Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Thursday, October 20, 2005
The neocon retreat
There were so many problems with the recent Bill Kristol, Jeffrey Bell piece in the Weekly Standard regarding the "criminalization of politics" supposedly being practiced on the hapless GOP (otherwise known as Fox News' newest talking point), it's hard to know where to begin. The idea that Mssrs. DeLay, Frist and Bush are being punished legally for successfully pursuing heartfelt conservative principles is rendered ridiculous by the fact that though between the three of them, they have pushed through lots of legislation, not much of it (massive deficit spending, mammoth expansions to the Medicare entitlement, federal meddling in education and a Wilsonian adventure in Iraq) has been very conservative.

But then again, neither are Kristol and his fellow neoconservatives, who, from within the administration and from outside, in think tanks, on the pages of magazines and as undercover "analysts" across the spectrum of cable TV news, have combined to destroy the presidency of George W. Bush.

Bush's presidency started off poorly enough -- he was the installed regent of the Republican appointees on a politicized Supreme Court, pelted with eggs on his way to the inaugural. Bush had run as a fairly typical conservative: in favor or "small government," religion in the public square, promotion of big business interests and lots and lots of tax cuts for the upper economic class, and opposed to an end to affirmative action and (rhetorically at least), against the broad liberaliation of abortion. That's who the Bushes are and have always been. But once in office, George W. Bush didn't get to govern as George W. Bush. He made the cataclysmic mistake of allowing one Dick Cheney to install himself in the vice president's chair, and from there, to populate the Bush administration with a band of Revolution-minded Jacobins and Trotskyites who called themselves the "Vulcans" -- which was fitting because as exiles from the Wilsonian wilderness of the Democratic Party, they were absolutely alien to the Goldwater/Reagan tradition. (In fact, though they claim to be Reaganites, a key feature of the neocons is that they thought Reagan -- like their nemesis Henry Kissinger -- was too timid during the Cold War, opting for food aid and quiet diplomacy via the Vatican, food aid and the AFL-CIO against what they believed was the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the crazed Soviet Union.) Though few in number, they were tenacious and supremely ideological -- only not in the way other conservatives (like DeLay, Frist and Bush) are. They don't get jazzed about tax cuts, these neocons -- they get jazzed up about war in the Middle East.

I'm currently reading a fantastic book called "Where the Right Went Wrong" -- which happens to be by a guy named Patrick Buchanan -- former Nixon speech writer and one hell of a writer and an obvious lover of history. In the book, Buchanan recounts the history of empire, from the Muslim displacement of the Holy Roman Empire and its long global ascendancy, to the rise of the Ottomans, the British, the French and the cataclysms of war that brought them all down. He delves into the wars between the faiths -- mounting an eloquent defense of the Crusades and a compelling recitation of the history of revolutionary terror, from Robespierre to the Russian revolution and the current wave of Islamist rebellion. At the heart of the book is this proposition: the American empire -- like all of those before it -- has been brought to the brink of doom by a calamitous war, and it finds itself locked in a battle against a revolutionary insurgency that uses terror as a weapon, and which it cannot ever truly defeat or totally irradicate. But like other empires at their tipping point, the U.S. is blowing its resources and its national resolve in trying.

How did we get here? That brings us back to the neocons.

According to many former members of the Bush administration, who suddenly feel free to talk, with the president's approval ratings in the basement, this small group of intellectuals -- inexperienced in military matters but long on military plans -- hijacked the Bush agenda and dragged the country to war to complete their long-cherished dream of toppling Saddam Hussein and rolling up the anti-Israel dictatorships of the oil-soaked Middle East. Those making that charge go far beyond Buchanan, who is often written off as a bitter, quirky Nixonite out of step with modern conservatism. They include other Reaganites like Collin Powell's longtime deputy Lawrence Wilkerson, who recently went before a prominent D.C. think tank and spoke of a "'cabal' led by Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld" who "hijack[ed] U.S. foreign policy by circumventing or ignoring formal decision-making channels." Here are a few snippets of Wilkerson's comments before the New America Foundation on Wednesday:
"... Decisions that send men and women to die, decisions that have the potential to send men and women to die, decisions that confront situations like natural disasters and cause needless death or cause people to suffer misery that they shouldn’t have to suffer, domestic and international decisions, should not be made in a secret way.

That’s a very, very provocative statement, I think. All my life I’ve been taught to guard the nation’s secrets. All my life I have followed the rules. I’ve gone through my special background investigations and all the other things that you need to do and I understand that the nation’s secrets need guarding.

But fundamental decisions about foreign policy should not be made in secret. Let me tell you the practical reason and here I’m jumping over in, really into both realms. The practical reasons why it’s true.

You’ve probably all read books on leadership, 7 Habits of Successful People, or whatever. If you, as a member of bureaucracy, do not participate in a decision, you are not going to carry that decision out with the alacrity, the efficiency and the effectiveness you would if you had participated.

When you cut the bureaucracy out of your decisions and then foist your decisions on us out of the blue on that bureaucracy, you can’t expect that bureaucracy to carry your decision out very well and, furthermore, if you’re not prepared to stop the feuding elements in that bureaucracy, as they carry out your decision, you’re courting disaster.

And I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita and I could go on back, we haven’t done very well on anything like that in a long time. And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence. Read it some time again. ...

...And you’re talking about the potential for, I think, real dangerous times if we don’t get our act together. Now, let me get a little more specific. This is where I’m sure the journalists will get their pens out. Almost everyone since the ’47 act, with the exception, I think, of Eisenhower, has in some way or another, perterbated, flummoxed, twisted, drew evolutionary trends with, whatever, the national security decision-making process.

I mean, John Kennedy trusted his brother, who was Attorney General, made his brother Attorney General, probably far more than he should have. Richard Nixon, oh my God, took a position that was not even envisioned in the original framers of the act’s minds, national security minds, that are not subject to confirmation by the Senate, advise and consent. Took that position and gave it to his Secretary of State, concentrating power in ways that still reverberate in this country.

Jimmy Carter allowed [inaudible] Brezinsky to essentially negate his Secretary of State. I could go on and say what Sandy Berger did to Madeline Albright in [inaudible] foreign policy. And I could make other provocative statements, too. Another one in my study of the act’s implementation has so flummoxed the process as the present administration. What do I mean by that? ...

...The complexity of governing is unprecedented. You simply cannot deal with all the challenges that government has to deal with, meet all the demands that government has to meet in the modern age, in the 21st century, without admitting that it is hugely complex. That doesn’t mean you have to add a Department of Homeland Security with 70,000 disparate entities thrown under somebody in order to handle them. But it does mean that your bureaucracy has got to be staffed with good people and they’ve got to work together and they’ve got to work under leadership they trust and leadership that, on basic issues, they agree with.

And that if they don’t agree, they can dissent and dissent and dissent. And if their dissent is such that they feel so passionate about it, they can resign and know why they’re resigning. That is not the case today. And when I say that is not the case today, I stop on 26 January 2005.

I don’t know what the case is today. I wish I did. But the case that I saw for 4 plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberration, bastardizations, [inaudible], changes to the national security [inaudible] process. What I saw was a cabal between the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense and [inaudible] on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.

And then when the bureaucracy was presented with those decisions and carried them out, it was presented in such a disjointed incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn’t know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out. ...

...Read George Packer’s book The Assassin’s [inaudible] if you haven’t already. George Packer, a New Yorker, reporter for The New Yorker, has got it right. I just finished it and I usually put marginalia in a book but, let me tell you, I had to get extra pages to write on.

And I wish, I wish I had been able to help George Packer write that book. In some places I could have given him a hell of a lot more specifics than he’s got. But if you want to read how the Cheney Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process, read that book. And, of course, there are other names in there, Under Secretary of Defense Douglas [inaudible], whom most of you probably know Tommy Frank said was stupidest blankety blank man in the world. He was. Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man.

And yet, and yet, after the Secretary of State agrees to a $400 billion department, rather than a $30 billion department, having control, at least in the immediate post-war period in Iraq, this man is put in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw themselves in a closet somewhere. That’s not making excuses for the State Department.

That’s telling you how decisions were made and telling you how things got accomplished. Read George’s book. In so many ways I wanted to believe for 4 years that what I was seeing, as an academic, what I was seeing was an extremely weak national security [inaudible]. And an extremely powerful Vice President and an extremely powerful in the issues that impacted him, Secretary of Defense, remember a Vice President who’s been Secretary of Defense, too, and obviously has an inclination that way and also has known the Secretary of Defense for a long time, and also is a member of what Dwight Eisenhower wanted that God bless Eisenhower in 1961 in his farewell address the military industrial complex and don’t you think they aren’t the [inaudible] today in a concentration of power that is just unparalleled. It all happened because of the end of the Cold War.

Wilkerson, who reportedly has fallen out with Collin Powell over his outspoken comments, has been a Bush administration critic before, including calling his part in Powell's U.N. speech "the lowest point in my life." But he's hardly alone in recognizing the deadly combination of arrogance, secrecy, ideological zeal and incompetence that led the U.S. inexorably toward war and quagmire in Iraq.

Other critics, including staunch Reagan/Thatcher conservatives like Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, authors of America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order, George Will, and a raft of academics, authors, former weapons inspectors, CIA men and former Reagan and Bush administration figures like Larry Korb and Richard Clarke, have zeroed in on the neocon think tankers as the court whisperers who steered a president who ran on an anti nation-building platform in 2000, into that very morass after 9/11.

Ironically, neocons like Kristol, Stephen Hayes (of a previous nefarious leak), Charles Krauthammer and others are rowing their boats as far and as fast from the notion of responsibility for the war as they can get, crying "we weren't the only ones!" on the subject of Iraq's supposed WMD (as Hayes recently did on "Hardball") and insisting that there was some broad ideological consensus to invade Iraq. Well, there was, thanks to the blockbuster sales job of the neocon/Bushocon marketing alliance called the White House Iraq Group (a throwback to LBJ's "White House Information Group" which tried in 1967 to "raise favorable coverage" to sell the nation on Vietnam) -- a WHIG soon to be flipped, big time, by a certain Chicago prosecutor... and the neocons and their backer -- particularly Cheney -- were successful in stifling dissent, both inside the government, including in Congress, and in the media, with a noxious combination of patriotic rhetoric and fear mongering.

As for Bush, he seems to have spent the first year of his second term running most of the neocon war planners out of town (Wolfowitz to the World Bank, Bolton from State to the U.N., Pentagon information twisters Feith and Stephen J. Cambone just out of dodge altogether) while retiring the sycophants who let them run amok (bye bye Tenet old boy, enjoy your medal of freedom). A judge and jury could yet rid him of the remaining detritus, if neocon hard-cores Scooter Libby, Stephen Hadley (implanted at the NSC under Condi Rice and now her successor as National Security Advisor), and god forbid Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney himself (Rumsfeld and Cheney are seen more as the neocon's corporate sponsors than members of the intellectual club themsves. Cheney in particular comes across as mostly a corporate profiteer for whom the neocons provide the pretext to deliver him a war) get indicted or worse.

And the president himself has seemed to revert to his original type with the Kristol camp sidelined: nominating two big business justices to the Supreme Court, against the wishes of the fuming neocons (who've become unaccustomed to a president who won't come to heel), not to mention the Christions... roaming the country spouting off about Social Security privatization, and plotting to throw open the southern U.S. border to slave laborers for his corporate friends. And his good buddy Karl Rove has taken the first public step to begin throwing his and Dubya's former neocon friends under the first available bus.

Bush still talks the talk about freedom and democracy, but he doesn't even look like he totally buys the talking points anymore. Rather, Bush looks like a man dying to give two weeks' notice. Too bad the country, the uniformed military, Guard and Reserves, the treasury, American civil liberties and the civilian dead in Iraq have had to pay such a heavy price for his time as the neocons' Dauphin...

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Tags: , Middle East, War, Terrorism, Foreign Policy
posted by JReid @ 10:36 PM  
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