Just as Gulf War I was a watershed issue for conservatives—with some, notably Pat Buchanan, dissenting, on the grounds that the throne of Kuwait “is not worth the life of a single American soldier”—Gulf War II is shaping up as yet another defining moment in the history of the American Right. Only this time, it isn’t just about Iraq. The whole of the Middle East is in our sights—that is, if we take seriously the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Advisory Board (DPAB), chaired by neoconservative foreign policy guru Richard Perle.
DPAB’s infamous “briefing” that called for an American invasion of Saudi Arabia and the seizure of the oil fields shook U.S.-Saudi relations and elicited fierce denials from the White House and expressions of horror from Riyadh. Rand Corporation analyst Laurent Murawiec, in his Power Point presentation to an assembly that included Henry Kissinger, former defense secretaries Harold Brown and James Schlesinger, Newt Gingrich, Thomas Foley, and a number of retired high-level generals and admirals, exhorted his audience to embark on a campaign of outright conquest:
“Iraq is the tactical pivot—Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot—Egypt the prize.”
One has to ask: are these people crazy?
In Murawiec’s case, the manic tone may be attributed to his previous membership in the cult of Lyndon LaRouche from 1973–86. But there’s more to it than that.
According to the Washington Post’s account of the reaction to the briefing, of all that distinguished company only Kissinger had the presence of mind to raise any objections. That such a lunatic idea could be casually bandied about and even endorsed by some in this administration is ominous evidence that U.S. foreign policy is in danger of becoming dangerously unhinged.
That such a radical idea could be propagated by ostensible conservatives shows how far the divisions that opened up during Gulf War I have widened. In his syndicated newspaper column for November 16, 1990, Pat Buchanan summarized the credo of those on the Right who weren’t going along with King George’s “New World Order”:
“Most of us ‘neo-isolationists,’ a disparate, contentious lot, are really not ‘neo’ anything. We are old church and old right, anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist, disbelievers in Pax Americana. We love the old republic, and when we hear phrases like ‘New World Order,’ we release the safety catches on our revolvers.”
The “old right”—who and what was that?
Today, a popular misconception of conservatives equates them with militarists: the Cold War and the belligerent yapping of such journals of conservative opinion as the Weekly Standard and National Review have certainly contributed to this image. But it wasn’t always so.
The conservative movement of the 1930s, on up through the early 1950s, was, as Buchanan puts it, anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist. The biggest peace movement in our history was not the Mobilization to Stop the (Vietnam) War, but the America First Committee, organized by prominent conservative businessmen and publicists in 1940. Writing in the conservative press of the time, such writers as John T. Flynn, Frank Chodorov, Chicago Tribune publisher Robert W. McCormick, and Garet Garrett inveighed against foreign entanglements and warned that with war would come the end of the Old Republic. On the subject of the Old Right, today’s (neo)conservatives and their liberal first cousins are in complete agreement: both dismiss the America Firsters out of hand, usually smearing them in the process. In any case, the Left-Right consensus seems to be that the Old Right is, at best, irrelevant, and that the forgotten icons of a bygone era have nothing to say to us today.
These people are obviously unfamiliar with the works of Garet Garrett, chief editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post until the war broke out, and an author of note, whose pellucid prose could be published today and be none the worse for wear. In reading about the Napoleonic designs of the Defense Policy Board, I could only recall these words written by Garrett at the end of his last book, The American Story, published in 1955:
“How now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?
“Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.
“To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?”
Garrett’s prophecies ring down through the years, leaping off the yellowed pages of dusty books, mocking us with their accuracy and astonishing us with their modernity:
“We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night; the precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say” ‘You are now entering Imperium.’ Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: ‘Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.’ And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: ‘No U-turns.’”
The occupation of Iraq, a war to subdue Egypt, the conquest of the Kingdom we once sought to “defend” against Saddam—these war plans are the equivalent of a very large sign with flashing letters: “You are now entering Imperium.” And, yes, a little further up the road is another sign: “No U-turns.” If it should come to pass that, one day, historians of the far future seek to pinpoint the precise moment when our old Republic morphed into an Empire, then a good many of them will argue that Gulf War II was the turning point.
We are, indeed, at the top of the world. Like Garrett, the conservative of today who has learned the lesson of history can only note that it’s a long way down.
Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com and author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.