I have a new piece up at Medium.com wherein I offer my thoughts on the drone-strike assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and U.S. foreign policy more generally.
I have a new piece up at Medium.com offering my own theoretically conspiratorial take on the recent death of multi-millionaire financial guru and alleged teen sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. I speculate in the piece as to what people should really be focusing on in regards to Epstein’s mysterious life, never mind his death.
While poking around the internets during the writing, I came across this piece on the Epstein conspiracy theory mill by the British political commentator Brendan O’Neill of Spiked-Online. In it, O’Neill derides the open discussion of conspiracy theories.
I’ve always liked O’Neill. He is, as I like to say with my tongue in my cheek, one of my favorite commies. He’s one of the small handful of pundits who can actually scribble genuinely critical and logically coherent opinion pieces in this age of emotion-driven, brain-clouded hyperbole. And he’s always been a fearless advocate of completely free and unfettered speech. But I’ll have to respectfully take some issue with him on this one.
He starts off deriding the popular meme circulating through the right-wing web that the Clintons had Epstein murdered. Fair enough. It is indeed a theory entirely lacking in evidence. I make no such claim in my own piece. For what it’s worth, I think Occam’s Razor dictates that the creep did indeed hang himself. He wasn’t murdered by the Clintons or anyone else.
But O’Neill then goes on a rant against the discussion of conspiracy theories in general. My criticism is that he treats all of them equally.
Yes, many, if not most, of the conspiracy theories out there are batshit-crazy. Where did the whole “Clinton body count” meme even come from? So far as I can tell, it originated with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Clinton Chronicles videos that he peddled on late night TV in the early to mid-1990s. Falwell tosses around all sorts of dark rumors about the Clintons, including accusations that they had various enemies murdered in Arkansas during Bill’s 12-year reign as that state’s governor.
So far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the foundation of Falwell’s rumor mill was laid by the infamous case of the double-murder of the two teenaged “boys on the tracks” in Arkansas during the 1980s. Journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard documents a solid circumstantial case in his book The Secret Life of Bill Clinton (terrible title, fascinating read) that the county prosecutor at the time, Dan Harmon, was involved in the boys’ murder and subsequent cover-up. The two murdered boys, Kevin Ives and Don Henry, may have stumbled upon a nighttime drug deal that involved Arkansas state or local law enforcement officers. This occurred during the same time that the infamous CIA operative Barry Seal was trafficking cocaine into the Mena, Arkansas airport as part of the “Iran-Contra” operation. Harmon was eventually arrested for dealing drugs some years later.
Though there’s no evidence to implicate the Clintons in the boys’ murder, Harmon was definitely a connected political player at the time who was jacked into the Clintons’ Arkansas machine. Thus, I suspect, the “Clinton body count” meme was born.
Anyway, everybody knows that the only person the Clintons actually had murdered was Vince Foster.
But I digress. What was I talking about? Oh, right. Conspiracy theories, and how Brendan O’Neill thinks discussing them is bad. They’re bad, says O’Neill, because the people who buy into them deprive themselves and others of agency. They become convinced that everyone is secretly manipulated by dark, sinister forces. They’re anti-democratic because they ultimately pacify people. Why bother organizing for any kind of change if the dark conspiratorial forces always prevail?
Such people as O’Neill singles out for eating up the most absurd nonsense are the most easily duped who will believe almost any hysterical nonsense that Alex Jones shouts into his camera. (Ironically, such people now include, as O’Neill points out, members of the establishment liberal “intelligentsia”, who continue to insist that Vladimir Putin used voodoo social media ads to elect Donald Trump president.)
That doesn’t mean that mature adults can’t entertain the possibility that there really are people–in government, high finance, or otherwise endowed with enormous political privilege–who really do get up to some genuinely shady shit from time to time. Do they “control the world”? Nobody controls the world. But do these aforementioned privileged fucks occasionally get away with fucking over people less politically endowed than themselves? Absolutely.
The killer, though, is that the most sinister conspiracies are carried out right before our eyes: The false pretext for the Iraq War; the false pretext for intervening in Libya; hell, the false pretext for the first Iraq War; the Big Bank bailouts of 2008–the biggest heist carried out in U.S. history–and in broad fucking daylight right on our television sets–are just a few examples of the plots that have been carried out right in front of us in recent years. Most of us are just too duped by the daily propaganda of the usual news outlets to recognize them for what they really are.
And never mind about Jeffrey Epstein’s death–how the hell did he get that secret non-prosecution deal with the feds back in 2008? It’s not unreasonable to speculate that if he had lacked all of his high-flying social and political connections, they would have been more than happy to throw the book at him and make him into the poster boy of the evil denizens from whom they protect us and our daughters on a daily basis–oh what we would do without the ever-vigilant federal agents of law enforcement?!
So, sorry, Brendan, but the rest of us do intend to continue speculating, and to openly discuss our speculation, about what socially and politically powerful people do when nobody’s watching them, or caring enough to hold them accountable. It is sheer speculation, of course. But the difference between speculation about conspiracy theories and the kind of speculation that political commentators such as yourself frequently indulge in is only a difference of degree, not of character.
And it is, in fact, quite democratic in its own way. It’s the way we ordinary folk remind ourselves and one another that as the ruled, we need to watch out for what the rulers are up to. That they may only be interested in serving the public good rather than their own personal gain sounds a little too much like a, well,–wild conspiracy theory.
Scott Horton recently posted an interesting interview with Mark Perry discussing Perry’s recent article at The American Conservative, “1984: The Year America Didn’t Go to War”, and the near-wars with Iran that were narrowly averted. The U.S. and Iran have been tangling for at least 40 years, or rather, 60-plus years if you go all the way back to the CIA-engineered coup against Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh to have him replaced by the restored Shah, as Horton reminds us. The interview should be listened to and the article should be read.
Perry’s article specifically focuses on the internal debate within the Reagan administration as to how to respond to the bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in October of 1983, which killed 241 Marines. They were deployed as part of a multi-national peacekeeping mission in the midst of Lebanon’s long and bloody civil war. The U.S. concluded that Hezbollah (“the Party of God”)–which was then, as now, an Iranian proxy force–was behind the attack. Then Secretary of State George Schultz demanded retaliation but Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger–who was a veteran of the horrific Battle of Buna during World War II–opposed any U.S. military escalation in the region. Weinberger even went so far as to ignore a direct order from Reagan to launch military strikes on what were believed to be Iranian-connected assets, though he later claimed that he never received any such order. Weinberger, apparently, had been completely opposed to the Marine deployment to Lebanon in the first place, as was his senior military advisor at that time, Colin Powell, a veteran of Vietnam. Weinberger eventually got his way after months of apparently deliberate bureaucratic foot-dragging, with the Marines ultimately restricted to U.S. ships in the Mediterranean.
It’s a surprising and enlightening story that I wasn’t aware of. As Horton and Perry point out, the military leadership in the Pentagon is often far more cautious than the civilian leadership in the State Department when it comes to getting the U.S. into new wars. That has frequently been the case throughout this country’s history.
And that was apparently the case recently when it came time for Trump to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on Iran. The conventional wisdom has it that Trump caught a broadcast by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson denigrating the idea of attacking that country and possibly instigating a whole new war, which supposedly dissuaded Trump from launching any strikes. But Perry reports that it’s far more likely that it was Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–and who was a commanding officer in the 2003 invasion of Iraq–who convinced Trump not to do it.
In a meeting Gen. Dunford and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had with Trump when he was mulling over possible strikes on Iran, Dunford did what is called “flooding the zone”–“providing volumes of facts and figures that are as likely to delay as inform.” Dunford apparently does that whenever a policy option that he disagrees with has been put on the table, reminiscent of Weinberger’s delay tactics to resist launching attacks in retaliation for the 1983 Marines barracks bombing. And the facts and figures Dunford cited at Trump and Pompeo were apparently not very pretty. Just as Reagan had eventually pulled back the Marines from Beirut, Trump ultimately called off the attack on Iran.
Perry quotes Weinberger as having said, “It is easy to kill people, and that might make some people feel good, but military force must have a purpose, to achieve some end…We never had the fidelity on who perpetrated that horrendous act.”
In one interview some years ago, Perry argued to Weinberger that Reagan’s increasing military budgets would make it far more likely that the U.S. would find itself in the midst of a foreign conflict once again. “You don’t get it,” answered Weinberger. “We’re not buying more guns because we intend to use them, we’re buying more guns so we don’t have to.”
Weinberger should be commended for resisting the pressure to drag America into what would surely have been yet another quagmire of a war, this time in the Middle East, barely a decade after the last Marines and U.S. embassy staff were evacuated from Saigon. His overall attitude toward U.S. military intervention abroad appeared to be that it should be kept to a minimum. If only his successors shared that view, then this country would have been spared a lot of conflict, bloodshed, and expense over the past few decades.
But if Weinberger honestly thought that subsequent U.S. presidents would use the massively built-up military forces that Reagan had bequeathed to them on only very limited small-scale operations, and only when the U.S. was eminently and directly threatened, he was very much in error, as history taught him by the time he passed away in 2006. Reagan’s successors would, in fact, use America’s military might quite liberally and recklessly. Two of them were of Weinberger’s and Reagan’s own party: the George Bushes, Sr. and Jr. George, Sr. would march into Panama based on highly questionable premises within his first year in office, and he would then proceed to contract out the U.S. armed forces on behalf of the sheikhs and emirs of Kuwait and wage war on Iraq.
Bush, Jr., of course, would use the 9/11/01 attacks as not only a pretext to invade and occupy Afghanistan, which continues to drag on eighteen years later, but to continue his father’s war on Iraq as well, overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime, which was followed by a long and bloody occupation. And since then, there have been the interventions in Libya, Syria, and now Yemen, in aid of Saudi Arabia’s chosen side in that poor and beleaguered country’s civil war.
“What’s the the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once famously asked Gen. Colin Powell during the 1990s, as the Clinton administration pondered intervening in the Balkans.
Justin Raimondo, author and co-founder and longtime editor-in-chief of Antiwar.com, recently lost his battle with cancer at the age of 67.
Raimondo was not exactly a household name. He made an occasional appearance on television and radio, but most people have no idea who he was. And yet he and Antiwar.com have had a profound impact on the popular perception of the many U.S. wars that have been initiated since 9/11/01. His frequent critiques of the American war machine were devoured by a relatively small but dedicated niche audience, whose political views ranged across the entire spectrum from left to right, and who all shared his contempt and disdain for systematic mass murder by the state, and all the deception and convoluted moral gymnastics that go with it.
Those dedicated readers learned much from Raimondo over the years about that small but powerful clique of court intellectuals known as the “neoconservatives,” who acted as the bodyguards of lies to justify the criminal U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the endless U.S. war in Afghanistan, the destruction of Libya and much of Syria, and many other areas of the U.S. government’s lawless foreign policy. Many of those readers then distributed what they learned from Justin far and wide, which undoubtedly helped shape the skepticism of U.S. war and empire that is broadly shared by so many ordinary Americans at the present moment.
I only exchanged the occasional tweet with Raimondo; I never got to meet him, unfortunately. But I always detected a delightfully cantankerous and crotchety personality throughout his voluminous writing. As you read his razor-sharp broadsides at Antiwar.com, you couldn’t help but imagine that he was sitting right there next to you, chain smoking as he explained everything.
Looking at Antiwar.com’s obituary, to say that he was a complicated man containing multitudes would be an understatement.
Born into a Catholic family in Yorktown Heights, NY, he led a childhood so rebellious that he nearly got incarcerated in a mental institution by a prominent psychiatrist who later turned out to be a Soviet spy.
He decided that he was an Objectivist and libertarian at the age of fourteen; he even deigned to pen an article on Objectivism at that tender age, which was published by a New York newspaper. He was thanked for his efforts with a cease-and-desist letter from Ayn Rand’s attorney, which eventually led to him meeting Rand herself. Struck by his youth, she ended up encouraging his passion for writing and urged him to never compromise his vision.
He was a gay libertarian who was a fierce advocate of gay liberation in his youth but then developed some conservative sympathies as he got older, a man who alternatively participated in the presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. To his many critics, those elements didn’t seem to go together. But those seemingly incongruous pieces do in fact fit when you grasp the strategically evolving nature of how he developed his views. Dismantling the U.S. war machine and achieving liberty were always the foremost goals of his writing, which he largely learned how to do from his early mentor, the late Austrian school libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who was also a persistent and intransigent opponent of American militarism.
Like Rothbard, Raimondo came to realize that in order to mount an effective challenge to U.S. militarism in the court of public opinion, you’re going to have to make an appeal to the ordinary working class Americans who have been sending their kids into the U.S. armed forces, only to see them return in flag-draped coffins or physically and/or psychologically crippled. In Raimondo’s view, too much of the antiwar movement, historically dominated by the political left since the Vietnam War, had become distracted with lifestyle and group identity politics to the detriment of their antiwar activism. And though politically divergent on many other issues, Nader and Buchanan were both aggressively critical of Uncle Sam’s globally interventionist foreign policy, Buchanan particularly so following the collapse of the USSR and Bush Sr.’s war to save the financial behinds of the emirs and sheiks of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.
Raimondo’s reasoning also escaped the comprehension of his critics when it came to his treatment of Donald Trump. Though at first extremely hostile to Trump’s candidacy early in the 2016 election cycle, Raimondo recognized a new opportunity to strike a blow against the U.S. foreign policy establishment after Trump denounced the pretext for the Iraq war as a pack of lies at the GOP South Carolina primary debate in February 2016. He began writing more and more in defense of Trump’s campaign and then his administration, especially when it came to any apparent resistance by Trump to the mandarins of the U.S State Department and the Pentagon.
But it’s not my job or place to offer any apologetics on Raimondo’s behalf, nor do I have any desire to. I didn’t always agree with his observations and interpretations of certain events. In any case, the man wrote quite clearly and articulately on behalf of his own views. My point is only that there was one very important reason for Raimondo’s sympathies with the Trump phenomenon: He saw it as, potentially, a means to an end, that end being a rollback of the U.S. government’s sprawling, globe-spanning machinery of endless war. How correct Raimondo was about that is, in my own humble opinion, debatable. But the fact remains that Trump, though he did ratchet up Barack Obama’s intervention in Yemen, has not exactly turned out to be quite the warmonger that so many of his critics claimed he would be. Despite preceding press coverage to the contrary, it does not look as though there will be any U.S. war on Venezuela anytime soon, and when the hour arrived to strike Iran, Trump called it off at the last minute.
One could easily imagine Raimondo writing similarly in support of Democratic U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard right now due to her own opposition to the U.S. government’s idiotic and pointless regime-change wars.
That’s because ending U.S. foreign wars was always his number one political priority, and he happily took what he could get wherever he could find it, on whatever point of the political spectrum it could be found.
Justin Raimondo spent virtually his entire life fighting for one of the worthiest causes that any American could ever dedicate himself to: the rollback of, with an eye to someday entirely dismantling, Uncle Sam’s massive war machine.
And for that, there is no doubt that St. Peter embraced him upon his arrival at the pearly gates with the following words: “You did good, son. You did real good. Welcome, and enjoy your rest.”
Aside from Anitwar.com’s wonderful obituary (and do read the whole piece to the very end), here are some other tributes to Justin Raimondo from people who knew and worked with him:
“How Justin Raimondo Made Me A Braver Writer” by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos at the American Conservative.
“In Memoriam: Justin Raimondo, 1951-2019” by Edward Welsch at Chronicles, to which Raimondo was a regular contributor for many years.
Scott Horton discusses Justin Raimondo’s legacy with Pete Raymond.