November 9, 1989, marked the end of the old politics and the old alignments; on that day, as the Berlin Wall fell, so did the political categories and alliances of half a century. The end of the Cold War meant a lot more than the end of communism as a viable ideology. It meant more than the implosion of the Soviet Empire: Here in the United States, it also meant the end of anticommunism as a viable ideology and the implosion of the old conservative coalition that governed America in the 80’s. It meant the breakup of the right, as well as the left—since both had, in large part, defined themselves in relation to something that no longer existed.
Of course, this process did not happen immediately; it is still working itself out. But today the great realignment has progressed far enough so that we can begin to see the broad outlines of a new political landscape. I often refer to the War Party, a phrase that is shorthand for that complex of social, political, and economic forces that constitute a permanent and powerful lobby on behalf of imperialism and militarism. In my very first column for Antiwar.com, I described it as “the war propaganda apparatus maintained by the interventionist lobby. Well-funded and well-connected, the War Party is such a varied and complex phenomenon that a detailed description of its activities, and its vast system of interlocking directorates and special interests, both foreign and domestic, would fill the pages of a good sized book.” I solved the problem of how to present this material in the form of a daily column by focusing on specific individuals, the biggest and most vocal supporters of the Kosovo war, from Madeleine Albright to Vanessa Redgrave to Jeane Kirkpatrick. These three Harpies of the Apocalypse pretty much represented the ideological contours of the War Party during the Kosovo conflict: Clinton Democrats, hard leftists, and neoconservatives.
The hard leftists, former peaceniks like Todd Gitlin, naturally rallied ’round the flag when Clinton declared that this was a war against “racism” and for “diversity.” The Clintonians, for their part, were happy to divert attention from the fact that their leader had turned the White House into the heterosexual equivalent of a gay bathhouse. But the neoconservatives—that merry little band of ex-lefties who left the Democratic Party in the 1970’s and 80’s over its lack of enthusiasm for the Cold War—were the most bloodthirsty of the whole sorry lot. Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, openly called for “crushing Serb skulls” in a famous editorial a full year before the bombs began to fall on Belgrade. Opportunists like John McCain sought to climb on the “kill the Serbs” bandwagon out of their instinct for the main chance, but the hardcore ideologues of the War Party were the neocons. While the Clintonians served up bromides about “humanitarianism” and “diversity'” to justify the war, theirs was at most a halfhearted effort: After all, if you are bombing television stations and raining death on a civilian population, it becomes increasingly hard to pass yourself off as Mother Teresa.
Only the neocons had a clear ideological agenda, and Kristol’s remark about “crushing Serb skulls” pretty much expresses what it means in practice. In theory, however, it is much more high-sounding, and I must admire Kristol and his coauthor Robert Kagan for their effort to dress up a barbaric doctrine in language that sounds almost like it might have been written by a civilized human being. In the Summer 1996 issue of Foreign Affairs, Kristol and Kagan outline what they call a “neo-Reaganite” foreign policy. Conservatives, it seems, have been “adrift” in the realm of foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Up until November 9, 1989, the role of the United States in world affairs had been defined by the alleged threat posed by the Soviet Union. Now that the Soviets are gone, however, the question arises: “What should that role be?” Kristol and Kagan have an answer:
Benevolent global hegemony. Having defeated the “evil empire,” the United States enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance by strengthening America’s security, supporting its friends, advancing its interests, and standing up for its principles around the world. The aspiration to benevolent hegemony might strike some as either hubristic or morally suspect. But a hegemon is nothing more or less than a leader with preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain. That is America’s position in the world today. The leaders of Russia and China understand this. At their April summit meeting, Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin joined in denouncing “hegemonism” in the post-Cold War world. They meant this as a complaint about the United States. It should be taken as a compliment and a guide to action.
This vision of world domination goes way beyond hubris, crossing the border into outright megalomania. It reminds me of all those terrible science-fiction movies, where the goal of the mad scientist or the evil space beings is always to conquer the world. For the authors of this manifesto of empire, however, what most normal people would consider villainous is, instead, virtuous. As the architects of “national greatness conservatism,” Kristol and his cabal naturally want to export that “greatness” to the rest of the world. It is the old Marxism turned inside out: “Democratic revolution” must be exported to the far corners of the globe.
While the neocon theoretician Francis Fukuyama deploys the Hegelian dialectic to show that history has ended in the birth of what he calls the “universal homogenous state,” the Weekly Standard and neocon columnists and editorial writers beat the war drums continuously and ever more loudly: They want all-out war against Serbia, Iraq, Russia, China, North Korea, and who knows how many other so-called “rogue states.” (Austria may very well be next.) Of course, by the neocon definition, any state that does not recognize American supremacy, that does not kowtow and surrender its sovereignty to the West, is a “rogue state.” Neoconservatism is an ideology that has to have perpetual war.
The War Party is not unitary: It is riven into various factions, with ostensibly “left” and “right” wings. Some, like Kristol and Kagan, want the United States to assume a frankly imperial stance, acting unilaterally to achieve global dominance. Others, the “left” imperialists, see the United States acting through the United Nations or some other multilateral institution. Both see the emergence of a global state, centered in the West, as inevitable and desirable. The only argument is over how to bring this about. Each wing has regional preferences in terms of the enemies it chooses, with the “left” concentrating on Europe while the “right” has always focused on the Asian theater of operations. But that is a whole other subject: Suffice it to say that we are talking about two versions of essentially the same poison. Bill Kristol, affecting a macho stance, is enraptured by his vision of “crushing Serb skulls,” while Clinton and his enablers pose as great “humanitarians”—even as they bomb one of the oldest cities in Europe from the cowardly height of 50,000 feet.
So we have a War Party that spans the very narrow spectrum of the politically permissible, from the neoliberal “left” to the neoconservative “right”—with anything and everything that falls outside of these parameters exiled to the so-called “fringe.” Of course, when the “mainstream” is defined so narrowly, millions of Americans find themselves on the “fringe.” This is the great dream of the neocons: to lop off the fringes and institute the rule of the Eternal Center, where dissent is nonexistent—especially in the realm of foreign policy.
It is very clever how they have gone about their deliberate campaign to marginalize any and all opposition to the globalist idea. But any attempt to suppress opposition is bound, instead, to stimulate it—and that was the reason for the recent Antiwar.com conference, and all the conferences to come: to mobilize the party of peace. The first step of that mobilization is to recognize who we are, and where we are coming from. The Peace Party, though less organized—and far less generously funded—represents a far greater number of Americans, most of whom are instinctual isolationists. The American people have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into virtually every war in their history, and the end of the Cold War has encouraged this natural isolationism.
But this opposition to foreign adventurism usually arises only after we actually go to war. Active opposition to interventionism in between wars has been limited to the “far” left and the “far” right. We have the remnants of the Old Left, whose best elements are represented by a man like Alexander Cockburn—and whose worst aspects are exemplified by the neo-Stalinist robots of the Workers World Party, whose “International Action Center” painted the opposition to the Kosovo war as a wacko sideshow far better than the War Party ever could.
It is on the right, however, that the most interesting developments have taken place, for until the end of the Cold War, there were very few antiwar rightists. Until recently, the long tradition of anti-imperialism on the right was almost completely forgotten. Yet the old America First Committee, founded by rock-ribbed conservatives and opponents of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, was the biggest and best-organized antiwar movement in American history. The fight to keep us out of the European war was led by such Roosevelt-haters as John T. Flynn and such editorial bastions of Midwestern Middle Americanism as the Chicago Tribune and the Saturday Evening Post. Their analysis—that we would win the war against national socialism in the trenches but lose the battle for liberty on the home front—was largely borne out by events. Caret Garrett, chief editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post, warned in 1950 that “we have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire”—but by then, not many were listening. Only a few, notably Murray N. Rothbard, the libertarian economist and theoretician, carried on the Old Right tradition. By the mid-60’s, the so-called “New Right” of William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review had taken over the conservative movement almost completely, along with a crew of ex-leftists such as James Burnham (a former leader of the Fourth International) and a whole coven of ex-commies of one sort or another, who were hell-bent on destroying their ex-comrades in the Kremlin.
If we look at the parallel histories of the War Party and the Party of Peace, we can see a whole series of such realignments, starting with World War I and its aftermath. The crusading spirit of the War Party of 1917 was animated by Wilsonian liberalism, a militant internationalism of the left. These same liberals, however, were cruelly disillusioned by the vengeance of Versailles and the subsequent redivision of Europe by the Great Powers. This great betrayal gave rise to a new, non-interventionist liberalism, which found political expression in the Midwestern populists of both parties (primarily the Republicans). Exemplified by Sen. William E. Borah, the great orator known as the “Lion of Idaho,” this group constituted the Midwestern leadership of the antiwar movement of the 1930’s. These progressive Republicans were initially friendly to Franklin Roosevelt, but were alienated by the Mussolini-esque National Recovery Act, horrified by the court-packing scheme, and bitterly opposed to getting into the European war, which they saw as a conflict between empires in which the republican United States had no interest and no stake. American intervention in the war, they believed, was a scheme by the President to increase his power and to plant his foot firmly on the neck of the nation.
In this suspicion, they had plenty of company in conservative businessmen such as Gen. Robert E. Wood, the head of Sears, Roebuck, and a group of Yale law students led by R. Douglas Stuart, the son of the first vice president of the Quaker Oats Company. This working alliance, based on opposition to a common enemy, soon arrived at a common analysis of America in the 1930’s: that Roosevelt was a warmongering would-be dictator who was taking the country down the path to perdition. While opposition to the President’s domestic policies formed some basis for the alliance, the war question was the real catalyst of the 1930’s realignment—as it has been of realignments throughout American history.
Over on the left, another sort of realignment was taking place, with the formerly antiwar Communist Party turning on a dime: The signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact had motivated its opposition to intervention, but when Hitler turned on his twin brother in the Kremlin, Stalin’s American agents changed their line in mid-sentence—and without missing a beat. Suddenly, the commies were the biggest warmongers on the block, stridently demanding that the United States open up a “second front” to save the Soviet Union, and insisting that all opponents of the war be jailed as “traitors”—this from a party funded and directly controlled by a foreign power, a party that now billed communism as the incarnation of “20th-century Americanism”!
The communists had been on the outs with their liberal friends and potential fellow travelers on the war question, but as soon as the commies were pro-war, they were let into the government and the seats of power. Communists hailed the passage of the Smith Act, which criminalized opposition to the war, and cheered when Roosevelt jailed some 30 members of the Socialist Workers Party, which opposed the war. A few years later, the same law was used to jail leaders of the Communist Party—which demonstrates how the principle of karma operates in history.
The War Party 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, the guru of the freethinking “flaming youth” of the 1920’s and early 30’s, who was 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, but 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 1930’s. In the 1960’s, it was “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 or a member of the Reform Party than a liberal Democrat.
The idea of an alliance between the antiwar left and the anti-imperialist right is a concept rooted in more than just opposition to war. For out of the struggle against empire will arise a whole new way of looking at the world, a common analysis of how the few use the state to rule the many. Naturally, there will be disagreements, and competing analyses, and a lot of initial confusion; but over the long haul, the two sides will sort themselves out. A movement in opposition to imperialism must, in this day and age, necessarily become a struggle against globalism, against the idea of a world state. In the era of enforced globalization, the Peace Party is the greatest defender of national sovereignty as a bulwark of resistance against the emerging transnational tyranny, while the War Party is the great champion of a world without borders. Now that the epic battle between communism and capitalism has been decisively decided in favor of the latter, a new struggle of “isms” is breaking out, this time between globalism and nationalism—and Kosovo was just the beginning.
As the rule of the acronyms-WTO, NATO, E.U., U.N.-replaces the self-rule of sovereign nations, a broad opposition is sure to arise. Who can say whether it will be “right” or “left”—and, in the end, what does it matter? Such labels no longer describe anything meaningful—and that, really, is the whole point.