Fried Chickenhawks

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Recently by Justin Raimondo: Meanwhile, in the Persian Gulf…

What a joy to see Ron Paul take down Newt u201CChickenhawku201D Gingrich in front of millions of Americans. Slogging through fifteen Republican presidential debates was totally worth it just to witness this defining moment. Dianne Sawyer, who sounded like she was on Quaaludes, raised her eyebrows quizzically as she asked him if he stood by his previous characterization of Newt as a u201Cchickenhawk.u201D Her tone implied she thought this a little harsh. Paul took this opening and ran with it:

u201CI think people who don’t serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments — they have no right to send our kids off to war … I’m trying to stop the wars, but at least, you know, I went when they called me up.u201D

Ouch! Having drawn the first blood of this presidential gladiatorial contest, the good Doctor moved in for the kill:

u201CWe have hundreds of thousands coming back from these wars that were undeclared, they were unnecessary, they haven't been won, they're unwinnable, and we have hundreds of thousands looking for care. And we have an epidemic of suicide coming back. And so many have — I mean, if you add up all the contractors and all the wars going on, Afghanistan and in Iraq, we've lost 8,500 Americans, and severe injuries, over 40,000. And these are undeclared wars.u201D

Gingrich's response was worse than if he had said nothing at all:

u201CThe fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question. My father was, in fact, serving in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta at the time he's referring to. I think I have a pretty good idea of what it's like as a family to worry about your father getting killed. And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with.u201D

The trap, so carefully set, was sprung: u201CI need one quick follow-up, said Paul with a gleam in his eye:

u201CWhen I was drafted, I was married and had two kids — and I went.u201D

The applause was the loudest of the evening. Newt's puffed up persona seemed to visibly shrink as he stood there on the stage, reduced to squealing like a stuck pig:

u201C I wasn't eligible for the draft! I wasn't eligible for the draft!u201D

This encounter dramatizes more than just the smarminess of the Newtster: it gives voice to a populist anger directed at our warmongering elites, one little-discussed aspect of widespread resentment over the growing class divisions in American society.

You'll recall that prominent members of Team Bush, from the President and Vice President on down, were draft dodgers who presided over two unnecessary wars and did their best to gin up a third. As ordinary Americans turned against this policy of perpetual war, the u201Cchickenhawku201D meme came into general circulation, with the exemplar being one of those overweight bespectacled neocons explaining — in a tone of high-pitched truculence — that we needed to go to war because, as overweight, bespectacled neocon Jonah Goldberg put it:

u201CEvery ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.u201D

This was the core of the argument made by the more honest neocons, such as Michael Ledeen, cited by Goldberg and deemed the u201CLedeen Doctrine.u201D Who cares about u201Cweapons of mass destructionu201D and Condi Rice's visions of u201Cmushroom cloudsu201D — war is a positive good, and the military is to be venerated as a kind of priesthood.

This elevation of the military came back to haunt them when prominent military figures publicly dissented from the War Party's let's-democratize-the-Middle-East program: the neocons then hurriedly came up with arguments against the military u201Cinterfering in politics.u201D The anti-chickenhawk backlash continues unabated, however, as we saw in the GOP presidential arena the other night, with Gingrich's public humiliation at the hands of the libertarian Spartacus.

Nothing offends a neocon more than being called a chickenhawk. The epithet really ruffles their feathers, and they're quick with a comeback: u201CIt's absurd to say one needs to have military experience in order to argue for the merits — or demerits — of a particular war.u201D It's true that anyone can make any argument they wish: however, it is also true that not all opinions are equal. Certain voices carry with them a special authority, and others less so. To cite one example: in the debate over whether we should go to war with Iran, the opinion of a pencil-necked geek like Bill Kristol, the little Lenin of the neocons,who has never been anywhere near a war, carries much less weight than that of Admiral William Fallon, the former chief of the US Central Command who resigned rather than go along with the Bush administration's efforts to goad Iran into war.

In the context of a presidential debate, this question of whose argument carries how much weight is crucial, because we are electing a commander-in-chief, a role that has taken on increasing importance as Congress ceded its war-making power to the executive branch. Today, in defiance of the Constitution, the President can take us to war without a declaration from Congress — and without even bothering to consult the people's elected representatives. We have Harry Truman to thank for that.

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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