traditional institutions of that movement over the years – the thinktanks, the magazines, the grassroots organizations – and slowly co-opted the leadership from the more traditional right-wing types. The Christian conservatives, however, came from another place altogether, since their interest in Israel is entirely theological.

In the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, the disciples ask the ascending Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?" This quote from the New Testament encapsulates the fascination with Israel and its key role in the "end times" that characterizes the Protestant tendency known as "dispensationalism," which came to such prominence in the late nineteenth century and is now enjoying a revival.

The idea that Jesus will return, one day, and establish an eternal Kingdom on earth is a central tenet of Christianity. The millennial spirit is endemic to Christian doctrine. But the dispensationalists deviate from the traditional Christian idea that the Kingdom of God will be established after Christ’s return. Indeed, they reverse it: according to them, the actions of human beings, and not God, are enough to bring the Kingdom into being, and, what’s more, can provide the catalyst for the Second Coming.

Reading the Bible literally, and seeing in it all sorts of predictions, the dispensationalists see evidence that the "end times" are upon us based on their interpretation of certain key passages in the Bible. As the dispensationalists see it, the future will be a time of turmoil, but true Bible-believing Christians will be "raptured" away (literally, carried up into heaven) before it begins. This is known as the period of tribulation, which will culminate in a valley northwest of Jerusalem known as Armageddon. When the Christians are "raptured" away, then Israel will take the place of the Church on earth, and, according to the dispensationalists, this will mark the beginning of another theological period or "dispensation" supposedly foreseen in the Bible.

This variant of Protestant fundamentalist doctrine is the root of what is known as "Christian Zionism," a movement that preceded the formal establishment of the Jewish variety by some years. As related by Professor Donald Wagner in article in The Christian Century, "Evangelicals and Israel: Theological Roots of a Political Alliance":

"When Israel captured Jerusalem in the 1967 war; dispensationalists were certain that the end was near. L. Nelson Bell, Billy Graham’s father-in-law and editor of Christianity Today, wrote in July 1967: ‘That for the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives the student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.’"

The political alliance of Zionism and dispensationalist Christianity set down roots early in the century, here and in Britain, and these have grown stronger over the years, finally culminating in an effective, well-funded political machine that forms the base of the present-day Republican party. With neoconservative theoreticians at the head of the column, and a "born again" army of spear carriers standing behind them, the Neocon-"born again" alliance, working in tandem with mainstream Zionist organizations, has become a pervasive force in American politics. Having won the White House, and established a veritable stranglehold on Congress, Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. has infiltrated the national security and diplomatic apparatus via the GOP and effectively controls U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Why is the United States embarked on a war that cannot possibly benefit us? Don’t let them tell you it’s all about oil. The price of oil will go down once Saddam’s supply is unleashed on the open market. If oil is a factor, it is a minor one: it is Israel, not oil, that energizes the drive to war. And we are not just talking about war with Iraq, but a regional war, one in which Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia will all be counted as our enemies. What the neocons – and the dispensationalists – want (each for their own reasons) is what Norman Podhoretz, a leading neocon, calls "World War IV." World War III, you understand, was the cold war. The fourth world war will be, as Poddy puts it, George W. Bush’s "war against militant Islam."

The war against Iraq will be the first shot of that war.

Here, in the scenario of World War IV and the subsequent conquest of the Middle East by American armies, the ideas that motivate the neocons and the dispensationalists come together. For the neocons, this implements and validates both their desire to protect and expand the Israeli state and their theories of American hegemonism; for the dispensationalists, it fulfills their prophecies of the "end times" and gives existential reality to the idea of Armageddon as an actual battle. These are the two pillars that hold up our irrational and dangerous policy in the Middle East, and we cannot even think of changing that policy until their foundations are weakened, and, after the exertion of Samson-like efforts on our part, they come tumbling down.

– 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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