Headlines, Middle East & North Africa, North America

POLITICS-US: Far Right Sells Iraq War to "Values Voters"

Bill Berkowitz*

OAKLAND, California, Sep 21 2007 (IPS) - In the late 1960s and early 1970s, then U.S. President Richard Nixon appealed to the country&#39s "Silent Majority" to oppose growing anti-Vietnam War sentiment in the United States.

A decade later, President Ronald Reagan had the Rev. Jerry Falwell&#39s "Moral Majority" working by his side in support of Reagan&#39s low-intensity warfare in Central America, and contra movements in Africa.

During the run-up to, and period following the 1994 Republican revolution that gave that conservative party control of Congress for the first time in decades, the high-profile Georgia legislator Newt Gingrich&#39s band had the Rev. Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed&#39s Christian Coalition stirring the conservative grassroots into action against the Bill Clinton administration.

Now, in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, Gary Bauer, a former Reagan administration official and longtime conservative activist, is heading up a new organisation aimed at countering liberal groups like MoveOn.org, and supporting President Bush&#39s global "war on terror".

The "Forgotten Americans Coalition" is composed of a number of veteran conservative leaders, including the American Family Association&#39s Dr. Don Wildmon, Christian Broadcasting Network&#39s Robertson, the Free Congress Foundation&#39s Paul Weyrich, and Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the wildly popular "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic novels, and his wife, Beverly, the founder of Concerned Women for America.

Just prior to their testimony before Congress of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the situation in Iraq, the Forgotten Americans Coalition (FAC) issued a Declaration "warning Americans of the catastrophic consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq."

"Many of the [44] signers – who lead organisations with millions of members – are usually associated with issues like abortion, marriage and the family. Still, they feel compelled to speak out against a cut-and-run strategy being pushed by isolationists inside and beyond the confines of Congress," Bauer said in a FAC press release.

Don Feder, a conservative columnist and a member of the FAC steering committee observed: "By signing this declaration, religious conservatives are saying: &#39Yes, we care about marriage, the family and the unborn. But we also care about national security, the morale of our servicemen and women and the war on terrorism.&#39 The left, which thinks neo-cons are the only ones on the right opposing an Iraq withdrawal, had better think again."

But critics like Fred Clarkson, co-founder of the blog TalkToAction, says the coalition appears to be "a classic inside the beltway paper tiger".

"It doesn&#39t exist except to issue &#39messages&#39 to true believers and to make it appear in the media that there is more support for a failed foreign policy than really exists," he told IPS. "It smacks of a desperation move to shore up support even among religious conservatives, whose support for the war seems to be melting faster than the polar ice cap."

Rob Boston, the assistant director of communications for the civil liberties watchdog group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, agreed that the Forgotten Americans Coalition could be "just another Astroturf [rather than grassroots]organisation."

"But if we assume this is a serious effort," Boston told IPS, "it appears to be an attempt to create a &#39public relations surge&#39 among the far right to match the military one."

Although support for the Iraq war has pretty much disintegrated among the general population, "many religious right leaders have not wavered," Boston pointed out.

"Bauer, for example, was among a coterie of religious right leaders who met with Bush at the White House Feb. 1 for an update on the war. Bauer and his allies tend to view the war through a sectarian lens with the U.S. leading the way against &#39islamo-fascism.&#39 It&#39s a type of new crusade," Boston added.

The declaration, entitled, "The Tragic Consequences of a U.S. Withdrawal From Iraq", is FAC&#39s first public project. It says in part that "The Iraq war must be seen in the broader context of Islamo-fascism&#39s war on America and Western Civilization… If we pull out now, or announce a timetable for withdrawal, the region will be destabilised and Israel further endangered. Iran and Syria, two legs of the axis of evil, will become far more powerful…"

"It took 20 years to recover from the demoralising experience of our failure in Vietnam," the document reads. "How will we convince young Americans to enlist in the next effort to combat terrorism, if – by withdrawing now – we tacitly admit that more than 3,600 of our service men and women died in vain?"

"The coalition&#39s declaration shows us how closely top religious right leaders have hitched their wagon to the star of neoconservative militarism," Clarkson observed. "These leaders have made it clear, like Bush, that there is no going back. They are also at considerable pains to try to show that the religious right&#39s concern about domestic culture has anything to do with an unjustifiable war on the other side of the world."

In a column dated Sep. 14, Bauer wrote that "what&#39s most striking" about FAC "is the involvement of dozens of religious and family values leaders. Historically, values organisations have been reluctant to engage in foreign policy. But six years into a struggle that has reshaped understandings of the relationship between war and duty, our unique coalition reaffirms a fundamental insight: Victory is a values issue. We believe defeat at the hands of an ideology that worships death would be immoral."

Reading straight out of the Bush administration playbook, Bauer added: "Values voters also recognise that the battle against Islamic extremism, with Iraq as its central front, and their decades-long battle against materialism and cultural relativism are in fact two fronts in the same war for our survival…In a very real sense, victory in Iraq is inextricably linked not only with victory in the larger war on terror but also with our ability to protect our cherished values at home."

But in Clarkson&#39s view, "The cold war conservatives had an identity crisis when the cold war ended. But thanks to the neoconservative programme, framed by Samuel Huntington&#39s clash of civilisations thesis, cold war ideology is being revived in the form of anti-Islamism, and these leaders of the religious right are completely on board."

Americans United&#39s Rob Boston also connected the founding of FAC to the 2008 U.S. presidential election. "Gary Bauer undoubtedly also wants to use the war on terror to energise the far-right base in advance of the 2008 election. They need some new issues. You can only pass so many constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in the states, and the immigrant-bashing is getting a little tiresome," he noted.

*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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