BIBLIOGRAPHY OF NEO-CONSERVATIVE
It is a fascinating account of the origins and sustenance of Neocons, a long article, but worth reading if you have the interest.
Neoconservatism is a political movement, mainly in the United States, which is generally held to have emerged in the 1960s, coalesced in the 1970s, and has had a significant presence in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The prefix neo- refers to two ways in which neoconservatism was new. First, many of the movement's founders, originally liberals, Democrats or from socialist backgrounds, were new to conservatism. Also, neoconservatism was a comparatively recent strain of conservative socio-political thought. It derived from a variety of intellectual roots in the decades following World War II, including literary criticism and the social sciences. Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and others described themselves as neoconservatives during the Cold War.
Today, however, the movement's critics use the term more often than supporters. In fact, some people described as "neocons" today say that neoconservatism no longer exists as an
identifiable movement. Many associate neoconservatism with periodicals such as Commentary and The Weekly Standard, along with the foreign policy initiatives of think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Neoconservative journalists, pundits, policy analysts, and politicians, often dubbed "neocons" by supporters and critics alike, have been credited with (or blamed for) their influence on U.S. foreign policy, especially under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Neoconservative: Definition and views
According to Irving Kristol, the founder and "god-father" of the Neoconservatism, there are three basic pillars of Neoconservatism:
1. Economics: Cutting tax rates in order to stimulate steady, wide-spread economic growth and acceptance of the necessity of risks in that growth, such as budget deficits
2. Domestic Affairs: Preferring strong government but not intrusive government, slight acceptance of the welfare state, adherence to social conservatism, and disapproval of counterculture
3. Foreign Policy: Patriotism is a necessity, world government is a terrible idea, the ability to distinguish friend from foe, protecting national interest both at home and abroad, and the necessity of a strong military.
The original neoconservatives were a band of liberal intellectuals who rebelled against the Democratic Party's leftward drift on defense issues in the 1970s. At first the neoconservatives clustered around Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a Democrat, but then they aligned themselves with Ronald Reagan and the Republicans, who promised to confront Soviet expansionism. The neoconservatives, in the famous formulation of one of their leaders, Irving Kristol, were "liberals mugged by reality."
The meaning of the term has evolved over time. James Bryce offered it as a neologism in his Modern Democracies (1921). In "The Future of Democratic Values" in Partisan Review, July-August 1943, Dwight MacDonald complained of "the neo-conservatives of our time [who] reject the propositions on materialism, Human Nature, and Progress." He cited as an example Jacques Barzun, who was "attempting to combine progressive values and conservative concepts." In the early 1970s, Socialist Michael Harrington prominently used the term in a manner similar to the modern meaning. He characterized neoconservatives as former leftists -- whom he derided as "socialists for Nixon" -- who had moved significantly to the right. These people tended to remain supporters of social democracy, but distinguished themselves by allying with the Nixon administration over foreign policy, especially by their support for the Vietnam War and opposition to the Soviet Union.
They still supported the "welfare state," but not necessarily in its contemporary form. Critics take issue with neoconservatives' support for aggressive foreign policy, especially what they characterize as unilateralism and lack of concern with international consensus through organizations such as the United Nations. Neoconservatives respond by describing their shared view as a belief that national security is best attained by promoting freedom and democracy abroad through the support of pro-democracy movements, foreign aid and in certain cases military intervention. This is a departure from the traditional conservative tendency to support friendly regimes in matters of trade and anti-communism even at the expense of undermining existing democratic systems. Author Paul Berman in his book Terror and Liberalism describes it as, "Freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for freedom for others."
Irving Kristol remarked that a neoconservative is a "liberal mugged by reality," one who became more conservative after seeing the results of liberal policies. The term "neoconservative" also refers more often to institutions like the Project for the New American Century (PNAC),Commentary and The Weekly Standard than to the Heritage Foundation, Policy Review or National Review. Some observers name political philosopher Leo Strauss as a major intellectual antecedent of neoconservativism. For example, some of his ideas entered the political mainstream through his pupil Allan Bloom's bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind. Although Strauss rarely stated positions on foreign policy issues, some argue that he influenced neoconservative strategy, including attitudes some U.S. officials demonstrate towards international law in situations where terrorism is alleged.
Overview of Neoconservative views
Historically, neoconservatives supported a militant anticommunism, tolerated more social welfare spending than was sometimes acceptable to libertarians and mainstream conservatives, supported civil equality for blacks and other minorities, and sympathized with a non-traditional foreign policy agenda that was less deferential to traditional conceptions of diplomacy and international law and less inclined to compromise principles, even if that meant unilateral action. There is a widespread impression that domestic policy does not define neoconservatism— that it is a movement founded on, and perpetuated by an aggressive approach to foreign policy, free trade, opposition to communism during the Cold War, support for Israel and Taiwan and opposition to Middle Eastern and other states that are perceived to support terrorism. The movement began to focus on such foreign issues in the mid-1970s. However it first crystallized in the late 1960s as an effort to combat the radical cultural changes taking place within the United States. Irving Kristol wrote: “If there is any one thing that neoconservatives are unanimous about, it is their dislike of the counterculture.” Norman Podhoretz agreed: “Revulsion against the counterculture accounted for more converts to neoconservativism than any other single factor."
Ira Chernus, a professor at the University of Colorado, argues that the deepest root of the neoconservative movement is its fear that the counterculture would undermine the authority of traditional values and moral norms. Because neoconservatives believe that human nature is innately selfish, they believe that a society with no commonly accepted values based on religion or ancient tradition will end up in a war of all against all. They also believe that the most important social value is strength, especially the strength to control natural impulses. The only alternative, they assume, is weakness that will let impulses run riot and lead to social chaos.
According to Peter Steinfels, a historian of the movement, the neoconservatives' "emphasis on foreign affairs emerged after the New Left and the counterculture had dissolved as convincing foils for neoconservatism . . . The essential source of their anxiety is not military or geopolitical or to be found overseas at all; it is domestic and cultural and ideological." Neoconservative foreign policy parallels their domestic policy. They insist that the U.S. military must be strong enough to control the world, or else the world will descend into chaos. Believing that America should "export democracy," that is, spread its ideals of government, economics, and culture abroad, they grew to reject U.S. reliance on international organizations and treaties to accomplish these objectives. Compared to other U.S. conservatives, neoconservatives may be characterized by an idealist stance on foreign policy, a lesser social conservatism, and a much weaker dedication to a policy of minimal government, and, in the past, a greater acceptance of the welfare state, though none of these qualities are necessarily requisite. Aggressive support for democracies and nation building is founded on a belief that, over the long term, it will reduce the extremism that is a breeding ground for Islamic terrorism.
Neoconservatives, along with many other political theorists, have argued that democratic regimes are less likely to instigate a war than a country with an authoritarian form of government. Further, they argue that the lack of freedoms, lack of economic opportunities, and the lack of secular general education in authoritarian regimes promotes radicalism and extremism. Consequently, neoconservatives advocate the spread of democracy to regions of the world where it currently does not prevail, most notably the Arab nations of the Middle East, communist China, North Korea and Iran. Neoconservatives also have a very strong belief in
the ability of the United States to install democracy after a conflict - comparisons with denazification in Germany and installing a democratic government in Japan starting in 1945 are often made - and they have a principled belief in defending democracies against aggression. This belief has guided U.S. policy in Iraq after the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime, where the U.S. insisted on organizing elections as soon as practical.
Distinctions from other conservatives
Most people currently described as "neoconservatives" are members of the Republican Party, but while neoconservatives have generally been in electoral alignment with other conservatives, have served in the same Presidential Administrations, and have often ignored intra-conservative ideological differences in alliance against those to their left, there are notable differences between neoconservative and traditional or "paleoconservative" views. In particular, neoconservatives disagree with the nativist, protectionist, and isolationist strain of American conservatism once exemplified by the ex-Republican "paleoconservative" Pat Buchanan, and the traditional "pragmatic" approach to foreign policy often associated with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, which emphasized pragmatic accommodation with dictators; peace through negotiations, diplomacy, and arms control; détente and containment — rather than rollback — of the Soviet Union; and the initiation of the process that led to ties between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States.
Neoconservative writers have frequently expressed admiration for the "big stick" interventionist foreign policy of Theodore Roosevelt. In foreign policy, critics argue that neoconservatives tend to view the world in 1939 terms, comparing the threat from adversaries as diverse as the Soviet Union, Osama bin Laden (and, more broadly, Islamic extremism, dubbed Islamofascism by many neoconservatives), and China to the threat then-posed by Nazi Germany and Japan, while American leaders "stand in" for Winston Churchill. In this analogy, leftists and others who oppose them are cast either as Neville Chamberlain-style appeasers or as an Anti-American fifth column. For example, Donald and Frederick Kagan's book While America Sleeps argues, at book length, an analogy between the post-cold war United States and Britain's post-World War I reduction in its military and avoidance of confrontation with other major powers. As compared with traditional conservatism and libertarianism, which sometimes exhibit an isolationist strain, neoconservatism is characterized by an increased emphasis on defense capability, a willingness to challenge regimes deemed hostile to the values and interests of the United States, pressing for free-market policies abroad, and promoting democracy and freedom. Neoconservatives are strong believers in democratic peace theory.
Shortcomings and criticism of the term "Neoconservative"
Some of those identified as neoconservatives refuse to embrace the term. Critics argue that it lacks coherent definition, that it is coherent only in a Cold War context, or is used as a pejorative by anti-Semites. See e.g. Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Institute, Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya, in a letter from Washington for Sunday, April 6, 2003:
First, "neo-conservative" is a codeword for Jewish. As antisemites did with big business moguls in the nineteenth century and Communist leaders in the twentieth, the trick here is to take all those involved in some aspect of public life and single out those who are Jewish. The implication made is that this is a Jewish-led movement conducted not in the interests of all the, in this case, American people, but to the benefit of Jews, and in this case Israel.
The fact that the use of the term "neoconservative" has rapidly risen since the 2003 Iraq War is cited by conservatives as proof that the term is largely irrelevant in the long term. David Horowitz, a neoconservative author, offered this critique in a recent interview with an Italian newspaper:
Neo-conservatism is a term almost exclusively used by the enemies of America's liberation of Iraq. There is no "neo-conservative" movement in the United States. When there was one, it was made up of former Democrats who embraced the welfare state but supported Ronald Reagan's Cold War policies against the Soviet bloc. Today neo-conservatism identifies those who believe in an aggressive policy against radical Islam and the global terrorists.
Similarly, many other supposed neoconservatives believe that the term has been adopted by the political left to stereotype supporters of U.S. foreign policy under the George W. Bush administration. Others have similarly likened descriptions of neoconservatism to a conspiracy theory and attribute the term to anti-Semitism. Paul Wolfowitz has denounced the term as a meaningless label, saying:
[If] you read the Middle Eastern press, it seems to be a euphemism for some kind of nefarious Zionist conspiracy. But I think that, in my view it's very important to approach [foreign policy] not from a doctrinal point of view. I think almost every case I know is different. Indonesia is different from the Philippines. Iraq is different from Indonesia. I think there are certain principles that I believe are American principles – both realism and idealism. I guess I'd like to call myself a democratic realist. I don't know if that makes me a neo-conservative or not.
Jonah Goldberg and others have rejected the label as trite and over-used, arguing "There's nothing 'neo' about me: I was never anything other than conservative." Other critics have similarly argued the term has been rendered meaningless through excessive and inconsistent use. For example, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are often identified as leading "neoconservatives" despite the fact that both men have ostensibly been life-long conservative Republicans (though Cheney has been vocally supportive of the ideas of Irving Kristol). Such critics thus largely reject the claim that there is a neoconservative movement separate from traditional American conservatism. Other traditional conservatives are likewise skeptical of the contemporary usage of the term, and may dislike being associated with the stereotypes, or even the supposed agendas of neoconservatism. Conservative columnist David Harsanyi wrote, "These days, it seems that even temperate support for military action against dictators and terrorists qualifies you a neocon."
During the 1970s, for example in a book on the movement by Peter Steinfels, the use of the term neoconservative was never identified with the writings of Leo Strauss. The near synonymity, in some quarters, of neoconservatism and Straussianism is a much more recent phenomenon, which suggests that perhaps two quite distinct movements have become merged into one, either in fact or in the eyes of certain beholders.
Reagan and the Neoconservatives
During the 1970s political scientist Jeane Kirkpatrick increasingly criticized the Democratic Party, of which she was still a member, since the nomination of the antiwar George McGovern. Kirkpatrick became a convert to the ideas of the new conservatism of once-liberal Democratic academics. According to Peter Steinfels, a historian of the movement, the neoconservatives' "emphasis on foreign affairs emerged after the New Left and the counterculture had dissolved as convincing foils for neoconservatism . . . The essential source of their anxiety is not military or geopolitical or to be found overseas at all; it is domestic and cultural and ideological." During Ronald Reagan's successful 1980 campaign, he hired her as his foreign policy advisor and later nominated her as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a position she held for four years. Known for her anti-communist stance and for her tolerance of right-wing dictatorships (her criticism of which was often tempered, calling them simply "moderately repressive regimes"), she argued that U.S. policy should not aid the overthrow of right-wing regimes if these were only to be replaced by even less democratic left-wing regimes. The overthrow of leftist governments was acceptable and at times essential because they served as a bulwark against the expansion of Soviet interests. Under this doctrine, known as the Kirkpatrick Doctrine, the Reagan administration initially tolerated leaders such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and General Ziaul Haq in Pakistan.
As the 1980's wore on, however, younger, second-generation neoconservatives, such as Elliot Abrams, pushed for a clear policy of supporting democracy against both left and right wing dictators. Thus, while U.S. support for Marcos continued until and even after the fraudulent Philippine election of February 7, 1986, there was debate within the administration regarding
how and when to oppose Marcos. In the days that followed, with the widespread popular refusal to accept Marcos as the purported winner, turmoil in the Philippines grew. The Reagan administration then urged Marcos to accept defeat and leave the country, which he did. The Reagan team, and particularly the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Elliot Abrams, also supported the 1988 Chilean plebiscite that resulted in the restoration of democratic rule and Pinochet's eventual removal from office. Through the National Endowment for Democracy, led by another neoconservative, Carl Gershman, funds were directed to the anti-Pinochet opposition in order to ensure a fair election. In this sense, the neoconservative foreign policy makers of the Reagan era were different from some of their more traditionalist conservative predecessors, and from the older generation of neoconservatives as well. While many of the latter believed that America's allies should be unquestionably defended at all costs, no matter what the nature of their regime, many younger neoconservatives were more supportive of the idea of changing regimes to make them more compatible and reflective of U.S. values. The belief in the universality of democracy would be a key neoconservative value which would go on to play a larger role in the post-Cold War period. Some critics would say however, that their emphasis on the need for externally-imposed "regime change" for "rogue" nations such as Iraq conflicted with the democratic value of national self-determination. Most neocons view this argument as invalid until a country has a democratic government to express the actual determination of its people.
For his own part, President Reagan largely did not move towards the sort of protracted, long-term interventions to stem social revolution in the Third World that many of his advisors would have favored. Instead, he mostly favored quick campaigns to attack or overthrow terrorist groups or leftist governments, favoring small, quick interventions that heightened a sense of post-Vietnam triumphalism among Americans, such as the attacks on Grenada and Libya, and arming right-wing militias in Central America, including backing the Contras seeking to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
Most importantly, Reagan took the opposite course from the neoconservatives in relation to the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, pursuing a conciliatory strategy toward disarmament and eventual liberalization as opposed to one of confrontation and rearmament. Reagan had made his most decisive break with the neocons in 1983 when he refused to remain engaged in the civil war in Lebanon and was at the same time generally indifferent to Israel. Many neocons became furious with Reagan for all of these reasons, most infamously, Norman Podhoretz came to liken him to Neville Chamberlain. In general, many neocons see the collapse of the Soviet Union as having occurred directly due to Reagan's hard-line stance, and the bankruptcy that resulted from the Soviet Union trying to keep up the arms race. They therefore see this as a strong confirmation of their worldview, in spite of the accusation that they have largely rewritten this history. Neoconservativism under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton During the 1990s, neoconservatives were once again in the opposition side of the foreign policy establishment, both under the Republican Administration of President George H. W. Bush and that of his Democratic successor, President Bill Clinton. Many critics charged that the neoconservatives lost their raison d'être and influence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Others argue that they lost their status due to their association with the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan Administration. Neoconservative writers were critical of the post-Cold War foreign policy of both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, which they criticized for reducing military expenditures and lacking a sense of idealism in the promotion of American interests. They accused these Administrations of lacking both "moral clarity" and the conviction to pursue unilaterally America's international strategic interests.
Particularly galvanizing to the movement was the decision of George H. W. Bush and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell to leave Saddam Hussein in power after the first Gulf War in 1991. Some neoconservatives viewed this policy, and the decision not to support indigenous dissident groups such as the Kurds and Shiites in their 1991-1992 resistance to Hussein, as a betrayal of democratic principles. Ironically, some of those same targets of criticism would later become fierce advocates of neoconservative policies. In 1992, referring to the first Gulf War, then United States Secretary of Defense and future Vice President Dick Cheney, said:
"I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home..."
"And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq." Within a few years of the Gulf War in Iraq, many associated with neoconservatism were pushing for the ouster of Saddam Hussein. On February 19, 1998, an open letter to President Clinton was signed by dozens of pundits, many identified with both neoconservatism and, later, related groups such as the PNAC, urging decisive action to remove Saddam from power. Neoconservatives were also members of the blue team, which argued for a confrontational policy toward the People's Republic of China and strong military and diplomatic support for Taiwan.
Administration of George W. Bush
Thus, neoconservative thinkers were eager to implement a new foreign policy with the change in Administrations from Clinton to George W. Bush. Despite this, the Bush campaign and then the early Bush Administration did not appear to exhibit strong support for neoconservative principles, as candidate Bush stated his opposition to the idea of "nation-building" and an early foreign policy confrontation with China was handled without the vociferous confrontation suggested by some neoconservative thinkers. Also early in the Administration, some neoconservatives criticized Bush's Administration as insufficiently supportive of the State of Israel, and suggested Bush's foreign policies were not substantially different from those of President Clinton.
China spy plane incident
The Bush Administration was criticized by some neoconservatives for their non-confrontational reaction during the U.S.-China spy plane incident. On April 1, 2001, a Chinese J-8 fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3E spy plane over the South China Sea, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the EP-3E to make an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan, where the twenty-four members of the American crew were held and interrogated for eleven days while their plane was searched and photographed by the Chinese. The Bush Administration conducted diplomacy and then issued a statement of regret to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. President Reagan's former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Frank Gaffney, wrote in an article in National Review Online that President Bush "should use this occasion to make clear to the American people that the PRC is acting in an increasingly belligerent manner. Mr. Bush needs to talk about these threats as well as his commitment
to defend the American people, their forces overseas and their allies."
September 11, 2001
The influence of neoconservatism in the Bush administration appeared to have found its purpose in the shift from the threat of Communism to the threat of Islamic terrorism. The administration undertook an invasion of Afghanistan shortly after the September 11 attacks, to remove the al-Qaeda-supporting Taliban from power. The administration also began planning and obtaining political and diplomatic support for an invasion of Iraq, citing Iraq's dictatorial government, support for terrorism, purported links to al-Qaeda, work on chemical and nuclear weapons, and refusal to abide by U.N. resolutions regarding inspection of weapons programs. Neoconservative identification with the State of Israel's struggle against terrorism was furthered by the September 11 attacks, which served to create a perceived parallel between the United States and Israel as democratic nations under the threat of terrorist attack. Moreover, some neoconservatives have long advocated
that the United States should emulate Israel's tactics of pre-emptive attacks, especially Israel's strikes in the 1980s on nuclear facilities in Libya and Osirak, Iraq.
The Bush Doctrine, promulgated after September 11th, incorporates the concept that nations harboring terrorists are themselves enemies of the United States. It also embraces the Clinton Doctrine, which is the view that pre-emptive military action is justified to protect the United States from the threat of terrorism or attack. Both doctrines state that the United States "will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."
This doctrine can be seen as the abandonment of a focus on the doctrine of deterrence (in the Cold War through Mutually Assured Destruction) as the primary means of self-defense. While there have been occasional preemptive strikes by American forces, until recently preemptive strikes have not been an official American foreign and military policy. Neoconservatives won a landmark victory with the Bush Doctrine after September 11th. Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the influential conservative think-tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which has been under neoconservative influence since the Reagan Administration, argued in "The Underpinnings of the Bush doctrine" that "the fundamental premise of the Bush Doctrine is true: The United States possesses the means—economic, military, diplomatic—to realize its expansive geopolitical purposes. Further, and especially in light of the domestic political reaction to the attacks of September 11, the
victory in Afghanistan and the remarkable skill demonstrated by President Bush in focusing national attention, it is equally true that Americans possess the requisite political willpower to pursue an expansive strategy."
In his well-publicized piece "The Case for American Empire" in the conservative Weekly Standard, Max Boot argued that "The most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role." He countered sentiments that the "United States must become a kinder, gentler nation, must eschew quixotic missions abroad, must become, in Pat Buchanan's phrase, 'a republic, not an empire'," arguing that "In fact this analysis is exactly backward: The September 11 attack was a result of insufficient American involvement and ambition; the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation."
President Bush has expressed praise for Natan Sharansky's book, The Case For Democracy, which promotes a foreign policy philosophy nearly identical to neoconservatives'. President Bush has effusively praised this book, calling it a "glimpse of how I think". As of 2005, the most prominent supporters of the neoconservative stance inside the Administration are Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. At the same time, there have been limits in the power of neoconservatives in the Bush administration. The former Secretary of State Colin Powell (as well as the State department as a whole) was largely seen as being an opponent of neoconservative ideas. However, with the resignation of Colin Powell and the promotion of Condoleezza Rice, along with widespread resignations within the State department, the neoconservative point of view within the Bush administration has been solidified. While the
neoconservative notion of tough and decisive action has been apparent in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, it has not been seen in U.S. policy toward China and Russia or in the handling of the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Neoconservative proponents of the 2003 Iraq War likened the conflict to Churchill's stand against Hitler.United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld likened Hussein to Stalin and Hitler. President George W. Bush singled out Iraq's dictator as the "great evil" who "by his search for terrible weapons, by his ties to terrorist groups, threatens the security of every free nation, including the free nations of Europe." In the writings of Paul Wolfowitz, Norman Podhoretz, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Max Boot, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, William Bennett, Peter Rodman, and others influential in forging the foreign policy doctrines of the Bush administration, there are frequent references to the appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1938, to which are compared the Cold War's policies of détente and containment (rather than rollback) with the Soviet Union and the PRC. While more conventional foreign policy experts argued that Iraq
could be restrained by enforcing No-Fly Zones and by a policy of inspection by United Nations inspectors to restrict its ability to possess chemical or nuclear weapons, neoconservatives considered this policy direction ineffectual and labeled it appeasement of Saddam Hussein.
Neoconservatism, Judaism, and "Dual Loyalty"
Some opponents of neoconservatives have sought to emphasize their interest in Israel and the relatively large proportion of Jewish neoconservatives, and have raised the question of "dual loyalty". A number of critics, such as Pat Buchanan and Juan Cole, have accused them of putting Israeli interests above those of America. In turn these critics have been labeled as anti-Semites by many neoconservatives. David Duke and some other white nationalists attack neoconservatism as advancing Jewish interests. They say a "Jewish supremacist" movement exists in the United States. Critics conclude that some of their claims, such as that Jews achieve influence through the intellectual domination of national leaders, are anti-Semitic. Similarly, during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the politically left-wing magazine AdBusters published a list of the "50 most influential neocons in the United States", noting that half of these were
Jewish, and insinuating that the preponderance of Jews in neoconservatism leads them to "not distinguish enough between American and Israeli interests". The article asks "For example, whose interests were they protecting in pushing for war in Iraq?", and ends with the statement "And half of the them are Jewish." Neoconservatives say that they were much less interested in Israel before the June 1967 Six Day War. It was only after this conflict, which raised the specter of unopposed Soviet influence in the Middle East, that the neoconservatives became interested in Israel's security interests. They promote the view that Israel is the United States' strongest ally in the Middle East as the sole Western-style democracy in the region, aside from Turkey (George W. Bush has also supported Turkey in its efforts to join the European Union.
Commenting on the alleged overtones of this view in more mainstream discourse, David Brooks, in his January 6, 2004 New York Times column wrote, "To hear these people describe it, PNAC is sort of a Yiddish Trilateral Commission, the nexus of the sprawling neocon tentacles". In a similar vein, Michael Lind, a self-described 'former neoconservative,' wrote in 2004, "It is true, and unfortunate, that some journalists tend to use 'neoconservative' to refer only to Jewish neoconservatives, a practice that forces them to invent categories like nationalist conservative or Western conservative for Rumsfeld and Cheney. But neoconservatism is an ideology, like paleoconservatism and libertarianism, and Rumsfeld and Dick and Lynne Cheney are full-fledged neocons, as distinct from paleocons or libertarians, even though they are not Jewish and were never liberals or leftists." Lind argues that, while "there were, and are, very few Northeastern WASP mandarins in the
neoconservative movement", its origins are not specifically Jewish. "...[N]eoconservatism recruited from diverse farm teams including Roman Catholics (William Bennett and Michael Novak) and populists, socialists and New Deal liberals in the South and Southwest (the pool from which Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Woolsey and I [that is, Lind himself] were drawn)".
The Axis of Evil cabal and
the case of Iran
Exactly what is behind the phrase “Axis of Evil” that seemingly has surprised observers world round? Was it a faux pas or the weathervane for a new Middle East policy? With the arrival of new actors and the new militant political culture at the Pentagon is the Department of Defense preempting the State Department in selective foreign policy matters, such as the negotiation of key international treaties and the U.S. Middle East policy? In the periphery and in the Gulf region, there may have been a naïve understanding that, historically, a Republican administration with its oil company constituents can consistently provide a more pragmatic and conducive climate to resolve Middle East issues. Yet, the issue is considerably more complex. In reality, since the “Reagan Revolution,” Republican administrations have also been full of a cohesive, yet relatively little known, phenomenon called neo-con (neo-conservatism)—a political movement legible to
the Washington elite insider, yet invisible to the general public. This political movement is a dense web of affiliates that is present in numerous spheres and active in different social domains. As a whole, the radical right has been striving to appropriate the September 11 atrocities and to push forward several extremist agendas on the domestic front and in foreign policy. While initially the stated U.S. government (State Department) objective after September 11 was the pursuit of those responsible for the terrorist attack and to locate and destroy the Al-Qaida terrorist network, there were right wing policy advisors with certain agendas who intended to widen the scope of the U.S. initiative. There is the impression that the policy advisors brought in by the Bush/Cheney team, anchored around the Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Security Council (NSC), struggled to add an Israeli right-wing wish list to the agenda. A study of these policy
advisors illustrates a Neo-con ideological affiliation and demeanor. This clique is not the result of an accidental club of “experts.” Historically, and principally, ever since its inception in the late 1960s it has focused on the issues of foreign policy, Pax-Zionica through Pax-Americana (more later). A neo-con activist, Michael Ledeen holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. In the Reagan administration he served as an adviser to Oliver North on the National Security Council. In his column last year (“Time for a Good, Old-Fashioned Purge” National Review Online, March 8, 2001), Ledeen asked the Bush team to purge the “environmental whack-os,” “the radical feminazis,” the “foreign policy types on the National Security Council Staff and throughout State, CIA, and Defense, who are still trying to create Bill Clinton’s legacy in the Middle East…”
For several months after the September 11 tragedy, a dispute ensued between the State Department and the neo-con policy assets in other agencies such as DoD and NSC. The recent civilian leadership of the DoD includes such right-wing hawks as Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Doug- las Feith, the Pentagon’s third-highest official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; and Richard Perle, Chief of the Defense Policy Board. Their agenda echoes neo-con political views and program. On the other side, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his aides, Richard Armitage (Deputy Secretary of State) and Richard Haas (Chief of Policy Planning), and the Near East Bureau of the State Department seem to have a strategically more global and regional perspective on the issues. They had been engaged with Iran in the war with the Taliban in the context of the 6+2 Group in Bonn, leading up to the possibility of a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations and a rapprochement.
A number of experts such as Gary Sick, the Acting Director of the Middle East Institute who served in NSC under Ford, Reagan, and Carter, view the deliberate utterance of the phrase Axis of Evil in the president’s State of the Union address as the triumph of DoD over the Department of State. Not surprisingly, David Frum, the author of the address, had been associated with the neo-con movement and the journal the Weekly Standard. What the recent thrust entailed was an agenda that went beyond Al-Qaida and those responsible for the September 11 attack. It intended to shift the paradigm and create a linkage with other international issues, most of which concern Israel, such as the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in three named “rogue states,” and in the case of Iran, support for Hamas and the Hizbollah of Lebanon. This nexus of the WTC tragedy, and the issue of WMD in Iran and other “rogue nations,” as the new expanded objective
of the war on terrorism, does not seem like a smooth and reasonable transition to some policymakers and Middle East observers. In the case of Iran, it was noted that the government had claimed that they have always been open to inspections by the international nonproliferation bodies. Moreover, Gary Sick differs with Zalmay Khalilzad, the current director of Near East/Southwest Asia in the NSC, that Iran had been destabilizing the current Afghan government.
The phrase Axis of Evil puzzled those observers who clearly could see its implications in the internal political situation of Iran, as complex as it is; that is, weakening the hand of reformist President Khatami and the reform movement at large. But survival of Khatami’s democratic movement may not be a priority to some. Patrick Clawson, Director of Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, claims Bush was not trying to influence Iranian domestic politics so much as putting the world on notice that Iran’s leaders have to change course. In the final analysis, the WMD hardware does not seem to matter as much as the political positioning of the regime. The neo-con elements associated with the right wing think-tank institutes saw “momentous possibilities” in the Axis of Evil phraseology and were quick to celebrate the State of the Union address in their writings and to chastise Secretary Powell. In numerous editorials, William
Kristol of the right-wing Weekly Standard openly criticized Powell’s position before and after the State of the Union address and his position on war (”Bush v. Powell,” 9/24/2001; “Bush Doctrine Unfolds,” 3/04/2002). Again, Michael Ledeen in a more recent column (“Iran and the Axis of Evil,” National Review Online, March 4, 2002) reprimanded Powell because his position on Iran was not adequately belligerent. Reuel Marc Gerecht, also of the American Enterprise Institute, in a Weekly Standard article, dismisses Secretary Powell’s “pragmatist” approach and states, “…this détentist view of commerce and politics still has currency in establishment circles.” Gerecht goes further and berates Le Monde Diplomatic and the Near East bureau of the State Department as having the same reaction to the State of the Union address as the speaker of Iran’s Majlis, Ayatollah Karroubi. As the logical extension of this sentiment, Gerecht
maintains that unless Iran’s regime falls, its penchant for unconventional weaponry “will not evanesce.” This myopic analysis makes the presumption with certainty that a secular democratic government in Iran—as opposed to an Islamic democratic one—would not have the inclination to seek strategic parity with the client states in the region.
The Economist reports on Pentagon’s number two man, Paul Wolfowitz, and his “enthusiasm for changing governments.” The piece detects Wolfo- witz’s “fingerprints” all over the State of the Union speech (“Paul Wolfowitz velociraptor,” the Economist, February 9, 2002). Since the State of the Union address and the perceived threat of “rogue nations,” the Axis of Evil parlance creates a hype and a psychological state of belligerence that would accommodate and support dramatic increases in defense spending. Accordingly, this year’s Pentagon budget was substantially expanded. Moreover, the Missile Defense Program, which was looming in the background, seems to be back on the table. According to Hadar the major figures of the movement were initially people like Irving Kristol, later contributor to the Wall Street Journal; Norman Podhoretz, the present editor of Commentary—a bastion of neoconservatism—Democratic Party activist, Ben
Wattenberg; Midge Dector, wife of Podhoretz, who, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, served as officers of Committee for the Free World. This neo-con core was later joined by other Cold Warriors and pro-Israeli advocates, such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Walt and Eugene Rostow, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams (Podhoretz’s son-in-law), Kenneth Adelman, Max Kampelman (aide to Senator Hubert Humphrey), and, of course, Michael Ledeen. (A good number of them in the Bush/Cheney team are reincarnates of the Reagan administration.)
Israel became a central cause for these neo-cons; and, as Hadar observed, the pivotal axiom was that “only a militarily strong and perpetually interventionist America can guarantee the security of Israel.” The civil rights and social justice ambiance of the 1960’s movements had influenced the philosophy of the Democratic Party, hence making the rhetoric and platform potentially susceptible to recognition of self-determination for all peoples which may have included Palestinian rights. After all, at this stage, the Vietnam War was being criticized on moral grounds. By virtue of George McGovern representing the antiwar liberal forces within the Democratic Party in 1972, the neo-cons mobilized support for Henry (Scoop) Jackson who possessed Cold War, pro-Israel credentials in the party. As a counterforce to the McGovern victory in 1972, the neo-cons formed the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) in 1973. Later on, Richard Perle and Elliot Abrams
were to become top aids to Senator Jackson. President Jimmy Carter did not include many of the CDM members in his Administration. Certain elements of his foreign policy agenda—improving the U.S.-Soviet relationship and addressing the Palestinian matter—gave the neo-cons serious pause. At this juncture, with a sense of grievance, the neo-cons considered crossing the floor and moving to the Republican Party, which would undoubtedly welcome the neo-con intellectual prowess and media connections, and, in fact, did. Thus the CDM neo-con members helped shape Ronald Reagan’s agenda and, in return, because their primary concerns and interests revolved around external issues and hegemony, they were rewarded with top foreign policy positions in his Administration. The top brass included Jeane Kirkpartick (contributor to Commentary), Kenneth Adleman, Director of Arms Control; Richard Perle became the Assistant Secretary of Defense; Richard Pipes (of Harvard)
was assigned to NSC; and Elliot Abrams, the rising star, was placed as Assistant Secretary of State.
From their top positions, they encouraged the Reagan administration to view indigenous issues, such as the Palestinian statehood/nationalism, the Nicaraguan revolution, and the South African and the Middle East conflicts from the prism of a Cold War context—i.e., international communism and Soviet expansionism—were behind most Third World struggles. Initially, for reasons of ideology, most of the old-guard conservatives of the Barry Goldwater- Richard Nixon types were weary of these newcomers, but later came on board, accepted them and continued to work with them. For some time now, neo-con writers have appeared in William F. Buckley’s National Review. Segments of the more traditional right, however, committed to conservative social values had viewed the neo-cons as closet liberals and considered their presence in the conservative movement as a hostile takeover. The Old Right accused the neo-cons of over-preoccupation with interventionist foreign
policy and indifference to the size of government and the “Welfare State.” They object to the appropriation of the mantle of the conservative movement by the neo-cons. In the foreword to the second edition of Justin Raimondo’s 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, Patrick J. Buchanan wrote: “With Reagan’s triumph, the neocons came into their own, into his government and his movement.” Raimondo considers the neo-cons the “the War Party” or the cowbirds of conservatism.
There have been diverse reactions to the Neo-con phenomenon from the liberal and New Left corner as well. In an historic essay titled, “The Empire Lovers Strike Back,” (The Nation, March 22, 1986) Gore Vidal took aim at the elders of the neo-con wave; they in return landed him labels of anti-Semitism. Vidal called the deans of the movement “publicists for Israel” or “fifth columnists”; he declared that pro-Israel lobbyists “make common cause with the lunatic fringe” in order to scare Americans into spending enormous sums of money for defense against the Soviet Union and for support of Israel. In a way, the neo-con establishment is an axis of political-lobby/academic-cultural/media/defense- policy network in pursuit of a clearly defined agenda.
In the post-September tragedy, there appeared a curiosity, a spontaneous public discourse in an effort to demystify the political, theological, cultural aspects of Islam and Islamic movements. In contrast, meanwhile, a literature began to resurface centered on a (dis)-Orientalism that has been associated with the exoticization of Islamic societies and Islamic history. There are cultural orientalists who possess clear policy/political preferences; they tend to also polemicize their scholarship to push for overt political agendas. The neo-con wave is more than political appointees and lobbies; it is also a matter of culture and attitude. One of the most referred to in the neo-con ideological pursuits and literature is Bernard Lewis, the semi-retired Princeton scholar. As pointed out above, during the Reagan term and based on the Cold War Zeitgeist of the time, the neo-con propagandists encouraged the Israel-Palestinian conflict to be seen in that light.
After the end of the Cold War, an Huntingtonian clash of civilization theory struggled to dominate the discourse on East/West relations and understandings; the sort of ethos that defamiliarizes and demonizes “the other.” Likewise, it carried over that dualistic Manichean worldview. In this Gemeinschaft, the Muslim and Arab world would replace the Soviet threat. In this polarized view of the world, Israel is presented as the bastion of the West. On the occasion of reviewing Judith Miller’s book for the Nation (“A Devil Theory of Islam,” August 12, 1996), Edward Said wrote, “To demonize and dehumanize a whole culture on the ground that it is (in Lewis’s sneering phrase) enraged at modernity is to turn Muslims into the objects of a therapeutic, punitive attention.” Reuel Marc Gerecht, an admirer of Lewis, is another Princeton “Orientalist” and a neo-con scholar at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. In an interview with the
Ha’aretz Magazine, he reveals, “I was a passionate believer in the Cold War…. One of my professors had ties with the agency and he put me in touch with them….” (Ronen Bergman, “Their Man in Iran,” August 20, 1999). As a CIA operations officer for seven years from 1987 to 1994, Gerecht coordinated the network of agents in and outside Iran. Although in his book Know Thine Enemy he finds the Agency inept, it is possible that his agenda load was too heavy for the Agency. Earlier in December, Gerecht stated in an interview with the Atlantic (“Unbound,” December 28, 2001), “the only way to douse the fires of Islamic radicalism is through stunning, overwhelming, military force….” Ann Coulter, one of the right-wing celebrities wrote, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” (“This Is War,” National Review Online, September 13, 2001). The Axis of Evil terminology may have taken many
by surprise, but a review of culturally-charged articles from September 2001 to January 2002 in various journals such as the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly and, of course, the New Republic would illustrate that a “Clash of Civilization” and estrangement of “the other culture” was in the making. Alexander Cockburn once remarked metaphorically that the offices of the New Republic in Washington are attached to the back of the Israeli embassy. Although neo-con writers such as Richard Pipes, Daniel Pipes, and Michael Ledeen are regular contributors to such “mainstream” media as the Wall Street Journal, the citadel of their journalism is publications like the New Republic, Commentary, the Weekly Standard (edited by William Kristol, son of Irving Kristol) and the Washington Times. William Safire in the New York Times and Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post carry the neo-con torch, deliberating issues. While conservative hawks have wide
access to the media hegemony created by moguls Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black (Hollinger International, Inc.), issues around the Middle East and the proliferation of WMD seldom get an objective hearing.
In the fall of 2001, there were initiatives on the part of some right-wing forces that caused worry for the academia. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) in which Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Cheney is involved, produced a document titled “Defense of Civilization” in which it published the names, colleges, and statements of about 100 academics who seemingly had been critical. Similarly, Martin Kramer of the pro-Israel institute Washington Institute for Near East Policy published the monograph “Ivory Towers on Sand” where he blames Middle East studies in American academia for “incorrect analysis” in not being able to “predict or explain” Middle East politics, and questions continued Federal funding. Even though the neo-cons’ institutional incarnation was in the liberal Democratic Party, their reincarnation nonetheless has been in right-wing WASP think-tank institutes such as the Committee on Present Danger, the
Committee for the Free World, the Project for the New American Century, Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute. A casual study of the advisory boards and officers reveals the usual neo-con listings—William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard; Carl Gershman, special councilor to Jeane Kirkpatrick while at the UN, and president of the National Endowment for Democracy which supports selective causes in the Third World; Donald Rumsfeld; Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis Libby; Newt Gingrich; William F. Buckley Jr.; Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. There exist in Washington many organizations that are active on behalf of the American Jewish community and Israel; but none have nearly the influence the neo-cons have in terms of lobbying impact on behalf of right-wing Israeli hawks. In 1998, Fortune Magazine recognized the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as one of the most influential lobbies in the
country. In a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Massing describes in detail this lobbying powerhouse located near Capital Hill, and asserts that the leadership personalities “…have developed ready access to the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and National Security Council” (“Conservative Jewish Groups Have Clout,” March 10, 2002). While serving as Senator, Hubert Humphrey’s Communist Control Act was drafted by his aide, Max Kampelman, one of the neo-con elders. Similarly, there was word around that AIPAC drafted Senator DAmato’s Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. Graham E. Fuller, a former vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council for long-range forecasting at the CIA, writes, “And efforts to portray Iran with some analytical balance have grown more difficult, crowded out by inflamed rhetoric and intense pro-Israeli lobbying against Tehran in Congress…. Improved U.S. ties with Iran should bring about a more balanced
reckoning of just what Iran is and is not” (Middle East Policy, October 1998).
It is no secret that Dick Cheney nominated his old mentor Rumsfeld to the post of Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld in turn brought Wolfowitz (who had been Cheney’s right-hand person when he ran the Pentagon) as his deputy. As hawkish veterans of the Cold War, some of the Neo-con associates had understandably become proficient in the issues of strategic nuclear arms and national security; they had been critics of multilateral arms agreements (détente) and were involved with policy institutes as vehicles and proponents of those politics. As strong proponents of Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) during the Reagan administration, it is believed that they were instrumental in the death of SALT II under the Carter administration. This leads to what is known inside the Beltway as the “Wolfowitz cabal.” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the new chief of the 18-member advisory panel of Defense Policy Board, were both
mentored by arch-hawk nuclear strategist Albert Wohlseteller of the RAND Corp. in the 1960s. While the Defense Policy Board is an advisory panel, its new chief, Richard Perle, has an office in the E-Ring of the Pentagon. Known as “the prince of darkness,” he previously served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy in the Reagan administration. In Seymour Hersh’s book on Henry Kissinger, The Price of Power, we learn that the FBI wiretaps had heard Richard Perle—then foreign policy aide to Senator Jackson—passing NSC classified material to the Israeli Embassy; this infuriated Kissinger. Other additions among the Wolfowitz circle are Douglas J. Feith; I. Lewis Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff; and, according to the Economist article, the latter is “Wolfowitz’s Wolfowitz.”
Douglas J. Feith, previously associated with the Center for Security Policy (CSP), has been appointed to the position of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. In the Reagan administration, Feith had served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council staff. Because he holds strong pro-Israel views and is perceived as having a partisan position, Feith’s appointment to that policy post has been a matter of great concern for Arab-American spokespeople. In 1996, Feith and Richard Perle co-authored a paper for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. In that piece titled “A Clean Break: a New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” they advised Israeli leader Netanyahu to halt the land for peace process.
If Elliot Abrams could serve as NSC’s senior director for democracy and human rights, then it is not so bizarre to have John Bolton as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, and non-proliferation. Apparently Bolton, a Vice President at the American Enterprise Institute, was forced on the State Department. Earlier, the Institute had openly opposed the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty that was signed by the U.S. in 1988. In November 1999, Bolton wrote a short piece for the American Enterprise Institute titled “Kofi Annan’s UN Power Grab”—“United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has begun to assert that the UN Security Council is ‘the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force.’ If the United States allows that claim to go unchallenged, its discretion in using force to advance its national interests is likely to be inhibited in the future.”
Neo-cons are not political novices and seem to have little tolerance for dissenters. The NSC is not immune to this political culture either. In a New Yorker article Seymour Hersh reports that several regional experts left the NSC “after a series of policy disputes with the civilian officials in the Pentagon” (“The Debate Within,” March 11, 2002). Zalmay Khalilzad has replaced Bruce Reidel for the Middle East portfolio. The Axis of Evil vocabulary may appear novel, but clearly the grammar is familiar and legible. It translates to a $48 billion increase in this year’s Pentagon budget, up to $379 billion annually—the largest defense spending increase in more than two decades. In terms of strategic policy, it is highly likely we may see the unilateral abandonment of the 1972 ABM Treaty, the abandonment of the goal of the formal implementation of Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty START II, and a strong push to pursue the controversial National
Defense Initiative. The recent Nuclear Posture Review is alarming to many in the sense that it is changing deterrence to feasibility of nuclear application, viewing unconventional arms almost in conventional terms, and developing nuclear arsenals for possible use against non-nuclear states. Whereas the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not prohibit the U.S. from targeting non-nuclear states, it has historically pledged not to do so, extending what is known as “a negative security assurance.” Under the new regime, the U.S. is seriously considering not offering a negative security assurance to non-nuclear states.
During the Reagan administration, the ultra-hawkish attitude of the neo-con clique produced policy that found pronouncements and support for “constructive engagement” with apartheid, support for the Contras in Nicaragua, Duvalier (FRAP) of Haiti, the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982, and the proliferation of death squads in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Undue influence of hawkish ideologues has alarmed experts and the policy community at large. There are those who believe that this political culture has created an atmosphere that obstructs any serious debate on the Middle East. To bulldoze and elbow a one-sided policy over a long period may lead to a political/moral tipping point.
How neo-cons influence the Pentagon
An ad hoc office under US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith appears to have acted as the key base for an informal network of mostly neo-conservative political appointees that circumvented normal inter-agency channels to lead the push for war against Iraq.
The Office of Special Plans (OSP), which worked alongside the Near East and South Asia (NESA) bureau in Feith's domain, was originally created by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to review raw information collected by the official US intelligence agencies for connections between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
Retired intelligence officials from the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have long charged that the two offices exaggerated and manipulated intelligence about Iraq before passing it along to the White House.
But key personnel who worked in both NESA and OSP were part of a broader network of neo-conservative ideologues and activists who worked with other George W Bush political appointees scattered around the national security bureaucracy to move the country to war, according to retired Lieutenant-Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who was assigned to NESA from May 2002 through February 2003.
The heads of NESA and OSP were Deputy Undersecretary William Luti and Abram Shulsky, respectively.
Other appointees who worked with them in both offices included Michael Rubin, a Middle East specialist previously with the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI); David Schenker, previously with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP); Michael Makovsky; an expert on neo-conservative icon Winston Churchill and the younger brother of David Makovsky, a senior WINEP fellow and former executive editor of the pro-Likud Jerusalem Post; and Chris Lehman, the brother of the John Lehman, a prominent neo-conservative who served as secretary of the navy under former president Ronald Reagan, according to Kwiatkowski.
Along with Feith, all of the political appointees have in common a close identification with the views of the right-wing Likud Party in Israel. Feith, whose law partner is a spokesman for the settlement movement in Israel, has long been a fierce opponent of the Oslo peace process, while WINEP has acted as the think tank for the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which generally follows a Likud line.
Also like Feith, several of the appointees were proteges of Richard Perle, an AEI fellow who doubled as chairman until last April of Rumsfeld's unpaid Defense Policy Board (DPB), whose members were appointed by Feith, and also had an office in the Pentagon one floor below the NESA offices.
Similarly, Luti, a retired naval officer, was a protege of another DPB board member also based at AEI, former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. Luti in turn hired retired Colonel William Bruner, a former Gingrich staffer, and Chris Straub, a retired lieutenant-colonel, anti-abortion activist, and former staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Also working for Luti was another naval officer, Yousef Aboul-Enein, whose main job was to pore over Arabic-language newspapers and CIA transcripts of radio broadcasts to find evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam that may have been overlooked by the intelligence agencies, and a DIA officer named John Trigilio.
Through Feith, both offices worked closely with Perle, Gingrich and two other DPB members and major war boosters - former CIA director James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman - in ensuring that the "intelligence" that they developed reached a wide public audience outside the bureaucracy.
They also debriefed "defectors" handled by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an opposition umbrella group headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a long-time friend of Perle, whom the intelligence agencies generally wrote off as an unreliable self-promoter.
"They would draw up 'talking points' they would use and distribute to their friends," said Kwiatkowski. "But the talking points would be changed continually, not because of new intel [intelligence], but because the press was poking holes in what was in the memos."
The offices fed information directly and indirectly to sympathetic media outlets, including the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard and FoxNews Network, as well as the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and syndicated columnists, such as Charles Krauthammer.
In inter-agency discussions, Feith and the two offices communicated almost exclusively with like-minded allies in other agencies, rather than with their official counterparts, including even the DIA in the Pentagon, according to Kwiatkowski.
Rather than working with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, its Near Eastern Affairs bureau, or even its Iraq desk, for example, they preferred to work through Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (and former AEI executive vice president) John Bolton; Michael Wurmser (another Perle protege at AEI who staffed the predecessor to OSP); and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the Vice President Dick Cheney.
At the National Security Council (NSC), they communicated mainly with Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, until Elliott Abrams, a dyed-in-the-wool neo-conservative with close ties to Feith and Perle, was appointed last December as the NSC's top Middle East aide.
"They worked really hard for Abrams; he was a necessary link," Kwiatkowski told Inter Press Service on Wednesday. "The day he got [the appointment], they were whooping and hollering, 'We got him in, we got him in'."
They rarely communicated directly with the CIA, leaving that to political heavyweights, including Gingrich, who is reported to have made several trips to the CIA headquarters, and, more importantly, I Lewis "Scooter" Lilly, Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser.
According to recent published reports, CIA analysts felt these visits were designed to put pressure on them to tailor their analyses more to the liking of administration hawks.
In some cases, NESA and OSP even prepared memos specifically for Cheney and Libby, something unheard of in previous administrations because the lines of authority in the vice president's office and the Pentagon are entirely separate. "Luti sometimes would say, 'I've got to do this for Scooter'," said Kwiatkowski. "It looked like Cheney's office was pulling the strings."
Kwiatkowski said that she could not confirm published reports that OSP worked with a similar ad hoc group in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office. But she recounts one incident in which she helped escort a group of half a dozen Israelis, including several generals, from the first floor reception area to Feith's office. "We just followed them, because they knew exactly where they were going and moving fast."
When the group arrived, she noted the book which all visitors are required to sign under special regulations that took effect after the September 11, 2001. "I asked his secretary, 'Do you want these guys to sign in'? She said, 'No, these guys don't have to sign in'." It occurred to her, she said, that the office may have deliberately not wanted to maintain a record of the meeting.
She added that OSP and MESA personnel were already discussing the possibility of "going after Iran" after the war in Iraq last January and that articles by Michael Ledeen, another AEI fellow and Perle associate who has been calling for the US to work for "regime change" in Tehran since late 2001, were given much attention in the two offices.
Ledeen and Morris Amitay, a former head of AIPAC, recently created the Coalition for Democracy in Iran to lobby for a more aggressive policy there. Their move coincided with suggestions by Sharon that Washington adopt a more confrontational policy vis-a-vis Tehran.
Iran recently said it was prepared to turn over five senior al-Qaeda figures, including the son of Osama bin Laden, who are currently in its custody if Washington permanently shuts down an Iraqi-based Iranian rebel group that is listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department.
Pentagon officials, particularly Feith's office, have reportedly opposed the deal, which had been favored by the State Department, because of the possibility that the group, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, might be useful in putting pressure on Tehran.
After two years of dominating United States foreign policy, are unilateralist hawks in the administration of President George W Bush losing power to the so-called realists whom they have long disdained?
Although internal fights within the administration on issues such as policy towards Syria, Iran and North Korea remain fierce, there are growing indications that the influence of the hawks, neo-conservatives in particular, is on the wane.
New attacks on the neo-cons by key foreign policy figures, as well as suggestions that hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office are losing influence in several key areas, including Iraq, are adding to this impression.
While Bush himself still deploys the soaring "we're-bringing-democracy-to-the-Arab-world" rhetoric that has been a neo-conservative trademark for the past 15 months - most recently in his trip last week to Britain - the growing consensus here is that the decision to accelerate the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government belies a sharp reduction in those ambitions.
Similarly, the speed with which Washington is trying to recruit former soldiers and police - with only pro-forma training and vetting for past loyalties to the Ba'ath regime of former president Saddam Hussein - marks a major departure from the thorough de-Ba'athification program that neo-conservatives said was absolutely necessary if democratic governance was to have a chance in Iraq.
Even some neo-conservatives themselves, such as Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, have conceded that the new plans suggest the administration is looking for an "exit" strategy, rather than a "victory" strategy.
But the loss of neo-conservative influence is also visible beyond Iraq.
Bush's announcement during his trip to Asia late last month that he was willing to put into writing his verbal commitment that Washington would not attack North Korea marked a significant victory for the realists in the State Department, leading former ambassador Donald Gregg, a Korea expert close to Bush's father, George H W Bush, to declare "the administration's pragmatists are in charge".
Other recent straws in the wind included the abrupt resignation late last month of a major hawk, assistant defense secretary for international security J D Crouch II, and the announcement by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that Washington intended to resume a dialogue with Iran in the near future, although the latter remains a source of great contention within the administration.
But Washington's quiet agreement this week to not press for a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency that would ask the United Nations Security Council to consider sanctions against Iran for maintaining secrecy about its nuclear program - in other words, to defer to the advice of France, Germany and Britain - marked a defeat for the hawks.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also scored another major - albeit little-noticed win - in another conflict with the hawks, including his ultra-unilateralist undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, John Bolton.
The administration decided to waive sanctions against six central European countries that have refused to sign bilateral treaties that would have barred them from handing over US citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation or prosecution for crimes against humanity or war crimes.
Bolton, who is close to both the neo-conservatives and Cheney, has been on an 18-month global crusade to punish countries that refuse to sign such agreements, and the administration's waiver, which was also urged by a unanimous Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could undermine his efforts and credibility.
Analysts detect in these moves the growing influence of several officials, not least of whom is Karl Rove, Bush's closest political adviser, who is reported to have warned already in September that there should be "no wars in 2004", advice that makes a lot of sense in view of Bush's precipitous drop in the polls, much of it due to a growing lack of confidence about Iraq policy.
The fact that only a minority of voters now believe the president's reasons for going to war - Iraq's alleged ties to al-Qaeda terrorists and weapons of mass destruction programs - were based on real evidence has clearly undermined administration hawks, who were most insistent about the threat Baghdad supposedly posed to the US.
Similarly, the patent and continuing failure of the hawks to anticipate the post-war situation in Iraq has clearly weakened their hand in internal deliberations. This was clearly signaled by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in early October when she formed the Iraq Stabilization Group based in her National Security Council, a move that clearly displeased Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.
More important was her hiring of former US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, who appears to have effectively taken control of Iraq policy and a great deal more at the expense of the Pentagon hawks. Blackwill, who was Rice's boss in the first Bush administration, is considered on the right, but with a far more pragmatic temperament than the neo-cons.
The recent announcement that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which is officially controlled by Rumsfeld, is doubling the number of foreign-service officers to 110 - most of them from the State Department's Near East bureau - marks a major defeat for the Pentagon's neo-cons, who had vetoed virtually all of the State Department's Arabists for top CPA positions before the occupation due to suspicions that they were too pro-Sunni or elite-oriented. Worse, CPA chief L Paul Bremer appears to be working directly with Blackwill in the White House, effectively circumventing Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative aides.
According to the Washington Post, the two men have a "close relationship" dating back some 30 years. The newspaper quoted one unidentified friend of both who characterized them as "basically conservative ... but focused on national interest and power - not neo-conservatism. They are not ideological dreamers".
Their mutual loss of confidence in the hawks was suggested by Bremer's sudden return to Washington two weeks ago with a pessimistic Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)report, the existence of which was promptly leaked to a reporter to ensure that the White House knew to press for the decision to accelerate the transition process in Iraq.
Bremer, according to one source, attached a personal endorsement to the report by the CIA - which is considered as much of a "bete noire" of the neo-cons as State's Near East bureau - in what was seen as another slap at the hawks.
In this context, the publication by the Post on Sunday of a comprehensive attack on the hawks' push for unilateral war in Iraq by Powell's former director of policy planning, Richard Haass, also suggests growing confidence on the part of the realists, of which Haass, now president of the ultra-establishment Council on Foreign Relations, is an exemplar.
His column argues that unilateral "wars of choice" - including Iraq - can be fought successfully only on two conditions: first, the US public must be "on board ... to the extent of being psychologically prepared for the possible costs"; and second, Washington must "line up international support", lest it be "stretched too thin or [go] deeply into debt".
Haass, who left the State Department only last summer and served the elder Bush as a top Middle East aide, not only made clear that he felt neither condition had been met in Iraq; but that "American democracy ... [does] not mix well with empire" and that "the United States is not geared to sustain costly wars of choice". He depicted the recent decision to speed the transition process as a politically realistic move that will necessarily fall short of the neo-cons' more ambitious goals.
"Such a mid-course correction in US policy reflects in part the political realities of Iraq ... even more, though, the policy shift reflects political realities at home. Domestic tolerance for costs - disrupted and lost lives above all - is not unlimited. As a result, the president is wise to reduce the scale of what we try to accomplish."
Assuming that Haass' analysis about the motives for the White House's change of course in Iraq is correct, it still begs the question of whether it, as well as the administration's softening on North Korea, Iraq and the ICC, represents a major shift in the balance of power in favor of the realists or a mere tactical feint designed to ease growing popular concerns in advance of next year's election.
Neo-conservatives, who have shown uncharacteristic disarray in response to setbacks in Iraq, still insist they have full confidence in Bush to follow their policy advice as part of the global war on terrorism, including in Iraq. Some even argue that stepped-up "Iraqification" is what they had recommended for years before the invasion, and that the president and Bremer have now come around to those views.
But it is clear that the process now under way bears little relation to their original plans, and the fact that the dreaded Near East bureau and veterans of the Bush I administration appear to be gaining control of Iraq policy suggests their displays of confidence may be unfounded. Similarly, recent speculation here that Bremer and Blackwill - rather than Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Cheney's national security chief, I Lewis Libby - might inherit the State Department and the national security adviser post, respectively, in a second Bush term, add further evidence to the notion that the neo-cons might be in eclipse.
Creating a 'secure Israel'
Several mechanisms have been advanced to link Israeli security and the invasion of Iraq. Some say that neo-conservatives do indeed want to "install" democracy in Iraq. Democracy is then viewed as either a "real" thing or a rhetorical tool used by the elites to control the masses. In the former case, the argument is made that democratic countries abstain from warfare with other democracies.
Leo Strauss, the father of US neo-conservatism, tells us, however, that democratic masses are susceptible to political charlatans and innately anti-Semitic: just look at what happened to the Weimar Republic in Germany in the lead-up to World War II. Thus democracy can't be a real thing. In the latter case, does it really matter whether the elite rules by democracy or by tyranny, as long as this elite recognizes a master in the United States? This brings us to the second mechanism for ensuring Israeli interests. But before proceeding further, let us take a diversion to see what neo-conservatives may mean when they talk about "democratizing" the Middle East.
Bringing democracy to the Middle East intuitively implies making "them" in our image. But what is the difference between "us" and "them"? There is no better authority on this subject than Strauss, once again. Here is what the old master sees as the essential difference between Christianity and Islam:
"Revelation as understood by Jews and Muslims has the character of law (Tora, Sharia) rather than of faith. Accordingly, what first came to the sight of the Islamic and Jewish philosophers in their reflections on revelation was not a creed or a set of dogmas, but a social order, if an all-comprehensive order, which regulates not merely actions but thoughts or opinions as well." (Persecution and the Art of Writing, Introduction, page 9)
Furthermore: "For the Christian, the sacred doctrine is revealed theology; for the Jew and the Muslim, the sacred doctrine is, at least primarily, the legal interpretation of the divine law (talmud or fiqh). The sacred doctrine in the latter sense has, to say the least, much less in common with philosophy than the sacred doctrine in the former sense. It is ultimately for this reason that the status of philosophy was, as a matter of principle, much more precarious in Judaism and in Islam than in Christianity: in Christianity philosophy became an integral part and even required training of the student of the sacred doctrine. The difference explains partly the eventual collapse of philosophic inquiry in the Islamic and in the Jewish world, a collapse which has no parallel in the Western Christian world." (Persecution and the Art of Writing, Introduction, page 18)
Finally: "Classical Greek philosophy permitted, nay, demanded an exoteric teaching (as a supplement to its esoteric teaching) which, while not claiming to be strictly speaking true, was considered indispensable for the right ordering of human society." (Plan of a book tentatively titled Philosophy and the Law: Historical Essays in Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, Appendix1)
By esoteric teaching, Strauss means Greek natural philosophy, and by exoteric teaching he means Christianity. Indeed, many Greek thinkers were notorious doubters frequently accused of disbelief in gods. Thus the Western Christian world carried in itself Greek values "of the full dedication of the individual to the contest for excellence, distinction, supremacy" (Jerusalem and Athens, page 4) and in secret, preoccupation with natural philosophy, while the Muslim world developed cohesive societies a la Plato's Republic. And here we are now, with Western countries preoccupied with individual rights and technical advances and Middle Eastern societies deeply in poverty and dominated by totalitarian regimes.
Can Islam be reformed to promote individual excellence and technological development? Vladimir Lenin abolished private property and religion in Russia through ruthless extermination of whole classes of people. Perhaps a similar feast could be accomplished in the Middle East. Lenin, however, was a Russian and had a base of followers in the country. An occupying force is clearly poorly positioned and equipped to ban and much less to reform an alien religion. Is Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, an Iraqi Lenin?
Returning to our subject at hand, another mechanism to ensure Israeli interests is to replace regimes hostile to Israel, such as Syria and Iran, with friendly ones. Note that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was in the category of "friendly" regimes: there is no evidence that it planned to interfere with US interests. Perhaps to get to Syria and Iran, Iraq had to fall. This approach has several drawbacks. For one, there is no certainty that regimes that emerge will be friendly to the United States. It seems that an alternative of keeping the current regimes weakened through sanctions was and is more feasible. Second, an immediate external threat will and does surely promote cohesion in the Middle Eastern ethnocentric Muslim societies and lead to destabilization of currently friendly regimes. Finally, "friendly" regimes require continuous maintenance. At some point, US dedication to these regimes, as well as to Israel, might wane. The US is a democracy
susceptible to quickly changing political winds and political charlatans. Thus a better, more permanent mechanism is badly needed.
Such a mechanism is a war of "civilizations": in a conflict between the Western Christian world and Middle Eastern Muslim societies, the awesome might of the West comes down on the side of Israel against its enemies for generations to come, regardless of the administration in the White House, until one warring party accepts defeat. To be successful in a continuous conflict of such a magnitude, the West must become more like the East. Individuals must surrender their personal freedoms for security; religion in a religious war must dramatically ascend in importance; Western societies must become cohesive and mobilized for the military efforts.
The idea of conflict of civilizations received some attention with the publication of a book by Samuel Huntington called The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. The rulers in the United States chose to package the Iraq invasion as a "war on terror" and a messianic mission to bring "democracy" to the oppressed. The goal, however, was and remains to launch the logic of revenge and retaliation that would surely escalate into an all-out civilizational struggle for survival. The Iraq invasion was a revenge for September 11, 2001, exerted on the whole of the Islamic world and a preemptive insult. Pictures of Iraqi detainees being tortured by US soldiers in a Baghdad prison dispelled any remaining aura of honor associated with the Iraqi mission. These same images forced the American populace to realize that the US really did do harm to Iraqis and that Iraqis are now entitled to retaliation. This brings about a sober justification for the
war: we harmed them, they want revenge, we must fight to defend ourselves. Notably, the Pentagon neither tried to remedy the situation in the prisons nor to cover it up. The logic of mutual hatred may have already passed the point of no return.
Commenting on the conversation between Thrasymachus and Socrates on the nature of justice in Plato's Republic, Strauss wonders: "No association can last if its members do not practice justice among themselves. This, however, amounts to an admission that justice may be a mere means, if an indispensable means, for injustice, for exploitation of outsiders. Above all, it does not dispose of the possibility that the city is a community held together by collective selfishness and nothing else, or that there is no fundamental difference between the city and a gang of robbers." (An Introduction to Political Philosophy, page 177)
The West must never forget that it is not a gang of robbers and that its roots go deeply into Greek tradition. The condition in which we come out of this "conflict of civilizations" depends on whether we always remember who we are and where we are coming from.
Leo Strauss and the Straussians
Until quite recently, Leo Strauss and his disciples were considered (insofar as anyone took any notice of them) just a particular variety of conservative intellectuals, with a special interest in political philosophy and American constitutional history. Now we are beginning to discover that something peculiar has been going on all this time. The greatest peculiarity of Straussianism is that there is such a thing. Not a single other "conservative" thinker has inspired a following remotely comparable, in size, continuity, and influence, to that of Leo Strauss. There is a Straussian school as there is no Weaveran or Burnhamite or Meyeran or Kendallist or Voegelinist school. And this school has its own interests, ideas, and purposes, which are clearly distinct from mainstream conservatism, however close to their collective chest they play their cards. The Straussians are also the only group of "conservatives" ever to amount to anything in the academic
world. They have reportedly been gradually, quietly infiltrating and taking over political-science departments, making that discipline characteristically theirs, as Marxists have done with sociology, and libertarians with economics. Then along came Allan Bloom, who was catapulted to momentary fame by The Closing of the American Mind (1987), briefly becoming one of the most publicly-recognized "conservative" figures ... second only to William F. Buckley, Jr., who had spent decades making his name as the liberal establishment's token conservative. Curiously (and characteristically) enough, in Bloom's famous (or infamous) book, he only mentions his master once, and in passing, so that the vast majority of his readers remained blissfully ignorant of any connection (probably never having heard of Leo Strauss anyway); yet those in the know could immediately recognize Bloom's intellectual affiliation.
Strauss and the Straussians began to attract more attention, both journalistic and scholastic. One liberal scholar, Shadia Drury, has made a career of writing anti-Straussian exposés: The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988), Alexandre Kojeve: the Roots of Postmodern Politics (1994), Leo Strauss and the American Right (1997). The distinctively Straussian approach to political philosophy is, quite simply, to take premodern philosophers seriously, and to try to understand them as they understood themselves. This is, by itself, a radical challenge to modern historicism (i.e. historical relativism), which holds that the thoughts of premodern philosophers are "outmoded" and irrelevant; they were mental prisoners of their epoch -- usually ignoring the implication that we, too, are mental prisoners of our own epoch, so that contemporary prejudices are no better than "outmoded" ones. But this is only a prelude to an even more radical challenge to modern
thought: the Straussians believe that premodern philosophy is better than modern philosophy. This turns the whole "progressive" view of history topsy-turvy, and provides a very distinctive point of view, and line of criticism, about modernity. The Straussians are pre-modern and anti-modern, not in the name of religion (like the various forms of religious fundamentalism all over the world) or of tradition (like conservatives since Edmund Burke), but in the name of reason, of philosophy: an understanding of reason and philosophy different from the Enlightenment's. The teaching of Leo Strauss is "political philosophy" in a very special sense: his primary, if not exclusive, concern is the relation of philosophy (and the philosophers themselves) to society as a whole. Moreover, he imputes this primary concern to the premodern and early modern philosophers. The lesson of the trial and execution of Socrates is that Socrates was guilty as charged: philosophy
is a threat to society. By questioning the gods and the ethos of the city, philosophy undermines the citizens' loyalty, and thus the basis of normal social life. Yet philosophy is also the highest, the worthiest, of all human endeavors. The resolution of this conflict is that the philosophers should, and in fact did, keep their teachings secret, passing them on by the esoteric art of writing "between the lines." Strauss believed that he alone had recovered the true, hidden message contained in the "Great Tradition" of philosophy from Plato to Hobbes and Locke: the message that there are no gods, that morality is ungrounded prejudice, and that society is not grounded in nature.
With Machiavelli, however, there came a shift in emphasis. He was the first to deviate from the esoteric tradition that began with Plato, thereby initiating the Enlightenment. Machiavelli de-moralized political philosophy, and thereby created "political science." Virtue, whether defined in classical or Christian terms, was dethroned, because no regime could live up to its demands. Instead, a new regime could and should be created, by accepting, understanding, and harnessing men's lower, self-interested nature. The modern world is held to be the deliberate creation (with some unintended consequences) of the modern philosophers -- namely, the Enlightenment, which gave birth to both scientific-technological progress and the liberal ideology of social-political progress. The Enlighteners argued (though still covertly) that instead of hiding philosophy, philosophers should reform society to make it more hospitable to philosophy: in particular, by undertaking
the "project" of modern science, by which reason masters nature and provides material gratifications -- safety, health and wealth -- to common men, bribing them into acquiescence to philosophy. Physical science and technology would provide the know-how, while a new kind of regime, liberalism, would provide the conditions of liberty and equality enabling men to pursue their self-interest.
The problem with this (in the Straussian view) is that it exposed philosophy once more, and ultimately prostituted philosophy itself into the service of common men. The esoteric tradition was forgotten, and with it philosophy as such. At the same time, philosophy inadvertently exposed men to certain hard truths, truths too hard for them to bear: that there are no gods to reward good or punish evil; that no one's patria is really any better than anyone else's; that one's ancestral ways are merely conventional. This leads to nihilism, epitomized by the listless, meaningless life of bourgeois man, or to dangerous experiments with new gods -- gods like the race and the Fuehrer. Strauss, an ethnic Jew and refugee from Nazi Germany, looked at the regnant liberalism of mid-century America, and saw the Weimar Republic: morally weak, incapable of self-preservation. His prophecy was fulfilled by the ignominious collapse of the liberal establishment, both political
and academic, in the face of the New Left. Now, this unique interpretation of Western history depends on the existence of a "hidden agenda" in the history of philosophy. If there was, in fact, such an esoteric tradition, it has escaped the attention of most scholars. Of course, that might only prove how well-hidden it is ... which goes to show how seductive esotericism can be, once you start flirting with it. But in the end, what really matters is the philosophical questions Strauss raised, whether or not he was correct in ascribing them to the historic philosophers. There are several problems with his "teaching." First, is the philosopher (in the original, literal sense: a "lover of wisdom") really a superior type of person? I think that he is -- but not that he is a superior being. The difference between the philosopher and the ordinary person is one of degree, not of kind. His impulses are the same, but ordered differently. No matter how rational he
is, he is still a rational animal: a sexual one, for instance, and a social one. His curiosity is more fully developed than theirs, but unless his other faculties are at least as well developed as theirs, this one trait does not make him better than they are.
The ancient philosophers did believe that the philosophic life is the highest and best, but only a few are suited to it. The Straussians concur, and go on to imply that the major evil of modern egalitarianism is that it makes philosophy impossible, by devaluing anything that is not accessible to the common man. But philosophy is not the only thing that suffers: so do creativity, heroism, authority, and all other "elitist" qualities. Bloom makes much of this, even though he regards these other "types of soul" as rivals to philosophy, because he wants to undermine egalitarianism, and these others are more appealing. Philosophy is all the less appealing if, as he seems to assume, the ultimate truth is that there is no truth. It is all the more important, then, to convey this truth through misdirection: the desire to know cannot be aroused unless the allure of truth is held out.
The main difference between the Straussians and Left-wing nihilists is that the former think the "truth" of value-relativism should be known only to the few. All the philosophical problems with relativism apply to the Straussians' Right-wing version, and in spades. Suffice it here to say that the Straussians, too, have to introduce quasi-objective standards of judgment, covertly and unintentionally: e.g., the social utility of religion and patriotism. Surely, the very fact that society requires certain things -- communal loyalty, for instance -- in itself justifies these things: they are rooted in nature, the social nature of humanity.
Then there is an evident contradiction between the idea of philosophy as the pursuit of truth, and the idea of philosophy as a body of esoteric lore. If the Straussian reading is correct, it would seem that the history of philosophy consists of practically nothing but pondering the relation of philosophy to civil society, rather than pondering philosophical questions themselves. All the important questions have already been answered, or declared to be unanswerable: this is what created the tension between philosophy and civil society in the first place. So what is there for philosophers to do? The Straussians themselves are not even philosophers, but historians of philosophy, custodians of the esoteric lore. The perceived need to write obscurely also tends to obscure thought. The Closing of the American Mind is much better-written (in style, at least, if not in convoluted structure and argumentation) than anything by Leo Strauss. But even Bloom makes his
argument complex and subtle to the point of evasiveness, as if he wants to confuse and mislead the reader. (In particular, his critics -- those who actually did read him -- were hardly ever able to tell when he was or was not speaking in propria persona.) Bloom, at least, writes so well that he charms rather than repulses the reader, so one is (if sympathetic) willing to read his book again and again, with closer and closer attention; but not even the most sympathetic reader can really be sure, in the end, precisely what Bloom really means, behind all the good and important things he does say. Bloom's analysis of our cultural predicament is so true, so profound, that there must be some truth in his speculations as to its causes; but he all-too-carefully avoids making clear and specific claims that can be put to the test. This is the great weakness of the Straussian method: so careful is he to hide the point of his argument, he nearly fails to make it.
Certainly he fails to support it. Strauss puts his students to such a mental effort to try to understand him that they are too exhausted to make the mental effort to criticize him.
Given the inherent obscurity of the Straussian teaching, one should only be surprised if it did not produce conflicting interpretations. There are in fact two schools of Straussians: those like Bloom, who accept and propound this esoteric teaching; and those, such as Harry Jaffa, who interpret Strauss in terms of a more conventional understanding of classical philosophy. One might call them the esoterics and the exoterics, but it is hard to tell which is which. It may be that the seeming exoterics are just better at hiding their esotericism, which makes them the true esoterics. Both of them challenge the prevailing relativism of twentieth-century thought, harking back to classical standards of truth and justice; but the esoterics only do so because truth and justice are salutary myths, while the exoterics (perhaps) really do believe in truth and justice. The two schools are also divided on their interpretation of American history, and particularly the
American Founding. Both follow Strauss's division of philosophical history into the (good) "ancients" and the (bad) "moderns." According to the esoteric version, America was wholly modern from its inception: it is entirely the creation of the "modern project." The exoteric Straussians, like conservatives, prefer to emphasize America's continuity with the classical and Christian sources of Western civilization. The esoterics, then, basically agree with the libertarian and (pre-1960s) liberal understanding of American history: we are a "proposition nation," liberal to the core, and conservatism is un-American. The cult of the Founding Fathers is just a salutary myth. The truth is that the Founders, under the tutelage of Hobbes and Locke, deliberately created a squalid regime ruled by self-interest, sacrificing virtue to liberty and equality, and are ultimately responsible for the philistinism, mediocrity, and deracination of contemporary America.
Both esoterics and exoterics seem to agree that we need to try to refurbish the old notion of "natural rights," on which the republic was founded. Bloom regards "natural rights" as illusory, and bourgeois society as distasteful; but they are at least preferable to the nihilism of the New Left. The question is whether the New Left was the inevitable culmination of the ideology of liberty and equality -- and he strongly implies that it is. His only hope seems to be the cultivation of a tiny remnant to pass on the old lore through the new Dark Age. Now, conservatism might or might not be un-American, but this sort of quietism certainly is. Straussianism is an extraordinarily complex and subtle body of ideas, and I am sure that I have hardly done it justice in this small space. But in the end, Straussianism offers more questions than answers. This is not necessarily bad: the questions need to be asked. What is the relation of nature to culture? Can society
be founded on rational principles? Has the Enlightenment brought about its own downfall? How did this happen? What can be salvaged from the wreck? -- etc. Strauss, through his disciple Bloom, started me thinking about these questions, which have preoccupied me ever since.
Leo Strauss' Philosophy of Deception
Many neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz are disciples of a philosopher who believed that the elite should use deception, religious fervor and perpetual war to control the ignorant masses. What would you do if you wanted to topple Saddam Hussein, but your intelligence agencies couldn't find the evidence to justify a war? A follower of Leo Strauss may just hire the "right" kind of men to get the job done – people with the intellect, acuity, and, if necessary, the political commitment, polemical skills, and, above all, the imagination to find the evidence that career intelligence officers could not detect.
The "right" man for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, suggests Seymour Hersh in his recent New Yorker article entitled 'Selective Intelligence,' was Abram Shulsky, director of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) – an agency created specifically to find the evidence of WMDs and/or links with Al Qaeda, piece it together, and clinch the case for the invasion of Iraq. Like Wolfowitz, Shulsky is a student of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher named Leo Strauss who arrived in the United States in 1938. Strauss taught at several major universities, including Wolfowitz and Shulsky's alma mater, the University of Chicago, before his death in 1973. Strauss is a popular figure among the neoconservatives. Adherents of his ideas include prominent figures both within and outside the administration. They include 'Weekly Standard' editor William Kristol; his father and indeed the godfather of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol; the new
Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, a number of senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (home to former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and Lynne Cheney), and Gary Schmitt, the director of the influential Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which is chaired by Kristol the Younger. Strauss' philosophy is hardly incidental to the strategy and mindset adopted by these men – as is obvious in Shulsky's 1999 essay titled "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)" (in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality). As Hersh notes in his article, Shulsky and his co-author Schmitt "criticize America's intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment." They argued that Strauss's
idea of hidden meaning, "alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception."
Rule One: Deception
It's hardly surprising then why Strauss is so popular in an administration obsessed with secrecy, especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy. Not only did Strauss have few qualms about using deception in politics, he saw it as a necessity. While professing deep respect for American democracy, Strauss believed that societies should be hierarchical – divided between an elite who should lead, and the masses who should follow. But unlike fellow elitists like Plato, he was less concerned with the moral character of these leaders. According to Shadia Drury, who teaches politics at the University of Calgary, Strauss believed that "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior." This dichotomy requires "perpetual deception" between the rulers and the ruled, according to Drury. Robert Locke, another Strauss analyst says,"The people
are told what they need to know and no more." While the elite few are capable of absorbing the absence of any moral truth, Strauss thought, the masses could not cope. If exposed to the absence of absolute truth, they would quickly fall into nihilism or anarchy, according to Drury, author of 'Leo Strauss and the American Right' (St. Martin's 1999).
Second Principle: Power of Religion
According to Drury, Strauss had a "huge contempt" for secular democracy. Nazism, he believed, was a nihilistic reaction to the irreligious and liberal nature of the Weimar Republic. Among other neoconservatives, Irving Kristol has long argued for a much greater role for religion in the public sphere, even suggesting that the Founding Fathers of the American Republic made a major mistake by insisting on the separation of church and state. And why? Because Strauss viewed religion as absolutely essential in order to impose moral law on the masses who otherwise would be out of control. At the same time, he stressed that religion was for the masses alone; the rulers need not be bound by it. Indeed, it would be absurd if they were, since the truths proclaimed by religion were "a pious fraud." As Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine points out, "Neoconservatives are pro-religion even though they themselves may not be believers."
"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing,'' Drury says, because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism, precisely those traits that may promote dissent that in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. Bailey argues that it is this firm belief in the political utility of religion as an "opiate of the masses" that helps explain why secular Jews like Kristol in 'Commentary' magazine and other neoconservative journals have allied themselves with the Christian Right and even taken on Darwin's theory of evolution.
Third Principle: Aggressive Nationalism
Like Thomas Hobbes, Strauss believed that the inherently aggressive nature of human beings could only be restrained by a powerful nationalistic state. "Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed," he once wrote. "Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people." Not surprisingly, Strauss' attitude toward foreign policy was distinctly Machiavellian. "Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat," Drury wrote in her book. "Following Machiavelli, he maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured (emphases added)." "Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in," says Drury. The idea easily translates into, in her words, an "aggressive, belligerent foreign policy," of the kind that has been advocated by neocon groups like PNAC and AEI scholars – not to mention
Wolfowitz and other administration hawks who have called for a world order dominated by U.S. military power. Strauss' neoconservative students see foreign policy as a means to fulfill a "national destiny" – as Irving Kristol defined it already in 1983 – that goes far beyond the narrow confines of a " myopic national security." As to what a Straussian world order might look like, the analogy was best captured by the philosopher himself in one of his – and student Allen Bloom's – many allusions to Gulliver's Travels. In Drury's words, "When Lilliput was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city, including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show of disrespect." The image encapsulates the neoconservative vision of the United States' relationship with the rest of the world – as well as the relationship between their relationship as a ruling elite with the
masses. "They really have no use for liberalism and democracy, but they're conquering the world in the name of liberalism and democracy," Drury says.
US Mid-Term Elections; Challenge to Neo-Cons
With James Webb celebrating a narrow victory in the Senate elections in Virginia State, the Democrats had the last laugh in the US mid-term elections. The Democratic Party has not only won back control of the House of Representatives, but won a majority in the Senate, with 51 seats to 49. This is a result the Democratic Party has dreamed of for years, and it marks a major change in the political map of the United States. Observers of American politics are comparing this mid-term election to that held 12 years ago. In that election, the Republicans wrestled away the House from the Democrats, who had had control for more than 50 years. The right-wing faction, led by Newt Gingrich, promised a "contract with America", the beginning of a new conservative age in American political history. Later, in 2000, the Republican Party took the White House and in 2004 the two houses of Congress. It was at this point that the conservative revolution peaked. Right across
the board, Republican conservatives have introduced dramatic and revolutionary changes to the United States. The Republicans took advantage of the 9/11 attacks to win support for the Patriot Act they introduced. Under the banner of anti-terrorism, they abused human rights. The most publicized of these were abuses of prisoners in Iraq, the illegal imprisonment of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay and the torture and abuse of prisoners in secret European jails. Under a Republican government, a tax abatement policy came in to "rob the poor for the benefit the rich", allowing international energy prices to skyrocket. Religious conservatism increased and the government opposed abortion, homosexuality and gun controls. The conservative revolution backlash has been particularly prominent in foreign policy and security. The old conservatives, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and neo-conservatives, represented by Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, dominated
foreign policy during Bush's first term. They introduced the United States to the so-called "Bush Doctrine" of preemptive strikes, unilateralism and global democracy. Accordingly, the US launched the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and attempted to implement the "Greater Middle East Initiative". As the Republican Party controlled both the White House and Congress, legislative organs were in fact unable to perform their checking and balancing function. Congress became a mere rubber stamp, used whenever the White House needed its endorsement. Although this year's mid-term elections only involved the legislative organs, to a certain extent, the election was a referendum on the Republican's conservative revolution. The results of various public opinion polls show that the Iraq war was the most important issue in the election. More and more questions are being asked about the legitimacy of this war. The Bush administration has also been severely criticized for
its incompetence in post-war reconstruction. Seeing Iraq become another Vietnam, more and more Americans came to realize the predicament the US was in. "The tumultuous mid-term elections came to an end. Americans voted to punish hard and cold-blooded right-wing extremist conservatives. The Democratic Party's regaining the control of the Senate and House of Representatives, together with Rumsfeld's departure, might mark the end of the golden years of neo-conservatism." The tumultuous mid-term elections came to an end. Americans voted to punish hard and cold-blooded right-wing extremist conservatives. The Democratic Party's regaining the control of the Senate and House of Representatives, together with Rumsfeld's departure, might mark the end of the golden years of neo-conservatism. "The tumultuous mid-term elections came to an end. Americans voted to punish hard and cold-blooded right-wing extremist conservatives. The Democratic Party's regaining the
control of the Senate and House of Representatives, together with Rumsfeld's departure, might mark the end of the golden years of neo-conservatism."
Where Pakistan stands after US MID TERM ELECTIONS?
India need have no worries. New Delhi has friends in both parties, with many prominent Democrats among its most vocal supporters. Lest we forget, this administration’s pursuit of a “strategic relationship” with India was built on Clinton’s strong desire to craft special relations with New Delhi. The July 2005 Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement on the sale of nuclear reactors may face some scrutiny as a few of the Democrats are zealously opposed to proliferation. But since it enjoys support of the leadership of both parties, it could get approved at an early date.
Bush has said repeatedly that he is “tight” with Musharraf, describing him as a close friend and ally. Pakistan’s role and contribution to the US-led global war on terror has been invaluable to the US and widely acknowledged by this administration. This has enabled the Pakistani leader to escape congressional scrutiny of many of his policies. It has also enabled him to dismiss the growing clamour in the country, including from former associates, that he leave the army and stand for election as a genuine civilian political leader rather than insist on remaining army chief.
The senate foreign affairs committee is now likely to be headed by Delaware Senator Joe Biden, a liberal Democrat, who has been harsh with Pakistan, even in the best of times. He can be expected to focus on the absence of genuine democracy in Pakistan, as well as on issues such as the treatment of minorities and women. And, of course, since we have ourselves been so generous in detailing our alleged indiscretions as regards the control and command of our nuclear programme, Biden is sure to ask the administration what it has done about this concern. Congress may also ask the administration to take measures to ensure that the forthcoming elections in Pakistan are genuinely free and fair.