The Making of American Foreign
It's all about domestic politics
by Justin Raimondo
April 21, 2010
Writing on his Foreign Policy blog, Stephen
Walt notes the uptick in war hysteria directed at Iran, and, like
a good realist, looks at the US-Iranian military equation with
a cold-eyed attention to facts and figures. He lists the huge
military and economic disparities in favor of the US, bare numbers
that speak truth to war propaganda, and then wonders aloud:
"The more one thinks about it, the
odder our obsession with Iran appears. It's a pretty unlovable
regime, to be sure, but given Iran's actual capabilities, why
do U.S. leaders devote so much time and effort trying to corral
support for more economic sanctions (which aren't going to work)
or devising strategies to 'contain' an Iran that shows no sign
of being able to expand in any meaningful way?"
In search of an answer to this puzzling
question, Walt goes on to explore the non-military aspects of
the Middle Eastern conflict, averring that "simple bean counts
like the one presented above do not tell you everything about
the two countries, or the political challenges that Iran might
pose to its neighbors." Pointing to Iranian support for Hezbollah
and influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Walt nevertheless urges
us not to overstate the alleged Iranian "threat" and
allow ourselves to be stampeded into another unnecessary war.
One couldn't agree more, and yet I can't help but notice Walt
failed to answer his own question: why are our "leaders"
devoting so much time and effort to corral support for murderous
sanctions (remember Iraq) and other acts of war?
The answer, of course, is contained in
the pages of a book Walt co-authored, with John Mearsheimer, that
tells a good part of the story. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign
Policy is invariably described as "controversial," or
even "extremely controversial," but this is merely an
indication of how tame our political discourse has become in the
Republic's late senescence. In reality the book merely demonstrates,
at length and in great detail, a simple truism that everyone already
knows and long ago learned to live with: the decisive influence
of Israel's partisans in the formulation and conduct of US foreign
This dominant position has been true since
the Reagan years, and, what's more, it has been common knowledge:
after all, it was Fortune magazine, not The National Socialist
News, that rated the Israel lobby the second most powerful in
Washington. This lobby unites the broadest coalition in American
politics, ranging from the left wing of the Democratic party all
the way to the furthest reaches of the ultra-right, not to mention
including the bipartisan political establishment in Washington.
A huge ongoing propaganda campaign is
constantly churning out pro-Israel materials directed at a wide
variety of special interest groups: the lobby's most well-known
success story is the Christian fundamentalist faction, which believes
in the key role played by Israel as a harbinger of the second
coming of Christ. The lobby has parlayed this into a powerful
domestic constituency fanatically devoted to Israel's cause -
and not just the cause of the current Israeli government, but
of the most extremist and expansionist elements in the Israeli
A less well-known triumph of niche marketing
is the Israeli propaganda effort directed at the gay community.
The Israeli government has sponsored ads appearing in San Francisco's
bus shelters extolling the IDF because it doesn't discriminate
against gays, and a recent tour of Israel's gay hot spots promises
a visit with hunky IDF soldiers. Pat Robertson and the advocates
of gay liberation - together at last!
We're an empire now, and it's perfectly
rational for every state actor in the world who wants something
from Uncle Sam to not only show up at the imperial court in Washington
and seek the favor of the most powerful ruler in world history,
but also to make an appeal to his subjects. Since Congress long
ago ceded its war-making and oversight powers to the executive,
an American president, once in office, can wreak considerable
havoc in the conduct of our foreign affairs
Yet even Caesar operates under certain
constraints: i.e. the vicissitudes of domestic politics, which
require him to hand out favors to his supporters in order to remain
in power beyond the next election. It is safe to say, with certain
rare exceptions, that every political leader acts purely out of
his own self-interest: that is, with an eye to either achieving
political office or else retaining that office once elected. This
is merely a restatement of a simple axiom: every ruling class
acts to preserve its rule.
The American elite, however, is particularly
ruthless, these days, in its pursuit of naked self-interest: the
old British idea of politics as a "public service,"
a selfless act of noblesse oblige, went out with the first Bush
administration, and had been near extinct long before then. Today,
it is a veritable free-for-all, with various interest groups lunging
at the loot, and battling over it on the public stage, so that
American politics often looks like an episode of the Jerry Springer
This vulgarity has carried over into the
realm of foreign affairs, coinciding with the rising influence
of the neoconservatives. The neocons, whose unabashed appetite
for foreign conquests, and open boasts that they were establishing
an "American empire," really defined the style and spirit
of the American "hegemon," whose supremacy they proclaim
[.pdf] must be the underlying objective of American foreign policy.
The present administration, for all its talk of "change,"
has continued to operate within the same paradigm that assumes
unchallenged American supremacy the world over.
With such an extremist philosophy, one
would think the neocons would've had a hard time pushing though
their hard-line policies, especially given the much-lamented "isolationism"
of the American people, and yet their success hinged on the interests
of various interest groups that, together, hardly constitute a
majority of the American people, but certainly dominate the "higher
circles" in government, in the business world, and in the
media. Using this leverage, the War Party's coalition of ideological,
business, and foreign interests managed to whip up a storm of
war hysteria against Iraq very similar to what is being whipped
up today against Iran.
With one big difference: there is very
little pretense being made as to whose interests a war against
Iran is designed to serve, unlike in the previous instance. Here
the power of the Israel lobby is rearing up to its full height,
with Israeli government officials openly calling on the nations
of the world - i.e. the United States - to commit acts of war
against Iran: impose sanctions, set up a blockade, and effect
"regime change" by whatever means. And Israel's amen
corner in the US is echoing this call, with the drumbeat for war
getting louder by the month. Only a war-weary public, presently
embroiled in bitter domestic internecine disputes, stands in the
way of their success.
Our leaders are afraid of the public reaction
if it should ever come to war, and so the President and his administration
are caught in a vise, pressed by fear of the Lobby on one side,
and fear of their own people on the other. On the one hand, a
war at the height of an economic depression might be just the
trick for turning things around politically. On the other hand,
the backlash could be terrible, and politically fatal, like prematurely
awakening a wild animal from hibernation - there's always the
danger it will turn on you. Under these circumstances, will they
dare to go ahead with it?
In earnestly looking for some external
reason for the drive to war - some geopolitical dynamic that would
explain the inordinate attention paid to a weak adversary whose
ability to hurt us is severely constrained - it's no wonder Professor
Walt came up empty-handed. No such dynamic exists: what does exist,
however, is American politics, the course of which determines
the policies we pursue overseas. There is no disinterested determination
of where our interests, as a nation, lie, or what course would
best protect the citizens of this country from attack: what is
being protected, here, is not the physical and economic safety
of the American people, but the particular interests of certain
politicians and their supporters.
Will we go to war with Iran? No one knows.
But if it serves the interests of a politically beleaguered, increasingly
unpopular President or party to divert public attention away from
domestic problems by launching a campaign of fear - The Iranians
are coming! The Iranians are coming! - and creating a "crisis,"
well then, war is hardly inconceivable. Indeed, it seems more
likely by the day.
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