Where have we been, and where are we going? These are the two questions that preoccupy my mind these days, as we approach the one year anniversary of Antiwar.com's operation as a continuously-updated news and commentary site. A week away from the opening day of our second Annual Conference when a full year will have passed since the first bombs began dropping on Belgrade I am asking myself: what was it all for, anyway?
Originally, for me at any rate, Antiwar.com was an emotional catharsis, a means to vent my anger and contempt for an administration that would unleash the mightiest military machine on a brave people whose only "crime" was to dare to assert their sovereignty and dignity in the face of threats and provocations. What was one supposed to do, as cowardly American bombers dropped ordnance from 50,000 ft. and Congress abdicated its responsibility, distancing itself from this outrage but refusing to stop the funding? (Indeed, those dolts actually increased funding for the Kosovo operation, over and above Clinton's request!) After awhile, shouting at the TV screen and throwing balled-up wads of newspaper at the evil Christiane Amanpour began to get a little old, as you can well imagine. What to do?
Writers are not much good for anything other than writing, except on some very rare occasions or by some strange quirk of fate and then only as a by-product of their writing. As a political organizer and practical man of action, I have always been something of a wash-out. I spent a decade in the Libertarian Party, and another five or so engaged in organizing libertarians in the GOP and neither project had any appreciable effect on the national political scene. Aside from generally causing havoc inside the Libertarian Party in the late seventies and early eighties, basically reducing it to a shell of its former self (albeit not single-handedly), my own incursions into the arena of day-to-day practical politics, while not altogether disastrous (like my 1996 campaign for Congress as a Republican in San Francisco talk about lost causes!) have not exactly been world-historic. (The one exception that proves the rule: being the first to promote the presidential ambitions of Patrick J. Buchanan in public print, in September of 1990, but then that would have happened anyway.) In short, my own feeble attempts to organize anything have all come to naught perhaps because I am at my best alone at the keyboard. Yet I cannot resist the temptation to try my hand, once again, to test the waters, so to speak, and see if maybe this time the political (or, rather, organizational) success that has so far eluded me might yet be possible, if only . . .
Antiwar.com began its institutional life as an inchoate act of rebellion, a gesture of defiance an early headline was "Clinton Does to Serbia What He Did to Juanita Brodderick!" and slowly but surely evolved into something much more. How much more, however, is the question. Since that time we have acquired quite an online presence: my columns are read by thousands, instead of hundreds, and we have added a whole platoon of regular columnists, all of whom are helping us to build a truly worldwide audience. We are offering more original material, every day, than many magazines (both online and off) with ten times our circulation and ten hundred times our budget and prestige, and the effect of this relentless literary assault has been subtle but telling. Our ideas have received a respectful hearing in the so-called "mainstream" media, and are not only carried regularly on Yahoo, the world's most popular website, but also given a much wider circulation than they would otherwise have via such online publications as WorldNetDaily and others. As far as recognition from the journalistic profession itself, there was the thoughtful profile of Antiwar.com featured by PBS in the early days of the Kosovo war, and many of my own columns have found their way into the mainstream media, including the Times of London. I know that many journalists use Antiwar.com as a resource when researching their own pieces, or just for fun. More significantly, I believe that the growth and success of this site has moved the debate a few inches in our direction, especially among many conservatives who are now beginning to question the whole rationale for global interventionism. In short, just by existing, we have not only begun the great foreign policy debate of the new millennium, but we have also set up the debate largely on our own terms: for in the face of an organized and very vocal group of (primarily) American noninterventionists, the War Party must now justify its case much more carefully and convincingly, taking care not to lie too brazenly. That, in and of itself, is a great achievement, and we have every right to be proud.
But let's not get in too much of a self-congratulatory mood not as we stand on the edge of a great yawning abyss, not only in Kosovo but around the world. As the US gets ready to leap into the bottomless pit of Empire, we should all of us be feeling just a little bit queasy. When I think of what we're up against, of all that it took to come to this moment of modest achievement, I despair. So much more is required, so much effort: I mean, how many columns and conferences, colloquiums, speeches, marches, rallies, petitions, and riots in the streets will it take before our rulers get the message? Americans don't want an Empire, bring our centurions home!
Being just a website, strictly limited to the realm of cyberspace, means that we can never have enough impact: we can never have a direct effect on the outcome of the events we report and comment on. At best, we can inspire others to do the work that needs to be done before we can begin to dream of a world where the threat of war is diminished enough to give us even a moment's peace. I, for one, would be satisfied if we took just a few short steps back from the brink of the abyss, but nothing I write can bring that about and this is, for me, a source of continual frustration. Of course, some people are perfectly content to comment from the sidelines. Writing is a pleasant and even somewhat fluffy occupation: to think up opinions in the morning, break for lunch, and then spend the rest of the afternoon looking for the facts to back them up what a life! If that sounds like fun, well, then it is except when one considers the meaning of it all.
For in those (necessarily) rare moments of introspection, when the writer confronts his mysterious compulsion to set pen to paper, the ultimate meaning and value of his work can only come from two possible sources: the effect of his writing on himself, and on the world. In regard to the former, only the writer himself, his biographer, and the few members of his fan club (if any) need be concerned with this point. Writers of books or, at least, this writer like to think of their tome lying in wait in libraries, waiting for some browser to pick it up and open it so that the author may come back to life, if only for a few hours, and in this way achieve a sporadic (and by no means assured) form of immortality. But the fate of these columns is, in the long run at least, more problematic. Churned out three times a week and focused on events as they are happening, each one is, at best, a snapshot of what is occurring in that moment with some hint of what may happen in the next. When strung together, these snapshots interact like the separate frames of a movie: the reader can be instructed, and even entertained, but, in the end, what is he or she to do? Sure, the world is rushing toward another global conflict, in the Balkans, in the Straits of Taiwan, on the battlefields of Chechnya and along the Pakistani-Indian border yet can we do anything other than shake our fists and fulminate?
I am convinced that the answer is an emphatic yes, yet I am not advocating that we form yet another organization. The world has too many organizations that do little but try to justify their existence to members and contributors. Instead of working to achieve the group's ostensible goal world peace, liberty, Communism, vegetarianism, Nirvana, or whatever the organization soon becomes the source of a paycheck and/or an arena for the leadership to act out their fantasies of power and historical significance. The sad result is that these groups usually fade into complete insignificance, often with alarming speed, and if anything hurt rather than help the causes they were founded to advance. (I could name a few, but being in a rare charitable mood, will rein myself in.) No, this is the wrong path to take: this way lies oblivion.
Yet there is a way to get around the essential futility of most organizations, and that is by focusing on single events or on very specific tasks. This, at least, is the beginning of a genuine grassroots movement: undertaking concrete actions directly related to long-term goals. Our long-term goal is restoring the foreign policy of this country's Founders, that is, a policy that seeks entangling alliances with none and peaceful productive relations with all nations. What concrete actions can we undertake right now, given our present level of organization and resources, to move a few steps closer to our ultimate goal? What follows are a few modest proposals:
Nearly every major political and ideological pressure group has a rating system, whereby the nation's legislators are awarded points and demerits based on their adherence to or deviation from whatever cause is being advanced: for years, conservatives had Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA), later replaced by the American Conservative Union ratings, and the liberals had Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). Both defenders and detractors of the Second Amendment have their legislators' scorecard, which rate members of Congress by their voting record, and so too do the environmentalists, the anti-tobacco lobbyists, the tobacco lobbyists, the pro-life and pro-death lobbies, the ACLU and the League of Armenian-American Voters. But where oh where are the opponents of interventionism in this welter of interest groups? Where are the advocates of peace? How come we don't have a rating system to measure how our esteemed representatives in Washington are living up to their constitutional duty to conduct the nation's foreign policy? Just think of the effect of the news that a man who wants to be President, or a member of Congress, has been rated an outright danger to the country and been awarded the official title of the Biggest Warmonger in Congress? Conceivably, the news that John McCain, as Senator, suffered from a kind of perpetual war fever as measured by Antiwar.com's "War-o-meter" would have done something to cool support for the hotheaded Republican a bit earlier. Of course, such a rating system would be a complex, difficult, and expensive undertaking, consuming many hours of research and requiring the attention of several individuals with background in the issues and the judgment to construct a workable and meaningful standard. However, if every election season we could release the foreign policy record of all the incumbents, as well as the challengers, and issue a purely informational scorecard, we could all sleep a little better at night knowing that at least we are all going to hell as well-informed about who drove us there as possible.
It is little short of criminal that the presidential candidates this year got through an unusually long primary season without having to once confront the central question facing every President how and why does he call out the troops? Of course, this is not a power given to him by the US Constitution, but one that Presidents since Truman have arrogated to themselves: it is, nevertheless, now a prerogative of the office, and every candidate for the White House is therefore obliged to make clear exactly under what conditions he would exercise this option. And more he or she must lay out, in advance, just how they intend to conduct US foreign policy: by what principles and precedents will they be guided? This is a question American citizens, and indeed people all over the world, have a right (and a duty) to ask, since, for all too many of them, it is a matter of life and death. What is needed is a yearly Presidential Town Hall Forum, in which all the presidential candidates of any consequence are invited to make speeches and face a panel of assembled experts, journalists, and plain old American citizens, as well as other interested parties, all ready with their questions and concerns. For this is the one issue on which the President of the United States holds a veritable Sword of Damocles over all of our heads: he can call out the troops, the bombers, the guided missiles on a moment's notice, without the consent of (or even in consultation with) the US Congress, or anyone else for that matter. The very least aspirants for the office can do is to give us some idea, however vague, of what to expect so that we won't be completely caught off guard when the sirens marking the start of World War III begin to wail. According to this scenario, every presidential campaign season the candidates would be invited to attend two sessions of the Foreign Policy Town Hall Meeting: the first during the primary season, and the second in the period leading up to the November election. Those who don't show up surely have something to hide it's as simple as that.
Now here is an institution with a purpose: to give evil a chance to reveal itself, and give the good guys a chance to shine. Foreign policy was not buried this primary election season because the people don't care, or because it just isn't important what is happening today in Kosovo is vitally important, and the American people are more aware of it than the pundits and politicians are willing to admit. The question is: how do we bring the issues out in the open? Answer: by providing a forum for the issues to be addressed. This is what we did with Antiwar.com the Foreign Policy Town Hall concept is just another application of the same principle.
Candidates at the local level must also confront foreign policy issues, and face questions from citizens who care about these issues, and from this flows the necessity of organizing Foreign Policy Town Hall meetings on the local level. In a great many congressional districts throughout the country, a low rating from Antiwar.com or "Americans for a Peaceful Foreign Policy" is going to mean a loss of at least a few points in the polls, and perhaps a great deal more if the war danger looms large. As news events, these foreign policy debates will be covered by the media, and will in turn educate many more thousands than will ever log on to Antiwar.com. Here is an opportunity for supporters of a noninterventionist policy to become a political factor without being partisan, and while performing a purely informational function. And this is by no means a forum only for candidates: these Foreign Policy Town Hall meetings could become a regular service, a local forum for debate and discussion on the question of war and peace for the first time giving a platform to the noninterventionist position on an equal footing with the internationalists, who have so far had the "debate" all to themselves, arguing over such questions as whether the US ought to intervene unilaterally or multi-laterally, so that the option of non-intervention and peace never even comes up.
The interventionists are operating, in this arena, from a distinct disadvantage: they don't want talk about foreign policy issues, they don't want any real debate, since they know what every poll tells them and that is that the American people are utterly opposed to their policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace, and have always had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into every overseas war, from World War I to the present. They are happy with the present situation, when the issue is rarely (if ever) brought up, because their views are not at all popular and, what's more, they know it. Dubya doesn't want his Republican voters to know that he endorsed Bill Clinton's Kosovo policy, and the Bore doesn't want you to realize that his family's investments in Occidental Petroleum give him a personal stake in bailing out the regime of Colombia's President Andres Pastrana. Neither wants you to know that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between them on the burning foreign policy issues of the day just as the foreign policy establishment that has up until now dominated the debate doesn't want you to know that there is an alternative to globalism and interventionism.
These three modest proposals, then, are a start. No, I am not saying that Antiwar.com, or its parent organization, the Center for Libertarian Studies, intends to take up any or all of these projects: I am merely putting them out there for our readers and supporters to contemplate and discuss. Whatever action they take is their own responsibility. In the end, a mere writer can only hope to incite or perhaps even inspire his readers to act and hope for the best.
You will have noticed the sudden appearance of banner ads at the top of virtually every page on this site, and being a libertarian, I naturally won't make any apologies. I think it makes us look more like what we are: a real online publication, with a diverse and relatively well-heeled readership, a place, in short, where any advertiser would love to be visible. Patronizing our advertisers is one way you can support the cause of peace and nonintervention: every advertising dollar that we generate goes to bring you the most incisive and current commentary on international affairs available on the Internet. As a proud member of the Flycast Network, we bring you bargains on a wide array of products and services, and we are glad to do it. In addition, check out the Antiwar.com credit card deal on the front page you can put your credit rating to work for the cause of peace. I can't think of a better use for a credit card can you?
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