August 6, 2003

'Extremism' in defense of peace is no vice

by Justin Raimondo

The War Party fights dirty, as Howard Dean is beginning to find out. His antiwar stance has galvanized Democrats and independents sick unto death of a tame "opposition" party terrorized into silence on the vital question of war and peace. Unlike the other Democratic critics of the President, he isn't a born-again anti-interventionist, but opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. Growing disaffection with our increasingly belligerent and high-risk foreign policy is the primary reason for Dean's stunning rise in the polls: he leads in Iowa, and is neck-and-neck with Kerry in New Hampshire. The all-too-predictable result of his success is a smear campaign orchestrated by "centrists," i.e. the most rabidly pro-war elements in the Democratic party.

The "Stop Dean!" movement, a holy war declared by some of the editors of The New Republic, has found its fountainhead and champion in Joe Lieberman, who apparently believes that, having failed in the number two spot last time, he deserves to be promoted to the top of the ticket. In arguing against Dean, TNR editor Jonathan Chait quipped:

"If he's nominated, by next year most Americans will think he's a dues-paying member of Al Qaeda."

Chait's crack was meant as a prediction of Dean's fate at Republican hands, but Lieberman is intent on giving the GOP a head start. In a recent blast at the putative front-runner, Lieberman let loose:

"I share the anger of my fellow Democrats with George Bush and the direction he has taken this nation. But the answer to his outdated, extremist ideology is not to be found in the outdated extremes of our own. That path will not solve the challenges of our time, and could send us back to the political wilderness for years to come."

By labeling his primary opponent an "extremist," Lieberman is lobbing the political equivalent of a bunker-buster at the Dean camp. In the age of terrorism, those are more than fighting words: they're an indicator that you're a danger to the country, if not a terrorist then a passively unconscious sympathizer. Lieberman is essentially saying that Dean and Osama bin Laden another exponent of an "outdated extremist ideology" – are kindred spirits.

This viciously subliminal implication, coupled with Lieberman's critique of Dean as soft on national security issues, is, at the very least, meant to characterize the former Vermont governor as another George McGovern. This is the mantra Dean's neocon critics, in both parties, repeat endlessly. But what's so bad about that? If today's voters identify Dean with McGovern's foreign policy views, that's to his advantage. McGovern was right about the Vietnam war, and the majority of Americans agree with him in retrospect.

It's interesting that the avidly pro-war Lieberman is admitting the historical parallels between the Iraq war and that similarly doomed attempt to bring "democracy" to the Asian landmass. Vietnam was a quagmire: and Iraq promises to be more of the same, which is precisely why a growing number of Americans of all parties oppose it. Of course, history never repeats itself exactly: there are many indications, however, that this war could be far worse. At least back in the Vietnam era we didn't have to worry about Ho Chi Minh sending his agents to strike domestic American targets.

Lieberman claims to represent the "vital center," but his role as chief mudslinger of the "Stop Dean" campaign is only "vital" to the War Party, which considers the two major parties to be merely "right" and "left"-wing extensions of itself. Just how "centrist" is it of Lieberman to start off the primary season with explosive and divisive accusations of "extremism" hurled at his opponent?

If "extremist" means going off on a tangent and undertaking a radically different course, if it means venturing into uncharted and dangerous waters, then surely this term describes the current foreign policy of the United States. What else can we call an attempt to carve out a "democratic" empire in the Middle East, the most volatile region on earth, if not an extreme solution to the perceived problem of terrorism? The Bush administration has authored a strategic doctrine that claims the right of imperial preemption: the right and even the duty to strike before a challenge to American hegemony rises in any particular region. Dean, for all his faults, has come out foursquare against this nutty and dangerous policy. As he puts it:

"When Congress approved the President's authorization to go to war in Iraq no matter how well-intentioned it was giving the green light to the President to set his Doctrine of preemptive war in motion. It now appears that Iraq was just the first step. Already, the Bush Administration is apparently eyeing Syria and Iran as the next countries on its target list. The Bush Doctrine must be stopped here."

This isn't just red meat thrown to left-leaning Democratic party activists. Dean is clearly sincere, and just as clearly means to make rising opposition to this rotten war the fuel that drives his campaign for the White House. Responding to the Establishment's attempted drive-by smearing, he stoutly maintains that he alone can beat Bush:

"We opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, so it turns out that the four Washington candidates all supported a war which turns out to be based on things that weren't so."

The effort to typecast him as McGovern Redux is bound to run into a lot of problems, namely his real views, as demonstrated during his tenure as governor of Vermont when he reined in big-spenders in his own party. He's against gun control, and describes himself as "socially liberal and fiscally conservative." I'm waiting just waiting! for him to describe himself as a "libertarian." Why not? It seems like everyone else has, including Bill Maher, Jesse Ventura, Neal Boortz, and a long line of fakers, phonies, and flim-flam artists who thought they were getting on a rolling bandwagon.

Dean who advocates some form of socialized medicine, and shows no understanding of the essential libertarian insight that the State isn't just inefficient, but downright evil is no libertarian. But he is no con artist, either: he seems far too contrarian and intelligent to take a dogmatic view of economic and domestic political issues, and is thankfully free of the Democratic candidate's traditional subservience to the union bosses. Whether this means he's free of labor's big government agenda remains to be seen, but attempts to cast the Dean movement as a re-run of the more traditionally left-wing McGovern campaign are premature. These are the nothing but the tired epithets of cynical, know-it-all neocons of both parties, who believe history has "ended" in the triumph of their power fantasies.

The great thing about Dean is that he seems to have a clear understanding of just who his enemies are:

"The next president will need to undo the work of this band of radicals currently controlling our foreign policy who view the Middle East as a laboratory for their experiments in democracy-building, where no such traditions exist. Their approach will drastically change the view that the world has had of the United States."

Dean has defined the problem precisely: the foreign policy of this country has been hijacked by a very small band of radicals, who are intent on wrecking our economy and the Constitution in pursuit of their Napoleonic delusions. It is time the American people the real "vital center," if you will took it back.

The War Party is out to get Dean for a simple reason. They are merely implementing, in the realm of domestic politics, their doctrine of launching a preemptive and crippling first strike against any possible center of opposition. Lieberman claims to be making a fight for "the soul of the Democratic party," and pretends to defend the authentic traditions of the party against an "extremist" interloper. But the Democrats are, supposedly, the heirs of Jefferson, the great enemy of imperialism. While the Republican party was born in the crucible of war, and has with the exception of the pre-World War II period nearly always stood for expansionism and militarism in foreign affairs, the Democrats have a long anti-imperialist tradition.

Starting with Jefferson and continuing through William Jennings Bryan, the hard-money, pro-peace "Gold Democrats," otherwise known as Cleveland Democrats, the antiwar anti-FDR Democrats of the 1930s exemplified by the anti-interventionist Senator Burton K. Wheeler, right on up to the Vietnam era insurgents who took back the party, for a brief period in the early 1970s. They took it back, ironically, from a coalition of liberal corporatists and repentant ex-Trotskyites who had temporarily taken on the coloration of right-wing Social Democrats some of the very same people, and their epigones, who make up the "radical band" Dean rightly disdains.

Aside from agreeing with his position on gun control, I emphatically disagree with Dean's domestic policies – but I must confess to being less than bored by the subject. The two parties are so evenly balanced in terms of political power, thanks, in part, to energetic gerrymandering, that no radical program of domestic "reform" is likely to make it through Congress. His scheme for national health insurance will go nowhere, even if he is elected in a landslide, but it wouldn't matter even if I'm wrong.

While the domestic arena is pretty much impervious to Presidential bullying, except in a national crisis, such as an economic depression, it is only in the realm of foreign policy that a President can make his real mark, as the case of George W. Bush makes all too ominously clear. Congress long ago ceded this arena to the imperial Presidency, abdicating its constitutional duty in the process, and so what happens, every four years, is that we elect a foreign policy dictator who can take us into war or out of it at will.

In recognition of this strategic reality, Murray N. Rothbard, the founder of the modern libertarian movement, supported Adlai Stevenson for President against Dwight Eisenhower, the "moderate" Rockefeller Republican, on the grounds that Eisenhower's interventionist foreign policy was inimical to the first precondition of liberty, which is peace. Stevenson supported taking steps toward mutual disarmament, and Rothbard was alarmed by the militaristic behavior of the U.S. government during the Eisenhower era, as in the infamous U-2 incident, in which an American spy was shot down flying over Soviet territory. The possibility of World War III neutralized ostensible Republican opposition to the growing welfare state just as effectively as the prospect of another world war today threatens our constitutionally-protected liberties on the home front.

Dean is good news for opponents of our crazed foreign policy. His statements opposing the Iraq war betray not a radical disposition, but a basically conservative mindset that disdains the revolutionary hubris of "democratist" zealots and seeks to undo the damage done by the current President's neoconservative advisors. Best of all, he has all the right enemies: Joe Loserman and Rush Limbaugh, the union bosses and the big corporate interests, The New Republic and the Weekly Standard. This is going to be fun.

The smearing of Howard Dean is part of a continuing attempt by the neoconservatives of both parties to make sure the American people never get a chance to veto our policy of global intervention. Bush 43 ran on the merits of a "humble" foreign policy and look what we got. The Dean campaign is a populist movement against the War Party's political monopoly: quite apart from Dean, the personality and the politician, the insurgency inspired by his candidacy is a harbinger of hope.

– Justin Raimondo

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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 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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