June 9, 2003

Neocons lied us into war – will they get away with it twice?

Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) has denounced the widespread call for the U.S. to account for the "weapons of mass destruction" Iraq was supposed to have as "historical revisionism." This is odd phraseology. Our understanding of history is being constantly revised and updated, as new evidence comes to light, which is why "revisionism" – acting as a constant prod to orthodoxy – is the motor of intellectual progress. We need more "revisionism," not less.

In retrospect, the events that have impelled us to war have turned out, in every case, to be elaborate hoaxes. We now know, for example, that the Maine was blown up, not by the Spanish, but by an internal malfunction: the investigation carried out by Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1976 showed that the event that sparked the Spanish-American War was in all likelihood spontaneous combustion in a coal bin. Yet the media whipped up a war hysteria that swept aside all questions of fact. "Remember the Maine!" is a slogan that ought to make us forever leery of war propaganda.

Those infamous tales of Belgian babies speared on German bayonets – war propaganda that did much to rile the American public on the eve of World War I – were a figment of some British propagandist's vivid imagination. The myth-makers were even busier in the period leading up to World War II: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we have since learned, knew much more about the "surprise" attack on Pearl Harbor than even the most cynical observers suspected. Clare Booth Luce was right when she said of FDR's deception: "He lied us into war." But it doesn't stop there.

The grand deception continued into the cold war era. The Satan with a sword that was supposed to have been the Soviet Union, it turned out, was a 90-lb. weakling that, finally, succumbed to its own inherent disability: yet, right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall, U.S. intelligence assessments were flat-out wrong, driven as they were by ideological assumptions and interests. The neocons at first denounced the self-dissolution of Communism, as carried out by Mikhail Gorbachev, as a trick. Right up until the end, they warned of the growing Soviet threat.

In the post-cold war world, the masters of deceit really went overboard: remember those Kuwait babies that were supposed to have been disconnected from their incubators by invading Iraqi troops and flung to the floor? It turned out that the "eyewitness" to these imaginary happenings was none other than the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, and that the hoax had been concocted by Kuwait's American PR firm. A similar style of blatant fakery permeates the war propaganda of the post-9/11 era, except on a much grander scale.

John Dean speculates as to whether the lies about Iraq's alleged arsenal, told by this administration, and by George W. Bush personally, constitute grounds for impeachment. This seems, theoretically and practically, a dubious proposition: if every President who ever lied us into war had been tried and found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, we'd have indicted every occupant of the White House in modern times.

Team Bush constructed an imposing edifice of lies to impress Congress and the people with the enormity of the Iraqi threat. Shocking, isn't it? Well, uh, no. Not when it comes to the neocons. They are, as has been widely noted, students and admirers of the late Leo Strauss – the New York Times calls them "Leo-cons." Strauss was a classics professor, influential thinker, and neocon icon who believed that wisdom must be imparted to intellectual elites in esoteric terms, because it might be misunderstood by the ignorant masses.

Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a leading hawk, and Abram Shulsky, the director of the Office of Special Plans unit set up by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to find evidence of Iraqi WMDs, received their doctorates under professor Strauss's tutelage. Shulsky is a scholar steeped in Strauss and the classics, and lest it be doubted that the labored effusions of a philosophic eccentric could have an application to intelligence work, there is always a 1999 essay, authored by Shulsky and Gary Schmitt, "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence," which makes the argument that Strauss's concept of esoteric meanings:

"Alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception."

So this administration lied to Congress and the American people over a period of several months – what else do you expect from people who proudly aver that "deception is the norm in political life" and make no bones about their disregard for the idea of objective truth?

Those trucks the President claims are mobile bio-war labs, it turns out, are probably AMETS – Artillery Meteorological System vehicles, of the sort Britain sold to Iraq in 1987. Their purpose: to make hydrogen-filled meteorological balloons, not biological toxins. Yes, it's been a bad week for the War Party: the latest is that a classified Defense Intelligence Agency report has been leaked showing that the U.S. government had no conclusive evidence of Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction." To add insult to the War Party's injury, even the Marines have turned against them: U.S. Marine Lieutenant-General James Conway averred last week that the Pentagon's civilian bigwigs were "simply wrong" in their intelligence assessment that US troops were likely to be attacked with biological and/or chemical weapons. Particularly damning is the testimony of Greg Thielmann, who retired last year as a top official of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research:

"What disturbs me deeply is what I think are the disingenuous statements made from the very top about what the intelligence did say. The area of distortion was greatest in the nuclear field."

By "the very top" Thielmann doesn't just mean General Conway's civilian superiors in the Defense Department, but also in the White House. After all, it was George W. Bush who said in his radio address of February 2, 2003:

"We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons – the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have."

In a speech last year, the President put the power and prestige of his office, and his credibility, behind some very specific charges:

"The Iraqi regime . . . possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas."

Such an arsenal of biological and chemical weaponry would be hard to conceal, especially from the prying eyes of the U.S. military frantically looking for evidence of WMD. If they could find the fabled treasures of Nimrud, gold jewelry and other small objects, such as manuscripts, thought looted from the Baghdad museum, hidden beneath a sewer, why can't they locate what is surely a larger and more visible quarry – Iraqi WMD weighing "thousands of tons"?

If the call to impeach the President for lying is meant to split Bush from the high command of the War Party centered in the Defense Department, who whispered the wrong information in George W. Bush's ear, then I say: let the impeachment process begin! We know that this administration lied. Now the only question is whether it's a case of a President ill-served by his neoconservative advisors, or a disinformation campaign directed from the White House. Antiwar conservatives will tend toward the former theory, while the antiwar left will be eager to pin the blame on George W. and his closest advisors. My own agnosticism on this issue awaits the results of the promised congressional investigation, and the testimony of witnesses: or am I dreaming?

The problem is that this war, far from being over, is just now entering its newest phase, and by the time the Republicans get around to permitting the hearings, we'll have long since been embarked on phase two of the neocon plan for the Middle East: the "liberation" of Iran. Congress will be investigating the lies that dragged us into occupying Iraq even as the same people cook up a whole new batch of lies. The same Office of Special Plans has a special plan for Iran – and Shulsky's shop is working overtime to replicate their Iraq deception. An alliance with the Mujahideen e Khalq (MEK), a terrorist-Marxist cult responsible for the deaths of Americans, as well as with the followers of the deposed Pahlavi clan, is all part of the neocon campaign to effect "regime change" in Tehran. As the Forward reports:

"Neoconservatives inside and outside the administration have been urging an active effort to promote regime change in Tehran. Reports of possible covert operations have surfaced in recent weeks. Several intelligence sources and Iran policy watchers told the Forward that the Office of Special Plans was a key factor in the push for a policy of Iranian regime change. 'They are running their own intelligence operation, including covert action, and are using contractors outside the government to do some of the leg work,' said a former top CIA official."

Seeming confirmation of the widespread suspicion on the Right that the neocons are a rogue element in the administration, this account buttresses the idea that the President is being essentially manipulated by the War Party, set up to take the fall for the lies put out by his Machiavellian advisors:

'Their area of work has been concentrated on Iraq, which is why the intelligence on WMD was so bad, but they have a much broader portfolio. The [Office of Special Plans] is undergoing some scrutiny from inside the government given its poor track record and the lack of 'sanity checking' their products with the intelligence community. A lot of material they produce is not shared with CIA, not coordinated, and finds its way into public policy statements by the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney.'"

Public scrutiny of the Office of Special Plans has brought yelps of protest which only seem to confirm its seminal role as a fabrication factory that churned out lies at an astonishing pace. But once people discover they've been lied to – and that's the major problem with the Straussians' politics of deception – they want to know the authors of the lie. In his fascinating in-depth analysis of the Straussian network in government, Seymour Hersh writes:

"They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal – a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans."

The War Party is a lot bigger than a small cluster of Washington policy wonks, but a congressional investigation – if initiated quickly enough – can help in exposing its core, and preventing a repetition of the same lying tactics in the near future. But it is going to have to be launched very quickly. The UN notification that the Iranian nuclear program is in violation of international protocols – variously interpreted by Tehran and Washington – should put us all on notice: in the case of Iran, the by now ritualized process preceding U.S. military intervention has begun.

Will the same liars get away with telling the same lie twice? As George W. Bush once said: "Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you." Or something like that….


In the second part of his marathon three-part series purporting to disappear the "myth" of neoconservatism, Jonah Goldberg writes:

"The story of nascent Trotskyism leading to the neoconservative movement some 40 years later has always given extra luster and irony to the tale. Some on the so-called paleo-right invest these roots with a great deal of meaning even today, claiming that Trotsky remains the guiding influence of neocons even for people who've probably never read a word of Trotsky's writings and were never themselves leftists or liberals, let alone Communists. While it might be fun to wade deep into the weeds to demonstrate the ludicrousness of this assertion, let me just say that of the scores of famous neocons I've met, none of them have ever expressed any fondness for Trotsky. He's never quoted as an authority in neocon op-eds or journals, and he's never invoked – save in jokes – in neocon debates or conferences."

This just goes to show that most people, even his fellow neocons, avoid poor Jonah at cocktail parties and other gatherings of the Cabal, because here we have neocon Stephen Schwartz – yes, that Stephen Schwartz! – spilling the Trotskyist beans in an interview with journalist Jeet Heer, whose piece in the National Post is entitled "Trotsky's ghost wandering the White House." Heer traces the influence of former Trotskyists such as Christopher Hitchens, Kanan Makiya, Paul Berman, and Schwartz, who is described as having spent his formative years affiliated with "a Spanish Trotskyist group." (Actually, it was in San Francisco's North Beach, not Spain, where Schwartz was the one-man representative of the Fomento Obrero Revolucionario Organizing Committee in the United States (FOCUS): back then, he was calling himself "Comrade Sandalio.") Today he is a leading neoconservative activist and the author of The Two Faces of Islam, the most vociferous advocate of "regime change" in Saudi Arabia, who pays homage to the founder of the Red Army as a source of neoconnish inspiration:

"To this day, Schwartz speaks of Trotsky affectionately as 'the old man' and 'L.D.' (initials from Trotsky's birth name, Lev Davidovich Bronstein). 'To a great extent, I still consider myself to be [one of the] disciples of L.D,' he admits, and he observes that in certain Washington circles, the ghost of Trotsky still hovers around. At a party in February celebrating a new book about Iraq, Schwartz exchanged banter with Wolfowitz about Trotsky, the Moscow Trials and Max Shachtman. 'I've talked to Wolfowitz about all of this,' Schwartz notes. 'We had this discussion about Shachtman. He knows all that stuff, but was never part of it. He's definitely aware.'"

Goldberg doesn't want to wade into those weeds: one can see why an ostensible conservative might avoid it.

Heer continues:

"The yoking together of Paul Wolfowitz and Leon Trotsky sounds odd, but a long and tortuous history explains the link between the Bolshevik left and the Republican right."

I might add that I was the first to trace this long and tortuous history in my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement. Published by the Center for Libertarian Studies, with an introduction by Pat Buchanan, the book got me pegged by the Weekly Standard, in 1996, as a leading member of the "Buchananite brain trust," or at any rate the author of the "definitive history" of the Old Right. In any case, it's ironic in the extreme – at least, for me – to hear all this talk of neocons this, neocons that, and note that my book is out of print. It's my fault, of course, that I've allowed it thus far, but here's my chance to rectify it: all you enterprising publishers out there, who want to get ahead of the curve – now's your chance. Write to me care of Antiwar.com.

– 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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