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Is just a coincidence that George W. Bush gave a speech announcing that the U.S. was leading a "global democratic revolution" on the eve of Leon Trotsky's birthday, but it is one that neatly illustrates the militant revolutionism at the core of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era.
The proximity to Trotsky's birthday was fortuitous, but the venue of this revolutionary proclamation was not: it was a speech commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the brainchild of neoconservative ideologues, many of whom have their roots on the Trotskyite Left. Having given up the dream of revolutionary socialism for the more practical project of global "democracy," the troublesome little sect of neoconservatives, not so affectionately known as "neocons," is at last having its moment in the sun.
The NED was a sop thrown to the neocons during the Reagan administration, so they could have a little domain of their own, a small but strategically placed contingent of "Socialists for Reagan" embedded deep in the bowels of the U.S. government. The first President of the group, Carl Gershman, was a longtime member of the Social Democrats, USA, formerly the Socialist Party, a group dominated by the legendary Max Shachtman. The founder of "third camp" neo-Trotskyism, Shachtman broke with Trotsky in the 1940s and evolved, over the years, into a firm supporter of U.S. military intervention worldwide, while retaining like Sidney Hook his dedication to the "democratic" socialist cause.
As top advisors to the Lane Kirkland wing of the AFL-CIO, Shachtman and his followers burrowed deep in the labor movement, and lobbied extensively for the establishment of a government-subsidized "quasi-private" foundation that would help them extend their labor connections internationally, The effort bloomed in the Carter years, when the two parties agreed to share in the spoils, and bore fruit at the start of the Reagan years. The legislation establishing the National Endowment for Democracy mandated that most of its funding, at least initially, would go to the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), an arm of the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department.
Aside from the subsidy, however, the benefits to the Shachtmanites were also ideological: from their perch at the NED, they could egg on the administration to confront the Soviet Union and agitate for the prosecution of the cold war to the fullest all at taxpayers' expense. When the Soviet Union imploded, however, so did the rationale for the NED and it narrowly escaped the budget ax. But post-9/11, the NED along with the neoconservative movement was given a new lease on life. Certainly George W. Bush's conversion to Shachtmanism, as evidenced by his NED address, represents the apotheosis of neocon dominance in Washington.
The odd combination of Soviet-style phraseology with ostensibly conservative rhetoric made for a speech of unsurpassed weirdness. On the one hand, the President celebrated the victory of capitalism, hailing the triumph of "democracy," "free enterprise," and "markets," and yet somehow managed to do it the style of a socialist orator out of the 1930s.
The U.S., according to Bush, was no ordinary country, nor even one especially blessed, but an "inspiration for oppressed peoples," whose acolytes worldwide "knew of at least one place a bright and hopeful land where freedom was valued and secure" kind of like the Soviet Union was to the Commies of yesteryear. Here, too, are references to the necessity for "sacrifice" a favorite theme of the old Soviet rhetoricians including this Orwellian formulation:
"By definition, the success of freedom rests upon the choices and the courage of free peoples, and upon their willingness to sacrifice."
Freedom is, "by definition," slavery. War is peace. And Ignorance, as we all know, is Strength.
The speeches of the Soviet leaders, and their American imitators, were always filled with new "turns," announcing the most recent twist in the party line, and the Bush speech displays the same grandiose tic:
"We've reached another great turning point and the resolve we show will shape the next stage of the world democratic movement."
America as the leader of a "world movement" the idea is positively Leninist.
Full of revolutionary resolve, the U.S. must now focus on the Middle East "for decades to come," said Bush. For some strange reason, Mesopotamia does not yet share Montana's enthusiasm for democratic governance, and this is impermissible:
"Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free."
Yes, but as Frederick Douglass put it, he who would be free must strike the first blow. It is not for us to say how or if the peoples of the Middle East will find their way to freedom and, consequently, to prosperity. Perhaps it is religion, and the willful pull of tradition, that holds that whole region of the world back: but doesn't freedom also include the freedom to say no to modernity? Oh, but we mustn't say that, it's politically incorrect to even imply that all peoples everywhere and at every time are something more or less than multi-cultural clones of Homo Americanus:
"Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This 'cultural condescension,' as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would 'never work.'"
Speaking of cultural condescension: Japan had "democracy" long before World War II, with an elected Diet, a figurehead monarch, and a relatively free expression of Western liberal and even radical ideas. The assertion that U.S. troops brought these alien concepts with them for the first time and imposed them by force on reluctant Japanese is laughable.
And the idea that postwar Japanese democracy is an unqualified success is certainly arguable, as Tokyo proves unable to reform its entrenched bureaucracy and put its economic house in order. Even the determined revolutionist Junichiro Koizumi has only just managed to lurch from one crisis to another: the land of the rising sun may yet fall beneath a tsunami of bank debt. So much for the virtues of Japanese democracy: Japan is still a society run by consensus, where Western-style individualism is considered a form of mental illness.
The President applies this same mindless universalism to the problems of the Middle East, which can all be solved if only we recognize that, in the end, ideology must trump such reactionary vestiges of the past as culture and religion:
"It should be clear to all that Islam the faith of one-fifth of humanity is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America."
Turkey is democratic except when the military decides that democracy is bringing the country too close to the edge of an Islamic revolution, in which case it reverts to its roots as the prototypical Oriental despotism. Before we set up Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone as exemplars of the democratic progress, perhaps it would be wiser to wait and see if they don't return some time tomorrow to historic patterns of repression and civil war.
Albania a bastion of democracy? Only if you consider like many libertarians that all governments, democratic or otherwise, are the moral equivalent of little more than gangsters.
We are told that the Middle East needs to be "transformed" before we can sleep safe in our beds at night. But if "more than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments," as the President averred, then what's the problem? These very same peoples hate our guts, that's what, and democracy hasn't ameliorated their hatred only given it freer expression.
While the President goes on to assert wrongly, in my view that Islam is compatible with the Western concept of limited government and individual rights, for some unexplained reason there seems to be a "freedom deficit" prevalent in Muslim countries:
"Whole societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines."
But political and economic doctrines cannot be understood except as they relate to and are derived from cultural and especially religious ideas. As Murray N. Rothbard showed in his monumental "An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought," the development of economic ideas in the West the varieties of socialism, including Marxism, as well as capitalism was rooted in the religious and cultural trends prevalent in pre-industrial Europe. The idea that political and economic doctrines are something separate and aloof from the cultural traditions of a given country or region, to be applied by social engineers at gunpoint, is a grave error inherent in our "liberationist" foreign policy.
Like the Commie leaders of the past, who disdained the role and power of religion, and were conscious enemies of tradition, Bush sees himself as the instrument of History. All progress is measured by the speed of his victories. He is shocked shocked! that
"There are governments that still fear and repress independent thought and creativity, and private enterprise the human qualities that make for a strong and successful societies."
Yes, and one of them is Israel a country that systematically steals Palestinian land, bulldozes private homes and businesses, and won't even let its helots travel from one city to another, let alone provide some outlet for their "creativity." Billions per year in U.S. aid pays for the systematic dehumanization of an entire people at Israel's hands.
The Israelis are not mentioned by the President, but he has plenty of advice for the Palestinians:
"For the Palestinian people, the only path to independence and dignity and progress is the path of democracy. And the Palestinian leaders who block and undermine democratic reform, and feed hatred and encourage violence are not leaders at all. They're the main obstacles to peace, and to the success of the Palestinian people."
Is it really only Yasser Arafat who blocks and undermines "democratic reform"? What does "democratic reform" mean in the context of having your house bulldozed, your shop destroyed, your olive trees uprooted and sold, your land stolen out from under your feet?
By urging the adoption of democracy from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the President should be careful, for he may get what he wants: the end result, however, will almost certainly not resemble anything desirable from the American point of view. Democratic elections in Algeria, held in 1991, led to a radical Islamist victory at the polls, and the election was promptly cancelled. A similar result would surely ensue if, today, Bush could press a button and instantly implement his democratist panacea throughout the region thanks, in large part, to U.S. military intervention in Iraq and our unconditional support to Israel.
The President then turns his Olympian gaze on Iraq, praises the Iraqi Governing Council even as the U.S. contemplates plans to ditch it and rallies his fellow revolutionaries around a long-term commitment of troops and treasure:
"This is a massive and difficult undertaking it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution."
The idea that we must wait for the democratization of the Middle East before we can even begin to recapture the safety of the pre-9/11 world is ludicrous. Do we really have to conquer most of the rest of the earth before we can ensure our own legitimate national security interests? This is precisely what Trotsky theorized about the Soviet Union that the revolution must spread, to protect the "workers' state" from its implacable enemies. The neocons are selling us the same sort of malarkey using the President as their mouthpiece only this time packaged as 100 percent Americanism.
That may be the biggest of the many lies we've been told lately. Nothing could be more anti-American than a policy of perpetual war in the name of "peace." What emboldens and creates terrorists is the neocon conceit that we can stage manage the development of Iraqi society or any society. Such a policy subverts our constitutional form of democracy at home, and undermines our interests abroad.
The great error of Marxism was the idea that liberal ends (the withering away of the state) could be achieved by coercive means (the "dictatorship of the proletariat"). There was to be a "transition period" of indeterminate length before the workers paradise could be achieved, and Soviet workers were continually exhorted to "sacrifice" so that they might "liberate" the "oppressed peoples" abroad and usher in a new world order. If any of this sounds familiar, it is because a Marxism of the Right has won the day in Washington.
The conservative economist and columnist Paul Craig Roberts, an assistant secretary of the treasury in the early years of the Reagan administration, calls our neocon policymakers "neo-Jacobins," and he is entirely right to compare the neocons to that ruthless and notoriously bloodthirsty faction of the French Revolution. The name has become a synonym for revolutionary tyranny, a dangerous perversion of the libertarian ideal into its complete opposite. That is precisely the nature of the enemy we now face.
In the case of the original Jacobins, their policies quickly led to their own undoing. Whether we can hope the same fate will befall the neos, at least any time soon, is a matter of some speculation that, lately, seems almost likely. At any rate, we can always hope.
"There is now a symbiotic relationship between the Islamist terrorists and the neo-conservative directors of the "war on terror" that promises a long political life to the players on both sides. They are, as our Marxist friends used to put it, "objective allies": both seek to undermine the existing global order in order to expand their own freedom of action, and each group's actions justify the existence of the other group, at least in the eyes of its own supporters. Al-Qaida, for example, sees the overseas adventures of American neo-conservatives as the best possible recruiting tool for its own cause among Muslims worldwide. If Osama bin Laden could decide the outcome of the next U.S. presidential election, he would instantly choose Bush. A rival candidate might pull American troops out of the Middle East or take a more even-handed approach in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and Bin Laden has no interest in stability in the region." (10/14)
One of the main features of Trotskyism is the theory of permanent revolution.
Oct 1, 2003 | antiwar.com
Surely it isn't modesty that makes the neocons shy away from the spotlight. Yet how else can we explain Joshua Muravchik's shock at the sudden discovery that entering the term "neoconservative" into Lexis-Nexis will cause an aborted search because "the number of entries exceeds the program's capacity"?
That's what's so unique about the neocons: any other political movement would welcome all that publicity. But not them. Oh no: quite the contrary. Until very recently, most neocons denied their very existence as a coherent faction. Irving Kristol, author of Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, is the only self-admitted member of the species, and, as such, to him has fallen the task of issuing pronouncements in its name, such as this recent manifesto. But the neocons have been outed, so to speak, by their own success: not in building a mass movement, but in penetrating the top echelons of the U.S. government. As our great "victory" in Iraq turns out to have been purely Pyrrhic, people are casting about for some explanation. How did we fall into this quagmire quickly becomes: who dragged us in?
A surprising number of ideologically diverse writers have come up with a similar answer: the neocons. Spanning the spectrum, from left to right, they include Michael Lind, Elizabeth Drew, Pat Buchanan, Joshua Micah Marshall, Jim Lobe, Paul Craig Roberts, to mention just a few. But Muravchik, writing in Commentary [September 2003], protests that neocons are just liberals who developed "misgivings" about the Great Society and a Democratic party gone soft on the cold war. The "conspiracy theorists" have conjured up a bogeyman, according to Muravchik, a "sinister" and
"Strange, veiled group, almost a cabal, whose purpose is to manipulate U.S. policy for ulterior purposes."
Muravchik scoffs at the idea that the neocons owe much of anything either to the cult of Leo Strauss, the noble lie," or to Leon Trotsky, whose legacy informed such proto-neocons as Max Shachtman, Philip Selznick, and Irving Kristol.
I will pass, for the moment, on the subject of the Straussian connection, since I have never been able to read a single one of Strauss's books all the way through. I am told that he is boring on purpose, because, you see, only the dogged few will get the true esoteric meaning. This seems fitting for a philosophy that, from what I can tell, is founded on the primacy of deception. Clearly this methodology is tailor-made for the gang that lied us into war.
On the subject of the neocons' leftist roots, however, I feel more qualified to comment. Muravchik disdains "ancestor-hunting" as "typical of the way most recent analysis of neoconservative ideas has been conducted," but surely one way to understand an idea is to describe its history. He earlier complains that "few of those writing critically about neoconservatism today have bothered to stipulate what they take [its] tenets to be." He then turns around and declares that any attempt to understand how these ideas evolved over time is somehow not valid. His argument, in effect, amounts to "Move along, nothing to see here."
But there is plenty to see, first and foremost the Trotskyist DNA embedded in the neocon foreign policy prescription. Even if Muravchik was right and he isn't to say that "I can think of only one major neocon figure who did have a significant dalliance with Trotskyism" the parallels between Trotskyism and neoconservatism would still be striking.
The Trotskyists argued that the Communist Revolution of 1917 could not and should not be contained within the borders of the Soviet Union. Today's neocons make the same argument about the need to spread the American system until the U.S. becomes a "global hegemon," as Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol puts it. Trotsky argued that socialism in one country was impossible, and doomed to failure: encircled by capitalism, surrounded by enemies constantly plotting its downfall, the "workers state" would not survive if it didn't expand. The neocons are making a similar argument when it comes to liberal democracy. Confronted by an Islamic world wholly opposed to modernity, Western liberal democracy must implant itself in the Middle East by force or else face defeat in the "war on terrorism." Expand or die is the operative principle, and the neocons brought this Trotskyist mindset with them from the left.
The idea that Irving Kristol is the lone ex-Trotskyist in the ranks of the neocons has got to be some sort of joke. If so, it is a weak one. Albert Wohlstetter, the grand-daddy of what Lind calls the "defense intellectuals" and who has a conference center named after him over at Neocon Central, the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington, D.C. was a member of the League for a Revolutionary Party (LRP), a Trotskyist grouplet founded in the 1930s by B. J. Field, a labor leader who led the New York hotel strike of 1934. (A close associate of his at the Rand Corporation has confirmed this to me.) Gertrude Himmelfarb, Seymour Martin Lipset, Martin Diamond, all were members of Max Shachtman's Workers Party, and then split into their own faction, the "Shermanites," who upheld an ostensibly revolutionary socialist doctrine that was, nonetheless, avowedly "anti-Bolshevik." And what about Sidney Hook, who never renounced socialism and yet was awarded the Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan: what is he, chopped liver?
It's not like the neocons' Trotskyist legacy is any big secret. Even Jonah Goldberg knows about this. Jeanne Kirkpatrick's reminiscences of her education in the Young Peoples' Socialist League (YPSL, known as Yipsels) were a matter of public record until the Social Democrats USA took it off their website.
Speaking of the YPSL, Muravchik is the past national chairman of that group. If he is saying that he knows of only one leading neocon with any roots in the Trotskyist movement, then perhaps he ought to be introduced to himself.
Muravchik disdains the term Shachmanite to describe his former political allegiances but it is hard to believe that the former national chairman of the Yipsels, (1968 73), the Social Democratic youth group, could have been anything other than a follower of Max Shachtman. According to the chronology in Peter Druckers' 1994 book, Max Shachtman and His Left, in 1965 "YPSL [was] reconstituted under Shachtman's control."
Lest anyone think that I am merely red-baiting Muravchik, by the time he was national chairman the group had abandoned its revolutionary razzle-dazzle, as Drucker points out, and become a stepping stone for careerists on the make:
"Shachtman extended his AFL-CIO network by helping his young followers get union staff jobs. In 1965, following the 1964 collapse of the YPSL, he reconstituted it under his right-wing followers' control. The new group had barely a shadow of the independent spirit of Shachtman's earlier youth groups. Even Tom Kahn, who had joined Shachtman's youth group in a livelier time, regretted that the group now had few vigorous debates. But debates were no longer the group's main point. Its main point was to take young people whom the 1960s had begun to radicalize, immunize them against the New Left's subversive appeal, and train them for AFL-CIO or other social democratic careers."
The post-Trotskyist ideology developed by Max Shachtman, who broke with Trotsky over the nature of the Soviet Union, took on a life of its own during the cold war years. Evolving from an orthodox Trotskyist, he later upheld the "third camp" "Neither Washington, nor Moscow!" and wound up supporting the cold war wholeheartedly, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam war. Devoted to spreading "global democracy," Shachtman's former followers soon coalesced into a potent intellectual force that had no trouble taking over the intellectual institutions of the Right as they made their way from one end of the political spectrum to the other. The indelible imprint of their Trotskyist legacy is a principled bellicosity: combined with intellectual aggressiveness and a capacity for bureaucratic infighting, the neocons in power make formidable opponents.
The rest of Muravchik's screed is an attempt to smear critics of the neocons with the brush of anti-Semitism. That so many of these critics are Jewish, according to Muravchik, merely proves that they have "ulterior motives." Since he doesn't name these motives, or try to describe them, the reader is left wondering. If Muravchik wishes to deny that the neocons pursue the Likud party line with as much alacrity as the old Communist party cadre once followed the Soviet line, then I challenge him to come up with a single instance in which a prominent neocon criticized the government of Israel. In any dispute between Israel and the U.S., when has any neoconservative taken the American side? The answer is: never.
Muravchik makes much of the Jewish heritage of many neocons, and tries to conflate anti-neocons with anti-Semities. But the ethnic factor is a historical accident: the really significant factor is the intellectual history of the neoconservative idea, especially as it relates to American foreign policy.
In tracing the intellectual ancestry of the neoconservative persuasion to its Trotskyist roots, its critics are pointing, with alarm, to its revolutionary utopianism, its dogmatism, its bloodthirstiness as characteristics inherited from the ruthless founder of the Red Army. The point of exposing the neocons' far-leftist origins is to show that they are in no way a conservative force. There is nothing conservative about embarking on a campaign of conquest in the Middle East and uprooting most of the regimes in the region. The neocons are, as one critic put it [PDF file], really neo-Jacobins. Theirs is a revolutionary project, one that violates the precepts of the Founders and would have to mean the overthrow of the Republic.
A funny thing happened this week: the Bush administration, with its aggressive unilateralism, and its contempt for diplomacy and international institutions, suddenly staked its fortunes on the kindness of foreigners.
All the world knows about the Iraq about-face: having squandered our military strength in a war he felt like fighting even though it had nothing to do with terrorism, President Bush is now begging the cheese-eaters and chocolate-makers to rescue him. What may not be equally obvious is that he's doing the same thing on the economic front. Having squandered his room for economic maneuver on tax cuts that pleased his party base but had nothing to do with job creation, Mr. Bush is now asking China to help him out.
Not, of course, that Mr. Bush admits to having made any mistakes. Indeed, Mr. Bush seems to have a serious case of "l'щtat, c'est moi": he impugns the patriotism of anyone who questions his decisions.
If you ask why he diverted resources away from hunting Al Qaeda, which attacked us, to invading Iraq, which didn't, he suggests that you're weak on national security. And it's the same for anyone who questions his economic record: "They tell me it was a shallow recession," he said Monday. "It was a shallow recession because of the tax relief. Some say, well, maybe the recession should have been deeper. That bothers me when people say that."
Aug 28, 2003 | townhall.com
Thus, an op-ed piece in The New York Times recently proclaimed: "America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one." This was written by Jessica Stern of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (Motto: "Where mediocre students pay exorbitant sums to say they went to Harvard"). You can't win with these people. The termites are swarming out into the light of day, and liberals are blaming the exterminator.
Liberals simply refuse to consider thoughts that would interfere with their lemming-like groupthink. They hold their hands over their ears like little children who don't want to listen to mother.
Yes, perhaps there are important textural differences between secular Saddam loyalists and Islamic crazies -- though it's a little odd to be lectured on nuance from people who can grasp no difference whatsoever between Bill O'Reilly and Jesse Helms. But as George Bush : You are with the terrorists or you are with America. Now we're getting a pretty clear picture of who is with the terrorists. As George Patton said, I like when the enemy shoots at me; then I know where the bastards are and can kill them.
But liberals are indignant for every day that we haven't turned a barbaric land into Vermont. They were willing to give Stalin 36 years for the awkwardness of his revolution. We have essentially imposed a revolution on Iraq -- and liberals give us a month to work out the bugs. U.S. forces in Baghdad say that Iraq is well on its way to establishing American-style representative democracy and might even be holding its first free elections in less than a year. Within three years the Iraqi people could be recalling their first governor.
Indeed, the war is going so well that now liberals have to create absurd straw-man arguments no one ever uttered in order to accuse the Bush administration of horrible miscalculations. Amid her sneering, PMS-induced anger toward the Bush administration, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd claimed the Bush administration was "shaken" to discover "the terrible truth: Just because we got Odai and Qusai, Iraqi militants are not going to stop blowing up Westerners." I'd love to see the quote where anyone in the Bush administration -- anyone in the universe -- said that.
... ... ...
With all their pointless chitchat about Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), liberals of all people ought to have known the war would not be over with the deaths of Odai and Qusai. Speaking of which -- where is Osama? We haven't heard much from him lately. Nor is Saddam Hussein out shaking his puny fist at the Great Satan anymore. Concerned that he might try to sneak out in disguise, U.S. soldiers in Iraq have been given pictures of Saddam Hussein in various outfits, hairstyles and even makeup schemes. (And I thought this was kind of interesting -- it turns out he's a "winter.")
What is the point of liberal carping? What precisely are they proposing we do? Turn tail and abandon Iraq to the mullahs and the Syrians? Revert to the Democrats' tried-and-true method of abandoning the region to any local Pol Pot who might turn up?
Clinton's statesmanlike response to Islamic fanatics was to do nothing -- except when he needed to distract from his impeachment and would suddenly start bombing foreign countries at random. In eight years, the only domestic Muslim terrorist Clinton went after was a blind cleric sitting outside a mosque in New Jersey behind a card table with an "Ask Me About Terrorism" sign.
The Clinton approach was working great, if you don't count the first bombing of the World Trade Center, the bombing of our Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia, the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the bombing of the USS Cole (news - web sites) and, finally, the greatest terrorist attack in the history of the world right here on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001.
We have seen how well the Democrats' surrender approach works for 50 years. We saw it again last week. The United Nations (news - web sites) stood shoulder to shoulder with American liberals, France, Germany and Saddam Hussein in opposing war with Iraq. And then last week in Iraq, the little darlings bombed the U.N. embassy in Baghdad. But that's Bush's fault, too. Perhaps Bush is also responsible for J-Lo and Ben Affleck's bomb of a movie. The only people whom liberals absolutely refuse to hold accountable for anything are their friends, the Islamofascists.
On the antiwar Right, it has been customary to attack the warmongering neoconservative clique for its Trotskyite origins. Certainly, the founding father of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, wrote in 1983 that he was "proud" to have been a member of the Fourth International in 1940. Other future leading lights of the neocon movement were also initially Trotskyites, like James Burnham and Max Kampelman-the latter a conscientious objector during the war against Hitler, a status that Evron Kirkpatrick, husband of Jeane, used his influence to obtain for him. But there is at least one neoconservative commentator whose personal political odyssey began with a fascination not with Trotskyism, but instead with another famous political movement that grew up in the early decades of the 20th century: fascism. I refer to Michael Ledeen, leading neocon theoretician, expert on Machiavelli, holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, regular columnist for National Review-and the principal cheerleader today for an extension of the war on terror to include regime change in Iran.
Ledeen has gained notoriety in recent months for the following paragraph in his latest book, The War Against the Terror Masters. In what reads like a prophetic approval of the policy of chaos now being visited on Iraq, Ledeen wrote,
Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence-our existence, not our politics-threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.
This is not the first time Ledeen has written eloquently on his love for "the democratic revolution" and "creative destruction." In 1996, he gave an extended account of his theory of revolution in his book, Freedom Betrayed - the title, one assumes, is a deliberate reference to Trotsky's Revolution Betrayed. Ledeen explains that "America is a revolutionary force" because the American Revolution is the only revolution in history that has succeeded, the French and Russian revolutions having quickly collapsed into terror. Consequently, "[O]ur revolutionary values are part of our genetic make-up. We drive the revolution because of what we represent: the most successful experiment in human freedom. We are an ideological nation, and our most successful leaders are ideologues." Denouncing Bill Clinton as a "counter-revolutionary" (!), Ledeen is especially eager to make one point: "Of all the myths that cloud our understanding, and therefore paralyze our will and action, the most pernicious is that only the Left has a legitimate claim to the revolutionary tradition."
Ledeen's conviction that the Right is as revolutionary as the Left derives from his youthful interest in Italian fascism. In 1975, Ledeen published an interview, in book form, with the Italian historian Renzo de Felice, a man he greatly admires. It caused a great controversy in Italy. Ledeen later made clear that he relished the ire of the left-wing establishment precisely because "De Felice was challenging the conventional wisdom of Italian Marxist historiography, which had always insisted that fascism was a reactionary movement." What de Felice showed, by contrast, was that Italian fascism was both right-wing and revolutionary. Ledeen had himself argued this very point in his book, Universal Fascism, published in 1972. That work starts with the assertion that it is a mistake to explain the support of fascism by millions of Europeans "solely because they had been hypnotized by the rhetoric of gifted orators and manipulated by skilful propagandists." "It seems more plausible," Ledeen argued, "to attempt to explain their enthusiasm by treating them as believers in the rightness of the fascist cause, which had a coherent ideological appeal to a great many people." For Ledeen, as for the lifelong fascist theoretician and practitioner, Giuseppe Bottai, that appeal lay in the fact that fascism was "the Revolution of the 20th century."
Ledeen supports de Felice's distinction between "fascism-movement" and "fascism-regime." Mussolini's regime, he says, was "authoritarian and reactionary"; by contrast, within "fascism-movement," there were many who were animated by "a desire to renew." These people wanted "something more revolutionary: the old ruling class had to be swept away so that newer, more dynamic elements-capable of effecting fundamental changes-could come to power." Like his claim that the common ground between Nazism and Italian fascism was "exceedingly minimal"-Ledeen writes, "The fact of the Axis Pact should not be permitted to become the overriding consideration in this analysis"-Ledeen's careful distinction between fascist "regime" and "movement" makes him a clear apologist for the latter. "While 'fascism-movement' was overcome and eventually suppressed by 'fascism-regime,'" he explains, "fascism nevertheless constituted a political revolution in Italy. For the first time, there was an attempt to mobilize the masses and to involve them in the political life of the country." Indeed, Ledeen criticizes Mussolini precisely for not being revolutionary enough. "He never had enough confidence in the Italian people to permit them a genuine participation in fascism." Ledeen therefore concurs with the fascist intellectual, Camillo Pellizi, who argues-in a book Ledeen calls "a moving and fundamental work"-that Mussolini's was "a failed revolution." Pellizzi had hoped that "the new era was to be the era of youthful genius and creativity": for him, Ledeen says, the fascist state was "a generator of energy and creativity." The purest ideologues of fascism, in other words, wanted something very similar to that which Ledeen himself wants now, namely a "worldwide mass movement" enabling the peoples of the world, "liberated" by American militarism, to participate in the "greatest experiment in human freedom." Ledeen wrote in 1996, "The people yearn for the real thing-revolution."
Ledeen was especially interested in the role played by youth in Italian fascism. It was here that he detected the movement's most exciting revolutionary potential. The young Ledeen wrote that those who exalted the position of youth in the fascist revolution-like those who argued in favor of his beloved "universal fascism"-were committed to exporting Italian fascism to the whole world, an idea in which Mussolini was initially uninterested. When he was later converted to it, Mussolini said that fascism drew on the universalist heritage of Rome, both ancient and Catholic. No doubt Ledeen thinks that the new Rome in Washington has the same universalist mission. He writes that people around Berto Ricci-the editor of the fascist newspaper L'Universale, and a man he calls "brilliant" and "an example of enthusiasm and independence"- "called for the formation of a new empire, an empire based not on military conquest but rather on Italy's unique genius for civilization. They intended to develop the traditions of their country and their civilization in such a manner as to make them the basic tenets of a new world order." Ledeen adds, in a passage that anticipates his later love of creative destruction, "Clearly the act of destruction which would produce the flowering of the new fascist hegemony would sweep away the present generation of Italians, along with the rest." And Giuseppe Bottai, to whom Ledeen attributes "considerable energy and autonomy," was notable for his belief that "the infusion of the creative energies of a new generation was essential" for the fascist revolution. Bottai "implored the young to found a new order arising from the spontaneous activity of their creation."
One of the greatest exponents of such youthful vitalism was the high priest of fascism, the poet and adventurer Gabriele D'Annunzio, to whom Ledeen devoted an enthusiastic biography in 1977. Years ago, I visited D'Annunzio's house on the shores of Lake Garda: there is a battleship in the garden and a Brenn gun in the sitting room. D'Annunzio was an eccentric and militaristic Italian Nietzschean who "eulogized rape and acts of savagery" committed by the people he called his spiritual ancestors. The poet was also an early prophet of military intervention and regime change: he invaded the Croatian city of Fiume (now Rijeka) in 1919 and held the city for a year, during which he put into practice his theories of "New Order." In 1918, moreover, D'Annunzio had dropped propaganda leaflets over Vienna promising to liberate the Austrians from their own government, something Ledeen hails as "a glorious gesture." D'Annunzio's watchword was "the liberation of human personality." "His heroism during the war made it possible," Ledeen writes, "to bridge the chasm between intellectuals and the masses. The revolt D'Annunzio led was directed against the old order of Western Europe, and was carried out in the name of youthful creativity and virility."
As Ledeen shows, the Italian fascists expressed their desire "to tear down the old order" (his words from 2002) in terms that are curiously anticipatory of a famous statement in 2003 by the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. In 1932, Asvero Gravelli also divided Europe into "old" and "new" when he wrote, in Towards the Fascist International, "Either old Europe or young Europe. Fascism is the gravedigger of old Europe. Now the forces of the Fascist International are rising." It all sounds rather prophetic.
John Laughland is a London-based writer and lecturer and a trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.
Last week HNN published Alan Wald's critique of an article written by Michael Lind for the New Statesman in which Mr. Lind argued that defense policy in the Bush administration is orchestrated by a group of people, many of whom are Jewish, who were allegedly shaped by Trotskyism. This week we publish an exchange between Mr. Lind and Mr. Wald. Below is Mr. Wald's statement. Click here for Mr. Lind's.
Let's be clear about the argument of Mr. Lind's "The Weird Men Behind George Bush" that garnered him so much publicity. He states that, instead of looking to socio-economic and reactionary cultural explanations for Bush's foreign policy, we must understand that "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." Moreover, the "core group now in charge" are "neoconservative defense intellectuals" of whom "many started off as anti-Stalinist leftists or liberals...." He says that "most neoconservative defense intellectuals...are products of the largely Jewish American Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s...." He also states that their political philosophy of "Wilsonianism" is "really Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism." This Jewish Trotskyist Wilsonianism contrasts with the "Genuine American Wilsonians," who "believe in self-determination for the Palestianians."
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My objection to Mr. Lind's argument is first of all that he gave no evidence that "most" of this "small clique" that is "in charge" of U.S. foreign policy has any significant connection, personal or ideological, to what he calls the "largely Jewish-American Trotskyist movement." In his answer to my critique, Mr. Lind still refuses to provide documentation of such a sensational charge. Instead, he attributes to himself a different claim: "I stand by the observation that there is a distinct Trotskyist political culture, which shows residual influence on individuals who renounced Trotskyism or who were never Trotskyists but inherited this political culture from their parents or older mentors." But nowhere does he show us how a single member of the "small clique" either "renounced Trotskyism" or "inherited this political culture" from anyone.
I would be the last person to dispute that the political cultures of Trotskyism, Communism, anarchism, New Deal Liberalism, etc., can exist and be transmitted. For example, in regard to Trotskyism, it can be demonstrated that critiques of Stalinism from Marxist premises, a sympathy for the radical potential of literary modernism, and an internationalist view of Jewish identity together comprise a subcultural tradition that might be passed on. One might even write a whole book about the subject. (We might call it, "The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left.") Moreover, such a study would point out that the original group coalescing as "neoconservatives" in the 1970s included a few prominent intellectuals who had passed through a wing of the Trotskyist movement, especially an anti-Shachtmanite tendency known as the "Shermanites" (led by Philip Selznik, aka Sherman). But even in the 1970s, among the strands of ideological DNA that formed to create "Neoconservatism," Trotskyism was very much a receding one. Now, thirty years later, in regard to a group of mostly younger people that some are also calling "Neoconservatives," it is close to non-existent.
What about the claims of influence on foreign policy? In his second paragraph, Mr. Lind cites as his main example the phrase "global democratic revolution," which he attributes to "Schachmanites [sic] like Joshua Muravchik." Well, giving Trotskyism credit for a vague slogan like "global democratic revolution" is about as meaningful as the earlier claim that it was Trotskyists who "pioneered" the technique of sending out public letters. But at least Mr. Lind has now given us the name of an individual, albeit not one of the original "small clique" of "neocon defence intellectuals," to whom he affirms a Trotskyist connection. However, is Mr. Lind accurate in stating so unabashedly that Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is currently, or ever was, a "Shachtmanite"? Here is what Muravchik wrote in in the Weekly Standard (Aug. 28, 2000) in his review of Maurice Isserman's biography of Michael Harrington: "Any number of those singled out in Isserman's book as 'Shachtmanites' had never been among them--including Penn Kemble, Bayard Rustin, and me.... To be sure, when in the mid-1960s I joined the Socialist party, I loved Shachtman's lectures, but what I learned from them had nothing to do with the Trotskyite arcana that had once been the substance of Shachtmanism. It had everything to do with the evil nature of communism." This statement is further proof that Mr. Lind is not to be trusted when he starts throwing around political labels, no matter how confident he sounds. Among Lind's "core" list of "neocon defence intellectuals," I doubt that any of them ever had as much personal exposure to Shachtman and his ideas as did Murachivik. Of course, an individual such as William Kristol may may well have learned about "the evil nature of communism" at the knee of father Irving, but this hardly makes the son a carrier of the Trotkyist virus. The point is that, unless we are to revert to the principle of "guilt by association," the connection between the individual and the political culture of Trotskyism must have some real substance to it.
Mr. Lind, fortunately, has now stopped referring to "Permanent Revolution," a theory that turns out to have nothing in common with the definition he originally ascribed to it. But he insists on a connection between a Trotskyist plan to "export 'revolution' " and the Bush foreign policy of invading Third World countries. True enough, following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Trotsky was reluctant to sign an unfavorable peace agreement with Germany because he favored promoting a socialist revolution there, a position that he later repudiated. But when Irving Kristol et al became Trotskyists in the late 1930s, there was no country in the world that that their tendency supported. What was meant by "revolution" was not the attack of one state on another, but bottom up social upheaval of the population. The documents of the Workers Party or the Shermanites make no reference to advocacy of intervention by any states to topple a regime and restructure society.
Utopian as their dreams might seem today, they believed the source of revolution to be a "Third Camp" of working people, not warring governments. Moreover, while I think that the Trotskyist movement in the United States has been for all practical purposes dead for decades, and is unlikely to play a part in any future radicalizations, the Trotskyist record of supporting "self-determination" of Palestinians and other oppressed populations is sterling in comparison to "Wilsonians "--including those who put the mantle of "genuine American" on themselves.
Much of Mr. Lind's polemic is directed at issues and arguments never mentioned by me, although he gives no other attributions and cites me frequently. For example, Mr. Lind states with glee that "Mr. Wald says not only that neoconservatives originated as a pejorative used by Michael Harrington...but there never really were any self-identified neoconservatives (false)." Mr. Lind then devotes a long paragraph to mocking me with anecdotes about his dinner parties with "Bill" Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, et al. The problem is that nowhere in my short article do I mention the name of Harrington or claim that the neocons didn't identify themselves as such! Ditto for all the stuff about whether or not Mr. Lind is an anti-Semite (although his "proof" that he can't possibly be an anti-Semite simply because he is "partly Jewish in descent" is both amusing and unsettling), conspiracy theories, the southern religious Right, and so on.
History News Network
Last week HNN published Alan Wald's critique of an article written by Michael Lind for the New Statesman in which Mr. Lind argued that defense policy in the Bush administration is orchestrated by a group of people, many of whom are Jewish, who were allegedly shaped by Trotskyism. This week we publish an exchange between Mr. Lind and Mr. Wald. Below is Mr. Lind's statement. Click here for Mr. Wald's.
I thank Mr. Wald for helping to prove my case. Indeed, the details he provides suggest that the existence of the influence of ex-Trotskyists, Shermanite and Schachtmannite alike, on the neoconservative faction within American conservatism was even greater than I and others have realized. It is not every day that an incompetent critic unwittingly undermines his own case in attempting to refute yours.
I stand by the observation that there is a distinct Trotskyist political culture, which shows its residual influence even on individuals who renounced Trotskyism or who were never Trotskyists but inherited this political culture from their parents or older mentors. An unusual belligerence in foreign policy combined with a desire to export "revolution" (first socialist, and then, among ex-Trotskyists who move to the liberal center or the Right, the "global democratic revolution" in the phrase of Schachtmannites like Joshua Muravchik) distinguishes these ex-Trots and inheritors of ex-Trot political culture from other kinds of conservatives and liberals--for example, Anglo-Catholic Tories, Rooseveltian New Deal liberal internationalists, and Buchanan-style isolationists. Not only in the U.S. but in Britain and continental Europe, ex-Trots have tended to go from advocating promotion of socialist revolution to promoting liberal or democratic revolution. This is a minor but genuine feature of the trans-Atlantic political landscape that is so familiar, and commented upon so often by members of the foreign policy elite, not only in the U.S. but in Britain and France, that it surprises me to learn that anyone claims it is controversial.
Now for a word about generalization. It is impossible, and would be inaccurate, to write either history or political journalism without generalizations. This is particularly important when the subject consists of enduring political traditions. How you would discuss the theology of the religious right without mentioning Calvinism or Darbyism is a mystery to me. And the influence of various strains of black nationalism and environmentalism on contemporary Democratic liberalism is equally legitimate as a subject of political analysis.
Not only I but most students of the political culture of neoconservatism, including many neoconservatives themselves, have described the various influences that distinguish this branch of the Right from others: influences including not only the vestiges of Trotskyist foreign policy activism, but also Straussianism, Cold War liberalism, and a peculiar kind of Anglophilia based on the veneration of Winston Churchill, who is far more popular among American neocons than Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson. (Even neocons like Max Boot who claim to be "Wilsonians" never quote a line from Woodrow Wilson, and nothing could be less Wilsonianism than their militaristic rhetoric about "empire," which actually derives from their idealized vision of the British empire, not from anything in the resolutely anti-imperial American political tradition). Can one identify individual neoconservatives who were not influenced by Trotskyism, Straussianism, Cold War liberalism, the myth of Churchill, and the mystique of the British empire? Certainly. Does that mean that anyone who mentions any of these influences is therefore an unscholarly conspiracy theorist, of the kind Mr. Wald accuses me of being? Oh, please.
The Straussian movement split long ago into "East Coast Straussians" and "West Coast Straussians." In addition, there are a few neoconservatives who know little or nothing about Leo Strauss. A defender of the neoconservatives as intellectually dishonest as Mr. Wald could use these facts in denouncing any scholar or journalist who mentions the influence of Straussianism on the distinctive political culture of the neoconservative faction of the Republican Party. If he were as disingenuous as Mr. Wald, he could argue that since there are East and West Coast Straussians, Straussianism therefore does not exist, and anyone who talks about a distinctive Straussian intellectual culture, or Straussian influence on neoconservatism is a) unscholarly and b) a paranoid conspiracy theorist who probably believes that the Shriners control the Council on Foreign Relations.
I happen to know a little about conspiracy theorists. At the cost of my career as a rising intellectual on the American Right, I exposed Pat Robertson's conspiracy theories about international Jewish bankers, Freemasons and Satanists in the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Review of Books between 1992 and 1995. My criticism of Robertson's anti-semitic conspiracy theories was the major factor in my expulsion from the neoconservative movement, in which I had taken part as the Executive Editor of the National Interest, published by Irving Kristol. Irving and Bill Kristol, of course, knew that everything that I said about Robertson was true--but my exposes were inconvenient for their personal political ambitions, which required an alliance of convenience rather than conviction with the religious right activists who dominated the Republican Party. For a similar tactical reason, Commentary, the flagship neocon magazine, began publishing articles in the 1990s claiming that Darwin, the bete noire of Southern Baptist creationists since before the Scopes "Monkey Trial," was wrong and that "biblical" creation science has been vindicated, something that Norman Podhoretz, Neal Kozodoy and other neocon intellectuals know very well is nonsense.
But wait--I used the word "neoconservative." Mr. Wald says not only that neoconservative originated as a pejorative used by Michael Harrington (true, if irrelevant) but that there never really were any self-identified "neoconservatives" (false). This line that there never really were any neoconservatives has long been used by Irving Kristol in interviews. I used to laugh about it with other of Kristol's employees. The non-existence of neoconservatism, except in the minds of conspiracy-mongers, certainly would have come as news to me and my fellow neoconservatives when I worked for Kristol and attended conferences and dinner parties with Gertrude Himmelfarb, Bill Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Peter Berger, and other self-conscious neocons. Unaware that we were not supposed to exist, according to Mr. Wald, we neocons were well aware of the shared views on the Cold War, race, and other topics that distinguished us from the Buckley Tories and the Buchananite Old Right. If Mr. Wald knew more about the neoconservative intellectual network of the 1980s and 1990s, as opposed to the long-defunct Workers' Party of the 1930s, he would know that there was a bitter war in the conservative press between "neoconservatives" (many of them former Trotskyists, as he has confirmed) who reluctantly or enthusiastically accepted the term to describe themselves and the "Old Right" of Patrick Buchanan. Mr. Wald's quibbles about the term "neoconservative" are therefore either a deliberately dishonest debating trick (my guess) or evidence of a profound ignorance of what was (and remains) one of several self-conscious factions on the American Right.
One final point. For pointing out what every history of the subject takes for granted, that the Trotskyist movement was largely though not exclusively Jewish in membership, defenders of the neocons (not, interestingly, any present-day Trotskyists!) have hinted that I am an anti-semite (they don't know, or don't care, that I am partly Jewish in descent). This has come as no surprise to me--anyone who criticizes neoconservative influence on U.S. foreign policy is quickly vilified by the gutter journalists--and the gutter professors--of neoconservatism as an anti-semite, a traitor, an appeaser, an enemy in "the culture war," or a combination of two or more of the four. Since HNN, to its discredit, has seen fit to publish several such smears against me on its website [click here and here], I would like to make one point, not so much in my defense--I have nothing to be defensive about--but in defense of scholarly freedom from intimidation and self-censorship, where ethnic or regional sensitivities are concerned.
Analysis of the role of ethnic and regional groups in U.S. politics is standard in political science, and it is not evidence of hostility toward the ethnic groups or the regions being analyzed. Indeed, this seems to be accepted by neocons in most cases. Not a single one of the critics who professes to be disturbed by my mention in passing of the Jewish role in American Trotskyism has objected to my repeated observations in print that the Southern Religious Right reflects the political culture of the Scots-Irish, with its historic links to Protestant Northern Ireland. Why not? Aren't both points equally illegitimate, in their eyes? Why has no neoconservative angrily written a screed claiming that "Michael Lind's allusion to a supposed connection between Scots-Irish ethnicity and Southern Protestant fundamentalism proves not only that he is a conspiracy theorist but hates the Scots-Irish as well!" (For the record, I am partly Scots-Irish, as well as partly Jewish, in descent).
The list of Shermanites that Mr. Wald gives is disproportionately Jewish in membership, although he does not say so. If Mr. Wald had actually used the phrase the "disproportionately Jewish Shermanite movement," would this have made him, not only a conspiracy theorist (after all, did Shermanism ever really exist, except in the imaginations of conspiracy theorists like Wald?) but an anti-semite as well? What about the mere act of drawing up and publishing a list, the majority of whose members are Jewish? Seems kind of creepy, come to think of it. Is Mr. Wald's creepy list the product of a sinister, conspiratorial imagination? Has he tried to smear all Jewish-Americans, tarring them by association with a supposed "Shermanite" conspiracy? Perhaps someone should alert the Anti-Defamation League to Mr. Wald's disturbing comments...
I encourage interested readers to read my essays and books on the subject of the American Right--essays and books in which my chief focus is on the Southern Protestant Right, without whose electoral clout neocons (including former Schachtmannites and former Shermanites and their progeny) would have no influence at all on U.S. foreign or domestic policy. The readers of HNN should not trust dishonest misrepresentations of my statements and views on the part of apologists for neoconservatism.
Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. Neoconservatism does not exist and never has. And there was no such thing as Trotskyism, either.
There's a pop quiz. Rank the following in order of the number of American lives they claim in a typical year: food, guns, terrorists, flu and cars.
Ready? The most deadly are automobiles, which kill 117 Americans a day, or nearly 43,000 a year. Then comes flu, which (along with pneumonia, its associated disease) kills 36,000 people. Third is guns: 26,000 deaths. Fourth, food-borne illness: 5,000. And finally, terrorism, which in a typical year claims virtually no U.S. lives - with horrific exceptions like 2001. But antiterrorism efforts get most of the attention and the resources.
To a point, that's sensible. The train bombings in Madrid are a reminder of our vulnerability.
President Bush is right to emphasize the risk from W.M.D., because a single nuclear bomb could claim 500,000 lives.
Still, we need a balance in confronting threats, and I don't think we've found it. Watch President Bush's campaign ads, and it's clear that he's overwhelmingly focused on the war on terrorism - in 2001, he called it "my primary focus." As he put it this year, "I'm a war president."
Mr. Bush's intensity and unwavering purpose comforted the nation in the aftermath of 9/11. But America is too complex to have national policy reduced to the single overarching priority of counterterrorism.
"It's an important threat, but it cannot be the organizing principle of our foreign policy," argues Ivo Daalder, a former national security official who is co-author of "America Unbound," an excellent (and respectful) book about Mr. Bush's administration. "There are worse threats out there. Climate change. H.I.V./AIDS."
Or, I would say, nuclear proliferation. Or cars.
Vehicle fatalities don't get attention because they occur in ones and twos. If people died at the same rate but in one horrifying crash a month that killed 3,500 people, then Mr. Bush and Congress would speedily make auto safety a priority and save thousands of lives a year. As Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has : "If we had 115 people die a day in aviation crashes, we wouldn't have a plane in the sky."
"Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things we do," note Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, two Yale professors, in their book about innovative thinking, "Why Not?" They note that a major effort by Sweden has reduced traffic deaths by encouraging seat belt use, converting intersections to traffic circles (they "soothe" traffic), replacing rigid guardrails with new rails or cables that absorb or "catch" cars, and exhorting cyclists to wear helmets. The upshot is that Sweden 's accident rate is one of the lowest in the world.
"If the United States could achieve Sweden's current standard, this would save 12,500 lives per year," the authors say.
Granted, it seems less presidential to call for more guardrails than to invade Middle Eastern countries. And, in fairness, President Bush's head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Dr. Jeffrey Runge, is pushing hard to save lives in unheralded ways, from improving S.U.V. design to getting drivers to check their tire pressure.
A month before Dr. Runge took up his post, several teenagers were rushed to the hospital where he worked as an emergency room physician. The driver in their car, a 17-year-old redhead named Sarah Longstreet, was known in her high school for her friendliness and her Bible Club activities. She wore a seat belt and her air bag inflated, but she died when a Ford Explorer veered across the center line and plowed right over the hood of her Mazda. That incompatibility in the two cars' designs made her one more unnecessary auto fatality - and she became "sort of an angel to me," Dr. Runge said.
So when I asked him about priorities, he answered this way:
"First off, we have to do everything we're doing for counterterrorism," he said. "There's nothing that we're doing that we shouldn't be doing, and you can make the case that we should be doing more. . . . However, we're still losing 115 people a day on the highways, and basically the perpetrators of those deaths also fit within a profile" - such as alcohol abusers.
Governing the U.S. is like playing 200 simultaneous chess matches (while whiny columnists second-guess every move on every board). The terrorism chessboard is among the most important, but if we could just devote a bit more energy to the others, we could save thousands of lives - including the life of the next Sarah Longstreet.
A recent article in the Canadian National Post suggests that President Bush's advisors were influenced by Leon Trotsky, the big loser in the Bolshevik power struggle after Vladimir Lenin's death, hounded out of the country by Stalin and eventually murdered by Stalin's agents in 1940. Although the link between dedicated Communist Leon Trotsky and the conservative Bush administration is tenuous, the author, Jeet Heer, pursues the link with zeal. According to him, Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz frequently consult an Iraqi-American intellectual, Kanan Makiya, who was once a Trotskyist. In addition, Christopher Hitchens, another former Trotskyist, serves the White House as an "ad hoc consultant." Finally, Wolfowitz in particular worked with some former Trotskyists during the early 1970s, in the offices of Senator Henry Jackson. Jeet Heer makes great efforts to insinuate that these former Trotskyists served as a transmission belt for Trotskyist ideas, especially the idea of 'pre-emptive war,' which were then used by White House officials for their own conservative purposes.
In other words, the article's a smear job, albeit an unusual one. Bush administration attacking Iraq? That's because of any legitimate reasons, but because Bush has been influenced by a bunch of leftover Communists gone right-wing but still retaining elements of their peculiar Commie philosophy. The argument, of course, is bunk. Christopher Hitchens' influence in the White House has been greatly exaggerated, while Kanan Makiya's Trotskyist past has been irrelevant for decades. Also, the last time I checked, pre-emptive war isn't solely a Trotskyist idea. Nor is it a particularly prominent one. Yet I'm sure the National Post article will be added to the pile of 'evidence' accumulated by the one group of the population who cares about such arguments, the isolationists led by Pat Buchanan and conspiracy-mongers like Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo. Although supposedly to the right, that crowd spends most of its time attacking conservatives, claiming that true conservatism has been hijacked by a cabal of 'neo-conservatives'.
One of the isolationists' key arguments is that that the neo-cons are all secretly Trotskyists; more to the point, Jewish-American Trotskyists. (Many commentators have noticed the isolationist right's tendency to use 'Jew', 'neo-conservative', and 'Trotskyist' interchangeably.) According to Justin Raimondo, although they were no longer seeking world socialism, these ex-Trotskyists kept their decidedly un-conservative Trotskyist tactics - nothing had changed but the name of the enemy. Many articles can be found that repeat this same tired theme.
The conspiracy theories of Raimondo and company have legs, because they're built on a small foundation of facts. Prominent conservatives were Trotskyists at one point in their lives, including James Burnham, Irving Kristol, and the Middle East expert Stephen Schwartz. So have much less prominent conservatives - namely, myself. Before I became a conservative, I was a member of the Communist League of Canada, a minor political sect with bookstore-based offices in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. The Communist League is the Canadian affiliate of the New York-based Socialist Workers' Party, which was once the largest and main Trotskyist party in the United States. Trotsky himself helped establish the Socialist Workers Party in the late 1930s from his final home in Mexico.
Although both the Communist League and the Socialist Workers Party began quietly dropping the Trotskyist label around 1990, the other members reassured me repeatedly that this was merely a tactical issue. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they felt that they could claim the sole mantle of Communism for themselves, and avoid confusing a working class that had never heard of Trotsky. And make no mistake - Trotskyism is a variant of Communism. This shouldn't be glossed over; ex-Trotskyists like myself are ex-Communists. But let me also make this clear - the transformation from Trotskyist to conservative involves a fundamental break with the main tenets of Trotskyism. By suggesting that a conservative can remain in some way a Trotskyist, the isolationist right traffics in oxymoron, and their conspiracy theories fail bitterly.
To understand this, we have to look at the two main aspects of Trotskyism itself: on the one hand, its opposition to the crimes of Stalinism and the totalitarian, Stalinist regimes; on the other, its opposition to the system of capitalism and its desire for international Communist revolution. Both of these aspects are essential to Trotskyism; neither are unique to it. Take away the opposition to Stalinism, leaving only the revolutionary opposition to capitalism behind, and you're left with any of a hundred other varieties of Communism, including Stalinism itself. Remove the opposition to capitalism and the desire for international Communist revolution, leaving only the opposition to Stalinism, and you're left with what could be any of a hundred different political ideologies, from the social democratic anti-Stalinists in the American labor movement to the isolationist Right anti-Stalinists of the John Birch Society, or anywhere in-between. Trotskyism requires both forms of opposition to be recognizable as Trotskyism: opposition to Stalinism and opposition to capitalism. Commitment to Communism and revolution is an essential component of Trotskyism.
I want to take the time to explain this, because Jeet Heer's June 7th article has generated some controversy. In the original article, conservative author Stephen Schwartz, an ex-Trotskyist who has become both a respected figure on the Right and a frequent contributor to FrontPage Magazine, said he saw "a psychological, ideological and intellectual continuity" between Trotskyism and neo-conservatism. He went on to explain that there were two things neo-conservatives and Trotskyists had in common: "the ability to anticipate rather than react and the moral courage to stand apart from liberal left opinion when liberal left opinion acts like a mob." Two days letter, an article appeared in National Review Online, criticizing Jeet Heer's piece. Written by Hoover Fellow Arnold Beichman, it quite succinctly took the National Post article apart and exposed it as the smear job it was. Two days after that, Stephen Schwartz responded angrily in National Review Online, accusing Beichman of slandering not Trotsky, but all former leftists influenced by Trotsky. He argued that there was no need for former Trotskyists to renounce their pasts, that Beichman was demanding an apology for something not warranting an apology, and that he would defend to his last breath "the Trotsky who alone [sic.] said no to Soviet coddling of Hitlerism, to the Moscow purges, and to the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, and who had the capacity to admit he had been wrong about the imposition of a single-party state, as well as about the fate of the Jewish people."
This whole tempest in a teapot raises several questions. Do former Trotskyists have anything to apologize for? Is there really any continuity between Trotskyist ideology and neo-conservatism, as Stephen Schwartz suggests? Is Trotskyism and Trotsky himself worth defending?
The short answers - a qualified no, no, and no.
First off, is there anything for Trotskyists to apologize for? Even if they weren't members of the Communist Party, they were Communists, so why shouldn 't they have to publicly recant and apologize for their beliefs? The answer lies in the difference between thought and action. Trotskyism is a form of Communism, and Communism is an evil philosophy. Although its adherents believe it will bring about a better world, and adopt it because they naively want to do good, in practice it always ends badly, not due to failures of any particular implementation of Communism, but due to the basic character of the Communist philosophy itself. But I can't condemn someone for being naοve, even someone naοve enough to become a Trotskyist, as long as they aren't personally supporting or committing evil acts. Therefore Communist Party apologists for Stalin and his crimes owe the world a mea culpa that Trotskyists critical of Stalin do not. Communist Party members who spied for the Soviet Union owe the world a debt that Trotskyists do not. As long as a Trotskyist isn't supporting or supported by totalitarian foreign powers, the only question we have to consider is this: are they doing any evil at home?
The answer: not much. This might hurt the feelings of Trotskyists past and present, but Trotskyism has never been influential in the United States. They led one general strike in Minneapolis in the 1930s, and were responsible for the construction of one of the many anti-Vietnam War coalitions in the late 1960s. Perhaps they led a couple of other localized labor actions. But that's largely it. From time to time, they pop up in a campaign large enough to be noticed by the press; today, far-left groups with a Trotskyist past like the Workers World Party are far more influential than any actual 'Trotskyists.' But none of these groups has ever been able to put together even 2,000 members nation-wide, at any time in their histories from founding to present. Their protests, like the recent anti-war protests put together against Operation Iraqi Freedom, were full of sound and fury, but ultimately, they signified nothing. When I was a leftist, I can't think of a single issue where I actually affected something. Neither can any other Trotskyist. Despite their ludicrous claims that their protests stopped the Vietnam War, or the more recent claim that they prevented the Bush administration from invading Syria, the achievements of the Trotskyist left add up to null. Therefore, what have they got to apologize for? Thought crimes?
As far as I'm concerned, there's only a few qualified instances where a Trotskyist might actually do something worthy of an apology. First, they might cross the line into violent action; domestic terrorism sprouted from the far Left in the early 1970s, and there's no guarantee it won't again. For instance, the members of the Workers World Party who helped incite prison riots during the 1970s should be held accountable. Secondly, they might ease up on their Trotskyist critique of Stalinism, and begin treating Stalinist regimes uncritically, out of the pure psychological need to have some revolution, any revolution, that can serve as a role model. For instance, I owe the world an apology for my and the Socialist Workers Party' s uncritical support for totalitarian Cuba. To my shame, I defended an evil regime; luckily, I don't think anyone actually was convinced by my defense. Last of all, Trotskyist groups can collude directly with a hostile foreign power. For instance, the leaders of the Workers World Party have made numerous trips to North Korea and the Middle East, as Steven Schwartz himself has noted in FrontPage. If they're receiving money from foreign powers, they need to be held accountable. (Which may very well be the case; in National Review Online, Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking intelligence officer to ever defect from the Soviet Bloc, claimed that the Workers World Party was entirely a construct of the KGB.)
Despite these unsavory connections, the historical record of Trotskyism in the United States is worthy of nothing more than a halfhearted shrug. Trotskyists who avoided treason and violence did little harm at most. Therefore it's not hard to look back at one's days as a Trotskyist as a bit of a youthful lark, enabling even a conservative giant like Irving Kristol to say, "I regard myself to have been a young Trotskyite and I have not a single bitter memory." And why not? They didn't support existing totalitarianism abroad and, despite their own horror-show politics, were too ineffective to mess up things in America itself. Having done no evil and having supported no evil, Kristol can treat his Communist past as an amusing interlude if he likes. And I can look back on my period in the Communist League and say to myself "no harm done - thank God." Knowing what I do now, I would have preferred to avoid my time in the Communist League - the money I sank into dues and fundraising drives could have bought a car - but its impact on society was zero.
But can we say there's continuity between Trotskyism and neo-conservatism, as Stephen Schwartz claimed? Kristol did become a prominent conservative, as did Schwartz. Again, the answer is no, because nothing unique to Trotskyism survived their political transformation. Once the desire for revolution passed, and the opposition to capitalism faded - in other words, once the Trotskyists became less naοve - they completely ceased to be Trotskyists. All that remained was their anti-Stalinism, and that wasn't unique to Trotskyism; instead, it was shared by many conservatives with no experience with the Left. The two things Schwartz claims were taken from Trotskyism by neo-conservatives aren't particularly unique to Trotskyism, either: "the ability to anticipate rather than react" is found in energetic people from all points of the political spectrum, and "the moral courage to stand apart from liberal Left opinion" wasn't just practiced by Trotskyists, but also by conservatives completely separate from the Left. The number of conservatives coming over from the Trotskyist Left was significant, but limited; many more were conservative all their political lives. The zeal, drive, and moral courage of modern conservatism therefore only obliquely comes from Trotskyism; the bulk of it comes from the conservative tradition itself. Remember, the ex-Trotskyists joined the conservative movement, and not the other way around.
Last of all, is Trotskyism and Trotsky worth defending? Once again, no. Certain aspects of Trotskyism were worth defending, in particular his opposition to Stalin - for that, Trotsky can be praised, and on that basis alone, Trotskyists are less repugnant than the Stalinists of the Communist Party. But those actions of Leon Trotsky can't be separated from his basic Communist philosophy, and the evil empire he helped construct in the 1910s and 20s. Unlike Irving Kristol, Stephen Schwartz, and, far less importantly, myself, Trotsky was in a position to put his ideals into action. Trotsky was Commander in Chief of the Red Army; and Trotsky therefore shares some responsibility for the 20th century's bloody Communist mess. His correct evaluation of Stalin no more absolves him than a convict's time off for good behavior does for his crimes; anti-Stalinism makes Trotskyism no more palatable than welfare reform made the eight years of the Clinton administration.
When Stephen Schwartz writes that he will defend Trotsky to his last breath, and "[l]et the neofascists, and Stalinists in their second childhood, make of it what they will," I must respectfully disagree. Trotsky's simply not worth it; the good points of Trotskyism weren't unique, and the bad points outweigh the good. But I disagree even more strongly with the attempts of the isolationist Right to slander good conservatives with a philosophy they've left behind, and stronger still with any suggestion that these former Trotskyists in America must perpetually apologize for their past, forever excluded from the realm of 'real' conservatives. The works of someone like Stephen Schwartz, who has contributed so much to our knowledge of Wahhabist Islam, speak far more eloquently than any writing he could do about his Trotskyist past. Critics of him or any other ex-Trotskyist conservative ought to direct their attention, not on former Trotskyists who changed their ideology for the better, but those ex-Trotskyists, ex-Communists, and other former radicals who left their organizations only to slither into the ranks of the Democratic Party, to continue advocating the same hard-left ideology behind a 'liberal' mask.
Just when one thought things couldn't get any weirder in the festering mess that is today's "conservatism," monstrosities have hatched from it so hideous, so perverted, so wretchedly deformed, that one might take them for hallucinations - caused, perhaps, by Saddam's elusive chemical weapons, secretly infused by Osama bin Laden into one's breakfast orange juice. They're not, though. They're for real:
1. "... We will have to pursue the war against terror far beyond the boundaries of the Middle East, into the heart of Western Europe." (Michael Ledeen, "What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?", National Review, March 10, 2003)
2. "A new law being proposed by Republican senators will serve to prohibit criticism of Israel on American college campuses." ("Criticizing Israel will be a taboo in United States," The Balochistan Post, April 24, 2003)
After my wife threw a glass of cold water in my face, I calmed down and realized that those news items merely signal the next logical steps along "conservatism's" careening flight into Mussolini-style fascism.
Take Michael Ledeen. If I hadn't actually met him in the flesh many years ago, I would be tempted to write him off as a made-up cartoon character, a sort of political Daffy Duck, whose columns are concocted as comic relief by clever National Review editors. I can assure you, however, that he actually exists - or did, anyway. In an earlier column on my own Web page (http://www.thornwalker.com/wright/011207 .html), I highlighted one of his unbalanced rants in National Review, in which he lost control of his syntax and gibbered that the United State needed to go to war with the entire Muslim world:... We need to sustain our game face, we must keep our fangs bared, we must remind them daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our dead, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.
The U.S.'s glorious victory over Saddam's decayed, badly led, under-equipped, and demoralized military has whetted Ledeen's appetite for more blood, and he's studying menus right along with the rest of the neo-Trot horde.  In fact, he's now raised his sights from merely subjugating all of Islam to vanquishing the filthy Europeans as well! It turns out that those devious, ungrateful little Frogs and Krauts are plotting to overthrow the Empire's enlightened plan for world domination:They dreaded the establishment of an American empire, and they sought for a way to bring it down.... How could it be done? No military operation could possibly defeat the United States, and no direct economic challenge could hope to succeed. That left politics and culture. And here there was a chance to turn America's vaunted openness at home and toleration abroad against the United States. So the French and the Germans struck a deal with radical Islam and with radical Arabs: You go after the United States, and we'll do everything we can to protect you, and we will do everything we can to weaken the Americans. The Franco-German strategy was based on using Arab and Islamic extremism and terrorism as the weapon of choice, and the United Nations as the straitjacket for blocking a decisive response from the United States.
Is this for real? More importantly, is Ledeen running around loose? Or does the American Enterprise Institute, where he holds the bizarrely named "Freedom Chair," prudently keep him chained to it in the basement, like the character "the Gimp" in "Pulp Fiction" - bringing him out every once in a while in a leather leotard and spiked collar to lumber about, roll his eyeballs, and shriek hideous threats? Good boy, Mikey! Have a piece of raw flank steak!
In any case, it takes a truly fevered brain to decide - with no evidence whatsoever - that French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are "striking a deal with radical Islam" to "bring down" the Empire. Even a superficial look at European politics reveals a number of other legitimate reasons that the regimes of France and Germany might wish to publicly oppose U.S. imperialism in the Middle East - that is to say, as legitimate as the motives of any ruling regime ever are. Most conspicuous is the huge outcry against the Iraq invasion from their own voters. Another is the large numbers of Muslims that both regimes have arranged to have live in their countries. A third is the fact that Europe is much more dependent on Persian Gulf oil than America, and has more to lose if the supply is disrupted - not to mention the European oil interests that will be shouldered aside when Bush's friends take over production in Iraq.
Ledeen apparently doesn't consider that Chirac and Schroeder may be motivated by a desire simply to boost their domestic approval ratings using a can't-lose issue - while avoiding riots by their Muslim populations. But even if that were proven true, it wouldn't count for much to any of the neo-Trots. In fact, the very idea that other countries have interests different from those of the United State is intolerable to the new imperialists. As Steve Sniegoski pointed out to me recently: "The neocons claim that spreading democracy around the world will bring peace, but then find that America's enemies are - democratic countries!"
I think we can tentatively assume that the United State won't find it expedient to start a war with Europe - at least, not for a while. So if Ledeen's idea catches on, we'll probably just be subjected to more inane insults about cheese- and schnitzel-eaters, and more calls to boycott French and German goods by Limbaugh, Hannity, and other reductionist "conservative" charlatans. But a boycott or sanctions may present problems.
It's one thing to boycott French goods - after all, there are other sources of decent wine, cheese, and brandy - but the neo-Trots may be hard-pressed by a boycott of Germany. Besides beverages such as Beck's, St. Pauli Girl, and Liebfraumilch, Germany produces the BMWs, Audis, Mercedes-Benzes, and expensive Braun coffee-makers and shavers adorning the comfortable lives of many of those well-sinecured vicarious warriors. 
In addition, the diplomatic problems caused by such lunacy would undoubtedly lead to difficulties for the Bush administration - especially if they resulted in pressure to pull U.S. troops out of Europe, where there's no legitimate reason for them to be anyway.
April 10, 2003 | antiwar.com
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 the American and European civilizations 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 overrepresentation 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 U.S. 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 Sept. 11 the foreign policy of the world's only global power is being made by a small clique that is unrepresentative of either the U.S. population or the mainstream foreign policy establishment.
The core group now in charge consists of neoconservative defense 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 defense intellectuals include Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense. He is the defense mastermind of the Bush administration; Donald Rumsfeld is an elderly figurehead who holds the position of defense secretary only because Wolfowitz himself is too controversial. Others include Douglas Feith, No. 3 at the Pentagon; Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a Wolfowitz protιgι 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 U.S. to Saddam Hussein, and Richard Perle, who has just resigned his unpaid chairmanship of a defense department advisory body after a lobbying scandal. Most of these "experts" never served in the military. But their headquarters is now the civilian defense secretary's office, where these Republican political appointees are despised and distrusted by the largely Republican career soldiers.
Most neoconservative defense intellectuals have their roots on the left, not the right. They are products of the influential Jewish-American sector of the 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 as 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.
The neocon defense intellectuals, as well as being in or around the actual Pentagon, are at the center of a metaphorical "pentagon" of the Israel lobby and the religious right, plus conservative think tanks, foundations and media empires. Think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) provide homes for neocon "in-and-outers" when they are out of government (Perle is a fellow at AEI). The money comes not so much from corporations as from decades-old conservative foundations, such as the Bradley and Olin foundations, which spend down the estates of long-dead tycoons. Neoconservative foreign policy does not reflect business interests in any direct way. The neocons are ideologues, not opportunists.
The major link between the conservative think tanks and the Israel lobby is the Washington-based and Likud-supporting Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (Jinsa), which co-opts many non-Jewish defense experts by sending them on trips to Israel. It flew out the retired general Jay Garner, now slated by Bush to be proconsul of occupied Iraq. In October 2000, he cosigned a Jinsa letter that began: "We ... believe that during the current upheavals in Israel, the Israel Defense Forces have exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of [the] Palestinian Authority."
The Israel lobby itself is divided into Jewish and Christian wings. Wolfowitz and Feith have close ties to the Jewish-American Israel lobby. Wolfowitz, who has relatives in Israel, has served as the Bush administration's liaison to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Feith was given an award by the Zionist Organization of America, citing him as a "pro-Israel activist." While out of power in the Clinton years, Feith collaborated with Perle to coauthor a policy paper for Likud that advised the Israeli government to end the Oslo peace process, reoccupy the territories, and crush Yasser Arafat's government.
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 religious right believes that God gave all of Palestine to the Jews, and fundamentalist congregations spend millions to subsidize Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
The final corner of the neoconservative pentagon is occupied by several right-wing media empires, with roots odd as it seems in the British Commonwealth and South Korea. Rupert Murdoch disseminates propaganda through his Fox television network. His magazine, the Weekly Standard edited by William Kristol, the former chief of staff of Dan Quayle (vice president, 1989-1993) acts as a mouthpiece for defense intellectuals such as Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith and Woolsey as well as for Sharon's government. The National Interest (of which I was executive editor, 1991-1994) is now funded by Conrad Black, who owns the Jerusalem Post and the Hollinger empire in Britain and Canada.
Strangest of all is the media network centered on the Washington Times owned by the South Korean messiah (and ex-convict) the Rev. Sun Myung Moon which owns the newswire UPI. UPI is now run by John O'Sullivan, the ghostwriter for Margaret Thatcher who once worked as an editor for Conrad Black in Canada. Through such channels, the "gotcha!" style of right-wing British journalism, and its Europhobic substance, have contaminated the US conservative movement.
The corners of the neoconservative pentagon were linked together in the 1990s by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), run by Kristol out of the Weekly Standard offices. Using a P.R. technique pioneered by their Trotskyist predecessors, the neocons published a series of public letters whose signatories often included Wolfowitz and other future members of the Bush foreign policy team. They called for the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq and to support Israel's campaigns against the Palestinians (dire warnings about China were another favorite). During Clinton's two terms, these fulminations were ignored by the foreign policy establishment and the mainstream media. Now they are frantically being studied.
How did the neocon defense intellectuals a small group at odds with most of the U.S. foreign policy elite, Republican as well as Democratic manage to capture the Bush administration? Few supported Bush during the presidential primaries. They feared that the second Bush would be like the first a wimp who had failed to occupy Baghdad in the first Gulf War and who had pressured Israel into the Oslo peace process and that his administration, again like his father's, would be dominated by moderate Republican realists such as Powell, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. They supported the maverick senator John McCain until it became clear that Bush would get the nomination.
Then they had a stroke of luck Cheney was put in charge of the presidential transition (the period between the election in November and the accession to office in January). Cheney used this opportunity to stack the administration with his hard-line allies. Instead of becoming the de facto president in foreign policy, as many had expected, Secretary of State Powell found himself boxed in by Cheney's right-wing network, including Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Bolton and Libby.
The neocons took advantage of Bush's ignorance and inexperience. Unlike his father, a Second World War veteran who had been ambassador to China, director of the CIA, and vice president, George W was a thinly educated playboy who had failed repeatedly in business before becoming the governor of Texas, a largely ceremonial position (the state's lieutenant governor has more power). His father is essentially a northeastern moderate Republican; George W, raised in west Texas, absorbed the Texan cultural combination of machismo, anti-intellectualism and overt religiosity. The son of upper-class Episcopalian parents, he converted to Southern fundamentalism in a midlife crisis. Fervent Christian Zionism, along with an admiration for macho Israeli soldiers that sometimes coexists with hostility to liberal Jewish-American intellectuals, is a feature of the Southern culture.
The younger Bush was tilting away from Powell and toward Wolfowitz ("Wolfie," as he calls him) even before 9/11 gave him something he had lacked: a mission in life other than following in his dad's footsteps. There are signs of estrangement between the cautious father and the crusading son: Last year, veterans of the first Bush administration, including Baker, Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, warned publicly against an invasion of Iraq without authorization from Congress and the U.N.
It is not clear that George W fully understands the grand strategy that Wolfowitz and other aides are unfolding. He seems genuinely to believe that there was an imminent threat to the U.S. from Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction," something the leading neocons say in public but are far too intelligent to believe themselves. The Project for the New American Century urged an invasion of Iraq throughout the Clinton years, for reasons that had nothing to do with possible links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. Public letters signed by Wolfowitz and others called on the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq, to bomb Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, and to threaten states such as Syria and Iran with U.S. attacks if they continued to sponsor terrorism. Claims that the purpose is not to protect the American people but to make the Middle East safe for Israel are dismissed by the neocons as vicious anti-Semitism. Yet Syria, Iran and Iraq are bitter enemies, with their weapons pointed at each other, and the terrorists they sponsor target Israel rather than the U.S. The neocons urge war with Iran next, though by any rational measurement North Korea's new nuclear arsenal is, for the U.S., a far greater problem.
So that is the bizarre story of how neoconservatives took over Washington and steered the U.S. into a Middle Eastern war unrelated to any plausible threat to the U.S. and opposed by the public of every country in the world except Israel. The frightening thing is the role of happenstance and personality. After the al-Qaida attacks, any U.S. president would likely have gone to war to topple bin Laden's Taliban protectors in Afghanistan. But everything that the U.S. has done since then would have been different had America's 18th century electoral rules not given Bush the presidency and had Cheney not used the transition period to turn the foreign policy executive into a PNAC reunion.
For a British equivalent, one would have to imagine a Tory government, with Downing Street and Whitehall controlled by followers of the Rev. Ian Paisley, extreme Euroskeptics, 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.
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