Raimondo Denounces War in CU Talk
by John Thrasher, January 12, 2003
On December 5, Justin Raimondo, the editorial director for anti-war.com and author of several books, spoke on the CU campus. This was an unusual event, in that he spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq from the underrepresented libertarian critique of foreign interventionism. Several other events took place at the same time and, a little to my surprise, a large and varied crowd turned out for Justin's talk.
The text of Raimondo's speech is available online and I am sure he does a much better job of presenting his views than I can (see http://www.antiwar.com/justin/j101102.html). I will, however, go over some of his main points, and especially because of Dinesh D'Souza's talk on the same night at the Independence Institute (see http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/12/ii02.html), argue for them to some extent.
Raimondo proposed that the looming Iraq adventure is different in kind from previous American foreign interventions. This difference, he claims, is a naked ambition for conquest driven by ideology. Not since the Spanish-American war have we seen the desire to subjugate other populations to the will of American authority as we now see in the Middle East. Raimondo's main point is that other wars and interventions, even though they may have been ill advised and counterproductive, always involved an invader to be repulsed or a defender we supported; however, this is not the case in the world of Gulf War episode II. America will invade Iraq with the aim of a "regime change," a euphemism for a forceful, foreign, military coup. This is the major change in foreign policy that troubles Raimondo.
Raimondo raises a more fundamental question, though: why? Why Iraq and why now? The answer is somewhat complicated and I daresay lost by many in the audience. In Raimondo's view, the answer involves the hijacking of the right, and the Republican Party, by a band of ex-Trotskyists known as the neo-conservatives.
As he explained, the neo-conservatives are a somewhat shadowy group of intellectuals and policy analysts who have an impact far beyond their rather meager numbers. Raimondo claims that any principled anti-interventionism is somewhat alien to traditional leftist positions and that it was leftists of one degree or another that machinated all the wars of the 20th century, save Desert Storm. Attempts at nation-building and intervention on the right are somewhat unusual. The right was practically defined by its isolationism in the 30's and 40's and even during the cold war was reluctant to engage in wars of liberation, though the new breed of neo-conservatives considerably prodded them along to this end.
Raimondo wants to further investigate the new role of the neo-conservatives and their lackeys as well as the ideology they promote in the policy arena. This ideology is driven by a desire to promote "national greatness" through empire building, by exporting democracy abroad, and a monomaniacal hatred of Islam and love of Israel that disregards any calls to respect American national interest.
So what? What is the point of this rant against neo-conservative ambitions and imperial wars in the Middle East and elsewhere? So what if we export democracy by force? Isn't democracy good? Aren't we doing a good thing when we overthrow corrupt regimes and replace them with better ones? Raimondo proposes that the answer to all these questions is that they miss the point entirely. If it were America's mission to conquer the world and instill our preferred form of government everywhere, exporting democracy out of the barrel of the gun might be a good idea. This is, however, not America's mission.
America, at least as stated by the founding fathers, is in the business of preserving the freedom of Americans. Raimondo contends that it is impossible to preserve American freedom if we attempt to institute democratic Imperium abroad. As John Quincy Adams warned, "She [America] might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit."
Raimondo's fears are encapsulated in the sentiment that war, as Randolph Bourne so aptly put it, is the health of the State and as long as we pursue war, the State will grow. This should be worrisome to libertarians and conservatives alike who desire to reduce the aegis of the Omnipotent State.
Throughout the 20th century we have seen a massive growth of the State apparatus that was often the direct result of wartime policies that were continued even after the war was ended. The income tax and draft are two of the extreme examples. War must be financed and as the number of crusades increases, so too will the new problems and costs that arise as unintended consequences of our involvements. Raimondo claims that other problems will inevitably arise if we step over the line between republic and empire, such as a general cultural and societal decay.
As our policy of empire continues into the future, argues Raimondo, it is entirely possible that the coming generations of Americans will entirely forget their republican heritage as America sinks into the graveyard of empires. A road well-traveled by our European allies. To prevent the fall of the American Republic, we should heed our forefathers' advice that "She [America] goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own..."
Some, notably the current head hack of the neo-conservative faction, Dinesh D'Souza, argue that we should pursue the strategy of the "lesser evil." One might ask the venerable D'Souza how one decides who is the lesser evil? Following the logic of this strategy we should ally with Iraq against North Korea. Further, why must we collude with evil at all? The lesser evil is clearly still evil, and far from alliance and collusion somehow making America stronger it often seems to strengthen the "lesser evil," as we saw with our alliance with Russia in World War II or our strengthening of the Taliban regime in the Afghan war of liberation.
It may also be the case that instead of changing the "lesser evil" to a greater good, it may change us; to paraphrase John Quincy Adams, we will no longer be the rulers of our own spirits. D'Souza is much enamored with the United States, as am I; however, he may misunderstand the nature of America's greatness. D'Souza is an Indian immigrant and he nobly has taken the causes of his adopted nation as his own, though it is possible that he confuses economic and military might for greatness. America's greatness lies not in her strong economy, strong military, or even in virtue or democracy. Instead, America's greatness lies in respect for individual rights and limited government. Though a strong military is needed to protect America from would-be conquerors, if we go abroad in search of monsters to destroy such as Saddam Hussein, we endanger the American experiment within the bounds of our own continent.
Raimondo proposes that seeking empire or hegemony abroad and exporting democracy out of the barrel of a gun will not make America greater or safer. It will only destroy the foundation of her greatness. Raimondo argues that it is time that we align our foreign policy squarely with the interests of American citizens and not succumb to the siren call of empire. America serves itself and the world best as a model of freedom and limited government. If we destroy that in pursuit of forcing others to be free, we will have destroyed the only experiment in freedom that can be a beacon to others.
This libertarian-conservative position against the war in Iraq caught many of those in attendance off guard. Many were expecting, no doubt, a critique of the war on supposedly "humanitarian" or multi-lateralists grounds. The question and answer session was lively, filled with debates between Raimondo and the audience about the nature of the Wilson administration or Jefferson's exact foreign policy. Several among the aging "progressive" faction in the audience seemed to miss the point by asking whether capitalism and free trade were yet again to blame for the war in Iraq. One person asked what the United States would do about oil if we disengaged from the Middle East. Raimondo replied, a little confused, that we would do what we have always done: buy it. In response, Raimondo asked if when we go into a local store to buy something we declare that we are invading it, or do we just pay for it and leave. Of course, almost everyone except nations and criminals always do the latter.
Raimondo represents the vanguard of a burgeoning libertarian anti-war movement. Middle Americans who are not traditionally seen as part of the anti-war movement must some day tire of sending their sons to die in wars of empire. Gently leading them to this notion is the job of the anti-war libertarians and conservatives.