July 27, 2000

Driving an Edsall
Through The Truth

There is always something hilarious whenever the United States gets indignant about threats to press freedom around the world. It is hard to think of a country that can equal the United States for media eager to act as attack dogs of the political establishment. Case in point: Thomas B. Edsall's recent article about Pat Buchanan in the Washington Post. Here was journalism of the most scurrilous kind: an attempt to destroy a man's reputation by falsely linking him with unsavory characters and thereby attributing to him views he does not hold. Here is how the Edsall method works. He starts out by alleging that Buchanan is receiving a "flood of support from the extreme right, including groups that are intensely anti-black, anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant." As a result, he goes on, "Buchanan's candidacy is turning the [Reform] party from a secular organization predominantly focused on trade and campaign finance reform into a hard-right party opposed to abortion, critical of the influence of Israel and adamantly opposed to affirmative action."

Notice that Edsall is not suggesting that Buchanan himself has any connection with these "groups." Nor is he suggesting that Buchanan ever solicited their support. Nor, indeed, is he suggesting that Buchanan ever consented to anything these groups might have done on his behalf. Yet Edsall deliberately leaves his readers with the impression that Buchanan and "groups that are intensely anti-black, anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant" are in cahoots together. Interestingly enough, Edsall is also unable to offer any evidence that these various fringe organizations that so preoccupy him are exerting any influence whatsoever within the Reform Party. In other words, this is a non-story. The Washington Post ran it for no reason other than to slander Buchanan.

"Buchanan's harsh critiques of the 'Israel lobby,' of third world immigration and of such civil rights leaders as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.," Edsall writes, "have resonated with groups that see Jews as corrupters of American culture and that see blacks and Hispanics as threats to white majority rule of the United States." Again, has Buchanan ever called Jews "corrupters of American culture"? Of course not. Has Buchanan ever talked about "white majority rule in the United States"? Of course not. Buchanan has never even referred to something called "Third World immigration." What Buchanan talks about is the flood of immigrants that daily pours across the Mexican border. Any other country in the world would regard this as a serious matter, demanding urgent attention. Here merely to raise the issue invites abuse. Other than Buchanan, no other candidate has dared to broach the subject of illegal immigration.

As for Buchanan's supposedly "harsh critique of the 'Israel lobby'," it is scarcely from that of Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington. In A Republic, Not an Empire, Buchanan quotes approvingly from a Huntington article of a few years back: "Economic and ethnic particularism define the current American role in the world. The institutions and capabilities…created to serve a grand national purpose in the Cold War are now being suborned and redirected to serve narrow subnational, transnational, and even nonational purposes….For understanding of American foreign policy it is necessary to study not the interests of the American state in a world of competing states but rather the play of economic and ethnic interests in American domestic politics." If Edsall had been interested in criticizing Buchanan, rather than simply slandering him, he might have found a number of things to object to in the Buchanan/Huntington analysis. Ethnic lobbies do not have anything like the clout attributed to them. The United States did not get to be the overwhelmingly dominant power it is today by shackling itself to the fate of various diasporas. It is inconceivable that the United States would have undertaken a vast commitment like the one towards Israel on account of the power of America's Jews. Jews comprise something like two percent of the US population. Rich and influential they may be, but they are still outnumbered by rich and influential non-Jews. US policymakers decided many years ago that Israel would serve American global strategic designs. In 1956, following the Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt, the United States took diplomatic and economic action against Britain and France, but none against Israel. Britain and France were rivals to the US in the Middle East, while Israel was a useful client-state.

Similarly, the decision to expand NATO up to Russia's borders had nothing to do with the supposed political influence of Americans of East European origin. Nor did the decision to support the Moslems of Bosnia or Kosovo have anything to do with the lobbying of a tiny Moslem population in the United States. Each of these commitments was based on a strategic decision, taken by US policymakers, without any real debate at all, and then sold to the American people by means of heartwarming pap. Expansion of NATO was a good thing because it is bad to exclude minorities from well-to-do clubs. Bombing Serbs was a good thing because we were doing it on behalf of discriminated and oppressed minorities. Israel needs to be supported because it is the only democracy in the Middle East. None of these rationalizations has anything to do with the real reasons why the United States pursued the policies it did. They are all about securing American dominance of very single region in the world.

Buchanan is almost the only public figure in the United States who regards this as dangerous folly. Critics of empire have never been popular. They are usually denounced for lack of patriotism or nationalism or xenophobia. Edsall is an interesting case, for recently he came up with an unusual line of attack. In his response to Sunday's article, Buchanan reminded the Washington Post of Edsall's onslaught on him from a few months back: "Will you folks please make up your minds as to whether I am turning the Reform Party into a haven for Bolsheviks or a tree house for Nazis? Your Tom Edsall has us confused." Buchanan is referring here to a Post article in which Edsall wrote breathlessly that a "once-marginal Marxist-Leninist group has become a major force in the Reform Party, aligning itself with Patrick J. Buchanan in what many members say is an effort to take control of the party." The words are almost the same – "Marxist-Leninist" has simply been substituted for "extreme right." The purpose is also the same: the destruction of Pat Buchanan's reputation.

The ferocity of the vituperation that continues to be directed at Pat Buchanan is indeed extraordinary. It has nothing whatsoever to do with his supposedly socially conservative views. He has always held them and this did not stop CNN or NBC from offering him lucrative contracts in the past. Many people on the Right, including figures like Bob Dole or Dick Cheney or Jack Kemp, who by and large enjoy favorable media coverage, share his stance on abortion. Buchanan's crime was to attack the American empire. By doing so, he threatened the interests of media, academic, financial and corporate elites. An American empire is very good for them. They make lots of money and swagger round the world feeling very important. It does not do much for the overwhelming majority of Americans who do not move in elite circles. But who cares about them?

It is instructive to recall that the character assassination of Buchanan only started after he came out in opposition to the Gulf War. Up until then he was in very good standing among "neo-conservatives," their fat Foundations and their media allies. Now all of a sudden A. M. Rosenthal discovered that Buchanan was "anti-Semitic." Rosenthal's conclusion was based on a fraud that he deliberately perpetrated. He took sentences from one Buchanan column, joined them up with sentences from another column and made it seem as if Buchanan was arguing that Jews were forcing war on the United States in which the only casualties would be non-Jews. The fraud worked and in no time it became conventional wisdom that Buchanan was "anti-Semitic." No one seemed to find it extraordinary that a man who had been speaking out vociferously on every subject under the sun for almost three decades could have hidden such terrible prejudices so successfully.

The "anti-Semitic" card trumps all others in US politics. And it served to discredit from the start Buchanan's emerging critique of the US-dominated global order. It is critical to our imperial masters that there should be no discussion of where their policy is leading America. As Buchanan put it at the Second Annual Antiwar.com conference in March: "Foreign policy, they tell us, is not an issue in this election year. By that they mean it is off the table, a matter already decided upon and settled by those who know what is best for America. So they, and their media auxiliaries, redirect our attention away from foreign policy to such burning national issues as the dating policy at Bob Jones University." Campaign trivia about who's in and who's out, who has the best "spin doctor," who has won the "image" game – only these vexing issues are to be debated.

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Wednesday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from Antiwar.com

Driving an Edsall Through The Truth

EU vs. NATO: Battle of the Acronyms

NATO Preparing New Balkan War

Podhoretz's Paradox

A Franco-American Punch & Judy Show

Beyond Missile Defense: Resentment of America

Bribing Montenegro – It Didn't Work

The Unraveling of Indonesia

Clinton in Europe

Endless Enemies: From Kosovo to Iraq

Holy Toledo: The Canonization of Alejandro Toledo

Into Africa

Vietnam: Lessons Not Learned

A Monster, At Home and Abroad

Embassy Bombing: Accidentally on Purpose

"Anti- Americanism," Pose and Reality

Punch & Judy at The New Republic

The New World Order and You

Baiting the Russian Bear

Forever Munich: The Kagan-Kristol Thesis

The American Conquest of Europe

The Media & Mitrovica: NATO's Handmaidens

The Amazing Colossal Arrogance of Bill Kristol

William Safire: Man With A Mission

Uncle Sam Says: "To Hell With Elections"

The Fatuous Mind of Condolezza Rice

King of the Court Historians

The Podhoretz Treatment

Kofi Annan: Drooling Visionary

If Things Are So Good, Why Are They So Bad?

Thus, the armchair warriors, the benchwarmers of the corporate boardrooms, the military contractors, the registered agents of foreign governments, and the professional foreign policy "experts" get a free run for their money. The United States recklessly continues to pursue its agenda of global dominance. Whether in Europe, Asia, Latin America, or Africa there must be no countervailing power to the United States. In Europe the United States must undermine the European Union at very turn, and provoke conflicts so as to establish the indispensability of NATO. In Asia, the United States must contain China, defend Taiwan and South Korea, prevent the emergence of Japan as a serious world power, undermine Indonesia and Malaysia, and whip up fear of North Korea. Russia is to be kicked out of Europe, surrounded by NATO client states and denied access to the oil riches of the Caspian Sea. Latin America must become one giant North Atlantic Free Trade Area, the better for us to coerce them towards "market democracy" – which, of course, has nothing to do with markets or democracy.

As Buchanan put it, "this is hubris; this is triumphalism; this is the arrogance of power; this is America's Brezhnev doctrine…Because of our sanctions on scores of nations, cruise missile strikes upon others, and intervention in the internal affairs of still others in the wake of the Cold War, a seething resentment of America is brewing all over the world. And the haughty attitude of our foreign policy elite only nurses the hatred. Hearken, if you will, to the voice of our own Xenia, Madeline Albright, announcing new air strikes on Iraq: 'If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see farther into the future.' Now I count myself an American patriot. But if this Beltway braggadocio about being the world's 'indispensable nation' has begun to grate on me, how must it grate upon the Europeans, Russians, and peoples subject to our sanctions because they have failed, by our lights, to live up to our standards? And how can all our meddling not fail to spark some horrible retribution?" It is hard to think of a question demanding a more urgent answer. And that is precisely why it must never be raised. And why anyone who does raise will be attacked, slandered and discredited again and again.

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