Shame on me for taking nearly a month to write this up, but the John Randolph Club held its annual meeting in Washington, DC on September 21 and 22, sponsored by the Rockford Institute of Chronicles Magazine fame (the publication of true and traditional American conservatism for which I have had the honor of writing 3 times thus far).
I will cover the event in reverse order, since the highlight was the Iraq War debate during the final banquet that was worth the price of admission for the whole weekend by itself. I spent a bit of time compressing the 80 minute mp3 file of the debate into a 10 minute segment which can be viewed below, with headshots of the speakers. Next time, we simply must have video!
Arguing for immediate withdrawal were "anarcho-communalist" Kirkpatrick Sale (who is trying to get Vermont to secede from the US), immigration activist Peter Brimelow of VDARE fame, and Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com fame.
Arguing for something else (it's unclear what since there wasn't consensus, as you'll discover later) were Chronicles contributing editor R. Cort Kirkwood, Foreign Affairs editor Srdja Trifkovic (whom I had the pleasure to engage in conversation at length during dinner), and author William Hawkins.
Here are the transcriptions of the excerpted parts. (continued...)
Sale: "[the military's establishment]'s affect domestically has been to create an imperial rule, an imperial presidency, protected by military might, informed by secret agencies, coddling to by Congress, and permitted by the Judiciary that is destroying the basic instruments of our Democracy, an institution that the military does not care much for. Just as surely as the Roman Empire destroyed the Roman Republic – that is the primary reasons why the war in Iraq must be ended – that it would be a blow to the empire from which it might not recover, thus starting the process of withdrawing power from the Pentagon and starting the re-righting of the Ship of State that is now badly lopsided."
Kirkwood: "I'm going to argue against this on a moral level. I think there is a moral case to be made for staying. We made a mistake when we went into Iraq. I concede the point that…there was an illegal and unnecessary war that we never should have gone into. That's obvious, everyone understands this…We attacked a sovereign country that posed no threat to us…We've broken a lot of things in Iraq, and we have an obligation to fix those things, because we did it. It doesn't matter whether our leaders were wrong, it matters that they are held to account for what they did, and that they repair they damage that they've done before they leave the country in chaos, and that cannot be accomplished if we leave the country tomorrow.
There's a consequence for our country. If we depart [Iraq] and we leave it a mess, if this country is inhabitable because of what we have done there, where are these people going to go? They're going to come here. And I don't think anybody wants thousands and thousands of Iraqis coming into this country to change it any more than it's already been changed by the immigration that we have been given no choice over…I am living this every day in Harrisonburg, Virginia – we have Iraqis and Kurds and Russians – I wasn't asked if I wanted these people in my community – the Mennonites just put them there!"
Raimondo: "Every minute we stay in Iraq, the threat of war with Iran increases. Look, it's too late to be against the war in Iraq. It is NOT too late to be against the war with Iran. Wars do not respect national boundaries, and neither do the neocons. If we stay in Iraq, by the end of this year we will be at war with Iran.
'We have to stop al-Qaeda' – Well, I have a good way to stop al-Qaeda. Let's get the heck out of Iraq and let the Shia take care of al-Qaeda – they'll do it in very short order. It won't be pretty, but hey, they'll do a lot better job then we're doing right there, right now.
And let's look at the so-called 'moral case', oh the mass slaughter of the Sunnis. Suddenly, these alleged 'dead-enders', the villains of yesteryear, have to be saved by the brave Americans. Well, you know what, we were always at war with East Asia, and now we're at war with Eurasia. I'm getting sick of this, it's making me dizzy. I'm tired of saving the world. Let the Sunnis save themselves…How many Shia did they kill? How many Shia did they repress?…As they sow, so shall they reap. And that is called Justice.
Are we going to colonize Iraq? And are we going to go into Iran? – and Syria, which they're getting ready to do, you may have seen the mysterious Israeli bombing of some alleged nuclear facility. And of course, probably, 2 years after that war is over, we'll hear, 'Oh, it was only a toy factory.' These people have no credibility."
Then there was an electric tit-for-tat that was among the highlights of the weekend:
Srjda Trifkovic (in rebuttal): "'It's not going to be pretty' is the neocon euphemism for genocide."
Raimondo: "Well, I ain't committing that genocide, so I don't feel very guilty about it."
Srjda Trifkovic: "But you don't mind al-Sistani's boys running into Anbar and sorting things out their own way."
Raimondo: "Just like I don't mind Darfur...If millions of people went into the streets of this Imperial City and said 'you know what? We are going to storm the White House, and you are going to get our troops OUT!'"
Srjda Trifkovic: "You know Justin, you belong to a generation that remembers 1968 more vividly than I, so the notion of letting emotions and gonads guide your political action is less intrinsically urgent in my mental mindset, so I would say NO, I will not run to the Mall and demonstrate."
Raimondo: "Well unless you grow some gonads, dude, we are going to have perpetual war, forever!"
Brimelow: "What does it really matter to the Americans if the Iranians rule Iraq? If the Iranians rule Afghanistan? If they eat each other, what does it matter to the Americans, because we're over here, they're over there. Unless we let them come over here, and by the way, Cort we can stop that immediately, there is no reason to have Iraqi immigrants and refugees over here. They can't get at us.
[The British] have massive experience…They had situations like in India, and India is a really interesting case because the relationship between Britain and India was much more profound and far deeper and intimate than anything the Americans have in Iraq, they were there 200 years when they left. They withdrew their troops to the barracks and they just sat there while the Hindus and the Muslims massacred each other. And it was a black day for the British Empire and for Britain's morale, but guess what? We got over it. They lost between a million and 5 million people when the subcontinent was partitioned, but everybody's forgotten about it. And if America leaves Iraq tomorrow, we'll forget about it in 4 or 5 years.
Foreign policy is not a question of emotion, and not a question of morality, it is a question of national interest. So the only question you have to ask yourself in a situation such as Iraq is 'what is the national interest?' and 'what national interest do the Americans have in holding what is essentially a colonial possession?' There is no doubt about – this is the Algerian War rewrote.
Were the Iraqis crossing the border in vast numbers illegally? Was the Iraqi President trying to influence American politics? Were Iraqi immigrants in the US trying to take over the Southwest and kick Americans around and make them speak Arabic? None of this was true of course – we invaded the wrong country!
William Hawkins then gave his pitch, which was rather akin to neoconservative arguments and all about protecting oil. He seemed to view Iran as a direct threat.
When the time for Q&A came around, I asked (and I'm pleased to say the audience applauded):
"Iran does not have missiles capable of reaching the United States, so how are they a threat to the United States? And even if they had a stockpile of nuclear weapons, they idea that they're going to 'hook up' with terrorists is simply then an issue of border security, whether it's airports or…why are we borrowing money from China so that American soldiers are building schools in Iraq rather than inspecting containers coming into the United States and policing our borders from people coming in to do us harm?"
Hawkins replied, with a less-than-confident look on his face:
"America's interests don't extend just to our own borders…the Middle East has a lot of our oil. And it's not just America's problem, every major country is involved in the Middle East or Central Asia – Russia, China, India, France, Germany – they've all had oil color their policies and approach to this region."
That's true, and that's why Japan paid for Gulf War I. Who is paying for this boondoggle? My kids and grandkids, that's who! For all the reasons that Ron Paul enumerated in the most recent debate in Michigan.
Well, this whole thing didn't end there. Hawkins was unhappy and decided to go to FrontPage Magazine to call his fellow debaters traitorous. You can read his entire bizarre rant if you'd so like. Scott Richert, Executive Editor of Chronicles started a thread about this which attracted more than 100 comments. And my fellow paleoconservative Farm Team infielder and enviably prolific blogger Daniel Larison also dissects Hawkins' arguments. You can also hear from Raimondo himself who gets in a few classic zingers.
Now, a couple of quick notes on some of the rest of the program. Taki Theodoracopulos, the co-founder of The American Conservative and more recently the excellent Taki's Top Drawer site, began with a Friday night address that touched on the familiar themes of bashing the neocons foreign policy delusions. In the course of his address, which was about "The Dishonesty of Public Discourse", he referred to Senator Robert Taft as "the last honest man", and also mentioned Hitler's claim to the Sudetenland.
On Saturday morning, the first panel featured Trifkovic and Leon Hadar of the CATO Institute, an Israeli foreign policy analyst who is excellent. John Hackney as a moderator did a great job of shutting down the rant of an angry Copt from Canada named Dmitri (the previous evening he tried to convince me that Arabic was not my ancestors' true language, blah, blah, blah - insert historically irrelevant argument here). Hadar advocated Israel and even Lebanon and Syria joining the European Union, while Trifkovic only wants Turkey to join so that the EU will crumble to pieces. Hadar took issue with Trifkovic praise of secular Turks, but condemnation of "post-modern post-national" secular Israelis, while Trifkovic rebutted that it was simply a matter of pragmatism.
The next panel was about immigration, and it featured Peter Brimelow and David Hartman, who is chairman of the board of directors of The Rockford Institute, chairman of the Lonestar Foundation, and an authority on pro-business taxation. I listened to the arguments, and Hartman clearly knows his stuff when it comes to tax policy - he had some gripes with the fair tax. Now, I agree with critics of the hyper-glib Republican elite who love to remind us that "illegal immigrants will do the jobs Americans don't want", and there is no doubt that if factories were forced to hire legal workers, they would find plenty of Americans do to the work. Brimelow made an interesting observation though - that some companies, scared about the legal pressure, are actually investing in more automation so that they can decrease the need for illegal manpower.
What I am not clear on, and even subsequent to a chat with Hartman after his presentation, is whether the "jobs Americans don't want" applies to manual labor of minimal skill. For example, a roofer or landscaper who hires almost exclusively illegal immigrants to do the manual work for dirt cheap - let's say he charges $1,000 for a given engagement. If the illegal immigrant pool was no longer available, what would happen? Will Americans do the work for $5/hour? Or will the wages have to be increased to $10/hour? In that case, what happens? Does the owner continue to price the job at $1,000 and just make less money for himself? Or do prices go up to match the increased wages?
The other highlight was the talk by Thomas Fleming, Executive Editor of Chronicles and a true scholar whose knowledge of everything from Classics, to European History, to Church History, to American History and much more in between is formidable. He presented the argument he made in Chronicles June issue, about the origin of the term "separation of Church and State". "Were there any orthodox Christians among the Founders?" he asked.
Although, I did find some irony in Fleming's call to "restore Constantinople", when I read this bit about Congressman John Randolph, for whom the conference was named:
"Very early in life I imbibed an absurd prejudice in favor of Mahomedanism and its votaries. The crescent had a tailsmanic effect on my imagination, and I rejoiced in all its triumphs over the cross (which I despised) as I mourned over its defeats; and Mahomet II himself did not more exult than I did, when the crescent was planted on the dome of St. Sophia, and the cathedral of the Constantines was converted into a Turkish mosque."
Now, some have taken the ridiculous position that Randolph, and not Keith Ellison, was the first Muslim Congressman. Wrong. Randolph was a Christian who questioned his beliefs in his younger years (note he says he had an "absurd prejudice" early in life) - but his personal "Road to Damascus" does add a little ironic spice to the paleoconservative palette.
All in all, an outstanding event - I thank Christopher Check for his hard work and Thomas Fleming, Scott Richert, and many more for making me feel so welcome. I look forward to next year!