February 1, 2002

Let's conquer the world instead

President Bush's State of the Union speech confirms what we have long maintained on this website: the "war on terrorism" is not a defensive operation, but a war of conquest. In the wake of 9/11, we endorsed a limited police action narrowly aimed at getting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice: the title of my column, "Kill 'Em – and Get Out!" pretty much summed up our editorial position. It is clear, after listening to the President threaten the so-called Axis of Evil, that the US is no longer fighting a just war, if it ever was. After all the railing and ranting against Osama bin Laden, Bush did not mention his name once, and only alluded to the Evil One indirectly when he gloated over how the terrorist leaders are "on the run." It looks like the US government has pretty much lost sight of OBL – and they're hoping the American people will do the same.


It's instructive – and not surprising to libertarians – that the one legitimate goal of this war, getting Osama and wiping out Al Qaeda – has been thoroughly botched. Everything but that has been accomplished: we have overthrown the Taliban, brought Pakistan and India to the brink of thermonuclear meltdown, and alienated our oldest allies in the region, the Saudis. Kites are once again flying in Kabul – but where's Osama? The US government couldn't care less: instead of capturing or killing this monster (and bringing America's holy crusade to a premature end) they are much more concerned with widening the war to include the oil-rich regions of the Middle East.


Despite the huzzahs from the President's amen corner – which now include Democrats as well as Republicans when it comes to foreign policy – as propaganda Bush's speech was remarkably dull and unconvincing. He started out touting our glorious victory, celebrating the ignominious defeat of a bunch of bedraggled half-civilized tribesmen by the mightiest army on earth: we not only "rallied a great coalition," he declared, but also

"Captured, arrested and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan's terrorist training camps, saved a people from starvation and freed a country from brutal oppression."

As if the outcome was ever in doubt – and the warlords hadn't already started shooting at each other. Never has there been so much chest-pounding bravado and triumphalist hysteria over so little. When Caesar subdued the Gauls, he didn't make half as much noise about it. Okay, then, so we won: mission accomplished, over and out. Ah, but not so fast…


We are told that thousands of terrorists – Bush says as many as 100,000 – are roaming the earth, with but one thought in mind: to target America:

"What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning. Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on September the 11th were trained in Afghanistan's camps. And so were tens of thousands of others. Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning."


Bush wants a blank check, and, unfortunately, Americans have been frightened into giving it to him – a decision we will all live to regret. The idea that we discovered all these secret terrorist plans, just laying around right out in the open, strains credulity, but then Americans are not inclined these days to examine the evidence too closely, even if it were readily available. Given the alleged scale of the danger we face – a horde of 100,000 barbarians, all clamoring to get into the imperial metropolis – how is it that we've just now started examining all airline luggage? Where are the checkpoints, the armed guards, the tanks in the streets? If Bush's numbers are even remotely true, then calling for a moratorium on all immigration would be the least he could do. Yet it hasn't happened.


There's something awfully phony about a "war on terrorism" where the terrorist-in-chief, Osama bin Laden, is dropped down the Memory Hole and new hate objects – Iraq, Iran, North Korea, aka The Axis of Evil – suddenly loom large. It's bad enough that the nation with the biggest and deadliest war arsenal is now inveighing against "weapons of mass destruction," but to top it off Bush points an accusing finger at the pitiful and near-collapsing regime of North Korea, where the half-mad son of the late Great Leader presides over a nation of bark-eating concentration camp victims. If Osama is hiding out in Pyongyang, he's going to get plenty of roughage.


No evidence links Iraq, or Iran for that matter, to the events of 9/11. To say nothing of North Korea. But anyone who thinks this war is about 9/11 any longer isn't paying attention. It's a power grab, pure and simple, a war in which not even our allies in the region are safe. The other day, Bush's conservative fan club over at National Review came out in an editorial for the conquest of the Saudi oil fields. Complaining that the Saudis may be asking us to quit our bases their, the editors of NR opine that this would be such a "stinging blow to American prestige" and provide the terrorists with such "vindication," that therefore,

"The House of Saud will have sided with the militants, and America will therefore have to do all it can to overthrow it. For years, the U.S. has maintained a presence in Saudi Arabia to prevent the massive oil fields there from being taken over by a hostile power. Too late."


It is a stunning feature of post-9/11 irrationalism that such a statement could be seriously made by the editors of a reputable periodical, conservative or liberal, without much explication, and still be considered in the "mainstream." To define the Saudis as a "hostile power" having "taken over" their own country is typical of our nutty neo-imperialist mindset: what's frightening is that, with this State of the Union speech, the brazen grabbiness of the War Party has shaped the contours of US foreign policy.


The President welcomed "the distinguished interim leader of a liberated Afghanistan, Chairman Hamid Karzai" – the fashion-plate President of the freest country in the world, where even pederasty is legal. This cute touch is no doubt what inspired Bill Kristol to note that our true enemy "goes beyond terror":

"It is a war against dangerous tyrannies seeking weapons of mass destruction... In fact, since 'no nation is exempt' from the 'true and unchanging' principles of liberty and justice, American foreign policy can be said to be at war with tyranny in general."

And he isn't talking about Rwanda. According to the Kristolian interpretation of the Bush Doctrine, "our task, in this 'decisive decade in the history of liberty,' is to promote the principles of liberty and justice around the world – including in the Islamic world."

Read: especially in the Islamic world. The conceit that we're going to create "democracy" at gunpoint in a region of the world where both history and current events militates against it is one not meant to be taken seriously. As Ariel Sharon's generals move to create a "Greater Israel," and disenfranchise Israeli Arabs, the depth of the US commitment to "democracy" and liberalism is measured by our silence – and our subsidies.


The hypocritical cant that characterizes this administration was really brought home in some of the small touches, such as the appeal to women.

"The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan's new government. And we welcome the new minister of women's affairs, Dr. Sima Samar."

Good luck to Dr. Samar in talking the Afghanis out of customs firmly rooted in culture and generously nurtured by religion. Meanwhile, to say that "today women are free" in Afghanistan is to utter a bald-faced lie. The mothers and daughters of that ravaged land are still captives in their own homes, imprisoned by accident of birth and hidden behind their veils. And there isn't a thing Dr. Simar or President Bush can – or should – do about it.


The War Party keeps saying that we must never forget 9/11 and yet their rationale for a wider conflict is by now so attenuated from that event that they are the ones who seem to have forgotten. As the pundits weighed in on the question of whether Bush hit a triple or a home run, and the editor of National Review contemplated relaunching the Crusades, Howard Fineman, reporting in Newsweek, noted that certain aspects of the investigation into 9/11 seem to be stalled:

"Dick Cheney was on the line, and it wasn't to chitchat. The vice president rarely calls the Senate leader – a Democrat he dismisses as an 'obstructionist' – so Tom Daschle knew the topic was important when he hurried into his Capitol office. What he heard was a plea, and a warning. The Senate will soon launch hearings on why we weren't prepared for, and warned about, September 11. The intelligence committee will study the matter, but mostly behind closed doors. Cheney was calling to preemptively protest public hearings by other committees. If the Democrats insisted, Bush administration officials might say they're too busy running the war on terrorism to show up. Press the issue, Cheney implied, and you risk being accused of interfering with the mission."


The last thing this administration wants is an investigation into the circumstances surrounding 9/11 – what we knew, what we didn't know, and who may have had advance knowledge. After conceding that "people need to know what happened," Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle was reportedly "noncommittal" – meaning that the Democrats have as much interest as the Republicans in keeping this thing under wraps. After all, the 9/11 attacks were years in the making, and if anyone is going to receive the lion's share of the blame, then surely it is the Clinton administration.

Which raises the question: then why aren't the Republicans pressing for a fully public investigation? It's mighty odd passing up a chance to score political points in an election year – unless, of course, this administration has something to hide.


What's needed is a full and completely open congressional investigation into how Al Qaeda managed to operate right under our noses for years without anyone knowing it. Billions were spent in the name of "fighting terrorism"; task forces were convened, legislation was passed, special programs were set up – all, apparently, to no avail. What's up with that? Inquiring minds want to know….

Oh, but that would interfere with "the mission," says Cheney. This is true only if "the mission" is an attempted cover-up of some of the worst criminal incompetence in the history of intelligence-gathering. Good lord, what is wrong with the American people? When are they going to snap out of their TV-induced stupor and start asking some questions? The smoke had barely cleared from the air over Pearl Harbor before the Republicans of 1941 started questioning the Official Story – even if it did take some 50 years to vindicate them. This time around, both parties have an interest in covering up the truth.


Ah yes, we must never forget 9/11 – except we have to forget about ever knowing why and how it happened. If a national movement calling on Congress to investigate the events surrounding 9/11 does not rise up and demand a full accounting, then this country is brain-dead and not worth saving.

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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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