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The war party's playbook.

During his presidential campaign, the Republican candidate was perceived as a man of modest ambitions, devoted to reining in government growth at home and pursuing a more "humble" foreign policy. Once in the White House, however, this seemingly unpretentious man suddenly morphed into a "war president."

The new president brought in his train a shadowy clique of ambitious figures--bankers, media moguls, and political opportunists--who had been trying, without success, to maneuver the United States into a foreign war. The president himself claimed a mandate from "Providence" to wage a global war on behalf of "liberty."

For nearly two years, the president and his allies--particularly in Republican-aligned media--stoked public outrage over the threat posed by a distant regime. Congressional speeches and newspaper accounts abounded in tales of hideous atrocities wrought by the regime against its helpless subjects. Even in the absence of a specific threat to our nation, the president insisted, "the broad ground of humanity" justified armed intervention to end such outrages.

After hundreds of Americans were tragically and suddenly killed, the War Party had its casus belli. When the war finally came, U.S. forces quickly prevailed over the enemy, which proved to be a third-rate power in deep decline. But the U.S. military found itself confronting a fierce insurgency waged by an indigenous population that wanted independence, not merely a "regime change." At the turn of the century, the American Republic had begun to take on the traits of a global empire.

Such was the outcome of the 1898 Spanish-American War, now widely recognized by historians as a brazen exercise in cynical aggression that did nothing to enhance American security, liberty, or independence. It was quite successful in enriching a politically powerful oligarchy that effectively controlled both the Republican and Democrat parties.

In his valuable 1979 study The Politics of War, the late historian Walter Karp describes how the emerging American oligarchy concluded that "the American people could ... be diverted from their domestic concerns if the right sort of foreign crusade was offered." A foreign war, wrote U.S. Consul General to Havana Fitzhugh Lee in 1896, was just the thing to "knock the pus" out of the "populistic boil." During the second term of Democrat Grover Cleveland, an effort was made to provoke a war with Great Britain over a border dispute in Venezuela. But London was soon distracted by a more pressing dispute with Germany over colonial issues in Africa.

Political and economic insiders in Washington were "avid for war with someone three years before the Maine exploded" in Havana harbor, Karp points out. To arrange a conflict with Spain, the War Party organized and funded a Cuban "independence" movement to carry out a guerrilla war against Spanish colonial authorities and to feed a steady diet of atrocity stories to Republican-aligned newspapers. Taking their cue from those lurid--and almost entirely fabricated--accounts, hawkish congressmen kept up a steady chorus demanding war with Spain.

For its part, Spain tried desperately to avoid war. But the administration of President William McKinley kept changing its conditions, and shortening deadlines--even as it made sweeping plans for the disposition of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and other distant territories. In early 1898, McKinley sent the dreadnought Maine to Cuba as a deliberate provocation. The February explosion of the Maine, we now know, was an accident, not sabotage. But Congress, already primed for a conflict with Spain, declared war on April 25.

Spain was the overt enemy in the 1898 war, but the real target was the embattled American constitutional republic. "What McKinley envisioned for the American Republic was a genuine new order of things, a modern centralized order ... imposed from above on its indestructible constitutional forms," writes Karp. "Only by transforming America into a world power "in contact with considerable foreign powers at as many points as possible' could the [central government] ... become the unifying force that McKinley and the Republican oligarchy intended to make it."

McKinley, the self-anointed apostle of "liberation," sought an imposed national unity "that would quell discontent, eliminate dissension, and weaken the troublesome republican spirit which had revived so alarmingly during the preceding dozen years," continued Karp. "Above all, he wanted to replace loyalty to the American Republic with loyalty to a very different thing, the Nation: love of liberty with love of the flag and the mystique of proud bunting."

The administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and George W. Bush have all availed themselves of the playbook developed by the McKinley-era War Party. Sometimes they've had the luxury of exploiting a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11 as a back door to war with a foreign regime. But in any case that playbook has proven durable. And with each passing week it becomes clearer that the contemporary War Party is preparing to run the same time-honored play against Iran.
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Title Annotation:The Last Word
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 10, 2005
Previous Article:Home invasion stopped.
Next Article:Freedom and liberty.

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