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The President’s Weird Men

Posted by Ed on April 8, 2003

The New Statesman has an excellent article on “The weird men behind George W Bush’s war”. The magazine does not provide free content unfortunately, but you can purchase 24 hrs access for $1.60.

I will try to summarise the article here (without infringeing copyright, of course).

You will have guessed by now that the article is about PNAC.

The article starts off with the observation that people all around the world are completely baffled by the United States’ behaviour, what its goals might be, and who is guiding foreign policy.

The author, Michael Lind, dismisses Robert Kagan’s theory that Americans and Europeans are fundamentally different beings, with Americans being martial and Europeans pacifist, as nonsense. He points out that a majority of people in the United States voted for either Gore or Nader in the last election, whose views are similar in many ways to those of western Europeans.

The crux of the article is that by a conspiracy of circumstance, American foreign policy is being driven by a small clique of extreme right-wingers who are completely unrepresentative of the population at large. Interestingly, Lind regards this as more alarming than the clash-of-cultures theory. Personally, I would see this as an indication that this behaviour is a blip, and cannot be sustained. A very painful blip, but a blip nonetheless.

This clique is described by Lind as ‘neo-conservative intellectuals’ – neo-cons for short. They are known as neo-conservatives because many of them begun on the far left, as Trotskyists for example, and more recently have moved to the far right.

Lind states:

“Inside the government, the chief defence intellectuals include Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence. He is the defence mastermind of the Bush administration; Donald Rumsfeld is an elderly figurehead who holds the position of defence secretary only because Wolfowitz himself is too controversial. Others include Douglas Feith, the number three at the Pentagon; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a Wolfowitz protege 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.”

Other names mentioned are James Woolsey, former CIA director, and Richard Perle, who recently resigned from the Defense Advisory Board. Lind refers to their ideology as ‘Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism’, and states that ‘Neoconservative foreign policy does not reflect business interests in any direct way. The neo-cons are ideologues, not opportunists.’

The article cites several examples of connections between the neo-cons and Israel’s far right:

“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 Organisation of America, citing him as a “pro-Israel activist”. While out of power in the Clinton years, Feith collaborating with Perle, co-authored for Likud a policy paper that advised the Israeli government to end the Oslo peace process, reoccupy the territories and crush Yasser Arafat’s government.”

Lind also highlights the existence of non-Jewish Zionists, a strong force in the southern United States:

“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 subsidise Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.”

Regular readers of this blog will, of course, recognise many of these names from the Project for the New American Century. Their aims are well known: the maintenance, and extension, of American hegemony by the toppling of ‘unfriendly’ regimes through force, and in particular the strengthening of Israel’s position in the Middle East. Having been reasonably successful (at least in the eyes of the western media) during their trial-run in Afghanistan, they are now tackling Iraq, and would very much like to move on from there to Iran and Syria.

If, as Lind suggests, the neo-cons’ views are in such disagreement with the rest of the world, the question is how did they get to be in charge of the world’s only superpower?

This is where PNAC comes in:

“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 PR technique pioneered by their Trotskyist predecessors, the neo-cons 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 US to invade and occupy Iraq and to support Israel’s campaigns against the Palestinians.”

Most of the neo-cons did not support Bush in the Primaries, fearing that he would prove to be weak, but after he was elected they siezed their chance:

“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 hardline 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.”

Lind maintains that the neo-cons took advantage of Bush’s naivety, and played to his southern background typified by ‘fervent Christian Zionism, along with an admiration for macho Israeli soldiers that sometimes coexists with hostility to liberal Jewish-American intellectuals’.

The second stroke of luck the neo-cons had was the 11 September tragedy, the trauma of which allowed them to manipulate American public opinion into backing (or at least not too strongly opposing) war in the the Middle East.

“After the al-Qaeda attacks, any US president would likely have gone to war to topple Bin Laden’s Taliban protectors in Afghanistan. But everything that the US 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.”

The question remains though, how on earth did they manage to persuade Tony Blair to go along with it?

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One Response to “The President’s Weird Men”

  1. Rudolph said

    Nice summary… thanks.

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