The Irrepressible Rothbard
Essays of Murray N. Rothbard
Edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
MR. BUSH'S SHOOTING WAR
On January 16, 1991, a day which shall live in infamy, George Bush
finally got his cherished shooting war. The United States launched
an avalanche of mass murder and mass destruction upon a small, impoverished
third-world country. Bush and the military finally got to uncork
their high-tech devastation; and the military-industrial complex,
secure in the vanishing of the short-lived "peace dividend," can
stand tall once more. By personalizing the war and narrowing it
to Saddam Hussein, Bush has managed to make Americans forget about
the countless number of Iraqi civilians he is going to maim and
murder. Or maybe there is nothing to forget: one reason why a U.S.
war is always depressing to libertarians is because each new war
is yet another demonstration that many Americans are only
concerned about American lives and body bags, and care not a fig
for the annihilation of citizens of other countries.
George Bush was, of course, able to maneuver us into a shooting
war by aggressively and viciously, in barracks-room language, denying
Saddam anyway out, any compromise, any avenue of negotiation. "Just
get out, unconditionally...He doesn't need any face...I'm going
to kick his ass." What head of State, ever, is going to submit under
such terms? Every promising initiative by a third party was shot
down brusquely by Bush; even the last-minute proposal by France
that the U.N. simply implement its own resolutions by holding
a Mideast conference (as suggested by Tariq Aziz) was shot down
quickly by Bush as "linkage" and "rewarding the aggressor."
George Bush worked his evil will in the face of a sharply divided
country and of an anti-war movement of unprecedented scope at this
early stage of a US war. He was aided and abetted in this course
by a supine Congress. The iniquity of Congress was bipartisan. What
happened to the conservative Republicans, so defiant in opposition
to Bush's tax increase? They folded totally in the face of the power
of the president. As for the Democrats, led by George Mitchell and
Tom Foley they deliberately waited cravenly to debate until
the last minute, when they could effectively be clobbered by the
cry to support the president in his last hours of negotiation. And
when they finally did allow a debate, they refused to use any muscle
to rally the Democrats behind them. In that way, they could support
the president, while keeping their voting records clear in case
the war should eventually turn sour.
In the highly touted and self-congratulatory Great Debate on the
eve of war, congressman after congressman got up to admit that the
mail from his constituents was running 9-to-1 or 11-to-1 against
the war resolution, but he was, blah, blah, blah, voting for it
anyway. Why? Amidst all the congratulations, why did no one ask
what kind of "democracy" are we living under, when the Congressmen
are willing to defy so blatantly the expressed will of the public?
HAWK THEORY DISPROVED
Throughout the preparation period until January 15, the Bush administration
and its stooges operated on one and only one dimwit theory, which
they intoned endlessly: That if Bush could only send a "clear message"
that the US will be ultra-tough and will exert maximum force against
Iraq on passing the deadline, Saddam Hussein will certainly turn
tail and leave Kuwait. As time went on, Saddam showed no signs of
buckling, Bush kept reiterating that "he must not have gotten the
message clearly...he doesn't understand the message." Indeed, the
decisive argument that convinced the pro-Bush Democrats in Congress
was that, especially at that late date, a defeat would weaken or
negate that "message." Hence, as Doug Ireland pointed out in the
Village Voice (Jan. 22), "the debate was conducted almost
entirely in Orwellian terms: those who voted war spoke for peace."
Ireland also pointed to the "bilge" of the New York Times
editorial after the debate that "Congress has armed the president,
first and foremost, for peace." Yeah sure. And that's what we got,
In vain did Tariq Aziz, in his eloquent but totally unheeded press
conference at Geneva, rebut that Iraq understood the "message" all
too well that, "We know very well what the president is saying.
We too watch CNN."
And so Saddam Hussein did not surrender, did not quit, and thus
successfully knocked the Bush-hawk theory into a cocked hat. Did
Congress, after the deadline of January 15, rush to recognize this
fact and rescind its approval of Bush's war, as it logically and
morally should have done? To the contrary, Congress capped its abject
and spineless role by rushing to pass a unanimous resolution, after
the war began, commending George Bush! O judgment! thou art fled
to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.
The only war hawk who momentarily saw the light was none other
than Henry Kissinger. The night the shooting war started, Kissinger,
in a rare moment of self-criticism on television, admitted that
he was greatly surprised that, after all the ultra-toughness on
the part of the US, Saddam Hussein had not cut and run.
Well, I have news for Kissinger and the other war hawks, to the
extent that their toughness-surrender model was not simply a coverup
for a cherished war. Answer me this, war hawks: when, in history,
when did one State, faced with belligerent, ultra-tough ultimatums
by another, when did that State ever give up and in effect surrender
before any war was fought? When? Certainly not the Japanese,
who responded to Secretary of State Cordell Hull's "get out of China"
ultimatum of November 27, 1941, by going to war at Pearl Harbor.
Then who? I can't think of a single instance. My old friend, Dr.
David Gordon, Mr. Erudition, mentioned an instance in the nineteenth
century when Belgium caved in to a French ultimatum, but that proves
my point: you really have to reach. No head of State with any pride
or self-respect, or who wishes to keep the respect of his citizens,
will surrender to such an ultimatum. The whole point, is that by
belligerently sealing off any face-saving or way out for Saddam,
the Bush administration in effect insured that war would come.
Television commentators on the Congressional debate observed that
the two sides had two contrasting models of previous wars in their
minds when they cast their votes. The pro-Bushers were operating
on the "Hitler appeasement" model, the antis on the "Vietnam War"
model. The odd thing is that no one, in Congress or out, has referred
to a far more apposite model: World War I, the monstrous granddaddy
of all the major wars of the incredibly bloody twentieth century.
In World War I, no one "appeased" anyone else, everyone was ultra-hawkish,
mobilized, and hung tough, and the result was a momentous, totally
disastrous, and useless four-year war that devastated Europe beyond
repair, and ineluctably set the stage for the victories of Communism
and Nazism, neither of which would have gotten anywhere if peace
had prevailed. War-hawk theory is not only grievously and evidently
incorrect, it has the blood of countless millions on its hands.
Will the conspicuous failure of this theory in the case of Saddam
discredit it at long last? Hah! That'll be the day. To quote the
great Mencken in a different but similar context: it will happen
"on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November preceding
the Resurrection Morn."
Neither was World War II in Europe a case where toughness worked.
On the contrary, Hitler disregarded the English guarantee to Poland
that brought England and France into the German-Polish war in September
1939. And even if that failure can be dismissed as sending "mixed
signals" to Hitler after Munich, no country could have had a tougher
and hawkier foreign policy than Colonel Josef Beck and his ruling
junta of Polish colonels in the late 1930s. Geopolitically, the
new country of Poland faced the two Great Powers of Germany and
Soviet Russia on its borders. Any sort of rational foreign policy
at the time would have required Poland to be friendly and dovish
with at least one, and preferably both, of these powers to
insure national survival. Instead, in a burst of hawkish idiocy
that should remain as a permanent alarm bell against a tough, hawkish
foreign policy, the Polish colonels stubbornly refused to negotiate
at all on the substantial territorial demands or grievances of either
power, thus assuring Polish doom for half a century.
To return to the present war, let us finally assess the hawk theory
by indulging in a lovely hypothetical: suppose that some miracle
occurred, and a superpower United Nations was sending the United
States a series of stern resolutions ordering US troops out of Panama
unconditionally, and by January 15. As the US refuses to pull out,
suppose, too, that the UN sends a series of "clarifying" messages,
warning Bush of crushing consequences and maximum force if the US
does not pull out, replete with comments that the US must not be
rewarded for its aggression against Panama, that no excuses will
be entertained, and that if Bush does not pull out in accordance
with UN orders, Perez de Cuellar will "kick his ass." Does anyone
imagine for a single second that Bush would comply? But, why
not, if the hawk theory is true?
A COVER FOR GORBY
And in the meanwhile, as all US power and attention are focused
on Saddam, Gorby unsheathes his claws, forgets about "democracy,"
and launches a crackdown against the gallant Baltic states. What
is Bush's reaction? Does he show at least as much concern for "freedom"
and the "rights of small nations" in the Baltic as he does for a
phony "nation" that is merely an oil company wholly-owned by the
Sabah kleptocracy? Fat chance. No, with Gorby, Bush is the essence
of politeness, tapping his wrist with faint regrets and mild hopes
for improvement. No, nothing must be allowed to disturb the billions
of dollars that Bush is shoveling into the maw of the Gorbachev
regime, helping to fasten repression once again upon the Baltics
and the peoples of the Soviet Union. To say that this is a "double
standard" is scarcely enough to describe the shamefulness of the
Bush foreign policy. Truckling to monstrous dictatorial regimes
such as the Chinese and the Soviets, while trumpeting the high morality
of our defense of "small nations" and the New World Order in the
case of Kuwait, is simply sickening.
And it is not enough for neoconservatives like Frank Gaffney to
call (on Crossfire) for a hawkish policy toward both
the U.S.S.R. and Iraq. In the first place, even as crazed a war-hawk
as Gaffney only wants all-out war against Iraq; against the Soviet
Union, he only wants diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions.
But more importantly, the whole point of the Bush foreign policy
is that the establishment and enforcement of his beloved New World
Order requires the support and consent of China and the USSR,
both of whom have permanent veto power on the UN Security Council.
American de facto dominance under the de jure cover
of the United Nations and the "world community" requires the US
to purchase the consent of these two still-monstrous regimes.
The seemingly eerie coincidence of Gorby cracking down on the Baltics
with the Soviets cracking down on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
under cover of the Anglo-French-Israeli war against Egypt, has already
been noted widely. But it is no mere coincidence. A more interesting
question is this: was there a private agreement between Bush and
Gorby at one of their summits that Bush would look the other way
from a Gorby crackdown if Gorby loyally supported us on Iraq? It
sure looks like it.
This suspicion has met with the usual barrage of "paranoia" and
"conspiracy theory of history." Conspiracy analysis is hardly a
"theory of history"; the analyst is trying to make sense out of
seemingly peculiar or senseless actions, by postulating rational,
if cynical, motives on the part of historical actors. Since the
archives won't be opened for decades, we have to proceed in political
life on our best guesses, and such guesses can only be enriched
by considering plausible causal theories. In this case, our "conspiracy"
analysis fits all the facts and has terrific predictive value. And
as for "paranoia," I like to recall the definition of an old friend
of mine, "today's 'paranoia' is tomorrow's headlines."
Does no one remember our pre-Cold War Soviet policy? I refer, of
course, to our World War II alliance with Stalin, and to its fruits
in such pro-Soviet deals as Potsdam, Yalta, and the murderous Operation
Keelhaul. And above all, that reached its culmination in the United
Nations, designed to bring about a New World Order run jointly by
the US and USSR In the new post-Cold War Era, it is precisely that
self-same New World Order that is now being trumpeted by George
I am of course not calling for a revival of the Cold War against
the Gorby regime. What I am proposing is simply old-fashioned "isolationism":
that is, a policy that is neither engaged in warfare against the
Soviet Union nor busily subsidizing it. That is, a foreign policy
where the US does not spend its time trying to decide which countries
are "bad guys" who we war against, as versus "good guys" upon whom
we lavish all manner of favors and aid.
It would be nice, too, if the Bush administration ceased all the
hokum about our "Coalition partners" throughout the world. As Tariq
Aziz pointed out, the pitiful contributions to the war effort of
our "partners" were purchased by the US with "billions and billions
of dollars" of aid, that is, of the money of American taxpayers.
RANDOM NOTES ON THE WAR
Particularly heroic in the Congressional vote was Senator Mark
Hatfield (R., Ore.). Not only was Hatfield one of only two Republican
Senators to vote against the war resolution (the other was Charles
Grassley of Iowa), but he also voted against the Democratic
resolution, because he is opposed to the Democratic policy of sanctions.
In short, Hatfield, a prominent anti-Vietnam War dove, was against
the US being in the Persian Gulf to begin with. Hatfield has also
long been the most ardent opponent of conscription in the US Congress.
All this reminds me that during 1970-71, Senator Hatfield was seriously
contemplating running against President Nixon in 1972. During that
era, I and several other libertarians met the Senator in his office,
during which he flatly declared himself to be an old Taft Republican
and a libertarian." At one point, he spontaneously assured us that
"I have not, like Faust, sold my soul to politics." When I set forth
the "New Libertarian Creed" in the New York Times (Feb. 9,
1971), in reply to an attack on libertarianism by Bill Buckley,
Hatfield read it into the Congressional Record (Feb. 24),
and also wrote a favorable review of my Power and Market
(The Individualist, Feb. 1971).
At any rate, nostalgia has now been greatly reinforced by Hatfield's
current vote; his deviations from economic liberty in the past two
decades surely pale in comparison.
I was glad to see a powerful article against the imminent war by
my old friend, New York Reform Democrat and quasi-libertarian George
N. Spitz. ("Why Not Let Iraq Save Face?" USA Today, Jan.
15) Spitz wrote that "as an Orthodox Jew who respects Torah (biblical)
values, I am distressed by the belligerence of Israel and many US
Jews...I was surprised and gratified when a majority of Jewish members
of Congress voted against the resolutions authorizing military force."
Typically, Spitz was once a member of the Libertarian Party of New
York, but was driven out by the gaggle of youthful Modals because
he wasn't "pure."
It is all too possible that the last-minute decision of Brooklyn's
Representative Charles Schumer to vote against the war was influenced
by a predicted reapportionment primary battle with fellow-Brooklyn
Democratic Stephen Solarz, a Vietnam dove who rivals even Senator
D'Amato (R., N.Y.) in his thirst for Iraqi blood.
After a night and day of merciless pounding by US missiles, Iraq
finally got off seven SCUD missiles in the direction of Israel.
They landed in the cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv, and yet did not
succeed in killing a single Israeli. This is the great military
threat to the United States, against which we had to take action
now? Who's been conning us?
Whatever happened to our alleged original purpose in dispatching
US troops to Arabia: to save Saudi Arabia from allegedly imminent
attack? Remember when the role of the troops was supposed to be
"purely defensive?" Does anyone really think now that Saddam had
the slightest intention of invading Saudi Arabia?
Whatever happened to the defensive posture of the US? I'll remind
you: just two days after the November elections, the defensive
was abruptly abandoned by Mr. Bush, who announced the doubling of
our troops in the Gulf, and the objective of kicking Saddam out
of Kuwait. No wonder that the Village Voice, in its trenchant
editorial against the war, calls Bush "our prevaricating president."
And more important, we see why the Voice, in this context,
cites Gore Vidal's perceptive remark that "America is a country
that has elections instead of politics" (Village Voice, Jan.
22), that is, phony circuses instead of exercising genuine choices.
No sooner did the war start, when those sportswriters who aspire
to become pundits called for the closing down of the football play-offs
and the Super Bowl. No matter that sports (except, of course, for
the Olympics) went on as usual during all of World War II. No matter
that closing down sports or other entertainment would add not one
whit to the war effort. All it would do is harm civilian life, should
always proceed as normally as possible. But, as, Jackie Mason likes
to say: "Every schmuck becomes a philosopher!"
In the first days of the war, when every channel featured wall-to-wall
coverage, I quickly evolved my own personal rules for when to switch
channels. I hit the remote control button at (1) pickups from the
man-in-the-street (knew nothing); (2) interviews with any politician
(ugh!); (3) official U.S. pool coverage (shots of US planes landing
in a dark airfield); (4) any pictures of Wolf Blitzer (is there
any TV channel or radio station that does not feature this
CALVIN TRILLIN, POLITICAL ANALYST
Once again, Calvin Trillin, left-liberal political humorist, is
revealed to be one of our most perceptive political analysts. Trillin
has enunciated two keen, if chilling, political rules: One is that
"sooner or later, every president makes you nostalgic for his predecessor."
I now have to confess that George Bush is making me yearn for Ronald
Reagan. Why? Not only did Reagan move to end the Cold War, he never
got us into a war in the Middle East. Or rather, after a kamikaze
attack killed two hundred Marines, Reagan, quietly, but quickly,
making no noise about it, got us clean out of Lebanon!
The second insight of Trillin was an explanation of why Reagan
was successful whereas Carter was not. Because Reagan launched a
very big, and therefore successful, invasion of a very small country
(Grenada.) In contrast, Carter launched a very small and therefore
unsuccessful, invasion of a very big country (Iran). George Bush,
Trillin wrote, followed up the Reagan course by a very big invasion
of the next smallest country (since he couldn't very well re-invade
Grenada): Panama. So is Iraq this year's Bush invasion? Who's
next? RALLY ROUND "OUR COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF"?
The orthodox line, even among many critics of the war, is that,
at least for a while, or until the body bags start coming home,"
we must rally round "our" commander-in-chief. Sorry folks, I ain't
rallyin. In the first place, he is not "our" commander-in-chief.
The Constitution makes him the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,
and as yet, we have not been conscripted. I do not propose to be
a cheerleader for Mr. Bush's immoral, unjust, and unnecessary war,
now or later. I stand with the great John Randolph of Roanoke, who
set forth his principles thus:
"Love of peace, hatred of offensive war, jealousy of the state
governments toward the general government; a dread of standing armies;
a loathing of public debt, taxes, and excises; tenderness for the
liberty of the citizen; jealousy, Argus-eyed jealousy, of the patronage
of the president."
Or, let H.L. Mencken have the last word with this bit of perceptive
- When after many battles past, Both, tired with blows, make
What is it, after all, the people
peace at last,
Why, taxes, widows, wooden
legs, and debt.