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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Staying the Neocon Course

Keeping the 'con' in neocon:

Unrepentant Neocon, by Joseph Rago, Commentary WSJ: If Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, then Iraq was lost -- according, at least, to the conspiracy-minded -- on the pages of Commentary magazine and the other house organs of the neoconservative movement. Better yet, blame America's post-9/11 foreign policy on Leo Strauss, Albert Wohlstetter and Allan Bloom, regularly disinterred as the neocon godfathers.

Yet however much one loathes lending credence to talk of a neocon conspiracy -- call it Cabal Theory -- it does possess a certain element of truth. That is, the Iraq intervention found its genesis not only in the immediate crises of the prewar period, but also in a way of thinking about foreign policy that matured over several decades. ... "Ideas shape events. They are the moving force in history," notes Norman Podhoretz, editor in chief of Commentary for the 35 years ending in 1995, and a founding father ... of neoconservatism.

Neoconservatism is hard to pin down as discrete political theory..., as a practical matter, it denotes the mentality of those who moved from somewhere on the political left to somewhere on the right, primarily during the late '70s. It had "two ruling passions," according to Mr. Podhoretz. On the one hand, the neocons were repulsed by the countercultural '60s radicalism that came to dominate the American liberal establishment. On the other, they argued for a more assertive, muscular foreign policy (at the time in response to Soviet expansionism).

It is the latter that consumes Mr. Podhoretz... "I'm always trying to look at the world in some larger frame." That, today, means "telling the story of what has happened since Sept. 11 with some intellectual distance, to place it as a world-historical development."

The scale and the suddenness of that day, as Mr. Podhoretz sees it, swept away the assumptions of the era that preceded it, both the soft internationalism and the balance-of-power calculations that ... governed the way America conducted itself in the world. Here was a ... confrontation with militant Islamist antimodernism, international in character and analogous to World War III (known otherwise as the Cold War). The "war on terror," he argues, ought to be rightly understood as "World War IV," demanding a new set of policies and ideas...

The point of his voluminous WWIV essays ... is to limn the ways in which George Bush has done precisely that. "The military face of the strategy is pre-emption and the political face is democratization," he says. "The stakes are nothing less than the survival of Western civilization..."

On the violence running over the Levant, he is forthright: "I think of it as another ... front in World War IV -- the third front that's been opened: Afghanistan, Iraq and now this." With Hezbollah acting as a proxy for Iran, and Israel standing in for the U.S., "what you have here is Iran testing the resolve, the capability, of the enemy, in this case being the entire West -- though few seem to understand this, or if they do understand it they want to deal with it with the usual appeasement."

Does the president understand? ... Hasn't the administration, on the more intractable questions of Syria and Iran, shown by and large the same weakening of resolve? Mr. Podhoretz winces. The question seems to set his teeth on edge. "There are people who ask George Bush to do everything at once," ... It's nice as an intellectual exercise, but what is the point of demanding things that no democratic political leader, not even George Bush, could conceivably do at this time? To my mind it's a kind of right-wing utopianism."

Right-wing utopianism -- now there is machismo. It is, of course, the very charge most often leveled against the neocons: that they thought (to put it rudely) they could go parading through Arabia and reorder it as a liberal democracy; instead of flowers and sweets they were met with IEDs and sectarian death squads. And this notion has picked up currency of late -- particularly among those who consider themselves conservatives without the qualifying prefix.

Mr. Podhoretz is having none of it. "I always knew they didn't like this policy, the Bush doctrine," he says, speaking of increasingly vocal antagonists like George Will and William F. Buckley. "They had doubts about it going in, and not just because it violates in their view conservative principles but, you know, it's hubris, it's Wilsonianism, it goes beyond the limits of power, it's nation-building, and so on. But for reasons of solidarity or because they were not willing to join with the left or the far reaches of the Buchananite right, they were careful, they voiced their doubts only through hints or veiled asides. So when they came, so to speak, out of the antiwar closet, I certainly was not all that surprised.

"They've declared defeat, basically," he continues. "What can I say? I think they're wrong. I think Iraq has gone not badly but well, is not a disaster or a crime or a delusion, but what's more is a noble, necessary effort." ...

"The only reason in my opinion that we're having as much trouble as we're having in Iraq is that we're not getting intelligence. . . . and you can only get that kind of intelligence by squeezing it out of prisoners. That's all there is to it."

Both domestic opposition and the international community, unhappily, are "defining torture down. The things they're calling 'torture' now have never been and have no business being considered torture." He keeps on: "It is an effort to disarm us that's succeeding to a frightening extent. No, it's worse than that. They're trying to make it impossible to fight terrorism. . . . Every weapon that's been developed to protect us from terrorism, and the Iraqis from internal terrorism, is under assault."

Mr. Podhoretz loops back to the allegations that the administration has botched the execution of its Middle East policy. "I get impatient and even angry with this relentless carrying on in the face of setbacks," he says. "Now suddenly even a lot of my neoconservative friends have either lost heart and deserted the cause or devoted themselves mostly to bitching about this and that and the other thing and everything else. Most of these criticisms or attacks have been so unfair as to be completely unreasonable. . . .

Mr. Podhoretz is not dismissive of the costs the U.S. has incurred, quite; but better, he argues, to endure these convulsions than the previous arrangements. "We've paid an extraordinarily small price by any reasonable historical standard for a huge accomplishment," he says. "It's unseemly to be constantly whining." ...

The intro to this Financial Times article (free) says:

Bush ‘believes conflict is a US-Iran proxy war’: Washington’s foreign policy elite is engaged in a bitter tussle between “neoconservatives” and “realists” seeking to influence George W. Bush’s stance on the Israel-Lebanon crisis. The neocons increasingly have the upper hand.

Danger Will Robinson, Danger!!!

    Posted by on Saturday, August 12, 2006 at 01:17 AM in Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (43)

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