I haven’t had this much fun in years – of course I’m talking about the US presidential election season, with The Donald taking on all comers, and winning (at least so far), and Bernie Sanders burning up the self-satisfied mandarins of the Democratic party Establishment.
What’s great about this spectacle – and one must view it as a spectacle in order to gain maximum enjoyment from it – is that, as none other than Rush Limbaugh points out:
“Trump is so far outside the formula that has been established for American politics that people who are inside the formula can’t comprehend it. They don’t understand why somebody would want to venture so far outside it, because it is what it is, and there’s a ladder of success that you have to climb. And somebody challenging it like this in more ways than one, as Trump is doing, has just got everybody experiencing every kind of emotion you can: They’re angry, they are flabbergasted, they’re shocked, they’re stunned – and all of it because he’s leading.”
As I explained here, and here, one of the ways Trump is upending the rules is that he’s broken with the GOP mandarins on foreign policy. Yes, yes, I know he bloviates about how he’s “the most militaristic person” on God’s green earth, but the fact is there’s plenty of others out there who out-do him in that category. I’ve heard him say he wants to “bomb the s**t out of ISIS,” but aren’t we doing that already – to little effect? When Bill O’Reilly asked him why he didn’t support putting ground troops in Syria, he answered “Do you want to run Syria?” O’Reilly demurred. Trump puffs up his chest and announces he wants us to have “the strongest biggest baddest military on earth” – but you’ll note he invariably adds: “So we’ll never have to use it.”
Most significantly, he doesn’t want to start World War III with Vladimir Putin’s Russia: he’s actually defied the anti-Russian propaganda blitz and said he’d like to be able to get along with Putin. This alone would’ve been enough for the neocons to start a holy war against him, but he’s even gone further than that and said the Iraq war – the neocons’ handiwork – was “one of the dumbest things ever,” and Limbaugh describes their response to a tee (of course without naming them).
Oh yes, it’s great fun watching the waterboarding of the neocons, because they count among their enemies the top two contenders for the Republican nomination, not only Trump but also Ted Cruz. The greasy-haired Canadian earned their ire when he attacked them by name, but as Rosie Gray reports in Buzzfeed they may be reconciling themselves to Cruz because he’s the only viable Not-Trump:
“Some of the hawkish figures who Ted Cruz recently dismissed as ‘crazy neo-con invade-every-country-on-earth and send our kids to die in the Middle East’ … say they’d consider supporting Cruz anyway if he’s the last man between Donald Trump and the Republican presidential nomination.
“Cruz, it turns out, hasn’t fully burned his bridges with that set of advisers and supporters of George W. Bush – figures like Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and former National Security Council official Elliott Abrams, who aren’t closed off to Cruz, especially in the case of Abrams. Indeed, despite some lingering resentment and suspicion, there are even glimmers of rapprochement as the Republican primary looks like it could become a two-man race. ‘I would not hesitate to back Cruz as the nominee,’ Abrams – who not long ago told National Review that Cruz’s use of the word neocon invoked ‘warmongering Jewish advisers’ – told BuzzFeed News.”
Cruz, for his part, is more than willing to smoke a peace pipe with the War Party:
“In an interview on his campaign bus in Iowa last week, Cruz told BuzzFeed News that, despite his jabs at neocons, he has ‘good relations with a great many foreign policy thinkers.’ Cruz has in the past cited Abrams along with former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and former CIA director James Woolsey as trusted foreign policy experts.”
It’s getting pretty cozy in that campaign bus. Rosie, who knows a thing or two about neocons, seems to be the designated ambassador from Kristol-land to the Cruz campaign, and as the Anti-Trump Popular Front – the widest coalition in the history of politics, stretching all the way from the New York Times to Charles Krauthammer – tries to sell us on the idea that the Establishment is now backing Trump against the “insurgent” Cruz, she provides some insightful analysis of just who is the Real Establishment:
“The neocons’ willingness to consider Cruz stands in sharp contrast with a new line of current conventional wisdom in Washington that Cruz, who is the object of particularly intense personal dislike from establishment Republicans, is actually less acceptable to the establishment than Trump.”
We know who is the Establishment: it’s those brilliant folks who brought us the Iraq war, who want us to repeat our mistake in Syria, and who pine for a US-led regime-change operation in Russia to get rid of Putin and install a pliable Yeltsin-substitute in power. The Establishment, in short, is the War Party, otherwise known as the neoconservatives, and they are the tireless enemies of peace and liberty. Until and unless they are destroyed as a viable political force, either in the GOP or outside it, there will be no peace in this world. If and when Trump succeeds in sidelining them, that alone will be worth whatever price we have to pay in the – unlikely – event he makes it to the White House.
As even the usually clueless Ben Domenech, over at The Federalist, observes:
“On foreign policy, Donald Trump is exploiting American frustration with the elites of both parties. He cites over and over again his opposition to the war in Iraq as a smackdown for the neoconservative views which have ruled the roost in Republican foreign policy circles for 15 years. But he also uses his opposition to engagement in Libya to smack Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Marco Rubio.
“It is very telling that the two leading candidates in the GOP primary today are very critical of intervention in Iraq and Libya and Syria, and this has not only not hurt them, but potentially helped them reach more than 50 percent support in the polls. One would think Republican elites would recognize this and think about what it means about the views of their base. One would think, but one would be wrong.”
With the triumph of Trumpismo having demolished the GOP foreign policy consensus – and the neocons’ ideological and organizational stranglehold on the conservative movement – the way will be cleared for a libertarian-ish insurgency to arise out of the rubble and make some real headway. I realize it’s hard to see this at the present moment: just like on HGTV, when some clueless couple on “Fixer Upper” or “Property Brothers” just can’t see that the scary dilapidated wreck of a house they’re being shown could become their Dream Home. Yet, in the end, they are bowled over by the luxurious and stunning result.
(Of course, there are no guarantees in life: a lot depends on if the fractious libertarians, beset as they are by right-wing opportunism and a brainless form of anti-political sectarianism, can finally get their act together.)
On the other side of the aisle – that is, in the Democratic party – a similar drama, with some significant variations, is being played out in the race pitting Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton. The latter is widely considered the presumptive heir, much like Jeb Bush was assumed to be the GOP frontrunner on account of his last name. Yet Bush has been humiliated and sidelined, and Mrs. Clinton may well be in danger of sharing his fate: Sanders is beating her in New Hampshire as well as in Iowa. This has “centrist” Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor and professional scold, so upset that he is threatening to launch a third party run if Sanders gets the nod.
The beleaguered Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have major principled differences with Sanders when it comes to domestic policy: their disagreements are over strategy, not goals. The real split is over foreign policy, with Hillary the hawk pecking at Sanders over his relatively dovish stances on issues from Iran to Libya. And now a posse of “national security” bureaucrats has taken out after Sanders with a joint statement deploring his unwillingness to parrot the War Party’s line:
“Over the past four debates, the subject of ISIS and Iran have come up a number of times. These are complex and challenging times, and we need a Commander in Chief who knows how to protect America and our allies and advance our interests and values around the world. The stakes are high. And we are concerned that Senator Sanders has not thought through these crucial national security issues that can have profound consequences for our security.
“His lack of a strategy for defeating ISIS – one of the greatest challenges we face today – is troubling. And the limited things he has said on ISIS are also troubling.
“For example, his call for more Iranian troops in Syria is dangerous and misguided and the opposite of what is needed. Supporting Iranian soldiers on Israel’s doorstep is a grave mistake. And while we support de-escalation of Sunni-Shia tensions, his argument that Iran and Saudi Arabia – two intense adversaries – should join together in a military coalition is just puzzling. Indeed, the Iranian government recently failed to stop protesters from ransacking and burning the Saudi embassy in Tehran, after which Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Iran.
“We are all strong supporters of the nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Some of us were part of developing the policy that produced the diplomacy over the past several years. And we believe that there are areas for further cooperation under the right circumstances. But Senator Sanders’ call to ‘move aggressively’ to normalize relations with Iran – to develop a ‘warm’ relationship – breaks with President Obama, is out of step with the sober and responsible diplomatic approach that has been working for the United States, and if pursued would fail while causing consternation among our allies and partners.
“Given these concerns, it is important to ask what he would do on other issues – on Russia, China, our allies, nuclear proliferation, and so much else. We look forward to hearing him address these issues.
“We need a Commander in Chief who sees how all of these dynamics fit together – someone who sees the whole chessboard, as Hillary Clinton does.”
The only time the Clintonistas want to “move aggressively” is when it involves invading a sovereign nation like Iraq, Libya and Syria, and turning it into a cauldron of Islamist terror. Her “strategy” for defeating ISIS is to set up “no fly zones” in Syria, reoccupy Iraq, and fund the very head-chopping Syrian “rebels” from which ISIS and Al-Qaeda have sprung and with whom they are ideologically aligned. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton, who spearheaded the movement inside the US government to arm the Islamists in Syria and Libya, deserves the title “Mother of ISIS.”
As for all the balderdash about Iran: this is clearly the Israel lobby talking, and if there was any confusion about Mrs. Clinton’s role as their champion in the Democratic party, this should clear it up.
Yet the Clintonian arguments for an anti-Iranian foreign policy are not very convincing. For just one example: If “supporting Iranian soldiers at Israel’s doorstep is a grave mistake” then is Israel supporting ISIS at their own doorstep an equally grave miscalculation? But of course you won’t be hearing any criticism like that coming from this crowd.
From a noninterventionist perspective, neither Sanders nor Trump is perfect – both are very far from that. But to nitpick over their deviations is to entirely miss the point, as sectarians of both the left and right are bound to do. These two candidates represent, each in their own way, powerful and growing tendencies on both sides of the ideological spectrum that the movement for peace can utilize to its own advantage. For we cannot change the world until and unless we begin to understand it: only then can we take advantage of such openings as it allows. What is happening in this country is a rebellion against both wings of the War Party – and that is something to be celebrated and encouraged, even as we critique its shortcoming and urge the rebels to take their insurgency further.
Insofar as this election season is concerned, the watchwords or slogans that give voice to the “correct” position are best expressed in terms of double-negatives. For the conservative Republican readers, that would be: anti-anti-Trump. For the progressive Democrats: anti-anti-Sanders.
We are hearing the voices of the Mushy Moderate Middle rise up in defense of the status quo: Democrats like the Washington courtier Dana Milbank are warning us against Sanders, while the neocons to a man are railing against the Trumpist Temptation. This should be enough to tell us what is the right road to take and what our answer to the Mushy Middletarians must be: Extremism in defense of peace is no vice – and moderation in the fight against the War Party is no virtue!