May 29, 2002

Hawks lose out: Iraq attack 'postponed'– indefinitely

Good news – for once! Indeed, we haven't had any of that since 9/11. I'm happy – nay, ecstatic – to report that the much-ballyhooed attack on Iraq has been indefinitely "postponed." As we are informed by the Washington Post [May 24]:

"The uniformed leaders of the U.S. military believe they have persuaded the Pentagon's civilian leadership to put off an invasion of Iraq until next year at the earliest and perhaps not to do it at all, according to senior Pentagon officials."

After a propaganda build-up lasting years, the War Party has had its Waterloo. At a hush-hush White House briefing given by General Tommy Franks earlier this month, Franks told the President that an invasion of Iraq would have to mean assembling a force of 200,000, and that we would have to fight our way into Baghdad "block by block." The clincher: a cornered Saddam Hussein could unleash biological or chemical weapons. Casualties – both Iraqi and American – would be unacceptably high. Even as Bush was denouncing the "axis of evil" from the podium in Berlin, the decision had already been made to forego the grand military strategy of "regime change" in the Middle East and find other means to take down the Ba'athist regime. The Peace Party in the Bush administration has prevailed  – at least, for the moment: the neocons, who have been campaigning hard for the invasion of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and even the military conquest of Saudi Arabia, are vanquished. And their howls of outrage are sweet music to my ears….


First out of the gate was, naturally, Andrew Sullivan, whose womanish lament had the ring of my old Auntie exclaiming "Oh dearie me, it's simply dreadful!" "Is Bush surrendering?" he demanded to know, on hearing the "dreadful news" that tens of thousands of living human beings would be spared:

"If true, then those of us who have supported the war on terror need to revise our assessment of this president. He told the German press yesterday that there is no plan to invade on his desk. He said it almost proudly. His military leaders, in a sign of their determination to risk nothing and achieve nothing, are now leaking to the Washington Post that they have all but scotched a serious military option in Iraq."

To have to listen to this puffed-up poofter (and British immigrant) bloviate about the implied cowardice of our military leaders is part of the price we have to pay for our de facto policy of open borders. For all the whining he's doing about being supposedly "banned" from the pages of the New York Times Magazine, imagine how he'd react to bullets whizzing past his ear. Why the poor thing would run shrieking from the battlefield, rationalizing his cowardice every step of the way. The closest Sullivan has ever gotten to the military is Uniform Night at the local gay dive. When did our gay Napoleon ever risk his life for a cause greater than a moment's satisfaction in the dark?

Oblivious to the sheer foolishness of his posturing, Sullivan cannot help himself. He rears up, in righteous anger, declaiming that the aborted invasion is "nothing short of a staggering betrayal of trust, a reversal of will and determination." In other words, Bush and his military advisors are nothing but cowards. How fickle some people are! Why, it seems like only yesterday that Sullivan was proclaiming that Bush's "bonding" with the American people (and, presumably, himself) was deep and profound:

"One of his most memorable moments in the days after September 11 was when tears came again. He was in the Oval Office and he was asked how these events had affected him. 'Well,' Bush said, 'I don't think about myself right now. I think about the families, the children. I am a loving guy.' And his voice cracked. That's when the country bonded. And only from the depths of such sorrow can come the iron determination to see the crisis through, to ensure to the best of his ability that it would never happen again. His emotional core is connected to his lightness of spirit. He is secure in what he loves. And the very simplicity and depth of his patriotism is more in tune with most Americans than with some other members of the media or political elite. That's why the bond is so strong. And that's why it will last."

But not too long, as least in Sullivan's own mind.
Flitting from hagiography to hateful diatribes in less than two weeks, Butterfly Sullivan insults the entire Bush family, implying some sort of genetic-ideological disorder that the President must have inherited from his father :

"The signs are unmistakable. This president, having begun as an improvement on his father, is showing signs that he could end up as something even worse. It's time he heard from his supporters that this is a critical matter on which there can be no compromise. If he balks, it will be worse than his father's betrayal on taxes. It will be a betrayal of the very security of the American people."

What is this sacred cause that is so critical to Sullivan and his fellow neocons, one wonders: what high principle permits no compromise? Sullivan claims it is "the security of the American people" – but our cities are way beyond the reach of Saddam's primitive Scuds, although they could indeed hit Tel Aviv. So whose security are we talking about here?


Sullivan never retracted his recommendation that the US ought to nuke Iraq in "retaliation" for the anthrax he claimed was visited on us by Baghdad, in spite of exactly zero evidence of this – and even after it was clear that it came from a domestic source. With no Iraqi link to 9/11, and Saddam moving to make some accommodation with the UN on the weapons inspection issue, the question of how to rationalize such a bloody and expensive war would doubtless cross the mind of any American President. Yet, according to Sullivan and his fellow neocons, such considerations amount to a "betrayal" – but of what, or whom?

The answer, in short, is Israel.

A US invasion of Iraq would permit the Likud party nutballs to carry out their expansionist policy of a "Greater Israel" under cover of a general conflagration in the region, quite aside from knocking out a major antagonist. On the other hand, the conquest of Iraq would cost the US dearly, not only in lives, but in terms of support in the Arab world. Israel's partisans – or, at least, the Likudnik variety, now in the saddle – abhor the very idea of Arab support for the US. For such support is bound to be mutual, and that is the last thing they and their American amen corner want. The Israeli version of the "war on terrorism," which American neocons liken to the cold war, pits Washington and Tel Aviv against the entire Arab world. It is a view that Dubya's father rightly rejected, and, after a period of internal struggle, has been similarly defeated within the current administration. For the primacy of the US-Israeli alliance is no longer the dominant factor in region, as far as US policy makers are concerned.


This new reality – the radical divergence of US and Israeli interests – has taken hold since the end of the cold war, and certainly 9/11 rapidly accelerated the process. Quarantining Al Qaeda politically as well as physically requires the active cooperation of our Arab allies, first of all the Saudis. US economic and military interests require, in this context, a tilt toward Arab moderates. The Likudniks, and their American supporters, including Sullivan, recognize no such fine distinctions: to them, the entire Arab world is one vast reservoir of "Islamo-fascism," and the sooner it is drained the better. As for the Americans, they are coming to realize that the real Islamo-fascists have no better friend than Ariel Sharon's Israel.

The point is that this song and dance about Bush "betraying" the "national security" is a complete inversion of the truth: Bush is – finally – looking out for US interests. Sullivan and his fellow neocons feel "betrayed" because the President is putting America, and not Israel, first. Sure, Saddam is a ruthless dictator who deserves the fate that befell Mussolini, but it is not for the American armed forces to achieve what none would dispute is a desirable result. There are many like him – and far worse – who rule elsewhere. Are we to overthrow them all? Only a few neocon ideologues take such a batty idea seriously. (Although even one would be too much.)


Another cause for unalloyed glee – aside from the feeling of relief that so many Iraqi innocents have been spared – is the sheer misery of the neocons, who are furious that the President has gone and ruined their lovely war. They were so counting on it; indeed, neocon pundits busied themselves giddy drawing up grandiose battle plans. Use the disunited and disreputable Iraqi "opposition" as a new "Northern Alliance"! In case of trouble in Saudi Arabia, take over the oil fields! "Liberate" Baghdad, but don't stop there! On to Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and beyond – oh, and while we're at it, we may as well "democratize" the Middle East. All that building of "new international architectures," busy as beavers they've been – and for what?

Now, it's all come to naught, and Bill Kristol is p'o-ed, I tell you, and even more appalled than Sullivan by the Bushies suddenly going "wobbly." But how, Kristol wants to know, could he do this, after all that rhetorical warmongering: "Was it all hot air?" The bad news gets worse: not only is Bush calling off the Iraq attack, he's also declining to spend us into bankruptcy by increasing the "defense" budget to the Weekly Standard's satisfaction. Oh, the horror of it all!


The War Party is in full retreat on the policymaking battlefield, and the Peace Party is triumphant. But does that mean Noam Chomsky has taken over the US State Department? Hardly. For the Peace Party, in this context, is not the Left, or even the nationalist-libertarian Right, but a far more powerful and doggedly "isolationist" force: the US military. The Telegraph headlined the story "Military chiefs defy Bush on Iraq," and reported it as a sort of mini-coup:

"America's most senior military commanders have staged a joint rebellion against calls for a swift strike against Iraq."

Listing the various arguments utilized by the six Joint Chiefs of Staff, the paper characterized their strenuous objections to the Iraq invasion plan as a "revolt" that went public "with a series of coordinated leaks to American newspapers, describing how the Joint Chiefs stood 'shoulder to shoulder' in challenging the wisdom of attacking Saddam." So, has the Pentagon been taken over by peaceniks, infected by what the War Party calls the virus of "Euro-pacifism"?

Not hardly. As the quintessential guardian of American interests, the US military and its leaders instinctively put America first. Just as a healthy body rejects a viral invader, so the Pentagon chieftains fought and repulsed the alien agenda of the Israel-firsters in the administration. The irony of US military leaders as the most powerful force for peace is somewhat abated when we recognize that these guys, after all, are the ones who have to fight the wars.

Unlike our laptop bombardiers – and our leftie peaceniks, who find the idea of the Pentagon horning in on their peace-mongering somewhat disquieting, to say the least – the Joint Chiefs know what war entails. Dying for your own country is one thing: dying for somebody else's country is an altogether different proposition. This explains why it's the civilians in the administration – Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle – who are the most dangerous, and the military guys – the Joint Chiefs and Colin Powell – who provide a counterbalance of restraint and sanity. Their noninterventionist impulse is neither weakness, nor cowardice, but plain common sense born of bitter experience.


That is why Sullivan's contempt for the American military is so galling – especially coming from a foreigner whose country we saved not once but twice. For the same reason, he's dead wrong about what he regards as the weakness of the Bushies, disdainfully observing that the apparent decision not to invade is something one might expect of a Gore administration. The Weekly Standard chimes in, ruefully remarking that this is but a "continuation" of the Clintonian policy of containment.

Such an argument, however, suffers from the blinkered worldview of the Beltway punditocracy. The continuities of American foreign policy – and the conflicts that shape it – are not properly defined in such narrowly partisan terms, which invariably distort the larger issues. One has only to step back five or so years to see the current debate as a reenactment of an earlier clash between the military and a rarin'-to-go civilian leadership. It was, after all, Madeleine Albright who famously complained to Colin Powell:

"What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about, if we can't use it?"

That was in 1992, when Albright was demanding a massive US intervention in Bosnia. In his memoirs, Powell wrote:

"I thought I would have an aneurysm. American GIs are not toy soldiers to be moved around on some global game board."

Today, the neoconservatives are echoing Albright's indignant query, and threatening Powell and his Pentagon allies with multiple aneurysms. To these laptop bombardiers, who are blithely willing to "pay any price, bear any burden" in pursuit of Empire, American troops are toy soldiers and the world is indeed a global game board. And they are playing to win….


Isn't it funny how, just as George W. Bush seems to be turning pro-American, all of a sudden the media is developing an obsession with his alleged foreknowledge of 9/11. What did he know, and when did he know it? they screech. We are now seeing one of the weirdest de facto alliances in modern political history: the convergence of the Cynthia McKinney conspiracists, who blame 9/11 on the President's friends in the mysterious Carlyle Group – in concert, no doubt, with the ultra-capitalist denizens of the Bohemian Grove – and the neocons. "Bush Knew!" screamed the staunchly Republican New York Post headline. An odd stance for New York's voice of neoconservatism to take, and yet – seen in the context of this policy shift within the administration, it all begins to make a grotesque sort of sense.


For a while, the War Party was hoping that Bush's tilt toward the Palestinians and his embrace of the Saudi peace plan was just a clever ruse, a "rope-a-dope" theory. But, as Roy Edroso points out on the vastly-improved Warblogger Watch site, their patience soon wore thin. Until finally John Derbyshire, like some fishwife complaining that her husband never takes her out anywhere but MacDonald's, expressed the half-hidden fear at the heart of all this rationalizing in an article for National Review, "The U.S. Will Not Go to War Against Iraq,"

"Are you starting to get the feeling I'm getting, the feeling expressed in my title? The feeling that there will be no war against Iraq? Not this year, not next year, not ever?"

The Washington Post piece reporting the Franks briefing came out less than a week later, and by then the mood of the War Party was considerably darkened. Oh, but don't worry, wrote John O'Sullivan a few days later, look on the bright side:

"There is one overwhelming reason why Bush will invade Iraq in the next year or so: He will not be reelected if Saddam Hussein is still ruling in Baghdad in 2004."

Whether that is a prediction, or a threat, I leave to my readers to decide. I also leave to them the question of why so many transplanted Brits – Sullivan, Derbyshire, O'Sullivan, and god knows who else – are laboring so mightily to drag us into war. Perhaps we should make it a condition of conferring US citizenship that the lucky recipient sign a pledge refraining from taking a public position on any foreign policy question for a minimum of ten years – and make the rule retroactive.


While we should all take a moment to celebrate this apparent victory – God knows we don't have the chance to do it very often – this is no time for complacency. After all, the War Party isn't going to sit still for this kind of treatment at hands of the Bush administration, and you can be sure that we haven't heard the last of this "what-did-he-know?" mantra. An all-out neocon war on the Bushies – allied, strategically and ideologically, with such pro-Israel Democrats as Senator Joe Lieberman – is in the works, and it isn't going to be pretty. As I wrote last month,

"For now, it seems, even the long-awaited assault on Iraq seems to be up in the air.… The President's tilt toward the Saudi peace plan bodes ill for Gulf War II …

Dick Cheney had just gotten back from the Middle East where he talked up the Iraq attack (to no avail), and the President was echoing the Pope in demanding an end to the "humiliation" of the Palestinians:

"Poor Andy Sullivan, the gay Catholic and Republican sympathizer who will now have to take on not only President Bush but also the Pope! It must be hard. However, the rest of the neocons, all ex-Democrats (or ex-Trotskyists, depending on how far back you want to go) will have no trouble changing horses in midstream. As I have pointed out on many occasions, their own loyalties have always been clear: in any conflict between the US and Israel, they have always defended the latter no matter what. So, stand back, and let the fireworks begin."

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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.