May 8, 2000

As Justin completes his upcoming book on Murray Rothbard, we present a Classic Raimondo piece from last year.

July 28, 1999


While the United States government is touting the so-called Clinton Doctrine, which projects American power all over the world in the name of "human rights," the right of Americans to feel safe in their own country is rapidly being diminished. In a recent op-ed piece for the Washington Post [July 26, 1999], Secretary of Defense William Cohen wrote that while our attention has been "rightly" riveted on "the threat to American interest and values" in Kosovo, "we cannot afford a case of farsightedness that precludes us from focusing on threats closer to home." Now we learn that the price-tag of the Clinton Doctrine is not just in taxpayer dollars and potentially the lives of American soldiers, but also the horrific possibility that we may be the target of "a chemical or biological attack on US soil."


With his penchant for the obvious, Cohen, the half-baked intellectual and would-be poet, calls this "a superpower paradox." Although we can impose our will on the tiny nation of Serbia, and throw our weight around on a global scale, when it comes to defending American citizens sitting at home in their living rooms, it turns out that the US government is at the mercy of the many enemies it has made around the world. A paradox? Well, yes, but in plain language what we are talking about is a bullies' comeuppance.


Is anyone really all that surprised that "terrorists" would strike back at the US after losing a few of their friends to one of Clinton's stray missiles? There are a few people in the Sudan, Afghanistan, Serbia, and Iraq, who probably hold a bit of a grudge. Naturally Cohen doesn't acknowledge any of this, but simply points to nameless faceless "adversaries" who "seek unconventional asymmetric means to strike our Achilles heel."


Ah, the rich literary allusions! The poetic sensibility! Here the scholarly Cohen evokes the ancient story of Achilles, the greatest warrior of the Trojan War, who, as an infant, was dunked, head first, by his mother in the river Styx, and rendered invulnerable – except for the heel by which she held him. As a metaphor for the Last Superpower, our learned Secretary of Defense has chosen wisely if not knowingly, given what we know about Achilles, who was temperamental, violent, and doomed by his own belligerence and love of war.


Knowing that Achilles would die at Troy, his mother, the Nereid Thetis, sought to prevent this by hiding him among the women of the court of King Lycomedes. Found by Odysseus, he was persuaded to join the Greeks in their NATO-like campaign against Troy – and was killed after being struck in his heel by an arrow fired by Apollo (or possibly Paris, the son of the Trojan king).


The petulance of this man-god, half mortal and half divine, is dramatized in the opening lines of Homer's Iliad:

Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Achilles' anger, doomed and ruinous,
That caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
And crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
Leaving so many dead men – carrion
For dogs and birds . . .

"Doomed and ruinous" – was there ever a more succinct description of our globalist foreign policy than this phrase of Homer's?


Cohen conjures a veritable phantasmagoria of ghouls, both foreign and domestic: if it isn't "fanatical terrorists and religious zealots beyond our borders," then it's "brooding loners and self-proclaimed apocalyptic prophets at home." Here the Defense Secretary is letting us know that it isn't just the Iraqis and Serbs who are in his crosshairs, but also antigovernment "extremists" and Christians (by "apocalyptic prophets" he surely doesn't mean Bahais or Ethical Culturalists). These demonic enemies are armed with anthrax, and smallpox, "the horrible infectious virus that decimated entire nations down the ages and against which the global population is currently defenseless." Thank God – er, I mean, thank goodness – for the United States Government, which is there to protect us from these devils, both homegrown and imported! Isn't that what we are supposed to think?


But how can they protect us from the terrors unleashed by their policies? Can they shield us from the curses of Iraqi and Serbian souls crowded into the undergloom by US bombs? Left as carrion for dogs and birds, their ghosts roam the earth, restless and revengeful. As Cohen puts it, "In the past year, dozens of threats to use chemical or biological weapons in the United States have turned out to be hoaxes. Someday, one will be real." What a monstrous admission! In other words, we know US meddling in every civil war from Kosovo to Taiwan is leading to a disaster of unimaginable proportions; we know our hubris will be rewarded with a great fall – yet, like arrogant Achilles, we ride into battle, dismissive of all warnings, and deluded by the myth of our invincibility. Like him, we will get it in the heel, and not even foreknowledge of this tragedy can prevent it. In Cohen's view, a deadly and massive terrorist attack is virtually inevitable, and all we can do is grit our teeth and brace ourselves for the horrors to come. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Greek tragedy: a terrible disaster unfolds, and mere mortals, for all their struggles and defiance, are powerless to stop it.


Ah, the benefits of being the World's Only Superpower! What we have to look forward to is the day when our worst nightmare becomes reality. Cohen asks: "What would that day look like? A biological agent would sink into the respiratory and nervous systems of the afflicted. The speed and scope of modern air travel could carry this highly contagious virus across hemispheres in hours. Indeed, the invisible contagion would be neither geographically nor numerically limited, infecting unsuspecting thousands – with many, in turn, communicating the virus to whomever they touch." Is this what they mean by "globalization"?


Even more ominous is the title of Cohen's piece, with its Stephen King-like scenario: "Preparing for a Grave New World." But who wants to live in such a world, let alone prepare for it? Cohen admits that there is no defense against this kind of "asymmetric" warfare: "Welcome to the grave New World of terrorism " he writes, "a world in which traditional notions of deterrence and counter-response no longer apply." Let Cohen and his cohorts keep their "Grave New World" – I'd rather be six feet under.


To understand how we got to this point and who brought us here we have only to ask: who benefits? Whose power is inflated by the possibility of looming disaster? According to Cohen, those busy little beavers in the federal government, spearheaded by the armed forces, are preparing to take emergency measures in the event of such an attack. A special "Task Force for Civil Support" to coordinate anti-terrorist plans and "ensure that we have the military assets necessary to help respond domestically while still meeting our foremost mission" is all set and rarin' to go. The really scary part of all this is the clear implication that America's fighting forces may very well be engaged at the time in yet another "humanitarian" mission abroad, with the terrorist attack a response to US military action. Cohen envisions a war fought on two fronts, possibly including an insurrection or some type of civil disorder on the home front as the death toll rises. Are we supposed to be reassured by the cheery news that "Special National Guard teams are being positioned around the nation to advise and assist communities upon request"? But what if these communities don't want to be "advised" and "assisted"? Upon whose request will they be brought in, and under what circumstances?


Gee, the last time they brought in the National Guard to quell a revolt over an unpopular war, it was at Kent State University – but, then, you're probably too young to remember. Well then, pay attention: It was a Monday, May 4, 1970; around noon: 1,000 students had gathered in the Commons, a field in the middle of campus, protesting the Vietnam War. Refusing an order to disperse, the students were attacked by National Guardsmen, who gassed them and then, to everyone's horror, fired into the crowd. Four students were killed, and scores wounded; one was crippled for life.


A sudden national emergency cedes all power to the military and the feds: what are you, some kind of paranoid? How could you possibly find this the least bit suspicious. Why, next thing you know, you'll be raving about black helicopters! What are you, some kind of right-wing extremist?


What a relief to know that Cohen believes that "we must not trample on American lives and liberties in the name of preserving them." Whew! For a moment there, I thought it was all over but the shouting. Yet the next sentence is hardly reassuring: "Fears about the military's role in domestic affairs are unfounded," he burbles, "as evidenced by a long history of reasonable and successful military support to communities ravaged by natural disasters, such as fire and flood." But we are not talking about a flood here, or a fire, but a man-made disaster; that is, a war – in this case, a war that we will have lost. For even if we retaliate massively against the perpetrators, what kind of "victory" can we have if the ebola virus has claimed casualties in the hundreds of thousands and even millions?


The writer Randolph Bourne, the shining star of American liberalism at the turn of the century, trenchantly summed up the libertarian case against imperialism by observing that "war is the health of the State." In the conditions of war, the economy and all social institutions normally in the private sphere are subordinated to and absorbed by the government. Cohen's master plan for the terrorist Armageddon, which will require expanded "information gathering by law enforcement at home" as well as more covert action abroad, underscores this antipathy. But don't worry, says Cohen, you needn't fret about losing what little is left of your liberty: "There need be no fear or foreboding by the American people of the preparations of their government." After all, why worry when tens of thousands are inevitably doomed to die a horrible death? You might as well resign yourself to it, and put your trust in the federal government – or, if you prefer, you can just commit suicide and get it over with.


No, but really, you haven't a worry in the world because "the greater threat to our civil liberties stems from the chaos and carnage that might result from an attack for which we had failed to prepare and the demands for action that would follow." What are these demands, and who is making them? Could it be the American people demanding the abdication of the ruling elite, now that they have brought the country to ruin? In the midst of the devastation wrought by their perpetual wars, defeated and discredited by the consequences of their own hubris, our rulers' first fear is not invasion from abroad but revolution from within. But if everything goes according to plan, the Clintonian "Task Force for Civil Support" working in tandem with FEMA, the Justice Department, and National Guard units, will make short shrift of that.


The Cohen scenario seems too science fictional to be taken seriously, and too possible to discount: it is surrealistically realistic, a sure sign of the times, and an ominous one indeed. John Quincy Adams' admonition not to go abroad "in search of monsters to destroy" will surely be proven correct: for it seems those monsters have, in turn, invaded our own shores, and will (sooner or later) visit destruction upon us.


Naturally, there will be a (relatively) comfortable bunker, plague-free and secure, from which the Secretary of Defense and his cohorts will direct the pacification effort. But just maybe the emergency will catch him unawares. After all, if the past few years have revealed anything it is that our intelligence efforts are not all that dependable (just ask the former inhabitants of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade). It could be that Cohen is out of town giving a speech to the local Foreign Affairs Council. Perhaps his topic will be "The Role of America as the Last and Only Superpower," in which he explains, in his uninspired and perfunctory way, why it is necessary for the U.S. to lord it over the whole world. Just as he is nearing the climax of his peroration, when the phrases of "global responsibility" and "human rights" roll unconvincingly off his lips, just at that moment the deadly virus will strike the hall – and that will be the last act of hypocrisy every committed by William S. Cohen. No, it won't be pretty – but asked to choose between aesthetics and justice, I choose the latter every time.

An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard
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Check out Justin Raimondo's article, "China and the New Cold War"

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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 (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



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