July 9, 1999


The elites hate the Internet, and with good reason. In the Information Age, the priesthood of "experts" is debunked and defunct. It used to be that all legitimate news and commentary was filtered through the lens of this self-elected priesthood. No more. Today, thanks to the computer revolution, Everyman is an expert – or can quickly become one. The decentralization of knowledge has done more to create "a level playing field" than all the egalitarian schemes in history. But not everyone is happy about it.


This revolutionary fact threatens the livelihoods and social status of journalists, academics, policy wonks, and resident know-it-alls the world over, and they are fighting back in the only way they can: with smears and sneers. If disdain were a deadly weapon, Matt Drudge would have long ago died a thousand deaths.


Dethroned by universal skepticism and rising technology, the former aristocrats of the Age of Gutenberg, who wax nostalgic over carbon paper, are determined to discredit these impudent usurpers with any kind of innuendo they can dig up. Writing in the Washington Post [July 5, 1999], William M. Arkin dredges up the same old charges that have been hurled at freelancers like Drudge: the Internet is nothing but a rumor-mill, and its resident experts and chief practitioners are charlatans all. Exhibit 'A' is a "widely-distributed fake essay," which was supposed to have been written by retired General John Shalikashvili, in which the former head of the Joint Chiefs criticized the Kosovo war. Arkin reveals that the fake letter was pieced together from an analysis by the Strategic Forecasting and Intellgence group, known as STRATFOR, a private foreign policy thinktank that operates chiefly over the Internet. He then proceeds to link them to the fake letter, in spite of STRATFOR chairman George Friedman's disclaimer that "we don't need the publicity." "Well, sniffs Arkin, "at least STRATFOR doesn't need bad publicity" – and the smears follow fast and furious.


Arkin's fury is rooted not only in technophobia, and a patrician disdain of anything that comes off the Internet: he has a clear ideological agenda. Citing "a number of Pentagon reporters," he complains that the conservative STRATFOR has growing influence among the military. Seeking to mesmerize his audience with the pure evil of the STRATFOR "would-be pundits," Arkin quotes one anonymous journalist who calls their online analysis "the distilled essence of conventional wisdom from a conservative military point of view, all processed in the STRATFOR strategic Cuisinart: KLA bad, Clinton stupid, [General Wesley] Clark too comfortable with diplomats and reporters, Albright trigger-happy." Clinton stupid? KLA bad? How could anyone even entertain such farfetched ideas?


This anonymous reporter, says Arkin, views STRATFOR as a purveyor of "the simple, and simplistic explanations often popular with disgruntled Washington observers." In the world of the Washington insiders, to be "disgruntled" is akin to being called a crank. And of course there can be no simple explanations, everything is necessarily complex: far too complex for anyone but journalists – liberal journalists – to figure out.


Arkin cites Friedman's view that "governments – 'ours and theirs' – are not trustworthy" with evident distaste. In an era when the lines that used to separate government and journalism are blurred, with the latter frequently taking its marching orders from the former – or, in Strobe Talbot's case, the latter becoming the former – such a view is seen as curiously archaic, like the Latin Mass or the Constitution.


If this were not enough to completely discount STRATFOR and all its works, we are told that Friedman, adding insult to injury, "abhors Beltway gossip" – the Washington Post's stock-in-trade – and is skeptical of "expert information." Friedman, in short, is the exact opposite of what the late Murray N. Rothbard called the "court intellectual," who "spins the apologia for the new dispensation in return for wealth, power, and prestige at the hands of the state and it's allied Establishment." In understanding where Arkin and his ilk are coming from, the full citation from Rothbard's classic essay, "Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War," in Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader (Ralph Myles, 1968), is worth quoting:


"There have been, after all, but two mutually exclusive roles that the intellectual can play and has played through history: either independent truth-seeker, or kept favorite of the Court. Certainly, the historical norm of the old and dead civilization was Oriental despotism, in which serving as apologist and 'intellectual bodyguard' of the ruling elite was the intellectual's major function. But it was the glory of Western civilization before this century to develop a class of intellectuals truly independent of the power structure of the State. Now this, too, has been largely lost." The growth and development of the Internet means that this vital independence can be regained – and that is what enrages Arkin and the Washington Post crowd. No longer bound hand and foot to the State or its adjuncts in academia and the Establishment media, the seeker after truth is free to find his own way – and he does not even have to qualify as a professional intellectual.


This is intolerable to Arkin and his ilk, whose position and prestige rest on preserving their claim to a special expertise. Eliot Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, derides STRATFOR's analysis as "information comfort food." In his view, it is the McDonald's of policy wonkery, "unnuanced" and "unsophisticated." He denounces STRATFOR for its "alarmism," and avers that "alarmism hinges on the idea that there is something really big out there that others haven't noticed." In other words: If there were "something big out there," then surely he and his anointed confreres would have noticed it.


This "alarmist" idea, he says, is "the basis of conspiracy theory and one of the weaknesses in our intellectual culture. Linking from one juicy bit to another juicy bit leads to the STRATFOR phenomenon. But it is not the makings of a complex understanding of anything." By definition, only qualified "experts" like Cohen have a complex understanding of anything. All others are believers in "conspiracy theory" – oh no, not that! – who have deluded themselves into thinking that the world is comprehensible. Never mind those "juicy bits of facts," which feed the public's insatiable appetite for "alarmism" – only the sober analysis of Establishment-anointed pundits in the "mainstream" media can be legitimate sources of news and opinion. This means the big urban dailies have a monopoly on truth, and the Internet is a sideshow that is not to be taken seriously. Isn't there something just a little bit too self-serving in this argument? It is like a union of quill pen makers denouncing the inventors of movable type for disrupting the social order and subverting good taste. Now if I went in for "conspiracy theories," I might be able to explain this otherwise inexplicable hostility to a medium with virtually unlimited potential.


God forbid that anyone should suspect that "there is something really big out there." Once people get that idea into their heads, who knows where it will lead? The next thing you know, they might even want to start taking their destiny into their own hands.


"All that linking," sneers Arkin. "All that cutting and pasting of other people's reporting and opinions. It is, of course, the lifeblood of new Web intelligence entrepreneurs and gossip hounds. It is also the instrument that led to the creation of the Shalikashvili fabrication in the first place." But the Shalikashvili memorandum could have been forged and bruited about by more traditional means. The Internet, while making it easy to produce and disseminate such a document, also made it relatively easy to track down the deception. But Arkin, the arch-Luddite, is insensitive to such irony.


More importantly, the "instrument that led to the creation of the Shalikashvili fabrication" was not a computer or the Internet but a human being. To say that the ability to cut-and-paste text leads inexorably to a blurring of the distinction between fact and rumor would also rule out the use of tape-recorders, or indeed any recording device, including written language, on the grounds that the truth could always be edited out of existence.


Arkin asks: "Is STRATFOR thus the victim or merely another player in the dumbing down of independent thinking?" To any rational person, STRATFOR was and is obviously the victim in this case: after all, their material was pirated, and passed off as something it was not. But in Arkin's view, STRATFOR is guilty by reason of its very existence: as a news source outside the approved channels, it is not only suspect – it is the enemy. To the Brahmins of the Washington Post and allied media, information and analysis that originates outside of their narrow circle of government, ex-government, and quasi-official sources – and, somehow, becomes widely disseminated – is "dumbed down" (and probably false) by definition.


Foreign policy has traditionally been left up to the so-called experts, and that is just the way the internationalists like it. The result has been that the bipartisan policy of globalism and interventionism has dominated American policy, unchecked and unchallenged, for over half a century. While I do not always agree with STRATFOR's analysis, the point is that the rise of such mavericks is good news for noninterventionists. Anything that breaks the monopoly of the Court Intellectuals, and creates space for dissent, is to be applauded and encouraged. Like Antiwar.com, STRATFOR came into prominence at the height of the recent Balkan war: as the bombs fell on Yugoslavia, and the NATO-crats sought to crush the idea of national sovereignty underfoot, people all over the world began to ask: why? They began to question the pious pronouncements of their leaders, and began to suspect, with typical "alarmism," that indeed "there is something really big out there." Even more alarming to the Establishment, they began to make inquiries as to its nature and motives – and that really is something the Court Intellectuals can neither forgive nor forget.


For months, we were told that NATO was fighting a war of "liberation" – but as the reality began to become all-too-apparent, what was liberated, instead, was the whole realm of foreign policy. Demystified by the ready access to information made possible by the computer revolution, the realm of foreign affairs has now been opened up for a free and wide-ranging debate. What is America's proper role in the world? Are we a republic, or an empire? For the first time since the beginning of the Cold War – except for a brief interregnum during the Vietnam war – these questions are being asked not just by policy wonks and government officials, but by ordinary people. That is why institutions like STRATFOR and Antiwar.com are springing up and gaining rapidly, at the expense of more conventional old-line media, and why they will continue to grow. With the creation of the Internet, the genie is out of the bottle, and there is no stuffing it back in. As much as Mr. Arkin, Elliot Cohen, and their fellow patricians hate to admit it, their day is over – and thank God for that.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, "China and the New Cold War"

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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 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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