Saturday, July 22, 2006

Neoconservatism Jumps the Shark (Again)

Updated twice below

Cartoonist Predicts the Future, Neoconservatives Play Along

As if the invasion of Iraq to find nonexistent WMDs based on crude forgeries from Italy ordered by somebody that nobody appears interested in investigating were not ridiculous enough, we now are forced to witness crude calls from Fox News and frenzied voices across the neoconservative spectrum for the U.S. to commit itself to World War III (or IV, depending on who you ask), and go on to invasions of Syria or Iran (for the sake of peace and democracy and "benevolent global hegemony"!). Deja vu much?

I, and many others, have pointed out that Iran has long been seen as the telos, the end point, of the Bush Administration's War in Iraq:

"Anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran."
--Senior Bush Official, May 2003

The Anonymous Liberal believes that neoconservatism has finally jumped the shark:

And it [the domino theory of Mideast adventurism in for the sake of Freedom] sounded good; it was a hit. Still reeling from 9/11, many otherwise sober thinkers eagerly lapped it up. But it was unsustainable. Reality eventually caught up with the neocons. Rather than reshaping the Middle East to our liking, the war in Iraq bogged down our armed forces, emboldened our enemies, diminished our influence and credibility, and greatly limited our options in dealing with other potential threats.

Unwilling to acknowledge these facts, but lacking any new material, the neocons found themselves in a bit of a rut. So, like sitcom writers trying to milk a few more laughs out of an increasingly overused catch-phrase, the neocons shifted gears ever so slightly and began calling for regime change again, this time in Iran. At this point, Kristol, Steyn, and company were increasingly looking like caricatures of themselves, but their views were still given a polite audience and considered "serious."

But then Israel entered the picture. Provocative acts by Hamas and Hezbollah led to a major Israeli offensive against both groups. Virtually overnight, Southern Lebanon was once again a war zone. This sudden and unexpected escalation of the Israeli conflict inspired the neocons. Before long they were engaged in the kind armchair war-mongering not seen since the heady days of 2003.

In a column in the Weekly Standard entitled "It's Our War", Bill Kristol called for regime change in Syria and Iran, including an immediate military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. He also called upon President Bush to leave the G8 summit, fly directly to Israel, and declare our intention to join the conflict against Israel's enemies. Other neoconservative pundits such as Michael Ledeen, John Podhoretz, John Hinderaker quickly joined Kristol's call to arms.

But I suspect Kristol's column will be remembered more for the people it shocked than the people it convinced. If there was a moment when neo-conservatism officially jumped the shark, this was it.
Digby recognizes that the Neocons' dreams of a general Middle Eastern War have been long announced, but hardly taken seriously enough:

When are Americans going to take the neocons seriously?

I'm not talking about the Republican party here or the movement conservatives. I'm speaking specifically of the group that can be called the true neocons of the era: The PNAC signatories and their supporters throughout the rightwing think tank intelligensia.

. . .

Despite a reputation for Straussian opacity, the truth is that they have always made their plans known. There is no mystery about what they are about. To a shocking degree they have successfully promoted their agenda within the Republican establishment for the last two decades. And in the last six years we have seen them act without hesitation to opportunistically advance their strategic goals, regardless of the price.

These guys have been around for a long time, but I honestly never thought they would ever be granted the kind of power they would need to do what they sought to do.

How foolish of me.
(On a slightly off-topic note, here is a scholarly essay on Strauss by Scott Horton at Balkinization: Was Leo Strauss democracy’s best friend? In a letter written at the time of his emigration, Strauss describes his political principles - Fascist, Authoritarian, Imperialist) believes War Itself is the goal:

Now, you could marvel at the brazenness of all this: the same people who helped lead us into the biggest foreign policy disaster in 30 years trying to push another war (or wars) on us without so much as a prefatory “sorry about the whole Iraq thing, old boy.” But the current squawking also strikes me as a useful reminder of how very, very important war is in the neoconservative vision. It is as central to that vision as peace is to the classical liberal vision.

For the neoconservatives, it’s not about Israel. It’s about war. War is a bracing tonic for the national spirit and in all its forms it presents opportunities for national greatness. “Ultimately, American purpose can find its voice only in Washington,” David Brooks once wrote. And Washington’s never louder or more powerful than when it has a war to fight.

. . .

It could be the Serbs. It could be Iraq. If we’re really feeling our oats, it might even be China. Even now, when the United States faces a genuine enemy in Al Qaeda, some neoconservatives are hedging their bets: If we wrap up this war on terror thing too quickly, let’s give great-power conflict a chance.

Who we’re fighting is secondary. That we’re fighting is the main thing. To be a neoconservative is to thrill to the sound of gunfire. (From a nice, safe distance, generally.)
If fighting itself is the goal, Billmon shows that the Iraq War has been an unqualified success:

But the sheikh's pronouncement, coupled with the unexpected developments on the Kurdistan front, serves as a reminder of how complex the mosaic of conflict is getting in the Middle East. So many hatreds, so little time!

Let's see. We've got: Israeli Jews fighting Lebanese Shi'a and Palestinian Sunnis; Palestinian Fatah militants who've stopped fighting Hamas militants, but only because they're both fighting the Israelis; Saudi Sunni fundamentalists issuing fatwas against Hezbollah Shi'a fundamentalists; Egyptian Sunni fundamentalists backing those same Hezbollah Shi'a fundamentalists; Iraqi Sunnis killing Iraqi Shi'a and vice versa; Iraqi Shi'a (the Mahdi Army) jousting with Iraqi Shi'a (the Badr Brigade); Iraqi Kurds trying to push Sunni Arabs and both Sunni and Shi'a Turkomen out of Kirkuk; Turks threatening to invade Kurdistan; Iranians allegedly shelling Kurdistan, Syrian Kurds rebelling against Syrian Allawites who are despised by Syria's Sunni majority but allied with the Lebanese Shi'a who are hated and feared by the House of Saud and its Sunni fundamentalist minions. Oh, and American and Israeli neocons threatening to bomb both Syria and Iran.

. . .

It's been the neocon habit to pooh-pooh stability as a false comfort. But if something isn't done to restrain the hatreds and keep them from multiplying, one of these days soon the region (and all who depend on the region's oil) may find out what it feels like to trade in a false comfort for a real nightmare.
Meanwhile, Bush appears to have little interest in interceding in the fighting between the Israelis, Palestinians, Lebonese, and Hezbollah:

One former senior administration official said Bush is only emboldened by the pressure from U.N. officials and European leaders to lead a call for a cease-fire . . . "He thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians," said the former official, who spoke anonymously so he could discuss his views candidly. "The tacticians would say: 'Get an immediate cease-fire. Deal first with the humanitarian factors.' The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.' "
Secretary of State Rice appears to be of the same opinion:

"What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new
Middle East."
Digby reads these remarks as a "moment of clarity":

The conflict in the mideast has always had a certain kabuki element. In the past when these situations would flare up, Israel would take an aggressive action to demonstrate that it wasn't a pushover and the US would step in like a Dutch uncle and reluctantly pull the pissed off Israelis back. In a dangerous part of the world, these face-saving kabukis can prevent things from hurtling out of control while allowing each side to stage a little bloodletting. It's an ugly, ugly business, but ultimately it has managed to help keep this volatile region from hurtling out of control. The "honest broker" thing may have always been phony, but sometimes a phony "honest broker" is all you need.

This time, the US has abandoned that role and they are letting Israel off the leash to do some real damage before they "step in."

. . .

I haven't bought into all the 1914 stuff that's been going around, but I'm heading that way. It will be sheer luck if we avoid serious consequences from letting these dimwit megalomaniacs loose on the world.

Maureen Dowd is highly critical of Bush's and Rice's comments:

Condi doesn’t want to talk to Hezbollah or its sponsors, Syria and Iran — “Syria knows what it needs to do,’’ she says with asperity — and she doesn’t want a cease-fire. She wants “a sustainable cease-fire,’’ which means she wants to give the Israelis more time to decimate Hezbollah bunkers with the precision-guided bombs that the Bush administration is racing to deliver.

“I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling, and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do,” she said.

Keep more civilians from being killed? Or at least keep America from being even more despised in the Middle East and around the globe?

. . .

Having inadvertently built up Iran with his failures in Iraq, W. is eager now to send Iran a shock-and-awe message through Israel.

The Bush counselor Dan Bartlett told The Washington Post that the president “mourns the loss of every life, yet out of this tragic development he believes a moment of clarity has arrived.”

W. continues to present simplicity as clarity. When will he ever learn that clarity is the last thing you’re going to find in the Middle East, and that trying to superimpose it with force usually makes things worse? That’s what both the Israelis and Ronald Reagan learned in the early 1980’s when they tried disastrously to remake Lebanon.

The cowboy president bet the ranch on Iraq, and that war has made almost any other American action in the Arab world, and any Pax Americana that might have been created there, impossible.
Digby reaches into the Memory Hole and pulls out this flawed gem:

"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."
Prof. Juan Cole is left "shaken and trembling" at Bush's simplistic, fictional view of the world.

Reviewing the same discussion as Cole, Cenk Uygur is left more shaken by Bush's proud understanding that "Russia's big and so is China."

Almost lost in the shadows of the Iraq War and the Lebonon War, let's not forget that the ostensibly proximate reason for our current posture in the Middle East is Al Qaeda, which is still out there.

Despite all of this insanity, John in DC at AMERICAblog notes that, unbelievably, Republicans plan to run on their adeptness at national security and war issues:

I swear, there is no carnage, no mayhem, no disaster that the Republicans won't try to turn around to their advantage. They ignore the Middle East, war erupts, they do nothing about it, and now Cheney is out there saying that this shows everyone should vote Republican. Uh huh.

So, why not help Cheney out. What other great issues should the Republicans run on this fall?

- Losing New Orleans
- Ignoring North Korea
- Botching Iraq
- Doing nothing about high gas prices
- Trying to privatize social security
- Screwing Alzheimers and Parkinsons patients by vetoing stem cell research
- Polluting the environment
- Breaking the budget
Makes sense to me. But he forgot:

- "Compassionate conservatism";
- Failing to fund or begin serious rebuilding in New Orleans;
- Cutting anti-terrorism funding for New York City;
- Illegal warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens;
- The (rejected and discredited) claim that the President is the Unitary Authority on all national security issues and laws concerning torture (ordered by the Secretary of Defense, who is still employed), Spurious claims to have the authority to set aside laws he dislikes after signing them into law;
- Calls to jail journalists for the content of their speech;
- Seriously contemplating a nuclear first strike;
- and the Congressional Republicans' refusal to do anything about any of this, but instead scapegoating immigrants and gays.

Digby sees a "tipping point" in many voters' "comfortable understanding of the two parties: the Republicans are tough men who can handle national security and the Democrats are sensitive women who will help you when you need help (if you're a pathetic loser who actually needs help that is.)"

The upcoming midterms should be a pretty good indication of whether he's right.


Greenwald has more in "Neoconservatism and the White House -- Still Married"

Lawyers, Guns & Money discusses the weakness of the "resolve" argument.

Gregory Djerejian delivers "A Plea for Basic Sanity: No To A Neo-Con Ressentiment":

Three years ago, I would have poo-pooed anyone using the word "radicals" to describe the neo-cons. No more. Any group that can so brazenly (and breezily) avoid a real reckoning with the continuing crisis in Iraq--which is descending into civil war as we speak--any movement that has the gall to suggest as some panacea that we mount significant military operations in Iran and Syria and god knows where else (with Israel in Lebanon to boot), well, their credibility is at a very low ebb indeed, and they very much need to be urgently reined in. Yes, it is scary when, in the pages of respectable papers like the FT, one hears more and more the intimations there is something of a bona fide radical-wing in Washington. Could it be, you know, true? Well, we're getting there, it seems...To help stem the follies, it is time to call spades, spades. Is it not, for instance, and as George Will has pointed out, a grotesque misnomer to describe the neo-cons as resembling anything remotely conservative anymore, given that they appear blissfully unawares of the resource strains we are operating under given the hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given how gungo-ho at the ready they are to pursue their neo-Trotskyite fantasies by moving into wars Nos. 3 and 4 in the 'region'?
Crooks and Liars has video of Chris Matthews and Pat Robertson discussing the issue:

MATTHEWS: We’ve killed 50,000 Iraqis in a war that was supposed to be a two-day wonder. When are we going to notice that the neocons don’t know what they’re talking about? They’re not looking at this country’s long term interest. They’re bound up in regional and global ideology and they have had no experience, I’ll say it again, in even a schoolyard fight. They don’t know what physical fighting is all about. They went to school and were intellectuals but they want our government to be their big brother. I don’t get it. I don’t know why we keep falling for it. And the President, you say, is he free of these guys or not?

BUCHANAN: Well, the President, he fell for it after 9/11 when they put that little pre-cooked meal in front of him, after they knocked down Afghanistan. And so they said, "Let’s do Iraq now." And Wolfowitz and all the rest of them. But let me say this, Chris. I think the president realizes now that we went into Iraq to pursue weapons that did not exist, a country that did not attack us, did not threaten us, and now we have created a great base camp for terrorism in the Anbar province that did not exist. In response to Mr Shrum, you attack Iran, Hezbollah will retaliate against the 25,000 Americans in Lebanon. You will have massive hostage taking and killings. Are these people nuts? You’ve got to ask yourself. I certainly hope the president is not listening to them because I really question whether they’ve got America’s national interest at heart. They’re calling for wars against people that never attacked us. I don’t care how bad they are. There are wicked people all over this world but you don’t go after people unless they come after you.

Second Update:

Prof. Cole has a post up with the following intriguing detail: "Matthew Kalman reveals that Israel's wideranging assault on Lebanon has been planned in a general way for years, and a specific plan has been in the works for over a year. The 'Three Week War' was shown to Washington think tanks and officials last year on powerpoint by a senior Israeli army officer."

After a length excerpt he states:
That is why I was so shaken by George W. Bush's overheard conversation with Tony Blair about the war. He clearly thought that it broke out because Syria used Hizbullah to create a provocation. The President of the United States did not know that this war was a long-planned Israeli war of choice.

Why is that scarey? Because the Israeli planning had to have been done in conjunction with Donald Rumsfeld at the US Department of Defense. The US Department of Defense is committed to rapidly re-arming Israel and providing it precision laser-guided weaponry, and to giving it time to substantially degrade Hizbullah's missile capabilities. The two are partners in the war effort.

. . .

What is scary is that Cheney and Rumsfeld don't appear to have let W. in on the whole thing. They told him that Bashar al-Asad of Syria stirred up a little trouble because he was afraid that Iraq the Model and the Lebanese Cedar Revolution might be such huge successes that they would topple him by example (just as, after Poland and the Czech Velvet Revolution, other Eastern European strongmen fell). (Don't fall down laughing at the idea of Iraq and Lebanon as Republican Party success stories; people in Washington, DC, coccoon a lot and have odd ideas about the way the world is.) So, Bush thought, if that is all that is going on, then someone just needs to call al-Asad and reassure him that we're not going to take him out, and get him to rein in Hizbullah. And then the war would suddenly stop. No one told Bush that this war was actually an Israeli war of choice and that al-Asad had nothing to do with it, that, indeed, it could only happen because al-Asad is already irrelevant.

. . .

By its assault on Middle Eastern states, whether it takes the form of military confrontation or of "pressure" to "democratize, Neoconservatism in Washington and Tel Aviv has increased the power and saliency of militia rule throughout the region. The transition under American auspices of Iraq from a strong if odious central state to equally odious militia rule and chaotic violence is only the most obvious example of this process. More people have been killed in terror attacks in Iraq every month since February than were killed on September 11, 2001 in the US, and since Iraq is 11 times less populous than the US, the 6,000 killed in May and June are equivalent to 66,000 killed in civil war violence in the US. Condi Rice echoes the old Neocon theory of "creative chaos" when she confuses the Lebanon war with "the birth pangs" of a "new" Middle East. The chief outcome of the "war on terror" has been the proliferation of asymmetrical challengers. Israel's assault on the very fabric of the Lebanese state seems likely to weaken or collapse it and further that proliferation. Since asymmetrical challengers often turn to terrorism as a tactic, the "war on terror" has been, at the level of political society below that of high politics and the state, the most efficient engine for the production of terrorism in history.
After making very clear how angry he is with the lot of American neoconservative war theorists, James Wolcott notes how "the neocons remain ravenous in their hunger to widen the theater of war, their propaganda/disinformation apparatus unchastened by their appalling misjudgements over Iraq and their cynical playing on the public's fear and Bush's sense of mission." Giving the most recent example, Wolcott takes issue with Amir Taheri, who Wolcott has "come to think of" as "Ahmad Chalabi 2.0." He continues:
Just as Chalabi schmoozed, exaggerated, and lied in his role as neocon lobbyist and go-between to draw the U.S. into Iraq, where he could nobly serve as America's handpicked puppet, Taheri has been brewing dark clouds of impending-doom-if-America-doesn't-act-now in op-ed after op-ed and bubbling springs of bullshit,* taking his case to the White House, where any knave is welcome if he furthers the War Party's agenda.

Taheri is also author of a not inconsiderable fib about yellow badges, intended to raise the always potent specter of Nazi Germany and hasten a reckoning with the Iranian regime.
Perhaps someday he, like Chalabi, will be able to crow among the ruins that he too is a 'hero in error.' Crows feed on carrion, after all.

*"It was in 1989 that Taheri was first exposed as a journalistic felon," wrote Larry Cohler-Esses in The Nation. "The book he published the year before, Nest of Spies, examined the rule and fall of the Shah of Iran. Taheri received many respectful reviews, but in The New Republic Shaul Bakhash, a reigning doyen of Persian studies, checked Taheri's footnotes. Suddenly a book review became an investigative exposé. Bakhash, a history professor at George Mason University and a former fellow at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, detailed case after case in which Taheri cited nonexistent sources, concocted nonexistent substance in cases where the sources existed and distorted the substance beyond recognition when it was present. Taheri 'repeatedly refers us to books where the information he cites simply does not exist,' Bakhash wrote. 'Often the documents cannot be found in the volumes to which he attributes them.... [He] repeatedly reads things into the documents that are simply not there.' In one case, noted Bakhash, Taheri cited an earlier article of his own--but offered content he himself never wrote in that article. Bakhash concluded that Nest of Spies was 'the sort of book that gives contemporary history a bad name.' In a response published two months later, Taheri failed to rebut Bakhash's charges."
Cross-posted as a Daily Kos diary


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