June 2, 2003

The War Party – a scary, ugly lot

Uzbekistan, land of torture, where opponents of the barbaric regime are routinely jailed, beaten, and murdered – you wouldn't think that Uzbek "President" Islam Karimov would have any Western defenders. But, then, you probably weren't taking ex-leftist-turned-Muslim Stephen Schwartz into account.

The fifty-something "senior policy analyst" for the ironically-named Foundation in Defense of Democracies, a rabid war bird formerly with the Voice of America, doesn't have much of a problem with Uzbekistan's estimated 600 political arrests per year and some 6,500 political prisoners – many of whom face death by torture. Praising Uzbekistan in a speech as "a new, young, transitional democracy," Schwartz explained:

"I cannot claim to provide a full endorsement of the Uzbek regime, without going there. Obviously, as in any country, there have been abuses. However, I note that much of the discussion of Uzbekistan and the claims of Islamic figures in that country to being victims of repression, rests on extremely vague terminology. For example, the latest U.S. State Department report on human rights abuses around the world was released on March 4. It includes numerous allegations against Uzbekistan, many involving the government's struggle to suppress Hizb-ut-Tahrir - a clandestine subversive movement originating in Arab countries. This is a battle in which the United States should probably be cheering Karimov on, rather than condemning him."

According to a forensic report compiled last summer by the British embassy in Uzbekistan, two prisoners of this "transitional democracy" were boiled to death. Their screams were not too audible in the West, drowned out, perhaps, by Schwartz's cheers and the support of the U.S. government. American taxpayers shelled out $500 million in aid to Uzbekistan, $79 million of which went directly into the pockets of the torturers, i.e. the police and intelligence apparatus.

Apologizing for torture, murder, and the parboiling of human beings – for the man they call "the philosophical whore of North Beach," it's all in a day's work.

While we're on the subject of Schwartz, he's authored yet another screed supposedly linking me to all sorts of causes I've never embraced and people I've never met. Writing in Frontpage – where else? – Schwartz whines that when he arrived at the Islamic Center of Long Island, where he was supposedly invited to give a talk on May 11 – although the calendar for the Islamic Center does not mention his name – he was

"Handed a pamphlet headed with the ominous words 'CONFRONT MUSLIM-BASHER.' The target of this propaganda was me. The tone was one of violent incitement. The anonymous author of this screed had assembled a series of hysterical charges against me … The pamphlet ended with scurrilous quotes from Dennis 'Justin' Raimondo … and from Kevin Keating, another West Coast fringe type. Keating was the leftist radical photographed in San Francisco during the Iraq conflict, toting a banner reading "We Support Our Troops WHEN THEY SHOOT THEIR OFFICERS."

This is the second attempt by Schwartz to link me to Keating, whom I have never even met. To wing-dings of the Schwartzian variety, however, all those he counts as his enemies are involved in a vast conspiracy against him. As he put it:

"The long arm of the Saudi/Wahhabi conspiracy, supported by American neofascists and leftists, had reached me in Long Island"!

Paranoia doesn't even begin to encompass Schwartz's peculiar pathology. Besides quotes from me, and the mysterious Mr. Keating, this anonymous "pamphlet" also supposedly "promoted Jama'at al-Fuqra, a violent criminal organization linked to al-Qaida."

Gee, that was some "pamphlet" – it sounds more like a lengthy treatise. But what were those "scurrilous quotes" he attributes to me? Except for the "Confront Muslim-Basher" headline, Schwartz never quotes from this mysterious document: does it even exist except in his perfervid imagination?

Poor paranoid Schwartz – according to his account, when he was confronted with this terrifying pamphlet, he ran screaming from the room:

"Rather than bring about the confrontation these fanatics desired, I left the mosque without speaking. Many small children were present, and I would not have risked an uproar. Later I found out that as soon as I was gone, a large crowd of scowling men in Taliban-style beards also departed the scene - after one of them had delivered a harangue denouncing me as a Communist, of all things. They obviously had not come to hear the children sing praises of the Prophet. After further investigation of this incident, I concluded that it was a deliberate setup."

It's a worldwide, left-right terrorist-inspired conspiracy against Schwartz – because, you see, he's sooooooooo important. Not even Lyndon LaRouche is this nutty. The Taliban – in Long Island? Mullah Omar must be summering in The Hamptons. (By the way, has Schwartz looked in a mirror lately? His own facial hair is fairly long, and he's a self-professed Muslim. Does that qualify his beard as "Taliban-style"?)

Oh, but here's my favorite part of Schwartz's rant against the International Raimondo-al Fuqra Conspiracy::

"I have obtained the names of the provocateurs in this affair, and will inform the FBI of the trouble in Westbury."

In a free society, wackos like Schwartz are laughed at and generally ignored: in a police state, they are feared and universally hated informers. Caught as we are midway between these two states, the sight of Schwartz's porcine figure lurking in the shadows is fraught with overtones both sinister and absurd.

I'm sure the feds were thrilled to get this list of subversives from a nut-job of Schwartz's caliber: my name, no doubt, is somewhere near the top. It's an honor, albeit a dubious one, considering the source: but I won't be too surprised if the FBI shows up at my door wanting to take a look at my Jama'at al-Fuqra membership card.

The War Party has some real characters in its ranks, the sort of people you couldn't put into fiction because no one would believe it. Donald Rumsfeld is nothing if not cartoonish, an American Colonel Blimp, and what comic book villain even approaches the sinister sleekness of Richard Perle? But it's the minor figures, like Schwartz, that really show the War Party for what it is: an unsavory collection of frothy-mouthed fanatics, would-be police informers, and opportunists on the make. But Larry Elder, a minor talk radio celebrity, who recently announced his resignation from the Libertarian Party, is giving opportunism a bad name….

The idea that Elder is or ever was a "libertarian" is patently absurd. Anyone can register Libertarian, or even send in dues to the national Libertarian Party, but Elder's views are so conventionally Republican (of the moderate or neoconservative variety) that his claim to the libertarian mantle seems strangely off-the-wall. After all, here is someone who wants to elect Republicans "who reject the notion that the 'right to privacy' exists in the 'penumbras' of the Constitution." Some "libertarian"! In his screed attacking Libertarians and announcing his defection to the Republicans, he says he switched because

"Most Libertarians opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a position I find increasingly naive and simplistic in a world of mobile biological labs and radiological bombs capable of being carried in suitcases by our nation's enemies."

Since suitcase nukes have been technically feasible for many years, the suddenness of Elder's conversion on this point is somewhat suspect. That this lethal luggage, in the case of Iraq, was apparently lost in transit doesn't seem to bother Elder: he counsels us to be "patient" – oh, and what about those two trucks they found? Besides, we don't need a "smoking gun." Larry doesn't even need a rationalization for war: we just have to have faith in the leadership of George W. Bush.

That this longtime political huckster is claiming to be a free-thinking "libertarian" whose bete noire is political correctness, is some kind of joke – right? The man is a fraud, and not even a half-convincing one: he seems almost fated to become another (failed) Republican politician.

Hypocrisy is an essential ingredient in the make up of any politician, no matter which party he belongs to, and certainly Elder is especially favored in this regard. When he was boycotted and picketed by African-Americans who didn't take kindly to his views on race matters, and his radio time was cut back by his sponsors, Elders and his supporters were whining and screaming "censorship" with a series of paid pro-Elder ads (David Horowitz's outfit picked up the tab to the tune of $350,000). Yet when antiwar actors and other public figures were attacked and denied employment for their views on foreign policy, suddenly Elder rediscovered the "true" meaning of censorship and concluded that antiwar "celebrities are ignorant of the First Amendment."

Rumor has it that the Republicans are desperately looking around for someone to run against Senator Barbara Boxer in California: Radio host Dennis Prager is being talked about, as is Larrry Elder. If Elder has the gall to go out in the public square and further degrade a once-noble political term by describing himself as a "libertarian," then one has to ask: Are we to be spared nothing?

Apparently not. As "the Sage of South Central" puts it:

"Make no mistake: My libertarian principles remain unchanged. But as writer Midge Decter once said: 'There comes a time to join the side you're on.'"

Yes, and it's the side you were always on, Larry, which is most decidedly not the libertarian side of the barricades: you're on the other side, with your neocon friend Ms. Decter and all the other war-bots intent on dragging us down the road to Empire. Goodbye – and good riddance!

No column entitled "Wackos, Weirdos, and Wingdings" would be complete without a section dealing with Ramesh Ponnuru. a writer for National Review. Ponnuru just appeared on "The McLaughlin Group" today [Friday, May 30] for the first time, and the sheer dorkiness of the guy, looking and sounding for all the world like some Indian eunuch of a neoconservative disposition, was painful to watch. The knee-jerk answers, the robotic stare, the rhetoric reduced to sloganeering, all projected the image of some party-lining Soviet apparatchik, in style if not in content. He brings the same style to his written works. In National Review Online, Ponnuru attacks Donald Devine, of the American Conservative Union, for raising questions about David Frum's smear of antiwar conservatives, calling him a liar and "cracked." Ponnuru writes:

"Not only does Frum not consider himself a neoconservative; he quite explicitly noted that conservatives in good standing could have reservations about, or even oppose, the war. In the very issue in which Frum's article appears, he had a short article lauding an antiwar conservative (Heather MacDonald)."

But here is what Frum actually wrote:

"Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?"

Our options, then, are limited to which of Israel's enemies do we go after first – Hezbollah? Iraq? Iran? Or Saudi Arabia? Pick one, please. To oppose going to war against one or all of these entities, as Frum put it, was to objectively "align" oneself with the "Islamists" and "the left."

As for Heather MacDonald, the piece he refers to had nothing to do with the war: it was about how much Frum agreed with her that we should not question anything the police might do, and that large groups of black males are inherently suspicious. All Ms. MacDonald said, in public, about this war is that antiwar protestors should stay at home and not engage in massive demonstrations because they might threaten national security. She has also said civil libertarians should shut up and go along with the growth of the Surveillance State for the same reasons. That's the kind of "antiwar" sentiment Frum and Ponnuru can live with. Any other kind is "unpatriotic."

Against Devine's contention that perpetual war means an exponential expansion of the power of Big Government to control every aspect of our lives, Ponnuru writes:

"The ability to frighten would-be aggressors actually doesn't imply that price controls are a good idea. But the bigger problem with Devine's argument is that the word 'empire' is serving as an incantation rather than as a concept. What's the operational distinction between true, anti-imperial conservatives and bad, imperial "neo-conservatives"? Almost nobody is seriously calling for an occupation of Syria – not The Weekly Standard (another Devine target), and certainly not National Review."

Soft-pedaling this administration's stated doctrine of "preemption" – which presupposes an alleged "right" to attack any nation on earth because they might pose an unspecified threat in the indeterminate future – as "the ability to frighten would-be aggressors" just won't do. What we are talking about here is the ability and intention to conquer and occupy alleged "aggressors" – well in advance of any aggression. As for Devine's critique of "empire" being an "incantation": the $10 billion per month price tag, the mounting casualties, and rising unrest in Iraq – is this all an "incantation"?

Ponnuru should try reading his own magazine: National Review has run articles calling for the occupation of the Saudi oil fields, and "regime change" not only in Syria but throughout the Middle East. National Review editor Rich Lowry infamously called for the nuking of Mecca. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and his foreign policy thinktank, the Project for a New American Century, have advocated a similar course. All this is a matter of public record. Does Ponnuru think he can get away with denying it?

"The ability to frighten would-be aggressors actually doesn't imply that price controls are a good idea" – but indeed it does, because "war is the health of the State," as the classical liberal Randolph Bourne correctly put it. It is well-known, for example, that price controls were brought in during the reign of the Republican Richard Nixon, on account of the economic distortions caused by the Vietnam war. "Temporary" rent controls were imposed in New York City during World War II in the name of "national security" – and never repealed. During the Korean war, Truman nationalized the coal mines and threatened to draft striking workers into the army, all in the name of "national security."

The Big Government "conservatism" of National Review, limply defended by the hack Ponnuru, is rapidly losing ground, as evidenced by Ponnuru's hysterical and quite ineffective attack on the American Conservative Union. The most serious charge that he can muster is that the ACU doesn't want to challenge Senator Arlen Spector in a GOP primary. Meanwhile, Ponnuru & Co. want to ditch conservative opposition to Big Government in the name of a perpetual war of conquest in the Middle East. It seems to me that the ACU has a more serious and fundamental argument, which Ponnuru never bothers to challenge.

Ponnuru's problem: conservatives are increasingly disenchanted with National Review's support for Bush's Big Government policies at home and belligerent expansionism abroad. Stephen Schwartz's exotic brand of neo-leftist "liberationism" likewise has limited appeal to conservatives. And Larry Elder's party-line neoconservative blathering is neither "libertarian" nor even genuinely conservative – it is opportunism, pure and simple.

The wackos, weirdos, and wing-dings of the pro-war Right are, collectively, a chorus of losers and ideological exotics, whose concerns are so far removed from those of real, ordinary people – conservatives, as well as liberals – that the distance can only be measured in light-years. Schwartz, Elder, and Ponnuru, representing the Axis of Amorality, are doomed, in the end, to lose – because all three are second-raters, liars, and hacks, without credibility, and, what's more, without much of a following. The louder they scream, the more they smear their political opponents, the more they bring discredit on themselves and their cause.

– Justin Raimondo

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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 U.S. 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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