A Tea Party to Nowhere
By Philip Giraldi
The Tea Party phenomenon has attracted a good deal of both good and bad attention in the media. Though it would perhaps be a stretch to describe it as a movement in that it has only limited organization and focus, it does tap into a genuine disconnect between the American people and the federal government in Washington. Most Tea Partiers claim to want smaller and cheaper government, less interference from Washington in their daily lives, and fewer programs that are intended to socially re-engineer the nation. So far, so good, but then comes the huge failure to comprehend that is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Most also want a strong, assertive national defense and are supporters of an aggressive foreign and security policy.
Tea Partiers have unfortunately been fed a line of hokum by politicians aided and abetted by the mainstream media. They fail to understand that it is precisely the interventionist defense and foreign policies that are driving the bad things they see in government. It is easy to forget that when Bill Clinton left office in 2000 there was a budget surplus. Ballooning defense and security spending since that time, all accomplished without raising taxes, has been the engine of growth for a $13 trillion national debt, a total that increases by $4 billion every day. The United States now accounts for 45% of the entire world total for military spending, euphemistically referred to as “defense.” The Pentagon budget has gone from $432 billion in 2001 to a projected $720 billion in 2011, not including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Federal Government is twice as big as it was in 2001 and there has been the creation of major new bureaucracies at the Department of Homeland Security and the office of the Director of National Intelligence, neither of which can be regarded as a model of efficiency.
Fueling government growth is the fearmongering that has been artfully encouraged by Democrat and Republican alike. Fear of terrorists, fear of unruly foreigners, fear of the unknown. Fear that unless something is done and more money is spent, the United States will be destroyed by a nameless, faceless threat. The Tea Partiers should instead understand that terrorists will only tear down the United States if we Americans help them to do so. Irrational fear of a small group of men hiding in a cave in Asia is what drives larger government, the infringement of civil liberties, and more taxes and regulation. The United States is on a road that can only lead to ruin. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 in circumstances somewhat similar to the current American financial slide, a Russian politician joked that his country was somewhat like Upper Volta with nuclear armed ballistic missiles. At the time Upper Volta was the poorest country in the world and his point was that having the world’s greatest missile force did not make up for having a wrecked economy. For the United States to continue its imperialist foreign policy, and there is every sign that it intends to do so, will eventually lead to economic and social collapse.
So how can the Tea Party turn things around? It can only do so by realizing that the first thing that must be done to fix the government in Washington is for the United States to end its wars overseas and dramatically scale back on its international commitments. There is no good reason for Washington to serve as the world’s policeman and many good reasons why it should cease and desist from doing so. Reason number one should be that the US muscular foreign policy has actually been helping the terrorists achieve their objectives. In October 2004 Usama bin Laden said, referring to the economic damage the US economy has sustained in the wake of 9/11, “We are continuing in the same policy to make America bleed profusely to the point of bankruptcy.” The numbers alone demonstrate that bin Laden has succeeded, far beyond his wildest imaginings. Iraq alone has cost $1 trillion and counting, 4400 Americans have died together with as many as 650,000 Iraqis. Afghanistan and Iraq continue to run a tab at $12 billion per month, with 1,086 more American dead in Afghanistan, and global war is expanding, not contracting, as the Obama Administration contemplates increased direct involvement in Yemen, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa.
US policies also propagate terrorism in the form of blowback. Every diplomat or intelligence officer understands that laws of physics apply in foreign affairs as much as they do in the natural sciences. When you get involved in a foreign country’s internal affairs and take action against individuals or groups the action will result in a Newtonian “equal and opposite reaction.” Push on one spot and something happens, sometimes half a world away. When a man attempts to blow up an SUV in Times Square or ignite a bomb in his underwear on board an airliner it is because the US is bombing and killing in places like Yemen and Pakistan. Stop one and you stop the other. As Ron Paul puts it, they are over here because we are over there. It’s that simple.
And when you put an end to the American empire you can stop writing a blank check every year for the Pentagon, you can stop borrowing money to fund the wars, and you can take sensible steps to reduce the size of government, making it again answerable to the people. As the memory of the overhyped terrorist threat fades, you can even begin to restore some of those civil liberties that have been stripped away by the Patriot Acts, the Military Commissions Act, and the assertion of state secrets privilege.
Is it unimaginable that the Tea Parties might turn in that direction? Perhaps not, though much depends on the extent to which the Republican Party and people like Sarah Palin are able to co-opt the movement. If they do, the revolt will fizzle out and turn into George W. Bush revisited. What is needed is a resurgence of traditional conservatives and libertarians to make the case that it is precisely the disastrous foreign policy that is driving virtually everything that ails the United States today. This might be referred to as shifting the narrative, turning it away from the sense that there is an amorphous threat out there that has to be dealt with and towards an understanding that America’s genuine security depends on a sane and cautious foreign policy that eschews meddling in other peoples’ affairs.