TO JUDGE A POLITICAL CANDIDATE
IN A WORD: HARSHLY
By: Justin Raimondo
season upon us indeed, when did it ever end? anti-interventionists are faced
with a dilemma: since the leadership of both major parties, including their respective
candidates for the presidency, support our foreign policy of global meddling, is there any
place in the political system for us?
The answer is an
Ron Paul is a good example of how one anti-interventionist
politician found his place in our pro-interventionist two-party system. Dennis
Kucinich was another good example, at least until recently. Yet there is no doubt this is a difficult
row to hoe.
First, the context: Since the
end of World War II, US foreign policy has been directed and managed by a bipartisan
interventionist "consensus," summed up succinctly by the former
"isolationist"-turned-warmonger Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, who opined in answer to his former co-thinkers
dismayed at his betrayal "Politics stops at the water's edge." This
idiotic aphorism gave voice to the emerging Establishment consensus in the postwar era
that the US was fated to be the world's policeman: as the anti-Communist hysteria reached
new heights in the US, opportunists like Vandenberg, who had opposed US entry into World
War II, took the opportunity to reverse course, get with the program, and join with others
in both parties who were climbing on board the "war on communism" bandwagon. (He
also got a little push from his British mistress, who
worked for her country's intelligence service but that's another story.)
In reality, the Vandenberg
aphorism needs to be stood on its head: politics, for the anti-interventionist, starts at
the water's edge.
This is not universally true:
in, say, Spain, for example, which hasn't been a world power since the 17th century,
a candidate's views on whether or not Syria ought to be subjugated to
Hillary Clinton's will are marginal, at best. After all, the Spanish electorate, including
the political class, has little to no influence over Hillary's subjugation agenda.
However, an American voter
living in 21st America inhabits a very different context. His or her government is
currently on a rampage that started on September 11, 2001, and shows no signs of ending
indeed, the violence and ambition of Washington's worldwide "war on
terrorism" is escalating at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the US has enjoyed this
hegemonic advantage ever since the end of the cold war: with the demise of the Soviet
Union, a military build-up that had been accelerating for decades culminated in Washington's elevation to the status of a "hyperpower" that is, a world power whose
military capacity is unrivaled. This is neatly illustrated in the oft-cited statistic that the US military budget is more
than the next twenty largest military spenders combined.
What this means is that
Americans are electing a government that not only rules their own country, but also
regularly imposes its will on much of the rest of the globe: they are citizens of an
empire. It is, naturally, a modern empire, defined not by a formal border but by a
worldwide web of multilateral arrangements, treaties, and tacit understandings in which
American policymakers are inextricably entangled. They, of course, don't think of it that
way: they see themselves as running an empire, instead of the empire running them.
The American empire is a
global network of outright possessions, US-supported puppet regimes (e.g. Hamid Karzai's Afghanistan), protectorates (e.g., Kuwait,
which just welcomed the presence of our Iraqi occupation forces),
first-tier allies (e.g. the NATO powers, and Israel), and a number of second- and-third
tier allies (South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia newly important given the Obama administration's
new Pacific orientation, aimed at Beijing come immediately to mind).
In managing this vast realm,
US policymakers must necessarily subordinate domestic to foreign policy. Indeed, the line
between the two becomes indistinguishable, as the frontiers of empire are pushed outward,
until it is completely erased. A decision to raise taxes, to take one example, must take
into consideration the numerous foreign commitments and ambitions that direct our actions
abroad. Empires are expensive luxury items, and paying for them is the chief concern of
every empire-builder: the answer, invariably, is to raise taxes on the home front, either
by formally hiking tax rates or else by printing more money and thus imposing a hidden or
"invisible" tax, devaluing the dollars we have in our pockets and creating fresh
funds out of thin air courtesy of the Federal Reserve.
A decision to impose
regulations on certain business, for example or to refrain from doing so is
often dependent on the appeasement of overseas interests. The late Chalmers Johnson
pointed to the Eastasian example of US protectorates shielded by our military in return
for one-way "free trade" as an example of how imperialism functions as an
economic system: another name for it is mercantilism, whereby the interests of certain
powerful economic actors (e.g. banks invested in the bonds of allied governments, oil
companies, etc.) utilize the US Army as their private police force. It's cheaper than
hiring security guards. (The Marxist analysis that imperialism is an inherent and
inevitable feature of the market ignores the fact that the State favors certain economic
actors over others and therefore creates a market that is in no sense "free.")
policy distorts the politics of the nation that practices it, and eventually crowds out
all other concerns. The result is that ostensibly "conservative" politicians,
who claim to want to reduce the power and size of government on the home front, invariably
subordinate these views to the exigencies of "national security." Today we are
faced with the spectacle of "limited government" conservatives advocating
unlimited government power to intern American citizens, spy on them, invade their homes and investigate and
harass them to no end in the name of our endless "war on terrorism." All
through the Bush years, as the US military conquered Iraq and Afghanistan, and set its
sights on Iran, these alleged fiscal conservatives
agreed to shell out over $1 trillion in support of a foreign policy of
"advancing freedom." They created a "national security" leviathan that
is so big and out of control that no one really knows its
scope, its true cost, or what it is up to. They printed money galore.
It all ended in a brutal bust.
If this is "fiscal
conservatism," then what is profligacy?
There is a principle at work
here. Garet Garrett, editor of the Saturday Evening Post in
its heyday and a leading conservative voice in the New Deal era, observed that, as a nation enters the imperial
policy becomes subordinate to foreign policy. That happened to Rome. It
has happened to every Empire
hardly be argued that as we convert the nation into a garrison state to build the most
terrible war machine that has ever been imagined on earth, every domestic policy is bound
to be conditioned by our foreign policy.
of government is saying that if our foreign policy fails we are ruined. It is all or
nothing. Our survival as a free nation is at hazard.
it simple, for in that case there is no domestic policy that may not have to be sacrificed
to the necessities of foreign policy even freedom."
I love quoting Garrett: he is
so modern. His words cited above, although they could have been written yesterday, were
set down in 1952, at the height of the cold war. Nothing changes much, as far as US
foreign policy is concerned: in Garrett's day, it was the commies who were the Big Threat.
Today it is those awful Terrorists except, of course, when they're our terrorists.
The NDAA, the
"Patriot" Act, the exponential growth of the huge domestic spying apparatus that
has grown up post-9/11, and the out-of-control federal budget are all examples of how
Garrett's principle of subordination plays out in practice.
political candidates are routinely pushed to the margins, both by the party leadership and
the media: the classic example is the treatment accorded Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. The
former was deemed an impossible creature, an antiwar Republican, and therefore rendered
invisible by "mainstream" media outlets until it became even more impossible to
ignore him. Kucinich was simply characterized as a kook, and was finally expunged from
Congress by the party leadership after getting redistricted out of his seat and losing a
Of course, no politician
wants to be thought of as a warmonger unless you're, say, Lindsay Graham, or Joe
Lieberman. For all the rest, though, it's important to be seen as being willing to exhaust
all measure short of war before pulling the trigger. For while the elites in the political
class and the media all adhere to the bipartisan interventionist consensus, which makes no
bones about Washington's willingness to go to war at the drop of a hat, the American
people require a bit of convincing under normal circumstances.
So the canny politician must
walk a fine line between the interventionist party line and the popular desire for peace
the latter being particularly acute at the moment, after more than a decade of
constant warfare. He must find a way to include himself in the bipartisan
"consensus" while still paying at least lip service to the anti-interventionist
prejudices of his constituents. The way to finesse this is by endorsing economic sanctions
always the prelude to war, as Bastiat noted, but not involving shooting quite yet.
It's easy to justify this, at
least superficially, even from an ostensibly "anti-interventionist" perspective:
simply characterize the sanctions as a behavior-modification program, one that will deter
the target from pursuing policies deemed detrimental to US interests. As to what happens
when the target country continues to defy US diktats, our canny politician will cross that
bridge when he comes to it, and not a moment sooner. For by that time, the war fever will
be at such a high pitch that his own capitulation will be unsurprising. His own
constituents may be swept up in it, as the War Party's propaganda campaign goes into high
gear, and the political price he'll pay for going along with the tide will be negligible.
Aside from that, however,
sanctions are in
themselves acts of war: economic warfare can be just as deadly as the shoot-to-kill variety, as
the hundreds of thousands of victims of Iraqi sanctions testify from beyond the grave.
Another way for a smart
politician to finesse the anti-interventionist sentiments of his supporters is to insist,
whenever we start (or contemplate) bombing or subverting some country targeted for
regime-change, on a formal declaration of war. Now I know Ron Paul has done this, but he
has always given voice to this view with the clear intent of wanting the opportunity to
vote no. Yet one prominent "anti-interventionist" politician has taken to criticizing Mitt Romney for averring he won't
need congressional approval for an attack on Iran without, however, noting how he
would vote on the war resolution.
Speaking of which, another
way to judge a political candidate or sitting officeholder is to see what kinds of
alliances and political endorsements he (or she) makes. A good example of how a principled
anti-interventionist handles this question is to observe the behavior of Rep. Ron Paul,
who has never endorsed an interventionist for any office. He refused to endorse John McCain, last time around,
and neither will he endorse Romney this time.
The office of the presidency
has become so powerful, especially in the foreign policy realm, that America's chief
executive can indeed take the country to war without a vote of Congress, and without the
consent of the people. To endorse a candidate for this office who, in advance, advertises
his interventionist views, is to take moral responsibility for those policies once they
are implemented: it is, in short, to give a green light to mass murder.
And not only that: Since
"war is the health of the state," as Randolph Bourne put it, and every war
involves a "great leap forward" in the State's power and potency, endorsing such
a candidate is to objectively endorse domestic policies high taxation, inflation,
increased government power on every level that are part of the package. This is how
an entire generation of "conservative" lawmakers, ostensibly devoted to
"limiting government," turned into the biggest spenders in American history,
repealed the Bill of Rights, and drove us into bankruptcy.
We get little or no relief if
we turn to the "liberal" side of the political spectrum. For there are only a
limited number of "stimulus" projects and other boondoggles that can be
initiated and funded by the government. Road-building, child-care centers, free cheese,
etc., these programs have a limited constituency, and when the government runs out of
projects it turns, in the end, to the ultimate boondoggle the military. In the end,
what passes for the "left," these days, is happy to trade domestic civilian
boondoggles for the overseas military boondoggles favored by conservatives.
In an imperial State, such as
we live in today, the political system is biased in favor of more and bigger government,
simply because a global empire is not the same creature as a republic of free men and
women. The former requires constant infusions of large amounts of tax dollars just in
order to maintain its intricate architecture, which needs constant support and
re-buttressing so that it doesn't topple of its own weight. Faced with the constant threat
of bankruptcy, as well as the permanent threat of rebellion, an empire is always in a
state of crisis, one generated by its very nature as an unnatural phenomenon which owes
its very existence to violence or the threat of it.
This built-in pro-war bias is
why compromise, in the political arena, is the biggest danger to the anti-interventionist
movement. With the system already stacked against us, any concessions to the War Party
tend to push ostensibly anti-interventionist political figures down the slippery slope to
complete capitulation. Having voted for economic sanctions against, say, Iran, one is
hard-pressed to come up with a reason to oppose going to war or else what threat
were the sanctions addressing?
Furthermore, any politician
who claims to be for limiting the power of government and yet who nonetheless votes for
any measure that puts us on the road to war e.g. sanctions is objectively
pushing us in the other direction. This is why Ron Paul, for example, has never voted in
favor of economic sanctions, and has never compromised one iota when it comes to foreign
In judging which political
candidates to support, and (more importantly) the question of whom to oppose, the rule
should be: judge
harshly. That may sound unreasonable, and even a bit dogmatic, but the reality
is that the only way to get the kind of behavior we want in politicians, when it comes to
the vital issue of war and peace, is to punish them for warmongering and support them when
they work for peace. Otherwise, they can and will literally get away with murder.
Justin Raimondo is Editorial
Director of AntiWar.Com.
He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
"Published originally at EtherZone.com :
republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact."
Justin Raimondo may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
25, 2012 issue of Ether Zone.
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