The Cold War: An American Imperialist Conspiracy?

In a recent email exchange I mentioned the Cold War as a credible example of why our foreign policy options must include a strong military, one able to project force. The response to that email invited me to read this article:

Ron Paul vs. Big-Government Conservatives

By Jacob Hornberger

In this supposedly Libertarian critique of Jeffrey Kuhner’s Washington Times article, Mr. Hornberger manages to argue that the Cold War was an American imperialist conspiracy designed to perpetuate the boogey-man of Communism.

I am not surprised that some disagree about the magnitude of the threat we faced during the Cold War, there are still people actively defending Communism as benign, after all. I am somewhat surprised at the contention the Cold War was an American imperialist conspiracy: If the Soviet Union and Communist China had not existed we would have been forced to invent them?

Those of Mr. Hornberger’s remarks I found particularly puzzling follow in italics, with my comments after each.

To make his case, Kuhner goes back to World War II — the so-called “good war,” pointing out that “old isolationist conservatives were prepared to abandon Europe to Hitler’s Germany.”

Indeed, they were. There were quite a few famous and/or powerful and/or privileged Nazi sympathizers in America: William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Kennedy (JFK’s father), Charles Lindbergh, John Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon and a General Motors Vice President named Graeme K. Howard to name a few.

Mr. Howard even wrote a book titled America and a New World Order, (1940) wherein he advised that America cooperate with German ambitions: Ambitions which had become all too apparent by September 1939, a month before President Roosevelt announced the US would remain neutral in the European War.

Apparently, Mr. Howard was not only not ready to take what Hitler had written in Mein Kampf seriously, he was pretty sure Hitler would prove to be a good business partner.

Mr. Howard’s book was the stuff of isolationist propaganda which must have comforted Neville Chamberlain. If Chamberlain had combined a rabid commitment to corporatism with even less foreign policy acumen than he demonstrated just prior to the blitzkrieg visited upon Poland in September 1939, he could have written it.

Despite the business opportunities, however, even Mr. Howard and his fellow corporatists lost their enthusiasm at the point where Hitler declared war on the United States.

WWII was a predictable consequence of how WWI ended – as a confused exercise in Wilsonian moral vituperation. The prediction was realized because of Allied military unpreparedness, unwillingness to enforce sanctions of the Treaty of Versailles and general British foreign policy dilettantism (including a treaty of mutual assistance Britain belatedly, and without the ability to deliver said assistance, signed with Poland in August 1939); items Mr. Hornberger should have acknowledged because they bear directly on his thesis.

Many Americans did oppose entering WWII: Right up until we were attacked by Japan. After that, not so much. Mr. Hornberger skips over December 7th, 1941, and the change in American opinion resulting from the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack was the declaration of war, “So solly, Japan not Republic. More bad for you.”

Kuhner also denies that the U.S. government “imperialist” policies in the Middle East produced the September 11 attacks. The attacks, he claims, are because the Jihadists “seek to restore a medieval Islamic caliphate” and that “America’s support for Israel or foreign aid to Egypt is simply a rationalization for their revolutionary aims.”

Mr. Hornberger frequently uses the terms “imperial” and “empire” in regard to American foreign policy, so I cannot tell here why he puts quotation marks around “imperialist.” True, those quotes were in the article he criticizes, but Mr. Kuhner was merely reflecting what bounces around the echo chamber of Representative Ron Paul’s more unhinged supporters and the relatively pithy, if less overwrought, commenters at Firedoglake.

Moreover, Hornberger seems to agree with Paul on this term, so the quotation marks are odd. In this context they are often referred as “scare quotes,” an indication that this is a term of art not to be taken quite seriously. Like when Reuters writes “terrorist.”

Confusing punctuation aside, principled arguments against the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan can be made. An American imperialist conspiracy carried over from the Cold War, however, is not among them.

IAC, the restoration of the medieval caliphate is the avowed intention of Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. One must assume that if the United States adopted sharia and coerced Americans to convert to Islam, Messrs bin Laden and Ahmadinejad would be mollified. In reality, though, they can easily recognize the United States as a barrier to their idea of a fundamentalist, homophobic, misogynist world religious state.

What to do about it? Complain about Israel. Bomb Marines in Lebanon and blow up the Kobar Towers. Hit the USS Cole. Etc., etc.. Fly a couple of airliners into the World Trade Center. Complain about Israel. Complain about American troops invited into Saudi Arabia to protect the Kingdom from its progeny. Whine, hide, bomb civilians. Especially Jews. Threaten to behead cartoonists who draw Mohammed. Complain about Israel.

To jihadis, support for Israel is a symptom, the disease is liberal democracy.

From the end of World War II through the fall of the Berlin Wall, conservatives advocated Big Government in the form of a massive Cold War military machine and an ever-expanding military-industrial complex, along with the ever-increasing spending, debts, taxes, and inflation that accompanied them. During that entire time, the big official enemy — the justification that conservatives used for maintaining Big Government — was communism.

Communism, necessarily as an ideology, and absolutely as practiced by the Soviets and the Chicoms, was clear and present justification for a “massive military machine.” Did Khrushchev say “We will bury you,” as an insider joke?

I can’t figure out what Mr. Hornberger’s smaller military machine actually means in the context of the wealth in America. Mr. Hornberger apparently assumes preventing the seizure of that wealth requires defense only of the edges. Maybe he’s never played Risk.

I do not know if (or how) our large military expenditures in Germany and Japan after WWII can be quantitatively proven to be an economic benefit to us, but I can’t see how the security benefit could be questioned. Mr. Hornberger doesn’t either. He commends our aid to West Germany by criticizing our failure to preserve East Germany from the Soviets.

Soviet and Chinese Communism were, and may still be, existential threats to Western civilization. How much a threat is revealed in The Black Book of Communism and Last Exit to Utopia. A hundred million people died at the hands of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Ceausescu and Mengistu Haile Mariam – to name major executioners. Robert Mugabe and Kim Jung-il are keeping this legacy alive even today.

The Black Book is a statement of facts about Communism written after the release of documents from the archives of the former Soviet Union. It is a devastating compilation, if long and dry. I think those who claim the Cold War demonstrates American imperialism must answer this in detail, but I would recommend reading Last Exit before Black Book. Last Exit talks about what happened to the authors of Black Book and makes a clear, concise and compelling case that Communism was evil and rapacious. It is surprisingly entertaining.

During the entire Cold War, did conservatives ever exclaim against the jihadists, the Muslims, the terrorists, the Islamofascists, or the Koran extremists?

Some did, Daniel Pipes for example, but since the jihadists weren’t building the Berlin Wall or moving nuclear missiles into Cuba, the relative urgency of the threat might be described as “low.” Mr. Hornberger argues that failing to appreciate threats from Islam until after 9/11 is a philosophical failure. Such a claim runs counter to his preferred narrative regarding Americans’ unwillingness to confront Tojo and Hitler until after Pearl Harbor. Everything changed, why wouldn’t Americans?

Then the big shock came. The Berlin Wall fell. The communist threat disappeared (although for years many conservatives were claiming that it was all part of an elaborate communist plot to conquer the West). The Cold War ended.

Mr. Hornberger treats the Wall as if it were some established fact of the Universe, pre-existing, unrelated to international politics. It just fell. The issue he needs to address here, however, is not the fall of the Berlin Wall (arguably a vindication of Cold War policies), but the building of that wall – and the airlift into Berlin which would have been impossible except for a “massive military machine.” While he’s at it, he might want to explain what he would have done about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and to identify the actual imperialist nations involved.

What Kuhner obviously doesn’t feel too comfortable talking about is that while World War II saved Eastern Europe from the Nazis, the Eastern Europeans were delivered into the hands of America’s communist partner in WW II, the Soviet Union. And so were the East Germans. Yes, the same communists who conservatives then used as the official enemy to justify Big Government for the next 45 years!

Let me get this straight, in order to secure the foil of a long term enemy, the US intentionally delivered Eastern Europeans into the hands of the Soviet Union? Even if we grant the perverse notion that failure to immediately stop Communism in Eastern Europe was an imperial act, we must certainly acknowledge stopping it would have required a war. Mr. Hornberger’s objection to the building of the Iron Curtain therefore seems at odds with his thesis. Surely he would consider an attack on the Soviet Union to have been an imperialist act.

Are you seeing why Kuhner stops his analysis of World War II so abruptly? When Great Britain and France declared war on Germany (it wasn’t the other way around), it was ostensibly to save the Poles and Czechs from the clutches of Nazi totalitarianism.

Are you seeing why Hornberger starts his analysis of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall? Can you see why he tells us about declarations of war by France and England (after Chamberlain’s debasing appeasement failed, the Germans overran Poland and France’s military proved insufficiently massive), while ignoring the fact that the US did not declare war on either Japan or Germany until after they had declared war on us?

He does not mention, either, that Germany raped Poland without benefit of a declaration of war. Can you figure out why Mr. Hornberger stops his analysis at the point where Poles and Czechs are still groaning under the boot of the Soviets, rather than after their freedom had been achieved?

They killed even more Iraqis with the no-fly zones that had been authorized by neither Congress nor the UN.

What?! The commanders on the ground had no authority to enforce the sanctions passed by the UN or the US? They were to allow air attacks by Saddam Hussein on his own people? They got to continue this illegal action for years without rebuke? Please.

Yet, Kuhner steadfastly maintains that none of this had anything to do with why people in the Middle East have gotten so angry at the United States. Perhaps he’s unfamiliar with the angry tirade by Ramzi Yousef, the convicted terrorist in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, who specifically cited U.S. foreign policy as the reason for his anger.

Let us admit that our troops are on the ground in Saudi Arabia at the request of the Saudis and that a coalition including Islamic troops was part of Gulf War I. Let’s acknowledge that if our troops were all fundamental Islamists, the “foreign policy” issues would essentially disappear. Let us not extrapolate the comments of a single fanatic, for whose comments we provided the public platform, into a foreign policy.