October 13, 2005
"Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They’ve got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."
Regular readers of these musings might suspect that we have been rather hard on our anointed Zeus and the pantheon of lesser gods he commands, namely, the President and the Republican Party. In truth, criticizing the GOP is like dynamite fishing: hardly sporting, but appealing nevertheless when one is in a certain mood.
Certainly, the Party of Lincoln provides rich material for humor of a rather sarcastic kind: a war on Iraq that may be the greatest strategic disaster in our history; doubling the national debt in fewer than five years; the tomfoolery of Freedom Fries ; a tragic-comic ineptitude at protecting U.S. citizens from the mere vicissitudes of weather while simultaneously claiming the divine power to coerce all mankind into an earthly utopia; the nomination to the Supreme Court of Miss Harriet Miers.
Indeed, the planned investiture of Miss Miers in the robe of Hammurabi promises further entertainment for those who cherish an obscene sense of humor. Her confirmation hearing is sure to produce a Vesuvius-like outpouring of quackery from the Robertsons, Falwells, Dobsons, and LaHayes which has rarely been matched in our history. One has to go back to the solemn asininities of William Jennings Bryan, Billy Sunday, and Aimee Semple McPherson to find their equal. Under the GOP, America has truly entered a second Golden Age of politico-religious kitsch.
But after savoring the ludicrous aspects of the current Republican hegemony, one sobers up and returns to the mundane. Perpetual war, Argentine levels of debt, and rampant corruption are hardly conducive to national survival, let alone prosperity. Isn’t it time to turn the fat hogs out and give the lean hogs a shot?
When the party in power behaves like Peronists without the extravagant wardrobe, one is tempted to believe that those who nominally oppose that party would be more rational and public spirited. That is one of the cherished myths of the National Story, at any rate.
A glance at this morning’s Washington Post op-ed page, the bulletin board of America’s nomenklatura, quickly brings one back to earth. In a piece entitled "Using Our Leverage: The Troops," Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), a presumed scourge of the Bush administration, argues that a subtle threat to pull out U.S. troops would be the inducement or sub rosa extortion to get the Iraqi politicians to settle their differences and ultimately defeat the insurgency. 
On one level, this is an outburst of unbelievable naiveté. One can only imagine that Senator Levin has been brainwashed  by his various Potemkin tours of the Green Zone so as to believe that the U.S. military occupation is actually popular. It is not. On the other hand, we can assume that the minority of Iraqis who have battened on to the occupation for their own position or profit already have their visas in order should the plug ever be pulled. Prospectively, they are just one more émigré group poised to drive up rents in Arlington, Virginia. The idea that the "threat" to pull out U.S. military forces leverages anything is an exercise in delusion. This is what Democrats concoct when desperation forces them to devise an alternative Iraq policy.
At a deeper, moral level, Senator Levin’s thesis is even more dispiriting. Our troops, you must understand, are "leverage." Flesh and blood Americans are dying every day, but they are leverage: counters, pawns, bargaining chips in a game of Realpolitik. If the Democrats want to prove they are "tough enough for the job," i.e., as coldly cynical as the other party, they are off to a promising start.
Further clues as to the Democrats’ thinking on Iraq can be gleaned from their reaction to the President’s recent address to the National Endowment for Democracy. Enough criticism has been leveled at this address for its high-school Wilsonianism, Chautauqua tent revivalism, and geo-strategic mumbo-jumbo that further analysis here would merely be cruel. 
It is, however, worth a moment’s detour to expatiate on the venue of the President’s speech, the National Endowment for Democracy, and what it signifies for the relative positions of the two American political parties.
NED is one of the most hellish of all the spawns of your out-of-control government.
Year in and year out, be the administration Democrat or Republican, NED has survived as a curious hybrid: part taxpayer-financed slush fund for the two political parties (NED being a money conduit for the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs), and part general staff organization for ideological zealots.
Thus NED achieves the best of both worlds: it provides sinecures for out-of-work party hacks and at the same time serves as an incubator of neoconservative-oriented "regime change" schemes while avoiding accountability as a supposedly non-governmental organization. Its President, Carl Gershman, a social democrat, has run the outfit since its founding in 1983. Its intellectual traditions rest on many of the same ideologically leftist European roots as the neoconservatives’ visions do.
To expand Huey Long’s metaphor, NED is the ultimate in political fusion cuisine. Where else could former Trotskyites, Democratic Socialists, and Hegelians appreciatively receive the lucubrations of a fourth-generation Republican oligarch who coincidentally receives instructions from God about his conduct of foreign policy?
This situation explains why NED is a darling of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, that Pravda of crony capitalism and neocon tub-thumping. It is said that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also likes NED. As a custodian of Senatorial campaign largesse, Senator McConnell presumably knows whereof he speaks. Further heightening the irony, his wife, Elaine Chao, is the ferociously anti-labor Secretary of Labor; yet union hacks serve amicably on the NED board, while the Free Trade Union Institute, a labor front group, cheerfully sucks at the taxpayer teat via NED.
Enough, then, about NED as the apotheosis of bipartisan collusion to entangle the American people in endless foreign intervention and meddling. What of the Democrats’ reaction to the President’s ruminations on Iraq and the Middle East delivered at that institution?
A glance at the pages of The Congressional Record for 6 October 2005 reveals this response from the Democrats’ chief foreign policy spokesman and one of Capitol Hill’s most sententiously tedious windbags, Senator Joseph Biden.
Mr. BIDEN. "Mr. President, today, in his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush gave a vivid and, I believe, compelling description of the threat to America and to freedom from radical Islamic fundamentalism. He made, in my view, a powerful case for what is at stake for every American.
"Simply put, the radical fundamentalists seek to kill our citizens in great numbers, to disrupt our economy, and to reshape the international order. They would take the world backwards, replacing freedom with fear and hope with hatred. If they were to acquire a nuclear weapon, the threat they would pose to America would be literally existential.
"The President said it well. The President is right that we cannot and will not retreat. We will defend ourselves and defeat the enemies of freedom and progress." 
Senator Biden goes on to criticize the administration on the usual counts: not enough progress in training Iraqis, not enough "engagement" with our allies, not enough electricity production, and so forth. But for all this carping about the consequences of invading Iraq, he fails to criticize the premises that created justification for the attack in the first place.
For it was the fantasy of imposing democracy at bayonet point, of "defeating the enemies of freedom and progress," that was the ideological cover for the invasion of Iraq. The first three paragraphs of Senator Biden’s statement are fully equal to the worst balderdash of Richard Perle or Kenneth Adelman.
Senator Biden makes a revealing slip when he says later, ". . . once we decided to focus on Iraq, we went to war too soon. We went without the rest of the world, and we went under false premises."
What does "too soon" mean? Does he mean that, once Osama bin Laden would have been dispatched in Afghanistan, it would have been OK to invade Iraq? But the premises still would have been false. Would he have waited until Colin Powell harangued the Security Council into submission? The premises, as Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei could have attested, would still be false.
It may be plausibly objected that Senator Biden is a special case. He is assumed to be hag-ridden by the demon ambition, and sees himself as a future Secretary of State, if not President. Accordingly, he must appease the panjandrums of the foreign policy establishment. Other Democrats, surely, are not so robotically in synch with every whim, tic, and tropism of the Received Wisdom.
One would imagine his colleague, Senator Richard Durbin, who is both more "populist" than Senator Biden as well as coming from a part of the country (the Midwest) that is less prone to foreign policy hallucinations than the Bos-Wash Corridor from whence Senator Biden sprang, to look with an eye a great deal more jaundiced than his Delaware counterpart.
A few minutes after Senator Biden’s rodomontade, Senator Durbin also unburdened himself on the subject of Iraq.  While not as obvious a bit of bosh as Senator Biden’s, and while asking a few sensible questions, Senator Durbin’s address falls prey to the same fallacies that befall all of our political class when they are trying to be "constructively" critical. We need metrics and timetables, he says, and we need to know when the troops will come home (although he is not so sufficiently bold as to propose a date).
The jarring note is his wish that the administration would be enlightened enough to "engage" (that word again) Iraq’s neighbors and Muslim nations in an effort to stabilize Iraq. The short answer is that the instant Iraq became "stable" (i.e., once the U.S. military were to get its hands free), at least two of Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran, would immediately become subject to extreme diplomatic coercion at the very least, or possibly even military invasion. What government would voluntarily undertake its own suicide?
As for other Muslim countries, why would they bail out the United States by consenting to send troops to substitute for the Anglo-American occupation? If they did not consent to it two and one half years ago, when the tide of affairs appeared to be running in the Americans’ favor, why would they do it when the tide, as far as the Americans are concerned, is now ebbing quickly? Quite apart from the fact that any Muslim government which sent troops to Iraq would risk being overthrown by its own subjects.
Senator Durbin’s rhetorical pussyfooting is typical of the Democratic Caucus at large. However much they may rail about Halliburton or nonexistent WMD, the Democrats are, for the most part, a licensed opposition hoping one day to capture the spoils of Washington and rule according to most of the assumptions of the people they will have vanquished.
This attitude accounts for the initiative of Senators Clinton and Biden, among several others, to add 80,000 personnel slots to the Army. One may object on practical grounds that it is hard enough to maintain the Army at the present level. That objection, however, probably misses the point: their proposal is purely a rhetorical flourish, designed to reassure anxious soccer moms that the Democrats are "tough enough" to protect their little Megans and Jennifers from rampaging dictators.
As the final count in this bill of indictment, we turn to Richard Holbrooke, President Clinton’s United Nations ambassador and perpetual scold about the imperative for "muscular internationalism" presumably with himself and his friends doing the muscle-flexing.
In a 7 October interview with the ever-voluble Chris Matthews, Mr. Holbrooke disgorged himself of the following axiom:
HOLBROOKE: "The Democratic Party is the party that has created . . ."
HOLBROOKE: ". . . the modern American national security system, from Woodrow Wilson right straight through.
"The Republicans have now adopted a lot of old Democratic rhetoric about values, democracy, freedom, human rights, while continuing to argue for a large defense budget. That is where the Democrats always were. The Republicans were more isolationists, or, in the Nixon-Kissinger period, Realpolitik people." 
There we have it. It’s really the Democrats whom we should thank for the modern American national security system that got us where we are today in Iraq, with Korea and Vietnam as way-stations.
We should therefore humbly thank the Democrats for the Espionage Act of 1917, passed at the behest of President Wilson. Under its draconian provisions over 450 conscientious objectors were imprisoned, including Rose Pastor Stokes, who received ten years in the penitentiary for stating, in a letter to the Kansas City Star, that "no government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people while the government is for the profiteers." Even a presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs, was sentenced to prison for the crime of criticizing the sainted Woodrow. One wonders: is this sort of Wilsonianism muscular enough for Mr. Holbrooke?
If not, there is the National Security Act of 1947, creating a National Security Council unanswerable to Congress, and removing from the American people the right to the information James Madison believed necessary for a constitutional republic when he said, "a popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." 
Yes, all calumny by Karl Rove to the contrary, the Democrats can hold their heads up high. They are a pillar of the National Security State. As for the American people, if they have a shred of intelligence or self-respect left, they will find themselves another restaurant.
WERTHER is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.
 The originator of the term Freedom Fries, the Hon. Walter Jones (R-NC), has recanted his support for the Iraq war after seeing one body bag too many. He is as a consequence a pariah in his own party. The Chairman of the House Administration Committee, the Hon. Robert Ney (R-OH), who actually imposed the renaming of the pomme frit on the House restaurants, now threatens to be ground up in the clanking machinery of the Abramoff scandal. Rarely has justice ever been so symmetrical.
 The Washington Post, 10 October 2005, p. A19
 One speculates the process may be similar to MACV’s magical mystery tours of Vietnam for the benefit of American politicians. After glimpsing the truth about Vietnam, would-be Republican presidential candidate George Romney exclaimed "I’ve been brainwashed!" Retorted Senator Eugene McCarthy, "in his case, a light rinse would have been sufficient."
 It has been slammed in such diverse quarters as Jim Lobe (mainstream critic of the war), Justin Raimondo (libertarian), and Srdja Trifkovic (paleo-conservative).
 The Congressional Record, p. S11189.
 Ibid., pp. S11190-91.
 Transcript of Hardball with Chris Matthews, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9646367/
 James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, 4 August 1822.