October 24, 2001

Neoconservative hawks are the real ‘fifth column'

The strategy of the War Party has been consistent from day one of the post-9/11 era: pit the US and Israel against most of the rest of the world, and finally embark on a course of empire. In pursuit of this goal, they have taken to demonizing Islam, per se, and declaring that the goal of the "war on terrorism" must be nothing less than the eradication of "radical" Islam from the map of the world's religions. The crudest form of this hate campaign is to be found, naturally enough, on David Horowitz's frenetic FrontPageMag website, where the frothy-mouthed Jamie Glazov inveighs against all Muslims because of their alleged "hatred of the clitoris." (I kid you not!) Although female circumcision is not referred to in the Koran, and is a specifically African cultural phenomenon, that didn't stop Glazov from gleefully and even lovingly describing the gynecological horrors of this practice as if Mohammed himself had sanctified if. Thankfully, this article was not illustrated.


For a more polite version of this idea, one merely has to go to National Review Online, where everyone from John Derbyshire to Paul Johnson is making the case against Islam as an inherently "imperialistic" and even inhuman faith. For the more high-toned, there is Stephen Schwartz's pseudo-scholarly piece in the [UK] Spectator suggesting that the Wahabi form of Islam is a danger on a par with Communism, fascism, and, presumably, the coming heat-death of the universe. Andrew Sullivan, the human echo chamber whose take on the conventional wisdom is always a few steps ahead of the crowd, has lately been railing against the "anti-Semitism" of the Arab Islamists – conveniently forgetting that Arabs, too, are Semites.


Ah, but this form of anti-Semitism is not only okay, it is eminently fashionable: that is the whole point of Peggy Noonan's paranoid hallucinations, Ann Coulter's invective aimed at "swarthy males," and Mona "Milosevic" Charen's proposed ethnic cleansing program: to legitimize a de facto pogrom to be carried out against Arab Semites, and not only in America.


Cashing in on the anger of the American people – the smoke from the World Trade Center is, after all, still rising – an alliance of New Republic liberals and Weekly Standard neoconservatives hopes to focus it on hatred of all things Arabic – or, at least, to channel it into a good long war of conquest. The warriors of the "Anglosphere" now sing the praises of Kipling, the balladeer of British imperialism, and recall what they regard as the eternal verities of colonialism. Let us take up the white man's burden, they cry, if that's what it takes to "win" the war on terrorism. Canadian writer Mark Steyn makes the case for a new Anglo-American imperialism. Citing the old Rooseveltian adage that "he may be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch," Steyn wants to eliminate the middle man because "the sonofabitch system is ultimately useless to the West." He complains that...

"The US spends billions subsidizing regimes which have a vested interest in encouraging anti-Americanism as a substitute for more locally focused grievances. As a result, the West gets blamed for far more in a part of the world it never colonised than it does in those regions it directly administered for centuries."


Instead of going through all that hassle, Steyn avers, and subsidizing the "decadent" and "corrupt" Saudi monarchy, why not just take over Saudi Arabia, and, while we're at it, most of the rest of the Arab world? After all, they have "our" oil, and never mind "where would we be without them?" – where would the House of Saud be without us? Who needs them, anyway?

"By comparison with the sonofabitch system, " writes Steyn, "colonialism is progressive and enlightened. If, as the bonehead peaceniks parrot, poverty breeds instability, then what's the best way to tackle poverty? The rule of law, a market economy, emancipation of women – all the things you're never going to get under most present Middle East regimes."

Naturally, independence and cultural autonomy never enter into Steyn's equation, for this would contradict the central mythos of the Anglosphere: that the world's resources (especially oil!) cannot be left in the hands of a bunch of uncivilized heathens. Steyn agrees with the boneheads that the elimination of Third World poverty puts a valid lien on the wealth of the West – which just goes to show that he is equally boneheaded, if not quite a peacenik.


Steyn begs us not to "stick Zahir Shah back on his throne to preside over a ramshackle coalition of mutually hostile commies, theocrats and gangsters." Far better that we should enthrone … ourselves. Forget about self-rule, what Afghanistan – and the entire region – needs is "not just food parcels, but British courts and Canadian police and Indian civil servants and American town clerks and Australian newspapers." Once Rupert Murdoch owns most of the newspapers in the Middle East, can civilization be far behind?


In an example of some very strenuous wishful thinking, Steyn smoothly assures us that "the viability of America's non-imperial strategy was demolished on 11 September." It is either Empire, or more terrorism. Here is where the Islamo-fascism trope raised by Christopher Hitchens, the War Party's house leftist, comes in handy: Osama bin Laden, we are told, is the veritable reincarnation of Hitler, and the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center and the looming threat of bio-war seem to confirm this dark prognosis. Combined with the Islam-is-aggression argument, the neo-imperialist theme is perfectly suited to the war aims of the neoconservatives. "On to Iraq!" they screech, inventing lurid spy stories that "prove" Saddam Hussein is behind the wave of anthrax scares.


But it isn't going to be that easy for them. Fortunately, the neocons have a number of problems, not the least of which is President Bush himself, who, at least for the moment, seems intent on narrowing his war aims, not expanding them. Colin Powell went to Pakistan and broadly hinted that the "moderate" wing of the Taliban might be persuaded to join a postwar Afghan government of national unity. It was only after this failed that they gave the Northern Alliance at least a yellow light in their battle to take Kabul.


Another great problem is that the neocons' imprecations against a peacenik-Arab "fifth column" are fatally undermined by their slavishly pro-Israel stance.

When Ariel Sharon likened Israel to Czechoslovakia in the wake of Munich, practically accusing the President of the United States of collaborating with terrorism, what Pat Buchanan rightly calls Israel's "amen corner" in the US sided with Tel Aviv over Washington. Colin Powell's achievement – creating a broad anti-terrorist consensus in the Arab world, and securing the invaluable assistance of Pakistan in rooting out Al Qaeda – was disparaged, and people who routinely dismiss all dissent with an imperious "don't you know there's a war on?" were suddenly hailing Sharon's wisdom and "bravery."

As Israeli tanks plow into twelve-year-old Palestinian children, the Amen Corner loudly denounces the US for calling for an immediate halt to the Israeli blitzkrieg: this, we are told, is "selling out Israel." So much for "united we stand."


Yet another major problem faced by the neocons, who want the Arabs and Muslims out of the picture completely, is geography. There is simply no way to physically get at Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda without securing the close cooperation of the Pakistanis, and this comes at a price. Islamabad's view of the Afghan war is that it ought to be "short and sharp," as General Musharraf, the reigning strongman, put it. Pakistan's official government website, paknews.com, headlines a story informing us that "US military operation to last till April" – that's April of next year, and not, as Steyn and his fellow Knights of the American Raj would have it, fifty or a hundred years from now.


The ultra-hawks, while self-righteously inveighing against leftist opponents of the war as "fifth columnists" and "traitors," are simultaneously undermining the Bush administration and its war policy by flatly contradicting the official US line on an important point. This is a war against Islam, they insist, even a holy war, one waged by the proponents of modernity and the Enlightenment against the medieval remnants of Arab reaction.

It was interesting that, among the 40 or so signers of Bill Kristol's manifesto demanding the military occupation of virtually the entire Middle East was one Francis Fukuyama, the author of a now famous thesis proclaiming "the end of history." History, says Fukuyama, has ended in the "inevitable" victory of Western values and "global liberal democracy," which is "the final form of human government." In the case of the Middle East, however, it seems there's no harm in hurrying the "end of history" along a bit – at gunpoint.


The conquest of the Middle East seems like such a bloated, self-deluded fantasy, that surely no one takes it seriously. Normally no one would – except for Bill Kristol and a few dozen dedicated neocons – but these are not normal times, as the neocons and their liberal friends gleefully remind us. In wartime, all sorts of scamsters and con artists come out of the closet, or out from under their rocks, and try to get away with as much as they can manage. This war, albeit a "new war," is no different.


But these war profiteers are running up against two big barriers: the first is Colin Powell, whose calm deliberation is in stark contrast to the sputtering hysterics of his critics in the punditocracy. Powell's efforts to build a broad coalition in the service of quite narrow American war aims has aroused a veritable lynch mob among our laptop bombardiers, who have their own ideas on how the war ought to be fought. Like former secretary of state Madeleine Albright – who once asked Powell, "What is the point of having the most biggest most power military machine on earth if you never use it?" – they have no understanding of the reality of war, or of the purely military issues at stake here.


Powell does, of course, and this is clearly what has guided him. Indeed, the two generals, Powell and Musharraf, who met recently, seem to have come to a purely military understanding of the task at hand: to isolate and eliminate Bin Laden and Al Qaeda as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is the exact opposite of the war aims of the neoconservatives, who want to isolate the United States from the entire Arab world and seem far more focused on eliminating Israel's enemies – Iraq, Syria, Libya, and even Iran – than going after Osama bin Laden.


The second big obstacle may be President Bush and some of his closest advisors. Marvin Olasky, the ex-leftist theoretician behind the creation of "compassionate conservatism," gives voice in a recent newspaper column to the George Bush we remember from the presidential election debate.

Does anybody remember the George W. Bush who, charmingly, promised us a "humble" foreign policy? I do, and there's a chance that this aspect of our chief executive may not be altogether eclipsed by Bush the Warrior President. "Military might won't transform Muslim culture," lectures Olasky, speaking directly to the neocons and their liberal allies, and it is foolish to even try. His arguments against using 9/11 as a means to catapult us into a wider war are interesting, and ingenious, and they are sure to have a great effect on many of the President's born again Christian supporters in the Republican Party.


In defense of the Bush administration's so far modest war aims – get Osama, root out Al Qaeda, build an international consensus against terrorism – Olasky turns the anti-Islamist propaganda of the Wider-War Party on its head and says culture and religion do matter – which is precisely why those American town clerks, and British cops, and Murdoch-style yellow journalists will never take root in the Middle East.

In religious terms, the Trinitarian Christians of the West are more amenable to such ideas as the constitutional separation of powers, while "the heavy unifying emphasis of Islam" portends a different social and political order. The Christian idea of original sin, he points out, means that power must be dispersed and decentralized, whereas Islam has no such built-in brake on state power. Mankind is fallen, and cannot be trusted with the godlike powers of the State. The idea that, as Steyn and the neocons contend, the US can remake Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East, in the image of Everytown, USA – or even a halfway decent approximation – is a dangerous illusion. Only in an era of absolute madness, such as the one inaugurated on 9/11, would anyone dare to conjure it.


I hasten to point out that Olasky makes clear his view of Islam shouldn't be taken to mean that most Muslims aren't decent people. Certainly such clear strictures against stealing and lying will make for "better neighbors" than "moral anarchists." It's just that Islamic law, imposed by a Muslim majority, is not exactly a libertarian paradise. Yet it would be an example of hubris, and perhaps even a sin – the sin of pride – to imagine that we, in the West, could alter the cultural implications of Muslim theology. Furthermore, it would be ridiculous to even try. "As the brewing company now named after him has reminded us in excellent ads," writes Olasky,

"Samuel Adams two centuries ago prayed, 'May Heaven grant that the principles of liberty and virtue, truth and justice, pervade the whole earth.' Adams was right to send his appeal to heaven. Military power can oust one government and establish another, but only God can change hearts so that biblical principles of liberty and virtue are embraced."

Olasky's ideas had an enormous influence on the way Bush was perceived during the last presidential election, and his "compassionate conservatism" concept continues to exert pull on the domestic policies of this administration. We can only hope – and pray – that he has an equal effect on the President's conduct of this war. God help us if the neocons win out, and it is the US and Israel versus the Arab world: for that would truly be a world war which could only end in Armageddon.


Having Marvin Olasky in the camp of those who oppose the world war being pushed on us is such good news that the boneheaded peacenik Left is naturally bound to miss it. After all, how could a right-wing Christian, who was the theorist behind the Bush 2000 presidential campaign, possibly be antiwar? A conservative critique of imperialism is beyond their cramped imaginations and limited knowledge.

We have given away a book, Prophets on the Right: Conservative Critics of Globalism, by Ronald Radosh, to Antiwar.com contributors, and I have also written a book on the same subject. But the Left is not interested in history, or books, for that matter, except those that reinforce their already-accepted dogmas. They are far more concerned with demonizing President Bush, and all conservatives, than with genuinely bringing hostilities to a swift and morally satisfactory conclusion. The dogmatists of the Left who dominate the peace movement would just as soon the war spread throughout the entire Middle East than align themselves with such a "reactionary." It's disheartening to contemplate, really, and when I think of it a particularly dark poem by Robinson Jeffers comes to mind:

"Two world wars, and they breed a third. Now guard the beaches, watch the north, trust not the dawns, Probe every cloud.

"Build power. Fortress America may yet for a long time stand, between the east and the west, like Byzantium.

" – As for me. I agree with you. It is a foolish business to see the future and screech at it.

"One should watch and not speak. And patriotism has run the world through so many blood-tales: and we always fall in."

Watch and not speak: I hope I never give in to such a temptation. For we must speak, while we can, to whom we can, in whatever language we can – while there is yet time.

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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.


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