August 12, 2002

Retiring House GOP leader speaks out against Iraq war – and he is far from alone

It's a sadly telling fact of American political life that Rep. Dick Armey didn't dare tell us what he really thinks of Bush II's war plans until he decided it was time to retire: Republican politicians (and Democrats, for that matter) don't usually defy the War Party and live to tell the tale. But, hey, not everyone can be a Ron Paul, and this is a lot better than nothing:

"If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states who might do so. I don't believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation.

"My own view would be to let him bluster, let him rant and rave all he wants and let that be a matter between he and his own country. As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him."

After months of Republican blustering, leaked war plans, and imprecations hurled against the "axis of evil," that's more like it! Before 9/11, this was the authentic voice of the GOP on foreign policy: in the post-cold war world, it's time we started minding our own business and respecting the idea of national sovereignty. Armey was behind the effort to get our troops out of Kosovo, and congressional Republicans opposed Clinton's Balkan adventure, infuriating left-Clintonian "humanitarian" warmongers like William Saletan, who ranted at war's end:

"For decades, the Republican Party preached military strength in the face of foreign expansionism. But now that a Democratic president whom they despise has led the nation into war, GOP leaders have adopted the arguments of the counterculture. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles claim that Milosevic was open to peace all along, that the war and its casualties were our fault, that we needlessly offended Russia, and that our 'victory' is false. By forsaking their intellectual heritage just to spite Clinton, they have paid him the ultimate homage. They have allowed him, through their agency, to redefine the GOP."

If only! Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way….

Dick Armey and the House Republicans were right about Kosovo. Thanks to Clinton's warmongering piety and the sanctimonious sob-sisters of the "humanitarian" Left, Serb-less Kosovo groans under the heel of an Albanian thug-ocracy. Clinton attacked a country that had never attacked us, and forced a war where peace was possible: – just as Bush II is preparing to do the same in Iraq, while Republicans cheer – but not, apparently, all of them….

Armey, who can now afford to be honest, underscored the absurdity of the Bush-UN demand that Saddam submit to weapons inspection by asking:

"What if the French decided they wanted to inspect American military facilities? … He has a right to hold dominion within his own national boundaries, as obnoxious as he is and as comical as he can be. He is what we in Texas know as a blowhard, he can't help himself."

In the race for the title of World's Biggest Blowhard, however, it looks like Saddam has some competition: the President's speechwriters and his generals, not to mention several prominent Republicans, seem to have radically different ideas on how, when, and even whether to proceed.

Waving the banner of a radical Wilsonianism, America preened and posed during the Clinton years as "the indispensable nation," a phrase uttered by Madeleine Albright in a paroxysm of imperial hauteur. Republicans had eight long years to learn how to despise this kind of arrogance – and many still do, no matter where it comes from.

The retiring House leader is not an Armey of one: among the doubters are Senators Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel. Both are wary of Bush's various invasion plans, and are opting for measures short of war. Perhaps they are impressed, as the civilian leadership of the Pentagon is not, with the determined opposition of our top generals. A war of retribution against Al Qaeda and the Taliban – yes, the military can get behind that. But a war of conquest in the Middle East, the occupation of Iraq and the seizure of the Saudi oil fields? No, they are saying, loud and clear – and many on Capitol Hill are beginning to listen.

The post-cold war Jeffersonian tendencies of many Republicans may not have been entirely repressed by 9/11. This is reflected not only in Armey's trenchant analysis of the Iraq question, but in his sidelining of the totalitarian TIPS program. Imagine if Clinton had proposed a national network of neighborhood snitches reporting directly to the government! That a Republican President has done so frightens a lot of people who didn't vote for Gore, or for Nader, either. Let's hope they regain their voice – before it's too late. If they do, it may well be in reaction to the unbridled extremism of the War Party, which has lately become so drunk with the prospect of bloodshed that they have been upping the ante to far beyond what any reasonable person can support.

As the "war on terrorism" morphs into a war of conquest, and the top civilians in the Pentagon bring in a LaRouchie-turned-neocon who exhorts his high-level audience to take Riyadh, the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian tendencies in the President's own party are balking: the former because they see a war of conquest as unworthy of a republic, and the latter because they see it as a diversion away from the real object of their rage – Osama bin Laden & Co. A revolt is brewing, and it may buy us precious time….

The War Party is at some disadvantage here, because during the months it takes to assemble an invading army on the scale envisioned by most military planners, the home-front opposition has the opportunity to organize and make its case. The more audacious hawks have tried to get around that by proposing a much smaller expeditionary force than permitted under the Powell Doctrine: 50,000 or less. The plan is to take Baghdad and move outward from the center. But the military risks are great, and the clock is ticking: the longer Bush waits, the less likely a "quick victory" scenario becomes.

A number of commentators have argued that this is all a feint, and that Bush has no intention of invading Iraq: the President says he hasn't yet made up his mind, and has no timetable for doing so. In an oddly childish show of churlishness, the President, in answer to a reporter's question, added: "And I wouldn't tell you if I had!"

After all, what right have we – the common ordinary folk – to this kind of information? According to King George, his Royal Majesty has the "right" to take us into war without Congressional approval or even any discussion. He has made it quite clear that he will "consult" with our elected representatives as a matter of courtesy, not constitutional necessity – and, even then, perhaps only after the bombs begin to fall.

But even the most powerful man in the world, the de facto Emperor of the World, must operate within certain constraints. Like his Roman predecessors, he must have the support of his Praetorians: but the Joint Chiefs are distinctly unenthusiastic, and have registered their opposition clearly, albeit anonymously – so that when it comes time to assign blame for the debacle, they will not be scapegoated. The Pentagon Peaceniks – along with pressure from our allies, the astronomical cost of an invasion, and the delicate condition of the economy – may combine to defeat the War Party in the end.


All the big-time pundits are sitting on the beach – at Martha's Vineyard, P-town, or wherever – having fun in the sun, and here I sit, in my smoke-filled cave, toiling away. Oh, boo hoo hoo!

Gee, it sure would be nice to have the time – not to mention the money! – to loll around like that, but I suppose it'll have to wait until I become rich and infamous. And that time may not be far off, as least as far as the "infamous" part goes. Because, you see, I am taking a "vacation" – from this column, that is.

Alas, this will be a working vacation – now there's an anomaly for ya! – in order to finish the first draft of a book. Tentative title: The Terror Enigma: Unsolved Mysteries of 9/11.

As we approach the first anniversary of 9/11, the meaning of what happened that fateful day becomes less clear. Unanswered questions accumulate, along with a whole lot of loose ends, such as: the Israeli "art student" mystery, the anthrax conundrum, the pre-9/11 market fluctuations that point to "terrorist insider trading," and the charges from within law enforcement circles that the pre-9/11 anti-terrorism investigation was obstructed. I just can't wait to get started, because this is going to be … fun!

Starting today, I'll be on a weekly schedule, with a new (and relatively short) column only on Mondays, until the first week of September, when I'll resume my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday routine. (Sign up here for email notification!)

As much as I hate to cut down on the frequency of this column, even under the pretext of a summer vacation – especially in light of some of the truly ominous developments taking place – this book can't wait. So I'll be back, in full form, on September 2 – until then, have a good one, and I'll see you in September.

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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 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.