October 13, 2000


As the small boat approached the USS Cole, the two men on board stood at attention, arrow-straight, as if to acknowledge the solemnity and gravity of that moment – and in the next moment they went up in a burst of fire and smoke, along with their explosive-packed boat. As of this writing, we know that 17 American sailors were killed in the suicide attack, which had the impact of a couple of cruise missiles, and thirty to thirty-five wounded. Two men on a raft, against a towering warship of the mightiest empire the world has ever seen – how long can we stand against this army of martyrs?


As they hurl themselves at our armored fortresses, on land as well as on sea, how long before the mounting casualties begin to have an impact on the American public? Tens of thousands of American troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia and throughout the region, guarding the profits of the big oil companies – sitting ducks to be picked off one-by-one. While the mere prospect of American casualties deterred President Clinton from sending in ground troops during the Kosovo war, to the Muslim fundamentalists who make up the backbone of the Palestinian nationalist movement to die in a war against the infidels is to win a place in Paradise. Seen from this perspective, two men on a raft may well be more than a match for the mightiest empire the world has ever seen. . . .


The US government has naturally vowed to retaliate, although against whom is not quite clear. Doubtless they will dredge up the ubiquitous Osama bin Laden, who is reported to be on his death bed, or else come up with a suitable substitute – perhaps Saddam Hussein – to pin the blame on. Hamas, the Syrians, a renegade Iranian faction, and what about those politically incorrect Afghans – have we bombed them lately?


Now we are embarked on a search for the face of the enemy – but the reality is that our enemy is an entire people, the Arab people, not a single one of which believes that the US is acting as "an honest broker" in the region. The suicide mission blew that idea right out of the water, and all pretenses are being quickly dropped as the search for the Enemy begins. The FBI, the CIA, the DIA, the NSC and other less well-known federal acronyms are all making a beeline for Yemen, to gather up the evidence and pronounce the verdict we all know in advance: that this was terrorism, and that the face of the Enemy is unmistakably Arabic.


Here is the October "surprise" that is not at all surprising, least of all to the three principals involved, namely Clinton, Barak, and Arafat. What is surprising is how on schedule this series of dramatic events has occurred, almost as if it had been scripted by some third rate Hollywood hack. Hours after the two presidential candidates proclaim their undying fealty to Israel in a formal debate centered largely on foreign policy, the Israelis "respond" to rock-throwing Palestinian youths with helicopter gunships and rocket attacks on Palestinian villages. When asked, during the debate, how he would respond to the crisis in the Middle East, Gore let slip the mask of the "honest broker" and blabbed the real US position in the ongoing Arab-Israeli "peace process": speaking of Arafat, Gore said "he needs to understand that he's not only dealing with Israel, he's dealing with us if he is making the kind of threats that he's talking about there." Wasting no time the next morning, Gore was the first to blame the Palestinians: "Israel has really gone a long way in offering formulas for ending the long conflict," he declared, and furthermore "the burden falls on Chairman Arafat to stop this violence. I want to call on Chairman Arafat to issue instructions to those who have been perpetrating this violence to cease and desist."


What Gore well knows is that – here, too – there is no controlling legal authority. The Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat and the old-line Palestine Liberation Organization have no more control over their own people than the government of Ehud Barak had over Ariel Sharon and his nutball Zionist fanatics when they made their provocative march on the Temple Mount – the event that started this latest round of trouble.


The Temple Mount, the original site of the ancient Jewish Temple, is known to Arab Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, Islam's third holiest shrine and the site of two famous mosques. It is here where the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven. For the Jews, it is the holiest site of all, not only the place where the Jewish Temple of the Bible was built but also the spot where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, his son, to the glory of God. This disputatious issue strikes at the very heart of the Middle East problem, and underscores why it is so dangerous – and insoluble. For this is a war over religion, and thus by definition not amenable to mediation, negotiation, or even rational discussion.


This is why the US stance of being an "honest broker" was bound to fail – not only because it was a lie (although it was), but also because no one can broker an agreement between madmen. For years we have funded and militarily supported one madman over another, while trying to find, sporadically, some way out of this eternally entangling alliance, some end to the perpetual crisis that seems to flare up as regularly as the change in the seasons. No dice. The madness of religious fervor emanates from the very stones of the shrines and other "holy places" of that tortured land, and there is only one way to ensure that American blood will not be uselessly spilled on that bitter soil and that is to stay well out of it. But it is too late, far too late for that. . . .


As the recent presidential debate showed, if there is one subject that both major parties are united on – other than the beauties of motherhood – then it is the necessity and even the centrality of the US alliance with Israel. George Dubya soon followed Gore in making the point that Arafat, and not Sharon, was responsible for the tragic unfolding of events in the occupied territories, following up on his performance during the previous night's debate, where he had nearly outdone the pandering Gore in his zeal for the Israeli cause. Putting aside mere partisan rivalry at the height of a presidential campaign, he suddenly became Dubya the Statesman, announcing:

"Well, I think during the campaign, particularly now during this difficult period, we ought to be speaking with one voice. And I appreciate the way the administration has worked hard to calm the tensions. Like the vice president, I call on Chairman Arafat to have his people pull back to make the peace. I think credibility is going to be very important in the future in the Middle East. I want everybody to know, should I be the president, Israel's going to be our friend. I'm going to stand by Israel."


Since the founding of the Israeli state, we have supported, armed, and defended what is essentially a colony, a Jewish isle in an Arab sea. At great expense, and often at the risk of war, the US has made an enemy out of every Arab nation on earth – and all for the love of Israel. Why? To even raise this question, as Pat Buchanan has, is to risk an all-out smear campaign such as the one the White House speechwriter, Crossfire commentator and presidential candidate has had to endure, but the answer is naturally all tied up in American domestic politics. The legendary political power of the Israel First lobby is quite real: Israel's "amen corner," as Buchanan once put it, is among the most formidable. He, alone of all the candidates, is speaking truth to that particular power. To believe that US and Israeli interests can diverge is proof positive, in some quarters, of "anti-Semitism." But the American people are not going to side with helicopter gunships against stone-throwing children, in spite of the fulminations of some of the crowd of 15,000 who gathered in front of the UN building in New York City carrying signs with slogans like '"Arab Children are Arab Assassins." That is just a little too abrasive, even for New York.


There is ugliness on the other side, but justice is clearly not being served by the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands. As Buchanan put it on Face the Nation a couple of weeks prior to the attack on the USS Cole, such an explosion of Palestinian passions was literally inevitable because:

"All this dynamite was out there for a long time, for decades, but the individual who ignited the dynamite was Ariel Sharon when he walked up in that stupid and provocative act on the Temple Mount, or the Noble Sanctuary, with about – hundreds of Israeli security guards and triggered this event. What's followed from that is a popular uprising, or people's revolution, which is very much running out of control, but it's understandable, because, look, the Palestinian people have been occupied, persecuted and oppressed for decades and now they are responding to that. And certainly, Americans, quite frankly, who drove the British out of our country in a violent act for offenses far less than what are taking place here, ought to understand this."


As the Arab nations unite in anger and defiance at the desecration of their holy places, and the dynamics of American politics permit only a single response from US politicians, we are being dragged into war in the Middle East – and not on the side of the angels. As in Bosnia, Kosovo, Ireland, and all the regions of the world afflicted by religious and sectarian conflict, there are no angels – but, alas, it only takes a few real devils to make conditions hellish for everyone. Yet if degrees of deviltry must be assigned, then Ariel Sharon must be given a place high in the diabolical hierarchy, with the "liberal" government of Barak a close second for shooting down children in cold blood. If Arafat is to be blamed, then it ought to be for his essential fraudulence – for playing the great leader of the Palestinians, an Arab Moses who will lead his people out of captivity and back to their promised land, when the reality is that he is the one being led, forced to put forward increasingly radical demands by his long-suffering and frustrated people.


Will the Arab nations stand by and watch as children, wielding stones, are slaughtered by Israelis fairly bristling with weaponry – including nuclear weapons? It would be almost impossible to do so without losing considerable credibility and legitimacy on the Arab "street." The fragile monarchy of the Saudis would be shaken to its foundations, and Egypt, too, would be bound to reap serious repercussions from the bloody spectacle of two fighters so unevenly matched. Even the most servile US client state in the region, Turkey, has expressed discontent with this turn of events, urging a negotiated end to the quickly escalating violence. Synagogues are burned, mosques attacked; kidnappings, lynchings, and mob violence on both sides are fueled by religious fanaticism run wild. But the first provocation, the Sharon visit, was religious fanaticism funded by US taxpayers: your tax dollars have been pumped into Israel at a rate well over a million a day, funding not only the Israeli military but also footing the bill for the continuing settler movement, the base of Sharon's following, extremists who preach a messianic military expansionism – and act as its shock troops. We are brokering "peace" but paying for war – and that about sums up our foreign policy.


Dubya plays a great game, and he was widely proclaimed the "winner" of that phony debate. His rhetorical isolationism – saying we might bring our troops home from Bosnia and Kosovo eventually, his dig at Gore that the US must be "humble" and not "arrogant" (poor Al squirmed at the mere mention of the word) was designed to appeal to those who, in a less close race, would be in Buchanan's camp. But this rhetoric was not matched by his real positions, as elaborated under the agile questioning of Jim Lehrer, who asked both candidates the best question imaginable, at least from the viewpoint of us foreign policy mavens:

"In the last 20 years, there have been eight major actions involving the introduction of U.S. ground, air or naval forces. Let me name them: Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo. If you had been president, are any of those interventions – would any of those interventions not have happened?"


Gore's answer, in essence, was no – although he said the Somalian adventure was "ill-considered," while admitting he supported it at the time. Bush embraced all but Somalia and Haiti, and resisted Lehrer's persistent suggestion that we ought to have added Rwanda to the list. Pressed to answer why not, he could only repeat, like a mantra, that the standard must be "our national interest" – leaving his audience to make of this strange correlation between national interest and national origin what they would.


Gore, like John McCain during the primary debates, vowed renewed support to the Iraqi opposition in an effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and indirectly blamed Dubya's dad for not finishing the Iraqis off when he had the chance. Dubya duly admitted that he might "have a conflict of interest there, if you know what I mean," and the laughter was supposed to sweep away any consideration of the irony of such an otherwise brainless remark. For what this debate underscored, and this exchange on the Middle East most of all, is that the two "major" parties have absolutely no conflict of interest or opinion when it comes to the key and very presidential issue of war and peace. A vote for either of them, or even so much as an encouraging word, is an endorsement of a policy of permanent crisis and perpetual war. It is a vote for the corporate mercantilists who reap the profits from war and preparations for war. It is a vote for the globalists, who dream of a "New World Order," and whose bipartisan lovefest last Wednesday had much to do with the outbreak of violence the very next day.


As both US presidential candidates ignored Sharon's provocation, and gave Israel the green light to start "retaliating" with rocket attacks against Palestinian villagers armed with sticks and stones, how can anybody be surprised that the Israelis accepted the invitation? Well, surely most Americans are surprised: their experience with and knowledge of religious wars is thankfully quite limited – our ancestors, in large part, came here to get away from all that. But is there any real getting away from it, if both "major" presidential candidates and the leadership of both parties are united in their pursuit of a policy of servile adherence to the interests of a foreign power?


Wednesday's debate dramatized what I have long said: Of the two of them, Bush is the more dangerous. He mouths the rhetoric of isolationism, while actually supporting interventionism almost right down the line, as his answer to Lehrer's question makes all too clear. He is the Wendell Willkie of our age, albeit one that might actually make it to the White House. At least we always know where Gore stands: firmly in the ranks of the War Party. But Bush is not exactly shy about his allegiances: he openly acknowledged the opposition to interventionism within his own party, and went out of his way to distance himself from it, joining hands with Clinton and Gore on Bosnia and Kosovo, and only shyly venturing the suggestion that perhaps the Europeans could be somehow bribed into doing "their share."


Republican opponents of a policy of global intervention – who can plainly see the possible consequences of that policy in the bloody drama being enacted in Palestine today – have been rejected by Bush, and they should return the favor. If Clinton doesn't come up with an October "surprise" to help Gore get elected, then whoever wins this election is likely to pull a January surprise of his own, perhaps to divert attention away from the deteriorating economy – and to fix the public imagination on a scapegoat, preferably one with Arabic features. Bush is the more dangerous because he exhibits one of the greatest perils of hereditary monarchy: the tendency of the sons to avenge their father's defeats. George Herbert Walker failed to take Baghdad, but Dubya, given the chance, will take it: and he will take it the first chance he gets. The profits to be had from such a war, particularly for the big oil companies as well as the more traditional "merchants of death," would enrich the corporate entities that paid for the Bush campaign – including Halliburton Co., and its subsidiary, Brown and Root, both run until recently by vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney, and a key military contractor. Big Oil would love to eliminate the competition, get rid of the middle man, and seize direct control of the vast oil wealth of the Middle East. Bush, with his background, is their logical instrument. Today, the Republican Party is the War Party – different only in a stylistic sense from the equally interventionist Democrats.


The debates have taught us a lesson, and it is this: instead of sending "observers" to give the seal of democracy to other people's elections, why don't we invite a few observers from abroad over here to check up on things? Not only were the two other major candidates for President, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader, excluded from the debates – which do receive some public monies, in spite of the quasi-official debate Commission's protestations to the contrary – but their respective parties were systematically obstructed by restrictive ballot access laws, which impose nearly impossible conditions on new political parties. In an age when corporate "soft money" contributions buy access to markets and deny entry to others, new parties have no leverage because they have nothing to sell – not even ballot access. This ensures the rule of the plutocrats unto perpetuity – or so they like to think.

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“Behind the Headlines” appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


Past Columns

The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
Gore-Milosevic Connection

Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisted

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

Colombia – The Deja Vu War

Passage to Cargagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

Blowback: Read This Book!

Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

The Outing of Ralph Nader, and Other Atrocities

Why Kosovo? Follow the Money!

Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

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 (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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