February 9, 2006
What happened to a formerly conservative
press to reduce it to political partisanship and warmongering?
Specifically, I have in mind National Review and the Wall Street
Journal editorial page.
When I was associated with
National Review, the magazine understood that the US Constitution
and civil liberty had to be protected from government. It was
not considered unpatriotic to take the side of the Constitution
and civil liberty against a sitting government, even if the government
were Republican. Some things were still more important than
No more. Consider, for example,
Byron York writing in the February 13 issue. York doesn't understand
why former US Representative Bob Barr lent his Republican conservative
credentials to former Vice President Al Gore's speech against
President Bush's transgressions against law and civil liberty,
or why Barr is associating with liberals opposing the "Patriot"
Barr is the former Republican
member of the House of Representatives who led the impeachment
against President Bill Clinton. Barr did so not out of political
partisanship. As a former prosecutor, Barr regards lying under
oath to be a serious offense. A president who commits that offense
must be held accountable. Otherwise, presidents will go on to
lie about greater things--such as war.
In opposing Bush's transgressions,
Barr is simply being consistent. For Barr, party loyalty takes
a backseat to defense of the Constitution, the rule of law, and
civil liberty. If the US had more leaders of Barr's caliber,
Bush and Cheney would already have been impeached.
York cannot understand this, because he thinks party loyalty
and defense against terrorists are the controlling virtues.
York scolds Barr for letting himself be used by partisan liberal
organizations, but York takes his own partisanship for granted.
It is only the other side that is partisan.
When I was on the Wall Street
Journal's editorial page, the editorials were analytical and
reformist. Sometimes we broke news stories. The page's attention
to the Soviet Union was based on the rulers' aggressive posture
and suppression of civil liberties. Today the editorial page
is a fount of neoconservative war propaganda. All intelligence
Consider the Review & Outlook of February 3, which declares
Iran to be "an intolerable threat." Iran is portrayed
as a threat because the country's new president has used threatening
rhetoric against Israel.
But, of course, Bush and Israel
are constantly using threatening rhetoric against Iran. To avoid
being regarded as a wimp by his countrymen and by the Muslim
world, the new Iranian president has to answer back. It doesn't
occur to the editorialists that Iranians might see the nuclear
weapons of Israel and the US as intolerable threats.
Unlike Iran, Israel does have
nuclear weapons. In view of this overpowering fact, it is difficult
to see why Bush and Wall Street Journal editorialists think the
US needs to protect Israel from Iran.
But what if Iran were to succeed
in fooling the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear inspectors
and develop a bomb. Might not crazed mullahs drop it on Israel
or give it to an al Qaeda terrorist, who might use it to blow
up Washington DC or New York?
What would Iran gain aside
from its own immediate destruction? If mutual assured destruction
worked for decades against a powerfully armed communist state
every bit as hostile to American "bourgeois capitalism"
as Iran is to the "Great Satan," why would it fail
against a state that is puny compared to Soviet standards?
Iran does not require nuclear
weapons in order to do all the things the editorialists marshall
in their case against Iran. Indeed, a US or Israeli attack on
Iran is likely to precipitate the dire deeds that the editorialists
fear: a Shia uprising in Iraq, disruption of oil supplies, closing
of the Straits of Hormuz, and terrorist attacks throughout the
It is difficult to see the
sanity in taking such risks merely on the basis of the assumption
that Iran intends to make a weapon. Before attacking yet another
Muslim country on the basis of mere assertion and creating further
anger and instability that may unseat our puppets in the Middle
East, including nuclear armed Pakistan, the US would do far better
to drop its threatening rhetoric, re-establish cooperation with
Iran, continue the IAEA inspections and wait until there is real
evidence of a nuclear weapons program.
The US rushed to war in Iraq
based on lies. On PBS (Feb. 3) Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief
of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that the Iraq
speech his boss was forced to give to the UN was "a hoax
on the American people, the international community, and the
United Nations Security Council."
The consequences have been
disastrous. The US invasion force is tied down by a few thousand
insurgents drawn from a Sunni population of merely 5 million
people, and Iraq has become, according to the CIA, a recruiting
and training ground for terrorists. The invasion has ruined
America's reputation and expanded the popularity of al Qaeda,
which has assumed the stand-up role against the hegemonic Great
It is the untutored belligerence of the neoconservative Jacobins
that is likely to send the Middle East up in smoke. The instability
that Bush is creating serves al Qaeda's interest, not our own.
The US and Iran have common
enemies in al Qaeda and Middle East instability. Iran is Shia.
Al Qaeda is a movement drawn from Sunnis. The age-old Shia/Sunni
conflict may yet lead to civil war in Iraq.
When the Wall Street Journal
editorialists describe Iran's current leaders as "possessed
of an apocalyptic vision" they could just as well be describing
Bush's evangelical supporters and the neocon Jacobins that are
driving America to impose the neocon will on the Middle East.
This is the program of lunatics. No conservative could possibly
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury
in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the
Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of
National Review. He is coauthor of The
Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org