Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Constitutional Crisis Issues

A Suggested Cure for a Constitutional Crisis

(Note, you can view the entire discussion at Bill Moyer's Journal: Tough Talk on Impeachment)

My Thoughts:

Whatever the founders may have imagined when they were designing this governing system was inevitably based on the availability of only a very few democratic prototypes to choose from at the time. And their own imaginations were, by the very nature of constructed imagination as we now understand it with our modern cognitive sciences, an accumulation of memes of organizational boilerplates mishmashed together through 12,000 years of humanly evolved social complexity experiments. This appears to have begun after some of our species began experimenting and leaving behind the simple, easy to self manage group problem solving strategy of wandering bands of hunter gatherers, a strategy that had brought us through several million years of evolution to the beginnings of a brilliant innovation: the agricultural subsistence strategy ages and their correlated social organizations somewhat arrogantly coined as "civilizations." And now, perhaps, the creative combining of various cultural memes developed through this period has brought us all to the edge of our doom -- but that's another story.

While apparently Ben Franklin brought in some ideas from the Iroquois participatory democracy model, for the most part the US prototype drew from the Roman Republic model, and thus we got the vestigial Roman Senate thrust into our bicameral legislature to represent what they imagined needing representation, and that was the states themselves, somehow separated in concept from the people. After all, there simply wasn't a big supermarket of democracy prototypes to choose from, and these guys had to finally, somehow, come up with something.

Most of those Founders were of the elite of their time, educated in the classical traditions of Europe, so knowing what we know about the mind now, we can assume their imaginations conscribed to what they knew at that time. That's one reason why our Constitution is called an experiment. They really did not know how it would actually work out once in play. Since then a lot of different democracy models have evolved. Ours is arguably something of an antique, being an early experiment founded in the horse and buggy mentality of its day.

Perhaps 19th Century American Exceptionalism still holds sway in our thinking and the accumulated traditions of American hubris makes questioning the document's greatness inhibitory. Because I find that trying to bring up the subject of actually redesigning the Constitution does not perk up many ears.

One of the problems I suspect embedded in our Constitution's design is that power in any hierarchical order of society acts like a drug, and it works in many nefarious ways. Most of the Founders were from a European class structure in which as elites they had advantages they took for granted. The "drug of power" of their very positions can be expected to have dimmed their imaginative faculties, no matter how excited they each may have been about the new "revolution of individualism" they were in, and they had difficulty extending full humanity and a corresponding application of the Bill of Rights to all the individuals we are now willing to consider fully human in this country after some 200 years.

What they didn't know was that a presidential system itself has ontological implications built in, and no matter how much they didn't want it to become like the monarchies of Europe, they didn't recognize how evolution of institutions themselves can supersede the individual. We ourselves still focus on personality, when it's the institution itself that the next president will inherit, and much of what they say while stumping for election will vanish once they sit in the seat of power.

With the evolution of society, the growth of corporations, and the economic system that altogether has evolved, all along the way the government has had to try to adapt to meet the Constitutional mandates and the contingencies of reality. What's being tested in the process is the legal structure itself. Often the resolutions are an unhappy result of paradox, like applying the 14th Amendment, which is about individuals, to a corporate entity, the private corporation, and declaring that a corporate entity is a person under the law. The very notion of the revolution of individualism and the Bill of Rights is thrown into some sort of conceptual chaos with that.

What's evolved is a result of basic structures that were in place, some of those results have memic features that are almost Frankensteinian in their very DNA. The point is there may have been no way to interpret the Constitution that could have come out to look anything like what the Founders hoped for, and a kind of legal fundamentalism calling upon an originalist interpretaiton itself puts a chain around the pressures calling for a creative approach to problem solving that maintains democracy. If we find we are giving up our democracy for anything -- security from terrorism, for instance -- then perhaps there may be an inherent structural problem worth considering in the Constitution itself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Colbert "Finger-Waggin' at the Boss"

Born ...in the U S A

Born ...in the U S A

"I think there were, you know... some verses, but I'm more of a chorus guy."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Warrior Many Tongues

I awoke this morning hearing a voice saying:

"Beware of the warrior Many Tongues whose mind is cluttered with things and he walks the earth in confusion, deep in his fear of the Great Spirit Emptiness, for he knows that without Emptiness there would be no-thing."

I lay there a trying to remember the dream and the events that led up to that voice, and trying to visualize the face, but it wouldn't come back to me. But I could still remember the phrase and the sound of the voice, so I reached for my leather bound journal on the nearby night stand, fumbled around for the pen, and I managed to write it down without losing the memory of it. It's sometimes very hard for me to write down phrases I hear in dreams, they just vanish when I try.

The thoughts and feelings from that dream hung about me like a sheer gray curtain, as I got up and began my morning. I made my coffee, turned on the computer, and sat back for a moment, looked at the headlines on a news page, but I was not really reading them.

It seemed like a koan. "Without Emptiness there would be no-thing." Just enough of a pause between the "no" and the "thing" to seem like two words, but said to sound like "nothing."

Thoughts of the meaning of infinite and spirit crossed through my mind, like old memories, for I'd thought such thoughts many times. Yet somehow this dream phrase seemed freshly related. The age old corporeal problem, the spirit world and the ever emergence of things surrounded by space, or nothing, which ancient philosophers hypothesized to be composed of something, and now modern philosophers, in the form of physicists are imagining it to be something as well. But if infinity is unmeasurable, is there ultimately a something? Maybe the "great spirit" is no more than that which makes thought possible.

And people have made up places where they can revere this seemingly amazing possibility, like the sense of awe some express after smoking some weed and then looking at an ordinary, everyday object as if for the first time, dragged forth on a long, thin line...

The Bell Curve Possibility

It's been my experience, much of it from observation, that different schools of child rearing are handed down through families. Some of us have actually had different experiences than "because I said so" and the parental attitudes that often go with it. I am inclined to wonder sometimes how important that parenting experience is in setting up the way we expect the world to be for us, and how we will approach it after with that initial, formative experience.

But that aside, there are times when a parent does need to be concerned with a child's safety, and even the most nurturant parent should recognize the necessity of invoking a "command moment" I would think. And who hasn't felt frustration on a "bad" day and invoked the "almighty" voice?

I also agree that much concern should result in noticing that our educational institutions do concern themselves with enforcing obedience to authority in that same vein. I'm aware that for some, it does not provoke concern, but a sense of satisfaction.

Yes, indeed, you are patronizingly reassured, as your thin little body sits in the huge wooden chair across the desk from the rather large and imposing stern vice principal
in the office to which you've been summoned once again, you are free as long as you stay within these carefully drawn lines. No questions outside the box, please (with no hint of please in the stern voice). Otherwise, without this training, people may not be quite so willing to run out and find jobs once they escape from the torture chambers of squirming daily in rows of those hard, slippery wooden desks while an authority preaches,...er teaches.

It's my perception that these institutions invoke methods of ingestion, regurgitation and then take regular measurements of quantities of regurgitation. The methodologies of teaching ingestion and and invoking regurgitation often rely on behavior modification enforced pain and pleasure principles, all together of which creates an institutional atmosphere whereby students can be measured and sorted, sifted and stacked, and which also offers verification of that controversial
Bell Curve possibility is in fact...


On the other hand, awakening another form of intelligence, the open-ended, therefore non measurable ability to creatively question, is not really something that can be taught, just as teaching the proverbial horse to feel thirst is not an option. So you won't find any troublesome methods of that nature anywhere in there.

But... and this is an important "but" for an itinerant rambler to a vice principal's office like myself... an intellectual "thirst" to simply "find out" can be systemically suppressed in a population through its institutions. I at least believe that much. I also believe each of us faces a challenge to overcome that on our own, daily, if indeed it does occur as I seem to experience it. I find that possibility very exciting to imagine, but then I get out and about and talk to people, and my excitement sort of just dwindles away. As Linda Hunt asks Kevin Kline across the bar at the Midnight Star in Sliverado, "What's wrong with us?" And then she gives him that look and that sly smile.

Laurie Anderson Lyrics
Baby Doll Lyrics

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Little Bit of Comedy Central

Since I don't own a television -- I refuse to actually pay to be propagandized -- I don't get to see some things, unless they show up in the Internet. So I saw these little Steven Colbert things this morning and decided I wanted to have them preserved on my website for posterity! To understand the wit that goes back and forth in the second, where Steven has Arianna Huffington on his show -- specifically her comment about Grizzly bears -- I felt the first one to be helpful:

Arianna and Steven:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Objectification -- It's Much More than a Women's Issue!

PSA from Laurie Anderson - Women and Money

I can recall noticing through most of my life that most men react to the women's movement by taking it as a personal attack on their manhood. I don't see it that way. I can guess at why I don't, but I can't say for certain how that's come about for me. If I tried I think the effort would get quite lengthy.

One of the ways I tend to look at this issue of objectification is as a long revolutionary struggle, the liberal revolution, that began several hundred years ago. Whether it's a return to a human potential that evolved in the species before we began developing the authoritarian meme in our cultures, which hypothetically is the result of the complexities that followed the onset of agriculture 10-12,000 years ago, or not, is maybe an interesting question, but not one that makes much difference about the importance of the liberal revolution for individual rights or not. That revolution continues to evolve and each of us who embrace it, can embrace it with the very instructions built into our DNA. Fantasizing about how our ancient relatives did it 40,000 years ago won't really make much difference.

One of the narratives I run through my mind is that the Founders of this political system were a group of men who were philosophically tantalized by the ideas about liberal thinking at the time -- each in their own way, and hypothetically to different degrees. I take note of the fact they were a group of elites, many both monied and propertied, they were mostly from the European cultural traditions that were emerging at that time from feudalism -- and that very fact had a lot to do with their thinking framework, the context of their thoughts. This nation was structured out of that context in a specific period in what I see as an extended revolution of liberation from tyrannical, authoritarian structures of thought.

A question might be asked, revolution for who? And I'd answer, for the individual. I'm an individual, for instance.

What was born here in the US was, then, potentially not the final fruits of that struggle because of the very nature of what it was born into. I can see that the framework everyone genuflects over is still imperfect, and out of that imperfection has emerged the continued struggle for rights of the individual, the inhibit-ation of which I believe we can see in the very nature of feudalism, which itself is an extension of other forms of individual repression going back into history. Some of the dogma of the rights of property from that feudalistic era over our individual rights have been put down on this very thread, as the rights of a "property owner" known as an employer, and stated as, "this is the way it is." These, to me are the feudal fragments the Founding Fathers couldn't leave behind and they got built into the system, and because of that even corporations became "persons" with individual rights, it appears. And as long as we believe that this is the way it is, just as, as long as we believe we operate as a society under the rule of law, then it's so. But sometimes it seems to me those "this is the way it is" concepts come into play in ways that are seemingly contradictory. And it's then that I feel we are challenged with the problems of this liberal revolution that still need to be solved. One of the aspects of the liberal revolution is to recognize that very unique feature of ourselves, and to get out from under the self imposed belief in an authority that dominates how we think.

I feel that the revolution for individual rights was limping along on a single, somewhat crippled leg until women started to wake up and express themselves as individuals. Oddly enough, there's a group feature to individual freedom, and it's hypothetically very contradictory in nature. I believe we cannot free ourselves of authoritarianism while practicing it on any part of our humanity. Objectification, by the way, is to me an ingredient of the authoritarian mind frame. I discovered the very structure of feudal objectification when I was in the military. I was too young to know it already existed in society, so I was completely shocked when I discovered it. That really set my mind off. I had questions going in my head like: how do you take away someone's freedom to act and decide for themselves in a so-called democracy in this way to fight that which I was being told was a totalitarian system that does just that to its population? That was really a huge existential question for an eighteen year old mind I recognize now. I nearly went insane. But in the process I set up some ingredients for possibly working things out for myself.

When I got back into the "real" society, where the US constitutional Bill of Rights were the rules, not the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I decided it was time to get an education. In college I met members of the women's movement, and many of them were just about as confused as I was about all of this. But I managed to sort out through many of our talks, some highly emotional, that we were struggling for some of the same things, and against some of the same abstract institutional structures. Many or those structures are simply "authoritarian" and not oriented to promoting individuality of any kind, but because of the nature of our enculturation, the institutions themselves get associated with men, and so men often feel they are being personally attacked.

So what's happened as women are waking up? Are we dealing with the imperfections of our system itself, those features that create the objectification process? Or are we just incorporating the rest of the individuals who got left out about 220 years ago into a latently feudal system that has never been fully structured to allow us all our individual freedom? I'm still asking that question after forty years.

One of the thoughts I have: we have somewhat successfully codified this system of rule by law, combined with an individual Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights concept is being extended to the world, the United Nations has a nicely described version that even includes children. But it's like hand building a high tech Ferrari in a garage in the jungle. You start up that fine engine, open the garage door and there's no where to go, because there are no roads to drive it on. Most people spend most of their days in institutions that only vaguely and in fragments offer them individual rights to practice their daily tasks and to think in their own, individualized way. Their lives at home are planned and arranged around how they must relate to these institutions. Their children are carefully prepared so that they can successfully engage in them. And so we remain in a jungle of authoritarian institutions, and that jungle forms the context out of which we make up our minds, and that context is what we see as "the world" as it "must be."

The women's movement, the civil rights movements, those are about getting our good solid legs under us so we can go out into that jungle and claim our individuality consciously, and support each other in that process, instead of fight each other. Men are not being attacked as individuals by these ideas, in which the nature of objectification itself, for instance, is being questioned and examined. The institutions that men associate themselves with are not the individual men. And it's difficult to get that out where it can really be looked at and understood.

Maybe it would be easier, if only I were an expert...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Office, Not the Person

The Unitary Executive and The Office of the Presidency

It's been suggested that no one is asking during this presidential horse race whether the person who takes office changes the office or whether the office changes the person. It's not quite accurate to say no one is asking. It's more that those asking aren't out in the spotlight of the media where the elements of public dialog are presented for mass consumption. I don't think it's a matter of the person being changed, it's more a matter of speaking with a forked tongue when they finally get to office, almost because they have to. For one thing, there is no national dialog that makes discussing what's really going on in making decisions available for public discourse. It's all packaged and wrapped in sound bite clichés that basically distract from the real matters that make government work.

When I discovered what the Unitary Executive Theory itself was, and who was both for it and against it, I discovered a whole world of people asking that question and looking at the structure of the office itself, how it could be reformulated to better serve the interests of power (and power is money, straight out), and for those concerned about the effects of reformulating it on the office of the presidency, how it could be prevented from better serving the interests of power. This is a bloodless struggle, but it's going on none the less. It's taking place in the boiler room of the Titanic, where what makes the ship move through the water is located, the very legal structure of the ship, the system that propels the bureaucracy, where you just apply energy (money) and make steam and the ship is propelled towards the ice bergs, no matter which Captain is on the bridge, because the ice bergs lie in the short cut to where the power wants to go.

None of that's in the news. It puts people to sleep.

But if you are the rich and the powerful, and you want to control this huge nation with its legally conscribed bureaucracy, your best investment is the executive branch. It has the most number of unelected professional elites who transcend the office holders, who the minions focus on for their brief moment to have any effect at all on that overly hyped day in November, the most chance for consistency of purpose to be carried out. That's why I don't even pay much attention to this personality contest, I look at their advisers, and who they are likely to be appointing to the heads of these bureaucracies to legally follow out the president's "orders" to operate the huge bureaucratic machinery of state. Folks like the head of FEMA we all remember Bush appointed, for example, heading a perfectly good agency like the blind, dry drunk who appointed him. That's how the power of money controls this country.

The wealthy and powerful who want the good Ship Titanic to go in their chosen direction invest their money in private think tanks. One not so obviously a think tank is called "The Federalist Society," and it comes across as an organization for legal theorist, judges and lawyers to schmooze together about the law. It has chapters in all the major law schools. It began in 1983 or so. It now has some 35,000 members. These are the people with their hands on the machinery of state. The laws. They all share a similar attitude towards the law. That attitude is now becoming the predominant one in the appointed judges that much of the recent controversy was over, the Federal prosecutors, and, significantly, in the recent appointments to the Supreme Court.

We are now approaching a Federalist Society weighted Supreme Court. The Federalist Society was started by the people who developed the Unitary Executive Theory. The UET is about increasing the executive branch's control over the bureaucracy, insulating it from and thereby decreasing the oversight by Congress which in its checks and balance role is supposed to make certain it administers the bureaucracy according to the laws that Congress has passed. Secrecy thus becomes an issue. Presidential minions not testifying before Congress thus becomes an issue. If you step back you can see it is a theory that moves towards a CEO style presidency. A CEO heads these private tyrannies we call corporations. How hard is it to make the connections?

"Fascism" is about the unification of the state, just as a corporation is a unified collective with a purpose, and it's structured much like a military organization, because militaries have evolved to be structured as a unified collective to accomplish a purpose.

These are structural matters. The word "freedom" means nothing whatsoever with these matters going on at the same time -- especially if these structural matters contradict our freedoms.

The person who finally sits in the oval office is concerned with structural matters. The Constitution is the law, the Constitution is about structural matters.

How do you say all that in a sound bite on the evening news? How do you make that dramatic enough for people to pay attention to what it all means so they can figure out what it means for themselves? Especially when you are a corporation, you own media, nuclear power plants, military industrial complex components, and your interest is profit, because it's mandated by this law (the structure) that "we" have that they give the stockholders a good return on their investment first and worry about what they are doing to the world as an afterthought.

One of the heroes of this silent, bloodless, but very hard fought battle is Christopher Kelley, who did his PhD dissertation on the Unitary Executive and the Signing Statements. A small, brief notice of this very complex issue made its way into the media, and it did so in a way that only managed to confuse people to think it had something to do with the actions of King George, and his henchman, Darth Cheney, mainly because the partisan battle is all anyone is interested in as they sit in front of their televisions and munch their popcorn. The media moguls know that, their well paid employees in their media mogul corporations are made aware of that, and that's how the news is manufactured so that the popcorn munchers will give their consent to the already carefully selected candidates, it hardly matters which, in the voting booths the first Tuesday in the appropriate November. (The headlines are making me sick now, I can't read them at this point in the horse race. It's the same every time.)

I've gotten to know Chris Kelley's work, and I keep tabs on his blogs where he keeps track of how the media screws things up, and more precisely, what actions are being taken in the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative branch on these dire and significant changes that actually do determine what the person in the office will be able to do when he gets there: Zone of Twilight and Media Watch.

One of the difficulties I've had in my discussions is getting rabid Bush haters to recognize that Clinton was also a promoter of the UET, and that any president is not going to give up his power willingly. It's built into the very structure of the job. That's what separates the rhetoric of ideology from reality. If you can't get past the rhetoric, then you won't get down into the boiler room of the Titanic to see what's really going on. You'll be sunbathing on the deck while th Captain pilots the ship, and dancing in the ballroom at night as the ship moves towards disaster. Chris is editing a book and I just got my eyes on a paper he wrote that will be a chapter in the book, that gives me all sorts of tasty details to work with concerning what Clinton did to promote the UET. It's titled:

The Unitary Executive and the Clinton Administration

The unitary executive and the George W. Bush administration seem indistinguishable. President Bush’s aggressive defense of his actions through the provisions of the unitary executive has brought the public focus of the theory as intertwined with this presidency with no consideration of its past. Thus for most Americans, before the Bush administration there was not unitary executive and after President Bush has left office there will be no unitary executive. As this chapter demonstrates, the unitary executive was there before Bush came to power, and in a Democratic administration to boot!

The Clinton administration often gets overlooked in the discussion of the push towards the expansion of presidential power. This story tends to begin with the Reagan administration and its dedication to restoring the powers of the presidency taken by an aggressive Congress in the years following Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon (so-called “imperiled presidency” thesis). The restoration continued through the first Bush administration, and the second Bush administration worked to restore the powers lost when the Clinton administration frittered them away for personal gain. While this is the story that partisans like to tell, it is, much like all partisan logic, void of certain truths. And one truth is that the Clinton administration behaved very much like its Republican predecessors, to the advantage of its successor.
This chapter will focus on two important ways that the Clinton administration exercised and advanced “unitarian” power: by pulling the executive branch agencies closer to the White House in order to advance political goals and by protecting the president’s right to exercise so-called “coordinate” constitutional power.

The Unitary Executive—The Theoretical Backdrop

The unitary executive theory began inside the Reagan Justice Department along with other members of the conservative legal organization, the “Federalist Society.” Those who advance its tenets often refer to themselves as “Unitarians,” though not to be confused with the religious sect that it shares a name with.

The theory argues that the presidency, as a coordinate branch of government, is both the only nationally elected public officer (thus able to speak for the nation) and responsible for independently interpreting the meaning of the Constitution. As the representative of the entire public, he may be held accountable for bills signed into law and for the way in which the law is administered. The core tenets of the theory gives the president the sole authority to remove inferior executive officers, give the president the power to direct inferior executive officers in their administration of the law, and finally provides the president with the power to veto or nullify the way in which inferior executive branch officers use discretionary executive power.

The unitary executive is a constitutional theory of presidential power. It argues that the president draws his power from three sources of the Constitution. First, the Vesting clause of Article II, Section 1 gives the president all of the executive power. This means the powers explicitly written into Article II and other executive power, or the so called prerogative power. Second, the Oath clause of Article II, Section 1 acts as a shield, protecting the president from enforcing any law independently determined to be unconstitutional. This responsibility is shared by the president with his attorneys in the United States Department of Justice, in particular the Office of Legal Counsel, and with his close advisors in the White House Counsel’s Office. And third, the Take Care clause of Article II, Section 3 obligates the president, with the advice and assistance of inferior executive officers, to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. As Michael Herz has argued, the “Take Care’ Clause insures that the president will not only execute the law personally, but also it obligates him to oversee the executive branch agencies to insure that they are faithfully executing the laws” as opposed to executing them independent of the president’s wishes or even to the wishes of some other body, such as the Congress.

Thus each president since Reagan has advanced these core tenets of the theory—using signing statements and OLC opinions to first refuse either defense or enforcement of “unconstitutional” law and second backing it up with an OLC opinion in defense.
While many believe that since the theory was born out of conservative gatherings that only Republican presidents have pushed its tenets, as I will show next, the Clinton administration positioned itself in 1993 to advance the cause of the unitary executive, though never using the term in defense of its actions.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Individualism and Collectivism Examined

The Left/Right Jingoism of Political Gibber Jabber

I hear people separating "left" and "right" by saying things like, the political "Left" believes collective rights supersede the rights of an individual, and the political "Right" believes an individual's rights are greater than the collective. From that they conclude something like: "individualism is the opposite of collectivism." What I see involved is a series of fallacious conclusions coming from careless thinking that brushes hastily over the possibilities of meaning in the terms in order to arrive a pre conceptual conclusion. Clearly, individualism is different from collectivism, but not necessarily opposite. Individualism is about things like individual rights with respect to a collective group working together. You don't push for one without something to do with the other.

Human beings tend to do better in their survival tactics as organized entities than they do as hermits. So we have these different strategies we can observe called societies with their collections of groupings.

This left/right rhetoric is just a bunch of bull shit to me. It's just a collection of idealistic, jingoistic statements. It falls apart when I start looking at what the words represent and the reality of what people are actually involved in.

Everyday most people go to a collective organization and do some tasks they are directed to do. Many of those collectives are private tyrannies when you get right down to it, so most people spend their days in an authoritarian atmosphere where they comply with the directives they have nothing to say about because they want to eat, and buy all these pretty gadgets, like the beads and blankets that carried small pox across this nation after Columbus floated up to it under sail. Most are trained for doing this from kindergarten, so they don't know any different. It's just the way it is for them. They may have some vague symbols that they see on TV and in the movies about individuals behaving in some free way, but it's not really about their life, it's just entertainment.

Right now we have what I perceive as a set of elites, I don't care what party you want to see them in, and they aren't interested in democracy or individual rights. They are interested in organizational management issues and strategies that amount to power with regard to those. That's simply the nature of that kind of organization of groups getting together and involving themselves in the institutions that are already pretty well structured to be what they are. The playing field is set, now we, the public, get to watch it play out. The Big Fight.

We have a population that's predominantly programmed to accept authorities telling them what to do, and most individuals lack any real voice in what each may want out of their lives in respect to the larger macro organizational characteristics we imagine to be The Nation.

Because of the way I look at things, my "The Nation" is so different from other people's I can't even communicate most of the time. Mostly I don't even talk. I just listen.

The rest of that jingoistic crap you presented is meaningless to me when I see what people are faced with.

I made my choice a long time ago. I don't work for anyone, I do things in a contractual exchange, and I am involved in writing the contract agreements. It's not always easy, but those are my standards. I figure if everyone was willing to live by those standards, corporations would collapse, because there wouldn't be any employees, there wouldn't be any hierarchy of command. But I'd be willing to wager that won't come about. So people will go on pretending something else is going on and argue about the fine details of the make up of their cage and the intricacies of the designs on their shackles.

Fascism is a corporation. It's a bundle that's all together for strength, all right, but the bundle doesn't collectively think, it's directed by an authority who "knows." Whether it's privately owned or a government. It's hierarchically ordered and authoritarian in its format. "My way or the highway." A corporation is a collective, a corporation is bureaucratic in its organization. It has a specific goal, make a profit, and it does that through what is now perceived as something like "scientifically engineered" management techniques, something our universities began creating towards the end of the last century.

If the Republicans have put a unifying theory into reorganizing the presidency so that the president is like a CEO (and they have), that's moving our presidential system in the direction of fascism. Same with Democrats, and FDR was an example of one who saw that as a good idea, I humbly suggest. I expect all parties to do the same as long as we have a federal government with the legal and national enforcement capabilities of the one we have. And thanks to a two hundred year series of working at the interpretation of the Constitution through our court system, the Federal Government powers over the states have expanded, as the states have expanded. This is like a disease, once it begins it's hard to stop if the immune system is not set up to stop it, and legally, ours isn't.

With big government the urge is going to be towards decomplexifying the management tasks, and the president's job is to manage the bureaucracy, so what does that suggest? The only really efficient decomplexifying option we have is hierarchy and a pyramid top down authority scheme. That's why militaries have all become similar in their organization.

That's how it is from what I can see. I think folks often don't see their own life circumstances for what they are or they would know what trying to be an individual, making individual choices in the midst of all these very real circumstances that restrict their choice-making amounts to, and the jingoistic generalizations would fall away to a critical examination of the meaning of the words they use. It's not some abstract idea, its about tough choices every day that take contemplation. And that's where one finds one's individuality, not in some idea. I think many are just living in a fantasy world of words, and don't even know what the words mean because they haven't really taken them apart.

I figure it's facetious to argue there's anything else going on, but it certainly keeps people entertained.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Eco sanity

I don't think of human beings as being in a position to save the world. It's more like, get out of the way so the world can take care of itself. So my vision doesn't include a 'humans saving the world' concept.

The Earth's biosphere, best we can tell with our crude abilities to find things out, is an interconnection of living systems that will maintain their own ongoing, life sustaining balance without the guidance of human beings. The earth has never needed human beings to maintain its life forces. Instead, what human beings may have become, actually very probably have, is now a potential danger to the complex living systems that make up the total biosphere, and ironically, in pursuit of our own aggrandizement, we have devised some clandestine adaptation strategies that appear capable of unbalancing all the self sustaining processes of the earth, much as a cancer unbalances the self sustaining process of an individual organism by its own, myopic focus on what cancer cells are genetically designed to do to survive.

The difference between human beings and cancer is we have the potential to make a choice about what we do. ...Well, that's hypothetical, I guess. Maybe cancer does have a choice and we don't, or both, or neither.

Western globalized culture has become like what we call in ecology, an r-selected species. Because of what humans can do as a group with their unique abilities to create cultures as an interface with their environment, we have cleverly devised culture based systems that act as our own, evolutionary eco niche adaptation process, only with ours, we can take over just about any niche. It's a unique process we can use without changing our biology, as many other species must do to adapt. Such normally biologically based species (cancer being one, lemmings another) are adapted to low succession ecosystems. Examples of low succession ecosystems are fields of corn, where much external energy is required to till, plant, fertilize and keep out various forms of species that would also like to populate the field where the corn grows, until finally the crop can be harvested.

Human beings have for some time transformed environments with their built places and their agriculture. Now with increasing speed, thanks to the cheap and abundant energy discovered under the surface of the earth, humans continue to raze the many precious and irreplaceable complex ecosystems of the planet, destroying in the process species that will never be seen again, and could take millions of years to regenerate in some comparable ecologically adapted form, so that those areas can be turned into low succession, high yield "resources" for human beings, who themselves now number 6.6 billion in number, but much more than that when the factors of eco foot print is taken into consideration for the more highly technologized societies. This population growth over the last 150 years has roughly the same curve on a graph as any r-selected species.

So human beings, through their cultural adaptations, have made themselves (a species that otherwise has all the characteristics of a K-selected species) into an r-selected species, and with that, they have employed the traits built into their gene pool that allows them to transform their environment, and hence all the environments of the planet that they can, into low succession, low speciated environments. The loss of genetic material in the process may very well completely transform the life of the biosphere to one that does not support most of the life we see around us now.

The solution I see is for humans to recognize what they are doing, and reorient their cultural adaptation away from control oriented technologies and more towards ecologically reflexive, sustainable ones. One of the ways to do that is for each human to begin to reawaken their deep connection to the earth, the one that is part of our evolution, and begin a renewing of the old ways of seeing and interacting with our environment, combined with the knowledge we have developed through the cultural devices of our ecological sciences. If any of our sciences can guide us, those would be the ones.

We need to rediscover the "ways," as in the "cultural ways," or the "Way of Zen," those kinds of ways that acknowledge the psychological unhealthiness of separating ourselves as we do in our isolating built environments. Environments of our own distorting creation that ignore natural needs of the living biosphere while we grow ever more dependent, in the process, on economic systems that are essentially cancerous. We need to "see" this and then renew, or invent ways that will reverse our progress on a path of destruction, and go in new directions with our adaptation strategies, based on a healthy and direct interaction with life processes, so that we are reminded by our daily existence of our connection to the planet's life. That reminder is the basis of individual sanity and psychological balance. An abstract idea about it is insufficient.

That recognition and societal redirection, of course, entails a dramatic rearrangement of whole systems of thought and ideas. A whole new mental paradigm must come about. That's what I'm working on, ideas combined with actions for what that might be, ways of becoming healthy and balanced with a new vision of who we are as living beings within a self sustaining biosphere, not controllers and guardians, as some Western religious doctrines would have us believe.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ideological Change of Shoes

Ideologies Discarded Like a Trail of Worn Shoes

At the risk of simplistic categorization, I'll point out that David Horowitz is an example of a number of liberal intellectuals -- a lesser number of whom were among the radical anti establishment intellectuals in the Sixties -- who later exchanged their ideology for something of a different design, like changing designer shoes. For most this change occurred sometime after the end of the Vietnam War, and into the Reagan years, as Horowitz did when he came out as a Reagan conservative during the Eighties. Like most of them, and a number of younger intellectuals who have since grouped together with these old Sixties lefty ideologues, today he is best described as a Neoconservative, according to SourceWatch.

In the 1990s, Horowitz hosted several Second Thinkers conferences where ex-leftists who recanted or underwent epiphanies could network with fellow travelers. Several of these second thinkers are now neo-cons. Christopher Hitchens was a regular participant at these conferences, and today co-organizes events with Horowitz, e.g., tour of the UK where he features as a speaker.

In his book Radical Son Horowitz describes his turn from Marxist radical to Reagan Republican, but in lieu of reading and reviewing that, the following, from Wikipedia, gives a brief overview of Horowitz's trail of ideological shoes:

David Joel Horowitz (born January 10, 1939) is an American conservative writer and activist. The son of two life-long members of the Communist Party and once a prominent supporter of Marxism as well as a member of the New Left in the 1960s, Horowitz later rejected Leftism and is now a prominent advocate for right-wing causes. He is a founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center (formerly the Center for the Study of Popular Culture), and has served as president of that organization for many years. He is the editor of the conservative website FrontPage Magazine, and his writings can also be read on prominent news sites and publications, including the conservative magazine NewsMax.[1] He founded the activist group Students for Academic Freedom and is affiliated with Campus Watch. He occasionally appears on Fox News Channel as an analyst.

That he has identified that ignominious "urge" he left behind as leftist politics is interesting. I don't see it so much on any right left spectrum as a different ideological design for something which the wearer needs, no matter the design, and I'd like to discuss why for a moment.

I would say, for instance, that what he is talking about is something of the same coin with different sides. One side could be identified with something that was very conservative in the Fifties -- McCarthyism, for instance. I think that sort of idea-based behavior that occurred from McCarthyism has its roots in a kind of authoritarian group think that is the opposite pole of a highly evolved participatory democracy. But what that means itself would need to be described and considered with some care in order to identify what I mean by "highly evolved." The tendency might be to go through the historical evolution of ideas and attach it to movements in the Sixties that called themselves anti authoritarian and anti establishment, but in their own right were ideological and group think movements of their own, and as such subject to creating the very conditions they rebelled against.

That consideration about what it means to me would involve looking into human nature itself, and the structure of authoritarianism. I fully acknonowledge that exploration is not something I would see as possible here in this blog. So I admit to the problem of being clear and precise up front.


I've already introduced in previous blogs the notion that the Neoconservatives are "militaristic idealists." So I'd like to stick with that theme, particularly the emphasis on "idealists" -- with idealists as something that has its own unique structure and that an adjective of some sort can often be attached to it, "militarist," "leftist," whatever.

So, coming from that, I would identify McCarthyism as a code word for an ideological response to another ideology. So we have this "binariness" that comes up. An ideology can be codified with a name, and it can then be opposed to another codified ideology. So then we can identify them as right and left ideologies, but I'd rather just stick with the notion of ideology itself, rather than deflect it with direction pointing.

I would like to suggest something I cannot in any way back up with objective facts, but rather I must extrapolate from behavior. Thus it's purely in the theoretical abstract reasoning realm. It comes from my (and others) observation of behavior, thus very subject to doubt and criticism.

It appears to me that someone with an ideological bent to their way of organizing their mental world can be proselytized and converted to different ideologies, but what they tend to need to do is feel a belief in their ideology. Eric Hoffer wrote about this phenomenon years ago in a book he titled True Believers. I read it first in 1968 while in the military and trying to figure out what this institution was I was unable to leave at my own discretion. Meanwhile we were supposedly fighting something that to me was organized in the same way, only called by a different name. Both fit what I would call totalitarian organizations. And it seemed very odd to me that we had to be a totalitarian organization to defeat one. That was the kernel of an idea that has never really left my thinking, although it has evolved into many different forms since then.

So it seems to me that changing ideologies is merely a matter of paradigm shifting in the world view. It's therefore more or less (maybe more), a rational process, though once the "belief" aspect takes hold it's not so rational.

Now what I mean by "ideological bent" is a little harder to get at, because what ever it is, is inside the individual mind and that's a black box we can't really get into -- not others' but only the one we are in. Hence we end up with all these different fields like sociology, psychology, and so forth. They are all trying to figure out what's in the puzzling black box. Some perhaps trying to go further than that, i.e., how to program the box and make humans behave in certain ways.

This may be a little too glib in presentation, but basically, I tend to see McCarthyism as an ideological response to Communism, which was a code for an ideologically based authoritarian society that was by then called The Soviet Union. I would say McCarthyites probably didn't see themselves as true believers in an ideology. It's the other guy who's always the true believer. Communism, as envisioned by those who became part of what was called McCarthyism, was envisioned by them as a "leftist" ideology threatening American institutions. The "good/evil" binary paradigm hangs like a specter in the background.

In looking at McCarthyism as a phenomenon, I see that it relied heavily on issues of "loyalty" to the United States, and "security matters" -- which of course implies a need for secrecy and protection of some kind. Both those issues, loyalty and security, imply something basic to the True Believer mind that Eric Hoffer wrote about. If a citizen is not allowed to know oneself what is behind the security wall, then one simply must believe it's important, take it on faith, and one must trust the authorities who are forced to hide it from everyone for the good of all. Subsequently one's loyalty to whatever this secret information is about then becomes an issue of patriotism to one's country, not an issue based on rational judgement. And one's country is, after all, an idea, though one can associate it with flags, mountains, eagles, statues holding torches, and so on.

So I'm raising a question at this point. Is it characteristic that an ideology will result in that sense of protection and group adherence to that ideology? Can we ever have a United States of America without a coordinated ideology that all will adhere to, for instance? These are issues that the founders raised at some level and attempted to safe guard individual choice by allowing for differences in various types of ideologies, including religious based ones. How do political actors with a "militaristic idealist" set of ideas fit with our own sense of government?

Monday, February 4, 2008

A History of "Militaristic Idealists" Known as Neocons

The Neocons: An Illustrated Progression
From exile to redemption to exile again: a history of "militaristic idealists" known as neocons. (Link to a larger version: The Neocons)

First, note that they are "idealists" and not "realists" (I will discuss the political realists elsewhere), so in that sense their version of international democracy promotion will have a different slant, one that we might call "Wilsonian" going back to President Woodrow Wilson. When the Bush administration's Middle East policy is referred to as Wilsonian, that's the connection.

Second, they are militarists. That's the connection to the Scoop Jackson Vietnam Hawks, the military industrial complex, and to the Cold War anti communist attitudes that carried over after the fall of the Soviet Union, with no target to pin it on.

This might be worth looking at: They are not so much about being against the idea of communism as a philosophy, since they once were once willing to wear the trappings of that ideology, but more anti the political existence of something identified as communism as a competing power entity in the world, and here we have the connection to a quote I've seen: " Ideology is the disease of the modern era." You might say they don't so much care what the idealism is, so long as they have one, and they wield it's abstract logical characteristics as a weapon of sorts. Perhaps a weapon of mass destruction?

That difference in their concern between political idealism and the meaning of political power itself is important distinguish, I believe, because it is also the basis for their anti terrorist concerns today, which for them are quite real, and helps to reveal their own urge for power. An urge that will be explained as an urge for the good of humanity, and necessary because there is this idea of "evil," evil is present in the world, (human beings are by nature evil and must be taught to be good) and it must be guarded against. The military is thus a necessary structure in society for the protection of good, and a price we must pay for our safety.

The underlying issue to explore here, I believe, is authoritarianism. Authoritarianism not so much as an ideal to be imposed, but as a philosophical and psychological structure that makes up a particular world view. Words like "individualism" and "freedom" can be used within this structure and the structure itself may turn out to negate the subjective sense of interpretation of what those words mean to each of us. This connects to the meanings we explore in propaganda, power, and the spectrum of power from hegemony to coercion.

I'd like to recall Stan Goff's simple but clear definition clarifying hegemony from coercion:

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” (Steven Beko)

It’s much easier to exercise control over a population whenever they consent to their own domination. They sort of accept the official story, accept the official ideology and then we all just sort of go around and cooperate. That kind of control, where we internalize the control, is hegemony. Where when I come up and hold a gun on you and you do it out of naked fear, that’s coercion. And the idea is you’ve got sort of hegemony on one pole, exercising ruling class power and coercion on the other pole and as hegemony fails then coercion becomes the more prominent instrument. (from a talk: Exterminism)

Neoconservatism, Past, Present, and Future, (cont'd)

Neoconservatives and Foreign Policy

I can recall in 2000 that nearly no one was using the term "Neoconservative." If I used the term in a discussion, I'd get a blank look.

Since then, the term has come to be used in many different ways, many applications are misconstrued, and inaccurate. In my view, it's very counterproductive to blur its meaning when one realizes that the Neoconservatives have not disappeared from politics, and the philosophy behind the term remains alive and well, and is being applied daily. These very well organized intellectuals with their own network of ideologically self substantiating publications continue to work for what they believe to be the "best" for the United States.

So it's perhaps worth some effort to find out what their version of "best" might be and to do an analytical exploration of who what the Neoconservatives are, what they have actually meant to the conservative movement since their voices became a major part of the current administration, and what the actual people identified with the movement will be doing during the election season, and afterwards, if they have anything to say about it.

I want to present, by way of seeing contrasting views of the US foreign policy, two different explanations for 911 with differing explanations for what the US is doing in Iraq, and what its purpose in the Middle East is about.

Neoconservative View of Foreign Policy

Blowback- Chalmers Johnson On Why We Really Fight

Friday, January 25, 2008

Power of Nightmares

The Power of Nightmares, a three part BBC Documentary by Adam Curtis

This documentary tells the story of Neoconservatism, and how it used fear to turn a country to do its bidding. The story also draws a parallel vision of a similar type of ideology, represented by what we now call al-Qaeda. The documentary suggests these ideologies are in their natures not that different from one another.

Power of Nightmares Part I: Baby it's Cold Outside

Power of Nightmares Part II: The Phantom Victory

Power of Nightmares Part III: The Shadows in the Cave

The Past, Present, and Future of Neoconservatism

Joshua Muravchik October 2007

Have America’s troubles in Iraq sounded the death knell of neoconservatism, the political ideology that is said to be behind our presence there? Over the past year, there has been no shortage of voices saying so, many with undisguised glee. Abroad, the Times of London heralded “the end of an ideological era in Washington,” while the Toronto Globe and Mail reported with satisfaction that neoconservatism has been “decisively wiped out.” Observers here at home have agreed. To the historian Douglas Brinkley, Democratic electoral victories in November 2006 spelled “the death of the neoconservative movement,” while at National Review Online John Derbyshire wrote that “all the buzz is that neoconservatism is as dead as mutton.”

Prognoses from within neoconservatism’s ranks have been correspondingly grim. Kenneth Adelman, an author and sometime defense official in Republican administrations, has lamented that “most everything we ever stood for now . . . lies in ruins.” Francis Fukuyama, in a short book excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, took leave of his own sometime affiliation with neoconservatism, protesting that it had “evolved into something that I can no longer support.” Jonah Goldberg, a columnist at National Review, despaired that the word neoconservatism itself has become “useless, spent.”

But more than a word is at issue. The opprobrium lately faced by neoconservatism flows from a number of entwined propositions: that its ideas shaped President George W. Bush’s war against terrorism; that the ensuing policy has failed disastrously; and that this failure demonstrates the illusions and delusions embodied in those ideas. This indictment must either be accepted or answered, and the exercise must begin by identifying the ideas in question. That requires revisiting history that has been told before.


The term “neoconservative” was coined in the 1970’s as an anathema. It was intended to stigmatize a group of liberal intellectuals who had lately parted ways with the majority of their fellows.

As a heretical offshoot of liberalism, neoconservatism appealed to the same values and even many of the same goals—like, for example, peace and racial equality. But neoconservatives argued that liberal policies—for example, disarmament in the pursuit of peace, or affirmative action in the pursuit of racial equality—undermined those goals rather than advancing them. In short order, the heretics established themselves as contemporary liberalism’s most formidable foes.

Two distinct currents fed the stream of neoconservatism. One focused on domestic issues, specifically by reexamining the Great Society programs of the 1960’s and the welfare state as a whole. It was centered in the Public Interest, a quarterly founded and edited by Irving Kristol. The other focused on international issues and the cold war; it was centered in COMMENTARY and led by the magazine’s editor, Norman Podhoretz.

The former current has little if any relevance to the controversy surrounding neoconservatism today. Much of the domestic-policy critique mounted by neoconservatives eventually became common wisdom, symbolized by President Bill Clinton’s welfare-reform program and his declaration that “the era of big government is over.” In the meantime, several of the seminal figures of the domestic wing—Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer—drifted back toward liberalism.

It was the foreign-policy wing that was, all along, more passionately embroiled in ideological disputation.1 For one thing, the stakes were higher. If a domestic policy fails, you can try another. If a foreign policy fails, you may find yourself at war. Also, the battles that rived the Democratic party in the 1970’s, at a time when virtually all neoconservatives were still Democrats, principally concerned foreign affairs. These battles sharpened ideological talons on all sides.

The divisions stemmed from the Vietnam war. Not that all neoconservatives were hawks on this particular issue; some, including Podhoretz, were (qualified) doves. But when opponents of the war went from arguing that it was a failed instance of an essentially correct policy—namely, resisting Communist expansionism—to contending that it was a symptom of a deep American sickness, neoconservatives answered back. Whatever problems we may have made for ourselves in Vietnam, they said, the origins of the conflict were to be found neither in American imperialism nor in what President Jimmy Carter would call our “inordinate fear of Communism,” but in Communism’s lust to dominate.

Contrary to Carter and the antiwar Left, neoconservatives believed that Communism was very much to be feared, to be detested, and to be opposed. They saw the Soviet Union as, in the words of Ronald Reagan, an “evil empire,” unspeakably cruel to its own subjects and relentlessly predatory toward those not yet in its grasp. They took the point of George Orwell’s 1984—a book that (as the Irish scholars James McNamara and Dennis J. O’Keeffe have written) resurrected the idea of evil “as a political category.” And they absorbed the cautionary warning of the Russian novelist and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn against yielding ground to the Communists in the vain hope “that perhaps at some point the wolf will have eaten enough.”

Many in our history, both statesmen and scholars, had drawn a distinction between Americans’ sentiments and America’s self-interest. Where Communism was concerned, the neoconservatives saw the two as intertwined. Communism needed to be fought both because it was morally appalling and because it was a threat to our country.


For their passion against Communism, neoconservatives were accused of being “zealots” and “Manicheans.” To this, one neoconservative rejoined: “we face a Manichean reality.” That is to say, the struggle between the Communist world and the West involved, on the one hand, some of the most malign, murderous regimes ever created and, on the other hand, some of the most humane. The moral consequences were enormous.

This attitude was one of the things that set neoconservatives apart from traditional conservatives. To be sure, there were a few intellectuals of the Right, like William F. Buckley, Jr. and Whittaker Chambers, who shared the neoconservatives’ loathing for Communism. But mainstream conservatives were better represented by the approach of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and their foreign-policy mentor, Henry Kissinger, according to which the Soviet Union was to be seen more as another great power than as the vessel of a lethal ideology; the policy of détente was devised accordingly. This approach was embraced by such conservative icons as the Reverend Billy Graham, who hoped to convert Russians to the Gospel, and the capitalist Donald Kendall, who hoped to sell them Pepsi—without, in either case, troubling with the issue of their enslavement.

Even those traditional conservatives who distrusted the readiness of Nixon and Kissinger to make deals with the Soviet Union tended to share the underlying philosophy of foreign-policy “realism.” As opposed to the neoconservative emphasis on the battle of ideas and ideologies, and on the psychological impact of policy choices, realists focused on state interests and the time-honored tools of statecraft. That was one reason why, for the neoconservatives of the 1970’s, the great champions in American political life were not conservative or Republican figures but two Democrats of unmistakably liberal pedigree: Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson and George Meany, the president of the AFL-CIO. When President Ford, on Kissinger’s counsel, closed the White House door to Solzhenitsyn upon his expulsion from Soviet Russia, these two stalwart anti-Communists formally welcomed him to Washington.

It was only with the accession of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1981 that the neoconservatives made their peace with Republican-style conservatism. Reagan brought several neoconservatives—notably Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle, Max Kampelman, and Elliott Abrams—into pivotal foreign-policy positions in his administration (and, on the domestic-policy side, William J. Bennett and others). With time, most neoconservatives moved into the Republican fold. As for Reagan’s “belligerent” approach to the cold war, it was criticized as loudly by both liberals and conservatives within the foreign-policy establishment as it was cheered by neoconservatives. But there can be no question that it issued in a sublime victory: the mighty juggernaut of the Soviet state, disposing of more kill power than the U.S. or any other state in history, capitulated with scarcely a shot.


By the 1990’s, therefore, the neoconservatives’ analysis seemed vindicated. But, by the same token, the cause that had drawn them together and defined them—the cold war—was concluded. In the relatively quiet 1990’s, most of the nation’s attention was concentrated on taxes and budgets and other domestic concerns. By 1996, Podhoretz himself proclaimed that neoconservatism was “dead,” and that “what killed it was not defeat but victory; it died not of failure but of success.” As a consequence, he wrote, “in foreign policy it has become impossible to define a neoconservative position.”

This, in my judgment, underestimated the signs that a distinctive neoconservative approach to post-cold-war foreign policy had already been taking form. In 1990-91, cold-war neoconservatives lined up with traditional conservatives serving in the first Bush administration in support of military action to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. At the time, most liberals opposed the use of force, and so did some so-called paleoconservatives like Patrick J. Buchanan and Robert Novak, as well as various libertarians.

No less revealing than the debates between the war’s opponents and supporters was a division that opened within the ranks of the supporters themselves once the fighting ended. In an act of quintessential “realism,” President Bush declined to order American forces to capture Baghdad and oust Saddam Hussein or even to obstruct Saddam’s campaign to suppress Iraqis who had risen in rebellion against him. Most neoconservatives disagreed with at least the latter of these decisions.

In 1992, the Bush administration’s realism got the better of it once again when war broke out in Bosnia. The President dismissed the violence there as a “hiccup,” and James Baker, his Secretary of State, famously declared that “we have no dog in that fight.” When the new Clinton administration proved equally inert, and with the death toll mounting, a lobby developed for some form of American intervention.

Most active members of that lobby were neoconservatives, and other neoconservatives, with notable exceptions like Charles Krauthammer, embraced its position. By contrast, most traditional conservatives believed that America’s own interests were not sufficiently engaged to justify intervention. Many liberals, for their part, while sharing a sense of urgency about Bosnia, were characteristically chary of using force or acting outside the aegis of the United Nations (whose actions, as it happened, had been constraining the victims of aggression more than the aggressors).

After Bosnia, the top foreign-policy issue in the latter half of the 1990’s was the enlargement of NATO. Liberals and conservatives were arrayed on all sides. But most of those associated with the neoconservative camp, with the prominent exception of the historian Richard Pipes, were united in favor of it. I worked with Jeane Kirkpatrick and Paul Wolfowitz (and two moderate Democrats, Anthony Lake and Richard Holbrooke) to organize a statement, signed by most of America’s former top foreign-affairs officials, that helped to seal the debate.


This series of events suggests that some kind of common neoconservative mentality endured beyond the cold war. What were its elements?

First, following Orwell, neoconservatives were moralists. Just as they despised Communism, they felt similarly toward Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic and toward the acts of aggression committed by those dictators in, respectively, Kuwait and Bosnia. And just as they did not hesitate to enter negative moral judgments, neither did they hesitate to enter positive ones. In particular, they were strong admirers of the American experience—an admiration that arose not out of an unexamined patriotism (they had all started out as reformers or even as radical critics of American society) but out of the recognition that America had gone farther in the realization of liberal values than any other society in history. A corollary was the belief that America was a force for good in the world at large.

Second, in common with many liberals, neoconservatives were internationalists, and not only for moral reasons. Following Churchill, they believed that depredations tolerated in one place were likely to be repeated elsewhere—and, conversely, that beneficent political or economic policies exercised their own “domino effect” for the good. Since America’s security could be affected by events far from home, it was wiser to confront troubles early even if afar than to wait for them to ripen and grow nearer.

Third, neoconservatives, like (in this case) most conservatives, trusted in the efficacy of military force. They doubted that economic sanctions or UN intervention or diplomacy, per se, constituted meaningful alternatives for confronting evil or any determined adversary.

To this list, I would add a fourth tenet: namely, the belief in democracy both at home and abroad. This conviction could not be said to have emerged from the issues of the 1990’s, although the neoconservative support for enlarging NATO owed something to the thought that enlargement would cement the democratic transformations taking place in the former Soviet satellites. But as early as 1982, Ronald Reagan, the neoconservative hero, had stamped democratization on America’s foreign-policy agenda with a forceful speech to the British Parliament. In contrast to the Carter administration, which held (in the words of Patricia Derian, Carter’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights) that “human-rights violations do not really have very much to do with the form of government,” the Reagan administration saw the struggle for human rights as intimately bound up in the struggle to foster democratic governance. When Reagan’s Westminster speech led to the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy, the man chosen to lead it was Carl Gershman, a onetime Social Democrat and a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY. Although not an avowed neoconservative, he was of a similar cast of mind.

This mix of opinions and attitudes still constitutes the neoconservative mindset. The military historian Max Boot has aptly labeled it “hard Wilsonianism.” It does not mesh neatly with the familiar dichotomy between “realists” and “idealists.” It is indeed idealistic in its internationalism and its faith in democracy and freedom, but it is hardheaded, not to say jaundiced, in its image of our adversaries and its assessment of international organizations. Nor is its idealism to be confused with the idealism of the “peace” camp. Over the course of the past century, various schemes for keeping the peace—the League of Nations, the UN, the treaty to outlaw war, arms-control regimes—have all proved fatuous. In the meantime, what has in fact kept the peace (whenever it has been kept) is something quite different: strength, alliances, and deterrence. Also in the meantime, “idealistic” schemes for promoting not peace but freedom—self-determination for European peoples after World War I, decolonization after World War II, the democratization of Germany, Japan, Italy, and Austria, the global advocacy of human rights—have brought substantial and beneficial results.


Whether or not a distinct neoconservative position could be discerned in the relatively calm 1990’s, everything changed, with a vengeance, after September 11, 2001. As the second President Bush unfurled his “war against terror,” word spread that he himself had been captured by neoconservatives. What gave plausibility to this idea was that Bush’s new approach constituted a radical break with his own earlier predilections. Less than a year before, he had come into office evincing little interest in international affairs and proclaiming that America should be a “humble nation,” with fewer global commitments. No more than a handful of identifiable neoconservatives occupied influential positions in his administration, and none at the highest tier.

There was unintended irony in the post-9/11 liberal caricature of Bush and Cheney as politicians who had haplessly allowed their administration’s policies to be hijacked by a few spookily effective intellectuals—this, less than a year after having been such master manipulators as to have allegedly stolen away the presidency from Al Gore. But this was not the only grotesque charge leveled at the President. Another was that the “neoconservatives” in question were in reality a group of Jews who were attempting to divert U.S. policy in the interests of Israel. This particular bit of slander ignored, among other things, the fact that the neoconservative position on the Middle East conflict was exactly congruous with the neoconservative position on conflicts everywhere else in the world, including places where neither Jews nor Israeli interests could be found—not to mention the fact that non-Jewish neoconservatives took the same stands on all of the issues as did their Jewish confrères.2

However fantastical the conspiracy theories, and however polluted their origins, what is undeniable is that Bush’s declaration of war against terrorism did bear the earmarks of neoconservatism. One can count the ways. It was moralistic, accompanied by descriptions of the enemy as “evil” and strong assertions of America’s righteousness. As Norman Podhoretz puts it in his powerful new book3 Bush offered “an entirely unapologetic assertion of the need for and the possibility of moral judgment in the realm of world affairs.” In contrast to the suggestion of many, especially many Europeans, that America had somehow provoked the attacks, Bush held that what the terrorists hated was our virtues, and in particular our freedom. His approach was internationalist: it treated the whole globe as the battlefield, and sought to confront the enemy far from our own doorstep. It entailed the prodigious use of force. And, for the non-military side of the strategy, Bush adopted the idea of promoting democracy in the Middle East in the hope that this would drain the fever swamps that bred terrorists.

It is possible that Bush and Cheney turned to neoconservative sources for guidance on these matters; it is also possible, and more likely, that they reached similar conclusions on their own. In either case, the war against terrorism put neoconservative ideas to the test—and, in the war’s early stages, they passed with flying colors. The Taliban regime was ousted from Afghanistan quickly and without a major commitment of American forces. More striking still, a democratic government was established in Afghanistan—one of the least likely places on earth for it. Muammar Qaddafi, the ruler of Libya and one of the world’s most erratic and violent dictators, abandoned his pursuit of nuclear weapons, and in effect sued to bring his country in from the cold reaches to which Bush had assigned terrorism-supporting states. Finally, Saddam Hussein was toppled from power in a brief campaign with minimum loss of life.

Even more remarkably, Bush’s advocacy of democracy brought an immediate and positive reaction around the region. The Lebanese drove out Syrian forces after a 30-year occupation. In an unprecedented development, elections at various levels of government were held in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and a handful of other Arab states (and the Palestinian Authority), including most dramatically Iraq itself. The collective leadership of the Arab states, meeting at a summit, declared its commitment to “strengthening democracy, expanding political participation, consolidating the values of citizenship and the culture of democracy, the promotion of human rights, the opening of space for civil society, and enabling women to play a prominent role in every field of public life.”
Crowning all these events was one crucial non-event: the absence, despite the almost unanimous forecast of experts, of further terror attacks on the United States.


But then, of course, the landscape shifted. Resistance and terror mounted in Iraq to levels that the U.S. and allied forces could not manage, and the entire war against terrorism bogged down. Not only did Iraq itself devolve into a bloody mess, but gains on other fronts also began to fray. The Taliban intensified terror and guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan, Syria launched new depredations in Lebanon, Iran defiantly accelerated its drive for a nuclear bomb, and autocrats around the Middle East reneged on their pledges of democratic reform. The American public, originally supportive, turned against the Iraq war. Bush’s popularity plummeted.

Today there are signs that the “surge” of U.S. troop levels and the new counterinsurgency tactics designed by General David Petraeus will succeed in stabilizing Iraq, provided they are not aborted by congressional Democrats who, as the British writer Douglas Murray has put it, “want the neoconservatives to fail more than they want Iraq to succeed”—or, more accurately and more disgracefully, who want Bush to fail more than they want America to succeed. Even so, it cannot be denied that the war has proved far costlier in treasure, lives, and American standing than its proponents imagined, and, at least for the time being, the loftier dream of Iraq as a model for its neighbors has turned to ashes.

But to what is all this to be attributed? According to one highly publicized article in Vanity Fair, several leading neoconservatives put the blame on poor execution of their ideas on the part of the administration. This is not a very satisfying analysis. Complaints about government incompetence dog every administration, almost always with justice, and there is no convincing evidence that the functioning of the present administration has been worse than that of its predecessors.

More specific and more convincing targets for blame are a few key decisions made by Paul Bremer, the chief of the allied occupation from May 2003 to June 2004, and by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Bremer’s decisions—to disband the Iraqi army and to undertake a purge of Baath party members so sweeping as to dismantle the Iraqi government—have been widely criticized. Whether it would otherwise have been easier to cope with the insurgency is hard to say, though the idea seems plausible. Rumsfeld’s insistence, backed by the President, on deploying to Iraq only a fraction of the troops requested by General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, seems more clearly to have courted trouble—a conclusion brought home all the more sharply by the apparent success of today’s “surge” in manpower.

In any event, the decisions about troop levels and about abolishing Iraq’s existing administrative structure had nothing to do with neoconservative ideas. The most that can fairly be said is that Rumsfeld was an ally of neoconservatives and that some among them, enamored of military technology or influenced by the Iraqi dissident Ahmad Chalabi, endorsed his choices. Besides, whatever measure of responsibility may be placed on neoconservatives in this one matter, it pales in comparison to the errors of the realists in the George H.W. Bush administration who in 1991 chose to leave Saddam in power, and of the liberals in the Clinton administration who allowed Saddam’s defiance of his disarmament obligations to swell steadily over eight long years. Together, these failures left the problem of Saddam Hussein festering for George W. Bush to confront in the aftermath of 9/11, when it appeared in a more ominous light.


To point to an insufficiency of troops or to errors by Paul Bremer is of course no answer to more searching questions about the wisdom of the war itself. At the outset, liberal critics—initially there were more of them abroad than at home—argued that UN inspectors should have been given more time to find Saddam’s hidden weapons of mass destruction, and that the U.S. should not have gone to war without the approval of the Security Council.

But the inspectors had been at their mission for twelve years, and there was no reason to believe they would ever accomplish it. As we later discovered, the Iraqi regime had apparently destroyed its stocks of biological and chemical agents and concealed or destroyed the evidence it had done so, or failed to make a record in the first place. Why Saddam would have deliberately invited the suspicion that he still possessed such materials remains the war’s great mystery—probably he did not want his enemies or his friends to know the actual state of affairs—but whatever the final truth may be, the inspectors were unlikely to have discovered it.

As for the Security Council, here we do hit on one of the signature issues of neoconservatism. Although neoconservatives are not necessarily unilateralists, they are certainly and pointedly distrustful of the UN (as are traditional conservatives). And they have reason to be.

America’s decision to invade Iraq after failing to secure the support of the Security Council cost it dearly in the coin of world public opinion. But should we resort to war only upon the Security Council’s approval? Although some Europeans have articulated such a principle, in 1999, when Russia stood in the way of UN-approved military strikes against Serbia over the issue of Kosovo, NATO went ahead and bombed anyway, and all nineteen members took part. Surely, the stakes in Iraq were far higher than in Kosovo, even in purely humanitarian terms, all the more so in strategic.

Although the UN Charter gives the Security Council a near-monopoly on the use of force, that same charter also envisioned a mighty UN army that would protect every member against attack or even threat. In return for this protection, the member states were to sacrifice much of their freedom to defend their own interests. But the army never came into being, so this part of the charter is a dead letter. Surely states cannot have surrendered most of their right to defend themselves once the other half of the bargain became null and void.

But arguments over the UN and the Security Council are only the tip of an iceberg. The larger and more general issue is how readily America should resort to the use of force and whether neoconservatives are too promiscuous or “trigger-happy” in this regard. Liberal critics of the war, who grew more assertive and numerous as our effort in Iraq bogged down, reprised the dovish positions of the past 30 years. Over the course of those decades, the likes of Carl Levin and Edward Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi had opposed virtually every new U.S. weapons system and every stout anti-Communist policy—in other words, the very measures that led to victory in the cold war. They also opposed the 1991 Gulf war to force Saddam out of Kuwait, and military action against Serbia in Bosnia. Never once did they acknowledge error or revisit their own mistaken judgments, although in each case the neoconservative critique of those judgments was proved right. Are we now to suppose that, whatever may have gone wrong so far in Iraq, we can vanquish the forces of terrorism by restricting ourselves to the liberals’ favored instruments—diplomacy, foreign aid, and the UN?


On the other side of the ideological spectrum, some conservative critics of the war have argued that we went to Iraq in pursuit of the wrong mission—that is, democratization. As Charles R. Kesler, the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, puts it: “the case for toppling Saddam was much stronger than the one for staying indefinitely to buy time for the Iraqis to democratize.” And this, too, touches a signature neoconservative issue.

It is hard to picture what would be better today, either for the Iraqis or for us and our interests, had we just deposed Saddam and left. Numerous scenarios are imaginable, all of them grisly. Saddam might have been succeeded by one of his equally bloody henchmen, like the infamous “Chemical Ali.” An ethnically-based civil war might have broken out, or the country might have devolved into anarchy like Somalia, except with infinitely more weapons available. Or Iraq’s neighbors might have torn it to pieces, with the largest piece consumed by Iran.

Perhaps Kesler envisions that we could have installed a benign dictator. This thought is not far from that of some neoconservatives themselves, who believe that we would have done better to place Ahmad Chalabi in power. But whether it would have been Chalabi or Ayad Allawi (who served briefly as prime minister) or some other Iraqi to our liking, this would not have reduced our own burdens a whit. No such figure could have remained in power unless we shouldered the job of preserving him by force. To the contrary, the measure of democracy that has taken hold in Iraq—along with the degree of legitimacy, however attenuated, that this has given to both the Iraqi authorities and our own continued presence—has made our burdens there so much the lighter.

Indeed, what with high voter participation and a degree of give-and-take among the various factions, democratization can be said to have received a decent start in Iraq. To be sure, the functioning of the Iraqi government has been inadequate, but more mature democracies have also faltered under the pressures of war and terror. In the meantime, government on the local level, at least in areas relatively free of violence, seems to be functioning. What is apparent is that most Iraqis want democracy, but their wishes are hostage to a sizable minority of violent recalcitrants, backed by outside force.

A more profound criticism of the war in Iraq is that it was the wrong war in the wrong place. By attacking Iraq, so it has been said, Bush diverted us from completing the vital mission of pacifying Afghanistan and tracking down Osama bin Laden. This critique, which became another staple of Democratic argument, has the advantage of sounding tough even while opposing the war. Barack Obama revealed a new variation of the theme when, in August, he announced that he would support bombing terrorist targets in Pakistan.

But what good would it have done to have had tens of thousands more U.S. troops in Afghanistan? From the perspective of “nation building” and other humanitarian concerns, Afghanistan after the removal of the Taliban was doing well—for Afghanistan. A thousand things were wrong, but that poor and undeveloped country was progressing better than at any other time in memory. From a strategic perspective, perhaps a larger American force could have suppressed Taliban guerrilla activity more completely, but was this a mission for which we should have tied down the lion’s share of our deployable forces?

And what of bin Laden? By all accounts, he is not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. There is still talk of U.S. forces attacking the tribal areas where he is believed to shelter, but this would be another nettlesome project. It would entail great military risk—Pakistan’s own army has done poorly in the region—and would possibly destabilize the world’s second largest Muslim country, a country that contains both a nuclear arsenal and large numbers of extremists. Obama’s hypothetical bombing attack would more likely result in mayhem than in the death of bin Laden.


A more serious version of the “wrong place” argument came from within the neoconservative camp itself, and specifically from Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. He argued in 2003 that we should focus not on Iraq but on Iran.

A key goal in the larger war against terrorism has been to put an end to state support for terrorists either by inducing state sponsors to mend their ways or by bringing about their downfall. Among these sponsors and/or perpetrators, the most active have been Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

All four are brutally repressive of their own citizens and opponents of regional peace. All have attempted to acquire weapons of mass destruction. All embrace radical anti-Western philosophies, secular or Islamist. And all have been in place for decades. It seemed a sensible strategy to use force against one in the hope that this would precipitate the desired outcome in the others.

The administration did not spell out its rationale for choosing Iraq, but it is possible to imagine the reasons. In Iran, internal dissidents and reformers seemed far stronger at the time than they do today, and there were grounds for hoping they might change the government on their own. Hitting Syria first, the choice of some neoconservatives, might have reinforced the canard that we were acting on Israel’s behalf and thus sparked an even stormier backlash in the Arab world than what we have suffered over Iraq. Libya had been quiescent since Reagan bombed the country in 1986 in response to a terrorist outrage.

The choice of Iraq as a target had another comparative advantage, a particularly ironic one in light of the subsequent charge by Kofi Annan (among others) that the war was “illegal.” Actually, there was a clear justification in international law for using force against Iraq, and it did not rest primarily on the administration’s controversial interpretation of the traditional right of preemptive self-defense. It rested on Saddam’s own willful defiance of the terms and conditions ending the 1991 war he had launched by invading Kuwait.

In hindsight, was Ledeen right? After all, Iran is closer to having a nuclear bomb than Iraq seems to have been, and it has always been the greater supporter of terrorism. Moreover, our difficulties in Iraq have left an opening for Iran to bid for regional hegemony. But if it was indeed a mistake to concentrate on Iraq first, the mistake had nothing to do with neoconservatism. Rather, it was the kind of strategic error that abounds in war. In World War I, our side may have concentrated too much on the central front; in World War II, too much on the periphery. In the cold war, we met disaster in Vietnam, where we either should not have fought or should not have allowed ourselves to lose. In each case, however, we won the larger war.

In sum, the most persuasive criticisms of the Iraq war—that we sent too small a force, that we erred in dismantling the Iraqi state, that we would have been wiser to concentrate on Iran—do nothing to impeach neoconservatism. And as for the criticisms that do aim at the distinctly neoconservative tenets of the war—that we should have deferred to the UN, that we should have avoided resorting to force, that we should not have tried to bring democracy to Iraq—none is persuasive.


In the end, the validity of the neoconservative position, or for that matter of the indictment against it, rests on two issues that go beyond Iraq: whether and how the U.S. should try to spread democracy in the Middle East, and whether we should be engaged in a war against terrorism.

On the first count, Francis Fukuyama has explained his disaffection from neoconservatism on the grounds that, in contrast to his own, “Marxist” approach to democratization, his former friends and allies had behaved like “Leninists.” By this he means to separate his analysis in The End of History and the Last Man (1992) from the policies to which that analysis seminally contributed. In writing about the “end of history,” Fukuyama now says, he was only attempting to discover the historical laws that, sooner or later, would lead all nations to democracy. But just as Lenin took matters into his own hands when he tired of waiting for Marx’s predicted revolution, so had the neoconservatives tried, fatally, to force the pace of democratization.

The analogy may be catchy, but it is flawed. The socialism envisioned by Marx was a fantasy, which came true neither by natural evolution nor by Lenin’s violence. Democracy, on the other hand, is the method by which governments are chosen today in about two-thirds of the countries of the world, and this is something that has come about via both the “Marxist” and the “Leninist” paths. In the technologically advanced countries of Europe, democracy in the postwar era may arguably have developed organically, as the outgrowth of socio-economic development. But the majority of today’s democracies are not technologically advanced; democracy came to them because people wanted it and worked or fought for it. In other words, it has been a product of individual choice and will. And though most of its proponents have been indigenous, outsiders have often played influential roles.

In fact, even in the advanced countries, postwar democracy did not just unfold naturally. There, too, it came with the help of various kinds of foreign intervention, whether it was the Allied occupations of Germany, Japan, and Austria, or the CIA’s interventions in the politics of Italy and France, or the role played by the Marshall Plan across Western Europe. For that matter, America’s own democracy was born with outside assistance from the likes of Lafayette and the government of France. It turns out that we are all “Leninists.”

The strategy of promoting democracy in the Middle East flowed from Bush’s realization that the war against terror could not be won by military means alone. Bush eschewed the old cliché that the “root cause” of terror was poverty, a theory always contradicted by the available evidence and one that should have received its final blow this past summer from the appearance of a cell of terrorist physicians in the United Kingdom. Instead, Bush hypothesized that the root cause was the political culture of the Muslim Middle East, which is steeped in violence. This political culture has incubated thousands of young men ready to die for the joy of killing and tens of millions of citizens ready to applaud their “martyrdom.” Bush’s thesis was, and is, that the Middle East can be brought to partake in the global tide of democratization that has touched every other region, and that such democratization will lead to new ways of thinking and make violence less acceptable.

Neither Bush nor anyone else can know if this strategy will work. There are two obvious areas of uncertainty. One has been expressed well by Kesler:

The conspicuous exception to democracy’s spread was the Arab Middle East. That could have meant, as the neoconservatives concluded, that its turn was next. But it could also have meant that there were cultural, religious, and political factors that had made it resistant to the democratic wave—and would continue to do so.

Kesler here makes the neoconservatives sound more assertive and uniform than I think is fair, but he is certainly right that we do not know whether Arabs will in fact embrace democracy any time soon or, for that matter, ever. And we also do not know—we can only suppose and hope—that if they do, democracy will work to pacify Arab political culture. That is the second uncertainty.

Was it irresponsible of Bush to rest such weighty national concerns on an unproved supposition? It would have been irresponsible had there been any better-tested or more plausible alternatives available. But none has yet been suggested, unless one counts those who persist in believing that stronger U.S. efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict will solve everything else. (If that were the case, attacks on America should have subsided during the 1990’s, the decade of our most vigorous efforts to broker just such a peace; instead, they crescendoed.)

Thus far, Bush’s strategy has scored some steps forward and some back. All in all, as Freedom House reported this year, “the Middle East continues to lag behind other regions in the development of free institutions.” But, the Freedom House report immediately continues, “the fact that progress has been made since the September 11, 2001 attacks gives some cause for optimism.” Although no country in the region (apart from Israel) can be judged “free,” the number counted as “partly free” (as opposed to “not free”) has risen from 3 to 6 (or 7 if one counts the Palestinian Authority). If appreciable progress is to come, it will require more years, which is why Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks of “a generational commitment.”


If Bush’s strategy of spreading democracy bears a neoconservative imprimatur, it is not the largest issue on which neoconservatism stands or falls. That issue is the war against terrorism itself. According to the financier George Soros, among many others, terrorism ought to be viewed simply as a form of criminal behavior, to be handled by means of law-enforcement and not by means of war. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national-security adviser, argues that, under Bush, the country’s fear of terrorism has amounted to a species of “paranoia,” resulting from “almost continuous national brainwashing” that has been perpetrated not only by our government but also by “security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” This in itself sounds rather paranoid.

The simple fact is that the attacks of 9/11 were the most deadly on the United States proper in its history. What is more, they followed by eleven months the suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole that killed seventeen U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others. Two years before that, two of our embassies in Africa were bombed, killing more than 300 people, and two years before that a truck bomb in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia struck U.S. military housing, killing nineteen and wounding 550.

One could go on. Perhaps more frightening is a fact I have already mentioned: tens of thousands of young men in the Islamic world have gone for formal training in terrorism. Their highest objective, presumably, is to strike at “the Great Satan” even at the cost of their own lives, or especially at the cost of their own lives. These myriads are backed by a larger network disposing of considerable resources, making use of modern technology, enjoying the support or complicity of several governments, and striving to acquire or develop ever more lethal means.

The 3,000 lives that were obliterated on 9/11 represented a new benchmark in the success of terror operations, but no one then doubted that the killers would turn at once to the challenge of outdoing this toll. So, indeed, they have repeatedly tried to do. Contrary to Brzezinski, to be frightened by this requires no brainwashing. Nor, contrary to Soros, are those young men likely to be deterred if we issue them restraining orders.

Fukuyama offers a somewhat more judicious argument. “‘War’ is the wrong metaphor,” he writes. “Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a ‘long, twilight struggle’ whose core is not a military campaign but a political struggle.” The extent of that jihadist challenge, moreover, has been greatly overestimated, and its rootedness in Islam is itself exaggerated. “It is . . . a mistake,” Fukuyama asserts, “to identify Islamism as an authentic and somehow inevitable expression of Muslim religiosity.”

Interestingly, the very phrase “long, twilight struggle” is borrowed by Fukuyama from John F. Kennedy’s characterization of the cold war—which is exactly the model that neoconservatives have repeatedly offered for the war against terrorism. And as for Islamism being an “authentic and inevitable expression of Muslim religiosity,” inevitable it surely is not; but who are non-Muslims to say that it is inauthentic? It certainly seems to be authentic to the individuals who espouse it.

Nor are they alone. Despite the insistence of U.S. officials that the supporters of terrorism are a tiny minority of Muslims, the available data tell a different story. Yes, they are a minority, but not an insignificant one. This summer, the Pew Global Attitudes survey heralded a sharp decline in Muslim support for suicide bombings. After this drop, reportedly, “only” 16 percent of Turks support such attacks—as do 21 percent of Kuwaitis, 23 percent of Jordanians, 34 percent of Lebanese Muslims, 42 percent of Nigerian Muslims, and 70 percent of Palestinians. Confidence in Osama bin Laden “to do the right thing in world affairs” tracks these numbers at a slightly lower level.

There are, thank goodness, some countries where Pew’s figures are lower, the lowest being Egypt, where only 8 percent approve suicide bombings. But another Pew survey conducted just a couple of months earlier found 15 percent of Egyptians believing that “attacks on civilians . . . to achieve political goals” were justified. Perhaps the discrepancy means that some Egyptians disapprove of suicide—which presents its own theological difficulties—but not the killing of innocents in a worthy cause. In the same poll, a mere 26 percent of Egyptians disapproved both of al Qaeda’s attitudes toward the U.S. and of its tactics. When Egypt’s Ibn Khaldun Center, run by the political sociologist Saad Edin Ibrahim, asked Egyptians whom they most admired, the three frontrunners were the Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Khaled Meshal of Hamas.

Troubling as they are, these data may understate the problem, at least to judge by election results in the region. In Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, Islamist parties, some of them non-violent but some very violent indeed, have scored a string of successes. Although Fukuyama rightly assures us that “we are not currently engaged in anything that looks like a ‘clash of civilizations,’” if Islamists and jihadists take over additional countries, the consequences may well resemble exactly that.


The terrorists are the shock troops of the jihadist or radical Islamist movement, a movement whose strength is limited but substantial—far greater than, for example, that of the Communists just after Lenin seized power in Russia. Jihadism has many times more supporters, its reach is more global, it has far more resources, and it has a natural constituency that Communism only pretended to have. Lenin and his band succeeded in fastening their grip on a backward country and used it as a springboard from which their heirs could contest seriously for world domination. Who is to say how powerful a threat radical Islam could become if allowed to metastasize further?

This movement has already been at war with us for some time, and has killed us by the thousands. Bush’s announcement of a “war against terror” was thus nothing more than a declaration that we had decided to fight back. Soros, Brzezinski, and Fuku-yama notwithstanding, this war was not “optional.” If we had declined to fight it now, we would only have to fight more desperately later. If we do not fight back, can anyone imagine that the jihadists will stop? Conversely, defeat of their cause will assuredly demoralize that movement and thin its ranks.

As for the neoconservatives, they have taken their lumps over the war in Iraq. Nonetheless, the tenets of neoconservatism continue to offer the most cogent approach to the challenge that faces our country. To recapitulate those tenets one last time: (1) Our struggle is moral, against an evil enemy who revels in the destruction of innocents. Knowing this can help us assess our adversaries correctly and make appropriate strategic choices. Saying it convincingly will strengthen our side and weaken theirs. (2) The conflict is global, and outcomes in one theater will affect those in others. (3) While we should always prefer nonviolent methods, the use of force will continue to be part of the struggle. (4) The spread of democracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe and reduce the need for force.

This suggests a few priorities. First, for all our failures in Iraq, we cannot afford to accept defeat there; nor do we have to. True, our more fanciful images of what Iraq would become after Saddam’s removal have gone by the boards. But there is still a world of difference between a relatively stable if troubled country and a state of anarchy.

And then there is Iran. Even if we turn a corner in Iraq, our relative success will be negated if we allow Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb. Once it does, not only will we be haunted by the specter of nuclear terrorism, but we may be constrained by nuclear blackmail from actions we would want to take in future chapters of the war against terror.

Next, only by enlarging our military can we base strategic decisions on military need and not on the availability of forces. How is it that a nation of 300 million cannot indefinitely sustain a force level of 150,000 in a given theater, meaning one soldier for every 2,000 Americans?

Finally, our efforts to foster democracy in the Middle East must not be curtailed but prosecuted vigorously and more effectively. True, the “Arab spring” of 2005 did not turn out to be as successful as the famous “Prague spring” of 1968. But then, it took two decades for that Prague spring to yield fruit. The modest liberalization in the Middle East and the democratic ferment that we have stirred there promise further advances if we persevere.

None of this offers a complete guide to waging the war against terror. But it does amount to a coherent approach, essentially similar to the one by means of which we won the cold war. By contrast, liberals and realists have no coherent approach to suggest—or at least they have not suggested one. That, after all, is why George W. Bush, searching urgently for a response to the events of September 11, stumbled into the arms of neoconservatism, unlikely though the match seemed. One can always wish that policies were executed better, but for a strategy in the war that has been imposed upon us, neoconservatism remains the only game in town.
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1 Irving Kristol is often referred to as the “godfather” of neoconservatism. Though this may capture his role in shaping the domestic side, it has been a source of confusion when it comes to neoconservative ideas on foreign policy. Although outspoken on this subject, Kristol has more often positioned himself with traditional conservatives than with other neoconservatives. For example, he opposed the Reagan policies of supporting anti-Communist guerrillas and of promoting democracy abroad, on which more below.

2 For a fuller account, see my “The Neoconservative Cabal,” in COMMENTARY , September 2003. Although Jews often dominate liberal political causes, one never hears them attacked by their opponents on the Right in the anti-Semitic terms used freely by the Left.

3 World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Doubleday, 230 pp., $24.95.
About the Author

Joshua Muravchik, a longtime contributor to COMMENTARY , is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Exporting Democracy, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism, and The Future of the United Nations. He is working on a book about Arab and Muslim democrats.

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