Clear & Present Dangers

Posted by Cutler on February 12, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism / No Comments

The US is obviously beating theThe US is beating the drums for war with Iran.  The news is full of chatter about the emergent US-Sunni Arab alliance against Iran, discussed last summer in my ZNet essay, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

In the last few days, however, the Bush administration has focused on allegations that Iran is supplying deadly weapons used against US forces in Iraq.  The New York Times started the cycle of coverage with a Michael Gordon article that has already generated well-deserved criticism.

Now, major news outlets are reporting on a “long-awaited” presentation of more alleged evidence that Iran has been supplying lethal weapons to Iraqi Shiites.  Both the New York Times and the Washington Post carried news of this unusual “briefing.”  The Post describes the circumstances of the briefing:

The officials said they would speak only on the condition of anonymity, so the explosives expert and the analyst, who would normally not speak to the news media, could provide information directly. The analyst’s exact title and full name were not revealed to reporters. The officials released a PowerPoint presentation including photographs of the weaponry, but did not allow media representatives to record, photograph or videotape the briefing or the materials on display.

Why does it seem like the Bush administration doesn’t want to be pinned down on this one?

Let’s stipulate, if only for the sake of argument, that the allegations are true.  What does it imply about Iraq?  That Iraqi Shiites represent the greatest threat to US forces in Iraq?

Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht argues that Iraqi Shiite militias are not the central problem in Iraq:

Our role now is to stop the radicalization on the Shia side–and you can only do this by breaking the back of the [Sunni] insurgency, something we’ve diligently avoided doing since the fall of 2003. And it’s worthwhile to repeat: They, not the Shia militants, are responsible for the vast majority of American dead and wounded.

One might argue that Iraq Shiite militias are now the greatest threat to Iraqi political stability and national reconciliation, as the Pentagon recently suggested.  Even if that were true, however… even if the US were in Iraq primarily to help achieve national reconciliation… it would still be a very big leap to suggest that Iran is the greatest threat to US troops.

The Bush administration seems determined to “reveal” details about Iran’s efforts to foment violence in Iraq.  What it actually reveals, along the way, is something about the way it views public opinion regarding US foreign policy.  In the case of Iran, as in Iraq, the Bush administration assumes that there is absolutely no appetite for “foreign entanglements” or military adventures unless American lives are (allegedly) directly threatened.

Even when the Bush administration has “intelligible” (if not morally defensible) imperialist ambitions, it feels compelled to develop arguments that focus on immediate threats to US personnel rather than geo-political strategy.

The new “intelligence” on Iran tells us less about Iran than it does about Bush administration views regarding the popular political legitimacy of US empire.

Right Arabist Paul Pillar makes a similar point to Laura Rozen in the National Journal.  [Note: the excerpt on Rozen’s blog leaves off the final part of the Pillar quote about the “more legitimate” concern about the Iranian nuclear threat… As I’ve argued before, many Right Arabists have a soft spot for a hard line on Iran.]

Even if this PowerPoint presentation eventually gets made public … what does this show us as to where Iran is really coming from?” [former National Intelligence Council Middle East analyst Paul] Pillar asked. “What is the larger significance? Even if Iranian assistance to an Iraqi group is proven to everyone’s satisfaction, the [administration’s] policy never rested on that. The policy [is being driven by a] much larger sense of Iran as the prime bete noire in the region, and that is why the administration is trying to put together these coalitions with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Sunni states, that we’ve been reading about. None of this hinges [on the Iran dossier]. We are not going to call this off if we can’t prove that Iran is furnishing munitions to Iraqi groups…

It is just one more thing — along with the nuclear issue, which is really more legitimate in a basic kind of way — [in the administration’s case that] Iran is doing nasty things, therefore it’s appropriate to beat the drum about Iran. That’s what it’s come down to.”

Geopolitical strategy may be the underlying basis for US policy in the Gulf.  But the Bush administration seems convinced the American people don’t think it is worth the effort.

Hence, the necessary centrality in all cases of an immediate risk, however twisted or convoluted the argument.

The Bush administration, for all its bellicosity, has internalized the anti-imperialist “new isolationism” of the American public.

War and Pizza

Posted by Cutler on January 27, 2007
Iraq, Isolationism / 2 Comments

No religious ideology can survive without the ritualistic repetition of a catechism.

I can think of no other explanation for the fact that the editorial page of the New York Times constantly hammers away at the same moralistic themes that are undoubtedly already familiar to readers but which presumably only become articles of faith through regular recitations.

The sacred only lives through sacrifice, responsibility, productivity, and work. In a nutshell, the so-called Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. The valorization and celebration of sacrifice–as an end unto itself; as synonymous with all that is Good–is the core of the New York Times editorial catechism.

I’ve posted about this before, on “holy” days of the secular calendar, especially September 11th and Thanksgiving.

The sacrificial motif provides the ideological unity behind any sign of editorial diversity at the NY Times.

Sacrifice is tie that binds the hearts of both pro-war and anti-war columnists.

In one recent column–“Make Them Fight All of Us“–Thomas Friedman criticizes Bush and Cheney for an effete, unmanly approach to war. It seems they don’t understand what a real “surge” is all about:

Mr. President, you want a surge? I’ll surge. I’ll surge on the condition that you once and for all enlist the entire American people in this war effort

But the way you have fought this war – with our pinkie – is contemptible…

Put down that pinkie! Presumably, a real surge requires something more.

[I]f the rest of the world saw all of us sacrificing to win this war, we might actually be able to enlist them to help a little…

Friedman is hardly new to the sacrifice theme. Here, for example, is “Learning From Lance” from July 2005.

What I find most impressive about [Lance] Armstrong [and his cycling team]… [is] their abilities to meld strength and strategy – to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow – seem to be such fading virtues in American life

Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that’s the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.

The anti-war crowd at the NY Times draws from the same playbook, as if anti-war mobilization were necessarily identical to pro-war mobilization. Check out Andrew Rosenthal from August 31, 2006.

Or Bob Herbert’s recent essay on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Lost Voice of Protest” (also here):

[N]ot enough voices of protest are being raised…The anger quotient is much too low. You can’t stop America’s involvement in a senseless war… if your greatest passion is kicking back with pizza and beer and tuning in to “American Idol.”

As it happens, there are voices of protest being raised in Washington today and that is all to the good.

Of course, some of those good people were apparently misled by the signs on the buses in DC that said, “Free Shuttle to the Mall.” A simple misunderstanding.

But I cannot see why it is that liberal anti-war critics at the Times can’t keep there hands off my pizza, beer, and television. And my salted peanuts.

Presumably, one of the reasons to go out and make all those fine speeches is to get on TV (or at least C-SPAN) and sway public opinion against the war. But the vast majority of Americans are already opposed to this war. They like pizza and do not like war. Where is the conflict?

Herbert invokes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and he is surely right to claim King for his cause. Like Herbert, King was a communitarian moralist. Herbert writes:

And too many black Americans are willing and even eager to see themselves in the culturally depraved lineup of gangsters, pimps and whores.

Dr. King would be 78 now, and I can’t believe that he would be too thrilled by what’s going on. In his view: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

But isn’t there something to be said for those who passively reject? After all, much of King’s tactical répertoire involved passive resistance. Moralistic rhetoric aside, King often located specific forms of leverage in the refusal to participate. Exhibit A: the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

What would it mean to begin by identify all the specific ways in which an unacceptable status quo is preserved through active participation. Just to get the ball rolling, I propose two major areas where there is enormous leverage–and far more pleasure–in passive resistance than in active participation: work and war.

Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? Too busy with the gangsters, pimps and whores, I guess.

A soldier named Daniel Caldwell said it well in the Washington Post: “I want to go back and play my PlayStation.”

Forget work. Forget war. Pass the beer and pizza.

Bob Herbert’s War

Posted by Cutler on November 28, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 4 Comments

“We eat and drink while tomorrow they die.” — U2

Bob Herbert’s recent essay, “While Iraq Burns,” deserves comment on this blog for two reasons.

First, because he reiterates a favorite New York Times theme: the War in Iraq requires that Americans renounce unbridled desire and embrace mature responsiblity. I have discussed this theme in previous posts, here and here.

Second, because he invokes the voice of a student at Wesleyan University, the historically “progressive” elite liberal arts college where I am a professor. [A student who called my attention to the Herbert article also noticed that the University, which usually celebrates media attention linked to Wesleyan on its homepage, has thus far opted to skip this prominent depiction of Wesleyan campus sentiment.]

Here is a taste of Herbert’s prophetic jeremiad:

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns…

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war…

With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don’t even think about the war. They’re more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday’s test”…

This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name…

In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…

[T]he burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed…

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support…

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

One could argue that Herbert’s primary concern is the differential sacrifice being made by the “small cadre of volunteers.” Indeed, one might also note that many of these “volunteers” aren’t exactly swimming in disposable income and could use a massive pay hike so that they could join in the shopping fun.

But Herbert doesn’t seem interested in universal shopping as the antidote to inequality. Instead, the real “liberal” aim is universal sacrifice.

This is odd since Herbert sometimes seems to think that US soldiers in Iraq are dying “pointlessly.”

But is Herbert simply demanding that Wesleyan students “care” enough to demand the immediate withdrawal of US troops?

Why, then, invoke the classic “liberal” basis for intervention: the helpless women of Afghanistan Iraq who are increasingly victimized by… the US war machine? No. By “religious extremists” who force “non-Muslim women” to “wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Here is the liberal interventionist call that was always missing in a campaign to oust the secular Baathist government of Iraq! Now Iraq is our kind of mission. We’ll take it from here, Mr. President.

From now on it will be “collective sacrifice” and a “shared burden of responsibility.” Bring back the draft. Let’s fight this war like we fought World War II. Herbert hits all the common themes that Democrats use to prepare the cultural ground for fighting this war better than Bush.

On that basis, I prefer the culture described (accurately, I would argue) by the Wesleyan student quoted by Herbert.

This is a culture of “indifference” that serves as the basis for a new isolationism.

What is the relationship between indifference and an anti-war movement?

As the student says, “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq.” Or die in Iraq.

Herbert tries to suggest that “the Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore…” This is the only thing Herbert wrote where I hope (and believe) he is wrong.

The “threshold of tolerance” for US deaths in Iraq is low by historical standards and anti-war activists can only hope it gets lower still. A New York Times inspired “culture of sacrifice,” by contrast, will only raise that threshold.

Impatience is a virtue for the anti-war movement. The advocates of greater US involvement in Iraq are the ones who would have to plead that “so far” US deaths and injuries in Iraq are low by historical standards.
The problem, for Herbert, seems to be that students are thinking only of themselves and do not go “beyond that.”

But what is beyond indifference? No government can fight and win a war on the basis of indifference. It is war that demands something “beyond” indifference: a willingness to fight, die, and accept paternalistic responsibility for the global “Other.”

Herbert focuses his paternalistic spotlight on particular “Others”: “innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies.”

Notice that Herbert doesn’t talk about Iraqis who are blasting the US out of Iraq. No wonder. It would hardly make sense to ask Wesleyan students to “adopt” these rather well armed insurgents as their paternalistic “responsibility.”

Between Herbert’s call for “collective sacrifice” and universal shopping, I’ll take shopping any day of the week.

Arlo Guthrie deserves the last word on the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving:

[T]here’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into
the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out. You know, if
one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.

And that’s what it is , the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and
all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come’s around on the

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud…

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

Against the War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on November 09, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism / 1 Comment

In a previous post, I proposed that the Financial Times might provide interesting coverage of the election:

[V]otes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Here is Ed Luce from the Financial Times on Wednesday, in an article entitled “Iraq War Decimates Republican Vote“:

Whether they were representing districts in America’s traditionally liberal north-east, in the more embattled swing states of the Midwest, along the ideologically pragmatic states of the west or even in conservative districts south of the Mason-Dixon line, Republican incumbents were punished for their association with President George W. Bush’s unpopular war in Iraq…

“The principal story of the 2006 mid-term elections is that voters were driven by their opposition to the war in Iraq,” said Charlie Cook, whose Cook political report is widely read among pundits in Washington. “This was not a vote for the Democrats so much as against President Bush and against the war in Iraq.”

Financial Times, old faithful.

Iraq, Vietnam and Democrats

Posted by Cutler on November 06, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I have been pretty relentlessly negative (here, here, here, here and here, for example) about the significance of any Democrat mid-term victories, at least in terms of the war in Iraq.

I stand by that analysis. As some Neocons themselves appear to understand, the Democratic party is not fundamentally opposed to the Neocon war in Iraq.

There are, however, a few additional points to consider.

First, votes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Will the mainstream media emphasis focus on the anti-war “No” vote or the Democrat victory?

In Connecticut, for example, the Democrat Senate primary several months ago was a clear referendum on the war and Ned Lamont won as an anti-war candidate. While Lamont will probably hold all the votes he won in the primary, Joe Lieberman, running as an “independent Democrat” will probably trounce Lamont in the general election, if only because Republicans gagged their own candidate and backed Lieberman, even as the Democrats party hedged its bets by promising to preserve Lieberman’s seniority if elected. Lieberman then made his seniority a bread-and-butter campaign issue.

In this instance, the story will correctly focus on a Democrat, pro-war victory.

In other cases, however, the spin may focus on the implicit, popular, anti-war “No,” rather than the highly ambiguous Democrat “Yes.”

If so, then a media feedback loop might help make the election an occasion to reinforce popular anti-war sentiment.

I take some comfort in the fact that Marshall Wittmann is worried about his newly adopted party. Wittmann, a Kristol/McCain Neocon who ostensibly “left the GOP” for the right wing of the Democratic Party, predicted that something like what I’m calling a “productive misunderstanding” might emerge from the mid-term elections.

Speaking to Byron York of the National Review for a September 11, 2006 article (full text available online from a third party) written in the aftermath of the Lamont primary victory, Wittmann seemed to fear the worst.

“It’s going to drive the Democratic presidential primaries to the left on national security and the Iraq War,” says Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, “and it’s going to make it difficult for anyone to stand by their decision to vote to authorize the war.” The rise of netroots anger, Wittmann adds, will “send the message that centrist hawks are unwelcome in the Democratic party,” which could affect the party for years to come…

“While the Republicans may be forced to reform themselves after the ’06 elections, the Democrats will be emboldened and not inclined to change, so the weaknesses that were evident in the ’04 campaign will never be addressed,” says Marshall Wittmann. “The paradox of ’06 is that the Republicans could be forced to get their act together while the Democratic Left will be completely reinforced by the results.”

We’ll see. I’m not sure that the Democratic Left, such as it is, will manage to run Wittmann and the Democratic Leadership Council out of the party. It isn’t even clear that Wittman really believes this. His professed “fears” about the Democratic party may simply be Wittmann preparing the way for his inevitable decision to return to the Republican party in time for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Finally, I have a question for those who know more about Vietnam and the Democratic Party:

What prepared the way for an anti-war challenge to a Democrat war in Vietnam back in the Johnson years?

My fear, today, is that the Democrats will be more effective than the Republicans at mobilizing popular support for the war.

The Johnson years tell a different story, don’t they?

As the Democrats return to positions of power, we need to review the history of the progressive de-legitimation of Johnson’s war.

How to prepare the way for a critique of “our” war (the one inherited by “competent” Democrats who presumably don’t allow for easy but narrow critiques of Halliburton/Bechtel cronyism and corruption, etc.)?

My hunch is that “Anybody But Bush” isn’t going to cut it.

Right Lightning, Left Thunder*

Posted by Cutler on October 16, 2006
Isolationism, Right Arabists / 1 Comment

How will the critics respond if the Bush administration capitulates to Right Arabist pressure (i.e., James Baker’s Iraq Study Group) and inaugurates an end-of term “clean break” with the Right Zionist course in Iraq?

Partisans, Plain and Simple

To be sure, some Iraq war critics are plain and simple partisans. These folks will attack the Bush administration for anything it decides because it derides the decider. Plain partisans feign passing interest in Iraq, but a change in course in Iraq would hardly register as significant.

The outcome: plain partisans will turn on a dime along with any change in the Bush administration. Without ever noticing, they will purge themselves of Right Arabist complaints about Iraq (too few troops, missionary zeal for democracy, naive de-Baathification, Zionist manipulation) and adopt the American Enterprise Institute homepage as their own. There they will find Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, and others lamenting the madness of US policy in Iraq (heavy-handed military occupation, coddling of dictators, naive re-Baathification, Saudi manipulation).

Plain partisans will be reliably critical of any shift in Bush administration policy. Trouble is, many of these same folks may be completely disarmed when Bush passes the torch to a Democratic administration. Anybody but Bush, right?

Such an administration could be given a free hand, when it comes to the substance of policy and the depth of sacrifice required, simply because it is not the Bush administration.

Not a particularly powerful basis for critically confronting a Democratic party that led the US to war in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam–just to name a few of the big military adventures of the 20th Century.

Foreign Policy Partisans

Unlike “plain partisans,” some anti-war activists actually dug in and developed commitments to a “line” on Iraq.

Many of these “foreign policy partisans” may have started as “plain partisans,” but they developed a specific critique of the Right Zionist character of Bush administration policies in Iraq.

That critique mirrored, in many respects, the critique offered up by the Right Arabist establishment that found itself suddenly in the “opposition” after September 11th.

Unlike “plain partisans” who risk serious cooptation only after 2008, “foreign policy partisans” face a more immediate risk of cooptation insofar as the Bush administration is currently contemplating a dramatic and decisive shift toward Right Arabist influence.

Such a shift may not actually come to pass. But if it does, “foreign policy partisans” will find themselves cheering for the Right Arabist establishment and the Bush administration.

In some cases, the “marriage of convenience” that linked foreign policy partisans of the Left to the Right Arabist establishment may endure. (Others will split, but the breakup is going to be awkward after all the sweet nothings whispered).

“Foreign policy partisans” most at risk are the ones whose critique has been the most narrowly focused on the Right Zionist menace.

Exhibit A is surely Robert Dreyfuss. But there is no reason to pick on Dreyfuss simply because he offers up such low-lying fruit.

There are plenty of writers whose critique of Right Arabists is quite dull.

Take, for example, a recent article in The Nation by David Corn, “Who’s Running Afghan Policy?

Corn begins with what would seem to be a pretty harsh critique of Meghan O’Sullivan, White House NSC deputy for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several months ago a leading American expert on Afghanistan was meeting with Meghan O’Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser in the Bush White House. The topic at hand was the attitude of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, toward the revived Taliban insurgents operating out of Pakistani territory…

[An expert meeting with O’Sullivan referred] to the Durand Line… [to note] that US efforts in the region are complicated by pre-9/11 history. O’Sullivan, according to this expert (who wishes not to be named), didn’t know what the Durand Line was. The expert was stunned. O’Sullivan is the most senior Bush Administration official handling Afghanistan policy. If she wasn’t familiar with this basic point, US policy-making on Afghanistan was in trouble.

Corn seems to be moving toward a harsh critique of O’Sullivan.

It doesn’t happen. Why? Corn explains:

O’Sullivan is not the issue. She is a protégé of Richard Haass, who left the State Department as policy director in July 2003 and became president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and she is neither a neocon nor an ideologue

The problem is that O’Sullivan, who is in her mid-30s, is not an expert in the field and does not have the stature to take on heavyweights in the Administration (say, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld). Worse, she has two briefs: Afghanistan and Iraq. Either project would (or should) be more than a 24/7 job for a senior Administration official…

O’Sullivan gets a (paternalistic) pass from Corn. Why? Apparently, any friend of Richard Haass is a friend of The Nation these days.

A pity, given Corn’s concern that “Pakistan has been colluding with the Taliban.”

As I mentioned in a recent post, Right Arabists are arguably the ones responsible for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, not because they lost out to Rumsfeld but because they won that factional fight back in 2002.

Insofar as Right Arabists recapture the ship of state, foreign policy partisans seem set to be disoriented and defanged.

Partisanship–whether plain and simple, or foreign policy focused–will not serve in the current context.

The foreign policy establishment has been engaged in an intramural rivalry between two factions–Right Arabists and Right Zionists–that offer different paths for policing US interests in the Middle East.

Those who pick a side in that battle risk being subsumed by it.

What is needed is a consistent and even-handed anti-imperialist politics.

*The title of this post owes its inspiration to an essay by Scott Tucker.

Friendly Fire

Posted by Cutler on October 12, 2006
Isolationism / 1 Comment

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been fighting an insurgency from within the ranks of the US Army.

Lately, however, Rumsfeld has been taking some “friendly fire” from some of his closest allies in that fight, especially his hand-picked Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker.

Background: the Revolt of the Generals

The “revolt of the Generals” is not a recent phenomenon and isn’t only about policies specific to Iraq.

The Pentagon insurgency began before September 11th and long before the invasion of Iraq. If we are allowed to ask of these “dead enders” why they hate him, the central grievance is clear enough:

Rumsfeld is, among other things, a “military transformation” guy who favors technological innovations that give air power and special ops–rather than traditional Army “boots on the ground”–central stage in military planning.

Much of this is well documented in a book by Washington Times military correspondent Rowan Scarborough in his 2004 book, Rumsfeld’s War. The chapter-section called “Guerrilla Warfare” that discusses the development of an “anti-Rumsfeld insurgency” in the Pentagon covers the period before September 11th.

After September 11th, Rumsfeld used his new-found influence to pursue a relentless counter-insurgency campaign against his Pentagon critics. Well-known casualties include former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki.

Shinseki made the traditional case for the primarcy of Army boots on the ground–as a matter of general strategic planning, more specifically, in the case of Iraq.

Shinseki was publicly rebuked by Rumsfeld Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and when Shinseki “retired,” Rumsfeld appointed a “Special Forces” guy–General Schoomaker–as Army Chief. First time ever. Rumsfeld was obviously looking for a loyal military transformationalist.

Schoomaker, Embedded

Fast forward to the Annual Convention of the “Association of the U.S. Army,” currently underway in Washington.

On Wednesday (October 11, 2006), General Schoomaker spoke to the Army Association. C-Span covered the event (no link at this time; the video is not yet up on the C-Span website).

Schoomaker began his remarks by recognizing various notables in the audience. Top billing went to (Retired) General Eric Shinseki.

I don’t know much about Army protocol, so I wasn’t sure if this was unusual or meaningful. But the applause generated by the name Shinseki was undeniably meaningful.

It soon became clear that Schoomaker was intentionally sending a message with his nod to Shinseki.

Has Schoomaker joined the insurgency?

His central critique is actually the same one articulated by “liberal hawks”: the Bush administration has failed to cultivate the “political culture of sacrifice” required for war.

I cannot yet find a full-text, on-line transcript of the speech. But the Army Association website does include some key passages.

The nation has had a “tepid” response to the war against global terrorism, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker said Oct. 10, arguing that the country needs to make both a financial and spiritual commitment to the ongoing struggle.

Schoomaker, addressing the Annual Meeting of the Association of the United States Army, sharply contrasted the post-9/11 civilian reaction with the mobilization and grand consensus – and financial support — that emerged during the Second World War and Cold War.

“In many ways, the nation’s response to war has been tepid,” Schoomaker said.

Schoomaker warned that “we are much closer to the beginning than the end of this long conflict.”

In order to successfully reach the end of the conflict, the military will require renewed public support, both in terms of dollars and political leadership, Schoomaker said.

“Ultimately victory requires a national strategic consensus, evident in both words and actions,” he said. “While such a common strategic foundation, understood and accepted by the American people, existed during the Cold War, in the form of our strategy of containment, it is not yet evident that such common understanding exists today. … Another 9/11 should not have to occur to shake us into action”…

Schoomaker pointedly compared U.S. defense spending during the Second World War with the current outlays. During that war, the defense budget reached 38 percent of the gross domestic product, as compared with more 14 percent during the Korean War, and roughly 10 percent during the Vietnam War. Current military outlays are at less than 4 percent, Schoomaker said.

“Let there be no mistake: Our soldiers’ effectiveness in battle, both today and tomorrow, ultimately depends on a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them and their families properly,” he said. “This is a matter of national priorities, not a matter of affordability.”

Of course, the aim here is to rally for more DoD and, specifically, Army funding. Nothing surprising in that. Just the “military-industrial complex” talking, some folks might say.

But it is an implicit rebuke of the Bush administration tax cuts, etc.

Stars and Stripes puts the speech in the larger context of friction over military budgets.

A complacent nation might applaud its soldiers, but if it doesn’t back up that praise in the form of hard cash — funding — the praise is hollow, Schoomaker said.

He compared this spending to the height of the Reagan defense buildup in the mid-1990s, when defense spending was 6.2 percent of GDP, and Vietnam, when defense expenditures were 10 percent of GDP.

“The nation’s got to step up here,” Schoomaker told the reporters.

Schoomaker is so concerned that the Army is being underfunded that he refused to turn in the Army’s proposed fiscal 2008-to- 2013 spending plan by its Aug. 15 deadline after the Pentagon proposed a fiscal 2008 Army budget of $114 billion.

The assumption, Schoomaker said, was that the Army is receiving the lion’s share of the billions of dollars in supplemental wartime spending that Congress has approved, and “if we just keep the supplementals up that it will compensate for this pressure” of so-called “baseline” cuts.

“But you don’t get well on supplementals,” Schoomaker said. “There’s very strict rules for supplementals. They have to be tied to consumption in the fight … [and] that does not transform you … it [just] attempts to keep you where you were.”

Instead of $114 billion in fiscal 2008, Schoomaker and other Army leaders say a baseline budget in the $138 billion range is required.

Army leaders are now negotiating with senior Defense Department officials over the additional $24 billion, he said.

Asked whether he threatened to resign over the issue if the Pentagon won’t add the funds, Schoomaker said no.

“It’s not useful to walk around here threatening anything,” he said.

Some will say Schoomaker has simply “recognized reality.”

Others will say he has been “captured” by the Army brass he was supposed to “reform.”

Some may sugget that he is actually trying to coopt the Shinseki insurgency before they manage to undermine the big-budget, Boeing-led military transformation “Future Combat System” (FCS) program so near and dear to Rumsfeld and Schoomaker.

In any event, the ongoing insurgency at the Pentagon makes it clear that Karl Rove’s White House continues to prefer for political populism over politically risky demands for painful sacrifice.

For this, the Bush administration continues get hit its Right as well as its Left.

My question is simple: is Karl Rove right?

Is a “tepid” war on terror all that the political culture will allow?

A Really Lame Duck

Posted by Cutler on October 05, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

There is talk these days of a Republican “perfect storm” that threatens to drown the reckless rightwing crew that have been steering the ship of state since 9/11.

If so, then the mid-term elections should result in huge losses for the Republicans and set the course for a great reversal in 2008. Hence the clocks counting down the days of the Bush Presidency.

Maybe this is a perfect storm.

But we may be in for a rough ride. And the Democrat’s GPS is on the blink.

Cheney Gone Wild

One of the frightening things about Cheney is that he seems live as though his heart [sic] might go at any minute. No future political plans. No aspirations beyond the current administration.

Cheney’s permanent lame duck status has given him an unusual level of insulation from the kind of “political” accountability that derives from the commodification of politics–polling, the next election cycle, etc.

The result has been an unusually high level of “ideological” and ambitious foreign policy, to say the least.

Thus far, however, one might imagine that these tendencies have been qualified, to some extent, by Karl Rove and the Republican party Congressional leadership who do have an eye on the next election.

This, at least, is the conclusion of the ideologues. See, for example, Norman Podhoretz on the role of “politics” in slowing the pace of the Bush revolution.

At least until the mid-term elections.

In a fascinating interview on Fox’s “Studio B,” Bill Kristol offers hope to the so-called “ideologues”: after the mid-terms, everything is possible.

Like what?

More US troops to Iraq.

More US casualties.

(During the interview, Kristol does begin to say that he would “support” an increase in US casualties. This should come as no real surprise given his devotion to the cultural politics of “sacrifice”).

This may be wishful thinking on Kristol’s part.

But what if Kristol is right?

What if Rove is restraining the Neocons because of his long-standing recognition of the powerful, “new isolationism” that runs through US political culture?

Will the passing of the mid-term elections release the Neocons from Rove’s shackles?

If so, then this is actually the calm before the storm.

What if the gathering storm includes a dramatic move to finish out the administration with “rollback” in Iran?

Would it be an enormously risky move that would almost certainly generate extraordinary instability?


But “with any luck,” the Democrats will be left holding that bag.

And they will finally deliver the political culture of sacrifice for which Kristol has been pining but which Rove has been unwilling to deliver.

Salted Peanuts

Posted by Cutler on October 01, 2006
Isolationism / No Comments

Today’s Washington Post includes an excerpt–“Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism“–from Bob Woodward’s new book State of Denial.

In a previoius post, I have discussed Woodward’s latest discussion of Bush administration factionalism.

The WaPo excerpt includes interesting news that Cheney regularly turns to Kissinger for advice.

The bit of advice that Woodward reports concerns cautionary words from Kissinger regarding the political culture of sacrifice in the US.

Woodward writes,

Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War…

In his writing, speeches and private comments, Kissinger claimed that the United States had essentially won the war in 1972, only to lose it because of the weakened resolve of the public and Congress…

Victory had to be the goal, he told all. Don’t let it happen again. Don’t give an inch, or else the media, the Congress and the American culture of avoiding hardship will walk you back…

The president can’t be talking about troop reductions as a centerpiece,” Kissinger said. “You may want to reduce troops,” but troop reduction should not be the objective. “This is not where you put the emphasis.”

To emphasize his point, he gave Gerson a copy of a memo he had written to President Richard M. Nixon, dated Sept. 10, 1969.

Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded,” he wrote.

The “new isolationism” is all about those salted peanuts. And the “American culture of avoiding hardship.”

Kissinger is right. The new isolationism constitutes a grave and growing threat to US imperial ambitions.

When Right Isolationists Became Right Arabists

Posted by Cutler on September 15, 2006
Isolationism / 2 Comments

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

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.

What changed?

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 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.

The Call Never Came

Posted by Cutler on September 11, 2006
Isolationism / 6 Comments

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

A prescient notion from R.E.M. back in 1988, the waning days of Cold War apocalypticism. The reference, it seems clear now, might just as well have been to September 11th.

In his column over the weekend, Frank Rich of the New York Times led the way with a piece called, “What Happened to the America of 9/12?” that notes and largely bemoans the idea that one might “feel fine” in the wake of 9/11. Rich illustrates the point with reference to a 9/11 photo by Thomas Hoepker.

Mr. Hoepker’s picture can now be found in David Friend’s compelling new 9/11 book, “Watching the World Change,” or on the book’s Web site, It shows five young friends on the waterfront in Brooklyn, taking what seems to be a lunch or bike-riding break, enjoying the radiant late-summer sun and chatting away as cascades of smoke engulf Lower Manhattan in the background.

Mr. Hoepker found his subjects troubling. “They were totally relaxed like any normal afternoon,” he told Mr. Friend. “It’s possible they lost people and cared, but they were not stirred by it.”

At some level, Rich has mixed feelings about indifference to Apocalypse:

What [the photographer] caught was this: Traumatic as the attack on America was, 9/11 would recede quickly for many. This is a country that likes to move on, and fast. The young people in Mr. Hoepker’s photo aren’t necessarily callous. They’re just American. In the five years since the attacks, the ability of Americans to dust themselves off and keep going explains both what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong on our path to the divided and dispirited state the nation finds itself in today.

The upside (“what’s gone right”) might smack some readers as pretty faint praise and even Rich is ambivalent, at best:

What’s gone right: the terrorists failed to break America’s back. The “new” normal lasted about 10 minutes, except at airport check-ins…

The culture, for better and worse, survived intact…

The day that changed everything didn’t make Americans change the channel, unless it was from “Fear Factor” to “American Idol” or from Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton.

This is supposed to be the good news. But Rich doesn’t seem to really have his heart in it (“for better or worse”). In fact, this is really the bad news:

But even as we celebrate this resilience, it too comes at a price. The companion American trait to resilience is forgetfulness. What we’ve forgotten too quickly is the outpouring of affection and unity that swelled against all odds in the wake of Al Qaeda’s act of mass murder.

The problem, in this forgetting, doesn’t really turn on the issue of affection, however. It turns on the issue of self-sacrifice and self-subordination to a larger good. And this is the real loss, according to Rich.

Mr. Bush was asked at a press conference “how much of a sacrifice” ordinary Americans would “be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines.” His answer: “Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever.”

And so here we are five years later. Fearmongering remains unceasing. So do tax cuts. So does the war against a country that did not attack us on 9/11. We have moved on, but no one can argue that we have moved ahead.

Frank Rich is certainly right about one thing: no one can argue with this assessment, at least at the New York Times.

It turns out that Rich’s column is the “official” line at the Times–evidenced by the editorial “9/11/06” that begins by lamenting–with Frank–that we are no longer the America of 9/12:

The feelings of sadness and loss with which we look back on Sept. 11, 2001, have shifted focus over the last five years…

[W]e cannot really imagine a world in which [9/11] never happened…

What we do revisit, over and over again, is the period that followed, when sorrow was merged with a sense of community and purpose. How, having lost so much on the day itself, did we also manage to lose that as well?

What was the point of this “sense of community and purpose”? Once again, the real issue is sacrifice.

[T]he nation was waiting to find out what it was supposed to do, to be called to the task that would give special lasting meaning to the tragedy that it had endured…

But the call never came

Our role appeared to be confined to waiting in longer lines at the airport. President Bush, searching the other day for an example of post-9/11 sacrifice, pointed out that everybody pays taxes.

That pinched view of our responsibility as citizens got us tax cuts we didn’t need and an invasion that never would have occurred if every voter’s sons and daughters were eligible for the draft. With no call to work together on some effort greater than ourselves, we were free to relapse into a self-centeredness that became a second national tragedy.

Frank Rich may be right that “no one can argue” that moving on means moving ahead, but I am going to give it a try.

Maybe the best way to begin is with the mismatch between all the liberal yearning for a politics of sacrifice and the attempt to fashion a critique of the war in Iraq.

The Times editorial proposes that the invasion of Iraq “never would have occurred if every voter’s sons and daughters were eligible for the draft.”

I think that might actually be true. The Vietnam era anti-war movement was largely built by a self-interested refusal to sacrifice. As critics of that movement never tire of observing, draft resistance was linked to a new, TV generation–a “me” generation, I think–that knew nothing about the meaning generated in self-sacrifice.

This refusal to sacrifice continues to haunt the reputation of the Vietnam resisters. The real glory goes to those who make the ultimate sacrifice. Hence, the “greatest generation” continues to be the one that gave it all in World War II, not the one that refused to go in Vietnam.

By what twist of logic, then, does the New York Times editorial simultaneously suggest that a draft would have generated a more potent movement against the invasion of Iraq, even as they bemoan the “relapse into a self-centeredness that became a second national tragedy.”

That self-centeredness would have been the key to draft resistance.

As it is, that self-centeredness has dramatically reduced the threshold of popular tolerance for US casualties, even without the draft.

But the Times keeps pining away for “a call to work together on some effort greater than ourselves” as if wartime self-sacrifice was not the premier emblematic figure for “some effort greater than ourselves.”

And it is not simply the “liberal” New York Times that yearns for a culture of sacrifice. At Ben at Latent State has noted in his superb essay on the cultural politics of post-9/11 America, the neoconservative architects of the invasion of Iraq have been just as upset with Bush for refusing to “issue the call” to sacrifice. The discourses of the New York Times and the Weekly Standard are indistinguishable on this point.

Although some critics on the Right and Left of Bush tend to blame him for his refusal to issue the call to sacrifice, the Bush administration’s “failure of nerve” is probably best understood as a reflection of the popular culture.

As Frank Rich understands, the issue is not Bush. The real force that undermines the spirit of sacrifice is TV, from “‘Fear Factor’ to ‘American Idol’ or from Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton.”

Thaddeus Russell has recently suggested–in his extraordinary essay, “Beyoncé Knowles, Freedom Fighter“–our much-maligned commercial popular culture may also be the most potent weapon in battling jihadists.

If no one can argue against the bipartisan yearning for sacrifice, then why are the sages of sacrifice feeling so embattled on this fifth anniversary of September 11th?

To quote the great radical feminist Ellen Willis, “It’s the culture, stupid.”

Ask Not..

Posted by Cutler on September 02, 2006
Isolationism / 5 Comments

As a new academic year begins on college campuses in the US, the time may be right for a discussion of the changing state of “anti-war activism.”

The old anti-war activism is gone; long live the “new isolationism.”

On August 31, 2006, Andrew Rosenthal published a provocative New York Times essay entitled, “There Is Silence in the Streets; Where Have All the Protesters Gone?

I suppose the most obvious answer is “long time passing.”

Indeed, nostalgia for the “real” anti-war movement–the one against war in Vietnam–has haunted every subsequent US military action. Nothing has measured up. (Just ask the boomers.)

Kennedy spoke for the Vietnam generation: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Those were the days, I guess.

Rosenthal’s most basic observation is this:

Student protesters helped drive Lyndon Johnson — in so many ways a powerful, progressive president — out of office because of his war. In 2004, George W. Bush — in so many ways a weak, regressive president — was re-elected despite his war. And the campuses were silent.

No doubt.

Although there have been a couple of small, awkward “rallies” at Wesleyan University–the infamously “progressive” campus where I work–the place has been very quiet since the US invasion of Iraq.

There was a brief burst of protest when America first invaded Iraq. But if there is a college movement against the war, it’s hiding pretty well.

Right again on timing. There were protests at Wesleyan at the start of the “War on Terror.” Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when popular sentiment was strongly supportive of military action, there were protests at Wesleyan. Not only against war in Iraq, but even against war in Afghanistan.

And for many students, the February 15, 2003 global protests against the war seemed pretty intense, inspiring, and powerful.

Then came the actual invasion of Iraq, and everything fell silent.

(A subsequent letter to the New York Times correctly notes, in response to Rosenthal, that there have been many anti-war protests. Notwithstanding the tireless efforts of organizers, I wonder if even they would think of this as a time of significant mobilization? No complaints about abathy and indifference within the US?)

Some students seem to have been surprised, demoralized, and demobilized when the US went to war anyway, even though they had protested.

This is surely an unintended consequence of overly romanticized 60’s nostalgia: a few good protests and you stop a war. Maybe it would help if we started noticing that most of the best, most powerful elements of the ’60s–from anti-war activism to feminism and gay liberation took root in the 70’s.

Nevertheless, I do not begrudge contemporary students their demand for instant gratification. The “problem”–if there is one–is not that college students are too demanding but they are not quite demanding enough.

And I don’t entirely buy the “demoralized and demobilized” story.

Rosenthal raises the issue of “moral clarity.”

Vietnam never had the moral clarity that the 9/11 attacks provided to this generation’s war. But in Iraq that proved to be a false clarity…

Of course, this explains nothing, since the largest protests came between the (presumably pro-war) “moral clarity” of 9/11 and the recognition of the “false clarity” in Iraq after post-invasion revelations regarding WMDs, etc.

It seems to me that campus protests stopped because many students knew that they favored peaceful negotiations, etc. over military action.

But once the US was in Iraq, many students adopted a position that echoes Colin Powell’s famous invocation of the (false) Potter Barn rule: you break it, you own it.

Students at elite private colleges–the same ones that generated much of the early anti-war sentiment in the 60s–are often encouraged embrace a notion of responsibility for the world. Part of preparing for power, I suppose.

To students ready to inherit the mantle of responsibility, the rush to military action and the neglect of legitimate international channels for conflict resolution surely seemed irresponsible. Hence the protests.

On the other hand, post-invasion “help” (i.e., occupation) seems–to such students–more responsible than withdrawal. Hence the awkwardness at poorly attended rallies.

After the invasion, such students replaced their anti-war protest hats with their imperial peace corps, caring hats.

It is on the issue of caring that the Rosenthal essay falters.

This, perhaps, is the ultimate difference between the Vietnam generation and the Iraq generation: When you hear Young and Company sing of “four dead in Ohio,” their Kent State anthem, it’s hard to imagine anyone on today’s campuses willing to face armed troops. Is there anything they care about that much?

Unfortunately, “caring”–about Iraq, at least in the abstract–helps explain why campuses are silent. The students who “care” the most are the ones least likely to protest and demand US withdrawal. Even as the Bush administration’s occupation looks like a disaster, it is a disaster that those who care most want to inherit and improve. As Thomas Friedman says, “We’ll take it from here.”

Rosenthal also mentions the draft as a crucial difference and he is surely right about this one:

But because there is no draft… no young person has to fear being conscripted into the fight.

This is surely true on the campuses of elite private liberal arts colleges. But the point actually goes to the heart of the issue of caring.

In the Vietnam era, protesters gave a lot of lip service to caring about the Vietnamese, but Rosenthal is probably right to imply that much of the movement was enormously self-interested in a very narrow but very potent way: students did not want to sacrifice their lives.

The movement never depended on caring. Today, with no draft on campus, caring is all we have. And it curbs enthusiasm for US withdrawal.

At the same time, Rosenthal totally conflates campus life with popular sentiment in the United States and assumes that real power and influence may come from the former rather than the latter. This is a very big mistake.

Rosenthal acknowledges,

a majority of Americans now say they oppose the war and no longer trust Mr. Bush’s leadership of it.

But he never explores possible implications–politically, for the Bush administration, or militarily, for the execution of the war.

Rosenthal says,

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Americans find it much easier to stay silent when there is no shared sacrifice.

I would propose the opposite: because there is no notion of “shared sacrifice” for this war (Bush has repeatedly been attacked from the Right and Left for refusing to sound the call…), American public opinion has been highly intolerant of US casualties.

And there is no notion of “shared sacrifice” because Karl Rove is afraid that there is no appetite for sacrifice in the land.

The campuses are silent. But “Americans” are not. They speak against the war–at least not when the pollsters call.

Surely there is something far less communitarian and collectivist about polling sentiment, relative to mass rallies. A pity for those who seek, in an anti-war movement, the kernal of a collective and transcendent spirit.

For those who wish to obstruct war, however: are we sure that popular sentiment–in an age of commodified politics where politicians pander to polls–is less powerful than campus protest rallies?

Americans–and not primarily the ones on elite liberal arts campuses–do not “care” enough about Iraq to sacrifice lives for it.

And as for Iraqis, I trust that many surely “care” enough about the US occupation to tell us how they are feeling. The word is “insurgency.”

One can be disgusted with carnage in Iraq and still recognize that, given the number of US soldiers killed, the popular threshold of tolerance for U.S. casualties is much lower than it was in previous wars.

And the refusal to “take casualties” has almost certainly influenced political and military decisions to send fewer troops than the Generals wanted.

“Force Protection” is the name of the game in Rumsfeld’s world of military transformation.

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what your country can do for you.

The new isolationism recognizes sacrifice, but like Bartleby, the Scrivener, it would “prefer not to.”

For all that, one would be mistaken to confuse it with powerlessness.

What is the power of indifference, especially in relation to fighting and dying?

Podhoretz: Wilderness or White House?

Posted by Cutler on August 27, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I discussed a recent article by Norman Podhoretz entitled, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?

Podhoretz was responding to the complaints of many Right Zionists who have been howling in the wilderness, upset that the Cheney administration has betrayed their Revolution.

Podhoretz explained to his Right Zionist friends that the central explanation for the setbacks was not to be found in an ideological battle (say, with Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft), but in a simpler domain: politics.

Its the election, stupid. If there is anyone to blame… blame Rove.

But don’t blame Rove, Podhoretz implied, because the Revolution will not be televised if the Republicans lose control of government.

One thing I failed to mention at the time of my previous post: Podhoretz might not have simply offering sage advice from movement elder who has done his own share of howling in the wilderness in years past.

Is it possible that Podhoretz was actually giving voice to the frustrations–and rationalizations–of those Right Zionists who continue to serve within the administration, including the White House?

I have in mind the “voice” of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.


Because Abrams and Podhoretz are family. As Tom Barry notes in his recent Counterpunch article, “Gangster Diplomacy: Elliott Abrams in Jerusalem,”

Abrams, a proud self-declared “neoconservative and neo-Reaganite,” is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, an activist couple who played a leading role in establishing neoconservatism as an influential political tendency in the 1970s.

It would still be highly speculative to talk about a rift between any Right Zionists and Karl Rove. None have explicitly attacked him.

On the other hand, it would be all the more interesting if the Podhoretz commentary was intended to serve as a kind of note passed from White House insiders to “movement” outsiders: “the President has not betrayed our ideology; he is just trying to keep all of us in office.”

Here is the punch line, from my perspective: any rift with Rove has nothing to do with Rove as an ideologue. It has to do with Rove as a “political professional” who knows how to pander to the polls. According to such a scenario, Rove acts as something like an opportunistic–even entrepreneurial–“register of the popular will” within an administration otherwise dominated by committed foreign policy factions.

And the popular verdict, in the current context? Don’t even think about sending US troops to Lebanon.

Wouldn’t that represent an interesting dynamic?

Guess Who Favors US Troops in Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on August 24, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

I was wrong.

I have been trying to figure out why nobody has been proposing sending US troops in Lebanon, especially in light of widespread “disappointment” with Israel’s campaign and growing “reluctance” on the part of France to lead a robust Multinational Force.

Most recently (here and here), I speculated about the possibility that Right Zionists would like to see US forces in Lebanon but might have quietly abandoned that idea when told by Karl Rove & Co that the administration was not prepared to take (more) casualties ahead of midterm elections.

Maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree. Like Ken Silverstein, I was expecting Right Zionists to be the primary champions of a US troop presence. After all, the most pro-Israel factional players in the Reagan administration–e.g., NSC staffer Howard Teicher–were also the most ardent advocates for an active US military mission in Lebanon back in 1982 and 1983. Right Arabists like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were the most reluctant.

Well, I recently stumbled upon a Baltimore Sun Op-Ed by Drew Bennett, a Marine colonel on the faculty at the National War College, who warns against deploying troops in Lebanon. It was Bennett who noted what I had overlooked:

Although the Bush administration says that it does not plan on putting troops on the ground, some – including former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft – suggest that the United States might need to send peacekeepers into Lebanon

Bennett is correct.

In my own previous post on Brent Scowcroft’s July 30, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon” I completely overlooked the following passage:

The obvious vehicle to direct the process would be the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations), established in 2001 for just such a purpose. The Quartet, beginning at the foreign-minister level, would first organize the necessary international force for southern Lebanon and Gaza and then call for a cease-fire. The security force would have to have the mandate and capability to deal firmly with acts of violence. Ideally, this would be a NATO, or at least NATO-led, contingent. Recognizing the political obstacles, the fact is that direct U.S. participation in such a force would be highly desirable — and perhaps even essential — for persuading our friends and allies to contribute the capabilities required.

Ok, then. [Note: “Recognizing the political obstacles”–i.e., popular resistance to taking casualties, right?]
Warrent Christopher hits the same note in his July 28, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “A Time to Act.”

[T]he United States has an indispensable role to play. A succession of Israeli leaders has turned to us, and only us, when they have concluded that retaliation for Hezbollah attacks has become counterproductive. Israel plainly trusts no one else to negotiate on its behalf and will accept no settlement in which we are not deeply involved. Further, based upon my experience in helping bring an end to the fighting in the Balkans, the Europeans are unlikely to participate in a multinational enforcement action until the United States commits to putting its own troops on the ground.

No doubt about it. Here are two significant “Arabist” figures–one Republican and one Democrat, both held in contempt by Right Zionists–calling for US troops in Lebanon.

Now the hard part: what does it mean?

As I’ve mentioned before, the current conflict in Lebanon seems, in many ways, like a replay of 1982. But it is surely tempting to think that this issue–the source of pressure for US troops–marks a very significant change of some sort.

Podhoretz and the Triumph of Politics

Posted by Cutler on August 23, 2006
Isolationism, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

Norman Podhoretz–a figure whose views I have previously identified as a key benchmark for defining a Right Zionist agenda for US foreign policy–has weighed in at the Wall Street Journal “Opinion Journal” with a full-scale review of factionalism on the Right and the fate of the Bush Doctrine. He asks, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?

I will not provide a blow-by-blow review of his argument (it is well worth reading in its entirety–including the section on neoconservative splits over Iran and the relative merits of military action vs popular insurrection).

The simple version of his answer is, “No.” The Bush Doctrine is not dead.

For much of the essay, Podhoretz proposes to answer this question with reference to “the president’s speeches, as well as by his unscripted remarks at press conferences and other venues.”

But Podhoretz is no fool and he understands that his real interlocutors are not so-called realists, or liberal internationalists, or paleocons, or lefists. The Podhoretz essay is best understood as a response to a different audience: his own best friends.

[T]hose neoconservatives who have been pressing for a more aggressive implementation of the Bush Doctrine. I even think that there is at least some merit in many, or perhaps even most, of the arguments they offer to explain why they have concluded that American foreign policy is no longer true to the doctrine’s promises. Without denying that the president is still talking the talk, they contend that his actions demonstrate that he has ceased walking the walk; and it is by stacking those actions up against his own language that they seek to justify the charge of, at best, a loss of nerve and, at worst, an outright betrayal of the goals they formerly believed he meant to pursue and to which they themselves are as dedicated as ever.

It is at this point that the Podhoretz essay makes its most “original” contribution–one with extraordinarily wonderful connections to my recent speculations about a rift between Right Zionists and Karl Rove–what one commenter has called (with an implicit nod to David Stockman) a “Triumph of Politics” over ideology.

Without overreaching (I do not think the Podhoretz essay provides a “smoking gun” that signals tension between Right Zionists and Karl Rove), I do think it is quite interesting that Podhoretz does not deny a gap between Bush’s “best” talk and his “worst” walk.

Instead, Podhoretz comes to the heart of his essay:

To begin with, the neoconservatives who have given up on Mr. Bush or are in the process of doing so overlook one simple consideration: that he is a politician. This ridiculously obvious truth has been obscured by the fact that Mr. Bush so often sounds like an ideologue, or perhaps idealist would be a better word…

In pointing this out, I am not suggesting that those of us who share Mr. Bush’s ideas and ideals… are barred from questioning the soundness of his prudential judgment in this or that instance.

But I am suggesting that, by the same token, we have an intellectual responsibility to recognize and acknowledge that he has already taken those ideas and ideals much further than might have been thought possible, especially given the ferocity of the opposition they have encountered from all sides and the difficulties they have also met with in the field. Indeed, it is a measure of his enormous political skills that–at a time in 2004 when things were not looking at all good for the Bush Doctrine’s prospects in Iraq–he succeeded in mobilizing enough support for its wildly controversial principles to run on them for a second term and win.

In other words: Right Zionists need to shut up and be grateful for what they get from Karl Rove.

Not only does this analysis suggest that there has been a kind of “triumph of politics” at work, but it also points to the necessity–from the perspective of Podhoretz–of subordinating Right Zionist ideals to political pragmatism: Rove does what is necessary to keep Bush in office and Right Zionists live within those boundaries.

Note well: Podhoretz offers no such peace pipe his ideological opponents. Scowcroft, for example, comes in for stinging rebuke as a figure “whose political purposes as an enemy of Israel are even [worse] than are those of the old foreign-policy establishment.”

Surely this makes it far more difficult to trace the splits between Right Zionists and Rove than it is to track parallel splits between Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

Perhaps the “peacekeeping” work of Podhoretz–aimed to quell the Right Zionist insurgency–is the best evidence we have of ongoing tensions between ideology and the triumph of politics.

Taking Casualties

Posted by Cutler on August 22, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

An editorial in today’s Financial Times–entilted “Stepping Up to the Plate in Lebanon“–discusses the French reticence to lead a “robust” Multinational Force in Lebanon.

Just last Thursday, Jacques Chirac, the French president, told Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, that France was ready to assume command of the bolstered UN force in Lebanon. But he has so far promised to increase the French presence in the country by a paltry 200 troops. Paris, whichrevelled in seizing a leading role in negotiations at the UN SecurityCouncil, seems to be having second thoughts about putting troops where its mouth is…

At bottom, the dilemma over sending in troops bears on an unwillingness to take casualties. Providing manpower for Unifil has long been a deadly assignment. France is also all too aware that its frequent calls for Syria to be brought to account could make it vulnerable to attack by Damascus’ supporters in Hizbollah.

This has only exacerbated anti-French sentiment in the US, with Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly calling Chirac a Wanker.

But if the French are having second thoughts, I continue to wonder why the US seems to not have even had “first thoughts” of sending US troops to Lebanon.

Back in the otherwise eerily similar case of the 1982 Israeli campagin in Lebanon, there were big factional fights in the Reagan administration over the issue with Secretary of State George Shultz and much of the NSC staff strongly in favor of projecting US influence in Lebanon through active military participation in a Multinational Force.

Today, there appear to be no public advocates for US troops in Lebanon.

John Bolton–US Ambassador to the UN, and a figure who might have been expected to champion US participation–shut down the discussion very quickly at the start of the current crisis.

The Washington Post ran a story on July 22, 2006 that quoted Bolton:

As far as boots on the ground, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards,” said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a sentiment also expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.

“I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces . . . are expected for that force,” she said.

So, what is the story here?

Have Right Zionists simply become more “pragmatic” now than they were back in the early 1980s? Are they implicitly acknowledging that Iraq has become such a quagmire than US troops are now overstretched?

[On the overstrethced issue: is that notion endorsed by all the “critics” who have insisted all along that Rumsfeld could have an should have sent 500,000 troops to Iraq in order to do it right? Now, with something less than 150,000 troops in Iraq, the US is unable to send, say, 50,000 troops to Lebanon?]

Or, perhaps Right Zionists would have argued for US troops in Lebanon if Bolton had not signaled early on that they need not waste any breath since a factional battle had already been quietly fought and lost within the administration.

Hence Bolton’s posture as a mere observer or fortune teller: it simply isn’t “in the cards”–regardless of the merits of the idea, from his perspective.

But if Right Zionists faced a quiet defeat within the Bush administration, who did them in? Was it the work of Right Arabists unwilling to risk a direct confrontation with Syria and/or Iran? Perhaps, although I think there may be good reason to doubt that.

Is it possible that Right Zionists were dealt a defeat at the hands of… Karl Rove?

There were rumors that Rove’s “in-house” slogan during the last Presidential election was “No War in 2004”–meaning no serious counter-insurgency activity that might produce US casualties. Such a rumor seems to have been given some support by the timing of the US assault on Fallujah which seemed to have been on hold for much of 2004, until Bush’s election was secured.

Is it possible that with mid-term elections on the horizon in the US, Rove is reluctant to risk US casualties in Lebanon–especially with the memory of the October 23, 1983 bombing of US Marine Barracks in Beirut that killed 241 US soldiers? A new “in-house” slogan: “No Barracks in 2006”?

All of this is speculation, of course.

But is it possible that all along Right Zionists have faced resistance, not only from Right Arabists, but from “political professionals” like Rove who detect–and “pander” to–an emergent, growing “isolationism” within the US and an indifference to the old motif of wartime sacrifice?