February 14, 2001

A moron in the White House?

Is George W. Bush just a little, er, slow? Just because Hollywood flake Martin Sheen says he is doesn't mean it ain't so. The BBC reports that Sheen, a longtime Clinton camp follower – who plays the presidential role in that TV series about the White House of a liberal's dreamworld, The West Wing – opined that "George W Bush is like a bad comic working the crowd, a moron, if you'll pardon the expression." Leaving aside the utter absurdity of every third-rate thespian in the hills of Hollywood pontificating on the political and cultural issues of the day – never mind us taking them seriously – Sheen may have a point. I suspected this when I read the headline in a front page International Herald Tribune piece: "Bush Vows He'll Never 'Overextend' U.S. Forces"!


What, one wonders, does he think we are now? A full decade after the end of the cold war, the United States maintains over eight hundred Defense Department facilities located overseas, from listening posts to major military bases. American troops still occupy Japan over half a century after the end of World War II. In Europe, too, the legacy of that war, and the superpower standoff that followed it, has yet to recede into the mists of history: American troops are not only patrolling the Balkans but are still occupying Germany, as if on eternal guard duty against the ghost of Hitler should he rise from his unmarked grave. In Central and South America, the "drug war" has meant that American soldiers – "advisors" all – have penetrated deep into the jungles of Colombia, Peru, and beyond, armed with an all-purpose ready-made rationale for intervention anywhere. If the President pledges the end of "overdeployment," is he really promising to pull back from the radical over-extension begun in the late 1940s? Will American troops be coming home from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East? Don't hold your breath.


American troops, the President told soldiers of the Third Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, were "overdeployed and underpaid." While the latter could be taken care of by Congress, only the President could ensure that the former promise would be kept, and Dubya gave his solemn word: "When we send you into harm's way," US forces will have "a clear mission, with clear goals." And there was more good news: Bush promised them $1.4 billion in pay raises and $4.3 billion for improved housing and healthcare benefits. "If our military is to attract the best of America, we owe you the best," he said, to sustained applause. What was striking about the tone and content of this speech, and was noted in the IHT headline, was that foreign leaders looking for some clue as to the shape of a new activism in US foreign policy had no reason for encouragement: in particular, the bit about overdeployment did not bode well for our overseas satraps, who depend on US military aid and economic largess for their very survival. Bush praised the troops as the embodiment of our readiness to "project American power," but the President's speechwriters were careful to qualify that with "wherever America's interests are threatened."


Yes, on Monday, the President was a foreign policy "realist," with definite "isolationist" tendencies. There was even a touch of the old "humility" line he gave out during the presidential debates, and this same note was struck when he asked the assembled soldiers to bow their heads and pray for "those still missing after the tragic accident involving one of our naval submarines and a Japanese fishing vessel off the coast of Hawaii. Please join me in a moment of silence for those missing, their families, and our friends, the people of Japan." Ah, but on Tuesday, speaking at Norfolk Naval Air Station, in Virginia, it was an entirely different story.


Instead of reiterating his promise that US armed forces will no longer be "overdeployed," and holding out goodies for the grunts, the President's speech to the assembled NATO-crats at Norfolk was basically a hymn to NATO expansion and the "transatlantic" "unity" to be ushered in by Star Wars technology. Citing Harry Truman on NATO's founding, the President reaffirmed the interventionist dogma of collective security, which globalizes every local conflict, as the foundation stone of US foreign policy. "None of us alone can assure the continuance of freedom," said Truman, and "this is still true today," averred the President. "Our challenges have changed, and NATO is changing and growing to meet them," he declared, "but the purpose of NATO remains permanent." While the enemy is was organized to defeat has long since defeated itself, NATO, we are told, will not join the Warsaw Pact on the dustbin of history. A defensive alliance against a vanquished enemy can either disband, or else become an alliance designed to take the offensive, and Bush segues into this theme in his very next sentence: "As we have seen in the Balkans, together, united, we can detour the designs of aggression, and spare the continent from the effects of ethnic hatreds."


Before Election Day, 2000, candidate Bush said as little as possible on Kosovo: when pressed, the Bushies mumbled something that certainly sounded encouraging to some conservative Republican opponents of Clinton's "humanitarian" war. Remember all that pre-election talk from Condolezza Rice about how we might even start withdrawing US troops from the Balkans? It was a feint, of course, as I warned in this column on several occasions, and now this is confirmed by the President's reaffirmation of our Balkan role, not only our commitment to NATO but to what he believes to be the essential justice of Clinton's war. Anyone who believes that US intervention has spared Kosovo and environs the effects of accelerated ethnic hatreds is either not paying attention or else is willfully blind. Of course, there is a third possible explanation, and this again raises the question with which I opened this column: Is Dubya a moron, or not?


In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I think not. Instead, our new President seems like a canny politician, one who knows how to talk out of both sides of his mouth – often at the same time. In speaking to the grunts assembled at Fort Stewart – whom, he acknowledged, were among the most deployed in the nation – Bush the rah-rah nationalist invoked America's national interests, but when addressing the assembled princes of NATO, and the grand-high mucka-mucks of the "defense" establishment, he affected quite a different tone: not only far less humble and plainspoken, as might be expected, but affected with an undertone of grandiosity. Our interests are no longer national: that was yesterday. Today, in Bush's phrase, they are "transatlantic." In other words: Don't worry, we won't withdraw from the Balkans. Far from it, we mean to expand NATO and expand our presence – and influence – on the continent. In asserting that "our unity is essential for peace in the world," Bush addressed the princes of NATO like a feudal king addressing his noble vassals: "Nothing," he declared, "must ever divide us." Nothing? Not culture, not history, not differing economic and political arrangements, nor clashing national interests?


Rome is permanent. Nothing must divide us. So Octavian might have addressed his centurions in a similar ceremony a thousand years ago, solemnly proclaiming the essential unity of the Roman Empire – just before it went into permanent decline.


The President had a few reassuring words for the armaments industry, whose hopes for a Bush-driven boom went into a tailspin after it was announced that there would be a general review of all military expenditures before any additions were made to the new military budget: the sigh of relief could be heard from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. The President also made mention of terrorism in the form of vague "new threats" that seem to involve the landing of nuclear-tipped messages-in-a-bottle on American shores. But the climax of the speech came at its end, when he reiterated the glories of NATO


"Our NATO allies have brought their own character and courage to the defense of liberty," said Bush (II). "We're cast together in a story of shared struggle and shared victory." NATO's war against the former Yugoslavia was no defense of liberty, but a criminal aggression, and in that there is only a shared shame, one that millions of Americans – especially those who form the base of the President's party – felt as they watched Clinton rain down hellfire on the Serbians from 30,000 ft. But now that a Republican President is safely in office, it is safe for him to come out of the closet, so to speak, in one sense, as a Balkan hawk whose foreign policy will turn out to be even more Euro-centric (in the worst sense) than the Clintonistas: and, in another sense, as an unapologetic "transatlanticist," or what used to be called an "Angophile." By that I don't mean fans of Eastenders, but the upper classes of the Eastern seaboard who have always felt closer to London than, say, Chicago, and points West. As the Brits and the rest of the Europeans looked on approvingly, our President cast back in history to uncover the colonial roots of the "transatlantic" persuasion:

"Here, where three ships from England once passed on their way to Jamestown, we carry on the alliance that joined the old world and the new. We're allies and we are friends. As long as we stand together, power will always be on the side of peace and freedom."


To carry on the "alliance" that joined the old world and the new is to recreate, in effect, the old British Empire – a project for which this speech is practically a blueprint. With a greatly-expanded NATO at its core, this new Anglo-American Imperium will stretch at least from American shores to the Russo-Polish border: indeed, if some have their way, NATO's eastern frontier will extend practically to the Urals, eventually spilling over into the Caucasus. This is the ultimate dream of the NATO-crats, and it is a vision of empire all but endorsed by Bush (II) in the first weeks of his administration. Setting the tone for his foreign policy, the double-talking leitmotif of this administration is becoming firmly established. Less than 24 hours after commiserating with the troops for their being "overdeployed," and promising them a better deal, the President is not only announcing the permanence of NATO but also endorsing the chief foreign policy disaster of his predecessor – the same interventionist policy that led to the dangerous increase in American troop deployments to begin with.


It is interesting to speculate on the motives for such a Janus-faced approach – the radically different themes of the Fort Stewart and Norfolk addresses. One of my favorite Internet columnists, Colonel David Hackworth, throws some light on this. Writing in WorldNetDaily – and his column alone is good reason to pay a visit to that consistently interesting site – Hackworth opines that gung-ho military types often fail to see the long-range consequences of their impulsive actions.

"Besides failing to compute the long-term effects of actions, American military leaders seldom have learned from the past. History shows they've repeatedly made the same mistakes. Stuff that turned sour in World War II also went wrong in Vietnam – and the screw-ups that went down there were replayed again in Somalia. Despite all the Lessons Learned pamphlets, the studies and the history books, the record shows there's little institutional memory in the US armed forces."


Hackworth proposes adding a "Consequence/Lessons Learned officer" to every commanding officer's staff. We have special officers who handle administration, intelligence, operations, logistics, and civil affairs. Why not have someone "to advise the boss of both the consequences of his or her intended act or policy and any relevant history lessons from the past several hundred years where we waded through the same or similar minefields"?


This is a wonderful idea – wonderfully subversive, that is, which is why it will never ever be implemented. For this would create a whole class of officers who would act as an automatic brake on the gung-ho imperialist impulses of their civilian masters, a major sector of the US military whose job it would be to point to the bleached bones of past empires – the Russians, the Brits, the Romans, the fabled domain of Alexander – as a lesson and a warning. What Hackworth is proposing, if ever put into practice, would turn the US military a virtual hotbed of "isolationism" – of peace activism – and this the War Party will never permit. What is interesting, however, is the expression of such a proposal from a military man, a retired soldier now an author and columnist widely read as the voice of the "grunts." His general hostility to the world-saving, romantic gestures so beloved by civilians points to an amusingly ironic development. Growing anti-interventionist sentiment in the military is yet another feature of the post-cold war world that was hardly foreseen, but is now quite acutely sensed by this administration. (Thus the rhetoric against "overdeployment").


As war clouds gather in the Middle East, Hackworth raises the specter of American involvement, and asks us whether there needs to be some institutional method by which we can avoid the quagmires of the past: Vietnam, Somalia, etc. Of course, this institutional brake is the will of the armed forces themselves: their willingness to fight wars of conquest far from home. This willingness is now increasingly coming into question – and I would even go so further.


I would go so far as to say that, while the rest of society seems sunk in the cultural morass of neo-paganism – its attendant politics evoking the "bread and circuses" atmosphere of Imperial Rome – there is an argument to be made that the military caste, to a large extent isolated from all this, retains at least some of the stern republican virtues that are the legacy of the Founders. The decadent political culture of post-cold-war America has yet to penetrate and break down the military's conservative traditions: first and foremost among these traditions is their historical continuity with the Continental Army of George Washington – rather than with King George's redcoats, as our President would have it. This is why, in a neat turnaround of events, the anti-interventionist movement of the future is going to be centered in the armed forces of the United States – but I'm afraid that somewhat startling thesis will have to wait for a future column.

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"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


Past Columns

It's the Empire, Stupid


Globalizing "Star Wars"

What's Up With the Saudis?

Who is Ariel Sharon?

The Myth of the Saddam Bomb

Are We to Be Spared Nothing?
Mad Bombers of Belgrade Blame Their Victims

Lying About Kosovo

Globalism on the Right

Cold War Follies: There's No Business Like Show Business

An Inaugural Party

Inaugural Fireworks Over Iraq?

Ashcroft Versus the Smear Machine

The Gulf War In Retrospect: the "Isolationists" Were Right

Our War Criminals, and Theirs

The American Dracula

NATO's Poisoned Arrow

The New Bolivar: Hugo Chavez and the Rise of Pan-American Nationalism

No to the International Kangaroo Court

Know Thy Enemy

The Canonization of Colin Powell

Big Government Invades the Internet

The New Cold War: Who's Afraid of Vladimir Putin?

The Case for Pessimism

The Gore Coup: No Justice, No Peace – No Exit

Bush or Gore: Pick Your War

Gore, Bush, and the Imperial Style

Neo-Nazis and Neocons: An Unholy Alliance

Al Gore – The O.J. Simpson of American Politics

Coup d'Etat 2000 and the Madness of Al Gore

Slobo and Gore: Peas in a Pod

Gore Coup Radicalizes Republicans

The Dimple That Shook the World

Listen Soldier, You Can Stop the Gore Coup

Two Ways to Steal an Election

In Occupied America: Rage Against "The Regime"

Al Gore's Beer Hall Putsch

A Message to My Readers

The Real Victors: Nader & Buchanan

Buchanan's "Hail Mary" Pass May Work

Doubletalkin' Dubya: Bush Backtracks on Kosovo

The Nader Moment

The Smearing of Ralph Nader

Nader Sells Out

America's Fifth Column

Bush, the Balkans, and the Bipartisan "Division of Labor"

Hilary, the War Goddess

Vidal's Valediction: The Golden Age

Norman's Narcissim: Podhoretz in Love

The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
Gore-Milosevic Connection

Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisited

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

Colombia – The Deja Vu War

Passage to Cartagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

Blowback: Read This Book!

Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

The Outing of Ralph Nader, and Other Atrocities

Why Kosovo? Follow the Money!

Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

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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