On Neocons and Neurotics: Yaron Brook and the Folly of Preemption
Though America is undoubtedly more politically polarized than ever, the view that the War in Iraq was a fiasco is something that almost everyone outside of think tanks or the military industrial complex can agree on. For those familiar with the works of paleocons like Pat Buchanan and Paul Gottfried, the idea that the war was a gross waste of American lives and treasure is a recurring theme. That many neocons remain unrepentant (and unaccountable) is not surprising. What may perhaps surprise the reader is that there are some intellectuals who believe the problem with our intervention is that we didn’t go far enough.
Yaron Brook is an Israeli-American who writes for The Objective Standard, a kind of Randian objectivist/rational egoist outlet that makes Bill Kristol’s The Weekly Standard look reasonable. In “‘Just War Theory’ versus American Self-Defense” Brook wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter when he informs the audience (the piece is adapted from a talk) that in order for the US to win decisively in the Middle East it would have been necessary to “inflict suffering on complicit civilian populations” deliberately.
His models for what should have been done in Iraq include the Allied attacks on Japanese and German cities, which he acknowledges killed “hundreds of thousands.” Brook even approvingly quotes Winston Churchill, who wrote “the severe ruthless bombing of Germany on an ever-increasing scale will not only cripple her war effort…but will create conditions intolerable to the mass of the German population.”
Apparently, the threat of what Brook calls “Islamic Totalitarianism” is to be dealt with in the same way as “the Nazi and Japanese imperialist threats,” which were in no small part resolved by “America’s dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan.”
Brook also demonstrates a curious bloodlust when searching for earlier examples of total war that could provide current military strategists with useful examples: “After burning the city of Atlanta, Sherman’s army ravaged much of the rest of Georgia by burning estates; taking food and livestock; and destroying warehouses, crops, and railway lines.”
These efforts were successful not only because they succeeded in “disrupting the supply of provisions to Lee’s army in Virginia” but they made “the war real to the civilian population that was supporting the war from the rear.” This strategy was effective because it “broke the spirit of the men on the front lines, who were now worried and demoralized by what was happening to their homes and their families.”
I served in the U.S. Army for four years, roughly a year of which was in Iraq. Speaking from personal experience I can say that holding the average Iraqi civilian responsible for the actions of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime or the insurgency left in his wake is ridiculous. The level of fear of those I talked to (even long after Saddam’s statue was toppled from Firdos Square) was palpable, and the people were still essentially powerless pawns in the hands of an insurgency whose native-to-foreign ratio was never conclusively established. I once asked an Iraqi translator if Iraqis commiserated privately in their homes about Saddam Hussein when he was in power, or if they felt safe speaking negatively about the Sunni strongman behind closed doors.
The interpreter shook his head gravely and responded, “No, because once in a parade, a boy sees Saddam and says, ‘My father, when he sees you on TV, he spits at the TV’ and they take the boy’s father away. So you see, no talking shit about Saddam, even at home.”
Another time, after playing American-rules football with an Iraqi child, I offered to let the boy take the football home, and his father became apoplectic. I didn’t speak Arabic, so a translator had to explain that if other Iraqis saw the boy with an American football (rather than a soccer ball) they would assume his family was friendly with American soldiers or contractors, and the boy’s life and the lives of his family would have been in danger.
Yaron Brook and his hero Ayn Rand (born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum) might wish to hold the average civilian responsible for the actions of their rulers and their regimes, but those who are asked to pull the trigger or drop the bombs on civilians must live with the consequences of their actions, not leapfrog from hotel ballroom to boardroom to university auditorium, raking in speaking fees, sinecures, and book deals. There is evidence emerging now that even those who do their fighting remotely are grappling with PTSD.
To suggest that we should have resorted to the use of nuclear arms against Iraq because the United States used nuclear weapons against Japan is to ignore many differences between the two conflicts, not the least of which is the disparity between the atrocious acts American POWs were subjected to by the Japanese (see Hidden Horrors and Knights of Bushido) and those comparatively weak propaganda efforts manufactured for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, like that of POW Jessica Lynch or NFL player-turned-ranger Pat Tillman. Japanese soldiers were torturing and eating American prisoners, and their military regime murdered perhaps as many as ten-million people between 1937 and the end of the Second World War; before our invasion, Iraq was a remote Middle Eastern nation that posed no direct threat to the U.S A., notwithstanding phony/hyped intelligence to the contrary. Many geopolitical strategists and politicians believed that Saddam’s Ba’athist regime functioned as a bulwark against the Shia-dominated Iran and that we not only had nothing to gain by intervention, but much to lose. What John Derbyshire said of Colonel Gadhafi could also be said for Saddam, that he was very much the devil-we-knew, and replacing him invited the risk of something worse filling the vacuum.
Regarding the current Zionist idée fixe of Iran, Brook pulls out all the stops, using argumentum ad hitlerum to make his case: “Hitler…was an objective threat to his neighbors. He was a threat as soon as he came to power, and then increasingly so as he built up a military, explicitly rejecting existing treaties with England and France.”
Brook, after lavishing praise on the tactics of Sherman and Churchill, then proceeds to lecture about a “proper morality,” informing the audience that we are not required to “be directly attacked in order to retaliate” (even though retaliation, by definition, is a response to an attack). We should not, he says, “sit idly by as Iran builds nuclear weapons and missile launchers; we need not wait to respond until they have destroyed an American city.” Brook’s proposed solution? “A preemptive strike is justified,” based not only on the actions of other nations, but even the “official statements” of a dictator. The kind of verbal threats that routinely emanate from North Korea or Iran are regarded in the realist school of foreign policy as bluster or passive-aggressive attempts to open new negotiations rather than dire warnings of imminent war (and, considering we haven’t engaged in a round-robin mutual nuclear exchange with Russia or North Korea, the realists have been proven right thus far).
Brook then cements his argument with a specious analogy: “When a …man is making death threats against his wife… [the state] properly throws him in jail — it does not wait until her corpse is found, on the grounds that he might change his mind and not carry out the threat.”
But if Mr. Brook is making the argument that an entire nation should be leveled, and have its earth scorched and its entire population punished based on a dictator’s provocative words, a better analogy would be that a woman calls 9-11 to report that her husband is beating her, and the police promptly destroy every building within a five-block radius of the battered spouse’s apartment building.
What, ultimately, is to account for Yaron Brook’s sociopathy (for there can be no other word for it)? Nouvelle Droite philosopher Alain de Benoist takes aim at Brook and the mentality behind his logic in his work, Carl Schmitt Today: Terrorism, ‘Just’ War, and the State of Emergency. He notes that this Manichean/anti-realist view (animating both the objectivist Brook and to a lesser extent the comparatively moderate neocons) has “a strongly ideological and moral character … [it] rather reminds us of the wars of extermination that are narrated in the Bible” (47).
This is political theology, but, according to de Benoist, it is a “primitive political theology” (47) which does not allow for much gray area or ambivalence, completely antithetical to the kind of accords/ deal-making that our current commander-in-chief prides himself on being able to realize. This rhetoric has its apotheosis in the phrase “‘axis’ of evil’” (47) which is attributed to Bush speechwriter David Frum, but actually has antecedents in a work written by the Israeli-American political scientist Yossef Bodansky.
Alain de Benoist is smart enough to recognize that this political theology has more to do with theology than geopolitical strategy (as Yaron Brook’s duality is too stringent even to fall into the “Hard Wilsonianism” category of neo-conservatism). Benoist misses the mark however, when he places the onus on what has sometimes been called the Protestant deformation. He quotes the Italian jurist Danilo Zolo who observes that a “‘polytheism’ of morals and religious beliefs is systemically denied by the theoreticians of global war. A monotheistic vision of the world-particularly the biblical and ardently Christian one of the present group directing the United States … is opposed to the pluralism and values of the complexity of the world” (47).
I don’t need to tell you how laughable the idea of an “ardently Christian … group directing the United States,” is, especially regarding foreign policy, but it bears pointing out that Monsieur de Benoist perhaps tips his hand in mentioning how this harsh unilateralism reminds one of a secular, modern instantiation of another monotheistic (albeit Old Testament) tradition. Not only isn’t Yaron Brook’s philosophy implicitly Christian (contra De Benoist and Zolo); he is at great pains to slander the Justinian tactics of Just War as fickle “half-measures”. Benoist even seems to acknowledge the fact that it isn’t quite a Christian conspiracy, when he notes that this “new ‘pre-emptive’ strategy borrows from the first its essentially moral conviction … assigned to a chosen nation.” (48) [My emphasis]
Brook’s weltanschauung is not just a matter, however, of believing one has a nigh-on divine mandate to wreak Old Testament wrath on the enemies of Israel in the Middle East. It is the joining of this (self-) righteous political theology with a neurotic constitution that shows how ill-suited Jews are toward making these life-and-death decisions, and how all this posturing of great strength does quite a bit to expose their own weakness, a lassitude that is both moral and intellectual, that relies on force as a first recourse in any interaction with a potential threat.
I usually find the postmodern philosopher Paul Virilio to be the poster boy for the kind of “fashionable nonsense” decried by Alan Sokal in his book of the same name, but he is fundamentally on the mark when Benoist quotes him on “the recourse to preventative war by reference to the omnipresence of fear in the midst of postmodern societies” (48). Virilio observes that “‘preventative war is an act of panic…The preventative war is, in fact, a war lost in advance’” for to “‘attack preventatively proves that one is not sure of oneself…This is a hysterical situation.’” [Emphasis added]
Virilio is right and Brook is wrong, for the simple reason that relying on a toxic blend of emotional fear and paranoia is not the same as pragmatically weighing political realities, parsing haughty rhetoric and sifting hollow bluster for the kernels of actionable, genuine threats. Yaron Brook or William Kristol are quintessential Jewish neurotics whose incessant worrying they conflate with geopolitical theorizing. This irrational obsession might come off as slightly humorous nebbish behavior in someone like Larry David. It stops being funny when a person with this mindset has access to nuclear weapons. And despite all of the handwringing over Donald Trump having access to nuclear codes, I somehow think he’s far less keen or constitutionally-adapted to start World War III than Yaron Brook.
Too much is ultimately at stake for Yaron Brook’s ideas to be anything but terrifying and enraging, no matter what philosophy supposedly undergirds them, or what kind of bona fides are brandished as window dressing on what essentially is the mentality of a sociopath who yearns to cradle the globe in his hand like a hostage, a Judaized globus cruciger.
The Objective Standard and its staff do not enjoy the same kind of establishment imprimatur as the neoconservatives at The Weekly Standard, but if the day comes when Brook’s ideas metastasize into plans that get implemented, it is no hyperbole to say that millions of lives could be lost, and for no good reason. I somehow doubt that would cost Brook so much as a good night’s sleep, but for the kind of young man who joins the military with a set of naïve assumptions (a young man like the one who used to be me), the cost could be quite high, even and perhaps especially if he survives.
Indeed, if those actors currently seeking to undermine Donald Trump in Washington manage to impeach, weaken, or somehow otherwise successfully defenestrate him, that may not only destroy any chance for the implementation of the populist measures that first attracted the White-working class to the dark horse candidate. It may also embolden those Republicans with Randian leanings of their own, who can barely tolerate Trump.
Benoist, Alain de. Carl Schmitt Today: Terrorism, ‘Just’ War, and the State of Emergency. Arktos, 2013.
Brook, Yaron. “‘Just War Theory’ versus American Self-Defense.” The Objective Standard. vol. 1, no. 1, Spring, 2006. https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-spring/just-war-theory/
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