Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

September 6, 2000


Increasingly, American foreign policy has little to do with events overseas, and everything to do with politics on the home front. During the cold war era, this tendency of US policy to be self-referential was subordinated to the requirements of an actual military threat – albeit overblown – from the Soviet Union. In the post-cold war world, however, such restraints have been thrown completely overboard. With the US elevated to the status of a "hyperpower" – so far beyond the military capabilities of our closest competitor that the difference is qualitative not quantitative – the need to be in touch with reality is no longer quite so compelling. The result is a foreign policy that might have been formulated by the rulers of Fantasy Island. . . .


Iraq is a perfect example of the Fantasy Island Syndrome. Here is a nation which has lost 1.2 million citizens, mostly the very young and the very old, as a direct result of US-imposed sanctions. Bombed into a pile of smoking rubble, Iraq today has no ballistic missile program and no way to pose a threat to any of its neighbors. Yet the US is supposedly so concerned about a "possible threat" from Iraq during the presidential campaign that the Pentagon, on Thursday, sent an Army Patriot missile to Israel – a move, as the Washington Post put it, made "only in times of crisis." But whose crisis – and where is it occurring . . . ?


Not in Israel, that's for sure. If Saddam's poison-tipped Scuds were on their way to pierce the heart of Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Barak couldn't have been more relaxed about it: "I don't know if this Patriot missile battery really needs to be bothered," he said, when informed of the Patriot's imminent arrival. The New York Times reports that "he did not think Israelis should worry or be distracted by the reports. Indeed, there is no state of alert here, no palpable feeling that there is any cause of concern. The lead story on the evening news was the opening of the new school year."


No, the "crisis" is right here at home: quadrennial crisis whereby power is transferred in the US from one ruling clique to another -- or not transferred, as the case may be, otherwise known as a presidential election. The race for the White House is shaping up to be quite a horse-race, and that is precisely how it is being covered by the US news media. The big issues are microscopic in their significance: is Al Gore an "alpha male"? Will Dubya apologize for calling Adam Clymer, a reporter for the New York Times, an a*s*o*e? Since both "major" candidates agree on all the significant issues – and are especially united in their fulsome support for an interventionist foreign policy – the campaign has degenerated into a grown-up version of an election for class president, high school version, in which the studious dork is fighting an uphill campaign against the popular but stupid captain of the football team. It's all far less interesting than an episode of Daria. But don't be fooled. With the rapid dispatch of the Patriot missile battery to Israel, sending a signal that we may be in for an "October surprise," it looks like the action is about to heat up. . . .


The politicization of US foreign policy was frankly confessed by an anonymous administration official, cited in the Washington Post, who, along with his colleagues in the inner councils of Clintonia, believes that Saddam Hussein "has miscalculated in past U.S. elections, thinking we were somehow distracted" -- and will be sorely tempted to do so again. Here it is necessary to apply the Inversion Principle, as we always must in trying to interpret the words of this administration and its Liar-in-chief, by assuming that the complete opposite is the case. It is this administration that is doing the calculating, hoping to distract an American electorate already irked by high gasoline prices away from the presidential election, and focus their attention on some manufactured overseas "crisis." The Iraqis are convenient Arabic villains. With Al Gore in deep trouble up until very recently, and his wife's New York Senate campaign up against a tough challenge, the crisis was and is in the political fortunes of the President's party, with only one logical way out of it. . . .


It looks like what might be called the Aspirin Factory Solution – after the bombing of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan as the other shoe was about to drop in l'affaire Lewinsky – is in the works. With the deadline for Iraqi compliance with the UN weapons inspection program fast approaching, Iraq was bound to be an election year issue – and one in which Dubya is surprisingly vulnerable. For any GOP attempt to critique US Iraq policy from a more-interventionist-than-thou perspective invariably runs up against the need to ask a question that only George Herbert Walker Bush can answer: why didn't we take Baghdad at the end of the Gulf war? This is the mantra of those who want a final solution to the problem of Saddam. Dubya is hardly going to criticize, or even second-guess, dear old Dad, and so the Democrats are inoculated against the charge of being "soft on Saddam" this election year. This gives them the freedom to launch a not-very-surprising October Surprise, without necessarily having to go all the way all at once. . . .


This would accomplish two things: it would take the focus of public attention away from the election, away from Al Gore's glaring unlikeability, and shift it toward someone even less likable – Saddam Hussein, the favorite hate object of both parties. It would also give Bill Clinton his heart's desire – or, at least, the printable version – and that is a Legacy. William Jefferson Clinton – the President who took out Saddam. While not exactly wiping the slate clean – it took Hercules to clean the Augean stables, a roughly comparable task – such a Legacy would certainly burnish his image with the sort of gravitas likely to impress historians. It would be self-serving, politically astute, and brazenly immoral to make war on Iraq for these reasons and under these circumstances. Now ask yourself: is Clinton capable of it . . .?


I am fascinated by this concept of America the hyperpower – a superpower so powerful that it is beyond challenge, or even reproach. This super-superpower is beyond good and evil, a Nietzschean nation whose dominance is not only military but also cultural. History begins with its founding, and ends with its hegemony. Its rulers are the emperors of a New Rome, whose centurions guard the far frontiers of the imperial domain – while at home the people are too narcotized to notice that their old Republic is gone. The hyperpower plays with other countries like a cat plays with a cornered mouse. There is no question as to how it will end, only how long it will take the cat to pounce and finish off his already half-dead prey. The whims of a cat are naturally inscrutable, but the actions of politicians in power are much less opaque – in this case to the point of absolute transparency. . . .


Now we get into the "Fantasy Island" aspect of this whole Patriot missile affair. For the reality is that it is physically impossible for the Iraqis to have manufactured ballistic missiles, let alone tested and developed them, since 1998, when UN weapons inspectors testified that Iraq's missile capability was nonexistent. As one of those inspectors, Scott Ritter, put it in an interview with CNN:

"I have to agree totally with the Iraqis. There's absolutely no substance to any accusation that Iraq continues to possess a ballistic missile capability that can reach Israel. This is a fact that's well-known to the United States and to Israel. Prime Minister Barak has recently just said that there is no Iraqi missile threat. And he doesn't know what all the hype is about. This seems to be a purely political move on the part of the United States to continue to demonize Iraq by hyping it's perceived capabilities."


In an excellent op ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, Ritter notes the Saddam-centric Iraq policy of both major party presidential candidates and despairingly predicts that "the next four years will see a continuation of America's decade-long fixation on the president of Iraq." He then homes in on the essential issue by not only pointing out the total defeat of the US effort to oust Saddam, but also accurately depicting an Iraq politically and diplomatically strengthened:

"Over the past eight years, the Clinton administration was trapped in a Saddam-centric policy of regime removal, which dictated the containment of the Iraqi dictator through economic sanctions regardless of the reality of Iraq's disarmament obligation and the horrific humanitarian cost incurred by the people of Iraq. This policy has been an abject failure, a fact that has prompted much of the international community to start viewing Iraq and its leader more sympathetically. Whoever wins the election in November will face the daunting task of overcoming the Clinton legacy on Iraq: a hopelessly divided Security Council, an impasse on weapons inspections, a degenerating system of economic sanctions, the loss of American credibility and a resurgent Saddam Hussein."


Ah, but it isn't too late to transform the bitter legacy of abject failure into a glorious "victory" – the capstone of Clinton's horrific career as the most militaristic and intervention-prone president of modern times. There's still time for Clinton to make his mark as a world leader worth remembering, plenty of time to come up with a pretext – any pretext – to take out Saddam the whipping boy and give him a few lashes. The sadistic aspect of all this – which is usually subsumed under the general rubric of "war hysteria" and "rallying 'round the flag" – is an important ingredient in appealing to the decadent appetites of a depraved populace, or at least that portion of it that can be counted on as the Clintonian "base." But the other political benefits due our rulers in wartime are equally appealing to the Clintonian mindset. . . .


A major reason for sending a Patriot missile to Israel, while it may be mystifying to that nation's Prime Minister, is not so mysterious to the New York Jewish voters who will in large part determine Hillary Clinton's political fate. Hillary, as you may have heard, has given the New York Jewish community at least some reason for doubting her professed love for them. In the event of war with Iraq, the evening news would amount to the kind of political ad for the Rodhamites that money couldn't buy: a shot of the First Lady on the tarmac reviewing our pilots as they prepare another sortie over Iraqi skies would be worth at least several hundred thousand votes.


Back in 1991, when Patrick J. Buchanan pointed out that Saddam represented a threat, not to the US, but to Israel, and that Israel's "amen corner" in the US was responsible for beating the drums of war, he was denounced as a vicious "anti-Semite" – and so began a campaign of vilification that continues to this day. Yet what are we to make of this? -- Iraq, its economy destroyed, its military capability reduced beyond the ability to even keep the country together, is in the end depicted as a threat exclusively to . . . Israel.


That this alleged threat is a complete fabrication, based on nothing put the political necessity of preparing the country for war, is neither here nor there: here on Fantasy Island, any relationship between the foreign policy of the US and reality is for entertainment purposes only. The Iraqis are mere spectators in a drama that is taking place in the United States: their fate will be decided, not by Saddam Hussein, but by American political consultants, the pollsters, and the two contestants for the office of America's number one Alpha Male.


Isn't that, after all, what it means to be a hyperpower? To be at the center of everything – to permanently capture the world's attention, to excite the world's envy, to provoke the world's fear, with no need to take reality into account – and unlimited power to punish. To live like the gods on Olympus, hurling the occasional thunderbolt at an impertinent mortal but otherwise governing and presiding over your dominion, routinely deciding matters of life and death while administering the natural order of things – such are the benefits of hyperpower-dom. The ideology of this "natural" order has gone through many names over the years – "the four freedoms," "collective security," "democracy," "humanitarianism," and especially "globalization" – but nothing has really changed since medieval times, when conquerors and kings proclaimed that they ruled by divine right. The divine right of the Clintons – and their successors – to use the rest of the world for target practice: this, in the end, is what the mad dream of global hegemony comes down to. And we have the ultimate nerve to label our enemies "terrorists"! No wonder there is a move afoot to put up a missile defense shield – how long before the rest of the world gets sick and tired of being treated like chattel and decides to strike back?


I want to do something unusual and completely out of character, and what could fit the bill better than an apology? I'm afraid that my recent article on Harry Browne's appearance on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" was a bit, uh, intemperate, to say the least. Several emailers wondered at the sheer vehemence of my epithets, and thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill. I don't agree that this is an unimportant issue, but the way I expressed my displeasure at this new development in libertarian thought by engaging in unnecessary (and distracting) name-calling did nothing to make my case. Many, including Harry, sought to explain my tone as due to my generally supportive attitude to Pat Buchanan's candidacy, but the real explanation is that I reacted with undue emotion due to my own lingering attachment to the Libertarian Party. This is an emotional, sentimental attachment, not at all wistful but still a bit angry – after a good decade of LP activism, and a lot of scars from the old factional wars of the 1980s that reduced the party to its present parlous state, what else could you expect? See? There I go getting angry again, and so I'd better quit while I'm ahead and get around to the apology: Harry, I sincerely regret calling you those names, and promise to be on my best behavior in the future. I will, from this moment forward, cover your campaign with more objectivity, and give you what I would give to any fellow libertarian – the benefit of a doubt.

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