"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Conservatives and liberals alike are critical of neoconservative foreign policy, a creature crowned with empire envy and war-lust yet starkly naked of caution, conservatism or respect for sovereignty or human rights. We stand together in awe at the "creative destruction" invoked by the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Ledeen when no other rationale for the occupation of Iraq survives.
With black humor, we call them neo-conmen, neandra-cons, neo-Jacobins or neo-fascists, searching for a title that matches the philosophy. We agree that new conservatives they’ve never been. Liberals won’t claim them either.
It can be amusing and educational to analyze and criticize the neo-conmen — on their good days. They have names like Max Boot — crisp with his highbrow contempt for American traditionalism and entertaining with his Orwellian name. Or Joel Mowbray, David Frum or Jonah Goldberg whose collective prose once waded through reveals naïve youngsters trying on maturity like long pants for the first time, and giggling about it. Not yet at home in the world of adults, but no doubt earnest hopefuls.
The older crowd of neoconservatives can be almost as much fun. Or at least they used to be before they got worried about the upcoming U.S. election, invasions of Syria and Iran slipping like sand between manicured fingers and the outrageous treachery of Spaniards. These days, the experience of watching Charles Krauthammer grouse on Sunday morning that "the next big war is Iran" — while even FOX’s Brit Hume looks on in amazement — is surpassed only by observing the ignominious Defense Policy Board departure of the grubby Richard Perle in a last ditch attempt to maximize consulting profits before it’s too late. George Will, whose recent column attacked even little old me, has gone so far downhill as an essayist that one thinks perhaps he should retire and make way for new blood. Bill Safire seems grumpier than ever, and even the charm of Grandpa Don Rumsfeld is getting strained and tense.
Teasing these advocates of silly yet deadly foreign policies is all in good fun. We should do so mercilessly, Bush-free-speech-zones notwithstanding. With all due respect, we might even explain that imperial mass democracy/geo-strategic global militarism is incompatible with a constitutionally constrained Republic or traditions of sovereignty and international law.
But the fun is evaporating. It’s becoming downright painful to watch the political organs of neo-conservatism in America metastasize. Seven months from the election, we observe this Frankensteinian political phenomenon — abstract idealism implemented through stamping boots, forever — morph into something that is even more outwardly ugly, transparently self-consuming, and doomed.
What proof can I offer that a withering away of the neoconservative grip on policy is coming? Certainly our next President, John F. Kerry, is already familiar with the neoconservative domestic and foreign policy playbook, and does not reject it. But there are some promising signs.
Their reaction to criticism is broadening in scope and hideousness. Last summer, neocon contempt for me after my first mainstream commentary was limited to a mild attack by bench-warmer and Center for Security Policy head Frank Gaffney, calling me simply an antiwar activist, likely to be a closet Democrat and uninformed. Later, after the American Conservative series, Richard Perle and others took to telling reporters privately that I was a follower of Lyndon LaRouche. Again, a mild attack, as unfounded as the charges of uninformed Democratic peace-activist. More recently, however, following the Salon.com publicity, I have been named anarchist and dangerous person, according to the nationally televised discussion on March 10th between Foundation for the Defense of Democracies President Clifford May and FOX’s John Gibson. This was followed by a Max Boot declaration of my flakiness and the recent George Will intimation that I am anti-Semitic. Will deserved a response of course, and he got one.
The good news is that neoconservative attacks on truth tellers are becoming so shrill that soon only our dogs will be able to hear them.
Until that happens, one gains understanding of strange noises by looking for trends or patterns. Neoconservatives are nothing if not predictable, and their pattern is to discount, then disparage, and then vilify. I suspect we are nearing Ghandi’s early winning stages, at least in the game for 2004.
My own neoconservative critics have increased in rank, their critiques in stridency. These two measures of neoconservative hysteria comprise a working-man’s truth-meter, and it is starting to peg.
Like bats and mushrooms, neoconservative reaction to light is inverted. This inversion goes beyond the rejection of common sense with their advocacy of a U.S. empire of ideas, or the chronic misreading of the nature of both war and terrorism. Neoconservatives also despise truth when embodied by their own. It is not clear whether the unpleasant Mr. Perle left the Defense Policy Board in order to make more money, or rather was asked to leave due to his inability to sit through a media interview without losing his cool. However, it is clear that some of the more moral and well-liked defense staffers are looking for, or being pushed towards, the nearest exit.
As in Plato’s cave, once this country turns away from the shadow and into the light, there will be no going back. Senior and long-time public servants in the Bush administration involved in diplomacy, state finance, intelligence and counter-terrorism — people like Ambassador Joe Wilson, Paul O’Neill, Greg Thielmann, and Richard Clarke — have turned away from the shadow and are reporting what they saw.
At times like these, nervous neoconservatives, like hungry hyenas, become irritable, aggressive and cannibalistic. My Mom always said you should say something nice, and it is true. I bet they were cute when they were puppies!
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley, and writes a bi-weekly column on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com.