Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

November 21, 2001

Co-starring Jonah Goldberg, Max Boot, Bill Kristol, Andy Sullivan, and the Cato boys

It's like a very bad movie, a few cuts below grade-B. First Tom Brokaw and Tom Daschle – and now Senator Patrick Leahy is the latest recipient of an anthrax-laden missive. Does anyone see a pattern here? The idea that Osama bin Laden hates liberal Democrats in particular seems a little too arcane to be true: unless we discover that he has been hiding out on the National Review subscription list all along, the focus of the investigation shifts to a domestic nutball, perhaps a right-wing version of the Unabomber.


This doubles the disappointment of the warhawks. On the one hand, we have Max Boot noisily bemoaning the lack of American casualties in the Afghan war – this, even before the real numbers are known – and, on the other hand, we are deafened by the silence coming from those who screamed loudest that the source of the anthrax had to be Iraq. The usually voluble Bill Kristol, who gloatingly pinned it on the Iraqis in the first days of the anthrax panic, has nothing to say on the subject. Andrew Sullivan, who called for nuking Iraq in retaliation – and ridiculed the idea that this might be a homegrown crackpot – has also been struck dumb.


Life in wartime is grimmer, darker, even online, where the Weekly Standard has morphed into the Daily Standard. Yes, war has energized the neocons. The prospect of blood has quickened their pulse, made them breathe a little heavier, but they have a problem over at the new daily: since there are only 17 or at most 22 neocons in the whole world, they have trouble filling up the empty void of cyberspace. It doesn't matter that 15 out of 17 are newspaper columnists: such a minuscule cadre can only churn out so much propaganda. So, to fill up all that empty space, they have resorted to posting a stylized drawing of the author next to the articles, not a photo, mind you, but a very magazine-y caricature. Linkless as well as clueless, the daily pieces are short without being succinct, and oddly inconclusive. I see, also, they have given up the idea that people will buy their crappy little magazine on the newstands if they make half the articles inaccessible online. We now get to read all of the Weekly Standard all the time. Winston Churchill promised his people "blood, sweat, and tears" in wartime, but I have to ask: are we to be spared nothing?


William Safire's recent column attacking the Bushian usurpation of the court system and the installation of military tribunals to bring accused terrorists to trial was a shot in the arm for defenders of the Constitution. I particularly liked the way he targeted attorney general John Ashcroft as "frustrated," "panic-stricken," and "misadvised": as for Bush, the President had been "intimidated by terrorists" into assuming "dictatorial power" and replacing our system of justice with "military kangaroo courts." While Clintonoids like the execrable Alan Dershowitz tout the virtues of torture, it's people like Safire, Phyllis Schlafly, Lew Rockwell, Grover Norquist, Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) who are carrying on the fight for civil liberties abandoned, post-9/11, by fickle liberals.


Yes, it's interesting to see who is for the demolition of the Constitution and the overthrow of our old Republic, and who's against. Conservatives of the old-fashioned or libertarian variety are horrified, while our prefixed conservatives, the so-called neo-conservatives, are only too eager to give the federal government near-absolute power to jail anyone, for any reason, indefinitely; to impound their property, or search it, without a warrant; to read your email, to track your Internet surfing habits, tap your phone and read your snail-mail – all in the holy name of the war on terrorism.


Was anyone really surprised when National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg lashed out at Safire in a particularly disrespectful and deliberately abrasive manner? Goldberg, after all, is married to Jessica Gavora, a former speechwriter for former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, and now Ashcroft's chief speechwriter and policy advisor. "Badly advised," eh? Goldberg, famously described by Ann Coulter as a "girly-boy," threw a hissy fit, and snidely referred to Safire, a veteran of the Right, as "the columnist the New York Times claims is a ‘conservative.'" Why, how dare this Safire, this interloper from the New York Times fer chrissake, impugn the integrity of Goldberg's beloved – let alone accuse her and her boss of conspiring to set up a dictatorship! In any case, Goldberg typically misses the whole point of Safire's polemic, despite citing the relevant paragraph:

"Mr. Bush is claiming for himself the authority to unilaterally exempt a class of people accused of particular crimes from the protections of the Constitution."


Goldberg's point that the new edict only applies to "foreigners," and not citizens, is irrelevant: what bugs Safire (and a host of others on the Right) is that all of this has been done by decree. The constitutional process, the system of checks and balances set up by the Founders, has not just been thrown out of kilter – it has been thrown out the window.


Oh, but this is only temporary, and only applicable to the Bad Guys, or so Goldberg assures us. But how can he be so sure? If we give that much power to the feds in an "emergency," will they ever cede it? Of course not. Just as many if not most of the "emergency" taxes and controls enacted during World War II, and the cold war, remain intact to this day, we will be stuck with these draconian measures forever – because, remember, the "war on terrorism" is a "new" kind of conflict, one with a beginning but no end.


Given the family connection, Goldberg's defense of Ashcroft is understandable: what is incomprehensible is that he failed to reveal that connection in his apologia. Since he writes about himself even when he supposedly isn't – Goldberg habitually inserts a little personal anecdote or reference into the most earnest disquisition on High Theory – his failure to do so in this instance seems passing strange. Of course, if you've been reading his column since its inception, and remember everything he ever wrote, you'll recall that he did mention the little matter of his marriage, way back when, crowing over the Ashcroft connection. But the average reader, or even the occasional reader, is not going to know this; he or she isn't going to know that Goldberg is not just defending the policies of this administration, but his spouse's employer. Goldberg owed his readers at least that much. Aside from being the professional thing to do, full disclosure would have showed a little class. It would've been the intellectually honorable course to take – and, gee, no wonder he didn't take it….


Not that Goldberg wouldn't have endorsed Ashcroft's police state in any case. He is a well-known neoconservative, and the neocons – who have been defined as "liberals who've been mugged" – never really cared about the conservative devotion to small, unintrusive government. They were, and are, "Big Government conservatives," as neocon journalist Fred Barnes once put it. What got them excited about hitching their wagons to the Right was its cold war hyper-interventionism: when right-wingers talked about "rolling back" the Soviet empire, the neocons didn't need to hear the rest of the conservative spiel. They were converted on the spot. In the post-cold war world, however, the neocons were getting restless: with no more Soviet Union to crusade against, and with the Clintonians embracing a hyper-Wilsonian interventionism, the GOP was going "isolationist," i.e. conservative Republicans were rediscovering the foreign policy of the Founders, who warned against "entangling alliances." At one point, when the Republican-controlled House was threatening to withhold support for the Kosovo war, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol threatened to walk out of the Republican party. With John McCain's presidential ambitions on hold, albeit temporarily, the neocons were in danger of becoming irrelevant, even marginal, in spite of their backing from large foundations and wealthy allies such as publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch. September 11 gave them a new lease on life.


The reaction of many on the Right underscored the necons' near-absolute control of the main institutions of the conservative and even the libertarian movement. No surprise that the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute (and nearly all the left-liberal thinktanks) gave unconditional support to this war: but even I was shocked by the capitulation of the Washington-based Cato Institute, once a bastion of anti-interventionism in the world capital of globaloney. A statement by Ted Galen Carpenter sternly declared:

"President Bush has indicated that the air strikes are merely the first stage of the US response. It is imperative that this be so. Cruise missile launches and bombing raids alone will not root out Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network or destabilize Afghanistan's extremist Taliban regime. Only a follow up campaign using ground forces can hope to accomplish those goals."

And, no, he wasn't talking about the Northern Alliance: Carpenter meant American ground forces – this, before our Afghan allies had even begun their offensive. The statement also criticized the Bush administration for differentiating between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, flatly averring that the former had to be brought down as well. The call for a wider war, in Cato's view, was "premature" – for that would mean declaring war on a billion-plus Muslims, "a risk not to be incurred lightly." But not out of the question.


Oh, how far and fast the Catoites have fallen since their founding in the late Seventies. The libertarian philosopher and economist, Murray N. Rothbard – the real founder and ideological lodestar of the Cato Institute at its inception – must be spinning in his grave; for surely he would have hated this war, and the smug triumphalism that goes with it. As I relate in my biography of Rothbard, An Enemy of the State, the founder of Cato eventually broke with his epigones and severed all relations with the Institute – except, of course, to denounce them as sellouts and traitors. At the time, I thought Murray was taking a personal squabble to extreme lengths, and, in the process, being more than a little unfair in his characterization of the Catoites. Now, all these years later, I can see that he was absolutely right, and I only regret that Rothbard is no longer around to hear my mea culpa. They are sellouts, dammit, who, in the fallout from 9/11, have taken on the same ideological colors as the neocons. I hate to say it, but we are living in a world in which Ted Galen Carpenter has become indistinguishable from – ugh! – John McCain.


Thanksgiving? You can keep it. What have we got to be thankful for? As the braying and howling of the War Party reaches fever pitch, and the victims of 9/11 are invoked as justification for yet more senseless carnage, what strikes me is the cartoonish absurdity of it all, like a nightmare so frightening that it is almost funny. What could better epitomize the hysteria and propaganda that permeates the post-9/11 world than this story, floated by the London Times and dutifully touted by Matt Drudge, that papers had been found indicating that Al Qaeda was actively constructing a nuclear device: these, we were assured, were the plans for a "dirty bomb." As it turns out, the partially burned papers were copies of a spoof article, "How To Build An Atomic Bomb In 10 Easy Steps," that originally appeared in the satiric Journal of Irreproducible Results. The piece described how to create a cheap nuke that "is a great ice-breaker at parties, and in a pinch, can be used for national defense." The mistake – or hoax – was exposed by Jason Scott of, but what was really funny was the "spin" put on this incident by the Telegraph:

"Although the partly burnt documents may well confirm that al-Qa'eda was trying to get hold of weapons of mass destruction, they also indicate that the group had little idea what it was doing and absolutely no sense of humor."


But how does anyone know that the Al Qaeda took the document seriously – could these be the same ruthless folk who planned and executed the hijacking of four airliners and pulled off the single most spectacular terrorist act in modern times? And who is really lacking a sense of humor here? Apparently our intrepid journalists of Fleet Street are so humorless that they can't admit they've been had. The funny thing is, they ran a satire as "news" – and practically nobody noticed.

Please Support

A contribution of $25 or more gets you a copy of Justin Raimondo's Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans, a 60-page booklet packed with the kind of intellectual ammunition you need to fight the lies being put out by this administration and its allies in Congress. And now, for a limited time, donors of $50 or more receive a copy of Ronald Radosh's classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Back to Home Page | Contact Us