TCS Daily

Are We All Reaganites Now?

By Stephen Schwartz - June 11, 2004 12:00 AM

With the passing of Ronald Reagan, we are all, it seems, Reaganites. Democrats no less than Republicans have saluted the Great Communicator as a champion of liberty. Politicians and intellectuals who loathed him during his presidency have been forced by the passage of time to recognize his wisdom, above all in challenging the "evil empire" of Soviet Communism.

It would seem, then, that much has changed since President Reagan left the White House. Yet in another context, that of the Iraq war, things have not changed at all, or have gotten much worse. But then, paradoxes abound these days.

Against the Neocons

The Iraq war also represents a battle against an "evil empire," that of Islamist terrorism and especially of Saudi-backed Wahhabism. Wahhabi clerics south of the Iraq border with the desert kingdom incite Saudi subjects to kill and die fighting the Coalition in Fallujah, and to attack Shia Muslims with terror bombings elsewhere in what was once Mesopotamia.

Yet suddenly, Retired Marine Gens. Anthony Zinni and Joseph Hoar, and others like them, have become "political generals" in the mold of the corrupt Latin American military caste. They have lent the credibility of their military careers to a campaign of defamation against the defense intellectuals now serving in the Pentagon, effectively supporting the isolationist and leftist argument that a neoconservative or Zionist "cabal" has seized control of the foreign policy of our country.

In an interview published in The Washington Post on December 23, 2003, Zinni scored Paul Wolfowitz and others in the administration as "neocons who didn't understand the region and were going to create havoc there. These were dilettantes from Washington think tanks who never had an idea that worked on the ground."

Gen. Hoar (Ret.) is bolder than Gen. Zinni (Ret.). The former disgracefully attacked deputy defense secretary Wolfowitz in the vocabulary of open Jew-baiting: "Wolfowitz doesn't know much about the business he's in," Hoar declaimed, when interviewed in another Washington Post article, also published on December 23, 2003. "He knows very little about war fighting. And he knows very little about the Middle East, aside from maybe Israel."

And what is this great wisdom about the Middle East missing in Wolfowitz?

Zinni, Hoar, and their civilian boosters, a mass of isolationist "experts", warn Americans that the Middle East possesses an ineffable and unchallengeable reality that they understand but the neoconservatives cannot grasp.

Strangely, this unique reality happens to be based in feudalism and corruption. Even more curiously, according to the political generals and isolationist "experts", the Arab dictators and oil potentates have apparently managed to change human nature. They have accomplished something the Pharaoh challenged by Moses, and the Thirty Tyrants who compelled Socrates to commit suicide, and the corrupt rulers of Mecca who forced the Prophet Muhammad to leave their city could not, and Hitler and Stalin could not. Said Arab misrulers have somehow achieved the impossible: they have conditioned their subjects -- or rather, their victims -- to hate freedom.

Equally suddenly, conspiracy theories about obscure Jewish philosophers like Leo Strauss, as the inspirers of the aforementioned Trotsko-fascist "neocon" cabal, are mainstream, appearing in such formerly-respectable venues as Harpers magazine. And we have now seen an American President boldly and publicly accused of "lying" about a matter for which there remains a significant lack of evidence -- the disposition of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. After which Ahmad Chalabi, a man who fought for the liberty of his fellow-Iraqis, with little real backing from anyone else in the world, for decades, is accused of participating in an Iranian conspiracy to "trick" the U.S. into toppling Saddam.

And suddenly, Sen. John Kerry proclaims, in a May 30, 2004 interview in The Washington Post, that his Democratic party is now, in effect, isolationist, and that if he is elected President, democracy in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, China, and Russia would be considered secondary issues to the security of our country. But as we saw on September 11, a lack of reform in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt led directly to the rise of al-Qaida and a significant threat to us.

What is going on in the world?

To quote Bob Dylan, lo, these many years ago, "something is happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?"

Making 'Democracy' and 'Freedom' Dirty Words

Are we really all Reaganites now? What would the man who brought down Soviet Communism, who ordered the invasion of Grenada, and who armed the Nicaraguan contras, latterly in a defiance of Congress comparable to that of Franklin Roosevelt when he sent destroyers to Britain 1940, say to the opponents of a liberation strategy in the Arab world?

Some things are not new: the arguments advanced against the Bush agenda of liberation and transformation in Iraq and the wider Middle East were put forward against President Reagan and his challenge to the rulers of the Kremlin. But in those days such charges were more often defended by fringe elements, not by mainstream pundits, politicos and leading retired military officers.

Even the ludicrous claim that American foreign policy has fallen into the hands of recusant Trotskyists obsessed with "permanent revolution" (a term none of those who use it as an insult today even understand) was first advanced by Michael Massing in an article titled "Trotsky's Orphans," in The New Republic on June 22, 1987.

Only one thing is new: liberal and left media have managed to erect a ludicrously high bar for evidence in such matters as the relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. By the standard demanded in today's media, which calls for nothing less than a signed agreement between Saddam and Bin Laden to prove the existence of their common enterprise, Hitler may be relieved of blame for the Holocaust, since no official order for the massacre of the Jews issued over his personal signature is known to exist. Yet the Jews were murdered in the millions, and not by accident. As for Saddam and Osama, nobody in the Muslim world doubts the existence of active cooperation between them; after all, they shared a single overriding goal - removal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia.

But the absurd debate over the Saddam-Osama alliance goes along quite well with the campaign to make "democracy" and "freedom" dirty words when they are offered to Arabs or Muslims, and the equation of "neoconservatism" with "Zionist fanaticism." The latter argument lurks behind every reference to the "neoconservative cabal" in the Pentagon, and every claim that the Iraq war has been fought to benefit Israel, and some commentators, including David Brooks at The New York Times, were quite right to say that "neocon" is used in this context to mean "Jewish."

Americans as Nazis?

In the period just before World War II the Anglo-American and French admirers of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese army believed democracy was inappropriate for those ruled by fascism and militarism. They dismissed as insignificant the crimes of the dictators in Manchuria, the rest of China, the Rhineland, Ethiopia, and Spain, so long as America, Britain, and France were not directly threatened; and they hated the Jews.

And now, in major European media, coincident with the commemoration of D-Day, we are told that the American troops who made up "the greatest generation" were not such liberating heroes after all. They shot the steeples off churches in Normandy to prevent their use as sniping posts, and perhaps there was a reason the French got along so well with the Germans; the latter were, it seems, more polite than G.I.s from Youngstown and Cheyenne... at least to non-Jews. An extraordinary example of this revisionist view appeared in the Financial Times of June 5, 2004, under the byline of Bertrand Benoit, the paper's bureau chief in Berlin who describes himself, amazingly, as the child of Free French soldiers in World War II.

In an article titled "What the Soldier Saw," Benoit presents interviews with two German veterans of D-Day, who manned a machine gun nest on "Bloody Omaha" beach, as well as a French peasant who lived through the invasion. In their retelling of the Nazi occupation of Normandy, "the Wehrmacht's rule in the French hedgerow country appears as a largely harmless, even symbiotic relationship arrangement between respectful locals and courteous hosts." (How the German occupiers in France seem to have become "hosts" is left unexplained.) Indeed, according to German veteran Hein Severloh, now 80, a German soldier who neglected to help an old French woman carry her heavy bags was punished with extra duty watering "the grass camouflaging the bunkers." The entire experience is described by Benoit as, literally, a "rural eldorado." But one thing is certain. According to French peasant Jean-Paul Hausermann, "Americans were not at all nice." After knocking down the church steeples, the Yanks also damaged Hausermann's castle; other "tearful French civilians" have "bitter words for their liberators."

Benoit's reportage may be summarized by his comments about "moral questions: was the [Allied] force deployed on D-Day necessary to end such a harmless occupation? Did the Allies need to destroy virtually all towns and villages on the coast, killing 10,000 civilians in the process? What chance had the feeble, shell-shocked defenders, many of them kids and grey-beards? Were not the British, and especially the U.S. occupiers often far more brutal than the Germans had been?"

Ponder that final phrase: Americans portrayed as "far more brutal" than the Nazis. Elaboration is unnecessary, except to say that this rhetoric seems disturbingly familiar in the context of the Iraq debate.

But American claims to action as defenders of democracy have been challenged more often than we may immediately recall. Before Reagan, the intervention in Indochina was attacked on the argument that the Indochinese Communists, both Vietnamese and Cambodians, were not real Marxists, and were so far away they were no threat to us at all. Perhaps they were not, after all, a threat to the West Coast of the U.S., but they did threaten, and take, the lives of millions of non-Communist Vietnamese and, of course, Cambodians. In Reagan's time, great fun was had when he argued that the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, having established itself on the mainland of the Western Hemisphere, represented a threat to us. In both cases those who opposed a defense of democratic ideals cited the absence of an immediate threat to our own security to justify their views. But the bar of evidence on Saddam and Osama is now sky-high.

Global Capitalist Revolution

And mention of the Sandinistas brings us back to the statesman who has left us, Ronald Reagan. Something is indeed happening and it is something he understood in a fairly unsophisticated way, but which he understood, nonetheless. It is a global capitalist revolution; a worldwide acceleration of capitalist development based on the underlying revolution of information and access to it; a universal entry into a single marketplace; a planetary expansion of bourgeois rights and liberties.

It began coincident with the commencement of his presidency, in 1981, when the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, said no to an attempt to restore a military-police state in that country. Simply put, the Spanish bourgeois classes had outgrown the reactionary structures that remained from the Franco era. Prior to that fateful year, signs of a new international upsurge of capitalist democracy were visible, but were repeatedly, or nearly, thwarted. Portugal's dictatorship had fallen apart under the pressure of foreign wars, but its crisis in 1974 was followed by a nearly-successful attempt to drag that nation into the Soviet bloc; still, capitalist democracy had prevailed, a harbinger understood by few at a time when Soviet/Cuban socialism still hypnotized many. The same year, the Greek colonels' regime collapsed after an idiotic adventure on the island of Cyprus, but was replaced by a socialist kleptocracy aligned, if subtly, with Moscow. Then came two transformational events blocked by the weakness of the entrepreneurial classes in their countries. In Nicaragua, the 1978-79 uprising of the people against the corruption of Somoza was usurped by the Sandinistas, most of whom had stayed out of the country during the actual revolutionary combat. Iran in 1979 threw off the corrupt regime of the Shah, but the Iranian bourgeois classes were poorly organized, and their most dynamic elements, the bazaar merchants, were captured by Khomeini's fantasy of clerical rule.

Next came Spain in 1981, and a new democracy was proven to be healthy and strong. And in the East, Poland had risen to the challenge represented by the election of its Pope in 1978. Remember Lech Walesa? I believe there are one, two, many Walesas in the Muslim world. We only need courage and insight to find them. The victory of democracy in Spain, the blossoming of protest in Poland, were followed by the sublime victory of "people power" in the Philippines in 1986, with the active support of none other than Paul D. Wolfowitz, then a minor State Department official. But the real lesson of the Philippines was the same as that in Madrid in 1981: the Philippine business class had outgrown the system imposed on them by the Marcos dictatorship.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea almost immediately began democratization, with its bourgeois class also leading the way. And the Berlin Wall came down, because after Poland the rest of Eastern Europe, and Russia itself, developed beyond fear of the Stalinist party and its minions. Serbia, the only European holdout, maintained Stalinism by reviving its old partner, fascism, in what analysts of post-Communism call a "red/brown alliance." China, which just marked the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen, used tanks to crush democratic aspirations. But prosperity brought democracy to Taiwan.

And in Latin America, dictatorships fell, well, like dominoes; Violeta Chamorro swept the Sandinistas from power in 1990; a decade later, Pinochet in Chile was replaced by one of the men I most admire in the world, the social democrat Ricardo Lagos. The business revival created in Chile by Pinochet's Chicago economics was his undoing. And finally, the PRIocracy, the de facto one-party state in Mexico, was replaced by a government headed by another of my heroes, Vicente Fox.

The Last Redoubt

This global capitalist revolution, which President Ronald Reagan facilitated, more than any other individual, more than Pope John Paul II, that virtuous man of God, and more than Margaret Thatcher, that equally bold and principled stateswoman, has now commenced to beat at the doors of the last redoubt of corrupt, feudal rule: the Arab and Muslim countries. Arabs and Muslims desire and deserve freedom. Bin Laden and his Wahhabi fanatics will try to prevent it; the Saudi royals will hide their heads in the sand (they have plenty in which to hide) and try to ignore it; they will fail in their attempt. So will the rest of the Arab misrulers.

From D-Day to Tiananmen to Iraq, one struggle, one front. Let me paraphrase a leftist ballad from World War II:

"The road Reagan walked is a mighty long road

All around the world from Berlin to Beijing;

It's the same road they've had to walk in Baghdad

It's that old Lincoln Highway back home;

It's wherever people fight to be free;

Wherever people fight to be free."

Whether they understand it fully, can theorize or lecture on it, or even explain it to themselves in the dark night when they must ponder the chaos and casualties of Iraq, President George W. Bush and, yes, his neoconservative advisers, are carried forward on the same road. Nobody who claims to honor President Reagan can turn aside from the great commitment to freedom America has made in Baghdad. And little they might try, for history will not be halted in its course. Of course political generals, isolationist loudmouths, and "liberal" cowards are upset. The world is changing profoundly, and the change is mighty, a change more profound and mighty than any in a century; and their comfortable prejudices, and even-more comfortable professional standing, may not survive the upheaval. Let them shake in their shoes. This revolution continues, and will prevail.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent TCS contributor.


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