26 September 2003
Neocons and Democrats
The Free Press
September 10, 2003
Beating up on neocons used to be a specialized sport without wide
appeal. With all due false modesty, I offer myself as an earlier
practitioner. Back in the mid-to-late '70s, when I had a weekly column
in the Village Voice, I used to have rich sport with that apex neo-con,
Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, I nicknamed him Norman the
Frother and freighted him with so many gibes that he made the mistake of
publicly denouncing me in Commentary, exclaiming that "Cockburn's weekly
pieces have set a new standard of gutter journalism in this country," a
testimonial I still proudly feature on the back of my books.
The neo-cons' political hero in those days was U.S. Senator
Henry "Scoop" Jackson, much venerated in Israel and the corporate
offices of Beijing for his ardor and constancy in sluicing the U.S.
taxpayers' money into their treasuries. The neo-cons' great hope was
Scoop for president, but he failed to impress the voters in the
Democratic primaries in 1976. To the neocons' chagrin, the new occupant
of the Oval Office was Jimmy Carter, whom they construed to be soft on
Communism and an Israel-hater. Carter threw plenty of money at the
Pentagon and stoked up the Cold War, but on a couple of occasions he was
downright rude to Menachem Begin, so the neo-cons abandoned the
Democrats and threw in their lot with Ronald Reagan. For them a
hard-line Israel has always been the bottom line.
Now here we are on the downslope of 2003, and George Bush is
learning, way too late for his own good that the neo-cons have been
matchlessly wrong about everything. One can burrow through the archives
of historical folly in search of comparisons and still come up
empty-handed. The neo-cons told Bush that eviction of Saddam would
rearrange the chairs in the Middle East to America's advantage. Wrong.
They told him it would unlock the door to a peaceful settlement in
Israel. Wrong. They told him (I'm talking about Wolfowitz's team of mad
Straussians at DoD) that there was irrefutable proof of the existence of
weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq. Wrong. They told him the prime
Iraqi exile group, headed by Ahmad Chalabi, had street cred in Iraq.
Wrong. They told him it would be easy to install a U.S. regime in
Baghdad and make the place hum quietly along, like Lebanon in the 1950s.
And, of course, the neocons, who have never forgiven the
United Nations for Resolutions 242 and 338 (bad for Israel), told Bush
that he should tell the U.N. to take its charter and shove it. Bush, who
appreciates simple words and simple thoughts, took their advice, and
last Sunday night had it served up to him by his speechwriters as crow,
which he methodically ate in his 18-minute speech, saying the United
Nations has an important role in Iraq.
Now many are gloating at the neocons' discomfiture and
waiting for their downfall. Click go Madam Defarge's knitting needles as
she waits beside the guillotine. Here come the tumbrils, inching their
way slowly through the rotting cabbages and vulgar ribaldry of
Republican isolationists. Here's a pale-faced Douglas Feith. Up goes the
fatal blade, and down it flashes. Behold, the head of a neo-con! The
crowd bays, but this execution merely whets the appetite. The next
tumbril carries a weightier cargo: Richard Perle and Elliott Abrams.
Still not enough. Madam Defarge knits on, and her patience is soon
rewarded. First, Wolfowitz, then finally Rumsfeld himself are
dispatched, and the crowd moves off to torch the Weekly Standard and
string up its editor, Bill Kristol.
Maybe not all of them, but some neocon will surely pay the
price for dropping President Bush's approval rating into the low 50s.
But will the basic neocon political line, dominant for so long in
Washington, suffer a dent? Not in any fundamental way. To appreciate
this one only has to look at the current posture of prominent Democrats.
Are they glorying in Bush's political embarrassment and the humiliating
and costly disaster for the U.S. consequent upon its attack on Iraq?
Take U.S. Senator Joe Biden. His immediate reaction to Bush's speech
last Sunday was to insist that the president would need, and should get,
more money than the $87 billion put on the table.
Then Biden gave the neocons a lesson in how to pay lip
service to internationalism and "our allies": "What we need isn't the
death of internationalism or the denial of our stark national interest.
What I want to talk about today is a more enlightened nationalism that
understands the value of international institutions but supports the use
of military force -- without apology or hesitation -- when we must. An
enlightened nationalism that does not allow us to be so blinded by our
overwhelming military power that we fail to see the benefit, indeed the
need, of working with others . To begin moving this nation in the right
direction I believe we need to embrace a foreign policy of enlightened
nationalism . First, we need to correct the imbalance between projecting
power and staying power. America's military is second to none. It must
and will remain second to none."
Study the zigzag rhetoric of Governor Howard Dean, and you
find the same essential approach, though Dean has just outraged the
neocons by calling for an even-handed U.S. approach to any resolving of
the Palestinian issue.
With the exception of Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol
Mosely Brown, no Democratic candidate (and certainly not the supposedly
"antiwar" Howard Dean) is calling for anything other than that the
United States to "stay the course" in Iraq, with more money, more troops
and, if possible, the political cover of the United Nations. A few
neo-con heads may roll, but the policy won't change. It's fun to
demonize the neo-cons and rejoice in their discomfiture, but don't make
the mistake of thinking U.S. foreign policy was set by Norman Podhoretz,
or even William Kristol.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the
muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander
Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit
the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2003
CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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