Democratic Underground

Max Boot is Barking Mad

March 4, 2005
By Weldon Berger

Max Boot is barking mad. The neoconservative polemicist, long an outspoken fan of a new American imperialism, is calling upon our country to embark upon a dramatic reenactment of the final volumes of Edward Gibbon's masterpiece The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

In what can only be described as a vicious act of revenge by mild-mannered former Crossfire host and Slate Magazine founding editor Michael Kinsley, the now-chief of the Los Angeles Times editorial pages has hired Boot as the paper's designated neoconservative hitter. Boot has responded nobly with a series of bizarre op-ed pieces including, most recently, a proposal that the U.S. seek its citizen soldiers from among the ranks of illegal aliens, non-citizens and citizens of othercountries.

A few years ago, in the wake of 911 when achieving the American Empire looked like somewhat less actual work than it does today, Max penned the most famous Boot-ism ever: "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets." Now, though, Boot despairs that the U.S is capable of generating sufficient troops from within our own borders to carry out that mission.

What happened was that instead of enlightened foreign administration, we got Iraq Proconsul Jerry Bremer in a business suit and desert boots, running satchels full of large, unmarked bills from the Oval Office to the Green Zone. It's a far cry from even the tailings of the original. And the administration's astounding series of screwups in that country has led to a situation in which Army recruiters are struggling to meet their quotas in every demographic. Max is now so discouraged by the scuffs on his boots and the dust on his jodhpurs and the stains on his once-pristine pith helmet sweatband that he proposes a wholesale redistribution of particular burdens.

"Some experts are already starting to wonder whether the war on terrorism might break the all-volunteer military. But because reinstating the draft isn't a serious option (the House defeated a symbolic draft bill last year, 402 to 2), some outside-the-box thinking is needed to fill up the ranks. In this regard, I note that there is a pretty big pool of manpower that's not being tapped: everyone on the planet who is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident."

In other words, pith on it: let's hire out the grunt work. We need another right hefty chunk of troops to spread democracy, and Max knows just where to find them.

What he proposes is the establishment of The Freedom Legion, a force to be recruited from among legal and illegal US resident non-citizens as well as through "recruiting stations from Budapest to Bangkok, Cape Town to Cairo, Montreal to Mexico City."

"The simplest thing to do would be to sign up foreigners for the regular U.S. military, but it would also make sense to create a unit whose enlisted ranks would be composed entirely of non-Americans, led by U.S. officers and NCOs."

Conspicuously missing from the list of alliterative recruiting sites is Riyadh to Rawalpindi, no doubt simply because he hadn't got that far in the alphabet before the word count alarm went off.

Max likens the new force to the French Foreign Legion, including even the latter's reward of citizenship to those who survive in service to it. Students of less recent history - including most certainly Max himself - may recognize similarities to an older empire, not only in the recruitment of a surrogate force to fight its battles but in the circumstances necessitating it as well.

He worries at that concept of a New American Empire like a brain-damaged dog trying to suck some nutrition from an old boot. He is prepared to, if not die for it, at least present the opportunity of dying for it to as many people as is remotely possible. He won't give it up no matter how many teeth it steals from him, no matter how many times life conspires to snatch it away and no matter how deeply warped his plans to secure it may be.

And the plan is deeply warped. Boot proposes adding sufficient troops to our ground forces to effectively occupy Iraq and embark simultaneously on other democracy-freighted missions; an agenda that, whether he realizes it or not, would require something along the lines of at least an additional 200,000 soldiers. The Congressional Budget Office in 2003 estimated the cost of adding even a tenth that number at around $20 billion over five years, and the annual additional cost of maintaining the new troops and deploying them overseas at around $10 billion. Multiply those numbers by ten and we're adding more than $100 billion per year to an already swollen Pentagon budget.

And that's not counting the new infrastructure necessary to support the troops (so much for base closures) or the extraordinary expense involved in training and maintaining a non-English speaking army. We don't have enough English-speaking drill sergeants now; where will we come up with thousands more who speak a second or third language?

The money, though, is the least of the difficulties. Imagine if you will opening recruitment centers for the new imperial army in any of the cities Boot mentions. The U.S. is not topping the popularity charts these days, and protecting the recruiters and their recruits would likely add billions more to the tab.

Imagine too, as right-wing pundits such as anti-immigrant doyenne Michelle Malkin surely will, the prospect of training and arming would-be immigrants among whose ranks would certainly be some who do not wish our country well. And imagine the trepidation of certain host countries at the notion of supplying the U.S. with recruits who may decide their futures lie not in supporting the U.S. government but in toppling their own. Boot's plan would replace liberals as fifth columnists in the right's imagination with the thing itself.

Boot describes the scheme as an example of thinking outside the box. What it really is, though, is an example of someone trapped in a box of his own making and not so much thinking as praying for Warren Zevon to swoop down from the heavens bearing lawyers, guns and money.

And that, dear reader, is Kinsley's Revenge. The soft-spoken deacon of the Radical Center has got one of the leading intellectual lights of the ruling hierarchy publicly forwarding the lunatic notion of embarking the United States upon a larger-than-life reenactment of the declining days of the Roman Empire.

A word to the wise recruiter: anyone named "Spartacus" gets turned down flat and, if the customs of the host country allow, shot dead on the spot.

Weldon Berger is a writer living in Hawaii who, despite his vaguely foreign countenance, is not fodder for the Freedom Legion. You can reach him via email at weldon.berger@btcnews.com, or through his BTC News website.

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