July 19, 1999


With the Democrats largely silent, or complicit, the Cox Report continues to generate dissent from the Right. (Let's face it: these days, the only significant dissent of any variety is coming from the Right end of the spectrum.) The latest is a sensational article in Insight magazine, [July 16, 1999] by nuclear expert Sam Cohen, the inventor of the neutron bomb. Cohen, a veteran of the U.S. weapons program with 40 years of experience and a wonderfully jaundiced perspective, debunks the charges coming out of the Cox Committee – and comes up with a far more sensational (and credible) analysis of how US nuclear secrets found their way into Chinese hands. Our secrets, says Cohen, weren't stolen – they were given away as a matter of policy, at the height of the Cold War, long before the Arkansas Caligula donned the imperial purple.


To begin with, the Cox concoction "arrives at sweeping, ominous inferences based on little hard evidence" and errs on even the most elementary level. For example, Cox maintains the no nation has ever deployed the neutron bomb, "including the United States." Isn't it strange how Cox and (some of) his fellow conservative Republicans disdain the veracity of government bureaucrats except when it comes to military matters, when they naively accept the "official" line. But Cohen, speaking with some authority, avers that the government is lying, and not only the Americans: "Having myself invented the neutron bomb in 1958 and closely following the subject ever since, I can say that the claim most likely is untrue that no nation has deployed this weapon. The US, the former Soviet Union, China, France (and very likely Israel) have developed such weapons for sound military and political reasons." The soundness of these reasons aside for the moment, this speaks volumes about the veracity of this multi-volumed Report. Published at great expense by the Government Printing Office, and heavily promoted by the neoconservative wing of the War Party as the "proof" that "Red" China is the new principal enemy, it turns out Cox can't even get the basics right. And, Cohen reveals, when it comes to the details, things just get worse.


The centerpiece of the Cox Report is the charge that Beijing stole the technology for the W-87 thermonuclear warhead. Cohen retorts: "But who is to say that the designs weren't given to the Chinese by US insiders who saw China as a potential ally?" As an aside, he adds: "I know that mentality well." No doubt he does. If anyone outside of Beijing knows how China got the neutron bomb, then that man is Cohen. He well remembers what the rest of the world seems to have forgotten: that for some twenty years our most important Cold War ally was not NATO, whose non-U.S. military components didn't amount to a hill of beans, but the People's Republic of China (PRC) under Mao and his successors. Just as the US armed Stalin's Soviet Union against Hitler's Germany, so Washington armed Mao's China against the Soviet Menace. No one disputes this. The Cox Report does not mention it, and instead reveals that Chinese "spying" goes back as far as 1978. But given the geopolitical realities of the Cold War era, it is far more likely that the technology transfers began sooner than that – fairly soon after Nixon's trip to China, if not before. Cohen details the systematic transfer of military technology to our allies, the Brits, the French, and the Israelis. Why not assume that the Chinese were similarly favored?


Cohen raises the essential question that the much-vaunted Cox Report does not dare to face. If "treason is the reason," as they say in the postings on FreeRepublic.com, then the treason has to be traced all the way back to its origins, much farther back in time than the Clinton administration. The intersection of the Hate China and Hate Clinton campaigns has been fortuitous for the neocons, who have been at a loss since the end of the Cold War to sell their campaign for US "global hegemony," as Weekly Hegemon (er, Standard) editor Bill Kristol once put it. But if it can be shown that the roots of this treason go much deeper than Cox or anyone else is telling us; if it can be shown that the real architects of betrayal were not Chinese-American scientists but US policymakers at least as far back as Nixon, then the investigation initiated by the Cox committee could boomerang, and badly.


Liberals at the turn of the century enthusiastically supported World War I in the name of "making the world safe for democracy," and were disillusioned by the revelation of the "secret" clauses of the Versaillies Treaty – which divided up Europe according to the dictates of the Great Powers. Conservatives are in for a similar disillusionment as the real politics of the Cold War come out of the historical closet, or are dragged out by such eloquent witnesses as Cohen.


If the roots of this treason turn out to be anti-Communist zeal, what will our new Cold Warriors have to say? So far they have had a good time of it, whipping up war hysteria against the Yellow Peril and recalling the good old days of the Rosenbergs, when we had the Red Menace to contend with. Oh what bitter irony! (But sweet to us longtime isolationists.) They will have a hard time selling their new Cold War – this time against our former ally, "Red" China – if Cohen is proved right. To all the honest patriotic Americans who have been duped by Coxscam, the lesson is: the main enemy is not overseas, in Beijing or Moscow, but right here at home.


The Chinese first tested a neutron bomb in 1978, and the news was buried in the back pages: the public reaction of the US government was low key, an octave above total silence. Now we are suddenly confronted with screaming headlines about Chinese "spies." Who is kidding whom?


The biggest security breach in decades may be the Cox Report itself. As Cohen notes, it "presents a beautiful multicolored diagram that details the workings and components of [a] highly classified warhead." While "the data are missing," he writes, "any competent nuclear scientist could use this schematic to work back to the actual design." But revealing nuclear secrets is apparently a congressional prerogative, along with franked mail and free gym facilities.


The anti-Chinese hysteria generated by the Cox Report has not only bamboozled large sections of the conservative movement, it has also infected what passes for the libertarian movement these days. The August/September issue of Reason magazine, the major libertarian monthly, features an interview with Rep. Cox in which softballs are gently lobbed to the congressman and he is never challenged. Instead of facing the tough questions – such as those raised by Cohen, or by the Prather Report – Cox is lauded as the champion of tax cuts, the enemy of "government bloat," and a hero dedicated to "the defense of freedom." That he is also a champion of the big military contractors that wield such clout in his southern California district goes unmentioned.


The Reason crew fall all over themselves flattering the blow-dried Cox, who was much talked about as a candidate for Diane Feinstein's or Barbara Boxer's Senate seat. Cox (wisely) thought better of it, and instead turned to making a name for himself in other venues. Cox is, in Reason's fawning phrase, one member of Congress "often described as 'thoughtful' or 'cerebral,' peculiar Washington epithets referring to someone smarter than the reporters who cover him." The obsequious tone is established right off the bat, as the Reason interviewers ask their first penetrating question: "This report has been a model of bipartisanship. How did you achieve it?" Wow! What a sharp, penetrating question! Those guys over at Reason sure are a bunch of hotshot investigative journalists! But wait – it gets better.


"It seems," ventures Reason, "that some Chinese Americans are taking the report as anti-Chinese or anti-Asian. Should Republicans be on guard for this type of thing?" Oh no, no, no, of course this is not anti-Asian racism, burbles Cox, although "that is a reasonable inference." And that, dear reader, is the understatement of the week, the year, perhaps the decade.


All such accusations, in Cox's considered opinion, are evidence of the long arm of the Chinese Reds: "That is an intentional manufacture, however, of the People's Republic of China, which has been pushing the line that to oppose Communist Party policies is to be racist." Yet the Cox Report explicitly identifies Chinese-American scientists as a potential PRC fifth column in the US, particularly in the scientific community, yet we hear not a peep out of Reason about this: instead Cox's interviewers, Reason's Washington editor Michael W. Lynch and Reason Express writer Jeff A. Taylor, let Cox rant on about how his critics are echoing the "People's Daily line." Neither Lynch nor Taylor follow up on this point: Did either of them so much as glance at the Cox Report? Somehow I doubt it.


You don't have to be a Commie to infer racism from the assertion in the Cox Report that "the PRC is increasingly looking to PRC scholars who remain in the United States as assets who have developed a network of personal contacts that can be helpful to the PRC's search for science and technology development." The implication could not be clearer: in his report, Cox concludes that all Chinese-American scientists (especially immigrants), are potential traitors. From a national security point of view, this can mean only one thing: they have to be watched, probably very carefully, lest they hand over vital technology to their masters in Beijing. Yet Lynch and Taylor accept this "explanation" unquestioningly, and blithely move on to the next question.


What has happened to Reason magazine since they kicked editor Bob Poole upstairs to the Reason Foundation, and installed left-libertarian "dynamist" Virginia Postrel in his place, is personally painful to me – which is why the extra note of rancor in what would ordinarily be just another polemic hurled in the direction of the War Party. For Reason has – or had – a special place in my heart, as the very first successful libertarian magazine and certainly the longest-lived. There is no bitterness like that of those who were once close and have grown apart.


Way back in the late sixties, when I was a wee lad, a pen pal of mine by the name of Lanny Friedlander, who lived (I recall) up in Euston, Massachusetts, announced in a letter that he was planning to put out a new libertarian magazine. Not one of these mimeographed newsletters, of which there were already plenty, but an honest-to-goodness printed magazine. Wow! Was I ever impressed – and eager to help out. There was some discussion, back and forth, as to the name, and various alternatives were in the running initially: Liberty, The Libertarian, and The New Radical (my own suggestion) were all considered, but in the end Lanny's devotion to the philosophy of Ayn Rand won out and Reason it was.


I remember to this day getting a long distance phone call from Lanny: back then, out of state phone calls were expensive (at least by my family's fairly middle class standards) and were looked on as an extravagance. One only made them on important occasions, like when someone died or to announce a birth. But when my mother – I can hear her voice to this day – answered the phone and called out to me "It's someone named 'Lanny' and he's calling long distance" it was, indeed, an important occasion: the birth of what was to become a libertarian institution. He was calling to tell me that the first issue of Reason was rolling off the presses, and one would be arriving in my mailbox soon.


I was barely seventeen years old. Lanny wasn't much older. Like the rest of the libertarians who cranked out such long vanished journals as The Innovator, Commentary on Liberty, Invictus, and the Libertarian American, as well as Reason, we were very young. The median age in the movement must have been around nineteen, and it was only natural for us to assume that we were making history. As it turned it, we were.


Lanny put out the magazine, which grew steadily more sophisticated, with such clocklike regularity that Reason soon became the mainstay of our fledgling movement, the underground voice of free market radicalism. When Lanny moved on to other things, and we lost touch, I did not lose touch with the magazine, which continued, eventually coming under the steady hand of Robert Poole. Under his editorship, the magazine prospered, and, although a bit on the conservative side in those Cold War years, Reason was never a warmongering conservative rag, was often highly critical of the Vietnam war, and for years carried a column by the late Murray Rothbard, the libertarian economist and theoretician who was also a leading exponent of Old Right isolationism. Reason in the 70s and 80s was often less than exciting – how many articles on privatized fire departments can one person possibly read? – but always an independent voice.


In the 90s, when Ms. Postrel was brought in and a whole bevy of neoconservative foundations started pouring money into the magazine, Reason was transformed into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the neoconservative media combine. The whole tone of the magazine changed, from the earnest Ayn Rand-inspired idealism of the early days, to a self-consciously "hip" quasi-New Age phoniness, the semi-official journal of Republicans who Smoke Dope. But if you peel back the countercultural pretensions, Postrel's Reason is no longer a libertarian magazine in any sense of the term.


Postrel herself disdains the libertarian label, in her recent insufferable book, and in her all-too-frequent appearances in the media, in which she announces that she is not a libertarian but a "dynamist." The first principle of "dynamism," we are told by La Postrel, is Change: Everything must Change. All is in constant Flux. Ah yes, it is all too true – but this is nothing to celebrate. Nothing illustrates the tragedy of this principle better than the sad fate of Reason. Yesterday, it celebrated such libertarian heroines as Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder Lane, and Isabel Paterson. Today, we note with alarm (but no surprise) that Reason is planning a celebratory dinner honoring none other than the Iron Lady of the Cold War, Maggie Thatcher. Lady Thatcher apparently approves of Tony Blair's belligerent foreign policy, as well as his moves to modernize the British welfare state, and one could easily make the argument that she is the real author of the Blair Doctrine – the strategic principle in which Britain will fight to the last American to make the world safe from ethnic cleansing. It is a tragic degeneration when the magazine that was once the fountainhead of libertarianism in America honors Thatcher, the bitch goddess of the Welfare-Warfare State. Why don't they just change their name to Treason, and be done with it?

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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