April-9th-2003, 10:56 AM
Quick Guide to Bushist/Klingon Roots
How neoconservatives conquered Washington -- and launched a war
First they converted an ignorant, inexperienced president to their
pro-Israel, hawkish worldview. Then 9/11 allowed them to claim Iraq
threatened the U.S. The rest is on CNN tonight.
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By Michael Lind
April 9, 2003 | 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 protégé 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 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
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.
A version of this story appeared in the New Statesman.
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About the writer
Michael Lind, the Whitehead Fellow at the New America Foundation in
Washington, is the author of "Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern
Takeover of American Politics."