As the crisis of the American empire lurches into its final stages, and conservatives begin to question the costs of imperialism, the neoconservative counterattack is going into overdrive. When prominent conservatives rose to say, "Cuts in the defense budget are not 'off the table,'" the neocons began to worry that their formerly iron grip on the "conservative" brand is beginning to slip. As more Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail began sounding like the staunchly anti-interventionist Ron Paul, the neocons went on offense: Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin decreed that such proposals "are not an option," and various members of the Kagan clan went on to point out that cutting back on a "defense" budget nearly equal to that of all other nations on earth combined would seriously imperil the nation's very survival.
This attempt to prevent the USS Perpetual War from sinking into the ocean of government debt is not succeeding, in part because of the weak arguments advanced by the spend-more-on-defense crowd – do they really expect that conservative Republicans are going to agree with Robert Kagan that "it doesn't make fiscal sense to cut the defense budget when everyone is scrambling for measures to stimulate the economy"? A generally unstated but important part is because of who is making these arguments.
After all, these are the same people who, in the 1990s, invented something called "National Greatness Conservatism," which held up wars, the building of gigantic national monuments, and other costly pyramid-building schemes as the ne plus ultra of conservative thought. More recently, they claimed the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk" that would "pay for itself" – and dreamed of a large-scale military/social engineering project in the Middle East that would "drain the swamp" and lead to a "global democratic revolution" led by George W. Bush. And we all know how that turned out.
Defeated at the polls, and discredited within their own movement, the neocons retreated back into their subsidized think tanks and literary sanctuaries, of which The American Spectator is the Pinta to the Weekly Standard's Santa Maria. From these redoubts, they presume to direct the course of the movement they brought to disaster, and correct deviations from the neocon party line, oblivious to the reality that few conservatives outside the Beltway are actually heeding their sage advice.
As the movement they infiltrated and came to dominate spins out of their control, and the fantasy world created by the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin loses its grip on the rightist mindset, Rep. Ron Paul's stock is rising. Faced with the world Paul has been warning for years was coming, conservatives are flocking to his banner and his solution to the crisis: rein in the Federal leviathan and get rid of our empire.
Neocons have never cared much for domestic policy: my theory is that it bores them. A single nation can hardly contain the grandiosity of their worldview [.pdf], the globe-spanning hubris of their vision of America, once described by neocon guru Bill Kristol as a "benevolent global hegemon."
This is what neoconservatism is all about. On domestic policy, the neocons are all over the map, and especially on the relationship between government and the economy they are positively chameleon-like. Today the neocons are careful to blend their voices with the "anti-government" sentiment that motivates the conservative base, but it seems like only yesterday that Fred Barnes was hailing the arrival of what he called "Big Government Conservatism" in the pages of the Standard: the similarities between a policy aspiring to "national greatness" – another of Kristol's hobby-horses – and "the Great Society" of LBJ's day are not merely rhetorical.
When it comes to foreign policy, however, there is no modulating their rhetoric or hiding their agenda. It's all about war – agitating for it, praising the virtues it supposedly instills, and always arguing that we should have gone to war yesterday, but today will do (e.g., the McCain-Graham critique of Obama's Libyan intervention).
The neoconservative persuasion, as Bill's dad dubbed it, was born in the deepest winter of the cold war, when American school-kids were told to "duck and cover" as the shadow of nuclear war hovered over the American Dream. These former leftists, who once worshiped at the altar of Leon Trotsky, did an about-face and transferred their allegiance from the Red Army to the US Army with varying degrees of rapidity – but always with great displays of polemical fireworks. James Burnham, Max Shachtman, Kristol Père, and a large number of lesser lights, all went on to become the most fanatical advocates of what Burnham, a founding editor of National Review, deemed the "rollback" strategy – military confrontation with the Soviet Union on a world scale. Murray Rothbard relates his personal experiences of what they meant by "rollback" in his book, The Betrayal of the American Right:
"The more I circulated among these people, the greater my horror because I realized with growing certainty that what they wanted above all was total war against the Soviet Union; their fanatical warmongering would settle for no less."
"Of course the New Rightists of National Review would never quite dare to admit this crazed goal in public, but the objective would always be slyly implied. At right-wing rallies no one cheered a single iota for the free market, if this minor item were ever so much as mentioned; what really stirred up the animals were demagogic appeals by National Review leaders for total victory, total destruction of the Communist world. It was that which brought the right-wing masses out of their seats. It was National Review editor Brent Bozell who trumpeted, at a right-wing rally: "I would favor destroying not only the whole world, but the entire universe out to the furthermost star, rather than suffer Communism to live." It was National Review editor Frank Meyer who once told me: "I have a vision, a great vision of the future: a totally devastated Soviet Union." I knew that this was the vision that really animated the new Conservatism. Frank Meyer, for example, had the following argument with his wife, Elsie, over foreign-policy strategy: Should we drop the H-Bomb on Moscow and destroy the Soviet Union immediately and without warning (Frank), or should we give the Soviet regime 24 hours with which to comply with an ultimatum to resign (Elsie)?"
When the cold war ended, the neocons didn't go out of business – they just went into hibernation, retreating to their richly-endowed think tanks and denouncing the GOP majority in the House of Representatives for threatening to defund Bill Clinton's conquest of Kosovo. Kristol, yearning to "crush Serb skulls," as he put it, threatened to walk out of the GOP.
Too bad he didn't, because he and his comrades went on to dominate the conservative movement of the 1990s and eventually lead the party into the oblivion of the Bush era, when the oxymoronic Big Government Conservatism the neocons had been pushing was actually put into practice.
The results – imminent bankruptcy – you see all around you.
For decades, libertarians had been arguing, to little avail, that modern conservatism – the "new" conservatism of William F. Buckley, Jr., as promulgated in National Review – with its commitment to unmitigated militarism, would only lead to fiscal collapse and the subversion of our republican form of government. Today, these arguments have wide appeal, and not just to conservatives. Paul's prescient calling of the 2008 economic implosion gave him real credibility and his second attempt to wrest the GOP presidential nomination is gaining traction, albeit mainly under the media's radar. Last time around, the neocons targeted Paul as the virtual antithesis of all they stand for, and this time, too, they are sharpening their knives, ready to go after their ideological antipode hammer and tongs.
It's early, yet, but already we have the main narrative of the neocon script, as evidenced in Jeffrey Lord's American Spectator jeremiad, wherein an entire laundry list of charges are laid out in convenient indictment form. There's just one problem: Lord's charges are a tenuous tissue of lies. Tenuous because, once one challenges the historical ignorance on which they're founded, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
September 2, 2011
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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