In these intensely polarized and paranoid times, more than a few people are like the obsessed Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, of whom Melville wrote, in one of the supreme passages of American literature: "The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.... All that most maddens and torments; ... all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it."
Today, of course, we don't have whale hunters from Nantucket circumnavigating the globe, but we do have politics—an increasingly ugly, ideological politics in a country that seems to be splitting apart before our eyes. Unsurprisingly, we also have among us, on the both the left and the right, Ahab-style monomaniacs who throw away their reason and blame everything that has gone wrong in the world on a single, all-controlling, evil cause. Such fanatics tend to wrap every issue around the object of their particular rage, coming back again and again to the same complaint, the same burning grievance, the same satisfying theory that explains all of society's problems as stemming from the group they oppose.
For Patrick Buchanan, that White Whale is, of course, Israel, along with Israel's purported agents in America, the neoconservatives. As a sign of his obsession, at the very moment when America and its Coalition partners were launching the war against Iraq last year, and most Americans were focused on how to win this tremendous battle, Buchanan published a long diatribe in The American Conservative called "Whose War?", in which he charged that President Bush was in thrall to "the neoconservatives' agenda of endless wars on the Islamic world that serve only [emphasis added] the interests of a country other than the one he was elected to preserve and protect."
"We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. [Note how according to Buchanan, it is Israelis and American neoconservatives, not Palestinian terrorists, who destroyed the 'peace process.'] We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people's right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity."
These charges of massive deception and at least quasi-treason are repeated in Buchanan's recent cover article in The American Conservative, in which he offers a critique of Richard Perle and David Frum's book, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. To be fair, the piece doesn't immediately come across as simply an anti-neocon screed. Buchanan starts out with some reasonable-sounding criticisms of what appear to him as the excesses of the book, in which Frum and Perle seem to propose a global war by the United States against all terrorists, everywhere, on behalf of all possible targets of terrorism, everywhere. At the very least, Perle and Frum should be censured for the book's overwrought title; the notion of "an end to evil" is as dangerously divorced from reality as Woodrow Wilson's "war to end all wars." Buchanan is especially put off by Perle's statement that "a radical strain within Islam ... seeks to overthrow our civilization and remake the nations of the West into Islamic societies, imposing on the whole world its religion and laws." Buchanan counters that Islamism does not present any particular danger to America, or at least not anything we need to worry about, and he advances several arguments to support this idea. His arguments, however, are not convincing.
§ He says the Arab states are weak and non-threatening. Yet this ignores the dread lesson of 9/11, that through the asymmetry of terror, weak states or terror groups can wreak paralyzing havoc on powerful and great states.
§ He says Islamism fails and is rejected wherever it is tried. Yet Soviet Communism's ghastly internal failures and the misery of the millions under its rule did not prevent the Soviet Union from intimidating and threatening the non-Communist world for most of the twentieth century. Moreover, after decades of a U.S. policy of containment of Communism, it was President Reagan's moral and strategic confrontation with Communism that helped bring down the Soviet empire, something that would not have happened had we followed an accommodationist posture (a lesson that Buchanan, a former Reaganite, seems wholly to have rejected).
§ Buchanan says radical Islam cannot do what Perle tells us it wants to do, "to overthrow our civilization." First of all, this is not responsive to Perle's point. Perle said that militant Islamists were seeking to destroy our civilization, not that they necessarily have the power to do so. But their desire and attempt to do so is bad enough, is it not? It means that they will stop at nothing to harm us; if they acquire the capacity to use biological weapons or atomic weapons or radiological bombs against American cities, they will undoubtedly use them. Several such attacks could cripple several major metropolitan areas and kill hundreds of thousands of people. In the face of such possibilities, Buchanan gives a complacent shrug, noting that Germany and Japan had their cities flattened in the Second World War, yet both of those defeated countries "came back in a decade." In other words, the prospect of horrible mass damage to the U.S.—even if it is not quite on the scale of the total devastation of Germany and Japan—should not alarm us, or at least not alarm us too much. The hint is that we should accept the prospect of large-scale terrorist destruction in the United States rather than try to defeat the terrorists.
Buchanan's dismissal of the idea that our civilization could be destroyed by terrorism is also rendered questionable by recent events. If the terrorist murder of 200 Spaniards and injury of another 1400 could change Spain's policy from support for the U.S.-led war on terror to the total appeasement of terrorists (the socialist who was elected Spanish prime minister after the terrorist bombing of Madrid categorically rejects all use of force against terrorists), then we can only imagine what kinds of political and cultural surrender might be elicited by more massive and repeated attacks on European and American cities. The capacity of Islamic terrorism to alter or even topple Western nations cannot be lightly written off, especially since Moslem terrorism works in tandem with Western people's fear of the rapidly growing Moslem populations in their midst. Strangely, Buchanan doesn't once mention immigration, even though the neoconservatives' contradictory stance on this issue (calling for an endless war on militant Moslems abroad while supporting mass Moslem immigration into the West) is their greatest single political vulnerability.
§ Defeating or otherwise weakening the Islamist regimes, Buchanan continues, will do nothing to save us from the real danger to our culture, which is Western peoples' low birthrate compared to that of Moslems. This argument is an escape from the question of what to do about militant Islam. True, the relative, and in some cases absolute, decline of native Western populations is a grave problem, and Buchanan is correct that the European peoples need to increase their birth rate (and that they need to reject sexual liberation and restore traditional morality in order for that to happen). But even if they did so tomorrow, that would have no effect on the immediate threat of terrorism. Meanwhile, as already indicated, Buchanan says nothing in this context about immigration restrictions and genuine enforcement of existing immigration laws, which could not only stop and even reverse the Islamic demographic explosion in the West, and which could also—by removing Westerners' sense that their societies are being irresistibly engulfed and transformed by Third-World immigration—make Westerners feel more optimistic about their own future and thus lead to an increase in their birthrate.
§ Finally, Buchanan rejects out of hand Michael Ledeen's "Terror Masters" thesis, accepted by Perle and Frum and other neoconservatives. The idea is that Al Qaeda and other non-state terrorist groups receive crucial political, financial and logistical support from certain Mideast regimes, and that in order to defeat Al Qaeda we need to defeat or replace or seriously intimidate those regimes. Surely the evidence for the terrorist involvement of states such as Iran and Syria is overwhelming. Yet not only does Buchanan reject it, he even argues for treating Syria as a U.S. ally.
Thus Buchanan downplays both the potential objective harm of terrorism to America, and the dangerous and evil nature of the terrorists themselves. In a recent column at antiwar.com, Buchanan goes further, listing "terrorists" of the past whom we now support, and describing some of America's own historic acts as "terrorist," with the aim of relativizing terrorism out of existence. "Terrorist," "freedom fighter," it's all just a matter of your point of view, says Buchanan. He has made this nihilistic argument before, and I've refuted it at Front Page magazine.
Buchanan's real target
While Buchanan's critique of Perle and Frum purports to deal with the real-world problems we face, most of his arguments, as we've seen, are not only irresponsible and dangerous in their practical implications, but weak and implausible in themselves. This logical flimsiness, I believe, stems from the fact that Buchanan's arguments are only rationalizations for his true agenda. He reveals that agenda in the second half of the article, where he abandons any discussion of the objective pros and cons of the neoconservatives' anti-terrorism policy, and launches an Ahab-like assault on their alleged motivations for advancing that policy. I must point out that in adopting this tactic, Buchanan is actually doing what he falsely accuses Perle and Frum of doing, that is, advancing a passionate allegiance (or, in Buchanan's case, a passionate hostility) that has nothing to do with defending America's national interests.
Perle and Frum's real aim, Buchanan tells us, is to protect Israel's well-being and fight Israel's enemies. "If it is America we defend," he writes, "An End to Evil makes no sense. The Perle-Frum prescription for permanent war makes sense only if it is the mission of the armed forces of the United States to make the Middle East safe for Sharon ... " Buchanan thus applies to the war on Islamic terror the same demagogic charge he's made for the last two years against the Iraq war. Refusing to acknowledge the abundantly stated concerns of those who supported the war, a group that just happened to include a large majority of the American people, Buchanan and his allies consistently portrayed the war as the work of a sinister clique of quasi spies and traitors who had tricked America into expending its treasure and its young men's lives in a military operation that was supposedly waged for our national defense, but that in reality was waged only for the advantage of the Jewish state. That's what he said a year ago in the article I've already quoted, and that's what he says today:
"To the neocons ... Zionism is second nature.... They are dangerously close to imbibing the poisonous brew that drove Jonathan Pollard to treason: If it is good for Israel, it cannot be bad for America." [Emphasis added.]
Such passages typify the attitude by which Buchanan and much of the anti-war right have relegated themselves to political irrelevance—and worse—over the two and a half years since 9/11. Denying any reasonable concerns or good faith on the part of the war advocates, repeatedly denouncing the war as simply a fraud carried out for nefarious purposes, the Buchananites left themselves without any useful ideas to contribute to the war debate. So consumed were they with neocon Svengalis, that they failed to make even the good arguments against the Iraq war that they could and should have made, such as raising the awful likelihood (in which we now actually find ourselves) of an endless terror insurgency in Iraq that might make it impossible for us to leave that country once we had occupied it, and make it impossible for any decent successor government there to survive. So preoccupied were the anti-war critics with the idea that America's defeat of Hussein was merely the first step toward a neocon-led military conquest of the entire Moslem Middle East for Israel's sake, that the terrible difficulties of the Iraqi occupation—difficulties that have pushed the U.S. to lessen rather than increase its involvement in Iraq and neighboring countries—hardly seemed to have occurred to them.
The same resentment-driven blindness affects Buchanan's analysis of the larger problem of Islamist terrorism. Just as the war against the Hussein regime was "really" all about America's (neocon-inspired) solicitude for Israel, so our larger conflict with militant Islam is, once again, really all about Israel. And just as it is Israeli oppression of Arabs (rather than the murderous Arab rejectionism of Israel) that drives the Mideast conflict, so it is America's friendship with Israel (rather than militant Islam's hostility to the West) that is responsible for America's conflict with militant Islam. Buchanan writes:
"To evade admission of the transparent truth, neocons have begun to rationalize their passionate attachment, to sublimate it. 'The Arab-Israeli quarrel is not a cause of Islamic extremism,' Frum and Perle protest.
"But when every returning journalist and diplomat and every opinion survey says it is America's uncritical support for Israeli repression of the Palestinians that makes us hated in the region, how can honest men write this? Have they blinded themselves to the truth because it is too painful?" [Emphasis added.]
In other words, we should accept the world view of Peter Jennings, Kofi Annan, and other politically correct journalists and diplomats as our authoritative guide to the "real" truth of the Mideast—the truth that it's all Israel's fault—the truth that those sneaky neocons resist because of their un-American attachment to the Jewish state.
But that's only the beginning. Since Israel's defense of its existence and our friendship with Israel are the real causes of the Moslem's world's hatred of us, the logical solution is simply to get rid of Israel. As I argued two years ago in "An Open Letter to Patrick Buchanan," Buchanan's anti-Israel, pro-terrorist statements suggest that he is willing to see Israel destroyed. Now he has made that intention explicit, by defending the leftist University of Cambridge historian Tony Judt's proposal that Israel form a bi-national state with the Palestinians:
"When this British historian proposed—given the impossibility of separating Arabs from Jews on the West Bank—that Israel annex the West Bank, become a bi-national state, and give Palestinians equal rights, neocons went berserk.
"Frum called Judt's idea 'genocidal liberalism' that would leave Jews exposed to slaughter. John Podhoretz declared it 'unthinkable' and 'the definition of intellectual corruption.' '[H]aughty and ugly,' said the New Republic, which hurled Judt from its masthead.
"But if the just solution to the South African problem was to abolish bantustans and create a one-man, one-vote democracy, why is that not even a debatable solution to the Palestinian problem?"
Buchanan mocks those who describe Judt's proposed Israeli-Palestinian state as "suicidal liberalism." But how else should it be described? If someone suggested that the United States should, in the interest of reducing its ethnic and national tensions with our southern neighbor, politically merge itself with the Republic of Mexico, wouldn't Buchanan, the author of The Death of the West, consider that an example of "suicidal liberalism"?
Buchanan's double standard brings us to a second sign that a person is driven by monomania. In addition to blaming all the problems of the world on a particular disliked party, the obsessed person denies to the object of his animus that which he claims as a matter of course for himself. Thus Buchanan cares—quite rightly—about the cultural survival of the United States vis à vis the demographic encroachments from the Third World. He regards—quite rightly—his own concern for America's national survival as legitimate, and he would no doubt get steamed if a European leftie like Tony Judt came along and said that the United States ought to amalgamate itself with Mexico. But when that same European leftie loftily announces that the State of Israel should unite itself with a people who are not only culturally incompatible with Israel, but who are Israel's mortal enemies, and when Israel's friends get alarmed and upset about that proposal, Buchanan sneers at them and says they've gone "berserk."
Buchanan thus betrays a third component of the psychology of obsession: he dismisses as a mere fantasy the fear that the group he hates is threatened with harm, even as he revels in his own willingness to let that group be harmed. In this article and elsewhere, Buchanan issues pro-forma assurances that the U.S. will always stand by Israel, implying that Israel has nothing to fear from Arabs and ought to drop its defensive posture against them. Yet at the same time Buchanan defends a plan to eliminate Israel.
Finally, Buchanan is so anti-Israel that he urges things that hurt not just Israel but America. The impression one gets from reading Buchanan over these last couple of years is that if Israel might benefit from anything that the U.S. might do in its own defense, Buchanan would oppose it. For example, overthrowing Hussein and fighting terrorists are clearly in America's interest; that's certainly the way most Americans have seen it. But because those policies are also helpful to Israel, Buchanan opposes them. He redefines terrorists as "freedom fighters," and belittles the horrifying damage that Islamic terrorists might do to America, because to support a war against the terrorists would require him to stand on the same side as Israel and the neocons. The moral relativism born of extreme animus leads Buchanan to treat the enemies (i.e., terrorists) of his enemies (i.e., Israel) as his friends, even if those "friends" threaten his own country. In short, Buchanan hates Israel more than he loves America.
Protesting too much
As if anticipating the suspicions he is creating with his unrelenting anti-Israel stand, Buchanan devotes no less than 600 words of his article to attacking the charge of anti-Semitism, which he says the neoconservatives use to silence anyone who criticizes them. Now I happen to agree with Buchanan that the sometimes wildly excessive use of the anti-Semitism charge—by Jews, liberals, and neoconservatives—is a very serious problem today, threatening to create a serious split between Jews and Christians in this country where none existed before. I also agree with him that columnist Joel Mowbray went over the top when he said that the word "neoconservative" is nothing but an anti-Semitic code word for Jews; I myself wrote to Mowbray at the time criticizing him for this. Moreover, prominent Jewish writers such as Charles Krauthammer, William Safire, and Gabriel Schoenfeld have made destructive and baseless charges about Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," saying that the movie's principal effect on audiences would be to make them look for Jews to attack. (I say this as a Christian of Jewish background who has strongly criticized "The Passion" for its Hollywood-style sadism and its vulgarization of the Gospels, but who sees no anti-Semitism in the movie at all.) However, the fact that some people make grossly false insinuations of anti-Semitism doesn't mean that anti-Semitism doesn't exist. Yet that is what Buchanan himself would apparently have us believe. He writes:
"French cannon once bore the inscription ultima ratio regnum, the last argument of kings. The toxic charge of 'Anti-Semite!' has become the last argument of the neocons. But they have wheeled out that cannon too many times. People are less intimidated now. They have seen men look into its muzzle and walk away."
In this passage, Buchanan does not call on people to distinguish between true and false charges of anti-Semitism; rather, he seems to suggest that all charges of anti-Semitism are equally false. "They have seen men look into its muzzle and walk away" conveys the idea, not of moral discrimination, but of moral blankness: The anti-Semitism charge is simply a bullying lie that its targets must learn to ignore, and when they have ignored it, he predicts with satisfaction, its impotence will be exposed. The wider implication here is that if people shrug indifferently at any statement expressing a moral judgment, and if lightning doesn't immediately strike them dead, that means it isn't true. This is the nihilism to which Buchanan's obsessive opposition to Israel has apparently led him. Given his rationalizations of Moslem terrorists, given his rush to defend leftists who propose the elimination of Israel, Buchanan must find some way to make it appear that no blame could attach to him for these wicked positions. So, to escape any condemnation, he turns anti-Semitism into a matter of opinion. If people think there's no such thing as anti-Semitism, then there's no such thing as anti-Semitism. If people think it's ok to destroy Israel, then it's ok to destroy Israel. Buchanan's Ahab-like hatred of the Jewish state seems to have made him indifferent not only to the fate of his own country, but to moral truth itself.
Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He runs the weblog View from the Right.