February 6, 2002

HOW EVERYTHING CHANGED
Did 9/11 cause a downturn in IQ levels, as well as the stock market or is it something in the water?

"Everything has changed" – it's the bromide of the season, and it's horribly true. Things have gone from bad to worse to downright intolerable in the first weeks and months of World War III. What started out as a finely-tuned, focused hunt for the Evil One has turned into a free-for-all against the Axis of Evil – and that's only 5 months into a projected six-year conflict. At this rate, we should be knee-deep in a worldwide conflagration before the year is out.

CRANK MAIL

In our letters column, cutely known as "Backtalk," there's a delightfully nutty and nasty missive from Stephen Schwartz, professional Saudiphobe and author of the forthcoming The Two Faces of Islam. Schwartz, an ex-Trotskyoid formerly known as "Comrade Sandalio", once had his lawyer call us threatening to sue because we linked to one of his Weekly Standard screeds: surely a first in the legal annals of the Internet.

AGE OF THE NUTBALLS

Talk about a clueless crank! Schwartz takes me to task for, among other things, getting all my predictions wrong. Hey, I never claimed clairvoyance – and yet, I did get an important one right, to wit my October [2001] take on the wartime zeitgeist:

"They're telling us everything's changed since 9/11, it's a new era, and I'm afraid they're right: it's the Age of the Nutballs, where the bizarre reigns supreme."

WAR & THE INTELLECTUALS

The supremacy of unreason is the leitmotif of wartime, and there is no purer expression of this logical (and moral) inversion than that coming from the pundits, who now are free to project their own neuroses and exaggerated sense of self-importance on the large screen of a far-ranging conflict. In wartime, the intellectuals always come around: indeed, their active participation in justifying and rationalizing military action before and after the fact is a vital ingredient of any wartime consensus. This is a great opportunity for them to advance their careers, and so the race is on to see who can provide the cleverest rationale for taking us into the abyss of empire.

WAR IS PEACE

The winner, of course, is Andrew Sullivan, whose new online Andrew Sullivan Book Club is taking up "Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos," by Robert D. Kaplan, but he's immediately disqualified on account of all that testosterone. The first runner-up is:

Virginia Postrel, on the strength of a single posting on her "dynamist.com" that gives new meaning to the descriptor "Orwellian":

"CREDIBLE THREAT: MoreThanZero offers a useful analysis of why Bush's saber-rattling makes strategic sense when you consider its dynamic effects."

She then quotes at length an article by someone whose name, as far as I can tell, is "Andreas," who offers us this sage interpretation of the Axis of Evil speech: "While Bush's speech made us all a little nervous," there's no real need to worry, because:

"The point was to increase our threat power. It would not have been effective if it weren't as jarring as it was. A credible threat can save lives, avoid conflict and increase bargaining power, however unattractive and realpolitik it may seem. A threat can actually eliminate the need for action rather than make it necessary."

A declaration of war is the only way to achieve peace – and they said irony was dead!

VIRGINIA POSTREL, POSEUR AND BORE

Ms. Postrel, formerly the editor of Reason – which is, itself, formerly a libertarian magazine, and is now just another magazine – is the author of The Future and its Enemies, an overhyped tome of unusual turgidity wherein she posits that libertarianism is really something called "dynamism." It was never really quite clear, even after plodding through her book, just what this meant, except that you couldn't fail to worship the shade of Abraham Lincoln, couldn't be a conservative in the cultural sense or be skeptical at the prospect of cloning, and be properly dynamic. I once sat through a lecture by La Postrel, in which she regaled the audience with her views on the wonders of "change," and after I woke up people were already filing out the door and I'd had quite a refreshing nap.

I THINK I'VE GOT IT!

But now I think I've finally got this elusive "dynamism" pinned down, for the essay Postrel links to is a perfect horror. Game Theory and the State of the Union justifies Bush's indiscriminate belligerence by comparing the President's performance with that of Muhammed Ali, the American prizefighter, who used to try to convince his opponents at the weighing-in that he was complete crazy and likely to do anything. His "threat power" was maximized:

"If you can convince your opponent that you have little regard for rules, convention or your own well-being, you have a leg up in the fight. Some think Tyson is up to this as well, although it would seem to have backfired. You have to admit, though, it is definitely scary. If I had to fight, I'd rather fight someone with a sense of self-preservation."

PLAYING GAMES WITH 'GAME THEORY'

The terrorists utilize this "threat power" – and so must the United States, says "Andreas." "Threat power is the ability of one player to damage another net of the other player's ability to damage him. If you don't care about your life (or your things, your family, convention, public opinion, etc.), you can sustain little damage, in utility terms. Any damage you can inflict is a threat power advantage." The entirely laudable strategy behind the Bush speech is to "Show them you will hit them wherever it hurts most. Game Theory just puts it in an analytical framework."

Well, put this in an analytical framework, Andreas – and you too, Ms. Postrel: because Americans do care about their lives, their things, their families, their conventions (otherwise known as morality), public opinion – and their constitutional form of government. Which is why this "crazy man" strategic perspective can only be deployed by a terrorist or a totalitarian.

So now I get what "dynamism" is all about: sucking up to the State. Power, after all, is so dynamic – and its highest expression is war.

A NEW LOW

Ah yes, the level of punditry is very low, and getting lower: check out this screed by Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, wherein he opines:

"How can Islamic societies modernize? There's only one realistic answer: Let the fundamentalists take over. They will so thoroughly screw things up, so completely alienate the bulging cohorts of young people in the Islamic world, that these societies will turn away from Islam itself, at least as it exists today."

Krikorian has the nerve to add: "And this isn't just clever punditry." Sheesh, you can say that again! Imagine, if you will, the above with "African" replacing "Islamic" and "Mugabe supporters" substituting for "fundamentalists." Somehow I don't think the snotty little neocons who run National Review would have published it.

THE MARCHING MORONS

Perhaps the terrorists have already struck without us knowing it, and put something in the water supply that lowers the general level of intelligence: how else do we explain this snippet by Ur-blogger Mickey Kaus?:

"Many respectable people scoffed when the Bush administration suggested – as a reason for not airing Osama Bin Laden's videotapes – that the tapes might contain hidden messages for al Qaeda terrorists. I almost scoffed myself. But the possibility turns out to be extremely real, according to this UPI story about captured al Qaeda Plans."

He then goes on to quote a rather laconic piece reporting on documents purportedly recovered in Afghanistan, including Osama's personal "codebook" wherein phrases from the Koran are given hidden meanings:

"For example, 'Allah-u-Akbar' – 'God is great' – uttered at a certain point on a televised videotape, could mean 'lie low.'"

Gee, it was so thoughtful of Al Qaeda to leave behind so many documents, and in such good condition – indeed, some with the Evil One's nameplate, or at least his fingerprints all over it. For how else did Martin Arostegui, the author of this UPI story, know that the alleged codebook was "apparently used by al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to give instructions to his international network"?

TAKE MY ADVICE

So now we know, the revelation's out there: every time some Arab says "Allah-u-Akbar" he's really relaying instructions to his fellow terrorists (aren't they all terrorists?) to "lie low." Sounds like some pretty good advice to me.

WE ARE DEVO

See what I mean about everything having changed? Since 9/11, people seem a whole lot stupider. Which brings to mind that story about how some scientists have come to the conclusion that natural selection has stopped selecting and evolution is over: having gone as far up as we can, are we on the way down?

SWOONING OVER KARZAI

While we're on the subject of evolutionary retrogression, how about that Hamid Karzai?! The fashion-plate "interim President" of Afghanistan – that is, in the interim between the last civil war and the next – took Washington by storm, according to a swooning report in The Idler:

"The reporters were delighted. Smiles and beaming everywhere. Karzai had the room in the palm of his hand. How endearing, how clever, how flattering, how charming, how modest – and how intelligent he appeared."

Hailed by the head of the House of Gucci as the best-dressed tribal chieftain on earth, Karzai was

"[s]o subtle...that he managed to criticize the American government, and the Bush administration, without anyone seeming to take notice."

But of course the reporters noticed it: why else do you think they were smiling? The Idler lauds Karzai for being anything but "an American puppet," and goes on to report:

"In his opening statement, while announcing that he was grateful for America's help, Karzai declared that 'we warned' America about the Taliban before September 11th – but that no one listened to his warning. Among those who had ignored him, it went without saying, was President George W. Bush."

Karzai's main beef with the Bushies is that they don't appreciate the need to appoint him Supreme Warlord:

"Karzai came out for a strong central government in Afghanistan, with a national army that could be used to crush the power of local warlords – a policy that differs from the current publicly stated policy of the U.S. State department in favor of a 'loose federation' of local governments."

OUCH!

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you: so a Republican President submits a budget in deficit to pay for the "liberation" of Afghanistan, and this is how Karzai pays him back? We've heard of the treachery of the various Afghan warlords, always ready to switch sides at a moment's notice, but this has usually been confined to their own territory: Karzai brought it to Washington, and naturally was feted by the liberal media.

DISSING DAD

Oh, but here's my absolute favorite graf out of the whole account:

"When asked about an 'exit strategy,' the Afghan leader told reporters that he would like to keep American Forces 'prisoner' in Afghanistan – because the United States had abandoned his country in 1989, permitting its destruction by the Taliban. He didn't labor this point, either, but everyone in the room knew that in 1989 the President of the United States was George H.W. Bush – father of the same George W., who had ignored his warnings before September 11th."

LOST IN THE FOG

This is what the billions we are pouring into Afghanistan buys us: utter disdain. Yet the President singled out Karzai for special approbation in his state of the union address, even as Mr. Interim President was dissing Dubya all over town. If the present administration cannot tell its friends from its enemies, then we are all lost in the fog of war. So Karzai wants to keep us "prisoner" in his country, does he? I'm afraid we've already been taken prisoner. As Garet Garrett put it, in his classic pamphlet "Rise of Empire":

"A time comes when Empire finds itself a prisoner of history. ... But the history of Empire is world history and belongs to many people. A Republic is not obliged to act upon the world. Empire, on the other hand, must put forth its power."

WAR IS PEACE

The argument that the general level of intelligence is rapidly falling will surely be tested, in the near future, by the news that President Bush and Tony Blair have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. While the BBC reports that "the pair are unlikely to win," with IQ levels dropping fast, by the time they take a vote the odds could shift in their favor. Even those who see 9/11 as the pivot point between the End of History and World War III may smile at the anomaly: a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for a President who just declared war on a wide-ranging "Axis of Evil."

THE REAL AXIS OF EVIL

There has been much mocking merriment over this Axis business, with all three of the accused angrily denying any resemblance to Italy. But there is such a thing as the Axis of Evil and it consists of three individuals, not whole countries: Paul Wolfowitz, whose infamous "Wolfowitz memorandum" foreshadowed the widening conflict; Donald Rumsfeld, who appears to have won his battle with Colin Powell over the direction of US foreign policy; and David Frum, the Canadian-born neoconservative who graduated from the Weekly Standard to writing the President's speeches, including this state of the union address.

KARMA

In his book, Dead Right, Frum made the case that the American Right had abandoned its traditional program of limited government and free markets in favor of moralism and "xenophobic" nationalism: today, as he pens moralistic phrases like "the Axis of Evil" and, through the President, exhorts America to take on the world, his 1994 book turns out to have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

THE END?

American conservatives, as they surrender their freedoms, their tax dollars, and their intellectual integrity to the thoughtless pursuit of empire, do not seem to notice any difference in themselves, only in the exterior world which is said to have irretrievably changed – and here is yet more evidence that the level of human intelligence is plummeting, and, with it, the hope that the American republic will survive.

WELCOME JEREMY!

I'd like to introduce you to a new member of the Antiwar.com staff, Jeremy Sapienza, whose column at LewRockwell.com has always been one of my favorites and whose website, anti-state.com, is the epicenter of the growing market anarchist movement. Jeremy joins us as Assistant Webmaster. And, while I'm at it, I might as well announce all the other new job titles we've bestowed on ourselves: the irreplaceable Sam Koritz is now Copy Editor and Letters Editor, and the indispensable Eric Garris, in addition to his duties as Webmaster, is now also Managing Editor. Whew! Am I glad that's over! At any rate, we're going to continue to bring our readers the best, most rapidly-updated news site on The War – only faster and better.

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Text-only printable version of this article

Archived columns

How Everything Changed
2/6/02


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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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