Pro-war neocons turn on Bush, washing their own hands

Here are two quotes from Vanity Fair’s bombshell preview of an upcoming article about the apparently apostate neocon war-supporters Kenneth Adelman, Richard Perle, David Frum, Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, and Eliot Cohen.

David Frum: “I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.” [LA asks: Since when is the president’s speechwriter the one who is supposed to tell the president what to think? It’s the speechwriter who is supposed to clothe the president’s ideas in good words. Frum thought he was the president’s brain. He didn’t know that Condoleezza Rice was the president’s brain.]

Richard Perle: “Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I’m getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, “Go design the campaign to do that.” I had no responsibility for that.”

What Frum and Perle seem to be suggesting is that President Bush did not do the things that would be necessary to bring about democracy in Iraq, namely, he did not use sufficient force to subdue our enemies and bring about order, but instead allowed violence and chaos to spread, so that now we have lost the ability to direct affairs in that country and to assure some sort of stable government, and are facing the possibility of having to withdraw our forces, with possibly catastrophic results.

Of course it’s true, as Frum says, that Bush’s actions have often seemed to contradict his soaring rhetoric. But that was already the case as early as June 2003 when Bush, in pushing the absurd “road map for peace,” committed a shocking betrayal of his historic, inspiring West Point speech of a year earlier in which he said that he would not deal with the Palestinians or do anything to help them acquire a state until they had given up terror and dismantled their terrorist infrastructure. Far from complaining—loudly—as soon as that staggering gap between Bush rhetoric and Bush action appeared, the neocons lapsed into acquiescent silence. As the president pushed Israel into further and further surrenders over the next couple of years, the neocon pope, Norman Podhoretz, declared that all doubts about Bush must be put aside, because he, Podhoretz, “trusted” Bush. And so the neocons went on backing the president.

But one didn’t need to wait until 2004 or 2005 or 2006 to see that something had gone terribly wrong with Bush’s neocon ideals of freedom and democracy. It has already gone terribly wrong in April 2003 when we allowed Iraq to descend into anarchic looting, which among other things destroyed the infrastructure of every university in Iraq. Yet when we had our victorious troops stand back and do nothing to prevent the massive destruction of Iraqi government offices and other institutions, and when Secretary Rumsfeld said, to his everlasting disgrace, “Stuff happens, freedom is untidy,” did any of the neocons say: “This is not what we meant by freedom, not what we meant at all?” No. Similarly, when over-enthused pro-Bush journalists claimed that a single election (which could only be held by locking down the entire country under martial law) meant that Iraq was now a “democracy,” did any of the neocons say, “This is not what we meant by democracy, not what we meant at all?” No. Nor did the neocons back away from the god of democratic elections when that god belched forth (in Lebanon) Hezbollah, (in the Palestinian territories) Hamas, (in Egypt) the Muslim Brotherhood, and (in Iraq) a sharia Constitution and an agreement that it was ok for Sunnis to kill American troops. By that point, the fact that democratic procedures in the Muslim world would not lead to liberal pro-Western governments but to the empowerment of jihadists, was being remarked on by more and more people. Not by the neocons. No siree. Not a peep from them.

If giving free reign to looters was a departure from the neocons’ rhetoric and ideology, why didn’t they say so at the time? If the holding of democratic elections to transform Muslim countries, including a country in the midst of an unresolved terror war, was a departure from the neocons’ rhetoric and ideology, why didn’t they say so at the time? They didn’t say so, because those things were not a departure from their ideology. Six months before the invasion of Iraq, Midge Decter, the wife of Norman Podhoretz, wrote that a democratic transformation of Arab society was entirely achievable, because “the world is everywhere full of ordinary people who want exactly what we want…” Bush’s policy was consistent with these utopian expectations: Since people just naturally gravitate toward democracy, all we need to do is facilitate an election or two in Iraq, and the war will be “won.” The imposition of order is not necessary, because people are naturally good. This was the core of the neocons’ ideology, and Bush carried it out.

Richard Perle tells Vanity Fair that the main problem with the Iraq policy was not neocon ideals but dysfunctional leadership within the administration leading to chaos in Iraq. But Perle in 2004 co-wrote with David Frum a book called An End to Evil. There can of course be no end of evil in the sublunary realm in which history takes place. The belief that there can be an end of evil causes men to disregard the indispensable requirements of civil order, which, let us remember, is exactly what the administration did in Iraq. Perle promotes a liberal utopian idea of reality, while blaming our failure to enact this utopian idea on administration dysfunction. The question arises, what sort of “non-dysfunctional” action by Bush could have brought Perle’s utopian idea into effect and not led to disaster?

A man who says there can be an end of evil has disqualified himself from participation in politics, pending his renunciation of such dangerous nonsense. Perle has not renounced it. Therefore he has no right to talk about the dysfunction in the Bush administration. The dysfunction was and is in Richard Perle’s understanding of the world.

—end of initial entry—

Randall Parker writes:

Here are position changes I’d like to see:

1) A democratic transformation of the Middle East is not necessary for U.S. security.

2) We would be better off concentrating our security measures closer to home by keeping out the Muslims.

3) A democratic transformation of the Middle East would usher in fundamentalist Muslim rulers because they are who the masses vote for.

4) It is naive to think we could remake Muslim societies. Those societies lack the qualities that limited government, representative democracy, and individual freedoms require.

5) Freedom for fellow citizens is not a high priority value of all people. Some people place higher value on enforcing religious beliefs, keeping down women, and maintaining the structure of their clan-based cousin-marrying communities.

Are any of the neocons making any of these concessions? In other words, do they show any signs of getting a clue and admitting the scale of their errors?

LA replies:

No. Which again suggests that the core problem is not the president’s failure to act effectively to secure order in Iraq. The core problem is the neoconservative belief in a universal human sameness making democracy achievable for everyone, a belief which, if you try to put it into practice in Muslim societies, however you seek to implement it, is going to unleash jihadism.

* * *

A blogger named Polimom says that as a result of reading the Vanity Fair article she has had an epiphany. She used to think the neocons were evil; now she realizes that they are deluded utopians.

Meanwhile, a female correspondent says, “You wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a neoconservative.”

Mark G. writes:

The whole debate reminds me the continuous debates about forever failing agriculture in the Soviet Union. Those debates went on for decades. Intermittently fault was found with incompetent managers, poor infrastructure, kolkhoses were too big, kolkhoses were too small, they planted too much corn, they planted too little corn, equipment maintenance and repair was too centralized or was it too de-centralized? etc.

The problem was never with state ownership and control of farming. There was no improvement until the true believers were removed from power and state control discontinued.

Bush & Co could have executed everything perfectly, and the result probably would not be too different.

All people do not desire the same, it is a delusion. Personal freedom is not desired by many people and not desired by majority of Muslims. Islam is a totalitarian ideology. All that democracy does is to reflect in government policies what people desire. Hamas, Hezbollah and Shia parties in Iraq are perfect examples.

Until neocons publicly acknowledge all that, they should be sent to re-education camps with Soviet Agriculture commissars.

LA replies:

My personal favorite example along these lines is the liberal reporter who said that Nicaragua’s problems under the Marxist Sandinistas were due to “poor management of the economy.”

As for your call for re-education camps, in principle I agree. As I wrote last June, what America needs is de-neoconification.

Paul Nachman writes:

This is quite a memorable summing up.

However, making the reasonable point about the failure to prevent gross looting (I would also have made a point about the fecklessness of setting ourselves up to fight the battle for Fallujah twice) is overmatched by the Randall Parker point you quote …

“4) It is naive to think we could remake Muslim societies. Those societies lack the qualities that limited government, representative democracy, and individual freedoms require.”

… that we couldn’t possibly jump start a civil society in an Arab country.

So, could we actually have suppressed the looting and then had it stay suppressed without our continued stern presence (if we’d been appropriately stern)? From Parker’s point, no.

LA replies:

Thanks. This latest “fruition” of the several-years-long situation of the war and the neocons, with them now coming out and attacking their own guy, is extremely interesting.

Your point goes to the two levels of the problem.

On the first level, our leaders made the catastrophic error not to realize that disorder was a problem, and not to assure that Iraq had order. This error was itself a symptom of the neocon premises about human nature on which the hopes for democracy were based. That’s why I’ve called it the first neocon war.

But, even if our leaders had not been ideologically blinded and naive on the first level, and had had a larger and more serious military profile and imposed order on the country, while that would have been far better, it still would not have solved the higher-level problem you and Mr. Parker point to, of the incompatibility of Islam with democracy.

Mark G. writes:

Paul Nachman writes on your site: “So, could we actually have suppressed the looting and then had it stay suppressed without our continued stern presence (if we’d been appropriately stern)? From Parker’s point, no.”

Yes, we could have. If we didn’t have neocon delusions about human nature and Islam and executed the mission reasonably efficently we could have put the country under marshal law for a year or two. Would have put some least corrupt generals in charge, declared victory for Freedom and Democracy and retreated to permanent bases in Kurdistan.

It could have worked if, and it is a big IF, execution was good. Of course Iraq would not have been a democracy in any sense. But everybody, Iran excepted, would have been better off.

However, knowing what we now know about Bush & Co, they would have found a way to screw things up regardless.

LA replies:
But Mark G.’s point does not go against the Nachman/Parker point because they address different scenarios. N & P say that we could not have built a civil society in Iraq. Mark says that we could have have dominated the country and then given power to a relatively decent general and left.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 05, 2006 02:55 PM | Send

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