Tactics, Not Strategy, in the Antiwar Movement

The war in Iraq will not go away until George W. Bush goes away. If there is one fact of Bush’s personality that should be obvious to everyone by now, it is this: he does not learn — not from mistakes, not from political polls, and not from reading.

Antiwar critics should accept this and plan in terms of it. He will not bring the troops home by Christmas — any Christmas.

Unless Congress cuts all funding for the war in Iraq, there will be a war in Iraq. The day that I put my faith in Congress to do the principled thing prior to polls indicating that the voters back home will remove them, one by one, for not doing the principled thing, is the day a staffer wheels me into the Alzheimer’s care unit.

The war a year from now may be today’s size, or perhaps a tad smaller if Bush’s advisors persuade him that he will still be perceived as the Mission Accomplished President after he pulls some of them out. But there will be 100,000+ uniformed targets in Iraq next Christmas, 2006.

Antiwar journalists can write all the articles they want about the illegitimate war in Iraq. They can fill the Internet with reminders of “no WMD.” None of this is going to change the war in Iraq until Bush’s term ends in 2009. The war will go on.

The tactical question today is this: What can critics do to persuade the voters that (1) this war is a colossal mistake, (2) our troops’ continued presence in the Middle East is an equally colossal mistake, and (3) American troops must get out of the region and stay out?

This means: (1) letting the international market for oil determine the allocation of oil (Arab states as the main sellers, the rest of us as buyers), (2) letting Osama bin Laden declare “mission accomplished,” and (3) letting the State of Israel defend itself by itself.

This will be a tougher marketing job than it sounds.


American non-interventionists have faced an implacable public opinion ever since December 7, 1941. Public opinion can be controlled by controlling the flow of information. Until the advent of the Internet, this flow of information was systematically and self-consciously controlled by an inherently internationalist American Establishment.

The elite that has long controlled American foreign policy has also controlled the government-regulated and government-funded media, especially state-accredited higher education. This elite is committed to the ideal of American empire, but always in the name of pragmatism. Its primary academic manifesto set forth the Establishment’s worldview over half a century ago: Robert E. Osgood’s book, Ideals and Self-Interest in American Foreign Relations.

In his final speech as President, Dwight Eisenhower labeled this elite “the military-industrial complex.” This was only 40% of the complex. The banking-oil complex has always been part of the larger complex. This co-partner is uniquely international.

Until May 15, 1948, when Truman recognized the newly formed State of Israel, the American Establishment had been overwhelmingly WASP. Yet the Establishment was divided over this issue in 1948. The incarnation of the older Establishment, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, told Truman a few days before the recognition that he would not resign in protest if Truman recognized the State of Israel, but he would surely vote against Truman in November, if he voted, which as a military man, he didn’t. Somehow, this threat did not stop Truman. The Middle East from that day forth became a permanently divisive issue inside the American Establishment.

This five-part complex constitutes the largest concentration of capital in the world, and therefore is the most influential special-interest group in the world.

This special-interest group has its headquarters in New York City, but it rests on the cooperation of the political heads of oil-rich Muslim states. If the flow of oil stops because of a series of radical Islamic revolutions, the entire complex goes down, and with it the West’s economy. Fractional reserve banking is lubricated by oil.

All sides understand this, including Osama bin Laden. All sides of the Establishment have a special interest in keeping the oil flowing. No side trusts the free market to allocate oil, for oil is not strictly a free market commodity. It is controlled at the wellhead by civil governments. Problem: the civil governments of Arabia are no more stable than the tribes and sects of Islam.

This is why we are in Iraq. All other explanations are subordinate. If the American foreign policy establishment were not committed to keeping the oil flowing, it would have cut short President Bush’s adventurism. His father’s adventurism had borders. His New World Order rhetoric was based on the existence of an old boy network that recognized the importance of the pacification of Saudi Arabia and Iraq as a counter to Iran. His son’s version of the New World Order does not.

The foreign policy Establishment is internally divided. The hawks in 2001 feared Iraq more than they feared Iran. Because of this division, President Bush got his war. The pro-Israel hawks are behind him. So is the military-industrial complex, which is reaping untold billions.

The banking-oil complex is out of the loop. The old timers in this segment of the Establishment worry that an overly aggressive American nationalism will threaten the stability of the Middle East, and hence threaten the flow of oil. These are the grand old masters of the complex. They are being ignored, just as they were ignored in 1948. They accepted a fait accompli in 1948. I do not think they regard the present Bush administration as a fait accompli. It is a temporary disruption that will go away in 2009. Their job is to find a replacement candidate in each party who will bring most of the troops home.

How many troops? Here, the Establishment has no unified opinion. They do not trust the free market to allocate oil. They also know that the region will likely become less stable after the troops leave.

George W. Bush broke the pottery. “If you break it, you own it,” Colin Powell warned him. He will no longer own it in 2009. It will remain broken.

Who will pick up the pieces?


The rise of the Internet has become the unexpected event of the twenty-first century. It is rapidly redistributing wealth from the Goliaths of the Establishment’s complex, which rests on physical production and fractional reserves, to a bunch of fast-moving Davids, who are involved in the production of ideas and entrepreneurial opportunities. If you want a slogan, I recommend this one: the transition from atoms to electrons.

The key economic fact that governs this transition is this: a vast reduction of transaction costs. This has dramatically reduced most barriers to entry. It is also taking place beyond the regulatory powers of the state. This also is reducing the barriers to entry.

This reduction of transaction costs is driving today’s antiwar movement. Without a reduction of transaction costs, there can be no successful antiwar movement. We have seen this before.

The antiwar movement of 1967—70 was based on political shock troops: college students. The state had created a huge concentration of millions of young men through tax-subsidized tuition. This brought self-interested people in contact with each other: low transaction costs. The threat of the military draft gave them an incentive to march. Their marching orders were provided initially by five college-age men who met in a hotel room in 1967 to design the national protest strategy. I know one of them, who later defected from Marxism to Christianity. Someday, he ought to write their story. He has told me a few of the details.

That antiwar movement ended in May, 1970, at Kent State University. Protestors were gunned down by the local National Guard. The following September, the antiwar movement ended on campus, as did the visible signs of the counter culture: dogs. There were no more dogs roaming on campus. The whiff of grapeshot had worked. That was because the protest was focused in one geographical area: the campus. Guns could control the campus. The Vietnam war dragged on for another five years.

Today, the Internet is serving as the institutional equivalent of the university in 1967. But this time, there is no geographical location of the protest movement. Guns therefore cannot control it. Nothing can control it.

The foreign policy Establishment remains divided. Its primary mouthpieces are print media, which are rapidly losing market share. There is no way for this process to be reversed. The revolution was.

Years ago, Peter Drucker observed that any new technology which reduces the costs of production or distribution by 90% will inevitably replace the existing technology. The Internet has reduced the cost of distributing information by more than 90%. The cost of our time has increased, but we volunteer this time, either as producers (website owners) or consumers of information (readers).

Add to this the incredibly low cost of the Forward button.

Have you ever considered the threat to the American Establishment posed by the Forward button? Someone should write a book on the demise of the Establishment: Fast Forward.

The Internet is serving as a termite nest to the frame houses of the Establishment in every nation. It is providing facts and editorials that undermine the reading public’s confidence in the official sources of information.

There is no unifying voice on the Internet. There is no all-encompassing worldview. Most important of all, there is no centralized group to buy off.

In 1948, Aneurin Bevan was asked by a Labor Party member how he had persuaded the leaders of Great Britain’s physicians to lead their followers into the National Health Service. His answer remains the touchstone of the Establishment: “I stuffed their mouths with gold.” No longer.

There are far too many termites for the Establishment to deal with successfully. Too many of them are ideologues. Too many of them have ideals. They are attracting their own complexes.


The Internet has no strategy. That is why it constitutes a true revolution. It is a technology, not a strategy. The nature of this technology is counter-strategy. The cost of transmitting information is borne by people who volunteer their time and who have Forward buttons. This has never happened before.

The only thing I can think of that is comparable was the system of Roman roads in the first century. Every religious group could take its message across the empire. The infrastructure was maintained by the state.

The printing press was similar in the sixteenth century, but presses were expensive. They could be targeted by censors. Paper sales could be traced. The ideological conflicts of the Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation were conducted with atoms, not electrons. The Internet revolution isn’t.

The Internet is the incarnation of Hayek’s concept of the spontaneous order. We have never seen anything like it before. The degree of spontaneity is spectacularly high because the transaction costs are so low. You can get your two cents’ worth into the discussion for well under a penny. This fact is changing the world.

There is no overall strategy . . . not in anything connected with the Internet or to the Internet. It really is spontaneous, as far as non-Calvinists can affirm the existence of spontaneity.

This means that tactics are everything. Those critics who keep hammering away at the war in Iraq are like men with jack hammers. If they don’t quit early and their internal organs don’t fail, the highway will soon be a shambles.


I wrote earlier,

The tactical question today is this: What can critics do to persuade the voters that (1) this war is a colossal mistake, (2) our troops’ continued presence in the Middle East is an equally colossal mistake, and (3) we must get out and stay out?

Here are my answers.

First, critics can act just as termites act. They can keep chewing on the structure. This undermines its legitimacy, and legitimacy means everything. Without it, voluntary cooperation ceases. Public support is withdrawn, voter by voter. This is now happening to the Bush Administration.

Second, critics with an anti-empire vision of the Middle East can capitalize on the failed war in Iraq as an example of the cost of empire in that region. They can use Iraq as an ideological domino. “You want more Iraqs? Just stay the Establishment’s course.” Putting this in one slogan: “Bring the troops home by Christmas.” This will reinforce that other slogan: “Get the troops out by Ramadan.”

Third, non-interventionists must produce comprehensive historical works that show that Iraq is merely a representative example of the American Empire in general. They must make it clear that it really is an empire, and that empires are not only doomed throughout history, they are doomed for a reason: they rest on coercion.

Step three will be very expensive. Were it not for the falling costs of communication, this program would not be plausible. It will not be easy. There is no non-interventionist equivalent of Ideals and Self-Interest in American Foreign Relations. That book must be written. It must show that George Washington’s recommendation in his Farewell Address is the only viable solution, both ideally and pragmatically, to Dwight Eisenhower’s warning in his Farewell Address.


The American Establishment is divided today. It resembles the Bush family. It cannot articulate clearly what must be done. Yet something must be done to cut our losses. Something will be done to cut our losses.

We have seen this before. The British Establishment in 1945 was in a similar condition. The Round Table’s experts had led the empire into bankruptcy through two world wars. A funny looking little man with a shaved head and a loin cloth stood up to Milner’s heirs and brought them down. The domino process began in 1945.

There is a scene in Gandhi where a British official asks him, “Do you think we will just pick up and walk out of India?” He replies, “Yes, I think that is exactly what you will do.” In 1947, they did.

Otto Scott surveyed the disintegration of the British Empire and the demise of the Round Table’s influence in his book, The Other End of the Lifeboat. He correctly identified the cause. Milner & Company had been too clever by half.

As the spiritual and institutional heir of the Round Table, so is the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Internet provides an effective means for persuading the Establishment: article by article, the Internet undermines the Establishment’s will to resist. Best of all, it leaves no physical marks. Some critics might call this a digital version of the Chinese water torture. I prefer to call it a unique and innovative way to gain cooperation.

If you want a slogan to describe the task that non- interventionists have in confronting America’s foreign policy Establishment and its self-interested empire, I can do no better than to quote W. C. Fields: “Never give a sucker an even break.”

November 26, 2005

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2005 LewRockwell.com