Last weekend, the John Randolph Club held its annual meeting in Washington, DC. It is a project of the Rockford Institute, a group with which I have been associated for a quarter century. The JRC was founded eighteen years ago to bring together traditional conservatives and right-libertarians for a dialogue on issues of common concern. As Rockford President Thomas Fleming noted in his opening speech, the libertarians don’t much attend the JRC these days. Unfortunately, they have been replaced by left-wingers (libertarian and Marxist) whose mission is not dialogue, but subversion.
This was made painfully evident during the closing debate. The resolution presented was “America should immediately withdraw her armed forces from Iraq.” I was on the negative side, and thought that the extreme phrasing of the resolution guaranteed its defeat. Immediate withdrawal is not what is being debated in the U.S. Congress, or anywhere else among responsible people. It is the stuff of radicals like Moveon.org and International ANSWER, who oppose all policies aimed at defending U.S. interests in the world or advancing American values.
The votes in the Senate during the days just before the JRC meeting were not about immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces. Even the amendment offered by Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, who voted against the initial authorization to invade Iraq, stated conditions under which U.S. troops could continue to operate in Iraq. These included “targeted operations...against members of al-Qaeda and affiliated international terrorist organizations. To provide security to United States government personnel and infrastructure. To provide training to members of the Iraqi Security Forces....” The Senator’s idea that operations against al-Qaeda would only be “limited and temporary” is nonsense, of course. Osama bin Laden confirmed again in his recent videotapes that Iraq is the central front in his war against the United States. Sen. Feingold’s amendment failed 28-70 because it was thought too extreme and irresponsible in its setting of a timeline for withdrawal and the cutting off of funding for military operations.
The more “moderate” amendment of Sen. Carl Levin, Democratic chair of the Armed Services Committee, also called for a withdrawal timetable, but added to the permitted U.S. military missions in Iraq. Americans could provide logistical support to the Iraqi security forces, which Gen. David Petraeus had testified was still a necessity. The Levin provision also expanded the war against terrorists beyond al-Qaeda to “other international terrorist organizations” which would include militia groups and death squads backed by Iran. This list of missions encompasses the current campaign, and, to be successful, would require a similar commitment of troops. Withdrawal could then only be accomplished as President George W. Bush has said, when the security situation warrants it. The Levin amendment failed on a 47-47 closure vote, not receiving even a simple majority, let alone the 60 votes needed.
On ABC’s “This Week” program on September 23, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had voted for both the Feingold and Levin amendments, added another reason to keep troops in Iraq, “we need to make sure we protect the Kurds.” The Democrats know that if they really do precipitate a defeat in Iraq, the American public will again pillory them, as they did after Vietnam and the debacle of the Jimmy Carter administration. It was Carter’s failure in Iran than put the region on its current dangerous course.
At the JRC debate, left-libertarian Justin Raimondo—whose style is that of an “angry man” comedy club routine—attacked the Democrats for not adopting a true cut and run policy. In a throwback to the New Left, he called for thousands of protesters to storm the White House! Raimondo’s basic message at the JRC was that America’s efforts in the Middle East are unjust and doomed to failure, so the U.S. should withdraw now, before it “provokes” an even more disastrous war with Iran.
San Francisco-based Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com, but he is no pacifist. Unlike those who claim Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be believed when he says Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, Raimondo accepts and defends Tehran’s ambition to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Writing from Tehran in May, 2006, he argued, “the prospect of Iran acquiring nukes does not mean the end of the world. It means that the natural tendency of nations to achieve a balance of power will, in this case, be fulfilled, and that the Middle East will muddle along, just as the East bloc and the West did for all those years.”
Raimondo has also spent a great deal of ink spinning statements by Iran’s president. Last June he wrote, “Ahmadinejad didn't say Israel must be ‘wiped off the map,’ he said the current regime in Tel Aviv will be ‘wiped off the page of time.’ It was a call for ‘regime change’ not genocide.” It is difficult, however, to imagine an Iranian-induced regime change in Israel that would not resemble genocide, not that such an outcome would bother Raimondo. One of his points in the JRC debate was that overseas acts of genocide, no matter where committed, do not affect American interests.
In 2003, Raimondo self-published the 94-page pamphlet The Terror Enigma in which he alleged—with nothing more than bombast—that the Israeli government had prior knowledge of the 9/11 terrorist plot but failed to warn Washington. There are a host of conspiracy theories about 9/11 meant to deflect anger away from al-Qaeda and back to the Bush administration, the U.S. government in general, or America’s allies. They are among the most vile and heinous tactics of the Left.
As an institution, Antiwar.com claims to be “devoted to the cause of non-interventionism and is read by libertarians, pacifists, leftists, greens, and independents alike, as well as many on the Right who agree with our opposition to imperialism.” The site quotes with favor Garet Garrett, a 1930s “isolationist” whose movement helped paralyze America at a time of growing global threats that finally exploded into World War II. Antiwar.com wants to make the same mistake again. But then, Raimondo is on record as saying “the wrong side won the war in the Pacific” and in labeling Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill as the real “fascists” of their day. It is not important who the foreign enemy is. Raimondo champions them all, because his enemy is the United States, and all those who oppose America are his allies.
In the October issue of Chronicles, the monthly magazine of the Rockford Institute, Raimondo has a column championing Rep. Ron Paul as the proper conservative candidate in the GOP presidential race. He also references the late Murray Rothbard, the libertarian who co-founded the JRC.
In the Winter 2005 issue of The Journal of Libertarian Studies, there was an essay by John Payne on Rothbard’s attempts to form new political alliances. As a favorable review of the article states, “Rothbard broke with the mainstream conservatism of National Review in the early 1960s, primarily over issues of foreign policy and U.S. military expansionism…Rothbard became convinced that the Left was, at least for the time being, a more fruitful ally than the Right in the struggle against the militarist and corporatist state. As Payne notes, ‘Rothbard's rhetoric shifted distinctly leftward during this period’ as he spent about a decade exploring alliances with such groups as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).”
Rothbard’s dislike for U.S. foreign policy predates Vietnam and his opening to the New Left. When Rothbard died in 1995, William F. Buckley penned his obituary in National Review. The dean of American conservatives wrote, “It pains even to recall it, but in 1959 when Khrushchev arrived in New York, with much of America stunned by the visit of the butcher of Budapest—the Soviet protege of Stalin who was threatening a world war over Berlin-Rothbard physically applauded Khrushchev in his limousine as it passed by on the street. He gave as his reason for this that, after all, Krushchev had killed fewer people than General Eisenhower, his host.” As Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower had liberated Western Europe from the Nazi yoke, but because the war elevated America to world leadership, is was to be denounced.
Rothbard’s role, in the JRC and elsewhere, constituted another example of how libertarians have always acted as cancer cells within the conservative movement.
As obnoxious as Raimondo was, his partner on the platform was, if possible, even worse. It was Kirkpatrick Sale, a contributing editor to The Nation and best known for his argument that it was a horrible mistake for Western civilization to “discover” America, as it disrupted the “paradise” enjoyed by the Indians. A radical leftist since his student days at Cornell in the 1950s, Sale wrote a history of the SDS in 1973. He made his current mark with his 1990 book The Conquest of Paradise where he denounced Europe for its imperial expansion, which spread misery rather than progress around the world. As he told an interviewer in 2001, “I started out some years ago with the sense that it was the American system that was wrong. Then I was led to a sense that it was the 20th century American system that was wrong, then that it was the capitalist arrangement that was wrong, then that it was industrialism that was wrong. Finally, broader than that, I came to see that it was the entire Western civilization that was wrong. But this didn't hit me in one day. This was a long process of understanding who the enemy is.”
His most recent book, After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination (2006) he goes beyond condemning Western civilization to denounce all human kind! He argues that 70,000 years of development has “turned the species against the planet” risking an ecological catastrophe. He argues that we should not just look to primitive tribal societies for guidance, but back to Homo erectus, the hominid species that preceded Homo sapiens, as a model of a life form that did not transform nature (which is one reason it became extinct).
Since he opposes America’s founding, it is not a surprise that Sale wants to see the United States fail. He argued that a defeat in Iraq just might bring down the entire “American Empire” as well. He used the Marxist formulation that America has been ruled by a Pentagon-industrial cabal since 1941 that has destroyed democracy and militarized society. His choice of 1941 was interesting, because he did not mention Pearl Harbor. But then he undoubtedly would have opposed a military response after December 7, s he did after September 11.
What was shocking was not what these radicals said, as they have been spewing their anti-American hatred for years. But that when they did so at a gathering of supposedly traditional conservatives, they got applause from a sizeable slice of the audience! And at the end of the debate, the audience seemed evenly split on the resolution. There has always been an isolationist leaning among the JRC crowd, but this is only an imagined conservative principle. The United States did not march across North America and become the world’s leading nation by playing a shrinking violet. Opposition to America’s rise at every stage has always been rooted in the Left, where dissent against one’s own society and its constructive values is a defining trait. Some on the right have been seduced by this self-destructive ideology at times, as in the 1930s, but always with disastrous consequences.
Among this disagreeable lot, there was the usual ignorant bashing of “neoconservatives.” The neocons were liberals who shifted to the right during the Cold War, attracted by the strong foreign and defense policies that were the hallmark of traditional conservatism. The neocons did not pervert American policy, they embraced and reinforced it. It is the defection from the goal of American preeminence by some on the right since the Cold War that marks a change. Those who want to see other powers rise as America retreats, in order to create a “multipolar” world (the term was actually used by several people), are the ones who have defected from the right.
There is no authentic conservative tradition of turning against one’s country in a time of war. Anyone with that shameful inclination has to move to the Left to find arguments and solace– as shown at the JRC. They end up sounding just like Raimondo and Sale, shouting about how patriotism is a dirty word because America is the source of all evil in the world.
In some ways, the Rockford Institute is in the same bind as the Democratic Party. Its leaders know the dangers posed by the fringe elements, but it is reluctant to shut them out for fear of losing members. On my side of the JRC platform was Rockford’s foreign affairs editor, Srdja Trifkovic. A scholar with Serbian roots, he well knows the threat of radical Islam, about which he has written extensively. His objection to an immediate and complete withdrawal was, however, less robust than mine. He wants to cut America’s costs from the war, thus favors a phased redeployment, but in a way that does not lead to disaster. His approach could be called Democratic Plus, as he argued that the U.S. has national interests in the region related to blocking Iranian influence and protecting oil supplies. Neither of these missions is going to end soon. Indeed, the struggle for oil (and other resources) is increasing on a global scale, influencing the policies of all the world’s contending powers.
A debate between Trifkovic and me would have been more legitimate for a real conservative audience, as we would have been arguing over how best to accomplish American objectives, not whether America deserved to lose the war and decline as a civilization.
Tom Fleming added some good comments about the British Empire, when it was argued that London’s retreat to its homeland should be the model for America. He pointed out that England’s decline was not just overseas, but at home as well. It is no longer the richest country in Europe, as it was at the height of its world power. This is not just a material matter. When a people lose their drive to succeed, the effect is felt at home as well as abroad. It is a matter of spirit. England today still has an elevated position based on a residual pride in its past, and its “special relationship” with the United States. Washington and London have done great things together, and hopefully will continue to do so.
Those attending the JRC meeting should read the issue of the UK journal Quarterly Review that was distributed. The QR traces its lineage back to 1809 when it was founded by Sir Walter Scott, Robert Southey and George Canning. An essay by Angella Ellis-Jones in the Summer 2007 issue looks at the many articles written for QR by Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, who served as Conservative Prime Minister three times between 1885 and 1902. In 1883 he penned the essay “Disintegration” in which “he deplored the threat of national disintegration, the break-up of the Empire, and the ‘slow estrangement’ of classes due to a decline of patriotic feeling and to increasing class conflict fueled by Radical extremists.” For those who embraced the rhetoric of Sale and Raimondo, the warning of Salisbury may have come too late. He would likely be denounced as a “neoconservative” by those who have lost all sense of what it means to be either a conservative or a patriot.