David Stockman has always been a contrarian fellow. Indeed, following his long Wall Street and private equity career, he founded a kind of contrarian blog called David Stockman’s Contra Corner. Conventional wisdom seldom appears on that site.
Old-timers will remember Stockman as the brilliant two-term congressman tapped, as a very young man, to become Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director. He quickly ran afoul of the Republican establishment by demonstrating discomfort with the size of supply-side tax cuts pushed by his boss. Younger folks may recall his 2013 book, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America, a scathing indictment of the twin scourges of crony capitalism and massive governmental debt. Then there were the well-publicized allegations of financial fraud in 2007, which dissipated in 2009 when federal officials decided against prosecution.
For TAC readers, Stockman’s latest passion should stir interest. He has emerged as a vociferous and pugilistic critic of what he calls “the Washington War Party.” He distilled his realist foreign policy outlook in a recent piece for Antiwar.com entitled “The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party.’’ The tweet in question was President Trump’s in conjunction with his decision to terminate U.S. support for rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The president called that support “massive, dangerous, and wasteful.’’
Stockman praised this characterization and said the president’s words demonstrate that he occasionally, despite his usual “street brawling” temperament, “slices through Imperial Washington’s sanctimonious cant.’’ He added, “No stouter blow to the neocon/Deep State ‘regime change’ folly has ever been issued by an elected public official.”change_me
From there Stockman issued an attack on the man he calls “Senator McWar of Arizona,’’ otherwise known as John McCain, who denounced the president’s action as “playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.” Writes Stockman: “That’s just plain pathetic because the issue is the gross stupidity and massive harm that has been done by McCain’s personally inspired and directed war on Assad—not Putin and not Russia’s historic role as an ally of the Syrian regime.”
Stockman punctures the conventional wisdom that the United States could identify “moderate’’ rebels in the anti-Assad campaign and buck them up for a possible takeover of the country once Assad was vanquished—while keeping at bay the ISIS and Nusra Front radicals who dominate the anti-Assad offensive. This, says Stockman, is a “sick joke.” Most of the weapons supplied by the CIA and the Gulf states were sold to jihadist factions or ended up in their hands when the CIA’s “moderate’’ forces crumbled or defected to the radicals.
Further, Stockman points to some highly pertinent facts about the Assad regime. First, it is Arab Baathist—nationalistic, anti-colonial, socialist, secular, and “inclusive in its religious orientation.” Given that the ruling Alawite tribes (a branch of Shia Islam) constituted a small minority of the country, the regime had to pull together other non-Sunni factions and groups, including Christians, Druze, Kurds, Jews, Yazidis, Turkomans, and others. “Never once,” writes Stockman, “did the Assads seek to impose religious conformity—to say nothing of the harsh regime of Sharia Law and medieval religious observance demanded by the Sunni Jihadists.”
So why should Assad be so vilified in America as a man who must go, when by any rational analysis he constitutes no threat to any nation beyond his borders—certainly not America and not even Israel, “which could dispatch Assad’s aging air force without breaking a sweat”? The underlying reason, writes Stockman, is that he is a Shiite, meaning he inevitably is aligned with “the endlessly vilified Shiite regime in Tehran.”
Here Stockman begins a narrative of America’s Mideast policy and seeks to demonstrate the folly of U.S. actions in the region. He puts forth a number of compelling points:
- For years Iran had plenty of reason to rail against the United States, particularly based upon the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected Mossadeq regime in 1953 and U.S. support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq after it invaded Iran in the 1980s and used chemical weapons against Iranian troops (with satellite-based tracking assistance provided by Washington).
- But America had no real beef with Iran, beyond irritation at its anti-American rhetoric, and the United States had no interest in involving itself in the Sunni-Shiite tensions that always seemed to roil the Middle East.
- America inadvertently spawned Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda with its support for the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, an undertaking pushed relentlessly by Texas congressman Charlie Wilson. In fact, bin Laden was considered a hero in America until 1991, when two events created a historical “hinge point”—the Soviet demise and H.W. Bush’s “utterly pointless war” against Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait. The oilfield boundary between the two countries affected U.S. security not a whit, and oil prices wouldn’t have risen by a cent if the artificial nation of Kuwait had been incorporated into “the arbitrary but serviceable state of Baathist Iraq.”
- “Right there,” writes Stockman, “the mujahedeen became al-Qaeda, modern jihadi terrorism was born and the catastrophe of 9/11 and all that followed was set in motion.” By planting 500,000 pairs of U.S. military boots onto the sacred soil of Islam, and then retaining military bases in Saudi Arabia after Bush’s war, the United States unleashed anti-American passions that pulled the country inexorably into that troubled region.
- The younger Bush’s later decision to destroy Hussein’s brutal but stable regime unleashed vengeful war between the now-beleaguered Anbar Sunnis in that artificial country and its new Shiite overlords. That war soon spread throughout much of the Middle East and led inevitably to the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS and al Nusra Front.
- Writes Stockman: “Wilson’s War [supporting the mujahedeen against the Soviets] begat Sunni jihadism; HW Bush’s war turned it against America; Dubya’s War opened the gates of Hell in Anbar province; and McCain’s War [against Assad] enabled the destruction of the Syrian state and the rise of a medievalist chamber of butchery and demented Sharia extremism in Raqqa, Mosul and the hapless Sunni lands in between.’’
- But now we have a presidential tweet suggesting at least an inkling of an appreciation of this folly. The Trump tweet was, writes Stockman, a “sort of madman’s stab at rationality.”
There’s a curious aspect to Stockman’s Antiwar.com piece. At the bottom, he offers readers a free copy of his latest book, Trumped! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin…And How to Bring It Back. Click on the accompanying link, he says, and get the details. The inside marketing material says the book “shows how the last 30 years of financial and political misrule by the Washington and Wall Street elites in BOTH PARTIES have brought the U.S. to the brink of ruin.” It sounds like a populist tract in the vein of Trump’s outlook, though seemingly with more discipline and coherence.
Stockman insists his new volume isn’t another “doom-and-gloom book about the end of the dollar or the collapse of the global financial system.” It isn’t “a tip sheet that’s going to give you a list of stocks to run out and buy.” But then he says his book explains why it could soon be “Sundown in America” and why the world financial markets are more vulnerable than at any time since 1929. It offers “[m]athematical proof” that the S&P 500 is set to fall by 40% soon—if you understand this, there are some simple ways to protect yourself and even make some nice, safe profits.”
Sounds like doom and gloom, accompanied by a tip sheet. The conclusion is inescapable that Stockman is engaging in some hucksterism here.
But the Antiwar.com piece speaks for itself—and speaks loudly and coherently in behalf of realism and restraint in American foreign policy.
Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C., journalist and publishing executive, is editor of The American Conservative. His next book, President McKinley: Architect of the American Century , is due out from Simon & Schuster in November.