As the ugly reality of what
we had gotten ourselves into in Iraq settled on the national
consciousness, like a viral infection settling on the lungs, the
conventional wisdom was that the authors of this war the political
tendency known as the
neoconservatives were utterly and completely discredited.
Where were the "weapons of mass
destruction"? Where were the crowds
of Iraqis throwing rose petals in our wake? Where was the
cakewalk? And most of all where were the friggin'
neocons, anyway? Most were in hiding, having resigned
and slunk back to academia or some neocon "think tank"; very few were in the
line of fire. They left that one for the
Suddenly, once-ubiquitous figures such as Richard Perle, James Woolsey, and
Adelman, who had made the television talking-heads circuit
pretty regularly in the run-up to war, were nowhere to be seen. The
neocons vanished from the corridors of power or else took cover in
unlighted alcoves. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Perle, and a large
number of their retainers left
government or like Scooter Libby and Larry Franklin were
The neocons, we were told, had been "marginalized,"
and their dreams of "benevolent
global hegemony" were pronounced dead.
Yet, not much more than a year later, the beast has reawakened; the
corpse is animate. Frankenstein lives! As Jacob
Heilbrunn, a senior editor at The National Interest, a
former neocon himself, and author of They
Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, put
it the other day, the idea that the neoconservatives are
finished "could be the biggest whopper of them all."
With the "surge" in place, its ostensible
success having placated
the mainstream media (if not the American
public), "the neocons are already claiming vindication," avers
Heilbrunn. And they're flocking to John
McCain's presidential bid, which seems to have escaped any
opprobrium on account of his
pro-war position simply because the mainstream media have
resumed their love
affair with the conductor of the "Straight
Talk Express." And so have the neocons: Heilbrunn refers to
McCain as "the neocons' hero," as well he ought to be. He is, after
all, the perfect exemplar of militarism,
American-style. With McCain
in the White House, it will be just like old
times again, only better. Don't forget that McCain was
one of Ahmed Chalabi's biggest backers and openly
campaigned, during the Clinton administration, to put the Iraqi
fraudster on the American payroll.
During the 1990s, when most Republican politicians were against
nation-building and extravagant interventionism perhaps in
reaction to the Clinton administration's taste
for both McCain, in the words of John
Judis, sought "to differentiate his views from those of other
Republican presidential aspirants and from the growing isolationism
of House Republicans" from "within a larger ideological framework.
That ideological framework was neoconservatism."
Standard became McCain's Pravda, and he began
consulting regularly with Bill
Kristol, who soon became a close adviser. Neocons Marshall Wittmann and Daniel
McKivergan two close friends of Kristol's were hired by McCain, and the former
became one of his top advisers during the presidential campaign.
The neocons, having destroyed
the presidency of George W.
Bush, have already found another willing host, and they are
primed and ready for another go. As Heilbrunn knowingly, and
somewhat wearily, puts it:
"The truth is that the neocons have been repeatedly declared
dead before and, to the chagrin of their enemies on the left and
the right, bounced back. At the end of the Cold War, the
arch-realist George H.W. Bush relegated them to the sidelines; then
the triangulating Bill Clinton seemed to deprive them of their
biggest foreign and domestic policy issues. If they came back from
that, they can come back from anything. Now that Robert Kagan,
William Kristol (who seems not to be discredited in the eyes of the
New York Times, which just made him a columnist) and a host
of other neocons have hitched their fortunes to McCain, the neocons
are poised for a fresh comeback. If they make a hash of foreign
policy by 2011, perhaps the familiar cycle of public scorn and
rebirth might even start all over again."
Ah yes, the familiar cycle of public scorn and rebirth: like the
panorama of the seasons winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Heilbrunn makes it all sound so
natural. Yet there is something
unnatural and downright
creepy about this tale of eternal recurrence: how could it be
that a political sect that has wreaked such damage on America's
national interests, and taken so many lives, manages to get off not
only scot-free, but lives to fight another day?
Two reasons, in my opinion: oodles of money, and an apparent
ability to quash investigations that might have put a few more
besides Libby and Franklin behind bars.
The financial factor is a major plus for the neocons. Paul Gottfried and others have
already documented how Irving
Kristol, Bill's father, made the necessary contacts with old
conservative money and transformed relatively staid philanthropists
of a right-wing disposition into ATM machines for the exclusive use
of neoconservative ideologues. By driving out all their ideological
competition on the Right, monopolizing the institutions of the
contemporary conservative movement, and transforming those
institutions to suit their own purposes, the neocons pulled off a coup
d'etat that eventually gave them near total hegemony over the
American Right. A nationwide
network of neocon operatives in the media, academia, and
government was created by this burgeoning apparatus and soon took on
a political dimension, with McCain being one of the most prominent
Republican politicians Kristol & Co. acquired during the 1990s.
The immunity factor is harder to explain, yet there it
is, staring us in the face. Of course, this is nothing new: the
neocons have always
veered toward criminality, as the Iran-Contra
scandal showed. But they mostly managed to stay out of the Big
House. How Michael Ledeen, for example, avoided a jail term for his
activities in setting
up the arms-for-hostages deal, in clear contravention of
American law, is not known. Equally murky are the more recent
shenanigans of this troublesome sect. To take just one example: the
neocons' Che Guevara, Chalabi,
is known to have passed vital
U.S. secrets to the Iranians, most probably with the active
collaboration of his American fan club, yet neither Chalabi
nor his neocon handlers seem to have suffered any consequences,
legal or otherwise, other than some initial embarrassment. The whole
thing soon blew over, as the "investigation"
by the FBI into Chalabi's activities was quietly killed.
Don't imagine for a moment that a changing of the guard in
Washington will keep the neocon foxes out of the proverbial
hen-house. You'll recall that back when the Republicans controlled
Congress, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee,
Pat Roberts, was blamed for stalling the famous "phase
two" of the committee's investigation into the intelligence that
told us Saddam Hussein was harboring "weapons of mass destruction."
This investigation was supposed to tell us if the administration had
deliberately misled Congress and the American people into believing
what turned out to be a pack of
lies but the Democrats could always point to GOP control of
the process and throw their hands up in despair. However, now that
the Democrats control Congress, has the much-vaunted "phase two"
been launched? No way, Josι.
If and when the Democrats take the White House, you can bet your
bottom dollar the neocons will have some kind of presence, whether
it's in the form of a few mid-level bureaucrats placed in sensitive
positions or in top spots close to President Hillary or Obama.
They're already crawling all
over the DLC, and they'll find their way into a Democratic White
House via the interstices between pure politics and policy wonkery.
If the Republicans manage to overcome the odds, and McCain winds
up in the White House, the neocons will be back and with a
Like vampires risen from the dead each night, these creatures
who shun the light and feast on pain and suffering, are refreshed
and ready to take wing again. What they seek is what makes them
feel alive and energizes them to want more, and that is war. They
are the War Party, and they are Democrats and Republicans.
They are columnists and publishers and academics, as well as politicians
and publicists. They don't have much of a mass base: they prefer
to work in the shadows, manipulating rather than inspiring. By
such Machiavellian means have they managed to stay viable, in
spite of the disasters they have wrought through the years giving
them more scope for fresh disasters yet to be imagined.