kicking off our Fall campus tour, and Justin Raimondo is on
the road: what follows is the text of a speech delivered on
October 9, 2002, at Washington University, Missouri.
war? Why Iraq? And why now? As the editorial director of Antiwar.com,
and a columnist for that site, half of the many emails I get
each and every day address some variation on these three interconnected
questions. Of course, I don't have time to answer any of them.
It's all I can do to keep up with the latest machinations
of the War Party, countering the most recent lies of this
administration, and helping to put together a news site that
is often updated by the hour. We are all of us caught up in
the moment, but it is useful to step back and contemplate
the why of it all.
all the technical arguments about weapons inspections, Iraq's
alleged nuclear capability, and whether or not we need to
get the permission of the UN before we slaughter thousands
of innocent civilians and take over a country. There is something
quite different about the prospect of this war that sets it
apart from all the conflicts the U.S. has entered in modern
times. It's something new, and I think we all feel it, and
know on it some subliminal level: there's a change in the
air, an electricity that some find exhilarating and others
find ominous. I count myself among the latter.
new atmosphere was not created by 9/11, but certainly the
explosion that sent the World Trade Center hurtling to the
earth spread it far and wide. We are not just talking about
war fever here, but of a lust for conquest not seen in this
country since the Spanish-American
war. And plain old-fashioned greed. We had this debate
back in the 1890s: in response to the call of the War Party
to annex the Spanish dominions a whole movement arose, organized
as the Anti-Imperialist
League. It was led by what, today, would be called libertarians,
and one of its leaders, one Carl
Schurz, had this to say:
we take these new regions, we shall be well entangled in that
contest for territorial aggrandizement which distracts other
nations and drives them far beyond their original design.
So it will be inevitably with us. We shall want new conquests
to protect that which we already possess. The greed of speculators
working upon our government will push us from one point to
another, and we shall have new conflicts upon our hands, almost
without knowing how we got into them."
greed of speculators working upon our government" describes
what is happening today to a tee.
reading the Washington Post the other day, I came across
article describing the open maneuvering going on among
the world's oil companies in preparation for the post-Saddam
order in Iraq. Iraq, of course, has some of the richest oil
fields in the world, and the French and the Russians are afraid
they will be locked out of the looting. So they are holding
out, for as long as they can, for a bigger piece of the pie,
and when they get it the UN will affix its holy seal to the
we think of the coming war as an ordinary street mugging,
what we have here is a case of the robbers fighting over the
victim's wallet even before the crime has been committed.
We haven't seen this kind of grasping greed, at least here
in this country, since the turn of the last century, when
we had a similar national debate over the same question we
are facing now. Will we stay a republic, or take the road
hear from the Left that this war is all about oil, but
it's more than that. It's true that the main beneficiaries
of an Anglo-American victory will be those Anglo-American
oil companies – Exxon-Mobil and British Petroleum – and, as
the Old Marxists from the 1930s used to say, "it's no
coincidence"! But this reductionist point of view misses
the main point of the new post-9/11 interventionism: it is
driven, not by profit margins, but by ideology.
debate that occurred at the time of the Spanish-American war
was the first real challenge to the Jeffersonian mindset that
had been handed down by the Founders. To keep a good distance
from foreign wars and the intrigues of the European states,
to keep well out of the quarrels that could entangle and drag
the young and vulnerable Republic down into war, debt, and
neo-royalism, was the fondest wish of the revolutionaries
who founded this nation. Their legacy endured for a hundred
years, during which time Americans resisted the fatal temptations
of Empire. Then, suddenly, there arose groups who challenged
the Founders' sage advice, and sought to overthrow the old
Jeffersonian mindset. It was not a popular movement, but a
trend among the policymaking elite, dedicated to "reform."
goal of the so-called "progressives" was nothing
less than reforming the entire human race. These were the
purveyors of cultural "uplift," riding their various
hobbyhorses into the glorious future: abolitionists, feminists,
prohibitionists, millenarian fundamentalists, militant vegetarians,
and, of course, professional intellectuals eager to try out
their endless schemes for the "improvement" and
uplifting of mankind. It was only natural that these people,
having set their sights on saving the nation, would feel compelled
to take on the rest of the world.
of the same sort of people are in the vanguard of the War
Party today. The particulars have changed, but today we have
many of the same elements that went into this turn-of-the-last-century
"progressive" mix. Certainly the feminists have
been vocal in their support of the present administration's
war of "liberation" in Afghanistan, and they have
also been prominent in calling for its extension throughout
the Middle East. See, women are reading in "liberated"
Afghanistan! Look! Those poor oppressed women in Saudi Arabia
have no rights – why don't we go in there and overthrow those
male chauvinist pigs!?
course, history never repeats itself exactly – Marx characterized
this sense of historical deja-vu as tragic
in the first instance, farcical in the second. But in
the case of America, the process seems to have been reversed.
For our first venture into empire didn't really pan out. The
Philippines proved to be a
troublesome province, and, as a business venture, a losing
proposition. We disdained
Cuba, but took
Puerto Rico – much to our
everlasting regret. Although the Sugar Trust managed to
in Hawaii through the back door after a long and bitter
debate, there the overtly imperialist impulse petered out.
who had argued that the acquisition of an empire would reap
economic benefits for America were silenced by the mounting
costs of maintaining our new overseas possessions, and by
popular opposition. To most Americans, the idea of an American
empire was, well, un-American: we, after all, had fought
against an Empire to win our independence. Would we now set
up an Imperium all our own, and lord it over distant colonies
with the same cruelty and stupidity of King George III? Most
Americans thought it was not a good idea.
the idea did not die. Instead, it was transformed into the
doctrine of internationalism, a crusade for hegemony that
wore the mask of idealism, and fought, not for spoils, or
glory, but to "make the world safe for democracy."
All the wars of modernity have been fought in the name of
a supposedly selfless cause, one based not on national self-aggrandizement
but on some exalted universal concept: the Fourteen
Points, the Four
Freedoms, the fight
against communist totalitarianism. These wars were portrayed,
not as expeditions of conquest, but acts of self-defense
against an implacably aggressive enemy.
that is what is new – or so old that it seems new – about
Gulf War II: the mask has been dropped, and now we see the
face of the monster revealed in all its shameless, leering
ugliness. It's as if Dorian
Gray has hauled his
portrait out of the locked attic and hung it over his
a political sect whose founders deny its very existence and
yet whose adherents claim to dominate not only the American
Right, but the highest reaches of this administration. There
is no such thing as a neocon, says David
Brooks, because "We
are all neoconservatives now." These former Scoop
Jackson Democrats soured on the party of Jefferson and
Jackson during the Vietnam era, when the McGovernites started
singing "We Ain't Marchin' Anymore," and left –
just as, in
an earlier incarnation, they had left the party of Lenin
and Trotsky after declaring that the Revolution had been betrayed
beyond redemption. They gave up the dream of socialism, and
the lexicon of Marxist dogma, over the years, but lost none
of their grandiosity and their self-image as world-conquerors.
in spite of their many costume changes – from the red
and pink hues of Trotskyism and Social
Democracy, to the gray flannel button down conservatism
of National Review and the Weekly Standard –
there has always been one constant: a passion for war. In
the 1930s and 40s, it was a class war. When Irving Kristol
and his band of apostate Trotskyists – including James Burnham,
who eventually wound up as a senior editor of National
Review inveighed against the Kremlin in the 1930s, it
was from Stalin's left. Socialism in one country, they declared,
was an impossibility: the Revolution had to be exported to
Europe, and throughout the world, at gunpoint. In the Soviet
Union, they believed, a bureaucratic caste had arisen – a
new exploiting class – that was content to rest on Lenin's
laurels and reap the benefits of their privileged position,
instead of doing their duty and going out and spreading the
Revolution far and wide.
gradually more disillusioned over the years, and more fixated
on hatred of their old enemies, the Stalinists, these embittered
ex-radicals moved into the far right wing of the old Socialist
Party, and wound up supporting the Vietnam war. If you want
to discover the Marxist antecedents of neoconservatism, then
I would encourage you to investigate the
career of Max Shachtman, one of the three founders of
American Trotskyism whose personal and political odyssey illustrates
how the ideology and leadership of the War Party evolved,
not from the Right, but from the far Left.
are a dangerous lot. Each succeeding generation of disillusioned
Commies, from James Burnham to David Horowitz, supplied new
cadres consumed by a hatred of their former comrades, and
determined to apply the methods of the Communists against
their original authors. Half the staff of the old National
Review, when it was founded in 1957, were ex-lefties of
one sort or another: Frank S. Meyer, for example, a senior
editor from the beginning, was once a top honcho in the Communist
Party; Willi Schlamm, a German émigré who had
been editor of the German Communist Party's newspaper, Red
Flag, also played a prominent role in the birthing of
Bill Buckley's baby. And it was these people who turned the
conservative movement from an isolationist that is, anti-imperialist movement,
whose foreign policy stance was based on the Jeffersonian
distrust of entangling alliances and foreign adventures, into
the War Party which is, today, calling for a MacArthur-style
Regency from Cairo to Kabul.
the cold war, these people were quite happy, even though they
saw themselves as locked in a desperate battle with a terrible
foe. The Soviet Union was their Satan with a sword, and the
Devil's defeat required the expenditure of billions, and led
to the creation of a national security intelligentsia whose
income and prestige depended on the reality of the Soviet
threat. The more Communism seemed a looming threat, the more
valuable were the services of the various Kremlinologists,
professors of Soviet studies, and professional red-baiters,
who thrived in the cold war era.
the neocon boom was soon followed by a great bust, in 1989,
when the Berlin Wall crumbled and the Soviet house of cards
collapsed with stunning rapidity. Communists all around the
world went into shock – and this also sent the neoconservatives
reeling. Their great enemy was suddenly … gone.
– now what?
had by that time crossed over from the right wing of the Social
Democracy to the right wing of the Republican party, and openly
declared themselves "conservatives." While giving
"two cheers for capitalism," as
Irving Kristol once titled an essay, what the neocons
were really interested in was foreign policy. They
had walked out of the Democratic party in disgust after that
insufficiently warlike, and joined the GOP and the Reagan
movement, on the strength of what they understood to be Reagan's
implacable hostility to the "evil empire" – and
his willingness to confront it militarily.
roots of neoconservatism still show, in such works as
Democracy, by Joshua
Muravchik, published in the early 1990s, which argued
that we must sell American-style "democracy" abroad
in much the way the Soviets pushed their ideology in the Third
World with a full-scale propaganda apparatus and satellite
political parties that get their marching orders from Washington,
a kind of Democratic International. Muravchik, a
former militant of the Young Peoples Socialist League,
points to the examples of Germany and Japan as models for
the coming world revolution. Still, after all these years,
we hear the echo of Leon Trotsky, the ruthless founder of
the Red Army whose crimes might very well have surpassed those
of his rival Stalin if he hadn't been knocked out of the running
and forced into exile.
was also during this period that the neocons became dedicated
publicists for Israel, a veritable amen corner that shouted
its approval no matter what atrocity was committed by the
Israelis. In the course of reconciling themselves to bourgeois
society, many of these ex-Marxist intellectuals became reconciled
also to the faith of their fathers, which meant, for a good
many of them, with their Jewish identity.
from the ethnic-religious aspect, neocon support for Israel
grew out of two basic factors: 1) the logic of the cold war,
with the Soviets supporting the Arabs and the West taking
Israel under its wing, and 2) the mental habit of fealty to
some foreign utopia. This is a vestigial tendency that survives
from their days on the Left, and has merely been transferred
to another object of veneration. As a youth, Norman Podhoretz
was writing odes to Soviet troops at the battle of Stalingrad,
as he tells us in the latest volume of his endless memoirs,
and today he is writing odes to the Israeli Defense Force
– with the same regard for truth and morality.
the cold war ended, these people were out of fashion, if not
out of jobs, as their anti-Soviet fixation became archaic
– and their role as advocates for Israel became more problematic.
For the end of the cold war meant that the interests of the
US and Israel began to radically diverge: with the elimination
of Soviet communism as an ideological and geostrategic competitor,
Middle East politics became much more complicated and multipolar,
and America's unconditional support to Israel began to be
questioned by U.S. policymakers.
internationalist consensus had been held together by the cold
war, but, with the end of that long struggle, the rationale
for our policy of global intervention began to fall apart
– and, with it, the political alliances of the past half century.
Back in 1952, a young William F. Buckley wrote an article
for the Commonweal, a liberal Catholic magazine, in
which he sought to define the "conservative credo."
He paid lip service to those giants of liberty, H.
L. Mencken and Albert
Jay Nock, even as he proceeded to "prove" that
both were irrelevant in the face of the overwhelming danger
posed to Western civilization by the Communist threat:
have to accept Big Government for the duration – for neither
an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through
the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores."
you can just forget about opposition to confiscatory taxation.
According to Buckley, conservatives had to become apologists
for "the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed
to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy"
and the "large armies and air forces, atomic energy,
central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant
centralization of power in Washington – even with Truman at
the reins of it all."
the name of the emergency – in order to smash a terrorist
conspiracy against Western civilization – conservatives were
asked to drop their domestic agenda in favor of a foreign
crusade. Most of them willingly obliged. But with the "emergency"
finally over, and a host of pressing economic and social problems
that had long been festering, most conservatives were with
Pat Buchanan, at least in spirit, when he declared it was
for America to come home.
rumblings on the Right started in the early 1990s, when King
George the first launched Gulf War I: most conservatives went
along, but a few dissented – and there was not much real enthusiasm
for America's first major post-cold war intervention, on the
right or on the liberal-left.
the time President Clinton decided to attack Yugoslavia –
a nation that had never attacked us, and that was fighting
the Islamic extremists we are fighting today – most on the
Right were thoroughly sick of America's globalist pretensions.
The Kosovo war was bitterly opposed by many conservatives,
and a Republican-controlled House refused
to support it. Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard
crowd threw up their hands in disgust,
at that point, and declared that they just might leave the
importantly, many conservatives began to rediscover their
anti-imperialist heritage and they began to read the writings
of the heretofore buried and forgotten writers of a bygone
era: their intellectual ancestors of the 1930s, 40s, and early
T. Flynn, Garet
Chodorov, and the biggest peace movement in American history.
No, not the leftwing hippies of the 1960s, but the America
First Committee, that fought against Franklin Delano Roosevelt's
rush to get us into the European war founded in 1940
by buttoned-down conservative businessmen, and nearly a million
end of the cold war meant that conservatives would inevitably
turn away from the Jacksonian and even Wilsonian adventurism
that formerly characterized their foreign policy views, and
return to their Jeffersonian roots. They began to realize
that you can't get rid of big government if you have to run
a global empire.
neocons, for their part, began to hive off into their own
sectarian grouplet, obsessed with visions of "national
greatness," entranced with the
presidential possibilities of John McCain – and increasingly
was a great day, but, unfortunately, it didn't last.
was a godsend to the neocons. Like a dying vampire that has
been given a transfusion of human blood, their movement, which
had been in the doldrums, and about to expire, was given a
new lease on life. Their twin totems – American military might
projected abroad, and the sanctity of the U.S.-Israeli alliance
– were suddenly back in style. Their hatreds – of Islam, of
so-called "isolationist" sentiment on the right
as well as the left – were much easier targets. And, best
of all, from their point of view, war was on the horizon.
Nothing perks up a neocon faster than the prospect of blood:
for him, it is like coffee in the morning.
also meant that the neocons were back in demand – as theoreticians,
pundits, and purveyors of ideas. The money, the perks, and
the prestige began to roll in – it was just like old times
again. And they wouldn't let this opportunity slip out of
their fingers, either. An entire theoretical edifice was created,
9/11 was mythologized as the genesis of a new era, and a new
cold war was declared in which the enemy was "radical
Islam" – or, in many cases, just plain old Islam, per
national emergency was back on again, after a hiatus of a
little more than a decade, and conservatives were once again
asked to make the same Buckleyite-Faustian bargain: give up
your principles, your antipathy to big and intrusive government,
your opposition to high tax rates, your devotion to the Constitution
– in the name of the "war on terrorism."
is dead, but "Islamism" lives! A whole new ideological
edifice has been constructed around this concept, one that
has all the familiar cold war elements – a conspiracy international
in scope, an "axis of evil" instead of the Eastern
Bloc, a religion that takes the form of an ideology, rather
than an ideology that shares many aspects of religion. To
top it off, the Islamic threat, like the Commie threat before
it, is counterposed not only to Western concepts of "democracy"
and modernity, but also to Israel.
post-9/11 atmosphere has been the perfect time for the neocons
to make their mark, and achieve many of their longstanding
political goals: they have certainly moved very quickly and
effectively. We are on the brink of war with Iraq – but that
is just the beginning as far as they are concerned. Last year,
a whole platoon of them signed a
statement issued by the "Project for a New American
Century," Bill Kristol's foreign policy thinktank, that
had a much longer list of nations belonging to the "axis
of evil," and proposing that they ALL be taken out: not
only Iraq, but also Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.
This idea is elaborated in a book being touted by the neo-imperialists
as their manifesto: Michael Ledeen's The
War Against the Terror Masters.
you want to see a virtual blueprint of the world as it will
be when the neocons get through with it, you have merely to
take a look at the second half of Ledeen's book, wherein his
plans for the Middle East are laid out. Iran, Iraq, Syria,
Egypt – all will fall before the power of what he calls America's
"creative destruction." That tens of thousands of
lives will be destroyed – along with the cultural and material
foundations of a civilization far older than our own – is
nothing to him.
intellectual foundations of this madness were laid down in
the immediate post-cold war period: an article by Bill Kristol
and Robert Kagan, "Toward
a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," called for the U.S.
to set up a "benevolent global hegemony," basically
arguing that we must achieve military and political dominance
on every continent and actively seek to prevent any nation
from becoming even a regional power. With the ascension of
King George II to the American throne, this wacky and dangerous
theory has become U.S. policy – and its first application
is in the Middle East, where the President and his neocon
advisors are determined to carve out the first overseas provinces
of an Empire ruled directly from Washington.
what's wrong with any of this, anyway? Why should anyone be
opposed to American "world hegemony" – after all,
it's "benevolent," isn't it? We're a democracy,
aren't we, and we're carrying the torch of liberalism and
tolerance all across the globe. Who could object to that?
a libertarian, and as an American, I object to it on the grounds
that it is corrupting, in every sense of the word. An empire
would subvert the moral, cultural, political, and economic
foundations of our republic, and turn us into something we
are not: a cruel race of conquerors blinded by hubris and
a danger to one and all – including ourselves. Let me take
these various corruptions in reverse order:
are hugely expensive. And the American variety is an odd creature
indeed, the only empire in all of human history in which,
as Garet Garrett put it, "everything goes out and nothing
comes in." Garrett called it "the Empire of the
Bottomless Purse," back in 1951, and so it is today,
only more so. What other nation in history has gone abroad,
not in search of loot, but in order to "nation-build"?
We had no sooner defeated Germany and Japan then we launched
a massive aid program designed to reconstruct their economy
– at the expense of American taxpayers. Of course, the Marshall
Plan wasn't a totally selfless endeavor: some economic interests,
notably exporters, certain investment banks and a few oligarchs
of high finance raked in plenty of dough on account of the
Marshall Plan, but for the great American majority it was
a net loss.
Empire is a great engine powered by taxation and fueled by
bank credit expansion, otherwise known as inflation. In this
way, income is redistributed from the middle classes to the
rich and the very poor, a vast system of social welfare schemes
is set up to subsidize the proletarians and the aristocrats,
while ordinary working people pay for it all. In an imperial
system – which is constantly under attack, from enemies within
as well as without – "national security" always
trumps economic logic, and centralization is the order of
the day. The system favors bigness, regulations are written
so as to keep others out of the market, and the most productive
are not rewarded. Instead, a good deal of their income
is confiscated by taxation and bank credit expansion, and
those who produce nothing are rewarded: the welfare bum sitting
on the curb, and the investment banker whose holdings are
magically expanded by government fiat every time the Federal
Reserve speeds up the printing presses.
this means a federal government expanded so far beyond the
original vision of the Founding Fathers that it would be unrecognizable
to them, if they came to life suddenly, as anything other
than some nightmarish tyranny. As the great turn of the 19th
century liberal Randolph Bourne put it: "War is the health
of the State," and each major war in our history has
been the occasion for a great leap forward in the power and
scope of government. The multiplication and empowerment of
myriad federal agencies, the centralization of the decision-making
process in Washington, the elevation of the office of President
to near Napoleonic heights – these trends have been birthed
and brought to maturity in wartime.
imperial state may seem practically immune from foreign invasion
– although 9/11 forcefully debunked this myth – but it is
very prone to be conquered from within by two sorts
of enemies: big money and foreign lobbyists, often working
in tandem. That is precisely what is happening in this instance,
as we face a War Party fueled by big money interests that
is motivated by a passion for Israel's cause.
will benefit from this war? First and foremost – Israel. We
are solemnly told that the whole world is threatened by Saddam's
alleged possession of "weapons of mass destruction"
– but is this true? Of course not. Whatever missiles he has
still functioning have a range of no more than 400 miles –
barely enough to reach Tel Avi. For that, and not Hoboken,
New Jersey, is surely their target. When the first body bags
come home from the Iraq war, and the dead are buried, let
the following be carved on their tombstones: He died for Israel!
so, under an imperial system, the government is first bloated
beyond recognition, and then subverted by the Money Power
and the wiles of foreign lobbyists. They come seeking favors,
prostrating themselves before the throne of the American Caesar
– while their henchmen wheel and deal behind the scenes, ensuring
don't have to look very far to see the influence of the Money
Power in manipulating us into war. Exxon-Mobil, the oil majors,
British Petroleum, Haliburton (Dick Cheney's old company),
the burgeoning "homeland security" industry that
profits from government efforts to spy on us the whole Military-Industrial
Complex is now becoming the only growth sector in an economy
dragged down by war, fear, and crushing taxation.
much has been said or written about the cultural consequences
of the rise of empire. To get an idea of what is happening
to American culture, today, you have to go back and read Gibbon's
and Fall of the Roman Empire, Tacitus, or any of the
historians of Rome's long descent. Petronius seems so up to
date. We are living the American Satyricon, a tale
not only of extravagant hedonism, but also of mindless cruelty,
overweening vanity, and a prideful vulgarity that characterizes
our culture at every level, from the academy to the streets.
as coercion introduces distortion and malinvestment in the
economy, wherever and whenever government intervenes in the
market, so it creates a similar effect in the cultural and
social life of the nation. The unworthy become disgustingly
wealthy, the worst ambitions are rewarded, and the scum rises
to the top of the pond. The resulting distortion is not only
economic but cultural, as these values are infused into the
arts, entertainment, and the everyday life of ordinary people.
Rome, they fed people to the lions, and staged extravaganzas
of sadistic cruelty as popular entertainment: today, the same
sadistic streak is the leitmotif of our culture, as violence
for its own sake preoccupies the American imagination – not
only on television, but in real life. Last month, within an
eight week period at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, five murders
were committed by Special Operations soldiers returning from
Afghanistan – they killed their wives, brutally beating, strangling,
and mangling them, as if possessed by some demonic force.
An investigation into the "causes" of this phenomenon
is now underway, but permit me to advance my own theory: that
the violence unleashed in America's foreign wars is rebounding
back here, in our own country. This is how the quest for Empire
corrupts us as a people.
what can we say about a nation that allows its government
to rampage across the globe, killing and maiming and calling
it "liberation"? What can we say about the character
of a people that allows itself to be cowed into submission
by hectoring ideologues, and surrenders its freedoms, its
honor, and its heritage so easily? How can we measure the
moral degeneration of a country that has come so far from
its origins as to completely betray and overthrow the principles
on which it was founded?
lies at the end of this road is complete moral as well as
political corruption. The war is a fateful turn. The day we
set foot on Iraqi soil will mark the end of our old republican
form of government, and the beginning of a long, slow descent
into the bone-yard of empires.
1952, Garet Garrett, a writer of great talent, published a
little-noticed pamphlet that prophesized this moment as if
he had seen it in a dream:
have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire.
If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single
stroke between day and night; the precise moment does not
matter. There was no painted sign to say: 'You are now entering
Imperium.' Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history
was saying: 'Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing
may be irreversible.' And now, not far ahead, is a sign that
reads: 'No U-turns.'"
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