coming out of the closet, so to speak, faster than David Brooks can deny their
very existence: I'm talking about neocons, of course, that
dreaded sub-species of right-wing ideologues whose fabulous
history has become the stuff of legend. Brooks says
that to even breathe the n-word is to flirt with Hitlerian
tendencies, and Joel Mowbray agrees. So,
too, does Jonah
Goldberg, and that seems to finalize the verdict of the
jury. Except that it doesn't.
Boot dissents, for one, acknowledging, in a Wall Street
Journal piece entitled "What
the Heck is a Neocon?", that they do, indeed, exist, but
that us neocon-watchers a very small group, at least up until
have it all wrong. They aren't going to let neocon-phobes
define who and what they are, no sirree! Neocon Pride is here,
and it's mighty queer
but we're just gonna have to get used to it! That is the
scintillating theme of Boot's latest screed, in the January-February
issue of Foreign Policy magazine (not online yet),
which complains that "critics have twisted the neocons' identities
and thinking on U.S. foreign policy into an unrecognizable
the poor little babies! Misunderstood, laughed at, persecuted,
hated yes, they're victims, alright. Victims of their own
success, which Boot goes to great lengths to deny. The idea
that "the Bush administration is pursuing a neoconservative
foreign policy" is the first myth he seeks to debunk: "If
only it were true!" While acknowledging that neocons he
names Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, and Lewis
"Scooter" Libby occupy key second-tier positions in this
administration, where, he asks, are their representatives
in the top tier? Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, "not
a neocon among them," Boot triumphantly avers.
this completely obscures the real role of the neoconservative
policy intellectuals, not as representatives of some kind
of mass movement but as a faction of the policymaking elite.
These avid students
of Machiavelli see themselves as advisors to the Prince,
and it is there, as the Italian master of intrigue
and power politics knew, that the power very often lies.
is hardly necessary for the neoconservative policy intellectual
to hold the highest office in order to exert a controlling
influence: to expect this is to misconceive their role, and
miss the point of neoconservatism, which is an ideology of
power, expressed as advice to the powerful. Their audience
is not Joe Sixpack, but the ruling elite in government, and
opinion-makers in academia and the media.
these two tiers of power there is a natural division of labor,
with the second tier producing the grand theory and the first
tier charged with selling it to the public.
is also, as
I have pointed out earlier, yet another aspect to this
division of labor:
neoconservative intellectuals, like Wolfowitz, expend millions
of words to prove and reprove the necessity of their policies,
of the inevitability of perpetual war for perpetual peace,
while second-and-third tier activists like William Kristol
proclaim the virtues of a 'benevolent world hegemony.' But
in the end it boils down to such vulgar matters as Halliburton's
profit margins and the price of oil. In an era in which wars
are fought in the name of vague and improbable ideals, such
as 'human rights'
and 'multiculturalism,' it is a safe bet to follow the money.
It works almost every time."
these lines of division in the War Party are by no means impassable:
in the case of Richard Perle, that Renaissance man of the
neocons, we have someone who combines the entrepreneurial
instincts of a vulture
with the intellectual
ferocity of a shrike.
Both war profiteer and neoconservative
policy wonk, Perle combines the two characteristics most typical
of the War Party greed and bloodlust in a
was converted on the road to Damascus by the events of 9/11,
and has since abjured his support for a more "humble" foreign
policy but why Iraq? Of course, there's always Laurie
Mylroie's conspiracy theories, which point to Saddam as
the source not only of the 9/11 attacks, but of virtually
every disaster, both natural and unnatural, for the
past decade or so, including the Oklahoma City bombings and
the first attack on the WTC. But the American Enterprise Institute's
very own version of Lyndon LaRouche is really not taken seriously,
and for good reasons. Neither are the other alleged links
between Al Qaeda and Saddam proffered by any of the Usual
Suspects. Perhaps the best explanation of "Why Iraq?" was
the brutally honest one, courtesy of Wolfowitz, who told Bob
it was doable."
argument that Team Bush may have embraced the neocon line
in Iraq, but not elsewhere Iran, and North Korea makes
no mention of Syria, and/or Lebanon, the next logical steps
in the neocons' rampage through the Middle East.
also points to the "road map" as evidence of Bush's failure
to toe the neocon party line: but the administration never
did anything to punish the Israelis for defying its chief
benefactor and going ahead with the Wall of Separation. Settlements
continue to go up, and are expanded, even as the muted protests
of the U.S. which is footing the bill for all this are
Boot, the U.S. still refuses to negotiate, one on one, with
the North Koreans, who have the power to incinerate Japan
as well as South Korea and the 30,000 American troops stationed
there. As for "cooling the axis of evil talk," as Boot puts
it, there is a rhythm to this kind of rhetoric, and now (right
before an election) is the logical time for a natural pause,
an ingathering of breath, before a fresh outburst precedes
the next war. Having swallowed Iraq whole, the world-encircling
python of American power is presently engorged. It must have
time to digest before hunger and bloodlust drive it to devour
the next small animal that crosses its path.
will concede, however, that Bush's policy of dιtente with
China hardly coincides with the neocon position, which is
always and everywhere an unrestrained belligerence. It is
a case of the exception proving the rule. China is hardly
in the neocons' sights right now: the center of their focus
is Iraq and the Middle East, the first steps on the road to
empire. They can forgive Bush this one deviation, at least
for the moment, while the "transformation" of the Middle East
then, let's move on to the really good stuff, the part where
Boot tries to bury the leftist origins of neoconservative
ideology behind a chador
of multiple veils. The old line about neocons being "liberals
who have been mugged by reality" is "no longer true," according
to Boot. Only a few old fogies like Irving Kristol
Hook flirted with socialism and the more exotic varieties
of Trotskyism, but today a whole new generation of Bright
Young Things, including Kristol the Younger and Carnegie Endowment
analyst Robert Kagan, "have never gone through a leftist phase."
it is possible to be influenced by ideas that originated on
the far left without being a card-carrying Trotskyist is too
subtle a point for the neocons to absorb. Besides that, there
are plenty of second-generation neocons who did go
through a leftist "phase," and in many cases one is not entirely
sure that this "phase" has entirely passed.
is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,
author of Exporting
Democracy, and Heaven
on Earth, a history of the failure of the socialist
idea in America, and one of the chief members of the neocons' defense team. Muravchik
got the ball rolling with this whole "neocon = Jew" meme with
recent fulminating piece in Commentary. He is a
former national chairman of the Young Peoples
Socialist League, then the youth section of the old Socialist Party/Social Democrats, USA
(SDUSA). This group was the last ideological resting place
of Max Shachtman, Leon Trotsky's
man in America.
addition to Muravchik, Penn Kemble and Carl Gershman constitute
a "second generation" of Trotskyists-cum-neocons:
included in the first generation are such founding figures
as Nathan Glazer, Sidney Hook, and Albert
Wohlstetter, who, as John Judis points out, "were
either members of or close to the Trotskyist left in the late
1930s and early 1940s."
Wittman, a former official of the Christian Coalition
became a top
advisor to John McCain during his presidential bid, opened
his address to a meeting sponsored by SDUSA with these
I see this distinguished panel and all the distinguished people
in the crowd, I'm thinking that we haven't had so many clear-thinking
people in one room since Max Schachtman dined alone. We are
all Schachtmanites now, in one way or another.
funny I have a completely different memory of the YPSL and
the social democrats than Josh[ua Muravchik] does. He was
my national chairman, I was a young YPSL at NYU in 1971. The
reason I joined the social democratic movement and the YPSL
was to support George Meany and the Israeli Labor Party and
Israel on my campus. All these notions expressed in the Internationale
and so forth were thought to be a little bit nonsensical.
We really didn't take it seriously.
think that's important, because when we talked about socialism,
I don't think we were suffering from too many utopian illusions.
Essentially, we wanted to fight those on the left who were
disparaging America and Israel and seeking their destruction.
It seems that some things haven't changed over the years,
some things never change. The neocons have been around
since the damn 1930s, fer chrissake, in one form or another,
first as schismatic Trotskyists,
then as schismatic Democrats,
and now as occasionally
schismatic Republicans. Their ideological colors changed
over the years, but the core principle at the heart of their
faction remained the same. Always they pushed for war:
class war, world war, perpetual war. Will we never be
rid of them?
want more names? I have in my hands a list a long one!
of ex-Commies of one sort or another who have since enlisted
with the new
Jacobinism of the Right: Christopher
Hitchens (a former
editor of the Socialist Worker, newspaper of the
International Socialist Organization), Stephen
Horowitz, Ronald Radosh, Arnold
Puddington, and Greg Yardley, to name just a few of the
most well-known as well as the obscure. (This is entirely
apart from the "New York Intellectuals," who, over the years,
veered from anti-Stalinist leftism to LBJ-"Great Society"
liberalism). An article by Schwartz defending
Trotsky's legacy was posted on National Review Online,
and the National Post did a feature on how Trotsky's
ghost seems to be stalking the Pentagon, with quotes from
Schwartz assuring us that Wolfowitz and other insiders are
all very aware of the Trotskyist origins of neoconservatism.
mugged by reality? More like Commies who merely switched sides.
seems that some things haven't changed over the years, after
true! Even much of the leftist vocabulary has survived the
neocons' migration to the right. When you conquer and
subjugate a country, call it "liberation." David Horowitz
continually refers to the antiwar movement as a "fifth
column" as if he were fighting the Spanish Civil War
on the Commie "Loyalist" side. The loyalists invented
the phrase as a rationale to slaughter priests and purge
other "bourgeois" elements. Whether or not Horowitz has in
mind a similar fate for antiwar activists, his tone certainly
suggests they would deserve it. We are told that critics of
the war are "anti-American" in the same tone of voice as the
Kremlin once denounced "anti-Soviet elements."
Muravchik, Joel Mowbray, Jonah Goldberg, and a host of other
minor neoocn pundits and publicits, Boot plays the "anti-Semite"
card, formulating a popular misconception about neoconservatism
are Jews who serve the interests of Israel" this a headline,
set in 30-point type, as if the size of the font gives weight
to the words. But all the fancy formatting really does is
underscore the brutal idiocy of a proposition that precisely
no one of any consequence holds.
mentions Lyndon LaRouche in the same breath as Le Monde,
and the BBC. Yes, it's true, as Boot says, that all three
mention the names of prominent policymakers who also happen
to be Jewish but not, I'm sure, with the same emphasis on
ethnicity. Nor can the same emphasis be attributed to Pat
Buchanan, whose magazine, The American Conservative,
has attacked neocons of all ethnicities. According
to this latest modification of the unwritten laws of political
correctness, one is not allowed to utter a Jewish-sounding
name in tandem with any discussion of neoconservatism or
in connection with the conduct of American foreign policy.
That's one rule they're going to have an awfully hard time
argument is self-refuting in many places, but certainly in
this section, wherein he lists a whole platoon of non-Jewish
neocons, and then goes on to claim that "the charge that neocons
are concerned above all with the welfare of Israel is patently
false." Yet each and every one of the aforementioned non-Jewish
neocons Bill Bennett, James Woolsey, John Newhaus, Michael
Novak, and Jeane Kirkpatrick are slavish supporters of whatever
line the Israeli government happens to be putting out. You
don't have to be Jewish to be a full-fledged member of
Israel's amen corner in America, and nobody important ever
said any different.
defense of Israel has always been a foundation stone of the
neoconservative approach to U.S. policy in the Middle East,
but aside from that, the links of individual neocons now in
government, such as Douglas Feith,
to Israel's extremist Likud party,
and to the "settler"
movement, are no secret.
mentions that the U.S. helped the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo,
but this hardly contradicts the pro-Israel bias of U.S. policymakers.
Certainly the "liberation" of the Balkans did much to pave
the way for future interventions, such as in the Middle East.
The Bosnian and Kosovo interventions also advanced the interests
and extended the influence of Turkey, Israel's key ally in
the neocons were agents of Likud," writes Boot, "they would
have advocated an invasion not of Iraq or Afghanistan but
of Iran, which Israel considers to be the biggest threat to
its own security." Michael
Ledeen, of Iran-Contra fame and a leading neocon, has
certainly been advocating just that in the pages of National
Review, and the recent publication of the neocons' latest
manifesto, grandiosely entitled An
End to Evil, includes Iran on a very long list of
proposed targets slated for "regime change."
you guys! What kind of cabal are you running, anyway? Get
your line straight, willya please?
won't bother with Boot's denial that "neocons are a well-funded,
well-organized cabal." If nearly $70 million isn't well-funded,
then nothing is: comparing this to the largely non-ideological
charity engaged in by the Rockefeller and MacArthur foundations
hardly diminishes the neocons' financial advantage over nearly
every other intellectual tendency on the right as well as
the left. Since there are only a few hundred neocons, at most
not counting fellow-travelers and other dupes
the money goes a long way in maintaining a veritable labyrinth
of thinktanks, academic chairs, seminars, conferences, publishing
projects, and other activities on behalf of spreading the
mentions the five-person "Project
for a New American Century," a kind of interface between
the world of neoconservative scholarship and Washington politics,
more like the old "Committee
on the Present Danger" than a full-fledged thinktank.
For some reason, however, he neglects to note the existence
Central," otherwise known as the American Enterprise Institute,
with its $25 million yearly budget, far overshadowing
the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, which is widely
perceived as having abdicated
its position as the leading conservative thinktank with
the rise of AEI.
claims that the leading neocon publications have lower circulations
than other ideological magazines, but this merely underscores
how wrong he is when he says that "neocons have been relatively
influential because of the strength of their arguments, not
their connections." Aside from their huge subsidies from the
Olin, Scaife, Bradley, and Smith-Richardson foundations, they
got where they are through their connections to the media
barons who subsidize their money-losing pamphleteering. Rupert
Murdoch and Conrad Black together employ, publish, or
otherwise subsidize a good two-thirds of the neoconservative
journalists in existence.
next point is that neocons aren't exactly "Wilsonian idealists."
Oh, we've got the Wilsonian part right, but there are "hard"
Wilsonians, you see, and "soft" Wilsonians, and the neocons
are the former. This is news? Boot confesses that the popular
idea that the neocons' next targets are Iran and North Korea
is true, which just confirms me in my belief that Syria and
Lebanon are up next.
pass over Boot's complaint about the charge of "unilateralism,"
since I am, myself, a unilateralist that is, one who believes
we ought to unilaterally and immediately end this business
of empire-building and global do-good-ism. What's interesting,
though, is Boot's answer to the charge that neocons are followers
of Leo Strauss, the philosopher of the "noble lie," or
that Trotskyism played a major role in the intellectual evolution
influence of Leo Strauss on leading figures within this administration,
and certainly on the neoconservative movement, is not a matter
of opinion: it is a matter of public record, Boot's
denials to the contrary notwithstanding. Boot claims that
Strauss did not advocate lying to the public, but the import
of his philosophy his separation of "esoteric"
and "exoteric" knowledge, with the former reserved for
the intellectual elite is clear.
also disputes the influence of Leon Trotsky, and this, insofar
as it goes, is technically correct. It wasn't Trotsky so much
as his apostates, chief among them Max Shachtman, who had
such an impact on the "New
York Intellectuals." This group gradually moved right-ward,
and eventually morphed into the neocons. Shachtman and his
followers who, today, are organized in the Social
Democrats, USA did not abandon socialism, but put it
on the back-burner until global "democracy" could be achieved.
Oblivious to this history, Boot writes:
neocon author Joshua Muravchik has pointed out, Trotsky would
not have supported a democratic war of liberation in Iraq:
his sympathies would have been with Saddam."
but the point is that Shachtman certainly would have
supported the "liberation" of Iraq by the U.S. He would have
cheered the sentiments expressed by President George W. Bush
speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, hailing
the conquest of Iraq as just the first phase of "the
global democratic revolution."
we get to the last "myth" about the neocons that Boot wants
to deflate, and this is really the whole point of his essay,
which is to deny that "failure in Iraq has discredited the
neocons." It is, he says, "too early to say." Whatever went
wrong in Iraq is Rumsfeld's fault, not the neocons', who wanted
to engage in the "nation-building" efforts disdained by the
Defense Secretary. Oh, boo hoo hoo, the poor victimized little
neocons. Life just isn't fair when policymakers have
to answer for the consequences of their policies! "Fairly
or not," wails Boot,
will doubtless be held responsible for the outcome in both
countries [Iraq and Afghanistan]; their numerous enemies,
on both the left and the right, will see to that."
bet we will.
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