April 11, 2003


The weird men behind George W Bush's war (Michael Lind, 7th April 2003, New Statesman)
America's allies and enemies alike are baffled. What is going on in the United States? Who is making foreign policy? And what are they trying to achieve? Quasi-Marxist explanations involving big oil or American capitalism are mistaken. Yes, American oil companies and contractors will accept the spoils of the kill in Iraq. But the oil business, with its Arabist bias, did not push for this war any more than it supports the Bush administration's close alliance with Ariel Sharon. Further, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are not genuine "Texas oil men" but career politicians who, in between stints in public life, would have used their connections to enrich themselves as figureheads in the wheat business, if they had been residents of Kansas, or in tech companies, had they been Californians.

Equally wrong is the theory that American and European civilisation are evolving in opposite directions. The thesis of Robert Kagan, the neoconservative propagandist, that Americans are martial and Europeans pacifist, is complete nonsense. A majority of Americans voted for either Al Gore or Ralph Nader in 2000. Were it not for the over-representation of sparsely populated, right-wing states in both the presidential electoral college and the Senate, the White House and the Senate today would be controlled by Democrats, whose views and values, on everything from war to the welfare state, are very close to those of western Europeans.

Both the economic-determinist theory and the clash-of-cultures theory are reassuring: they assume that the recent revolution in US foreign policy is the result of obscure but understandable forces in an orderly world. The truth is more alarming. As a result of several bizarre and unforeseeable contingencies - such as the selection rather than election of George W Bush, and 11 September - the foreign policy of the world's only global power is being made by a small clique that is unrepresentative of either the US population or the mainstream foreign policy establishment.

The core group now in charge consists of neoconservative defence intellectuals (they are called "neoconservatives" because many of them started off as anti-Stalinist leftists or liberals before moving to the far right). Inside the government, the chief defence intellectuals include Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence. He is the defence mastermind of the Bush administration; Donald Rumsfeld is an elderly figurehead who holds the position of defence secretary only because Wolfowitz himself is too controversial. Others include Douglas Feith, the number three at the Pentagon; Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a Wolfowitz protege who is Cheney's chief of staff; John R Bolton, a right-winger assigned to the State Department to keep Colin Powell in check; and Elliott Abrams, recently appointed to head Middle East policy at the National Security Council. On the outside are James Woolsey, the former CIA director, who has tried repeatedly to link both 9/11 and the anthrax letters in the US to Saddam Hussein, and Richard Perle, who has just resigned from his unpaid defence department advisory post after a lobbying scandal. Most of these "experts" never served in the military. But their headquarters is now the civilian defence secretary's office, where these Republican political appointees are despised and distrusted by the largely Republican career soldiers.

Most neoconservative defence intellectuals have their roots on the left, not the right. They are products of the largely Jewish-American Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and 1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or political history. Their admiration for the Israeli Likud party's tactics, including preventive warfare such Israel's 1981 raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, is mixed with odd bursts of ideological enthusiasm for "democracy". They call their revolutionary ideology "Wilsonianism" (after President Woodrow Wilson), but it is really Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism. Genuine American Wilsonians believe in self-determination for people such as the Palestinians. [...]

For a British equivalent, one would have to imagine a Tory government, with Downing Street and Whitehall controlled by followers of Reverend IanPaisley, extreme Eurosceptics, empire loyalists and Blimpish military types - all determined, for a variety of strategic or religious reasons, to invade Egypt. Their aim would be to regain the Suez Canal as the first step in a campaign to restore the British empire. Yes, it really is that weird.

Even by Mr. Lind's appallingly low standards this is pretty vile, as he attacks both Jews and Christians because of his own pathological hatred of religion. Even worse than his bigoted theme though are the various mistakes.
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2003 7:11 PM

The way neoconservative is thrown about these days has rendered it a nearly useless term.

Posted by: Kevin Whited at April 11, 2003 7:31 PM

Kevin: On the contrary, it's useful in the way that "The Jews" used to be, back before it became taboo to do so.

Some folks always have to have a man behind the curtain, an Illuminati triad to seek out, a hidden agenda to rail against. Way too often, for reasons that still aren't clear to me, they used "The Jews." Now they have what they think is a near-synonym: "The Neocons."

So I'd say there is some (deranged) use in the term after all, although I see where you're coming from.

Posted by: Chris at April 11, 2003 7:44 PM

Was this the essay
you were referring to?

Posted by: mike earl at April 11, 2003 8:35 PM

Whoops, link rot: it isn't there anymore. I've got links to mirrors elsewhere, but I don't know if they're legitimate.

Posted by: mike earl at April 11, 2003 8:37 PM

Yeah, mike, my link in the Mead review is dead too.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 9:04 PM

Be forewarned; this is where "they" are going. "Their" agenda is being overwhelmed by current events. Looking forward to 2004 "they" are preparing to delegitimize another anticipated Republican victory or at best, undermine that possibility by fabricating a ghost cabal preparing an election coup. Something out of a cold war novel. Stand by!

Posted by: Genecis at April 11, 2003 9:27 PM

I don't really know anything about neoconservatives, but I know lots about Wilsonianism, and one thing Wilson never showed any interest in was self-determination of the peoples.

He said he did, but when he got to Paris he threw them all overboard in order to get his league.

There are litmus tests for a genuine Wilsonianism, but very, very few people would pass many of them: Biafra, anyone?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 11, 2003 10:23 PM


Certainly the most that's left in the real world of Wilsonian policy is that every ethnic group should be self-governed--fitting for our most racist president.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 11:18 PM

Steven Den Beste has a mirrorsite to the Mead essay:

Did I format that link correctly?

Posted by: Patrick Moreno at April 11, 2003 11:29 PM

This is a sharp little essay, Orrin. One thing in particular caught my attention in Lind's screed:

"A majority of Americans voted for either Al Gore or Ralph Nader in 2000. Were it not for the over-representation of sparsely populated, right-wing states in both the presidential electoral college and the Senate, the White House and the Senate today would be controlled by Democrats, whose views and values, on everything from war to the welfare state, are very close to those of western Europeans."

He has a point there, doesn't he? Thank goodness for the over-representation of rural states. Although one shoudl point out that gerrymandering in the House allows for a gaggle of socialists and leftist malcontents who would never be elect were their districts more competitive. Conservatives can win competitive districts; anti-American radicals cannot.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 12, 2003 1:40 AM


One thing that caught my attention...F..CK

these guys!

By the way... Thank God for the electoral


Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 12, 2003 2:30 AM

I have to admit though, I found Kagan's book very convincing...

Posted by: Steve Martinovich at April 12, 2003 3:39 AM

Kagan's article on the progress of democracy in Korea was on of the best I've read in years.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at April 12, 2003 4:31 AM

Thanks, Patrick

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2003 2:29 PM