March 22, 2003

Former Presidential speechwriter smears antiwar conservatives

This day [March 19] has been too too depressing. Not only is the nation plunged into a horrific and unnecessary war – a war that will kill many thousands of innocents, bankrupt the country, and create a bloody chaos in the Middle East – but, to top it off, David Frum, the ex-White House speechwriter and author of the "axis of evil" phrase, has just informed me that he's turning his back on me. Am I to be spared nothing?

Say – what? Let me explain….

In another life, Frum might have been a Soviet-era commissar, grimly ticking off the ideological deviations of his victims, and stonily informing them that they would soon be taking a one-way trip to Siberia. In his present incarnation, however, after being fired from his White House position, the author of Dead Right, a polemical narrative about the evolution of the conservative movement, and other books, has settled into his role as chief political commissar of the "mainstream" conservative movement.

A more energetic enforcer of neoconservative orthodoxy could hardly be wished for: If Bill Kristol is the little Lenin of the neocons, and Norman Podhoretz their Stalin, then Frum is their Felix Dzerzhinsky, the much-feared founder of the Soviet secret police. In Dead Right, Frum smears Russell Kirk, the intellectual founding father of the modern conservative movement, as a purveyor of anti-Semitic "cracks" and similarly slanders Henry Regnery, the pioneer conservative publisher.

Regnery, says Frum-Dzerzhinsky, "showed a curious partiality, throughout his long career, for anti-interventionist, anti-British, and anti-Israeli books." He darkly hints that Regnery was a closet Nazi by informing us that the premier conservative publisher "was a student in Nazi Germany in the 1930s." What were these "anti-Israeli books" Frum is so peeved about? The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"? Hardly. Instead, the offending volume is probably Alfred Lilienthal's What Price Israel?, which Regnery published in 1953: the author, of the Jewish faith, argued against Zionism from a religious perspective, and complained that "the word 'Jew' is now being used simultaneously to denote a universal faith and a particular nationality; and the corresponding allegiances to religion and to state have become confused."

It is precisely this confusion that, today, allows Frum and his fellow neocons to smear anyone and everyone who dares to so much as look at Ariel Sharon cross-eyed as an "anti-Semite." For the sin of having published a book by a Jewish author that questioned the wisdom of conflating state and religion, the man who also brought out William F. Buckley, Jr.'s God and Man at Yale and Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, among other classics, is not to be forgiven.

The same police-state methodology is utilized in Frum's latest decree of banishment, which National Review has decided to publish as their wartime cover story, in which he announces

"War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides. The paleoconservatives have chosen and the rest of us must choose too. In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them."

Comrade Frum puts all of us antiwar conservatives in the dock, and conducts the literary equivalent of the Moscow Show Trials, with Pat Buchanan in the role of Trotsky, the popular conservative columnist Robert J. Novak playing the part of Bukharin, and various and sundry minor figures equally deserving of a one-way trip to the frozen tundra:

"You may know the names of these antiwar conservatives. Some are famous: Patrick Buchanan and Robert Novak. Others are not: Llewellyn Rockwell, Samuel Francis, Thomas Fleming, Scott McConnell, Justin Raimondo, Joe Sobran, Charley Reese, Jude Wanniski, Eric Margolis, and Taki Theodoracopulos."

We are guilty, says Frum, of nothing less than sedition:

"They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation's enemies."

My own particular sins, it seems, extend even to the personal. Describing the wide diversity of the paleo-conservative tendency, Frum writes: "What connection could there be between the devoutly Catholic Thomas Molnar and the exuberantly pagan Justin Raimondo?"

In spite of the well-known, shall we say earthiness of Sicilians, and Italians in general, I won't take this as an ethnic slur – that being the exclusive prerogative of certain approved victim groups. It is, however, indicative of the Frummian mindset.

Seething beneath the surface of Frum's polemic is a terrific sense of ethnic grievance, a victimological slant that amounts to a veritable monomania. Frum is the author of a peculiar conspiracy theory in which all attacks on the War Party – and especially those coming from the right – are part of a Vast Anti-Semitic Plot, with tentacles lurking in the most unlikely places.

Witness his bizarre explanation for the February 23 edition of Tim Russert's "Meet the Press," during which Russert was so bold as to ask Richard Perle: ""Can you assure American viewers . . . that we're in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?"

This question – oh, the impertinence! – was motivated, not by Russert, but by the sinister influence of us antiwar conservatives, who somehow implanted this meme in his mind. "Perle rebutted the allegation," avers Frum, without saying how, "but what a grand victory for the antiwar conservatives that Russert felt he had to air it." We forced him to do it: we put a gun to Russert's head, and said: Ask it, or you're a goner. I suspect there are many conservatives who dream of doing just that to Mr. Russert – only imagining it, of course. From the gale force of Frum's wrath, however, one gets the impression that he would've really liked to have pulled the trigger. But since Russert is rather beyond his range, Frum has instead directed his fire at an imaginary cabal that he endows with near supernatural powers.

Russert's question is a perfectly natural one to ask: it was no doubt motivated, not by some conspiracy of anti-Semites, but by a natural curiosity as to what Perle's answer would be. The President has said that we are invading Iraq because it threatens its neighbors: yet Israel is the only nation in the neighborhood calling for war. Even Turkey, our longtime ally and Israel's good friend, refused to let U.S. troops use its territory as a launching pad. Sharon recently announced to a group of visiting congressmen that he expected the U.S. to move on Syria, Iran, and Libya next. Perle, after all, has worked for the Israeli government; he prepared a policy paper for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for regime change in Iraq; and he is widely known as the chief advocate of spreading the war throughout the Middle East, even unto Egypt.

Given this confluence of interests and ideology between Sharon's Likud party, an extremist movement by any standard, and a highly placed official in the Pentagon, why shouldn't Russert ask such a question? Unless, of course, the conflation of ethnicity and nationhood that Lilienthal bemoaned is a device that Frum uses to smear his political enemies.

Topping the list of our crimes, Frum's indictment accuses antiwar conservatives and libertarians of making "common cause" with The Enemy: no, not by raising money for the Taliban but because "the websites of the antiwar conservatives approvingly cite and link to the writings of John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky, Ted Rall, Gore Vidal, Alexander Cockburn, and other anti-Americans of the far Left."

Oh, the horror! To actually approve of anything these people might say, even in part, is impermissible in the police state universe of the neocons' top political commissar. But Gore Vidal is hardly a leftist: he is closer to the Old Right than the so-called far left. He is also a patriot, as any reader of his wonderful historical novels is aware.

Alexander Cockburn may be a man of the left, but he is also a writer of talent, and his leftism is idiosyncratic. Cockburn was much harder on the Clinton administration and Janet Reno when they murdered 80 or so Christians at Waco than National Review: he defended the right-wing militia movement as a popular upsurge, while the neocons disdained them as they despise all populist movements.

I have my criticisms of Noam Chomsky, who, for all his fearsome reputation, seems to me to be a bit of a pussy-cat. Chomsky's critique of the U.S., as the major terrorist actor in the world refers to the U.S. government, which, for neocons, is synonymous with the American people. It is odd for an alleged "conservative" to equate the two, but Frum, at least by Russell Kirk's lights, is no conservative.

Pilger and Fisk are reporters, albeit with opinions, but since Frum doesn't tell us why they are supposed to be beyond the pale, the reason for their inclusion in the Axis of Journalistic Evil must remain a mystery. Every movement has its hate-objects, as well as its heroes, and the Chomsky-Fisk-Pilger trinity serves that purpose in the self-referential world of the neocons. The mere mention of their names is like a curse, an incantation of evil.

It is a party-lining mentality, narrow and dogmatic, that can only be called Soviet, an archaic and boring attitude that cannot be credibly maintained on the internet. A website is not a political party. If, as editorial director of, I only posted links to material that I approved of, in toto – or even for the most part – our readers would find the site far less interesting, and would visit less often. More importantly, however, Frum misses the whole point of internet journalism: its great advantage over the dead-tree variety is that the writer is given the opportunity to document what he is saying: a link is an extended footnote, often purely informational, sometimes polemical, or maybe just plain humorous. This gives writers (and editors) a tremendous freedom, and, with it, a responsibility to document their claims by providing links. It's harder to lie on the internet.

Such a technology is naturally not conducive to the neocons' party-lining Soviet mentality, and it is telling that Frum's piece, which appeared on the internet before it ever saw print, contains not a single link. That's because most of it is lies: he pulls quotes out of context, without linking to the original, and is liberal in his use of ellipses. Readers who bother to check the original – not, one will have to sadly admit, your typical National Review reader – will find that he's distorted the meaning of the original beyond recognition.

In my own case, at least, the facts are easily checkable, since most of my articles and columns are online, and the record is there for all to see. Yet Frum stupidly insists on creating a fiction out of whole cloth, ironically accusing me of "conspiracy-theorizing," to wit:

"Justin Raimondo, an Internet journalist who delivered Pat Buchanan's nominating speech at the Reform party convention in 2000, alleged in December 2001 that Israel was implicated in the terror attacks of 9/11: 'Whether Israeli intelligence was watching, overseeing, collaborating with or combating the bin Ladenites is an open question. . . . That the Israelis had some significant foreknowledge and involvement in the events preceding 9/11 seems beyond dispute.' Raimondo has also repeatedly dropped broad hints that he believes the October 2001 anthrax attacks were the work of an American Jewish scientist bent on stampeding the U.S. into war."

What he fails to mention is the subject of the piece he quoted: a four-part series on Fox News by Carl Cameron in which Cameron, a top-notch investigative reporter, made the following charge:

"There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that they Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are – quote – 'tie-ins.' But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, – quote – 'evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified.'" – [December 11, 2001].

Cameron based his series on the Israeli connection to 9/11, in part, on a leaked report compiled by the Drug Enforcement Agency's internal security service, documenting an extensive spy operation in the U.S. Salon, the internet magazine, took up the story in a fascinating piece by Christopher Ketcham, and the German magazine Die Zeit, co-edited by the distinguished scholar Josef Joffe, recently reported:

"Apparently the [Israeli] agents were not interested in military or industrial facilities, but were shadowing a number of suspects, who were later involved in the terrorist attacks against the US."

Die Zeit cites a report of the French intelligence agency:

"According to the FBI, Arab terrorists and suspected terror cells lived in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as in Miami and Hollywood, Florida from December 2000 to April 2001 in direct proximity to the Israeli spy cells. According to the report, the Mossad agents were interested in the leader of the terrorists, Mohammed Atta and his key accomplice, Marwan al-Shehi. Both lived in Hamburg before they settled in Hollywood, Florida in order to plan the attacks. A Mossad team was also operating in the same town."

The leader, Hanan Serfati, had rented several dwellings' that were "Next Door to Mohammed Atta," as the title of the article by Oliver Schrom put it. 'Everything indicates that the terrorists were constantly observed by the Israelis.' Schrom writes:

'The chief Israeli agent was staying right near the post office where the terrorists had a mailbox. The Mossad also had its sights on Atta's accomplice Khalid al-Midhar, with whom the CIA was also familiar, but allowed to run free.'"

In detailing these allegations, I was not "conspiracy-theorizing," but merely reporting facts. Are the edtiors at Fox News, Salon, and Die Zeit in on some sort of plot to defame the state of Israel? Are they all, along with Tim Russert, part of a Vast Anti-Semitic Conspiracy?

As for my "broad hints" that the anthrax attacks were the work of "an American Jewish scientist" with political views similar to Frum's, he is here referring to a number of columns I wrote on the strange career of Colonel Philip Zack, the subject of a series of articles in the Hartford Courant. Zack worked at Ft. Detrick's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, had accesss to bio-engineered toxins, and was videotaped sneaking into the facility at night with the aid of an accomplice, according to the Courant [January 21, 2002] Zack, in addition, had a problem with Arabs, and was part of a clique that harassed Arab employees of the facility, according to a lawsuit filed by one of the victims, Dr. Ayaad Assaad.

I have no knowledge of Dr. Zack's religious or ethnic identity, and did not raise the subject. I will have to take Frum's word for it that Zack is Jewish. But, so what?

Like all monomaniacs, Frum always returns to his
favorite subject.

One of his favorite targets is Bob Novak, who is accused of "terror denial" (you know, kinda like "Holocaust denial") for contradicting Condolezza Rice's odd contention that Hezbollah is "the world's most dangerous terrorist organization." Surely that dubious honor must go to Al Qaeda, Novak rightly points out: but this is "terror denial," according to Frum, who references the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 servicemen: Novak, he avers, "did not bother" to mention that. But is it really necessary to remind Frum of that little contretemps on 9/11? The poor little man is so wound up with his own hyperbole that he seems to have forgotten all about it. Novak notes that, from an Israeli point of view, Hezbollah is the main danger: he cites a Hezbollah leader to the effect that his group has no intention of attacking the U.S., which – one might think – would be good news to an American. But Frum's viewpoint is not that of an American: he is, after all, a Canadian, one who, to be sure, seems to believe that Israel is the fifty-first state. "Outside this fight [against Israel], we have done nothing," says Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general. One can't help thinking that Frum finds this disappointing.

Another great sin of which we antiwar conservatives and libertarians are guilty is "defeatism." Pat Buchanan comes in for some criticism on this question for saying the obvious:

"We remain unrivaled in material wealth and military dominance, but these are no longer the components of might. . . . Our instinct is the strongman's impulse: hit back, harder. But like British Lobsterbacks dropped in a colonial wilderness, we don't know this battle, and the weapons within our reach are blunt."

Frum is so psyched up by the prospect of this war, so high on the triumphalism that is now energizing the War Party, that he can no longer distinguish between treason and realism – or else, doesn't care to. Novak, too, is targeted as a "defeatist" for having said:

"The CIA, in its present state, is viewed by its Capitol Hill overseers as incapable of targeting bin Laden. That leads to an irresistible impulse to satisfy Americans by pulverizing Afghanistan."

The news that we are launching a new and major operation in Afghanistan, specifically to capture the still elusive Osama bin Laden & Sons – which are still quite active in that supposedly conquered country – punctures the hectoring Frum like the hot-air balloon he is, and validates the saturnine Novak's skepticism. Good old Bob – may he live forever!

As far as the high crime of "defeatism" goes, I am apparently the worst offender:

"Raimondo was more explicit still on March 12, 2003. Speaking of the negative consequences he foresaw of even a successful American campaign in Iraq, he wrote: 'It is a high price to pay for 'victory' – so high that patriots might almost be forgiven if they pine for defeat.'"

The old cut-and-paste technique – tearing a single sentence out of a 2,000-word essay – is on stark display here. Again, although Frum's screed appears on the internet, there is no link to the material he is discussing. Frum's contempt for his readers may, perhaps, be deserved, but I can't help thinking that at least some of them resent it. In any case, the theme of that particular column was that the U.S. military is going to be blamed, as usual, for the failure of the civilians' grandiose postwar plans. This is hardly the perspective of a "defeatist," since, for one, it assumes an American military victory. Does anybody doubt it? To be a "defeatist" in this war is to assume the impossible – that Iraq's dilapidated military, shrunken by at least 30 percent since the last Gulf war, is a match for the world's mightiest army.

So what does "defeatism" mean, in this context? Frum wants it to mean skepticism in the face of the hopeless crusade undertaken by this administration, which is to implant "democracy" in a region that has never known it. If opposition to the fruitless and thankless task of "nation-building" is "defeatism," then the President himself is guilty of it – at least in his incarnation as a candidate in the 2000 elections, when he disdained the very idea as an expensive and inherently dangerous delusion.

Beyond all that, however, Frum's odd translation of my skepticism – a profoundly conservative skepticism of all social engineering schemes, whether hatched by liberals or "neo"-conservatives – into "defeatism" is rooted in a peculiar psychology. Seen through the prism of a neocon ideologue – or any sort of fanatic – the phrase "might almost be forgiven" blurs and morphs into treason. The ideologue cannot see ambiguity, and is immune to irony. Any sort of subtlety eludes him. He paints a portrait of the world that is all broad brush strokes, bereft of detail and without shades of color and meaning, one-dimensional and unreal. This is the great disability of the ideologue – yes, even one of the libertarian persuasion! – and Frum seems to have a really bad case of it, so bad that he can't see or think straight.

Worst of all, the robotic mentality of the ideologue cannot perceive or understand emotions. That's why the neocon concept of patriotism – in their flat, one-dimensional world – takes on the hectoring Soviet tone that recalls the leftist origins of Frum's faction. Frum's antennae can't pick up the ineffable sadness in my tone: he is, in a literary sense, completely tone-deaf. It's sad, really, to contemplate, and more than validates Russell Kirk's 1991 warning to the rising generation of conservatives:

"Conservatism is the negation of ideology. Ideology is an attempt to govern all life by political slogans; while American conservatives believe that no mere political formulas can make a people content. Conservatives take for their guide in politics what Edmund Burke called 'the wisdom of the species': that is, the experience of human beings in community, extending over many centuries. Thus, American conservatism is a cast of mind and character, not a neat body of political abstractions. Ideology is political fanaticism, an endeavor to rule the world by rigorous abstract dogmata. The dogmata of an abstract 'democratic capitalism' may be mischievous as the dogmata of Marx."

We watch, in horrified fascination, as Bush's centurions pour into Iraq, and the dangerous mischief Kirk feared is all around us. Skeptics are "defeatists." Prudence is "terror denial." An internet link is evidence of a conspiracy to commit sedition.

The rest of Frum's essay is an inside-baseball blow-by-blow description of the faction fights that have plagued the Right over the past decade, and, as such, are of minimal interest to my readers. Suffice to say that, here, too, the conspiracy theorist in Frum comes to the fore: he even manages to drag in an obscure writer of anti-Semitic tracts, Kevin MacDonald, whom he admits "does not quite belong to the paleoconservative club." I had never heard of MacDonald until I read a negative review of one of his books in … The American Conservative! The author of the review was Frum's fellow National Review columnist John Derbyshire, who sure was a lot softer on MacDonald than I would have been. And yet MacDonald is portrayed as a member of a "movement" in which I am supposed to be a major figure. What a load of malarkey!

Frum does not even confront the essential argument made by paleoconservatives and libertarians against this war: that its consequences on the home front are going to be the worst of it. Yet Frum is, himself, the best evidence that we are right, for war has surely brought out the worst in him. Not only are his arguments completely lame, but the viciousness that motivates them is truly ugly. Which is why, in answer to his announcement that he and his fellow neocons have turned their backs on us, one can only say: Thank God for that!

Frum slimes a good number of conservative and libertarian opponents of this war, including Lew Rockwell and Chronicles editor Tom Fleming, who are quite capable of defending themselves. Suffice to say that Frum’s hatred for anyone who dares to question the neoconservative orthodoxy on any question, from war to the proper conservative view of Abraham Lincoln, is so coruscating that the reader is instinctively repulsed – not by the slandered, but by the slanderer. Something else, the reader feels, is going on here.

What’s going on is that the neoconservatives have been caught off guard by the extent and intensity of antiwar sentiment on the Right. They thought they had a monopoly on the foreign policy stance of thinking conservatives, but this turned out to be far from true. Patrick Buchanan’s new magazine, The American Conservative, has challenged their hegemony on this front, and resentment of the neocons is rife, not only on the Right, but pretty much universally. I’ve been writing about them since long before the Kosovo war broke out as the nucleus of a malevolent intellectual cancer, the Politboro of the War Party, but it is only recently, with the long build-up to this latest war, that this meme has traveled far and wide. It is now almost a daily occurrence to read a new article by some commentator that this war is the demon child of the neocons. Analysts, left and right, have been tracing the paper trail all the way back to a seminal 1996 essay by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, in which they propose "benevolent world hegemony" as the goal of American foreign policy in a unipolar world.

Under attack, and on the defensive, the neocons are now claiming that to even use the term "neoconservative" is to commit an anti-Semitic act. As Jonah Goldberg puts it:

"People who want to denounce the influence of Jews get to use the word 'neocon' when they really mean 'Jewish conservatives' without being held accountable."

The absurd Jacobinism of this approach should be all too apparent to virtually everyone on the Right, no matter what prefix precedes their conservatism. With a single pronunciamento from the self-appointed Lord High Executioner of the Right, dozens of books, and many more academic dissertations, are now hurled into the furnace as "hate speech." Peter Steinfels’ The Neoconservatives, Gary Dorrien’s The Neoconservative Mind, not to mention Madness and Ruin: Politics and the Economy in the Neoconservative Age, by Mel Watkins, all these authors were using the term neoconservative as a code-word for Jew, must now be held "accountable."

It is the neocons, however, who will be held accountable. They are now getting high off the triumphant march of American troops as they race toward Baghdad, and will no doubt get quite a rush celebrating their great "victory," but when the bill comes due – when the real costs begin to mount, and the natives get restless -- they will slip quietly toward the door. Having made the world well aware of their key role in all this, – and this columnist – can take some pride in the certainty that they will not sneak out unnoticed.

That is what scares the neocons, and enrages Frum and his cohorts – and isn’t that just tough. Learn to live with it, guys, and enjoy your moment in the sun – while you can.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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