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February 8, 2006

How Conservatives Went Crazy


by Paul Craig Roberts

What happened to a formerly conservative press to reduce it to political partisanship and warmongering? Specifically, I have in mind National Review and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

When I was associated with National Review, the magazine understood that the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties had to be protected from government. It was not considered unpatriotic to take the side of the Constitution and civil liberties against a sitting government, even if the government were Republican. Some things were still more important than party loyalty.

No more. Consider, for example, Byron York writing in the Feb. 13 issue. York doesn't understand why former U.S. Representative Bob Barr lent his Republican conservative credentials to former Vice President Al Gore's speech against President Bush's transgressions against law and civil liberty, or why Barr is associating with liberals opposing the "PATRIOT" Act.

Barr is the former Republican member of the House of Representatives who led the impeachment against President Bill Clinton. Barr did so not out of political partisanship. As a former prosecutor, Barr regards lying under oath to be a serious offense. A president who commits that offense must be held accountable. Otherwise, presidents will go on to lie about greater things – such as war.

In opposing Bush's transgressions, Barr is simply being consistent. For Barr, party loyalty takes a back seat to defense of the Constitution, the rule of law, and civil liberty. If the U.S. had more leaders of Barr's caliber, Bush and Cheney would already have been impeached.

York cannot understand this, because he thinks party loyalty and defense against terrorists are the controlling virtues. York scolds Barr for letting himself be used by partisan liberal organizations, but York takes his own partisanship for granted. It is only the other side that is partisan.

When I was on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, the editorials were analytical and reformist. Sometimes we broke news stories. The page's attention to the Soviet Union was based on the rulers' aggressive posture and suppression of civil liberties. Today, the editorial page is a fount of neoconservative war propaganda. All intelligence has vanished.

Consider the "Review & Outlook" of Feb. 3, which declares Iran to be "an intolerable threat." Iran is portrayed as a threat because the country's new president has used threatening rhetoric against Israel. But, of course, Bush and Israel are constantly using threatening rhetoric against Iran. To avoid being regarded as a wimp by his countrymen and by the Muslim world, the new Iranian president has to answer back. It doesn't occur to the editorialists that Iranians might see the nuclear weapons of Israel and the U.S. as intolerable threats.

Unlike Iran, Israel does have nuclear weapons. In view of this overpowering fact, it is difficult to see why Bush and Wall Street Journal editorialists think the U.S. needs to protect Israel from Iran.

But what if Iran were to succeed in fooling the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear inspectors and develop a bomb. Might not crazed mullahs drop it on Israel or give it to an al-Qaeda terrorist, who might use it to blow up Washington, D.C., or New York?

What would Iran gain aside from its own immediate destruction? If mutual assured destruction worked for decades against a powerfully armed communist state every bit as hostile to American "bourgeois capitalism" as Iran is to the "Great Satan," why would it fail against a state that is puny compared to Soviet standards?

Iran does not require nuclear weapons in order to do all the things the editorialists marshal in their case against Iran. Indeed, a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran is likely to precipitate the dire deeds that the editorialists fear: a Shia uprising in Iraq, disruption of oil supplies, closing of the Straits of Hormuz, and terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East.

It is difficult to see the sanity in taking such risks merely on the basis of the assumption that Iran intends to make a weapon. Before attacking yet another Muslim country on the basis of mere assertion and creating further anger and instability that may unseat our puppets in the Middle East, including nuclear-armed Pakistan, the U.S. would do far better to drop its threatening rhetoric, reestablish cooperation with Iran, continue the IAEA inspections, and wait until there is real evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. rushed to war in Iraq based on lies. On PBS (Feb. 3), Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that the Iraq speech his boss was forced to give to the UN was "a hoax on the American people, the international community, and the United Nations Security Council."

The consequences have been disastrous. The U.S. invasion force is tied down by a few thousand insurgents drawn from a Sunni population of merely 5 million people, and Iraq has become, according to the CIA, a recruiting and training ground for terrorists. The invasion has ruined America's reputation and expanded the popularity of al-Qaeda, which has assumed the stand-up role against the hegemonic Great Satan.

It is the untutored belligerence of the neoconservative Jacobins that is likely to send the Middle East up in smoke. The instability that Bush is creating serves al-Qaeda's interests, not our own.

The U.S. and Iran have common enemies in al-Qaeda and Middle East instability. Iran is Shia. Al-Qaeda is a movement drawn from Sunnis. The age-old Shia/Sunni conflict may yet lead to civil war in Iraq.

When the Wall Street Journal editorialists describe Iran's current leaders as "possessed of an apocalyptic vision," they could just as well be describing Bush's evangelical supporters and the neocon Jacobins that are driving America to impose the neocon will on the Middle East. This is the program of lunatics. No conservative could possibly support it.


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    Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributing editor of National Review. He is author or co-author of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon chair in political economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell.

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