Many are baffled by the Bush administration’s fixation on Iraq as the next target in our perpetual “war on terrorism.” After all, there’s no proven link between Saddam and 9/11, or Iraq and the anthrax scare – in spite of strenuous efforts to link Baghdad to both – so why is Dubya going off on such a pronounced tangent and beating the war drums for Gulf War II? Chris Matthews, the columnist who throws a fast (some weenies would say mean) “Hardball” on MSNBC, knows and isn’t shy about saying what’s behind Dubya’s diversion:
“Like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, a pair of rightist factions in the Bush administration are hoping to take the United States on the road to Baghdad. Unlike the beloved Hope-Crosby ‘road’ pictures, however, the adventure in Iraq is not going to be funny.”
THE AXIS OF KRISTOL
Yes, but some will definitely be all smiles, among them what Matthews calls the “neoconservative faction” of the administration: namely, Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, who, with his sometime co-author Robert Kagan, proclaimed in a famous article that the goal of American foreign policy must be “benevolent world hegemony.” Matthews dolefully notes that the two of them “write a regular column for the Washington Post pushing war with Iraq,” as the rest of the neocon chorus dutifully shouts “Amen!”, including Frank Gaffney, William Safire, and a host of Washington political operatives deeply embedded in the Bush administration. One widely-noted example of neocon dominance: as neocon presidential speechwriter David Frum, author of the “axis of evil” phraseology, exits the White House, neocon Joseph Shattan takes his place.
Dana Milbank recently pointed out in the Washington Post that a cadre of young neocons dominates the White House corps of speechwriters: Shattan once worked for Kristol, when the latter was shilling for Dan Quayle, a job history young Shattan shares with Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully and Cheney scribe John McConnell. Other Kristolian alumni: Peter Wehner, another Bush speechwriter, and National Security Council wordsmith Matthew Rees. What’s odd about Shattan’s ascension, however, is that he had just gotten through savaging the Bushies in National Review for not being sufficiently pro-Israel. By endorsing a Palestinian state, Bush was exhibiting “America’s cowardice and corruption,” averred the future White House speechwriter:
“Thanks entirely to the president and his team . . . the campaign to defeat the Islamist challenge has gotten off to a singularly inauspicious start.”
After that, naturally, Shattan was vetoed for a job in the administration as a speechwriter for the Energy Department by the munchikins in the Office of Presidential Personnel – and, not so naturally, invited to work at the White House.
A NEW FRISSON
Oh, but there’s no such thing as a “neocon agenda” National Review rushes to reassure us: this is an invention of “the Left.” NR writer Neil Seeman, a policy analyst at the Canadian Fraser Institute, complains:
“After 9/11, terms like ‘neoconservative agenda’ and ‘neoconservative’ have acquired a new frisson in the anti-war lexicon.”
Seeman goes on to attack none other than Pat Buchanan for firing “the first fusillade.” Some “leftist”!
NEO VERSUS PALEO
Indeed, the first and loudest complaints against the neocons and their agenda came not from the Left but from their critics on the Right, not only Pat Buchanan but Tom Fleming of the Rockford Institute and conservative scholar Paul Gottfried: the latter’s book, The Conservative Movement, chronicles what Gottfried regards as the degeneration of authentic conservatism since the neocons gained the upper hand over traditionalists and libertarians. My own book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement also tells the story of how the limited government and pro-peace conservatism of Senator Robert A. Taft was subverted by a coterie of ex-Stalinists and ex-Trotskyists and made consonant with a right-wing form of social democracy.
This is old news: the neocon-“paleocon” debate has been playing out in the pages of conservative journals for a decade. But Seeman is blissfully oblivious to all this, or pretends to be, and blithely derides the very idea of a neocon agenda as “one of those gems you might find littered in fascinating periodicals with names like the Journal of Canadian Studies.” Well, uh, not exactly: try Chronicles magazine, which is to National Review what real gold is to fool’s gold, if you want the real dirt on the neocons.
A major target of the paleocon critique has been the globalist outlook of the neocon faction, whose foreign policy views can be summed up by simply inverting the title of Pat Buchanan’s best-selling anti-interventionist tome, A Republic, Not an Empire. The paleocons, for their part, abhor war, albeit not on pacifist but on decentralist and libertarian grounds. Kristol and his fellow neo-imperialists have never seen a war they didn’t support, even going so far as threatening to abandon the Republicans, during the Clinton era, if they didn’t get squarely behind Clinton’s rape of Serbia. Kristol called for “cracking Serb skulls” long before the Great Pantsdropper decided, three years ago today [March 24]), to drop bombs on Belgrade.
Kristol and his followers did walk out of the GOP to support warhawk John McCain, who, from Day One of the Kosovo war, called for putting in American ground troops, and whose blustering bullying style perfectly reflects the neocon foreign policy. For years, Kristol and his gang have been clamoring for war not only with Iraq, but with the entire Arab Middle East. Now, in the wake of 9/11, they have seized their chance, and are taking the offensive: Kristol and a coterie of his fellow neocons recently signed an open letter to the President calling for the military occupation of not only Iraq, but also Syria, Iran, and much of the rest of the Middle East. That would leave the US with a lone ally in the region: it would be a war pitting the US and Israel against a billion-plus Muslims worldwide. What’s scarier is that they may even get their way….
ISN’T DEMOCRACY WONDERFUL?
To show you how much presidential elections, or any sort of elections, mean in this country: now the Kristolians are not-so-quietly infiltrating a White House whose election most of them fiercely opposed, or supported only tepidly. So now we are getting the rhetoric of “Mad John” McCain coming out of George W. “Humility” Bush’s mouth. And you wondered why….
DON’T LOOK AT THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!
Oh, but not to worry, says Seeman, it’s not the neocons because, you see, there was this poll of “opinion leaders,” and it shows that the idea of expanding the war to Iraq is real popular if that country can be shown to “support terrorism.” (A big “if,” but never mind….) So, you see, practically everybody – or, at least, anybody who’s anybody – has forgotten all about Osam-bin-What’s-his-name, and is now just as determined to see US troops take Baghdad, even if it means vicious house-to-house streetfighting, as, say, Charles Krauthammer. “Sorry folks,” says Seeman,
“There’s no vast right-wing conspiracy here. Curiously, though, the anti-war, anti-neocon cant continues. Neocons are ‘Washington’s War Party’; the neocons are implacable and blood thirsty; and so on and so forth. Not so long ago, neoconservatives were a few estranged liberals, mugged by reality. Now they’re everywhere, mugging America’s entire political agenda? I don’t think so.”
Who, us? Seeman’s indignant denial may seem disingenuous to intellectual historians of the Right, who have traced the neoconservatives’ promiscuous odyssey from schismatic Trotkyism to the far-right wing of Social Democracy and then into the arms of the conservative establishment. Yet it is perfectly in synch with the conceit that their predecessors on the Right – the traditionalists and the libertarians – hardly mattered. In celebrating the complete takeover of conservative institutions by “a few estranged liberals mugged by reality,” Weekly Standard writer David Brooks once triumphantly declared “We’re all neoconservatives now!” So, it seems, they are everywhere, mugging American’s entire political agenda — and the number one item on their agenda is war.
WHAT DO NEOCONS BELIEVE?
The article by Joe Sobran that I link to above describes the neocons as essentially “pragmatists” who are, at best, “muddled centrists” with “conservative leanings,” and as basically lacking any coherent ideology beyond support for the New Deal’s statification of American capitalism and a general feeling that they’d “had enough of liberalism.” Sobran is right about their statist inclinations, but he’s wrong on the essential point. The neocons may be all over the map on domestic policy, exhibiting none of the gut-level distrust of government power that defines the traditional American Right, but on the vital question of foreign policy they have been the most consistently belligerent faction in American politics. THE TRIUMPH OF SIDNEY HOOK
Indeed, warmongering is the very essence of neoconservatism: the first neocons (James Burnham, and Max Shachtman, two dissident Trotskyists who turned right staring in 1940) split with the Left over the question of World War II: Burnham went on to set the tone at National Review, and Shachtman had an influence on the slower-moving ex-lefists who became Reaganites in the 1970s and 80s. During the Vietnam era, the leading lights of the neocon movement left the Democratic party when the antiwar McGovernites took over. During the cold war, as Sobran correctly notes, the neocons were the most militant faction, and they came into policy positions during the Reagan administration, boring their way into the National Endowment for Democracy, and under the aegis of such ex-Democrats as Jeanne Kirkpatrick. This marriage of Right and ex-Left was consummated, symbolically, when President Ronald Reagan awarded the Medal of Freedom to Sidney Hook, a lifelong socialist and fervent anti-Communist.
To such forerunners of neoconservatism as Professor Hook, the heroes of the Old Right – Senator Robert A. Taft, Joe McCarthy, and even Barry Goldwater – were disreputable (to liberals, that is) and therefore beyond the pale. They didn’t want to dismantle the Welfare-Warfare State that had grown up in the wake of the New Deal: indeed, they didn’t care much about domestic policy, as most of the neocons’ attention was directed abroad, at the battlefields of the cold war in Europe and Asia. With the end of the cold war, however, the necons were temporarily in a funk. What to do?
LOOKING FOR TROUBLE
After all, their primary ideological focus had suddenly, without warning, dissolved before their very eyes, like a mirage in the desert. And what could take the place of the Kremlin in their pantheon of evil? In the neocons’ never-ending wargame, a militant Good always requires an even more militant Evil. But no one was quite up to snuff: Slobodan Milosevic was supposed to be “another Hitler,” but instead turned out to be a smalltime hoodlum. Saddam Hussein was only a threat to Israel and Kuwait, in spite of the propaganda campaign that tried to paint his regime as the second coming of the Third Reich. Besides, in a post-cold war world that looked forward to a “peace dividend” — remember that? – their desperate search for a suitable enemy was more than a little unseemly: it seemed to many, on the right as well as the left, that the neocons were just trying to make trouble (trouble which, in their case, always means war).
A NEW BEGINNING
9/11 breathed new life into the neocons, and animated them as never before. They immediately sprang into action, taking full advantage of the war hysteria to broaden the scope of the public’s anger toward all things Arab. From the beginning, they looked beyond Afghanistan and took a position that was, as they say, more royalist than the King. As the President and his secretary of state looked to build a broad anti-terrorist coalition, including key Arab countries, the neocons accused him of selling out Israel. And here we come to yet another key element of the neocon agenda, and that is unconditional support for Israeli aggression and expansionism. As far as they are concerned, any talk of compromise or conciliation in the Middle East is “appeasement.” When Ariel Sharon compared George W. Bush to Neville Chamberlain, and his own nation to poor little Czechoslovakia, neocon Bill Bennett sided with Sharon. Never mind coalition-building: the necons want nothing less than all-out war between America and the Islamic world, and don’t mind at all if Israel is the prime beneficiary.
THE NEW POPULAR FRONT
Chris Matthews is right that this administration is led by a bunch of “oil patch veterans” who have a “sense of entitlement” to the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf. He is also wise to the fact that a war on Iraq can only benefit Israel, and that the neocons are more than ready to sell American interests down the river if that what Israel requires. It scares him that a cabal of ideologues who revel in the idea of waging World War IV has worked its way into the White House, and is being given the run of the place. As well he should be.
And he’s spot on in his analysis of the mechanics of the neocons’ pact with Big Oil. This working alliance is a revamped version of the same right-wing Popular Front that took over the conservative movement in the late 1980s, the union of big business and neoconservative intellectuals that blossomed into lushly funded thinktanks, magazines, and front organizations which proliferated like worms after a rain. The neocons crawled up through the ranks during the Reagan era, and began to aggressively assert their dominance on the Right. Having purged most of the libertarians and anyone else in the least bit original or interesting for any number of heresies, the Right was short of intellectuals and was more than glad to welcome new recruits with open arms – especially those whose acceptability as former liberals made the New York Times and the Washington Postbegin to take conservatives seriously.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
The conservatives of, say, 1952, would find the triumphalist rot trumpeted by our bellicose neocons nothing short of crazy. Invade and conquer the Middle East? I can hear old Bob Taft, who opposed NATO, questioned the Korean war, and — like virtually all conservatives of the day — derided the Marshall Plan as “globaloney,” rolling over in his grave. The conservative writer Garet Garrett – whose Saturday Evening Post broadsides salvos against the New Deal have just been issued in book form by Caxton Press – warned, in 1952, that “we have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire.” But to today’s “conservatives” of the neo variety, that’s a good thing….
The transformation of the American Right from a bunch of crusty “anti-government” types who worry that Social Security is the last step on the road to socialism and fear the power of government into spineless suck-ups to Power is best illustrated by the antics of the new generation of neocons — exemplified in their lightweightness by National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg. We’ve just been treated to a dose of Goldbergian conservatism in his latest column supposedly debunking the idea that we are living in an increasingly Orwellian age: that the prophetic novel written by the man called the conscience of his generation was not prophetic at all.
“The British have had cameras in train stations for over a decade in order to combat IRA terrorism. Is the United Kingdom a police state? When you go over there and hang out in a pub, are you worried that some pockmarked dude with a black leather trench coat might be eavesdropping? Okay, maybe you are, but that’s probably because he’s gay and cruising for a good time (the leather coat is a dead giveaway).”
JONAH HAS ISSUES
Part of Jonah’s “charm” is a constant stream of unfunny fag jokes – he seems to have a few “issues,” to say the least, when it comes to queers — but what’s so emblematic of the degeneration of the Right (intellectually, that is) is that Goldberg, unlike the older generation of neocons, just doesn’t know much of anything about anything. Or else how do we explain this London Times story (“Distasteful Views Policed“) about a squad of undercover British cops deployed in pubs, and assigned to eavesdrop on conversations:
Restaurant-goers who suspect the couple at the next table are eavesdropping on their conversation may not be far from the truth. Police in Gloucester have begun a crackdown on racial abuse in ethnic restaurants by going undercover to make sure that diners keep unpalatable opinions to themselves.
“Operation Napkin was started last week with four plain-clothes officers eating in pairs in Indian and Chinese restaurants. The first two days resulted in a 51-year-old man being arrested for racially aggravated harassment in an Indian restaurant. He is to appear before magistrates in Gloucester tomorrow. Another man was overheard by the plain-clothes officers as he mimicked an Indian waiter, but police decided that his behaviour was not bad enough to warrant prosecution.
“Now Gloucestershire police are warning that they will be carrying out more covert operations in ethnic restaurants. Chief Inspector Dean Walker said: “Racist behaviour is unacceptable. The constabulary is now taking a proactive stance in relation to racist offences rather than waiting for people to report them to us.”
That was in March of 2000, and have we any reason to doubt that things have gotten worse – much worse – since then? Tony Blair’s Britain, as the eve of its amalgamation into the socialist EU, is frighteningly close to the “Airstrip One” of Orwell’s imagination – which is one reason our original British columnist not only adopted this name as his logo, but wrote under the Orwellian pseudonym of “Emmanuel Goldstein.” He didn’t feel safe in Tony Blair’s Britain, and I, for once, don’t blame him. But, then, Goldstein, unlike Goldberg, is an authentic conservative (of a libertarian bent), and actually knows something about the British condition.
The intellectual level of the conservative movement, under neocon suzerainty, is abysmally low, as Goldberg’s clumsy apologetics for the new authoritarian trend make all too clear. Here is someone who rose to prominence on the strength of his connection with his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, whose 15 minutes of fame occurred when she had the Clinton-Monica tapes in her hot little hands. In a post-cold war Right without any real ideology except a defunct anti-Communism, Jonah naturally slithered into place as a key figure at National Review, the fountainhead of conservative orthodoxy. In his role as chief defender of John Ashcroft – Goldberg’s wife is the attorney general’s speechwriter and confidante – his mushy brand of neoconnish double-talk comes in handy, as it can be used to justify any position (except, of course, the antiwar position).
THE GOLDBERG-IZATION OF CONSERVATISM
Speaking of the Goldbergs, Lucianne’s site has been experiencing a bit of a clampdown, recently: strict enforcement of the rule against posting anything that isn’t from a “legitimate” news site. Of course, Debkafiles.com is A-ok, but Antiwar.com and Etherzone.com is verboten. Another no-no is the New York Review of Books: when someone dared to post an article by Gary Wills on the Jesuits, the webmaster cracked the whip, and closed the thread with an officious notice:
“”Lucianne.com is a NEWS site. Please post news articles, columns and comment from legitimate on-line newspapers, magazines or news sites only.”
Pompous, self-important, and clever I can see: but those first two qualities combined with sheer stupidity are too much to bear. I couldn’t resist the temptation to write and ask: “Are you sure you don’t think the New York Review of Books is ‘legitimate?'” Lucianne wrote back almost immediately and thanked me for the correction: the thread was restored. Okay, I thought, maybe they’re not so dumb after all. Just the other day, however, they did it again: this time it was an article by Michael Lind in the online edition of Britain’s respected Prospect magazine. Once again, that self-consciously overweening proclamation was posted for all to read:
“”Lucianne.com is a NEWS site. Please post news articles, columns and comment from legitimate on-line newspapers, magazines or news sites only – THREAD CLOSED.”
I wrote again, and asked the same question: Are you sure about that? This time, I got a rebuke about sending “rude emails” and, as of this writing, Lind’s analysis of Israel’s stranglehold on American politics – and how it might be loosened, if not undone – has yet to see the light of day on Lucianne.com. If there’s anything the neocons hate, it’s anyone who dares question whether Israel’s interests are one with our own. On Lucianne.com, it is a hate-crime to post such materials, and its authors and those who truck in their works are banned, left and right, as not quite “legitimate” enough for Goldbergian tastes.
WINDOW ON THE FUTURE
Now, of course, Lucianne’s website is her own private property, and she is perfectly entitled to post only articles from the Debkafiles or from anywhere she pleases: half her stuff is posted by paid professionals, anyway. But as a indication of the Goldbergian “conservative” temperament – of the kind of society we can expect to live under if the neocons and their allies should get much closer to the seat of Power – this censorious and hectoring regime is window on the future. No wonder Jonah dismisses the 1984 metaphor with such airy disdain, and valorizes the authoritarian Ashcroft: this is the “new” conservatism of today’s Bright Young Things, the neo-conservatism whose triumph was hailed by David Brooks – and it isn’t pretty. Nor is it recognizable as conservative in any meaningful sense of the term: for just how “conservative” and stabilizing is a program of perpetual war? The “conservatives” of today – the neocons who inhabit key positions in this administration, and have just about consolidated near-complete control – are pragmatists, true, but they do hold firm to three principles which contradict the original premises of American conservatism in every respect:
THREE PRINCIPLES OF NEOCONSEVATISM
On the domestic front, far from opposing the growth of Big Government, or even seeking to slow it down, the neocons want to utilize the centralizing federal apparatus to achieve their own “conservative” ends. If “war is the health of the state,” as Randolph Bourne put it, then the neocons would agree, except they would add: and a good thing, too. On the foreign policy front, the neocon policy is not only perpetual war, but, specifically, war on behalf of Israel. The one leftover from their left-wing days has been the affinity for serving the interests of a foreign power: in one of his books, Norman Podhoretz relates the gently self-mocking story of how he, as a young Commie, wrote an ode to the heroic Soviet fighters of Stalingrad. Today, he writes about the Palestinian siege of Israel with the passion he once reserved for the “workers’ paradise,” and the neocons run true to this same pattern. Oldtime conservatives put America first: the neocons put Israel first.
The whining that the neocons are being picked on by the “liberal media” and the “Left” is a joke coming from those busy compiling lists of “unpatriotic” college professors and others whose loyalty to America is being questioned on account of their opposition to the policy of perpetual war. Here’s Jonah in National Review‘s “blog” – oh, those Gen-Ex neocons are so trendy and cool! – kvetching about it: “I just read the transcript of Chris Matthews’ anti-neoconservative rant (I’d link to it, but I got it through Nexis, I couldn’t find it at MSNBC). Good Lord, Matthews sounds like he’s about to say ‘I have in my hand a list of neoconservatives inside the American government.’ He makes David Frum – a Canadian by birth — sound like a Soviet mole. And, most bizarre, he calls Dana Milbank’s puff piece on Bill Kristol a ‘very courageous piece,’ as if Milbank had the guts to name names. He asks Milbank, ‘Are [the neoconservatives] — are they loyal to the Kristol neoconservative movement, or to the president?’ I don’t like calling people McCarthyites, partly because McCarthy was right about a lot of stuff, but Matthews seems to be doing his best impersonation.”
Let’s see if I get this straight: it’s okay for his wife’s boss to say that critics of the draconian measures taken by this administration, including opponents of the “USA-PATRIOT Act,” are “only aiding the terrorists,” but it’s notokay to discuss the political and ideological complexion of the President’s staff. To give him credit where it’s due, Goldberg takes the right line on McCarthy: “Tail-gunner Joe” was indeed right about the US government being riddled with Commies – and so, I would contend, is Matthews right about the neocons. The analogy of the “Soviet mole” is exactly on target, including the implication that a mole naturally pursues the interests of a foreign power. In this case, the foreign power is supposed to be “friendly” – but, as the Israeli spy scandal story underscores, that is one myth bound to die a hard death.
CAN THEY BE STOPPED?
What is clear, above all, about the new push for war with Iraq, and now even Iran, is that any such war will benefit Israel and only Israel. Saddam’s missiles, which he doesn’t even possess, could not reach New York, or Burbank: they could reach Tel Aviv. Iran, too, is Israel’s avowed enemy, and thus its inclusion in the “axis of evil.” Evil is defined, in the neocon sense, as any power that stands in the way of Israel and the current right-wing govenment’s plans to ethnically cleanse Palestine of the Palestinians and solve the “Arab problem” once and for all. Under cover of a general Middle Eastern conflagration, with US troops and planes targeting Arafat’s possible protectors, Israel hopes to use the US as a shield while she puts her enemies to the sword.
It’s ugly, even monstrous – and it just may work. What could stop it, however, is if enough people like Matthews, and others in the media, catch on to the neocons’ wargame – and decide it’s time to pull the plug.