Once upon a time, right-wing isolationists in the United States managed to be relatively even handed in their condemnation of American imperial entanglements.
Take, for example, an essay by the late Murray N. Rothbard, written in October 1990, entitled “Mr. Bush’s War.” Rothbard proclaims his central message:
U.S., stay the hell out of the Middle East!
His first target is US entanglement in Saudi Arabia, specifically George H.W. Bush’s “great tenderness and concern for the cartelist Saudis.”
U.S. out of Arabia!…
[T]he long-term “friendship” with the “pro-West” despots of the Saud family… has been concretized into Aramco (the Arabian-American Oil Co.), the Rockefeller company that has total control of Saudi Arabian oil – and long-time heavy influence, if not control, over U.S. foreign policy. After World War II, Aramco (owned 70 percent by Rockefeller companies – Exxon, Mobil, and Socal, and 30 percent by Texaco) produced all of Saudi oil…
During the 1970s, Aramco was “nationalized” by Saudi Arabia, a process completed in 1980. But the nationalization was phony, because the same Aramco consortium immediately obtained a contract as a management corporation to run the old, nationalized Aramco…
It all boils down to a happy case of the “partnership of industry and government” – happy, that is, for the Saud family and for the Rockefeller oil interests…
[The 1990 war with Iraq] is a war of the Rockefeller Empire against a brash interloper…
Must Americans fight and die, and American taxpayers be looted, so as to ensure further profits for the Rockefeller Empire? That is the choice that faces us all.
But Rothbard’s even handedness guaranteed that he would also target what he took to be another source of American entanglements in the Middle East.
[T]he influence of the powerful Zionist lobby. Saddam Hussein poses no threat whatever to the American consumer, or to U.S. national interests, but he does pose a threat, not only to Rockefeller profits, but also to the State of Israel. Note how the Zionists in the media and in Congress are leading the pack calling for war, and how they call, with relish, for “destroying Saddam and his military capacity.”
Rothbard criticized Arabists and Zionists who would entangle the US in the life of the Middle East:
Two of the most powerful influences on American foreign policy are the Rockefeller interests and the Zionist lobby. When those two groups join, look out! How can the average American and American interests ever prevail?
Let us set aside, for a moment, the provocative idea that these “two groups” might “join” together. I have written something about this in an essay entitled “The Devil Wears Persian.”
Some of Rothbard’s equal opportunity anti-imperialism has taken a hit on the road to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Today, the Zionist influence in Washington continue to be targeted by a whole range of critics. But there are signs that recent events took some out of the wind out the sails of anti-imperialist criticism of the US-Saudi alliance.
The chief reason for the isolationist “hush” about Saudi Arabia is almost certainly the vehemence of Zionist attacks on the US-Saudi alliance.
Symptomatic of this shift is the writing of Justin Raimondo (for a Right Zionist profile, see Stephen Schwartz, “Justin Raimondo: An American Neo-Fascist“), a disciple of Murray Rothbard and the editoritorial director of Antiwar.com.
Back in February 2001, Raimondo was no friend of US entanglements in Saudi Arabia. In an article entitled, “What’s Up with the Saudis?“, Raimondo summed up his sense of the Bush administration:
The oil fields of Saudi Arabia have been defended by US troops as if they were they were the personal property of US policy makers – and, in an important sense, they are. This administration, famously dominated by Big Oil, makes no distinction between the corporate interest and the national interest, and will not give up the Arabian peninsula without a fight. But whom will they fight? Certainly not the Saudis…
[T]he real center of the action is in Riyadh, where the fate of the Middle East is being decided with virtually no press coverage…
In Iran, the government held Americans hostage for months while the world watched – and the Ayatollah brought down a US President. In Saudi Arabia, today, the same thing is happening, but we hear nary a peep out of our government or even a single journalist. Now, I ask you: what’s up with that?
Am I the only one who think of them as fightin’ words?
After 9/11–in an article entitled “A Saudi-9/11 Connection?“, Raimondo was even more tough on the US-Saudi alliance.
[I]f we want to trace the mysterious origins of the Ladenite movement, its sources of income and support, then the logical place to start is the land of Mecca and Medina, the seat of the House of Saud…
And here is the real kicker: check out his relatively flattering reference to Stephen Schwartz–the same guy who penned the Right Zionist attack on Raimondo cited above.
As Stephen Schwartz points out in his interesting but flawed essay on the religious roots of the Ladenite movement, the Saudis have the strongest ideological links to Al Qaeda. Both Bin Laden and the Saudi royal family, as adherents of the Wahabi sect, uphold the same fundamentalist vision that animates the Taliban. But there is, apparently, more than an ideological connection: while Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, assured Larry King the other day that Bin Laden was “the black sheep of the family,” a story came out the day after the 9/11 attack that Bin Laden was buddies with Turki al-Faycal, the Saudi spy chief fired in August by royal decree.
Why “interesting but flawed”? Presumably, “interesting”=anti-Saudi entanglements; “flawed”=insufficiently isolationist or anti-Zionist.
In any event the reference to Schwartz’s essay as “interesting” should not be taken to mean that Raimondo was somehow sympathetic to Right Zionists after 9/11. Indeed, he was quite certain that he was implicitly attacking Right Zionists in his challenge to the US-Saudi alliance.
It is interesting that [a] statement put out by 46 neoconservatives demanding that Bush expand the war to include Syria, Iran, and Iraq, as well as part of Lebanon, excludes the most likely suspect – the Saudis. No doubt they – who fulsomely support our military intervention in the region on behalf of the Saudi monarchy – would be greatly disturbed by the possibility of a Saudi connection to 9/11. For it would call into question the whole basis of our policy in the Middle East: indeed, it would deal that misguided and dangerous policy a body-blow from which it would never recover.
Up to this moment, Raimondo is the rightful heir to the Rothbard’s even-handed anti-imperialism.
Anti-imperialists realized two things:
First, by January 2002 Raimondo and many others recognized that Right Zionists (including Stephen Schwartz!) were actually beating the drums for war with the Saudis. Surprise!
Neoconservative ideologues such as Daniel Pipes and Stephen Schwartz, see Wahabism as the totalitarian flavor of the new millennium, just as the varieties of socialism (Stalinism and Nazism) were the scourge of the twentieth century.
Second, it seemed like the Right Zionists were running the show.
Right Zionists were (correctly) viewed as leading advocates of the US invasion of Iraq and the Saudis and their allies in the US seemed quite opposed to the US effort to topple Saddam and terminate Sunni Arab rule.
Raimondo noted (in his January 2002 article “The War Against the Saudis“) that Right Arabists like Colin Powell were holding the line against the war.
While [the] State Department is struggling to undo the damage done by the anti-Saudi media and the Lieberman-Levine assault in Congress, a grand coalition of [pro-Israel Democrats] and [Right Zionists are] pushing for World War III in the Middle East.
This is the root of the “hush” regarding the old US-Saudi alliance.
One might even say that there has been a quite, tactical “marriage of convenience” between Right Arabists and anti-imperialist isolationists.
A keyword search on “Saudi Arabia” at Antiwar.com indicates that the most recent opinion piece posted by Raimondo’s site was back in 2005 and it was an essay by Juan Cole entitled “What Michael Moore (and the neocons) don’t know about Saudi Arabia” in which Cole is hopeful that the US will utilize an opportunity “to solidify relations with this flawed but key ally.”
Cole, needless to say, is hardly an acolyte of Murray Rothbard. But the notion that Saudi Arabia is a “key” ally was–once upon a time–a favorite target of libertarian, anti-imperialist isolationists.
See, for example, a December 2002 Cato Institute essay by Doug Bandow–“Is Terrorism the Price of Saudi Oil?“–that tries to suggest that the US could do without “this unnatural international friendship.”
For all that, Bandow doesn’t join the Right Zionist demonization of Saudi Arabia. One has to care much more about Saudi Arabia than Bandow does to hate them as much as the Right Zionists. Bandow’s essay represents something like isolationist indifference.
Nor need Washington treat the Saudis as enemies. Rather, the U.S. simply should reorder its priorities, accepting a cooling of the relationship…
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the marriage of convenience between Right Arabists and anti-imperialist (and anti-war) isolationists rested on a kind of “tactical” logic insofar as Right Zionists were driving the ship of state. The basic tactic of triangulation–the enemy of my enemy is my friend–is based on the prioritization of some battles and the suborination of others.
With the ascendance of Right Zionist influence within the Bush administration, anti-imperialist isolationists might have reasoned that Right Arabist attacks on Right Zionists represented an indispensable element of a coalition movement.
When do movements become ensnared by the long-term habits formed in the embrace of short-term tactics?
Are Right Zionists still running the show in Washington? This is a complicated question to answer, given the fact that the contest for power between Right Zionists and Right Arabists continues unabated, especially on the central questions of Iraqi politics.
What would it take for anti-imperialist isolationists to renew the critique of the US-Saudi alliance?
If Right Arabists are calling the shots, would anti-imperialists switch gears, tactically? What would that look like?
The answer may have urgency.
When a leading Right Arabist like James Baker is in Iraq to talk to Sunni leaders (Washington Post, “Baker Meets Sunni Leaders in Iraq“), one might be forgiven for anticipating that a US-backed, pro-Saudi, pro-Baathist coup might be in Iraq’s future–rolling back the entire Right Zionist agenda for the political transformation of Iraq. The restoration of “Saddamism without Saddam.” Or, given the halting nature of his trial, maybe with Saddam.
To listen to them howl, it would seem that Right Zionists long ago decided that their agenda in Iraq had been eclipsed by a pro-Saudi, Right Arabist restoration in Washington.
Either way, Right Zionists are not the only imperialists in town.
Murray Rothbard seemed pretty clear about that. But Murray Rothbard is dead.