March 18, 2002

Amateur Thought Police monitor war critics

A couple of weeks ago Norman Podhoretz gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute annual dinner: speaking as the Grand Old Man of the War Party, Podhoretz told his audience not to be overconfident. It isn’t enough that we have the USA "Patriot" Act, which gives the government unprecedented powers of scrutiny and interdiction – they could basically come right in here and close down with a stroke of a pen. It isn’t enough that George W. Bush has declared war on an "axis of evil" stretching from Teheran to Pyongyang, and is now sending American troops to fight in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Podhoretz worries that the "blame-America-firsters" of the Left and the Right will soon confuse the murderous clarity induced by 9/11. War hysteria rose up like the cloud of poisonous dust obscuring the Manhattan skyline that day, but Podhoretz doubts it can be sustained.


He’s right: the opposition to extending the "war on terrorism" to Iraq and throughout the Middle East is already coalescing, on the Left, predictably, but also on the Right. The neoconservatives, however, are ready for that: their answer is a new organization, Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT). Heading up the group is William Bennett, former drug czar and self-appointed public scold. The list of "senior advisors" includes

AVOT’s avowed purpose, according to Bennett, is to "take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing." Ah, but it may not be just a "misunderstanding" on the part of people like me – for example – who oppose a US policy of global intervention. A full-page ad taken out by AVOT in the New York Times denounced not only bin Laden & Co. but those Americans on the home front:

"Who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of 'blame America first.' Both [internal and external] threats stem from either a hatred for the American ideals of freedom and equality or a misunderstanding of those ideals and their practice."


The Enemy Within is an even greater danger than Osama bin Laden and his supporters abroad: that is the clear implication of AVOT’s rhetoric, and this perfectly reflects the view of Podhoretz that we are in for a repeat of the tumultuous 1960s if something isn’t done to cut off the ‘anti-Americans" at the pass. In a preemptive first strike, AVOT is going after these internal "threats" by compiling a list of professors, legislators, writers, and others whose zeal on behalf of our endless "war on terrorism" is deemed insufficient by the arbiters of the new political correctness. Among the guilty:

  • Congresswoman Maxine Waters, whose great crime is apparently her blunt assessment of a war that has gone radically off-course: "Some of us, maybe foolishly, gave this president the authority to go after terrorists. We didn't know that he, too, was going to go crazy with it."
  • President Jimmy Carter, whose sin was to suggest that Bush's "axis of evil" war-cry is "overly simplistic and counterproductive."
  • Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who trenchantly pinpointed the inevitable domestic consequences of Bush’s battle plan as "canceling, in effect, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments."
  • Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect, for daring to criticize Bush's "dubious notion of a permanent war."
  • Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, for pointing out the glaringly obvious: that Washington has used tactics that might justifiably be called "terrorist": for example, bombing civilian targets in Baghdad and the Balkans.

However, according to observers at Tuesday’s [March 12] news conference, the blustery Bennett reserved his most pointed comments, not for the usual left-liberal suspects, but for Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., president and founder of the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute and editor of the most politically incorrect website of them all: Lew’s crime? An article, entitled "The Dread Prospect," in which he amusingly mocked the idea of a "shadow government" slated to take over in case Washington was nuked. Written just as the rumors of an alleged nuclear threat to New York City were exposed as a hoax, Rockwell averred:

"Let’s say that Washington really was incinerated. As difficult and alarming as this sounds, we live in times when horrible realities confront us every day. It is time that we deal frankly and honestly with the ugly prospect. The first thing that would happen is that your personal income would rise equal to the 40 percent you currently pay Washington in taxes. Because there would be nowhere to actually send the checks – excise taxes, income taxes, and payroll taxes would be meaningless. Instead of having to wait for politicians to give us ‘private accounts’ for some portion of Social Security, we’d get real privatization with no FICA at all. The country would be immediately vulnerable to attack by terrorists! On the other hand, there would be no one to enforce sanctions against Iraq, pay the troops in Saudi Arabia, or fund the settlements on the Gaza Strip, so the terrorists would lose their rationale for suicide bombings and the like. They might just choose to go home to their wives and kids."


This, thundered Bennett, is "outrageous" – and, no doubt it is to someone like the ex-drug czar, who has spent much of his life on the payroll of some government agency or other. And how dare Rockwell suggest that our adversaries worldwide are so human as to have wives, kids, and – cutting close to home – family values. Why, this is nothing less than "moral equivalence," a tiresome phrase resurrected from the cold war neoconservative lexicon. This familiar mantra is being revived to neutralize the arguments of Lapham, and others, that if we can kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq, what is to stop bin Laden from claiming that 3,000 civilians in the World Trade Center were a legitimate target? This question, say the neocons, is impermissible, because it equates the Good Guys (the US government) with the Bad Guys – and AVOT’s conception of the Bad Guys includes not only bin Laden & Co., but virtually every Arab government in the Middle East, including the Saudis.


Andrew Sullivan – whose role as the self-appointed Grand Inquisitor of the war effort on the home front has inspired a cyber-subculture of Junior Thought Policechimed in, remarking that the Rockwell piece looks "on the bright side of the nuclear destruction of the capital. As sick as Ted Rall – but from the far right."

Sullivan is a liar. No one can conclude from the context – and title – of his piece that Rockwell is calling for nuclear terrorism in the nation’s capital. His article, which is not really about the war at all, but about the inherent incompetence and serio-comic irony of the political class, far from being an expression of treason, is an expression of deep loyalty to the anti-centralism and anti-statism that animated the Founders of this country. Rockwell’s opposition to Big Government, and his radical skepticism when it comes to the competence of Washington kleptocrats, used to be a commonly held value on the Right, but was downplayed after the neoconservative takeover of the movement and has now been completely ditched in the post-9/11 era. Income taxes, excise taxes, any and all kinds of taxes are necessary to keep the War Machine running, and if the high tax rate has to be maintained, or even increased, then right-wing social democrats like Bennett, Sullivan, and their fellow neocons are more than willing to oblige.


As for Rockwell’s blasphemous remarks directed at the sacred cow of Social Security, in the neoconservative view this is what supposedly consigns him to the "far right," instead of just the plain old Right: the "far-out" notion that conservatives ought to take their own ideas seriously, and act not just to slow America’s march to de facto socialism but to actually reverse course. In the post-9/11 era, the neocons exult, such views are fundamentally "anti-American" – what, you want to radically reduce the size and power of the federal government? What are you, some kind of terrorist?


Rockwell and Rall couldn’t be more different, politically and culturally, and yet they have something in common that suck-ups to Power like Sullivan will never have: courage. While Sullivan delights in his self-appointed role as the War Party’s Vyshinsky, the libertarian Rockwell and the idiosyncratic cartoonist-essayist Rall, second-favorite hate-object of the "war-bloggers" (below Noam Chomsky) dare to question the moral legitimacy of this perpetual war for perpetual insecurity – and that really gets under the War Party’s skin.

So much so that they have resolved to do something about it: to create, as during World War I, a committee of intellectual vigilantes who will smear all critics of the war into silence or permanent unemployment, and AVOT is the vanguard of this movement. Their first target is the center of opposition to the last spate of foreign adventurism, the college campuses. It was there that Podhoretz’s dreaded antiwar movement was spawned, back in the dark old days of the 1960s, before the Fall of the Towers inaugurated a new age of bloodthirsty enlightenment. AVOT is clearly addressing Poddy’s great fear that it could all happen again.


Funded with $500,000 from Lawrence Kadish, AVOT is sponsoring a series of campus events supposedly starting this fall, where it will doubtless raise Podhoretz’s call to gut Muslim or Arab studies programs. These, as Podhoretz complained in his speech, are supposedly whitewashing the "real" nature of Islam, as demonstrated in the television coverage of 9/11 (what station is he watching, and on which planet?):

"But it was from the universities, not from the politicians, that the substantive content of the broadcasts derived, in interviews with Muslim academics whose accounts of Islam were—how shall I put it?—selectively roseate. Sometimes they were even downright untruthful, especially in sanitizing the doctrine of jihad or holy war, or in misrepresenting the extent to which leading Muslim clerics all over the world had been celebrating suicide bombers as heroes and martyrs."

That this is said at a time when the FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies are bewailing the lack of Arab speakers doesn’t bother Podhoretz. Never mind the practical mechanics of intelligence-gathering: a department of Middle East studies might stir up sympathy for the Arabs, and that must be avoided at all costs.


Describing the "anti-American" reaction to 9/11 in the nation’s colleges, Podhoretz proclaimed:

"Then there was the campus, to which I am tempted to apply Hamlet’s words: ‘Fie on it! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,/ That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature/ Possess it merely.’"

Podhoretz and his pals can’t wait to get their hands on the hoe and start turning over the soil. Instead of the "noxious weeds" – a phrase, oddly enough, used also by the Chinese Communist Party to identify "revisionists," "bourgeois elements" and other criminal heretics – the neocons plan to raise a garden of obedient little blossoms, all bending in unison to the same wind.


AVOT’s rhetoric is filled with disdainful references to "blame America firsters," while the neocons rail against the "anti-Americanism" of the left and the "far right" – but who are the real anti-Americans here? The AVOT website is filled with material that would lead the average casual visitor to think that this is a branch of the official Republican party: there is even a link to the White House. But a deeper probe reveals an undercurrent of … well, of anti-Americanism, albeit not of the traditional left-wing variety.


In an essay by Bennett, "Standing up for Israel is standing up for our principles," the leader of AVOT joins Ariel Sharon in comparing Bush to Neville Chamberlain, who "sold out" Czechoslovakia in order to appease Hitler:

"Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has reason to fear Israel will end up being a de facto Czechoslovakia. And that is why broaching the question of a Palestinian state at this critical juncture is wrong. It gives the appearance of rewarding the intifada. Even though we are absolutely confident the Bush administration has no intention of abandoning Israel, one must fully appreciate Israeli sensitivity to any suggestion that the United States might change policy during such perilous times."

The wound of 9/11 was still fresh and bleeding, and yet the Prime Minister of Israel could not resist the temptation to rub a little salt in it by comparing the American President to a British Prime Minister whose name is a synonym for weakness and appeasement. Bill Bennett, the super-patriot, thinks this was a good thing: Sharon was right, he says. This kind of anti-Americanism is okay, because it’s not disloyalty to America but loyalty to America’s indissoluble alliance with Israel. But what happens when the interests of Israel and the US diverge?


That is precisely what is happening now, as the President demands the exit of Israeli troops from the occupied territories and calls for precisely what Bennett was polemicizing against in his piece: a Palestinian state. As Bush tilts toward the moderate rulers of pro-American Arab states – the linchpin of his anti-terrorist strategy – AVOT and the neocons will increasingly employ rhetoric that is objectively anti-American. For, in any contest between American national interests and the wishes and desires of the Israeli government, it is always the latter that the neocons champion, and Bennett is among the more fanatical of the lot.

For all their palaver about "patriotism" and ostensible devotion to distinctively American values, the AVOTistas and their neocon allies are all about putting Israel first. Their antipathy for Arabs, including our Arab allies; their equation of American and Israeli interests; their polemics against any Israeli concessions to America; the elevation of Israeli "sensitivities" to top priority, even when the Israelis are outright insulting – not since the Communist Party of the 1930s and 1940s has there been an ideological group in American politics so thoroughly committed to pursuing the interests of a foreign power. As long as Israeli goals and American interests are congruent, it’s "united we stand" within the new post-9/11 Popular Front. But when the two nations come into conflict, look out – because, in that case, Bill Bennett makes Ted Rall look like a flag-waving superpatriot.


Yeah, I winced, too, at that mention of the $500,000 contribution to AVOT. And, as you can see from the banner on the front page of this site, and the letter you may have gotten from me – we’re in the midst of a fundraising drive where our very survival is at stake. Can survive the war hysteria? I hope so, but it’s an open question – and one that only you, our loyal readers, can answer.

We don’t have the kind of donors who can afford to lay half a mil on us: the War Party, for some reason, seems to have a monopoly on those guys, an inexhaustible supply of money as well as guaranteed access to the mainstream media. Bennett has just signed on as a "consultant" to CNN News, and we’re going to be bombarded with this warmongering fool’s fulminations unto eternity. The AVOTistas are going to be invading the campuses, the op ed pages, and the airwaves with a vengeance, doing their best to whip up enough war hysteria to sustain an all-out US invasion of the Middle East.

The anti-interventionist answer – will there be one? On the internet, has been waging a heroic battle, swimming against the stream and making surprising headway. Our audience has grown exponentially since 9/11, and, in recent weeks, has taken another leap upward: if this trend continues, we will soon be approaching half a million visits per month.

We’ve come so far – and, yet, now we are faced with the prospect of radical cutbacks.

Some big real estate magnate is not going to come to our rescue – although we wouldn’t be against it, we aren’t counting on it, either. We’re counting on you, all the loyal readers who know that without they would be very much in the dark – and the world would be a much darker place. So, please, if you value the service we are performing, then don’t let the monied propaganda machine of the War Party go unanswered – click here and donate online, or send your tax-deductible donation to the address below.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of 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.