This is the transcript by V. S. of Richard Spencer’s Vanguard Podcast interview of Jonathan Bowden about the Iraq War. You can listen to the podcast here.
Richard Spencer: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Vanguard and welcome back, Jonathan Bowden! How are you?
Jonathan Bowden: Yes, hello! I’m fine.
RS: Very well. Well, today we’re going to talk about an issue that was very much in the news over the past decade, and indeed I think one could say that it defined the mainstream media mass communications, the news, for at least 5 to 7 years and yet now we’re at a point at which this event is slipping into the realm of history.
I’m referring to the Iraq War and the 2003 invasion by the Bush administration and some allies. We’re going to talk about the meaning, the relevancy of the Iraq War for today as well as some origins of it, and we’ll also speculate about the future of American foreign policy. Will any lessons be learned? So on and so forth.
So, Jonathan, first off, I think it’s always best to start at a point that is most relevant for the here and now in the sense of “what is the Iraq War like today?” I think that the Iraq War today is a quite ironic episode. because, much as I mentioned, the debate over Iraq and the debate over the surge and these news reports of the insurgency and violence of all kinds, that defined the news cycle in the United States and Europe for at least 5 years in the mid-2000s and it also defined the conservative movement. That was their issue and it was a kind of shibboleth for the conservative movement. You were on board with the invasion and the freedom agenda or you were kicked out.
And yet we reached 2011/2012 and by the end of 2011 Barack Obama has more or less ended the Iraq War. All of the troops are out. In Afghanistan, the war is not completely ended, however there is a major drawdown. Now, of course, there is some kind of presence there and so on and so forth. It’s one of those wars that might not ever actually end much like the Cold War and World War II where you had these footprints that were remaining from these past conflicts. We still have military bases in Germany and so on and so forth.
However, more or less it is over and yet there was no real debate. There was a kind of minor debate about whether — I don’t know if you heard about this, Jonathan — we should have a ticker tape parade in New York City or something to celebrate this supposed victory. That was a kind of minor debate and I think even the military was embarrassed a little bit by the suggestion that they have a big mass parade to celebrate the Iraq War.
So, what do you make of this, this kind of irony that I’m speaking of? It’s almost as if this was the most important thing in so many people’s lives on the Left and Right and the mainstream media and in the conservative movement and yet they’ve now kind of forgotten about it. What do you think about this, Jonathan?
JB: Yes, well, I think that Iraq in some ways is the first postmodern war. It’s the first ironic and reflexive war, and there’s a constituent interconnected set of constituencies out there who are now wishing in some ways to forget it occurred.
JB: Because the war was a grandiloquent failure in its own terms and certainly in the grandstanding terms in which it was put forward to the Americans and other peoples. It changed the regime in Iraq, and the political setup inside that Arab nation-state is now totally different. However, it brought to the fore forces that were latent there anyway even under Saddam. So, there has been a big change, but it’s only for Iraq. Nothing else has changed anywhere, and all that’s happened is a dictatorship was taken down and a sort of Arab fascist government was taken down and the forces that were held down, these Shia forces in the South of the country, have now become the democratic mandated majority, but they don’t rule in a democratic way, in a way the Americans thought they would. They rule in a purely sectarian way, playing off the other two groups against them and dominating everything from their own point of view and doing to the other groups, in some respects, what Saddam did to them, which are not the reasons why the war was fought.
Considering the amount of blood and material that was lost — $3 trillion, the cost of the whole war from beginning to end?
RS: Who knows?
JB: And the death total of around 160,000 at the most lower case revisionist death total. There are higher ones in the anti-war movement and among certain historians of up to three quarters of a million. There are about 27 million in Iraq as a whole. So, that’s the sort of package that you are presented with, and the war has not been a success.
RS: No. Before we talk about how we got into the mess and the origins of the Iraq War, let’s put a little more pressure on this aspect of democracy in itself.
Oftentimes Americans, the American public, are deemed naïve, they’re made fun of and, to be frank, and I speak as an American, in some ways I think a lot of these criticisms are valid. I remember listening to talk radio in the mid-2000s. These are just normal people. I don’t think this was manipulated propaganda. Normal people just calling up and saying, “Yeah, we’re going to give them a democracy, and they’re going to start shopping in malls and not worrying about radical Islam!” And this kind of thing. Democracy itself was just this kind of vision of becoming an American postmodern nihilist or something where you spend your life buying shoes and working in a post-industrial cubicle or something like this.
But, of course, democracy, the -cracy, it’s not just the demos. It’s not just a way of life. It’s a form of power, and the great irony, particularly for the conservative movement and the neo-cons who are now obsessed with Iran is that the Shia Muslims (Iran is a Shia Muslim country) have been empowered perhaps even beyond their wildest dreams before 2003 in the sense that Saddam was a Sunni dictator. A kind of Arab Fascist is not a bad way of describing him. He was ruling, in some ways, on behalf of a Sunni minority. He was keeping the Shia in check, and he was keeping the country together. Now, you have an empowered Shia majority. You have Iran, which has more influence than its neighboring country because democracy was put forth.
So, do you think that with the two sides of democracy, this kind of hokey notion of democracy that everyone’s happy and free and they’re all shopaholics — that’s the kind of vulgar hokum that seems to have been put forward by George Bush and was actually believed by a lot of Americans — and then there’s the democracy that’s much more equivocal and is actually about power and has unintended consequences . . . Do you think that people have learned anything by this? Do you think that the foreign policy establishment gets it? Do you think that the general public are maybe a little more cynical or realistic this time around?
JB: Probably a little bit, although it will be marginal once the propaganda is cranked out once again. I think nothing that happened is particularly mysterious to experts on that area of the world in the State Department, but they’re a tiny fraction of the educated American polity. They could have predicted what would happen.
There are no bourgeois institutions. There are no middle rank civil institutions in a country like Iraq. So, people will vote nakedly along sectional lines and they will vote along interest group lines and along communitarian lines and you will basically just shift power from one group to another and the groups, although they reach concordance with each other, have no concept of sharing power in an equitable way, because it’s about group domination.
Certain polities in the West have always resembled this. Northern Ireland for a long time was not run along lines of Left/Right non-communitarian democracy, individualized, bourgeois democracy, but whether you were a Unionist, whether you were a Protestant, whether you were a nationalist, whether you were a Catholic, for example, was all-important. In those types of societies, these (9:47 ???) with the Kurds in the north as well, is all that matters.
So, what the United States of America succeeded in doing was they took down a particularly virulent form of Sunni elitism, and they’ve replaced it by mass plebiscitary Shia democracy linked to Iran, and that is the dispensation that now rules.
Now, if Americans were told that they’d go through this great expense in war, and men and materiel, never mind financing, to achieve such a limited end. It would have completely blunted all of the idealistic posturing that led up to the war and its aftermath. I do think, though, that people are a little more chagrinned afterwards. The sort of Democratic Party side of the agenda, which always tends to be a bit more cynical, a bit more passive, a bit more disinterested in terms of foreign affairs, a bit more realistic about the realities of power and how it can be exercised in other societies with very different dynamics, that has largely won through.
But I don’t know what shape the anti-war movement is like in the United States or whether anyone suspects it has collapsed.
RS: Well, it’s a very good question, because I mentioned how the Iraq War defined the conservative movement and was a kind of shibboleth within that movement, but it also defined the Left. There was a very strong anti-war Left. It might not have reached the peaks of the anti-Vietnam movement, which became a social movement and spilled over into all these areas and in some ways that revolution had already taken place, but it was a very powerful thing and in some ways I think so much of the anti-war movement was probably absorbed into Obama.
Again, Obama is a very equivocal figure. He has more or less ended the war in Iraq, but then he’s kind of taken on a foreign policy which is almost George W. Bush lite. It’s like we won’t spend $3 trillion on some lunatic crusade in Iraq, we’re going to spend half a trillion dollars on a smaller lunatic crusade in Libya, which again has the same unintended consequences although it’s on a smaller scale. In some ways, it’s just the new boss same as the old boss, although maybe not as crazy. It’s hard to say that’s a compliment.
In some ways, the whole anti-war movement has just been absorbed into the system that it once opposed. To go back to what I mentioned before, I think a lot of this idea that people want to almost forget about the Iraq War, because much like 9/11 put the world on a new footing. Whether that was justified or not, you can argue, but it did. And I think that the 2008 financial crisis put the world on a different footing. I think social mood is fundamentally different. I think people have different expectations and they have different perceptions of the West and power now.
So, do you have any thoughts on that? I think we really are in a different social mood zone. Pardon me for the clumsiness of that term, but, you know, than we were in the mid-2000s. We’re in a different world.
JB: Yes, I think the pretensions of the Bush presidency have been exploded. I think the reason the Republicans lost to Obama can be placed at the door of George W. Bush. I think that at the end of his regime, at the end of his second term, there was an enormous amount of despair and ennui particularly in conservative circles about George W. Bush, and it’s why McCain, who was almost as ardent in foreign policy terms, particularly on issues like Iran, couldn’t pick up the baton there. It was the fact that George had ruined it for them with what appeared to be lies from the European perspective to get people into the war in the first instance.
But there were no weapons of mass destruction. There was a high probability that there were none. Many other countries, small countries like Netherlands and Northern European societies that tend to be pacifist in orientation and therefore whose judgments are not really listened to when the big brokers of power sit down globally with each other, had suspected for a long time that there were none of these weapons. Most people thought there were such weapons or early systems to develop them, because Saddam’s government was the sort of regime that would want them.
JB: What appears to have happened, if he was developing low-level chemical and biological weapons, which is a poor man’s bomb, and had an extremely rudimentary nuclear program. Yet he abolished it because he feared the Americans would use any programs for mass death as an excuse to invade.
One of the ironies about all of these things, of course, is that Saddam was a staunch ally of the United States, and we’ve all seen the photos of Saddam in tuxedo and little bitty bowtie stood next to Rumsfeld laughing it up in Baghdad during the height of the Iran-Iraq War.
RS: Right. Gaddafi was an ally, and after the Iraq War in the mid to late 2000s he had ended his nuclear program. He was making nice with Washington. I think, in some ways, what Washington keeps teaching the world is don’t play nice with the United States. It doesn’t pay. The US will forget what you’ve done, and it may end up attacking you. In some ways, you need to be a realistic policy-maker. You need to speak a language, so to speak, or you need to give and take. There needs to be a rational discourse that, “We have certain ends we want to achieve. If you help us, we’ll give you this.”
But the United States, and I don’t know if it has to do with sociopaths running the country or democracy itself, which is so fluid and influenced by emotion and so on and so forth, but I don’t think there is any rational reason for any foreign power to trust Washington.
JB: No, but I don’t think they do anyway.
RS: Well, OK.
JB: I think somebody as ruthless as Saddam didn’t either.
JB: His basic mistake was Kuwait when the Americans put out conflicting signals. Saddam ought to have known that the Americans would not tolerate him taking Kuwait. The whole purpose of these Arab gerontocracies and feudal states in the Gulf is to break up the possibility that dangerous Arab tendencies could emerge that might adopt an anti-Western or anti-Israeli specificity.
There is a degree to which countries in the Middle East are kept supine under Arab tyrant regimes that are loyal to their Western paymasters and there are two premises upon which all of that is based: the flow of oil and that it’s kept so with a minor corollary to the effect that radical pan-nationalism in an Arab sense and Islamism should be avoided, and the second one is that the regime should not be too dangerous for Israel’s future existence, even though it’s understood that the Arab masses loathe Israel and would like to destroy it. That is a reality of the Arab world and of the Muslim world in general and of Arab and Muslim politics, but as long as those feelings can’t actualize themselves in threatening parallel state agencies or stable agencies this is fine.
The trouble with Iran at the moment is that Iran appears to be a Second World state with a threatening aspect that might pose in the most lurid of circumstances an existential threat to Israel’s existence. All of the pressure that’s been put upon Iran is purely because it’s seen in that light, and the Israelis are calling in every favor they possibly can, particularly in the United States. Netanyahu is turning up later this week again for more consultations, because Israel is obsessed with the idea that Iran is a threat to them, and the United States is obsessed with giving Israel what it wants in relation to Middle Eastern power diplomacy.
The correct position for the United States is apparent, of course, and is to be more even-handed and to have Arab allies, but such is the fervor of pro-Israeli sentiment in the United States, not least orchestrated by tens of millions of ardent Christian Zionists who are electorally extremely important, especially to the Republican Party.
The interests of the United States as a state is itself skewed, because they have interests on the Arab side that perpetually get overlooked despite key Arab allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
RS: Yes, without question. It’s a very complicated issue. You obviously have a great deal of Jewish money supporting — and not just Jewish money but Jewish-Zionist money — Democratic candidates, and then you have the Christian Zionist base that doesn’t seem to be financial. It seems to be emotional or spiritual. Those are very powerful forces.
Let’s talk a little about the origins of the war. I’ve mentioned before just how 9/11 put the world and Washington on a new footing. New things were thinkable after that campaign and certainly the neo-cons had drawn up plans for an Iraq invasion. They actually issued a paper that was signed by all sorts of neo-cons and Beltway types, Dick Cheney-type people, about how “We need to attack Saddam,” and I think they even mentioned some things that are fodder for the 9/11 Truth movement about “barring a Pearl Harbor-like attack, this will be difficult to achieve,” and so on and so forth.
But what do you think are the major factors in terms of the origins of the war? I think, obviously, 9/11 put everything on a new footing. The oil question is a very difficult one. Obviously, oil has become immensely more expensive since the campaign, and corporations like Exxon and so on and so forth have become wildly profitable. Exxon is either the first or the second largest company in the United States in terms of market capitalization and so on, so that must be a factor, but it’s a very difficult one. It’s not like the US just wanted to grab the oil. They haven’t done that. Then you also have the issue of Israel and Israel’s fervent backers in the United States, the neo-cons.
So, how would you try to piece this together? It’s a difficult puzzle and with something like this I don’t think it pays to be conspiratorial. I’ve heard some people: “George Bush wanted to invade Saddam because they attempted to assassinate his father.” Or something. I think that’s just too cheap and easy. I think this is a very complicated issue.
So, how, Jonathan, would you put some of these pieces together — 9/11, Israel, oil, and so forth?
JB: Yes, I think after 9/11, America had a wakeup call and a call to arms against complacency and had a neo-imperial spasm and, for a period of about 5 years after the 9/11 attacks, became a much more Right-wing imperialist nation-state looking after itself much more, much rougher around the world, reviled by many liberal codices that restricted the operations of the Central Intelligence Agency, restricted its ability to intervene in other countries, restricted its ability to engage in torture and black site activities, restricted its activities in relation to kidnapping and taking people across borders without their consent and without the consent of the governments that prevailed in those areas. So, there was a tightening up and there was a ratcheting up of this sort of counter-revolutionary warfare, espionage-related and actual warfare that the Americans were prepared to fight and in the course of this things became much more radicalized.
Ideas and sentiments along the lines of, “We can’t have errant Third World dictators who used to be clients of ours but who then militarily act against our interests (witness Kuwait) running around and developing weapons of mass destruction, which could in a certain set of circumstances find their way into the hands of parallel state actors like the al-Qaeda network.”
I think this was the motivation for the war, which with a moment’s reconsideration reveals itself to be something that’s like a tenth rate policy paper that will be shot down by much better policy wonks in some brainstorming sessions in the State Department, because firstly Saddam is a Sunni dictator who is regarded as a secularist and almost a Communist by al-Qaeda. There is no interconnection between those movements at all. Indeed, Ba’athism was considered by Islamists to be an enemy ideology. They only have time for them when they fight against Western and Israeli interests. There were no al-Qaeda operatives whatsoever in Iraq. Meetings between some of his security people, the (23:38 ???), and al-Qaeda were the meetings which go on all the time. There were many meetings between the CIA and the network which became al-Qaeda, because they financed them to fight against the Russians in Afghanistan, which is where they first got close to each other and where Osama cut his teeth prior to launching his crusade against the United States.
So, foreign policy is a dangerous and complicated area, but I personally think the factors involving the attempted assassination of Bush Sr., which did occur by all accounts, the factors involving the oil wells of the country and its privatization after its nationalization against Western commercial and corporate interests by the Ba’athists in power, these are all minor. They’re all part of the mix, but you don’t go to war for reasons like this.
You also have a Churchillian psychology in relation to President Bush and the belief that the West must act and must do things in a decisive military way. If Gore had been president, I doubt the Iraq War would have occurred.
RS: I’m not sure I agree with you, actually, on that last assertion. Gore was talking a big talk when Clinton actually did a mini Iraq War in the late ’90s when they were attacking Saddam over airspace.
There obviously is an anti-war Left and things like that, but in terms of the neo-cons and neo-liberals there was a broad consensus about going to war in the early 2000s. One that isn’t there in the establishment now. You don’t see the Council on Foreign Relations. You see them actually talking against an invasion of Iran, but that was definitely not the case in the early 2000s.
JB: One of the reasons why there is such reluctance to go on Iran, one of the reasons why America is on a non-militant posture in relation to Iran is because of Iraq. The Iraqi War has been such a disaster and has burnt itself into the consciousness not of the American population, who have soon forgotten it unless they’ve got some direct military involvement through their own families and so on, Iraq is so not an issue for contemporary Americans now, but in a strange way it’s almost as if that war didn’t occur. That’s the impression I’ve got despite being in the United States subsequent to the war.
But I think in relation to Iraq they are so mindful of the minefield of unexpected possibilities that loom as soon as you start using force in relation to these complicated areas, particularly to achieve tendentious and simplistic results even in terms of planning — it’s quite clear the Bush administration had no plan at all for post-Saddam Iraq. They began with a blank sheet of paper and made it up as they went along, consulting allies such as the British who, of course, used to run Iraq and have a larger degree of practical knowledge about how you manipulate the groups inside the country in order to achieve any sort of stability.
So, I think that the fact that political parties will be set up, hundreds and hundreds of them that later merged into blocs, that later hardened into sectional blocs caused certain Western policymakers to despair that they couldn’t create a bourgeois democracy in a couple of years inside Iraq. It would take centuries of democracy in these societies for them to develop middle class Left/Right polarities such as those that exist in Western societies. You’ve got to basically overcome a group-based society and populist politicians who play on that internally all of the time.
RS: Yeah, perhaps even never.
JB: Even never, yes. Like India. India has quite an advanced polity for an ex-Third World society, but all of India’s policies are rooted in caste, rooted in communitarianism, rooted in religiosity. If you’re a mainstream Hindu, you vote for the Congress Party. If you’re a militant Hindu, you vote BJP. If you’re a Communist, you’ve got a tiny little slot over to one side. The cluster of minorities, the enormous minorities — Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and otherwise — vote for the Congress Party, because Congress is less militant and will protect you.
RS: Yeah, I think there’s something to the idea that it is Northern Europeans, or Europeans as a whole, who have this abstract corporate notion of the state. It’s just something very different, and it might not really work in the Arab mind. It gets back to what we were talking about before. This hokey notion of democracy that George Bush put forth and Americans gobbled up and the difference between real, existing democracy in the Arab world. Two very different things, and it’s something the American public just can’t understand. Again, the problems of democracy really affecting foreign policy.
There are two interesting issues that I want to talk about and ask you to speculate on. One of those is the neo-conservatives. In the intellectual history of the American Right, it’s a very interesting topic. You essentially have a generation of Jews, mostly in New York City, and it is a Jewish movement much like Critical Theory and so on, who were essentially the Trotskyists who would argue against the Stalinists in the other alcove of the cafeteria of New York City colleges as the story goes. I think that story is literally true. They were essentially the anti-Communist Left, which definitely existed, the Trotskyist Left. That kind of morphed during the Cold War into a neo-liberal, liberal democratic kind of thing and then by the Reagan administration and onward it shifted over to the Republican side. It’s an interesting story.
They seem to have maintained a little bit of that Trotskyist, maybe even demonic, spirit. We shouldn’t overestimate that spirit within the neo-cons, but you really did have people like Michael Ledeen. I can’t remember the exact phrase he used, but it went something like, “We seek chaos in the Middle East.” “We seek creative destruction,” I think that’s the term he used. “Much like America is an ever-progressive, creative destructive force, we must go and smash the Middle East and bring them to a higher level.” I mean, you have this very weird, Americanized form of Trotskyist revolutionary fervor and I think that really played a part in the neo-cons’ imagination and obviously, at another level, they’re Israeli nationalists, they’re firm Zionists. It’s a very complicated issue.
Do you think, Jonathan, that in some ways the neo-cons have blown their wad? They had their moment where you had the opportunity with 9/11 that everyone, again, they’re on a new footing, they’re ready for war, you had a president who could be cajoled into this, could easily be influenced, not particularly intelligent, you had the Christian Zionist community which reached its peak in the mid-2000s and so on. Do you think in some ways it’s over for them or do you think that they too will stage a comeback of sorts?
My view is that I think the neo-conservative era might be coming to a close. I think it reached its peak with Bush and I don’t think they’re going to get a chance to do anything like they’ve done before. But that’s just my view and I could be wrong in that.
What are your thoughts on the neo-cons and the future of the neo-cons, Jonathan?
JB: Well, they’re tied umbilically to al-Qaeda and 9/11, because that’s what gave them their moment, but if America suffered climactic terrorist attacks of a similar sort, if somebody exploded a nuclear weapon in an American city 15 years from now then that type of politicking can come back, because it’s entirely dependent upon events. They will have their own caucuses, they will have their own meetings, they will try to press the flesh, they will try to get money into the hands of politicians who are corruptible and can be induced in one direction as against another, but they are now reduced to the ordinary level of middle-ranking politicking. They no longer have the ear of anyone in power and their theses seem to have failed, because their theses in Iraq whether a Western-style liberal democracy could be created in Iraq which would make Israel safer, which would seem to be their premise looked at from abroad, all of that seems to be utter nonsense.
The al-Maliki government in Iraq is as anti-Israeli as Saddam ever was. When al-Maliki was asked at the White House, “Who do you support in the upsurge of the Hezbollah war or micro-war?” a couple of years ago, between Israel and Hezbollah, he said, “Hezbollah, our brothers of the Shia.” There were extraordinarily pained faces around him at the White House pressroom, because he’s responding to a totally different constituency, and he’s not going to say anything in relation to American allies who put him in power which could in any sense deflect from the constituency he represents inside Iraq and outside, because this phalanx of Shia power now that exists from Iran through the deserts of Iraq into Jordan and out into the Lebanon, which faces off directly across Israel’s northern border and where Iran has a proxy army arranged with the Syrians in cohort called the Hezbollah militia.
The great unwritten fear in all of this, of course, is weapons of mass destruction will be given to Hezbollah, who would use them. Probably. They’re 10 times more likely to use them than an Iranian state. States are incredibly nervous, because of the fear of retribution which would occur if they used such weapons. But the likelihood that a state would ever give an organization as radical as Hezbollah weapons of mass destruction is extremely unlikely, because it would be known almost instantly that they had done this.
It’s now pretty much known that the Pakistanis, of course, sold the technology of the bomb illicitly to North Korea, which helped them to develop their tiny little device. Syria, to a degree, that of course was destroyed by an Israeli attack, but they only had one place to aim for, and the Syrians were anxious to cover it up. Libya had quite an advanced nuclear program, far more advanced than the West thought they did. Libya was regarded as a very eccentric regime led by a man who was regarded by the popular Western press as insane. It surprised the West how advanced their nuclear program was, but they’d bought it off the shelf from Pakistan. So, there is a danger of internal proliferation when these countries begin to get these weapons.
But nothing can stop these countries from getting these weapons. This is old technology. The technology is between 70 and 80 years old. These countries are 70 to 80 years behind the West in terms of the economic and technological cusp, and therefore it’s inevitable they’re going to get them. Between now and 2050 a whole plethora of Second and Third World societies will achieve atomic weapons.
RS: Yes, I agree, and I also agree about the reluctance of the states to use them because they have a return address, and retribution would be swift. At some level, all of these states are going to be rational. They’re going to rationally calculate that they would only use such a weapon in an extreme exigent.
I have two more issues that are both a little bit speculative, but let’s talk about this Christian Zionist issue. It’s interesting when you look at it, because it is a purely American phenomenon. It’s very hard to find Christian Zionists anywhere in Europe. Perhaps you could find some in England.
But what do you think the origins of this movement are and the larger meaning of it, and do you think it’s going to have a future of some sort? I’ll just mention that obviously there have been a lot of dealings between many of these fanatical Christian Zionist preachers like Hagee or Pat Robertson and so on and so forth where they’re literally dealing with Israel. They’re being sent on trips to Israel. I think Israel famously bought Jerry Falwell a plane and all this kind of stuff. Obviously, there’s some pressing of the flesh that gets those relationships started, but I don’t think one should think that they don’t sincerely believe in this ideology or cult or something like this. They believe that there’s going to be some sort of Armageddon in the foreseeable future and that the Jews must inhabit the Holy Land and there will be a rapture. I guess in some ways it’s a very strange vision which is almost anti-Semitic in a lot of its views.
But what do you think about the Christian Zionists? Are they just kind of useful idiots of Israel or is this something that might actually have a future? What are your thoughts on this issue, Jonathan?
JB: Yes, I think they are useful idiots, although I think they are totally sincere. It’s always wrong to think that people don’t believe what is attested to them in terms of their beliefs. They come out of the semi-crazed world of millennial Protestantism inside the United States. The Roman Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor, wrote an extraordinary book about a time in the Deep South of the United States amidst Protestant and Revivalist cults called Wise Blood. Wise blood! It’s about these good ole boys who wrestle with serpents in church. Literally have fights with pythons and so on in church and fire into the ceiling of church during ecstatic raptures when they’re whipped up to frenzy by various apocalypsian preachers.
This is the politicization of good ole time religion, and it’s always had a mass following in the United States, because the United States is a Puritan country founded by English revolutionary Protestants and Ulster Scottish Brethren of the same who went over there because they couldn’t create a theocratic state in England based upon these sorts of maxims. So, they believe all this, and the active side of Protestantism does have millenarian and apocalyptic features whereby they want the end of the world or end times. Catholicism and orthodox Protestantism are much more sedate, although Christianity is a millenarian religion, has always believed that the world will come to an end at a particular time, but that’s so pushed far down the agenda in relation to mainstream Christianity that it’s almost not there. But with these fanatics it’s very much there and it’s ever-present.
What they want, of course, completely diverges from Israeli interests, because in the end these Israelis, or Jews generally, will be converted to Christianity and to the Protestant version of Christianity of a particular sort anyway. If not, they’re all damned. So, it’s not in their interests either, but politically they are a very potent force, and when they’re whipped up they can be used by other people even though they have quite transparently their own agendas.
It’s like Hollywood blocking the distribution of the Christian film, The Passion of the Christ, by Mel Gibson. Gibson went to Falwell and all the other leaders of the Protestant millenarian tendency in the United States and despite the fact that it’s a very Catholic theological film, an ultra-Catholic theological film, they were so enraptured by it — they really had a rapture then and there — that they agreed to disseminate the film right across the Bible Belt and beyond. When they move they have enormous social power and a lot of money and they would block buy cinemas in Texas and elsewhere where ever part of the multiplex would show The Passion of the Christ twelve screenings a day, and they would bus in their people from local churches so that the cinemas were always full so that everyone was a winner. Gibson did something incredibly clever there by tapping the energy of these people who it would have been otherwise that would have had nothing to do with a Hollywood sophisticate and actor like Gibson. But when these people move, they move, and they’re very well-oiled and have got a lot of political abilities, obviously, to mobilize their own people.
I suppose this outsider in the Republican race at the moment who is giving Romney a run for his money . . .
RS: Rick Santorum.
JB: Yes. Even though he’s a Catholic, isn’t he? He’s getting the support of these people. It’s quite obvious from the outside.
RS: Oh, without question. It is a funny thing. Just to mention, you have Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and others. There’s a funny way the snake-wrestling Baptist Christian Zionists, they look to Catholic leaders. I’ve noticed this trend. There’s another Catholic from Kansas named Sam Brownback who is thoroughly awful on every possible issue. He wants mass immigration, and we also need to send troops to Darfur. I almost find myself agreeing with the kind of wishy-washy mainstream Episcopalians or something, which is I guess my religious background. They’re maybe a bit silly on gay marriage or something, but at least they’re not bringing about the end of the world with some of their foreign policy desires. It’s a very strange thing. It’s hard for me to put into words. I’ve always found it a little bit odd that you have these Baptists yet you have these Catholics leading them. It’s almost like they recognize their own silliness and they look to a more establishment religion for their leaders.
JB: I also think a lot of the inter-Christian rivalries of the past have gone. It’s Christians against the rest now and all these interdenominational disputes amongst Protestants themselves that used to be so warm and fervid and kept the hate-filled fires burning in relation between people who are fundamentally similar, partly given mass migration into the States by people who are not Christian at all and partly by the change in complexion of the world around them and the re-emergence of Islam after a sleep of the better half of a millennium as a force in the non-Western modern world, which with migration and immigration en masse is beginning to become a major player even inside the Western world now, a major minor player, Christians are seeing what unites them rather than divides them. It’s a real coming together of the clans, and it’s all Christians against all the others now. So, I think that’s why they’re no longer bothered by the fact that leading cultural icons like Gibson and leading people like the politicians who you mentioned are actually Roman Catholics who they wouldn’t have followed in the past.
RS: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s true and, in some ways, from our radical and racialist perspective I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think any kind of war of religions is going to do any good for European civilization. I think getting over that is probably a positive step.
To bring up one last issue before we end this very interesting conversation, let me talk a little bit about the notion of the nation and the state. I remember, I guess it was back in 2008 or 2009, Scott McConnell, who was actually my boss in 2007 when I worked at the Conservative American magazine, he was a Gentile, but he was kind of former neo-con or neo-con ally and then with a lot of the actions in Kosovo and so on and so forth I think he recognized that this was leading to perpetual war for perpetual peace and so on. He kind of became a Buchananite. Although he always was a bit of a liberal in a way and I don’t think he would get mad at me for saying that. Kind of an oddball in some ways in the Buchananite movement, which has a lot more staunch, Midwestern Catholic patriotic kind of people.
Anyway, he wrote an article which I reacted strongly against back in 2008 where he was saying, more or less, that with mass immigration and with this new Latino population, maybe even African population and Asian population, this brings certain problems. However, it will spell the end of a neo-con foreign policy, because the neo-con foreign policy at the end of the day its base is the Protestant White population in middle America and the South. In some ways, those are the only people who support it. They’re the only people who have a positive view of Israel, for instance. Within the Western world, certainly within elite institutions and universities within America and all over the world, Israel is, if not a pariah, certainly people are quite skeptical of it and its actions. But the only place in the world, probably, is Israel itself and the Deep South.
What he was saying was when you have this new multicultural population that foreign policy will change and there’s a great irony in the sense that a lot of paleo-conservatives, so called, like Pat Buchanan, would oppose immigration but they also oppose the Iraq War and the neo-con agenda. But there’s a kind of irony where with mass immigration you will actually get a more isolationist, pacifist foreign policy.
Obviously, I think when a lot of people heard this argument they suspected this was almost a pro-immigration argument and I and others reacted strongly against that. I think I also mentioned an important criticism, which is that foreign policymaking is one of the most elite activities of government. In rare cases, like a big war — and we certainly saw this over the past 10 years — does it become a populist policy in the sense that you’re going to rally the public on the behalf of foreign policy. Normally, it is basically something that is effected by elite institutions, like the Council on Foreign Relations, diplomats, state departments, and so on. It’s a very elite institution that is in some ways a buffer from emotional democracy.
So, I said we could have the worst of all possible worlds where we have a multicultural population but we then still have this horrible neo-con foreign policy because we have the same people who are actually running the show.
But, you know, in some ways, I think McConnell made a good point, because at the end of the day it is a democracy. Even though democracy might be a sham in some way and they’re run by elites. At the end of the day, the character of the people is going to affect government. Eventually, it will. It can’t help itself but doing that. So, I think there’s a good question about the future of American foreign policy if current trends continue. That is, if we continue to have the non-White population increasing by a half of a percent per year. So, it increases about 2% every election cycle. If this keeps going on like this, linearly, for let’s say another decade or two, what is that foreign policy going to be? We might be in a situation that’s dramatically different. We might have a new focus in, say, South America, or a new focus on our diplomatic relations with Mexico or something altogether different that’s almost unimaginable.
So, Jonathan, what are some of your thoughts on this general idea about the nation affecting the state in the foreign policy realm and maybe some of your ideas about what American foreign policy is going to be like? And also, if we project forward, a much more impoverished America, an America that can’t really say with a straight face anymore that we are the wealthiest country on Earth or everything here is prosperous. We won’t be able to say that with a straight face, because it’s not true. So, what do you think is the future of American foreign policy?
JB: Yes, I think that article that chap wrote is right though the timeframe is wrong. It would take half a century to a century to have the nation affect the state in that way, trickling up from the bottom. Policy will still be made by the elites. Indeed, there’s been such a change to the Obama regime from the Bush one that you can almost see the default position emerging there, because what will happen is that regimes in the future will be more like Obama than Obama is allowed to be himself because my reading of Obama is that Obama is not really an ally of the Israelis at all but is completely hemmed in by the reality of power and money directed to Democratic Party caucuses without which he couldn’t have got anywhere. He also needs people who were allies in Civil Rights causes going back several generations now. So, he knows what he can do and what he cannot do, but I personally believe he debates with himself about Israeli power and dislikes having to negotiate so high and in such a hard and fast manner with Netanyahu and, although they’ve given the Israelis everything they want short of absolute war and invasion of Iran, I believe he will never invade Iran and there will not be a US attack upon Iran because he axiomatically does not believe in doing so.
All of this pressure is partly a pressure on the United States to go further and it’s partly Israeli irritation that Obama is holding the line and the US Chiefs of Staff have been told to toe this line. I think that as time goes on American foreign policy will become more UN foreign policy and will become less Western and will become less American nationalist and will become more isolationist, but it won’t be the old isolationism of a century ago which was an “America First” and a sort of White isolationism. It will be an isolationism of the lowest common denominator where you literally wish to remain inside the US unless you are attacked externally from abroad, which the al-Qaeda attacks could be perceived as an attack from abroad hence justifying the Afghanistan War the first time around but not the Iraq War and certainly not an Iranian war maybe to come, maybe not.
So, I believe American foreign policy will just become the declining foreign policy of an increasingly Second World country, particularly through the major contractions in America’s superpower status in the next 20 to 25 years. Countries in Central and Latin America and the Caribbean will become much more important. You will have a reversal of the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was designed to prevent European powers from imperially meddling in the Americas and was designed to put the whole of the rest of the Americas under North American aegis. One of the reasons why Latinos have always fought cultural wars against the United States and its influence is because they felt cold-shouldered and belittled politically in terms of raw power within the hemisphere. But American interests will become hemispherical and will be centered on new factors of interest, such as India and China, as it becomes less and less of a forceful Western power.
One could always be wrong, but it could be that Bush’s presidency, the second Bush, is the last hurrah of various forces which are now replete and partly exhausted themselves in that particular war and it was a war which Obama described as a “dumb war,” didn’t he? That was one of his phrases that haunted his administration and, of course, he was right. It was an extraordinarily dumb war. It was against the wrong regime at the wrong time for the wrong reasons that cost an enormous amount of money and achieved the opposite of what it set out to achieve. It set out to achieve a Westernized Iraq which would be impermeable to Islamism and not a threat to its neighbors and not a threat to Israel. You now have an Iraq that is as anti-Israeli as it ever was which is a sectional democracy, which is the only way democracy will work in those parts of the world, and is a hotbed of Iranian influence, and Iran has now replaced all the other regimes, including Cuba and North Korea and Syria, as the worst regime in the world from the perspective of American neo-conservatives.
But nobody other than them and their allies thinks of Iran in those terms. Although people do not want Iran to get a nuclear weapon, they don’t want Burma or Cuba to get nuclear weapons either. They don’t want Argentina or Brazil or South Africa — all of whom have got advanced nuclear programs — to develop nuclear weapons either. It’s largely this, rather than any existential fear that the bulk of Gentiles have on Israel’s behalf. This sort of teeth-wrenching, Zionist default position is held by nobody except certain Zionists themselves, their political and moneyed club in the United States, and the Christian Zionist movement, which extends across the great swathe of Protestant radicalism. Nobody else in the world perceives the world in this way.
When I open a copy of the London Times and its full of this slightly watered down neo-conservative stuff, it’s only because of the nature of the ownership of news international and the nature of the press that it draws upon from the United States. So, although that type of press is here nobody in Britain has that sort of viewpoint. There was overwhelming hostility to the Iraq War in Britain. It cost the Blair government its moral legitimacy with its own side and didn’t win them many friends and allies afterward, and the key killer weapon with the Blair regime was the weapons of mass destruction. The entire British population is convinced that we went to war on the basis of a lie, and nobody now even mentions Iraq and the people who said they were in favor of it at the time are embarrassed. So, in Britain, who was the minor sidekick ally in relation to the Iraq War, there’s a more radical disjoint in relation to the war and its aftermath than there is in the United States, but the same panoply is discernible. The same adjustment of expectations, the same reluctance to admit mistakes, and partly a desire to forget the entire incident.
RS: Yes. Well, Jonathan, it’s a very complicated issue which we’re going to have to take up again in the near future. Thank you for being on Vanguard, and I look forward to talking to you again next week!
JB: Thanks very much! All the best!