November 20, 2002

UN route buys time for anti-war movement

So, you're depressed about the supposedly unstoppable war about to break out in the Middle East: polls say that most Americans, no matter what their views on this matter, are convinced that war is "inevitable." But, you know what? It just ain't so.

To begin with, nothing but nothing is "inevitable." Human beings have free will: the future is unpredictable. Secondly, the triumph of the Colin Powell faction in the administration means that the U.S. is going the multilateralist-UN route, which, as an interesting article by Hugo Young in The Guardian points out, means that "what most American officials are preparing for is a long game." Bush's sudden conversion away from Rumsfeldian unilateralism, and his quest for a UN mandate may postpone the endgame by as long as six months. But why did Bush go the UN route? According to Young:

"The main reason he wants it is to be found not in the war so much as the victory that follows. A senior UN official contrasted for me a victory gained by America alone, leaving the US to carry the entire burden of Arab hatred as it struggled alone to hold Iraq together, with a victory under the collective UN banner, in which many states share the material and moral responsibility for what the world decided to do. 'Bush will go a long way to build that alliance,' the official said."

Yes, the material and moral responsibility must be shared out, among the "allies" – in other words, if we're going to be targets of retaliation from terrorist groups, then so must the Europeans.

As for the money: the financial burden of the last Gulf war was collectively borne by the West and the Japanese. This time, the U.S. is even more desperate to spread the costs around. A recent piece in the Sunday "Ideas" section of the Boston Globe – a section, by the way, that seems only to have neoconservative ideas – patiently explains why the U.S. effort to topple Saddam is not a forced march toward Imperium: "Indeed," writes Alan Wolfe, "we fear empire rather than welcome it." And the imperial model is especially fearsome to those tax-cutting small government Republicans:

"The most important reason why Americans worry about empire is that it costs money…. For conservative defense intellectuals to achieve their imperial ambitions, their first order of business would have to be preparing the American public, and their own Republican base, for increased public expenditure. Alas for them, the president for whom they work has done exactly the opposite. No serious empire-builder would ever cut taxes as recklessly as President Bush has. Because of the enormous tax cut, the Bush administration has had little choice but to disappoint its allies in the Pentagon by reneging on its promise to throw open the government's checkbook."

But the tax cuts, piddling compared to the Reagan tax relief measures of 1981, are not permanent, nor have congressional Republicans – or this administration – decided to press for permanent reductions: a war could easily "postpone" such a move indefinitely. There are also a number of catches to this alleged cut: because of a "glitch" in the law, many middle class Americans will see their taxes rise.

The President's "defense" budget hike for 2003, measured against the military build-up of the Reagan years, is nearly double the 1981 increases. This is hardly reneging on the alleged "promise to throw open the government's checkbook." (One might ask: to whom was this promise made? But, never mind …)

What prepared Americans, and especially the Republican base, for increased public expenditure was 9/11 – and the threat of new attacks. With such a closely divided Congress, and the conditions of an emergency dominating the political debate, a tax hike is not out of the question. Americans are being asked to give up a lot more than their tax dollars in order to wage a perpetual "war on terrorism," and, at least so far, they have gone along with the program.

The Bush administration, argues Wolfe, isn't really embarked on an imperial venture, in spite of talk of installing a MacArthur-style Regency in Baghdad, headed by an American general. His evidence for this is the lack of frankness on the part of the administration in discussing the post-victory phase, the lack of a draft, and, oddly, the U.S. failure to extend tariff relief in textiles to Pakistan. He concludes with a complaint:

"We resist an imperial role for America not because we are humanitarians and internationalists but because we are stingy with our government and lack genuine interest in the rest of the world. Our best defenses against empire, as it turns out, lie not in our virtues but in our vices."

It is a "vice" to feel entitled to money earned by hard work, and to resent and resist government expropriation, and a virtue to be one of those "humanitarian" internationalists for whom "nation-building" doesn't seem like pure hubris. Thankfully, this inverted moral calculus holds true only in the narrow world of policy wonks and faithful readers of the Boston Globe's Sunday "Ideas" section.

By going to the UN, and getting its allies to bear some of the costs, the Bush administration hopes to get around the necessity of reversing its tax policy and instituting a draft. Let others pay for and police our conquests, while American centurions do most of the fighting and the "multilateralist" Democrats are brought on board. What could be a sweeter deal for the War Party?

But all this, as I have pointed out, will take some time – and the end result is by no means certain. This analysis is being confirmed, I believe, by the most recent developments. Efforts by the War Party to engineer another Gulf of Tonkin incident have, so far, proved fruitless, and are not likely to succeed. With the inspectors in Iraq, the process is being drawn out far beyond the late-December war scenarios being painted by some. As Young puts it:

"That could go on for months, and the war party will get more contemptuously rowdy. My impression, though, is that for both military and diplomatic reasons Washington will be patient. The armaments need to be in place. Most of all, the allies need to agree. An official at the national security council startled me by volunteering that six months could pass before anything happened. I now see why he may be right."

That's the good news.

But I have some bad – really bad – news to report: our fundraising efforts are faltering. Perhaps because yesterday's appeal was buried at the end of a 2,000-word column. Or whatever. But, for some reason, you guys (and gals) just didn't respond in record numbers. Unless and until you do, the cutbacks I've been warning you about will commence fairly soon – starting with a cutback in my columns, from three times a week to one.

No, I'm not sulking, like Achilles keeping to his tent: this means I'm taking the brunt of the cutbacks. And so, it seems, are you – unless, that is, the contributions come pouring in by the end of this week, if not sooner.

Look, we've done our part – and then some. We've increased our readership, our influence, and the frequency of our updates: anyone who wants to know what is going on in this troubled world need only look at our front page, and they have the latest, most reliable information and analysis available on the web.

Now, it's your turn.

A number of our supporters give monthly contributions: if you've already committed to this, won't you consider upping your contribution? And if you haven't joined this Sustainers Program, click here to do it – because we need you, now more than ever.

A lot can happen in six months. There is still time to stop this war before it starts. And there's still time to make sure is around to carry the banner of opposition to the Empire – in cyberspace, and beyond.

Click here to make your 100% tax-deductible donation – because we're making a difference.

– 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.