In the summer of 1998, just as this web site was getting off the ground, I wrote the following for Chronicles magazine:
“As the U.S. stumbles, or is pushed, into another unwinnable land war in Asia, the anti-war protesters of the future will come from the ranks of the Right. [Patrick] Buchanan, and the editors of this magazine, in alliance with other conservatives and libertarians, stood firm against the war hysteria that preceded Gulf War I. This time around, with the stakes even higher, that same alliance has the potential to expand its ranks to include the overwhelming majority of Americans. Let our rulers unleash the dogs of war to mask their own corruption: they will ignite a social and political explosion that will make the sixties seem relatively tranquil."
We are witnessing that explosion today, on both sides of the political spectrum and in both major parties. The ease with which Donald Trump and his “America First” program – denounced as “isolationist” by the Beltway elites – has swept the GOP presidential primaries has the media and the political class in a panic. On the left, the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, who is likewise critical of interventionism, has given frontrunner Hillary Clinton a run for her money.
In short, rebellion is in the air – and, I would even venture to say, the spirit of revolution. Both Sanders and Trump, in their inchoate respective ways, are leading a revolt against the idea that America is and must forever more be the policeman of the world.
While the Sanders movement is chiefly focused on economics, Bernie has been a trenchant critic of liberal imperialism: he has hammered Clinton again and again on her vote authorizing the Iraq war, criticizing her “regime change” policies as Secretary of State in Libya and Syria. Sanders dramatically broke with tradition by suggesting that, yes, the Palestinian people need to have their suffering recognized, and must be treated fairly.
In the GOP, the revolt against interventionism has been more dramatic. Trump started out his campaign attacking the Bushian legacy head on: it took real conviction to stand in front of a Republican audience in North Carolina and declare that we were lied into the Iraq war. When Ron Paul did something quite similar, he was practically booed off the stage – and, although his bravery paid off in a subsequent groundswell of support, in the end the GOP machine rolled over him and his supporters. This time, however, it was the War Party that got rolled, with Trump crushing them in the primaries and going on to become the prospective Republican nominee.
NATO, says Trump, is “very obsolete.” So is the system of alliances that has turned Japan and South Korea into American satellites. “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense,” he says, “and if not, the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.” No “mainstream” Republican candidate for President has dared say such things since the days of Robert A. Taft – and, remember, they stole the nomination from Taft no less than three times in order to prevent his brand of dreaded “isolationism” from spoiling their racket. This time, however, the “isolationists” have clearly won, and that represents a seismic shift in the American political landscape.
In spite of Trump’s glaring inconsistencies, his anti-interventionist impulses do indeed spring from a central organizing principle. As he put it in his foreign policy oration:
“Instead of trying to spread universal values that not everybody shares or wants, we should understand that strengthening and promoting Western civilization and its accomplishments will do more to inspire positive reforms around the world than military interventions.”
This is really the essence of the anti-interventionist stance: while he often contradicts himself, Trump clearly gets it. His victory in the primaries has shifted the foreign policy discourse, displacing the Bushian/neocon worldview with a Trumpian policy of “America First.” And that’s why his effect on the national debate is much more important than the fate of his campaign.
Here, for just one example, is Newt Gingrich being interviewed by Sean Hannity: nine minutes into the interview, Gingrich delivers a slashing indictment of the interventionist foreign policy of the Bush years. Laura Ingraham, a prominent conservative columnist, follows up later in the show with similar sentiments.
This is not to say that Trump – or Sanders – augur an era of peace: they don’t. Trump, especially, is unreliable, emotional, and even potentially quite dangerous, should he ever make it into the Oval Office. However, what he has managed to do is redefine the terms of the foreign policy debate. Questioning the bipartisan foreign policy “consensus” is no longer beyond the pale – because there is no “consensus” anymore.
This revolt against the consensus has been building for a long time – ever since the 1990s, when I first began to write about it. And the momentum has been gathering strength, first with Ross Perot, who made “isolationist” noises, then with Pat Buchanan, who challenged the interventionists loudly and consistently: then Ron Paul came along, with his acerbic and uncompromising libertarian critique of empire-building. Now Trump has brought this populist reaction against the globalist vision to the boiling point.
“The War Party, as we have seen, has worn many guises throughout American history. Sometimes it is left-wing, at other times it is a creature of the Right. The party of peace is likewise prone to switch polarities. If you live long enough, you can start out your life as a liberal, and wind up a right-wing reactionary without undergoing any fundamental change of views. That is what happened to H. L. Mencken, who was considered the guru of the freethinking ‘flaming youth’ of the 1920s and early 30s – and later consigned to the fever swamps of ‘right-wing extremism’ for his opposition to the war and his visceral hatred of Roosevelt. The same was true of Albert Jay Nock, and John T. Flynn: their views did not change so much as the perception of them did. Opposition to war, imperialism, and the centralized State was ‘left’ at the turn of the century and ‘right’ by the 1930s. In the 1960s it was considered ‘radical’ – that is, radical left – to oppose our policy of global intervention, whereas the noninterventionist of today is far more likely to be a conservative Republican.”
We are now in the midst of a polarity-switch, and that accounts for the political turmoil we see on both sides of the political spectrum. Old positions are being challenged, new paradigms are being advanced, and what we thought we knew about American politics is being turned upside down – and inside-out.
These insurgent candidates are symptoms of something far larger than the individuals involved. No, they won’t save us, or rid us of the Empire – but their success means that the American people are yearning for change.
I’ve been predicting it for years, and now that this Great Rebellion is finally upon us, we here at Antiwar.com are going to take full advantage of the greatest opportunity to advance our foreign policy views since the upsurges that accompanied the Vietnam war. The blockade on new ideas in the foreign policy realm has been broken – and that’s our cue to step forward and provide some fresh thinking.
The War Party is hysterical with panic and rage at this rising populist rebellion against foreign wars. And they have been fighting in both parties to contain it as best they can. Furthermore, they have the resources and the will to hold on to their power and prestige. They have plans for more wars in the Middle East, not to mention a confrontation with Russia in eastern Europe and central Asia. They’ve dominated the foreign policy debate since the end of World War II – to such an extent that there has been no real debate at all.
Now a real debate is beginning – but we can’t engage, we can’t even think of winning, without your financial assistance.
That’s right – it takes money to challenge the War Party. We have the right ideas – but will we have the means to put them out there? That has been the question that has flummoxed anti-interventionist movements of the past – and, make no mistake, this time, we can’t afford not to be heard. We must get our views out there, which means: we must continue to grow our audience, and extend our reach.
I’ve been astonished to see the progress we’ve made over the past twenty years, from a very minor web site to one with a fairly substantial audience and national recognition as the premier voice of peace in cyberspace.
That’s why this particular fundraising campaign – which, you’ll notice if you visit the front page, has started as of today – is so vitally important. The times, they are a changin’, as Bob Dylan put it:
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again …
“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.”
– and it’s happening fast. We don’t want to be left behind, but we will be if we don’t get the support from our readers that makes our continued existence possible.
For twenty years we’ve been making slow but steady progress: and now we are poised to make a qualitative leap forward, in tandem with the rising rebellion against the War Party on both sides of the political spectrum. Won’t you help us make that leap?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN