I first became aware of something deeply askew on the antiwar right shortly after it came into being in the spring of 1999, as an intellectual protest movement against the U.S. war on Serbia. I myself was deeply opposed to the war, seeing President Clinton's initiation of the conflict—on March 24, 1999, one month and twelve days after his acquittal by the U.S. Senate—as utterly lacking in moral or legal justification, and as leading to the ruin of Kosovo. While the Kosovo war is not the subject of this article, a summary of it (or at least of my view of it) will provide the background for my ensuing discussion of the antiwar right.
The Kosovo disaster
Prior to the NATO intrusion into Serbia and Kosovo in 1999, there had been a low-level civil war going on in Kosovo for many years, and it was a classic zero-sum game: at any point in time, either the Serbs were on top, and oppressed the Albanians, or the Albanians were on top, and oppressed the Serbs. There was therefore no universally "just" solution possible in Kosovo. Either one side would dominate, or the other. In the 1980s, the Albanians had the upper hand and many Serbs fled the country. The New York Times—irony of ironies—published an article on November 1, 1987 that sympathized with the plight of the Kosovo Serbs under an Albanian reign of terror. Following the election of Slobodan Milosevic as President of Serbia in 1989, which took place in response to the Albanian aggression, the tables were turned and the Serbs became dominant in Kosovo, with Albanian military groups rebelling against them and the Serbs beating the rebels back.
However, instead of accepting this latest reversal of fortune in a zero sum game in a faraway place, the U.S. government saw the prospect of a Serb victory in Kosovo as an intolerable threat to the liberal, pluralist order of Europe. The multicultural paradigm that U.S. foreign policy makers had adopted in the 1990s required that all ethnic groups in a conflict-ridden region or country, even if they are utterly incompatible with each other and are killing each other, must be made to live together rather than being allowed to resolve the conflict through war or mutual separation. Acting on these premises, and backing them up with fraudulent claims that the Serbs were committing "genocide" in Kosovo, the U.S. and NATO under Clinton's leadership issued the so-called Rambouillet Agreement—described more accurately as the Rambouillet Ultimatum—which required Serbia to submit to NATO Rule, not only in the contested province of Kosovo, but within Serbia proper. When Milosevic quite rightly rejected this outrageous and illegal demand, the U.S., as it had previously threatened (which is why the Rambouillet agreement was really an ultimatum), and without the slightest color of legal authorization from either the United Nations or the U.S. Congress, began a massive bombing campaign against Serbia and the Serb forces in Kosovo.
The next, ruinous step was predictable—and had been threatened by Milosevic himself. Now that the U.S. and NATO were engaged in an all-out effort to destroy forever the Serbs' hopes of maintaining control over their historic heartland of Kosovo, Milosevic, quite rationally if thuggishly, also decided to play for keeps. He sought to settle once and for all the ancient conflict over Kosovo by expelling all 800,000 Albanians from the province. The resulting humanitarian disaster, of a scope unseen in Europe since World War II, necessitated and justified the continuation of the very bombing campaign that had triggered the expulsion of the Albanians in the first place, since the bombing (combined in its latter stages with a threat of a land invasion) was the only way to force Milosevic to permit the Kosovar Albanians back into their country. Milosevic finally yielded to U.S. demands and the Albanians returned to their ruined land under international protection, at which point the Albanians gained decisive power in Kosovo and forced many of the remaining Serb minority to leave.
Thus, through the illegal, bullying intervention of the United States, all carried out in the name of multiculturalism and pluralism, the Kosovian zero sum game was finally settled in favor the Muslim Albanians against the Christian Serbs, and enforced by a multinational military presence that has remained in Kosovo to this day.
Such was Clinton's Kosovo war, which the Republican leadership and the neoconservatives supported from start to finish.
The antiwar right becomes the anti-American right
George Szamuely, a New York writer who had been associated with the neoconservatives and had worked for the Hudson Institute, was among those who forcefully and eloquently attacked the war. His articles were published at Antiwar.com, a website that had come into existence for the purpose of opposing the U.S. action in Kosovo. I agreed with his arguments, as I agreed with most of the other writings appearing at Antiwar.com at the time. (I also sent money to support the website.) But then something very strange happened with Szamuely, and with Antiwar.com itself. Not content with merely opposing the U.S.-led war on Serbia, he began retrospectively attacking America's entire effort in the Cold War against the former Soviet Union. He did this by denying that Communism had ever represented a threat that needed to be stopped. It was as though, once he had switched into an oppositional mode against what he saw as the unjustified use of American power in the case of Serbia, he was compelled by some mysterious dynamic to see any use of American power abroad as wrong or imperialistic, even when that power had been used for such a righteous and necessary cause as resisting the spread of Communism, and even though he himself had previously been an anti-Communist and a supporter of the Cold War.
This came as a shock to me. And the shock didn't end there. I soon noticed a similar adversarial stance among other antiwar rightists, a wild denunciatory quality that did not confine itself to particular wrongs committed by the United States, but eagerly embraced any assertion against America, no matter how ridiculous. For example, Antiwar.com repeatedly charged that the Clinton administration was "racist" for arresting the Chinese-American scientist Wen Ho Lee as a suspected nuclear spy. The charge was ridiculous. This, after all, was the administration that had been in bed with the Red Chinese, giving them advanced missile technology in exchange for illegal Chinese contributions to the Clinton re-election campaign. This was the president who made multiculturalism our national policy, this was our "first black president," this was the president who said he eagerly looked forward to the day when America, as a result of continued mass nonwhite immigration, would no longer be a white-majority country. Could anything be sillier than to say that the Clinton administration in arresting Wen Ho Lee was driven by a racial animus against Chinese people rather than by a concern about the theft of nuclear secrets?
Furthermore, why was Antiwar.com, a supposedly right-wing website (though its editor, Justin Raimondo, is a paleo-libertarian rather than a paleoconservative), trafficking in the kind of trumped-up racism charges that conservatives normally see as a curse on our society? The answer, as I came to realize, was that from the point of view of Antiwar.com, the Clinton administration was imperialistic, therefore it was illegitimate, and therefore it deserved whatever it got. Any crazy charge was ok, so long as it made the U.S. government look bad.
The antiwar right's turn against America, their indulgence in reckless attacks on the good faith of the American government even when it was combating espionage or containing Communism, suggested to me that at bottom many antiwar critics were not motivated by a love of country or a belief in truth, but by resentment. It was exactly the kind of resentment normally associated with the left, the impotent fury at a traitorous father figure or a supposed "oppressor" whom the supposed "oppressed," seeing himself as powerless and therefore not subject to any responsible restraints, feels justified in striking back at in any way he can. One of the typical forms this resentment took was the notion that the oppressor has no rational basis for doing what he's doing, but is acting out of insane or evil motives.
The denial of objective reality
The antiwar right's attack on virtually any use of U.S. power as sinister and irrational, as well as doomed to failure (a failure the antiwar right has often openly wished for), continued into the post 9/11 period. In the midst of the invasion of Iraq, British military historian Correlli Barnett made wildly off-base statements not only against the Iraq war, in which he virtually expressed the desire for an American defeat, but against the Cold War as well. In the April 3, 2003 edition of the Daily Mail, the mouthpiece of Britain's antiwar right, Barnett prophesied that the U.S.-led war to topple the Saddam Hussein regime had not "reached the end of the beginning"; that the Iraqi people were "rallying behind Saddam"; and that America would be humbled before the gates of Baghdad. Of course, within a few days of these dire predictions Baghdad had fallen to the victorious U.S. forces. Almost as though seeking succor for his disappointment over the results in Iraq, Barnett turned to another bad U.S. war, indeed the Mother of All Bad U.S. Wars. Writing in the May 19, 2003 issue of The American Conservative, he gave the following account of President Johnson's decision to send American forces into Vietnam:
Why did he do it? Vietnam had no oil fields, industries, or key raw materials—only rice fields. The answer lies in America's central motivation in waging the Cold War: ideological hatred of Communism.... American policy-makers did not regard the Soviet Union as simply a rival power block, but an evil empire threatening the free world. Such righteousness justified the global commitments and military adventure. [Italics added.]
In brief, America had no good reason to fear Communism or to try to protect our South Vietnamese allies from being taken over by Communist dictatorship. Not only the Vietnam war, but the entire Cold War was unnecessary, and was brought about solely by America's irrational "hatred."
What we see here is the standard leftist put-down of all non-leftist or conservative positions—namely that when conservatives are addressing some external threat to society, the threat, according to the left, doesn't really exist but is rather the result some mental sickness or political calculation on the part of the conservatives. If conservatives take a stand against Communism, it is not because of anything wrong with Communism, it's because conservatives are emotionally crippled people who need an enemy. If conservatives think that Clinton is corrupting and defiling America, it's not because of anything Clinton has done, but because of an unreasoning hatred (fed by a twisted sexual Puritanism) that they bear against Clinton. If conservatives are leery of the racial-oppression claims of the organized black movement in this country, it is not because they believe the black complaints to be false and destructive, but because, as Clinton himself repeatedly put it, whites have a sick need to "look down" on blacks. If conservatives are concerned about mass immigration, it is not because they are concerned about the harm immigration is causing to our society, but because they have an irrational "fear of those who are different." And, finally, if President Bush is waging a war against Islamic terrorists, it is not because he seeks to protect America from real harm, but because he seeks political gain through the manipulation of the public's fears. After all, as the Democratic Party's favorite filmmaker Michael Moore says, "There is no terrorist threat."
Such has been the usual left-liberal tactic, employed with increasing regularity throughout the entire post World War II period, aimed at delegitimizing non-liberal positions and preventing them even from being discussed. And now this same type of anti-American, anti-conservative propaganda has found a home in a magazine called The American Conservative. Could anybody have imagined that a publication edited by the inveterate Cold Warrior and Reagan speechwriter Patrick Buchanan would deride as a sick fantasy Reagan's historically important labeling of the USSR as an "evil empire"? Does Buchanan think that Reagan's greatest achievement—the moral condemnation, political isolation, and ultimate defeat of Soviet Communism, was really just paranoid shadow boxing?
Just as the antiwar right, along with the antiwar left, portrays international communism as a fantasy, it does the same with Islamic terrorists. The Islamists are not really enemies at all, the Antiwar Party tells us; rather the belief that they are enemies has been planted in us by propagandists. The following passage—and you may want to put on your work gloves before reading it—comes from an article by Neil Clark, a British leftist, in the December 1, 2003 issue of The American Conservative:
Arabophobia has been part of Western culture since the Crusades, with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden being bogeymen to scare our children. For centuries the Arab, despite bequeathing us the telescope, the pendulum, the watch, soap, chemistry, and modern arithmetic, has played the role of villain, seducer of our women, hustler, and thief—the barbarian lurking menacingly at the gates of civilization. In the late 20th century, new images emerged: the fanatical terrorist, the stone thrower, the suicide bomber. Now, as the Project for the New American Century suffers it first major setback in the back streets of Baghdad and Basra, Arabophobia, the one form of racism about which Hollywood does not make films, has been given a new lease of life.… Scratch a neocon, and you find an Arabophobe.
Leaving aside Clark's lurid construction of a fictional West that historically has only demonized Muslims (to the contrary, as Ibn Warraq shows in his book, Why I Am Not a Muslim, European writers have been casting a romantic, approving aura around Islam and ignoring its dark side for centuries), what Clark is saying here is beyond sick. His main point is that the terrible Islamist phenomena that have so roiled our world in recent years—Muslim suicide bombers, Osama bin Laden's fatwa to "kill Americans and Jews wherever you find them," Arab crowds dancing in ecstasy at the mass murder of Americans, and all the rest of the hellish spectacle of Islamic radicalism—are nothing more than "images" manufactured by "neocon Arabophobes" in the U.S. government in order to advance their own sinister objectives. Beyond singling out the evil neocons as the creators of these terrorist bogeymen, Clark's main aim is to render moot all criticism of and opposition to our enemies, or, rather, his aim to eliminate the belief that our enemies even exist, while sowing bitter hostility against our own side.
This is the kind of leftist poison that a once-distinguished writer at National Review, Joseph Sobran, in a celebrated essay published in 1985, described as alienism: "a prejudice in favor of the alien, the marginal, the dispossessed, the eccentric, reaching an extreme in the attempt to 'build a new society' by destroying the basic institutions of the native." But, in a further sad illustration of my thesis, Sobran, in addition to becoming an outspoken Israel hater in recent years, has turned against the most basic institution of America, of which he was once a foremost champion. Having spent his entire writing career as an indefatigable exponent and defender of the U.S. Constitution against its modern statist distortions, Sobran in 2002 came out as a Rothbardian libertarian anarchist, agreeing with his newly adopted mentor, the late Murray Rothbard, that it's not the liberal perversions of the Constitution that are the problem, but the Constitution itself; that the state is "nothing but a criminal gang writ large"; and that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution meeting in Philadelphia in 1787 were engaged in a "coup d'état."
So, just as former patriots on the right have become anti-Americans, and just as former Cold Warriors on the right have become apologists for Communism, a former leading constitutionalist on the right has become an enemy of the Constitution—indeed, of the very existence of government.
The key to the destructive mindset of the antiwar right, which I hope to explore in future articles, is that their ideas about politics are not the product of rational thought and a concern for the common good. Their ideas are, very simply, the product of burning anger, a sense of perpetual hurt and victimhood. And that is why they have become so much like the left.
Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He offers a traditionalist conservative perspective at his weblog, View from the Right.