Conservatives split over war
years ago, conservatives split sharply over the first Bush administration’s
drive toward war with Iraq. While the majority of right-wingers
supported the president’s war plans, anti-war rightists such
as Patrick Buchanan criticized Israel’s “amen corner”
and raised larger questions about the United States’ role in
a post-Cold War world. Absent the Soviet threat, they argued, the
U.S. government should stop trying to impose its will on other countries
and concentrate on defending America First.
as a second Bush administration moves toward reintensifying the
war with Iraq, conservative anti-interventionists are still vocal
and their criticisms go much farther than those of establishment
figures such as Lawrence Eagleburger or Brent Scowcroft. Scowcroft’s
central concern regarding Bush’s policy was that a full-scale
attack on Iraq would seriously hurt the war on terrorism. But right-wing
anti-interventionists have been criticizing the war on terrorism
for the past year. They are horrified when conservative hawks at
call for “World
War IV” against militant Islam or openly celebrate an “American
empire.” Sometimes the anti-interventionist Right seems to
echo leftist arguments. But its politics are rooted in deeply reactionary
principles and goals.
Samuel Francis. A former Heritage Foundation policy analyst who
branded the ANC and the Sandinistas as Soviet-sponsored terrorists,
Francis now argues that the September 11 mass killings were payback
for the United States’ illegal and unprovoked warfare against
other countries, including the mass slaughter of civilians in Iraq.
He warns that expanding police powers in the name of homeland security
threatens citizens’ right to dissent. Yet Francis also argues
that large-scale immigration from Mexico is one of the top security
threats facing the United States. “Having many different races
in the same country,” he claims, “is a sure formula for
anti-war leftists, Sam Francis is a reminder that anti-militarism
can go hand in hand with oppressive politics. That can be a problem
within our own movements and it is also something we should be mindful
of as we build broader anti-war coalitions. Rightists do not speak
with one voice, but rather have developed a variety of ways to exploit
both prejudices and legitimate grievances. This has contributed
to the Right’s success over the past quarter century.
anti-interventionist Right reflects a neutralist or “isolationist”
strain in American conservative thought that goes back to the 1930s
and early 1940s, when the Old Right opposed U.S. involvement in
World War II. Chief heirs to this tradition today are paleoconservatives
such as Francis, Buchanan, Joseph Sobran, and Justin Raimondo. Paleocon-controlled
institutions include the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Rockford
Institute, and the Antiwar.com website. Paleocons uphold an old-style
conservatism that unapologetically favors native-born white Christians.
(While glorifying Western civilization, paleocons disagree on whether
whites’ cultural achievements are biologically determined.)
Unlike much of the conservative establishment, paleoconservatives
are hostile to economic globalization and mass immigration, and
sharply critical of the state of Israel.
are bitter enemies of the neoconservatives, a political current
started by former Cold War liberals who moved rightward in the 1970s
and defected from the Democratic Party to join the Reagan coalition.
editor William Kristol, Norman
magazine, Jeane Kirkpatrick, William
Bennett, and Pentagon advisor Richard Perle. Paleocons charge that
the globalist-oriented neocons are still liberals at heart and that
they have hijacked many mainstream conservative institutions, from
to the Heritage Foundation to the American
Enterprise Institute. Neocons, many of whom are Jewish, accuse the
paleocons of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
related sectors of the Right share the paleocons’ anti-interventionism,
including the John Birch Society, sections of the Libertarian Party
such as 2000 presidential candidate Harry Browne, Gary North’s
theocratic Institute for Christian Economics, and groups that focus
on promoting White racial identity, such as the American Nationalist
Union, American Renaissance, and the neo-Confederate League of the
agree with the hawks on some points. Unlike the neonazis who praised
the September 11 attacks as righteous blows against an evil Jewish
elite, the anti-interventionists expressed grief and horror at the
mass killings and most of them supported focused military reprisals
against the perpetrators. Some have also endorsed certain repressive
security measures such as the establishment of military tribunals
and racial profiling to screen potential terrorists. Many anti-interventionists
derogate not only “radical Islamism,” but Islam in general,
as an alien and dangerous ideology.
unlike mainstream conservatives, right-wing anti-interventionists
regard September 11 as a predictable response to the United States’
own brutal crimes overseas. If the U.S. wants to protect itself
against future terrorist attacks, they argue, it has to end its
policy of global military intervention. “Who has reason to
hate this country?” asked Joseph Sobran rhetorically. “Only
a few hundred million people—Arabs, Muslims, Serbs, and numerous
others whose countries have been hit by U.S. bombers.”
contrast, the pro-interventionist
after September 11, “The United States is a target because
we are powerful, rich, and good. We are resented for our power,
envied for our wealth, and hated for our liberty. President George
W. Bush told Congress that the terrorists ‘hate what we see
right here in this chamber—a democratically elected government….’
They hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom
of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each
conservatives dismiss such claims as arrogant nonsense. Pat Buchanan
commented, “Osama bin Laden did not convince 19 educated young
men to simultaneously commit suicide in defiance of freedom of assembly.”
The issue, he stressed, is U.S. foreign policy, not our system of
government. “As Osama bin Laden said, they want us to stop
propping up the Saudi regime they hate and to get off the sacred
Saudi soil on which sit the holiest shrines of Islam.”
has long warned that dark-skinned peoples pose a threat to American
civilization. Yet his portrayal of bin Laden as a rational enemy
with specific objectives makes far more sense than the apocalyptic
language of many conservative hawks, who portray the war on terrorism
as a manichean struggle between the noble West and the evil, nihilistic
barbarians. Neocon Charles Krauthammer, for example, called the
war “a transcendent conflict between those who love life and
those who love death.”
debate has been marked by strange reversals. The American Nationalist
Union promotes white supremacist views, but after September 11 its
newspaper praised Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Black man,
as “the chief voice of reason in the Bush administration”
because he advocated restraint in the war on terrorism. Paleocons
are usually identified with isolationism or unilateralism, but now
it is neo-conservatives who urge unilateral action while paleocons
stress the need to build alliances with Arab and European states
and warn that war with Iraq could leave the United States truly
surprising was the John Birch Society’s insistence that the
United States should punish those responsible for the September
11 attacks without becoming “further enmeshed in entangling
alliances abroad.” To the Birch Society, the Bush administration
undermined U.S. sovereignty by seeking United Nations and NATO approval
before bombing Afghanistan, rather than getting a declaration of
war from Congress as the Constitution requires. Unable to let go
of the Cold War, Birchers also argued that Bush’s war fails
to challenge the real sponsors of international terrorism: the Communist
states of China, Cuba, and even Russia.
common refrain among right-wing anti-interventionists is that the
United States should be (as Buchanan titled one of his books) “a
republic, not an empire.” This clashes squarely with neo-conservatives,
who have been among those pressing for war most aggressively and
in the most grandiose terms. To fully root out the threat of terrorism,
neocons argue, the United States should embrace its imperial role.
“Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the
sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident
Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets,” wrote Max Boot in
. Michael Ledeen in the
urged the United States to “wage revolutionary war against
all the terrorist regimes, and gradually replace them” with
governments based on popular sovereignty. Such a course, he argued,
would win mass support from the oppressed people of these countries.
countered, “only naivete would expect an occupied country to
thank rather than revile us.” Joseph Sobran wrote, “The
United States is now a global empire that wants to think of itself
as a universal benefactor, and is nonplussed when foreigners don’t
see it that way.” Imperialism is a disastrous course, paleocons
argue, because colonized peoples will inevitably use violence to
throw off their colonizers and because imperialism means the growth
of big government, militaristic repression of the home population,
and a flood of foreign immigrants.
many rightists less critical of Bush’s war, anti-interventionists
oppose the post-September 11 expansion of federal authority to spy
on U.S. citizens. They warn that there is a serious threat to civil
liberties from measures such as the USA PATRIOT Act, which gives
police sweeping new search powers, and the TIPS program (Terrorism
Information and Prevention System), which in its original form would
have recruited millions of civilians to report on “suspicious”
activities. (The conspiracy-minded John Birch Society, but not the
paleocons, argued that the expansion of police powers was stealthily
engineered by the Council on Foreign Relations, “the most visible
element of the internationalist Power Elite.”)
the same time, many anti-interventionists have supported the government’s
repression against non-citizens and have urged even harsher measures,
including an immediate halt to all immigration and deportation of
all undocumented immigrants. Sam Francis warned that “a vast
subculture of non-Western immigrants” allowed terrorists to
move freely within the United States. He declared that “Islam,
a great and in many respects admirable faith, simply is not part
of [the West], and those who subscribe to Islam and its civilization
such nativist bigotry, paleocons address the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict in terms surprisingly familiar to progressives. They argue
that Palestinians have a right to national self-determination and
that the Israeli occupation is brutal and illegal, that anti-civilian
violence by both sides is wrong, and that real peace requires complete
Israeli withdrawal to something like the 1967 borders and creation
of a fully sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. The United
States’ massive support of Israel, paleocons assert, fuels
widespread anti-Americanism in the Arab world and fosters sympathy
and support for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
arguments place paleocons sharply at odds with most conservatives,
who routinely dismiss Palestinian grievances and portray Israel
as a democratic society righteously defending itself against terrorism.
Conservative pro-Zionism is not necessarily rooted in concern for
Jews. Most of the Christian Right believes that a strong Israel
hastens the millennial End Times in which all except true followers
of Christ will be destroyed.
rightly argue that legitimate criticisms of Israel cannot be equated
with anti-Semitism. But prominent paleocons such as Buchanan and
Sobran have a history of praising antisemites and trivializing the
Nazi genocide. Paleocons also tend to exaggerate the power of a
Zionist lobby—Buchanan once referred to Congress as “Israeli-occupied
territory”—playing into classic stereotypes of Jews as
a hidden, superpowerful presence.
contrast, the American Nationalist Union’s newspaper, the
, broadcasts explicitly anti-Jewish views. One writer warned
of a “Judeo-Islamic-Masonic thrust against Christian-Western
civilization.” Another remarked, “the [Israel First] newly
patriotic media are the same crowd of rootless cosmopolitans that
have been promoting degeneracy and perversion since they invented
Hollywood.” The American Nationalist Union is successor to
the Populist Party, which fielded ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke
as its presidential candidate in 1988.
conservatism reemerged as an important political current with the
end of the Cold War. Before that, most paleoconservatives supported
an interventionist foreign policy in the name of anticommunism.
In the 1980s, paleocons, neocons, Christian rightists, and other
conservatives all worked closely with the Reagan administration
to bolster anti-leftist military and paramilitary forces around
the world, from Salvadoran and Philippine death squads to Angola’s
UNITA rebels, from Nicaraguan contras to Afghanistan’s mujahedeen.
Despite factional squabbles, anticommunism held the Reagan coalition
coalition fell apart in 1989, the year President Reagan left office
and Communist Party governments collapsed across Eastern Europe.
Paleocons increasingly challenged the neocons’ vision of using
U.S. power to export democracy throughout the world, as well as
the neocons’ staunch pro-Zionism. In 1990, when Iraq invaded
Kuwait and President George Bush, Sr. massed troops in Saudi Arabia,
neocons and many other rightists loudly supported war with Iraq.
Paleocons warned of pro-Israeli “dual loyalists” exerting
too much influence over U.S. foreign policy and opposed the war
preparations until actual combat began.
the following decade, Pat Buchanan’s three presidential campaigns
became the focal point for an effort to revive a neutralist conservatism.
Buchanan’s program evoked the America First Right of the 1930s
and early 1940s, whose enemies list included New Deal social programs,
labor unions, Eastern Establishment blue bloods, international bankers,
and free trade.
the 1992 Republican primaries, Buchanan condemned foreign aid, the
stationing of “vast permanent U.S. armies on foreign soil,”
and “the predatory traders of Europe and Asia” who threatened
American industry and jobs. He abandoned his longtime support for
free trade in favor of economic protectionism and identified Bush
Senior with the sinister Eastern elite. (Bush’s 1991 call for
a “new world order” sent shock waves through the antiglobalist
Right, which regarded it as proof of an elite plot to impose a tyrannical
One World Government.) In the 1996 primaries, Buchanan intensified
his populist rhetoric against “unfettered capitalism”
and corporations “who have lost all loyalty to America.”
factors weighed against Buchanan’s effort to build a lasting
movement. In the mid-1990s, the rapid growth of antiglobalist citizens
militias and the larger Patriot movement offered right-wing anti-interventionism
an organized mass base. But the militias, which were fueled by apocalyptic
expectations of massive repression, failed to build durable institutions
and collapsed as a movement in the late 1990s.
Christian Right leaders did not support Buchanan’s campaigns.
Although they shared his positions on many social issues such as
abortion and homosexuality, Christian rightists such as Pat Robertson
were intent on building their own power base within the Republican
Party and did not want to alienate the party’s establishment.
Buchanan also failed to win much business support. Aside from a
few arch conservatives such as textile magnate Roger Milliken and
the protectionist U.S. Business and Industrial Council, most capitalists
steered clear of Buchanan’s economic nationalism. In the era
of globalization, the large business bloc that had opposed Franklin
Roosevelt’s free trade policies in the 1930s no longer existed.
2000, Buchanan finally left the Republican Party and won the Reform
Party presidential nomination after a bitter struggle with other
factions in the party founded by Ross Perot. Racial nationalist
groups including the Liberty Lobby and the American Nationalist
Union, rallied to Buchanan, but were alienated when he chose Ezola
Foster, a Black conservative activist, as his vice-presidential
running mate. Buchanan received a dismal 400,000 votes (0.43 percent)
in the general election. This defeat was followed by infighting
among paleocons over whether he had betrayed the cause and general
uncertainty about the movement’s future.
are a small minority on the Right, and their prospects as a movement
are uncertain. Some critics (such as Franklin Foer in the July 22,
) have written them off as finished, but
this judgment may be premature. Despite their political isolation,
anti-intervention conservatives target glaring weaknesses and absurdities
in the pro-war position. Their critique of expansionist militarism
and rising state repression, coupled with their anti-immigrant scapegoating,
could once again tap into broad-based frustrations and fears—especially
if substantial numbers of U.S. troops start dying in Iraq or elsewhere.
the Left, becoming familiar with anti-intervention conservatism
can help us recognize and combat political overtures from the Right.
Over the past two decades, some rightists have tried repeatedly
to build alliances with leftists on the basis of progressive-sounding
politics. In 1990-1991, for example, members of Lyndon LaRouche’s
fascist network (which includes the Schiller Institute and the
newspaper) took part in anti-war events across the
country. With fake-radical conspiracy theories, they made a concerted
effort to recruit liberal and leftist activists. Recently, the neonazi
National Alliance has tried to lure progressives through a front
group called the Anti-Globalism Action Network.
work is often important, but we should steer clear of groups and
ideas rooted in bigotry, scapegoating, and defense of inequality.
Otherwise we lend legitimacy to the Right and help oppressive politics
grow within our own movements.
the same time, we should avoid demonizing anti-interventionist rightists
in ways that let pro-war conservatives and liberals off the hook.
Too often, critiques of a so-called “radical Right” implicitly
legitimize mainstream politics. The Pat Buchanans and Sam Francises
are a danger that we should continue to oppose. But in this case
it is mainstream conservatives and their liberal allies who, by
cheering on a war that could cost hundreds of thousands of additional
lives, pose the greater immediate threat.