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March 14, 2006

A Requiem for Gonzoconservatism


by Martin Kelly

And so their great scheme, the subjugation and democratization of Iraq, has failed; and all that is left for them is the fate due all fanatical ideologues – to either desert the sinking ship like rats, or else fight among each other like scorpions.

They have sown the dragon's teeth; and the stone having been thrown among them, the gonzocons fall upon each other with the same violence they once reserved for the people of Iraq.

You'd almost pay to see it.

First to go was Francis Fukuyama. Then the father of the feast, William F. Buckley Jr., joined the parade.

I for one relish the prospect of Buckley being denounced in his own pages in the same way the gonzocons denounced those who refused to follow their lead in the destruction of a nation, denunciations they later tried to wipe from the record.

It is ironic that this reflection is being written on the day that the death of John Profumo, the last survivor of those who voted the appeaser Neville Chamberlain out of office, has been reported. Most of those gonzos who shout "appeasement!" and invoke Churchill probably don't realize that such an important link to the man whose name they take in vain was still working in humility among London's poor at the age of 91.

How ironic indeed, then, that the next to recant should have been George Will, although he had to channel the evacuation of Dunkirk in order to do it. This is the same George Will who wrote of the 2004 Spanish election, in which the Spanish people democratically ousted José Maria Aznar for his immediate, self-interested lies in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombing, "Perhaps Sunday's election, which removed the leadership that took Spain into the war against Islamist terrorism, means that after the homegrown terrors of the 20th century, Spain, like much of the rest of Europe, wants peace, and at any price."

It goes without saying that the liar Aznar was later feted at the American Enterprise Institute, otherwise known as Gonzocon Central – on Sept. 24, 2004, to be exact. Predictably, he told them a pack of lies, which they presumably greeted with thunderous applause; but hopefully some stout Spanish hearts will be lifted by the news that George Will, like Neville Chamberlain, might also want peace.

All he has to do now is name his price.

Then there were three in a row, and all on the same day.

First up was a man from my own hometown who once described himself as "a fully paid-up member of the neo-imperialist gang," a phrase so absurd it should haunt him for the rest of his glittering career. Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, wrote a thunderingly Gladstonian critique of current U.S. foreign policy, saying,

"The Republicans would certainly be foolish to climb on to what is left of Bush's foreign policy. Nearly all its premises are crumbling before our eyes. The theory of a democratic peace is a chimera; give Muslims the vote and they vote for militants. Regime change in Iraq has not enhanced American security; its principal beneficiary has been Iran."

As Churchill himself might have put it: Some neo-imperialist. Some gang.

Then Andrew Sullivan, Ferguson's contemporary at the University of Oxford, made his excuses and left, saying,

"We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response to that is not more spin but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by writers like me. All this is true, and it needs to be faced. But it is also true that we are where we are."

"We are where we are?" Where else did I read that?

Oh, yes, it was in the recantation of a low-level British gonzocon named Nigel Farndale, published on the same day as Sullivan's. Farndale's was entitled "The War of Wishful Thinking"; the whole exercise might equally have been called the war of lockstep thinking.

Mark Steyn, one of gonzoconservatism's most vocal champions, has also appeared to waver. The recanted should cry out with one voice, "Come on over, Mark, the water's lovely!"

But when Gerard Baker wrote, "Three years ago I thought it was not only right but wise and necessary to fight that war. It's much harder to make that case now," you could tell that the herd was in stampede.

It was time to round them up.

Melanie Phillips, Her Majesty's Gonzocon, kept faith with her principles and denounced Fukuyama, writing,

"Fukuyama thus joins the swelling band of fair-weather fainthearts who originally supported the defense of the West but have turned tail and run for their reputations now the going has turned tough. …

"A period of silence from this particular thinker would surely be preferable."

The desire that their critics be silent is a universal trait of all totalitarians. Phillips lost her true vocation when she became a journalist. She'd have made a wonderful commissar.

Victor Davis Hanson, the smartest and thus the worst of all gonzocons, has offered a defense of current policy bathed in a fog of obscurantism that would have baffled Leo Strauss, claiming,

"There are many reasons why such pessimism, and indeed depression, is unwarranted – although I concede that very few Americans and still fewer pundits would agree with my own explanations."

When faced with such odds and in such a position, a reasonable man exercising a reasonable degree of care and skill in his reasoning might reasonably reach a different and entirely reasonable conclusion.

That he is wrong.

But, sheesh, it's Vic Hanson we're talking about. That would be asking too much.

To Phillips' stridency and Hanson's baffling hypotheses must be added the still, small voice of Christopher Orlet:

"It is true a minority will always oppose freedom. However, those Sunnis who bombed the Samarra mosque are but the remnants of Saddam's dying fascist regime – thugs who believe they can regain their lost power by provoking a sectarian war. Yes, there will be sectarian violence. And it will not be limited to Iraq. The Shi'ites and the Sunnis have been beating each other over the head since the Prophet ascended into paradise in 632. Sectarian violence is common in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, and until recently Ireland. The fascists do not speak for the Iraqi people, nor can they be allowed to win.

"Do not write off the Iraqi people. The alternative is a return to Taliban or Ba'athist rule. And nobody, save the Taliban and the Ba'athists, wants that."

It does not seem to occur to Orlet that the sectarian violence he deplores is a direct consequence of the policy he defends: the result of the blind failure to understand the reality of Iraqi society from the outset. One can always tell when Victor Davis Hanson has been on a roll at the keyboard, because he starts to bemoan "the loss of blood and treasure" caused by the failure of previous policies. The loss of blood and treasure in the past is a matter for historians, but failure to curtail the loss of blood and treasure in the present would be a far more worthy topic for the attention of the otherwise not unreasonable Orlet.

Perhaps the remaining faitful do not yet realize that Richard Perle, one of the greatest gonzocons of them all, has strayed from the reservation. Richard Breeden called Perle a "faithless fiduciary" to Hollinger Inc.'s stockholders, a term that now describes his role in gonzoconservatism.

So the game is up for the poor old gonzocons, but the writing's been on the wall for a while.

The occupation of Iraq has been a disaster from start to finish. From the ideology-driven disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces to the use of Sharia law as a source of the constitution, virtually guaranteeing the country's eventual fate as an Islamic theocracy, the gonzos made one false step after another.

But the ideology's ultimate failure happened nowhere near Iraq. That Rubicon was crossed last fall, on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

All ideologues, be they communist, fascist, or gonzocon, claim that they are able to solve all problems confronting their adherents; and when they can't, they fail.

With Nazism, that moment came at the Battle of Stalingrad. With Soviet Communism, it was the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Gonzo neoconservatism is an ideology whose great hook is the global projection of national power. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed that the ideology that demanded national power be projected internationally could not project national power nationally; at that point, its fate in the dustbin of history was sealed.

Justin Raimondo referred to the Katrina disaster as the outcome of "putting America last"; but I prefer to think of the levees of New Orleans as "neoconservatism's Berlin Wall."

Where do the gonzocons go from here?

Many of the elected ones will be out of office in November, if they don't start exhibiting more interest in America. This is perhaps as good an explanation as any for the current congressional shenanigans over port leases. For the time being, it looks like Congress will have to pay more attention to those on whose behalf they congregate.

Waving inky fingers might not cut it in Dubuque anymore.

It's also not at all unreasonable to imagine that Dick Cheney will not be vice president come November. Deadeye Dick is a far bigger electoral liability than bonus given, inter alia, his status as Scooter Libby's last pre-arrest employer. If Karl Rove still has his wits about him, then organizing the Last Flight of Gonzo One may be near the top of his agenda.

The pundits and think-tankers will still go cranking along – each with a spoor of clippings on the Net as proof of their misdeeds, albatrosses they will all have to bear for as long as the rest of us have printers and cartridges.

Some might show some shame for the way they have behaved during this scandal. And some have behaved scandalously: George Will not only cheered on the destruction of one country, but also smeared the democrats of another as cowards.

If he is ever looking for an example of how he can change, I suggest he look no further than the example given by another man of great power and influence brought low by scandal who spent the rest of his life atoning by doing good works in obscurity.

His name was John Profumo.

This has been an epic scandal, the worst in all American history, and one of the worst in all British. What gives this scandal its truly ghastly edge is that it was cooked up by smart people, educated people, people one would expect to know better, people whom you would expect to question ideas placed in front of them but who didn't, who swallowed lie after lie after lie instead because they felt they had to or simply because they wanted to.

Worse, it is a scandal of the elites, of those who live their lives at the base of power's throne, far away from the homes of those whose blood is spilled and whose treasure is wasted paying for games of war.

How the gonzocons must miss Arthur Chrenkoff. At least he tried to give them some good news.

And if anyone thinks I feel a measure of schadenfreude over their fate, I can assure you I don't. I only feel a little shame, because I was once a gonzocon, too.

 

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Martin Kelly writes for The Washington Dispatch.

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