April 30, 2003

It's a 'conspiracy theory' to blame neocons for the war – even though they spent the last decade agitating for it

One of the major accomplishments of this site, aside from keeping our readers up-to-the-minute on what's really happening in Iraq, has been to educate the public about who brought us this war, and why.

We have held, from the beginning, that war on Iraq did not and does not serve American interests, and we have traced its origins back to a group of determined ideologues who see it as the first phase of a campaign to take America on the road to Empire. Ideas, not guns, rule the world, and the ideology espoused by the neoconservatives has been consistent, and relentlessly advanced since the first days of the post-cold war era. It boils down to this: war, war, and yet more war. Their goal – "benevolent global hegemony" exercised by the U.S.

These ex-leftists and former Scoop Jackson Democrats were agitating for war against Iraq – and most of the rest of the Middle East – well before 9/11. The debris from that horrific disaster hadn't even stopped smoldering when top neocons in this administration targeted Iraq – not Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda – as a target of opportunity they could not afford to miss. Now they stand on the verge of fulfilling their dream: a U.S.-imposed military occupation of Iraq to be followed by interventions in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and throughout the Middle East. It is the very scenario envisioned in "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," the infamous memo written for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser. In this seminal document, the invasion of Iraq is prefigured, along with a campaign to "roll back" Syria:

"Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq."

This is precisely what is happening today. The only difference is that the agent of rollback is not the IDF, but the U.S. military. With U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld openly threatening Syria, the idea that the road to Damascus runs through Baghdad clearly has spread far beyond its progenitors. The war in Iraq, as Professor Paul W. Schroeder pointed out in The American Conservative,

Would represent something to my knowledge unique in history. It is common for great powers to try to fight wars by proxy, getting smaller powers to fight for their interests. This would be the first instance I know where a great power (in fact, a superpower) would do the fighting as the proxy of a small client state."

That "small client state" is, of course, Israel, the Middle Eastern Sparta that enjoys the same kind of knee-jerk support among some sections of the American right that the former Soviet Union once commanded on the radical left. If the core principle of constant warfare is the essence of the neoconservative doctrine, then the object of their special adulation is the state of Israel, whose interests they have openly advanced over and above the best interests of the U.S.

When Ariel Sharon compared George W. Bush to Neville Chamberlain, Bill Bennett, neoconservative scold and head of "Americans for Victory Over Terrorism" (AVOT), agreed with him. Since 9/11, the neocons have been pushing the line that the interests of the U.S. and Israel are identical – a logical impossibility, since the national interests of separate states are different by definition. Unleashed by 9/11, neoconservative publicists have been calling for "World War IV," a "clash of civilizations" pitting the U.S. and Israel against the Muslim world – and a good deal of the rest of the world.

All of this history of ceaseless warmongering on the part of the neocons is a matter of record: just follow the links in this column. Or, better yet, read up on the subject, starting with my (sadly out of print) book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, which tells the story of the neocons' ideological odyssey from left to faux-"right". The meme of neocon responsibility for this war and future wars is by now spread far and wide: just go to Google.com (news) and type in the word "neoconservatives" or "neocons," and you'll see what I mean.

But now along comes the learned Robert J. Lieber, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and a leading academic apologist for the Bush Doctrine of preemption and American primacy, to tell us that this is a "myth" promulgated by bigots. In the April 29 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education (and reprinted by Frontpagemag.com), Lieber writes:

"The ruins of Saddam Hussein's shattered tyranny may provide additional evidence of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, but one poisonous by-product has already begun to seep from under the rubble. It is a conspiracy theory purporting to explain how the foreign policy of the world's greatest power, the United States, has been captured by a sinister and hitherto little-known cabal.

"A small band of neoconservative (read, Jewish) defense intellectuals, led by the 'mastermind,' Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (according to Michael Lind, writing in the New Statesman), has taken advantage of 9/11 to put their ideas over on an ignorant, inexperienced, and 'easily manipulated' president (Eric Alterman in The Nation), his 'elderly figurehead' Defense Secretary (as Lind put it), and the 'dutiful servant of power' who is our secretary of state (Edward Said, London Review of Books)."

But why must we "read Jewish" when the word is neoconservative? While it is true that many prominent neocons are Jewish, the same might be said of libertarians (Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand), or left-wing radicals (Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Michael Lerner,), or, for that matter, liberals. What of it? Undeterred by logic, however, Professor Lieber blithely continues along this same victimological path throughout his essay. This "conspiracy theory," he avers, is itself a conspiracy against … the Jews! Somebody please call the PC Thought Police! So where's the evidence of a neo-Nazi plot involving leading liberal and conservative writers and intellectuals? The Professor detects a pattern of anti-Semitic rhetoric between the lines of anti-interventionist polemics:

"Thus empowered, this neoconservative conspiracy, 'a product of the influential Jewish-American faction of the Trotskyist movement of the '30s and '40s' (Lind), with its own 'fanatic' and 'totalitarian morality' (William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune) has fomented war with Iraq – not in the interest of the United States, but in the service of Israel's Likud government (Patrick J. Buchanan and Alterman)."

That Alterman is Jewish is apparently no obstacle to his membership in this anti-Semitic cabal. Aside from this odd anomaly, Lind's reference to the "Jewish-American faction of the Trotskyist movement of the '30s and '40s" is a redundancy: of the three founders of American Trotskyism, two were Jewish and the membership of their party reflected the leadership: their base was in the heavily Jewish sections of New York City, where more than half the members lived. This is not an admonishment on Lind's part, but only a descriptive passage.

Lieber's brief, out-of-context quotes are typical of the modern "academic" method of footnoted character assassination, but if you examine what Lind actually wrote, it is clear that his purpose is not to target "the Jews" but to accurately describe the intellectual and political genesis of a war. This war, averred Lind, was the dream of neoconservative theoreticians, paid experts who advised the Israeli government while out of power during the Clinton years and evolved a plan to further their ambitions. But, he wrote,

"Such experts are not typical of Jewish-Americans, who mostly voted for Gore in 2000. The most fervent supporters of Likud in the Republican electorate are Southern Protestant fundamentalists."

The imputation of base motives to Lind is based on a very selective reading of his piece. Professor Lieber is clearly counting on his students not doing their homework. His are willful misrepresentations.

Out of a dozen words cited in Lind's piece, Lieber focuses on the wrong one. It wasn't their Jewishness that impelled the neocons to develop an ideology – and implement a national security strategy – based on military domination of the globe. Their Trotskyist mindset, shorn of its Soviet roots, morphed easily into a "permanent revolution" on behalf of an American rather than a socialist world order. Trotsky believed that socialism in one country could not long survive, and the duty of every revolutionary was to spread Communism beyond the borders of the workers' fatherland, by military means if necessary, a task regularly shirked by the Stalinist sell-outs in the Kremlin.

Trotsky's American ex-followers, such as Max Shachtman, decided that the Stalinists were even worse than the capitalists, and that the Soviet Union, far from being the workers fatherland, represented the main danger to the working class – a position that eventually had him and his influential followers supporting the U.S. war against Vietnam.

That this is the organizational and intellectual pre-history of the neoconservatives is beyond dispute. Neocon godfather Irving Kristol was a Trotskyist, eventually winding up as a member of the Shachtman group, as were several other prominent New York intellectuals who followed Shachtman on his rightward course – sometimes lagging behind, sometimes skipping ahead – and finally crossing over to the right, in the cold war era, to make up the intellectual core of the War Party. Neoconservatism in the realm of foreign policy is merely Trotskyism-turned-inside-out – a militant internationalism fueled by U.S. taxpayer dollars and backed up by the mightiest military the world has ever seen.

The neoconservative fealty to Israel surely has something to do with the ethnic and religious loyalties of some prominent neocons, whose faith in Marxism was replaced by their rediscovery of their religious and ethnic roots. But it has just as much to do with Israel's role as a modern Sparta, a militaristic state which the neocons view as inherently admirable. However, surely the most numerous and fervent fans of the state of Israel in the American body politic are the "mainstream" conservatives, who generally agree with what they read in, say, National Review. For them, Israel, our staunch ally during the cold war, is an outpost of Western civilization, and deserves support on that basis alone. A great many conservative Republican activists are Christian fundamentalists whose unconditional support for Ariel Sharon's draconian policies is based on their peculiar interpretation of Christianity, not Judaism.

Lieber goes on to make the most of his examination of anti-Semitic "tropes," reducing the analysis of well-known liberal analysts to "conspicuous manifestations of classic anti-Semitism." What are these ominous portents of a new pogrom? According to the Professor, they consist of:

"Claims that a small, all-powerful but little-known group or 'cabal' of Jewish masterminds is secretly manipulating policy."

None of the individuals cited by Lieber, nor anyone else that I am aware of, is saying that the nation was "secretly" roped into war: it was all done quite openly, which, on account of its sheer brazenness, makes it all the more outrageous. The neocons wrote manifestos in their subsidized little journals, they signed open letters urging an invasion of this country or that, they wrote op ed pieces and their front groups lobbied Congress and the American public – which is why it has been possible for Lind, Alterman, Buchanan, myself, and others to write about it. Nor is anyone claiming that the "cabal," which I call the War Party, is "all-powerful." If that were true, then surely they would have achieved their objectives sooner, with less exposure and certainly with very little debate.

"That they have dual loyalty to a foreign power."

This is not a question of dual loyalty, but of the subordination of American interests to Israeli policy objectives – and to an inherently anti-American policy of naked imperialism that goes against the grain of our history and our political culture. Critics of U.S. policy in the Middle East, except for the Marxists and the inveterate anti-Americans, argue that allowing our military to be used as a cat's-paw for Israel is not in American interests. It is a policy that can only please the region's extremists: Ariel Sharon and Osama bin Laden. The neocons, on the other hand, fail to distinguish between Israeli and American interests, and one has to assume that this is a sincerely held belief.

The Professor continues his litany of "anti-Semitic" horrors:

"That this cabal combines ideological opposites (right-wingers with a Trotskyist legacy, echoing classic anti-Semitic tropes linking Jews to both international capitalism and international communism)."

Since most neocons and their supporters are not Jewish – as Lieber spends an inordinate number of words pointing out – his contention that the whole thing amounts to an orgy of Jew-bashing, an intellectual Kristallnacht, is self-refuting. Aside from that, however, does he really mean to imply that Jewish ex-Trotskyists are above criticism, all on account of some arcane "trope"?

"That our official leaders are too ignorant, weak, or naive to grasp what is happening."

Yes, as we all know, our leaders are never ignorant, or weak, or naοve. They always grasp what is happening.

"That the foreign policy upon which our country is now embarked runs counter to, or is even subversive of, American national interest."

Right on the mark.

"…. and that if readers only paid close attention to what the author is saying, they would share the same sense of alarm."

Every author wants to be paid close attention to, except, perhaps, the sort who hide behind phony words like "trope" and impressive academic credentials to legitimate their smears. Lieber's ponderous screed isn't even up to the level of David Horowitz, and after spending so much time wallowing in it one feels nothing so much as an overwhelming desire to shower. Bereft of arguments, laced with malice, here is a long essay that is nothing so much as one long sustained whine.

There is something distinctly odd about an academic denying the power of ideas to the extent of calling an attempt to trace the intellectual roots of the War Party a "conspiracy theory." Ideas, and not armies, rule the world, because the former have the power to inspire and command. The neocon takeover of American foreign policy did not begin yesterday, and is not the victory of an "all-powerful" clique that has its hands on the secret levers of power. There is nothing secret about the new American hubris, the war plans of this administration, or the intellectual origins of the ideas that have shaped American policy.

On the level of practical politics, the American Likudniks – a phrase that has now become part of the American political lexicon – are quite open about wanting World War IV, and Ariel Sharon has not exactly been silent. For Professor Lieber to pretend otherwise is just not tenable. Next time, perhaps, the Professor will do his homework – or, at least, come up with a better evasive maneuver: this time, however, he rates only a "D".

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. 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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