The best time to find out that you haven’t been paying close enough attention is always yesterday. Unfortunately, as with generations past, we are so far in the back of the bus from the steering wheel that it’s only possible to watch in disgust. Just as both parties have pronounced empty rhetoric about protecting citizens from Big Tech and outsourcing, so they have returned to doing so concerning perhaps the most fateful issue of all—war and peace.
While many of us rightly bemoan the slide of American civil liberties into an East German-style snitch cauldron, the risks here are of being publicly shamed and professionally ostracized. How much more vulnerable are the civilians and service members whose blood or the blood of their loved ones is to be spilled in future battles pursuing the mostly fictional goal of “national security” and a “rules-based international order.”
In November, while many held on to the tenuous hope that courts would overturn the results of the 2020 election in several states, I looked ahead at the worst-case scenario in the event that none of the suits and challenges worked and the Democratic Party took control of the U.S. Senate. Specifically, I highlighted two potential nominees of the Biden Administration: Antony Blinken for Secretary of State and Michelle Flournoy for Secretary of Defense.
Flournoy was soon replaced by Lloyd Austin, a former U.S. Army general who is both Blinken’s and Flournoy’s partner at the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners. In November, when their names were being bandied about, it became known that Pine Island was planning a new initial public offering to take advantage of potential profits from government contracts including IT service—in particular citing COVID-19 as a “tailwind for the sector.” This caught the eyes not just of conservative media, but of such progressive critics as David Sirota, Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign speechwriter.
Over the past three months, I have never been more eager to be wrong about my suspicions that there will be no relief for those hoping to avert the damage of a Biden presidency from the attendant corruption and warmongering that are to come. But Biden was clear in his intent when he said “America is back” from the Donald Trump era. Rather than focus on infrastructure and jobs at home and diplomacy abroad, as Trump at least attempted to do, the United States would now reengage globally as Barack Obama and George Bush had done; rubbing up against frictional fault lines in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and potentially even Latin America.
The Interventionist Caucus
If the GOP had won either of the Georgia runoff seats in early January, it would be at least conceivable that Republican leadership could gin up a pretext not to confirm some of Biden’s nominees. But, as usual, we do not have two alternative agendas in Congress—we have one agenda with one party that says “ease up on the gas” and the other saying “floor it!”
In Blinken’s confirmation vote 78 senators raised their hands in approval of the nomination of a man who has been in favor of every war of the past 25 years spanning three separate administrations. One of his few points of praise for Trump was—what else?—his April 2017 decision to launch Tomahawk missiles against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The senators who voted to support the Blinken nomination include such familiar pro-intervention characters as Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) of the GOP, and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the Democratic side.
Curiously, voting alongside the Grahams and Schumers; were such erstwhile non-interventionists as Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Also voting “Yea” were Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Angus King (I-Maine) who, supposedly, are independent non-Democratic “swing votes” on key issues. Let’s understand this for what it is: The entire Democratic Senate caucus, more than half of their GOP colleagues, and the two lone independents have rewarded a career warmonger who cheered on every failed deployment with the top diplomatic post in the government.
Of the Republicans who voted against Blinken, only one cited this aspect of his past record, Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Others like Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were more concerned with other issues such as rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, and most had no comment at all. Holding out hope that Rand Paul will be the “righteous objector” sadly is also a fatalist pursuit; just as it was when Sanders was the biggest anti-war voice.
If there is only one person in the chamber willing to take a direct and vocal stance on endless wars and military deployments, I would propose that he is just like a tree falling in the woods. At this point, why not just wheel John Bolton back in? If Colin Powell, a premier accomplice in the 2000s in making the case for the war that Blinken supported, were renominated today for Secretary of State, why might not he be approved by a 78-22 margin as well?
Neutralizing the Anti-War Movement
Why are we at such a desperate moment for America? I’ve compiled at length the slow and painful death of the “anti-war Democrat” as a real force in American politics. In the 2000s, anti-war activists flooded the streets to condemn the deceptive premises for invading Iraq based on faulty evidence presented by the Bush Administration here and by its counterpart, the Tony Blair government in the UK. Much of this effort was generated by activists and cultural figures on the Left, including radicals who otherwise have nothing in common with me nor with most of the readership of this web magazine.
The anti-war Left was formidable in galvanizing a backlash against Bush and Blair for a very simple reason: The Left has a cultural war machine that can generate real enthusiasm among otherwise nonpolitical people. In contrast, there is no right-wing person in any field with equivalent visibility to Oliver Stone or Rage Against the Machine. Another dubious “advantage” for the Democrats as an institution is that many of them have no actual accountability or fear. How else can one explain how Mayor Rahm Emanuel—loathed by the Right for sure but even more so by the Left for his handling of the Laquan McDonald saga—after just five years in the dog house, lands an ambassadorship under the new administration . . . to China, no less!
Nowadays thanks to the effects of social media curation and censorship, the effect of the anti-war Left is more neutralized than ever. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), two vehement anti-war Democrats, have been body-checked out of primary races by media attacks labeling them Assad toadies. In 2020, Maffick Media sued Facebook for labeling it “Russia state-controlled media” because of its opinions on war and peace. The lawsuit was dismissed. Joe Biden will also be the third president after Obama and Trump to have his administration pursue Julian Assange and Edward Snowden on criminal charges for their whistleblowing.
Unfortunately, the conservative anti-war movement is much smaller and more poorly organized, divided hopelessly between various figures like Ron Paul who have never had the clout to overcome the institutional heft and raw ruthlessness of their opposition.
A Proper Anti-War Party?
The landscape is now starker than ever: Whatever may be the substance of the rest of one’s politics, opposing foreign military deployments is liable to leave one persecuted, whether through social media rage mobs or actual criminal investigations.
It’s not easy in these dreary times to offer much advice in the face of such adversity. Critics of the call for a new “Patriot Party” are citing its main weakness as being electoral viability, which is a valid issue. But an equally valid issue is the fact that we have one president, two parties, three branches of government, two Gangs of Eight to “bridge the gap” on matters of intelligence and immigration, 15 fully constituted federal departments, but no institution of any significance that scrutinizes past, present, and future military adventures overseas.
Has the time not come for there to be a political party that unites around this issue when the existing ones are content to sweep it under the rug and muzzle those who would confront it? The price of not having one is counted not in dollars and Bitcoin, but in bombed-out building façades and flag-draped coffins.