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January 26, 2002

Fast Times at National Review


by Joseph Stromberg

Happy days are here again at National Review. For forty some years, the editors and writers of that august journal have wanted wars and were happiest when they had one. If one ended, they promptly demanded another one. Of course the Cold War was a glorious time for them, partly because of its seeming permanence; but they preferred hot wars, even if they had to spend much time denouncing the conduct of a war, as for example in the case of the Vietnam War, once they had one in hand.

Many months ago, I had some fun telling part of the history of warmongering at the National Review. This was at a time when the editors and writers were advertising the many advantages of war with China. It's just as well they didn't get their wish. Had that war been going when the WTC crimes took place, we might have had an unwanted and unnecessary test of the famous two-and-half-wars-at-a-time doctrine.

Where would we have gotten the extra half-war, so that the test could have been truly scientific? Such a question might trouble the ordinary mortal. No worries: at NR there are enough war plans and proposals ready and waiting to keep Jenghiz Khan, Napoleon, and several other famous conquerors working round the clock just to stay on schedule.

SOMETHING THAT DIDN'T CHANGE ON 9/11

A popular cliché has it that "everything changed" on September 11. It might be useful, sometime, for someone to draw up lists of things that changed and things that didn't, but I put that to one side. In terms of basic attitude and philosophy, nothing changed at NR. Hearing their country call them to their task, then, the NR heavies began issuing demands, giving no quarter, but seldom – to anyone's knowledge – actually volunteering for frontline combat. Mr. Ledeen called for world revolution; Mr. Hanson and others rediscovered the joys and necessity of Total War, although Hanson tried to father the concept on the ancient Greeks. Mr. Lowry sang the praises of deficit spending – "there's a war on, you know" – deriding President Eisenhower for having worried about them. Everyone signed on for torture, although on that front they were somewhat shown up by Alan "Bamboo Shoots" Dershowitz of great legal-philosophical fame.

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES

So, to be brief, NR has been in appallingly great form for several months. They will be able to issue a giant Warmonger's Reader if the "war" ever ends; but then again, why should it? Practice is premise, as one historian used to say. Beneath all the rhetoric from NR lies the assumption that war is the natural state of Man – the sort of nonsense that Teddy Roosevelt and similar militarists in Europe were turning out a hundred years ago. Somehow a colossal program rests on this – and perhaps a few other postulates – a program of unending world-improvement undertaken by the imperial Boy Scouts with their know-how, can-do, and flexible international law made to order.

NR is behind it all the way, however, and the lads have gotten up to much mischief in the last few months. Thus, Michael Novak enjoins us to crusade for Islam but against particular bad Muslims, of which there is a long list, whole countries of them, in fact. In all apparent seriousness, Novak finds a charter for this crusade in the Declaration of Independence!

Worse luck, the U.S. is fighting for "FOUR UNIVERSAL LIBERTIES which are also MUSLIM LIBERTIES." These are the Muslims' right to worship "without terror or coercion," the "liberty to study, learn, and inquire, and... to write and speak," "freedom from want," and "liberty from torture, tyranny, and arbitrary autocratic government," all these things – and here is the kicker – "everywhere in the world"! [Novak's capitals and italics]

Thanks, Franklin, and how is your Dog Fala?

Novak's crusade is already a fairly tall order. But it gives you a good reason not to nod off when told that the ideological features of the present imperial order – Wilsonianism, universal New Dealism, and the like – are of great importance.

Rich Lowry is made of sterner stuff and goes the extra mile into outright "nation-building." (I guess Leggos weren't enough of a challenge.) Of course, this isn't Wilsonianism, Lowry tells us, because he only wishes to build nations where it is possible, which is quite a relief to hear. The hopeless cases like Afghanistan should get a nice pro-Western despotism, but Iraq has a great future ahead of it.

We could, he muses, encourage revolution in Iraq, but that would be messy and leave things unsettled. No: "The alternative is for the US to invade, and with the assistance of the United Nations, forge a post-Saddam regime." Well, that looks easy enough, to be sure. The most direct path to needed reform: Total War, Unconditional Surrender, a new Marshall Plan. Does this mean we can be the greatest generation, too?

It used to be that you could discourage an interventionist by pointing out that his goals could only be realized by replaying World War II. This is apparently now taken to be a plus.

INVADE THE WORLD!

I have saved the best until last. I refer of course to James D. Miller, who wants to invade the world. The late Murray Rothbard wrote an essay of that title, a reductio ad absurdum of Neo-Conservative foreign policy discourse.1 But now reality outruns parody and much of the US Establishment is open to invading the world. (One can only hope that administration planners aren't quite as over-the-top as their friends at NR.)

Since you probably don't believe that anyone really wants to invade the world, let us look deeper. Miller supposes that the usual rogue states are plotting day and night to do us harm. This seems a manageable threat, to the extent it is even true, one that could easily be met with the colossal "defense" capabilities the US already has.

But that will never do. If we wait, some terrible dictator might acquire atomic weapons, and "[h]is ability to hurt us will effectively put him beyond our military reach." Meddling, interference, and good old asymmetrical warfare (the new buzzword) would go by the board. The US state might, out of prudence if not good sense, actually have to mind its own business. What a horrifying prospect.

Miller has a solution to recommend. We must demand that, "countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya, and North Korea make no attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We should further insist on the right [!] to make surprise inspections of these countries to insure that they are complying.... What if these nations refuse our demands? If they refuse, we should destroy their industrial capacity and capture their leaders." [My italics]

Further: "True, the world's cultural elites would be shocked and appalled if we took preventive military action against countries that are currently doing us no harm." [Again my italics] Very shockable, those Euro-Wimps.

Even so, this would appear to be the naked language of empire.

But Miller has more. The US must draft a "treaty" the signatories to which "will only trade with countries which have signed the treaty" and "not trade with any country which violates our policy on weapons proliferation." I suppose this will be called, for the record, "free trade." The economic side meets the ideological side in harmonious tones.

The giant state-sponsored cartel has arrived, the one only dimly foreseen by Karl Kautsky. This is entirely just, since it was advocates of US imperialism who, in the 1890s, effectively invented the "Marxist" theory of imperialism before the Marxists had one.2 These American writers claimed that capitalist "overproduction" made empire the only long-run solution to America's problems. This was bad economics but the ideological genealogy is important.

Rather than quote Kipling, the poet of empire, on this auspicious occasion, I leave the next-to-last word to The Clash:

Yankee dollar talk

To the dictators of the world

In fact it's giving orders

An' they can't afford to miss a word

I guess we can't afford to miss one, either. Some people have big plans for us – plans that will put an end to our freedom, prosperity, and even our humanity. They must be put back in their Eternal World War II theme park. Our children's and grandchildren's future is in the balance, not to mention a lot of other people's.

Notes

[1]Murray N. Rothbard, "Invade the World," in The Irrepressible Rothbard (Burlingame, Ca.: Center for Libertarian Studies, 2000), pp. 218-222.

[2]Idem, "The Origins of the Federal Reserve," Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, 2, 3 (Fall 1999), pp. 19-20.

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    Joseph R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since 1973, including The Individualist, Reason, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the Agorist Quarterly, and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He was recently named the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His column, "The Old Cause," appears alternating Fridays on Antiwar.com.

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