Is Bill Kristol the Antichrist?
Patrick Buchanan, sitting in his sparse MSNBC office, explodes with a guffaw. He knows why he’s being asked this. In late September he launched The American Conservative, a new magazine with a succinct mission statement: Kick the bejesus out of the neoconservatives. And Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and son of original neocon Irving Kristol, is the Michael Corleone of the clan Buchanan accuses of hijacking his beloved conservative movement.
“No, he is not the Antichrist,” the 63-year-old pundit and three-time presidential candidate replies. “But there is no doubt the neocons have come to define the conservative movement, which bothers me. They do not represent traditional conservatism. Commentary, National Review and The Weekly Standard are nearly interchangeable in terms of foreign policy and empire. It’s all degenerating into outright imperialism. This is not conservatism. The idea of our magazine is to recapture the flag of the conservative movement.”
Buchanan craves a pissing match on the right. Paleocons versus neocons. Sure, he and his nemeses agree on a lot of things: boosting military spending; opposing abortion rights; hailing tax cuts; championing ballistic missile defense; scoffing at the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations; and bemoaning government regulation, affirmative action and an alleged overall cultural decline. But they split on trade (Buchanan despises so-called free-trade pacts for undermining US sovereignty and claiming American jobs; to most neocons free trade is a religion), immigration (Buchanan says keep ’em out, while the Wall Street Journal welcomes the cheap labor) and, most important, foreign policy. Buchanan, a self-appointed heir to the isolationist America First movement of the 1930s, opposes war against Iraq. “The old policies of containment and deterrence work,” he says. Moreover, he fears the larger agenda of the get-Saddam neocons: “They not only want to go into Iraq and disarm and overthrow this regime. They want to make Iraq a satellite of the US, democratize it and use it as a base camp for modernizing the Arab and Islamic world. That is imperialism pure and simple.”
Why does an old Reaganite cold warrior recoil from imperialism? Because he believes modern-day adventurism of this sort cannot work and is unnecessary for protecting US security. Intervention abroad will only bring trouble back to America. “I don’t think 1.2 billion Muslims, who are increasingly militant and who do have bloody borders, can be pacified and converted into little Western states,” Buchanan remarks. “This Wilsonian ambition will end in disaster for this country.” In other words, it’s an uncivilized world out there, and the civilized United States ought not to become more involved than it absolutely must.
The first issues of the magazine–starting out with a modest circulation of about 15,000–were dominated by old-con critiques of the coming war. The premiere’s cover featured “Iraq Folly,” an article whose author, Eric Margolis, observed, “Lust for destruction is not policy, no matter how much Pentagon hawks and neoconservative media trumpets may yearn to plow salt into the fields of Iraq.” In the same issue, Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com and a gay conservative activist, asserted, “there is no security at the top of the world.” And in his column, Buchanan predicted, “a US army in Baghdad will ignite calls for jihad from Morocco to Malaysia.” Issue two’s cover story was an 8,000-word essay, “Iraq: The Case Against Preemptive War,” by historian Paul Schroeder. This time out, Buchanan chastised Democrats for supporting Bush’s war: “to vote for a war the Left opposes is to make them poodles of Perle.” Filing from Baghdad, Nicholas von Hoffman reported on dying children who are not receiving adequate chemotherapy because of the US-led embargo.