July 18, 2003

– While War Party proclaims 'colonialist consensus' at home

by Justin Raimondo

American troops in Iraq, who creamed Saddam Hussein and his cronies in record time, are turning their sights on another target: the Bush administration – and if I were the Bushies, I'd be scared. A sergeant stationed in Fallujah recently told ABC News:

"I've got my own 'Most Wanted' list. The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz,"

Sure, the soldiers of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division are tired – exhausted is more like it. They've been there since September, and were promised that they'd be home by now. But it isn't just homesickness. Pfc. Eric Rattler avers:

"I used to want to help these people, but now I don't really care about them anymore. I've seen so much, you know, little kids throwing rocks at you. Once you pacify an area, it seems like the area you just came from turns bad again. I'd like this country to be all right, but I don't care anymore."

A conquered country needs to stay conquered, and that requires an occupation; we'll be in Iraq anywhere from 5 to 10 years, according to the experts and influential members of Congress. It is also going to require a lot more troops. But American soldiers are trained to win wars, not to baby-sit restive natives. Imperialism goes against the grain of the American character, as vociferously expressed by one of the military wives, Rhonda Vega of Hinesville, Georgia, who told a national TV audience:

"Just send my husband home – send all the soldiers home. They have done the job they were supposed to do."

Soldiers calling for Rummy's resignation on national television, military wives speaking out against the occupation – it didn't take very long for the backlash against the Iraq war to make itself felt. War "revisionism" usually takes years to kick in: this time, however, the smoke had barely cleared from the skies over Baghdad before the lies of the War Party were exposed and the storm of indignation broke. This can be explained, at least to some extent, to the ubiquity of the Internet, and is also due, perhaps, to the unusual brazenness of these particular liars. After all, the administration's Niger-uranium fantasy was debunked by UN inspector Jacques Baute "with a few quick Google searches," as Joshua Marshall described it.

What were they thinking?

Blinded by arrogance, and the myth of American preeminence, the neoconservative architects of a frankly imperial foreign policy don't care what ordinary people think. The whole world, for them, consists of Washington, D.C. and immediate environs, which is how come Rich Lowry can proclaim, in all seriousness, the rise of a "colonialist consensus." The editor of National Review opines:

"No one wants to say it out loud, but we are all colonialists now."

By "we," of course, he means all the policy wonks who inhabit the Washington Beltway, and who seem to have arrived at a "consensus" on the desirability of imperialism:

"Beneath all the vitriolic partisan disagreements about American foreign policy, then, there is a sort of colonialist consensus, which is why American troops are in Afghanistan and Iraq (a Republican president's colonialism), Bosnia and Kosovo (a Democratic president's colonialism), and perhaps soon Liberia, too (a Republican president's colonialism that is pleasing to Democrats)."

But the grunts who have to fight Washington's wars of conquest are not included in this great "consensus." Their opinions are not even considered, because they don't count. We must leave it to the elites, on the right and the left, and they have spoken:

"Conservatives want to provide security and decent government to far-flung parts of the world for our own good – to protect America's interests; liberals want to provide security and decent government to far-flung parts of the world for other people's good – to protect humanitarian principles."

What this means is that, when it comes to foreign policy, the ideological spectrum has been considerably narrowed to include only the two known varieties of neoconservatives: right-neocons and left-neocons, with the entire range of permitted dissent on foreign policy matters consisting of the short distance between National Review and The New Republic. Libertarians, leftists, paleoconservatives, and other opponents of our policy of global intervention – all are beyond the pale, including non-ideologues Pfc. Rattler, Ms. Vega, and the people who will actually have to fight these endless wars of conquest.

Lowry and his fellow mandarins see their role as grand strategists. They are all of them little Napoleons, and their unspeakable arrogance leaps out at Lowry's readers:

"The unspoken assumption of both sides is that swaths of the world have proven incapable of self-government, and they're both right. So conservative Republican President George W. Bush sends American troops to take over from the nasty dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and liberal Democrat Howard Dean wants to send American troops to take over from the nasty dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor."

Lowry's unspoken assumption is that we can care passionately about the ability of distant peoples to govern themselves without losing our own capacity for self-government, embodied in the Constitution and the revolutionary anti-colonialist heritage of the Founders. Can we rid the world of nasty dictators without the risk of installing one in Washington? Certainly, in the neocon view, it is a risk well worth taking, but, in the self-enclosed, self-referential world of Lowry's "colonialist consensus," such a question never even gets asked.

Lowry wants neo-colonialists to come out of the closet, so to speak, and openly proclaim their proclivities, previously thought shameful and now openly celebrated. Furthermore, he says, we must learn from our predecessors how to go about building the new imperial order:

"We can also openly study the British example and learn its lessons, especially how to create a – in [Niall] Ferguson's phrase – 'self-liquidating' empire, one that builds the institutions necessary to decent government, then leaves."

"Self-liquidating" is one way to describe a policy that over-extended, impoverished, and eventually drained the British homeland, ending in exhaustion and economic ruin. As the last, degenerated remnants of a once mighty empire debate whether to throw their lot in with the United Socialist States of Europe, or fall back on their Anglo cousins across the ocean, one can only agree with Lowry that we must study the British example and learn its lessons. But what lesson, apart from "Don't go there!", can possibly be learned?

Lowry enthuses over what a great deal European imperialism was for the downtrodden peoples of, say, Africa, although I'm almost sure he wouldn't want to bring the Belgians back to the Congo, or the Spanish, for that matter, back to the Southwest United States (although perhaps, with a little coaxing, they could be persuaded to take Mexico in hand….) What he doesn't mention, however, is that it wasn't such a great deal for the Europeans. The economic benefits of imperialism accrue only to certain politically favored entities and individuals, while the economic health of the commonwealth suffers in the long run. An empire must be policed, maintained by an administrative apparatus, and militarily defended: imperialism is essentially a policy of endless war. The costs far outweigh whatever prerogatives and peripheral benefits come with the imperial purple.

Lowry's "consensus" of would be empire-builders excludes an awful lot of people, not only us libertarians, people on the Left, and the Buchanan-American First wing of the conservative movement, but also the U.S. military, from top-ranking officers in the Pentagon to the lowliest grunts on the front lines. In the months leading up the invasion of Iraq, prominent military leaders spoke out against intervention – and were disdained by the War Party as needlessly and dangerously interfering in the political process. Now that they have been proven right, we see ordinary soldiers in uniform calling on the Secretary of Defense to resign.

A U.S. general has just conceded what everyone has known for many weeks: that America is bogged down in a guerrilla war against a multi-faceted Iraqi resistance movement that will not be easily defeated. "This is the duty we accept," said President Bush today [Thursday] about this war, but he is wrong. The American people never accepted any such thing. When the U.S. went to war with Iraq, and invaded its territory, we were told that it was necessary in order to disarm the Iraqis, who possessed "weapons of mass destruction" – yes, even nukes. Saddam Hussein has already "reconstituted" his nuclear weapons, said Vice President Dick Cheney. Now both Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are facing a growing chorus of jeering criticism – where's the WMD? The cry goes up on both sides of the Atlantic, directed at Bush, Cheney, and Blair, calling on them to resign. This is a "consensus"?

There is much to Lowry's contention that the Left, as embodied by Howard Dean and his supporters, represents but another wing of the War Party. During the Clinton years, liberals embraced the idea of "humanitarian" intervention in Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, and elsewhere. Certainly a great deal of the antiwar sentiment in the Democratic party is due to sheer partisanship.

But people are not static entities floating in a vacuum. They live in human history, and are not incapable of learning its lessons. In wartime, the ruling party invariably seizes the moment to increase its stranglehold on power, and its opponents resist. In this sense, Republican opposition to entering World War II was "partisan." Today, in fighting the interventionist policies of the Republican-led War Party, Democratic peace activists who might be otherwise inclined to endorse intervention on "humanitarian" grounds will find themselves constrained by both politics and logic. We may be in for a repeat of the process whereby the progressive populists of the 1930s who opposed U.S. entry into the war became the conservatives of the 1940s and 50s, and were later derided as "right-wing isolationists."

War is the occasion for political realignments, and this is undoubtedly what is happening at the moment. A great debate is taking place as America takes its first halting steps on the road to Empire, and the question of the day is: What are we getting into? Americans want to know – but most of them are excluded from the discussion. They just don't matter, according to the Rich Lowrys of this world, but of course they do matter. Their taxes pay for the grandiose delusions of the policymakers; their lives are lost in pursuit of Napoleonic dreams, and they are, increasingly, insisting on being included in the national discussion.

The near mutiny by American soldiers in Iraq shows how and why the attempt to build a colonialist "consensus" is doomed from the start. The great irony is that Lowry's "consensus" had no sooner been proclaimed than it had already begun to collapse.

– Justin Raimondo

comments on this article?

 Please Support Antiwar.com

520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Your contributions are now tax-deductible

Antiwar.com Home Page

Most recent column by Justin Raimondo

Archived columns

Military Morale Hits Bottom in Iraq

Saddam Meets the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bogus from the Beginning

'If It Feels Good Do It'

Mosaic of Lies

To Heck with Liberia!

Mourning in America

No Exit?

The Road Map

The Culture of Imperialism

The WMD Cult

The New Thought Police

Empire of Liberty?

The Gaza Trap

What's It All About?

Trotsky, Strauss, and the Neocons

Classic Raimondo:
Israel's Taliban

Behind the Lies

Liars 'R Us

Hell to Pay

Wackos, Weirdos and Wing-Dings

We Were Right

On to Tehran?

Classic Raimondo:
Decline and Fall

Outing the Neocons

Revolt Against the Neocons

Regime Change Roulette

Blowback in Riyadh

The Anti-Americans

Classic Raimondo: Living in a Soviet America

Smoking Gun

Mad Dogs of War

Whose 'Road Map'?

The Final Secret of 9/11

Neocons in Denial

Santorum's Sins

The Real Crisis

Screw the UN

Putting America First

Fickle 'Victory'

Nesting Habits of Washington's War Birds

Phase Two Begins

King George Returns

The Real War

World War IV

If This Be Treason

On the Middle East Escalator

A Perle of High Price

Iraqi Pandora

A No-Winner

Commissar Frum

Bluff and Bluster

Shine, Perishing Republic

This Isn't About You

What's It All About, Ari?

Postwar Blues

Reckless Warmongers

This War Is Treason

The Hapless Hegemon

Libertarianism in the Age of Empire

Notes from the Margin

Is War Inevitable?

War Party Stumbles

Vive la France!

A 'Toxic' Meme

Rallying for War

Rally Against Fear

One Battlefield, Two Wars

Antiwar Breakthrough!

The Lying Game

Free Taki!

The Kook Factor

Our Reds, and Theirs

Beware the Ides of March

Growing Up

Israel's Amen Corner

Target: Scott Ritter

Listen Up, Soldier

Watch Your Back

Going Crazy

Turning Point

War Party in Retreat

Hail Caesar?

Korean Ghosts

Do Neocons Exist?

Happy New Year?

Previous columns

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.

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us