Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A superb website: Antiwar.com

One of my favorite websites is Antiwar.com, which offers news and opinion pieces related to wars throughout the world, from a libertarian, non-interventionist perspective. The site was founded in December 1995 as a response to the Bosnian war.

While publishing antiwar texts and perspectives from writers of all sorts of political beliefs, antiwar.com openly espouses libertarian leanings. Since I regard myself as a “libertarian with sanity” (and definitely with a lowercase l), I find this approach congenial for the most part. I used to say that I am not a pacificist, and I still think that Desert Storm (expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait) was justified. However, with the recent disasters in our ill-advised role as world’s policeman I am coming to think that the bar for going to war should be very high.

The gay libertarian Justin Raimondo was the chief founder; he remains the editorial director. The editorial stance is libertarian with a "big tent" message, encouraging libertarians, paleoconservatives, and the anti-war left to work together in opposition to war. Columnists for the site include Justin Raimondo, Ivan Eland, Praful Bidwai, Ran HaCohen, Nebojša Malić, Alan Bock, Charles V. Peña, Doug Bandow, David Henderson and Joseph Stromberg. Other notable contributors who write exclusively for the site include Michael Scheuer, Aaron Glantz, Gordon Prather, Edouard Husson, and Jon Basil Utley. The site also includes various columns taken from the Internet, with authors ranging from libertarians and Old Right conservatives (such as Ron Paul, Paul Craig Roberts, William Lind, Charley Reese and Pat Buchanan) to antiwar leftists (including Alexander Cockburn, Norman Solomon, Noam Chomsky, Joshua Frank, John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Kathy Kelly, Jonathan Cook, Cindy Sheehan, Juan Cole, Tom Engelhardt of The Nation, and others).

Despite this impressively eclectic outreach, the political establishment, especially the “permanent government” ensconced in Washington DC, has succeeded in marginalizing Antiwar.com. They were enraged when the group initially opposed Bush’s assault on Iraq--and even more enraged when that misguided effort turned sour.

Don’t let the establishment win this one by default. Read Antiwar.com!

As a sample, I am reprinting below some excerpts from Justin Raimondo’s latest article, “US Foreign Policy and the Cult of ‘Expertise.’” This brilliant analysis goes a long way to showing why Washington keeps involving us in disastrous wars, despite the expressed wish of our people to avoid them. Raimondo:

“The news that Americans want the U.S. government to mind its own business when it comes to foreign affairs has our Washington elite in a panic. The explanatory notes accompanying a new Pew poll [.pdf] describe the "rise in isolationist sentiment" that started during George W. Bush’s second term and continues in the age of Obama. The agonized hand-wringing is all too apparent in the use of the "isolationist" epithet and even in the way the question was asked: should the U.S. "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own"? Forty-nine percent – the highest proportion "in nearly half a century of polling" – answered yes. And that’s not all: a gob-smacking 76 percent agreed the U.S. should "concentrate more on our own national problems and building up our strength and prosperity here at home," as opposed to "think[ing] in international terms."

“The poll took samples from two groups: common, ordinary, everyday people (i.e., you and me) and members of the Council on Foreign Relations, an elite group of foreign policy-oriented intellectuals, policy wonks, and high muckamucks. The elite group disagreed sharply with the general public’s view on virtually every important question: for example, none of the CFR members thought we should mind our own business – a policy that would go against the group’s history and orientation, which has always been pronouncedly interventionist.

“Founded by disciples of Cecil Rhodes, who sought to reestablish the fading glory of the British empire by using the U.S. as Britain’s cat’s-paw, the CFR doesn’t just represent the views of the American Establishment – it is the Establishment. And that Establishment is committed irrevocably to the idea that America’s destiny is to inherit the mantle of world leadership: in the CFR’s view, the question is not whether we ought to police the world, but rather how to go about it. The American public, on the other hand, is sick to death of endless war – the inevitable result of assuming "world leadership" – and is increasingly diverging from elite opinion when it comes to the pressing foreign policy issues of the day.

“For example, as this poll shows, when it comes to Afghanistan, the latest theater in which the interventionist drama is being played out, the gulf between the elites and the public is wide, and getting deeper: 50 percent of the CFR group support Obama’s Afghan "surge," while among the hoi polloi the number drops to 32 percent. Asked if the United States should be the "most assertive" world leader, only 19 percent of the general public agrees, but when it comes to the CFR, the numbers turn around: 62 percent want the "most assertive" role for the U.S.”


Ramondo continues: “How do we account for the huge gap between the people and those who make policy in their name? To begin with, we have an entire class of people whose jobs, social prestige, and livelihoods are directly tied to our foreign policy of global intervention. These people are naturally inclined to favor militarism and meddling in the affairs of other nations. This group, while small in numbers, wields an outsized influence when it comes to such matters, and it can successfully defy popular opinion for quite a long time.

"It manages to hornswoggle the public with a number of scams, notably the cult of expertise, which Americans have traditionally been suckers for, and never more so than today, when confusion over the sheer complexity of some of the foreign policy issues being raised makes people particularly vulnerable to the argument from authority.”


“The cult of expertise is being used to maximum effect by the Obamaites as they prepare to bog us down in the Afghan quagmire for the next five to 10 years: that’s why it supposedly took 92 days for the One to reach a decision on the Afghan escalation issue, as he conducted an extended foreign policy seminar-and-debating-society at the highest reaches of his administration. The whole charade – as if withdrawal was ever an option! – fits in with the self-described "pragmatism" of the Obama administration, which abjures general principles and affects a brisk "just the facts" get-the-job-done air – a method and style that neatly evades the question of whether the job should be done at all.

“Another trick that allows the foreign policy elite to get away with pursuing a course so out of sync with the general population is elite control of the political system. As we never cease reminding the rest of the world, America is a democracy, and the people get to vote for – or vote out – their leaders. However, when both candidates – and there are usually only two major applicants for the job – advocate variations on the same interventionist themes, then the "choice" presented to voters is strictly limited, and in fact nearly meaningless.”


A third method used to get around the common-sense "isolationism" of the American people is interventionist control of the "mainstream" media – which can be counted on to act as a megaphone for government officials and the interests that back them. While the tendency of Americans to want to stay out of foreign entanglements might apply in most cases, in some instances people are ready to make an exception if specific grounds can be found ("weapons of mass destruction," the presence of al-Qaeda, or perhaps both of these together) to make an exception.”


“The portrait painted by the Pew poll is of an increasingly isolated – and anxious – elite whose foreign policy views are nearly the opposite of the overwhelming majority of Americans. Our Brahmins face a crisis of confidence, one that could very well be followed by a crisis of legitimacy – and that is what they fear most of all.

“This crisis is exacerbated not only by the increasing failure of our foreign policy to do what it is supposed to do – that is, protect Americans from harm – but by a number of relatively recent developments that undermine their methods of suppressing majority "isolationist" sentiment.

“The first and most obvious is the Internet, which has not only bypassed the "mainstream" media and, indeed, driven it into near-bankruptcy, but which has also delivered a body blow to the cult of the "experts." After all, who is an "expert," and why are they so called? Well, because they generally have credentials and, therefore, are given a platform by the media to expound on matters they supposedly know everything about. Yet with the advent of the Internet, the significance of this "mainstream" platform is radically reduced. Add to this the wide availability of previously obscure knowledge – thanks be to the gods of Google! – and credentialism is thrown out the window. Today, an unknown writer can take to the Internet, set up a blog, and – perhaps – become the go-to source for this or that specialized branch of knowledge. An alternative crop of experts has arisen, which rivals the old crowd and indeed seems to be fast surpassing them, at least so far as influence over the public is concerned.

“Yet the elite stranglehold on our foreign policy continues, in large part due to the iron grip of the interventionists on the two-party system. Our present conundrum – a president elected to office largely on the strength of his "antiwar" stance, who is now taking us into a wider and more difficult war than his warlike predecessor ever conceived – is an eloquent testament to this cruel fact.”

“If the leadership of both major parties sees Afghanistan as a "war of necessity," then the War Party can relax – because the restive public will have no one to turn to even as it rejects the policies put forward by the elites. This is why the policymakers can continue to ignore the rising rebellion against interventionism roiling the American street and continue talking only to themselves.

“In their view, ordinary Americans don’t matter: only politicians, lobbyists, and other policy wonks matter. But this Marie Antoinette attitude can only take them so far before they run the risk of revolution.”

My only dissent [WRD here again] is the idea Raimondo advances at the outset--that the DC elites are “in panic.” It looks to me as if they are getting their way, as usual. But hopefully not forever. As Winston Churchill sagely remarked, "one can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing--after they have exhausted every other option."


Blogger Burk said...

Hi, Wayne-

"However, when both candidates – and there are usually only two major applicants for the job – advocate variations on the same interventionist themes, then the "choice" presented to voters is strictly limited, and in fact nearly meaningless."

I don't think this considers the nature of representative democracy deeply enough. Firstly, there is a place for elitism, as you yourself argue for in your own area of expertise. So it might very well be that most responsible leaders in all honesty favor internationalism, still internalizing the lessons of world war 2, for instance, where Roosevelt had the most difficult time doing what was right and counteracting the isolationism of the popular mood.

Secondly, democratic candidates seek the center, and that involves continually incorporating majority opinions and capturing issues from the opposition. If one candidate (say, Obama) could have run a winning campaign on "end all wars now, and never go back", he would have.

But the country has enough realists and thoughtful people to make such a strategy a non-starter, since whatever the majority may say when asked to choose whether they like war or not, more considered reflection of our interests (not to mention right-wing harping and jingo-ism) make such pollyannish policies irresponsible and non-winning.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

An interesting posting, BB. As regards the contrast of elite opinion vs. general opinion, one can cite examples on both sides. Sixty years ago, elite opinion, headed by such figures as Irving Bieber and Edmund Bergler, assured us that homosexual behavior was pathological. Frank Kameny neatly turned the tables by his remark that "homosexuals are the experts on homosexuality." The self-designated experts had no relevant experience, and were simply b.s.ing. And of course were making money by "curing" gays.

On the other hand, surely elite opinion is correct in supporting evolution as against creationism. Here the contrast is not as clear cut, since only ("only") 40% of the people believe that evolution is a crock. That means that there are plenty of ordinary people who accept it--though sometimes I wonder if their number is decreasing.

So how can one decide? These issues have been canvased in a recent book by Philip Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? According to Tetlock there are a number of distorting factors that lead the elites astray, one being overconfidence ("the accuracy of an expert's predictions decreased the greater the person's self-confidence, celebrity and depth of knowledge" ). Another is group-think. Most of us are reluctant to step too far away from opinions that are endorsed by the eminentos.

I experienced a vivid example of groupthink when I argued with a group of DC-based policy wonks in 2002 about the advisability of invading Iraq. I (and no a few other dissidents) was right; the experts were wrong.

As far as foreign policy goes, we are still in the shadow of the doctrine worked out in the late 1940s: politics stops at the water's edge. Through such consensus we got the Marshall Plan. Good. Now we have two unwinnable wars. Not good.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Stephen M. Walt, commenting on a litmus test applied to government appointees, indicates another reason for distrusting "experts'":

"Groups in the [Israel] lobby target public servants like Freeman, Hagel, and Rosenthal because they want to make sure that no one with even a mildly independent view on Middle East affairs gets appointed. By making an example of them, they seek to discourage independent-minded people from expressing their views openly, lest doing so derail their own career prospects later on. And it works. Even if the lobby doesn't manage to block every single appointment, they can make any administration think twice about a potentially "controversial" choice and use the threat to stifle open discourse among virtually all members of the mainstream foreign policy community (and certainly anyone who aspires to public service in Washington).

"The result, of course, is the U.S. Middle East policy (and U.S. foreign policy more generally) is reserved for those who are either steadfastly devoted to the "special relationship" or who have been intimidated into silence. The result? U.S. policy remains in the hands of the same set of "experts" whose policies for the past seventeen years (or more) have been a steady recipe for failure. If a few more Americans read Ha'aretz, they might start to figure this out."

9:03 AM  

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