The Iran Deal, The New Neocons, And The Lie of an Alt-Right

To those on the pro-Trump right who claim to stand against globalist neocons, I offer a portrait of what Gore Vidal and others called “the United States of Amnesia.”

It was September 2000.  Two pillars boldly signifying World Trade stood tall and steady over downtown Manhattan.  The milquetoast Vice President and playboy Governor of Texas were locked in an uninspired race for the White House while struggling desperately to parade identical politics – one candidate was Pepsi, the other was (allegedly seen using) Coke.  The Cold War loomed large in recent memory, but the country seemed to be at peace – sure, Bill Clinton might have dropped a few bombs on starving Iraqis to distract from a certain semen-stained dress, but we could hardly call their deaths a disruption in pax Americana.  Philosophers like Francis Fukuyama were celebrating “the end of history.”  The internet was new, the ice caps lasted year-round, queer people could be publicly ridiculed – it was a simpler time.  A calmer time.

The Project for the New American Century, an organization that could be called (charitably) a think tank or (more realistically) a money laundering platform for the military industrial complex, was worried about all that calm.  Its members – including soon-to-be-Vice President Dick Cheney and the once-and-future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – knew that without some heroic opportunity to Shock and Awe, our nation’s legacy might soon fade in the global memory to dull peacetime trivialities like rock and roll or the polio vaccine.  They also understood that, with no Soviet boogeyman to rattle the saber at, the Pentagon’s budget might shrink, and its contracts with their business partners (arms manufacturers like Halliburton) might disappear.  So they decided to publish a strategic manifesto for their project, called Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century.  It was this document, more than any other, that codified the politics of neoconservatism.

PNAC recognized that they could no longer rely on “potential global war spread across many theaters.”  So they suggested a shift of focus to “potential theater wars spread across the globe.”  Not interested in abstractions, they even listed potential targets that “pose a grave challenge to the American peace and the military strength that preserves that peace.”  The regimes to overthrow first?  “North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria.”  A government for the new century would need to be ready to crush these countries completely, yet also keep wars simmering for decades at a time.  This would be good for shareholders, good for morale, good for America, and thus good for America’s world.

Of course, the enormous expansion of military infrastructure necessary to keep a permanent state of war around the world, which in PNAC’s words would be a “revolutionary change,” could not happen overnight – that is, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”  So you can only imagine their excitement a year later, after Coke beat Pepsi despite losing the popular vote, when such a catastrophic and catalyzing event took place.  Before the Twin Towers were finished burning, Congress had granted unprecedented war powers to the executive branch in a bipartisan gesture of goodwill.  George W. Bush and his neocon cabinet were able to pump trillions of taxpayer dollars into the Pentagon, wrapped in the absurd cape of an open-ended War on Terror.  The war, of course, trundles on to this day.


Fast forward to the present.  Rebuilding America’s Defenses has been obeyed to the letter.  Iraq crumpled under the force of a US invasion in 2003 that left as many as one million people dead.  Libya fell in 2011, with a liberal Democrat sending American bombers to assist the right-wing insurgency against Muammar Gaddafi (who can forget then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s line: “We came, we saw, he died!”).  Syria has faced a billion-dollar CIA campaign to overthrow the regime since 2006, punctuated by two high-profile cruise missile attacks.  The only two countries on PNAC’s list not currently occupied by the United States are North Korea (the least valued target) and Iran (the most).

Enter Donald Trump.  For over a year now, in case you hadn’t heard, the United States has been ruled by a failed-businessman-turned-reality-television-charlatan-turned-dementia-ridden-racist who, like President Bush and the original wave of neocons, took power without ever having secured a plurality of American votes.  But what set this President apart, we were told repeatedly by a frantic mainstream media and by the man himself, was his allegiance to a new, anti-establishment, “alternative” right.

Coaxed by former Goldman Sachs banker and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon, who absurdly calls himself a “Leninist,” Trump spent much of his presidential campaign stressing how different he was from unpopular Bush-era neoconservatives, the old guard who had spent the Obama years being lambasted by the Tea Party movement as RINOs or “Republicans In Name Only”.  “I was an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning,” he said, untruthfully, in August 2016.  “Americanism, not globalism, is our credo,” he announced at the Republican National Convention while accepting the party’s nomination.  “It’s going to be America First,” he promised in his inaugural address, co-written by Bannon himself.

To an electorate exhausted by fifteen years of constant war, of enormous and paper-thin lies spread by government agencies to conceal their atrocities, of more killing and dying than any time since the Vietnam War, these were welcome words.  Trump’s promise to stay out of foreign wars and focus on domestic issues was likely a substantial factor in his sweeping victory in the Republican primaries – crushing the long-time favorite, Jeb Bush, whose brother and father had already spent disastrous presidencies in servitude to the neoconservative war machine.  And in the general election, Trump voters could rightly counter Democratic warnings about their candidate’s brutality by pointing out the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s long-standing alignment with Bush and the neocons on foreign policy.  On election day, I saw a man in an InfoWars t-shirt in front of Trump Tower screaming that his “anti-war” candidate would save the world from “globalist cucks.”

But who is watching the “globalist cucks” now?

On April 9, President Trump chose John R. Bolton to serve as his new National Security Advisor after the resignation of (already hawkish) H. R. McMaster.  Bolton’s frequent appearances on Fox News were likely enough to cement his face in the President’s fragile psyche, but his ideological underpinnings are better illustrated by his position as a senior fellow with one of the country’s most sinister neocon think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute.  If that wasn’t enough, his resume also includes five years in the Bush administration during which he was instrumental in cementing the neocon agenda.  In 2002, while the CIA was frantically trying to fabricate evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq, Bolton paid a visit to José Bustani of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who was preparing to investigate the allegations.  Trying to force Bustani’s silence, Bolton warned, “We know where your kids live.”

It is worth noting the fact that Trump picked a neocon thug like Bolton for such a critical position only a month before the deadline for his reauthorization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which in 2015 ended sanctions on Iran and ended that country’s budding nuclear program.  The International Atomic Energy Agency has verified Iran’s complete compliancy with the deal’s strict conditions – which allow frequent UN inspections to prevent any weaponization of uranium or plutonium – and the end of sanctions has allowed some modest economic relief to the country’s poor, and opened space for legitimately democratizing if limited protests against the theocratic regime.  On May 8, when President Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA, it became clear that Bolton and his former associates in the Bush Administration did their jobs well.

Of course, as we should know by now, victory for the extreme factions of political power is rarely victory for humanity at large.  Within the month, sanctions will once again seize the most vulnerable Iranians in a horrible chokehold.  Potentially more devastating, the Iranian government will be left with no option to prevent a (likely) US or Israeli invasion other than developing a nuclear deterrent, and will have no incentive not to do so.  With Saudi Arabia promising to join a nuclear arms race, and Israel already presumably hoarding an illegal nuclear stockpile, the odds of a truly catastrophic nuclear war in the Middle East will skyrocket.

Bolton’s interest in ending the JCPOA is simple: he understands that it would greatly increase the chances of war with Iran, and he sees such a war as an opportunity for PNAC’s original vision of regime change.  As recently as last July, in an appearance for the fundamentalist Iranian exile group People’s Mujahedeen, Bolton told a crowd, “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime…And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”  Once the Bush administration’s most deranged ideologue, Bolton is positioned to seize the largest (and, incidentally, most oil-rich) missed prize of the Bush neoconservative ideology.

A war with Iran would doubtless leave hundreds of thousands dead, extend impossibly into the future, and possibly lead to unprecedented nuclear destruction, and it would benefit only the wealthiest fringe of an establishment that pounded the drums over Iraq, Libya, and Syria – very much an example of the “globalist neoconservatism” that Trump once railed against.  But, not surprisingly, right-wing, pro-Trump media has failed to criticize the President’s quiet reversal on PNAC’s central theses.  Aside from the occasional trollish smirks of Tucker Carlson, both Fox News and Breitbart have unilaterally urged Trump to follow Bolton and end the deal.

What then does anti-globalism mean to the “alt” right?  A reactionary stand-in for anti-globalization and anti-capitalism.  The populist anger Trump that Bannon identified and Trump tapped into to seize the White House was actually popular discontent with global capitalism and its contradictions.  But to a former banker like Bannon or a fraudulent billionaire like Trump, anti-capitalist policies (including anti-war policies) would be a foolish path.  By hiding behind the term “globalism,” instead of well-theorized globalization, our President has captured legitimate frustration with a global system of disenfranchisement.  But he and his followers can direct that frustration at any global Other he chooses – Muslims, Mexicans, even Jews – and in doing so, they avoid the need to implement actual changes to systems of capitalism, imperialism, and globalization.

Because ultimately, there is nothing alternative about the right that has coalesced around Donald Trump.  His Iran policy is consistent with the American position there for more than 65 years.  From the conservative social democrat Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose spies toppled the democratic socialist government of Mohammed Mosaddegh and installed the brutal Shah in 1953, to the neoliberal Ronald Reagan, who helped Saddam Hussein develop chemical weapons to slaughter Iranians by the thousands throughout the 1980s, to the neoconservatives of PNAC in 2000, our national goal has been to control the country and its resources at any human cost.  Trump is no different.  He was not hijacked by the globalist cucks of the “Deep State,” or, as Bannon alleges, by his Jewish son-in-law; he is carrying out the essential capitalist position of military imperialism.

Lenin himself wrote, in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, “We have seen that in its economic essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism…It follows that we must define it as capitalism in transition, or, more precisely, as moribund capitalism.”  He realized that capital, as it becomes more strained by contradictions and seems to approach its logical collapse, instead spreads itself through brutal war across the world.  All but lost in the dogmas of the Stalinist era, this may have been one of his lucid observations.  We can not fight imperialism and globalization in the twenty-first century – in its neoliberal, neoconservative, or alt-right formulations – without acknowledging that anti-imperialism is first and foremost anti-capitalism.  Though the capitalists and reactionaries who call themselves anti-globalists may fool themselves, we can not allow them to fool us.

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