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Commentary Last Updated: Jun 12th, 2007 - 01:05:41

Idealism and the neocons
By Chris Christensen
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 12, 2007, 01:03

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Despite the bloody mess they�ve made in Iraq, the neoconservatives are often let off the hook because it is said their intentions were good. John Tierney of the New York Times called the Iraq adventure �na�ve.� His colleague, Tom Friedman, has termed it �noble.� Rich Lowry, in the National Review, defined �neo-realism� as �conservatives who take the best of the neocons (basically the idealism) and the realists (the prudence) . . .�

Perhaps the most influential apologist is Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University. Last October, the former neoconservative now critical of the neocons, wrote in a New York Times Magazine article (�After Neoconservatism�): �The problem with neoconservatism�s agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the over- militarized means by which it sought to accomplish them.� Fukuyama repeatedly refers to the neocons� �idealistic efforts� and their �na�ve Wilsonianism.�

The neocons are now often referred to in the past tense. This may be a bit premature, given their calls to grace Iran with their bombs of benevolence. In any case, before the last shovel of dirt is thrown on the neocon casket, the obituary ought to include a questioning of their idealism, starting with Fukuyama�s �na�ve Wilsonianism.�

Fukuyama is far too generous. Woodrow Wilson sought to establish a multilateral organization, the League of Nations, in order to prevent wars and promote democracy; the neocons show disdain for a multilateral organization, the United Nations, and unilaterally start wars to impose democracy at gunpoint. Both projects may be na�ve, but only one is Wilsonian.

Fukuyama and I have different views of idealism. When I think of idealism, I think of the young. I think of Peace Corps Volunteers who learn a language and live in hardship to help others, or early members of Students for a Democratic Society who called for participatory democracy. I think of college students going door-to-door to advance a candidate or a cause. I don�t see in the same idealistic light middle-age men who start unjust wars.

True, I don�t know any neocons. I�ll never meet Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle, so I can�t really know what motivates them. But I know what I see and know what I read. What I see is an easy, comfortable idealism -- the kind arrived at over dinner and dessert; the kind mulled over brandy and cigars; the kind without risk; the kind others fight and die for while the idealists pore over their maps of the Middle East.

What I read are papers and letters issued from the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) that emphasize military buildup and the policing of the world. The ideal of promoting democracy always seems tagged on.

In its Statement of Principals, the PNAC advocates an increase in defense spending, the modernization of the armed forces, and the promotion of the cause of political and economic freedom. The authors stress that �American leadership is good both for America and for the world.� It requires �military strength, diplomatic energy, and commitment to moral principal.�

In a 1998 letter to President Clinton, the neocons urged a �strategy for removing Saddam�s regime from power� with the aim of establishing democracy in Iraq. When Clinton rejected their plan, they wrote a similar letter to Newt Gingrich, speaker of the House, and Trent Lott, Senate majority leader, asking them to pressure the president to seek their goal: �remove Saddam and establish a peaceful and democratic Iraq.� (Both letters, along with other PNAC papers, are signed by 17 neoconservatives, many who moved on to the Bush administration, including Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalizad, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.)

On September 24, 1999, the PNAC issued a response to George W. Bush�s speech at the Citadel, citing what they considered strengths of the speech, among them �the victory of American ideals.�

So the neocons do fly the flag of idealism, but always below the banner of their first love: military buildup and war. Of course, one could argue that invasion and occupation have to come first in the discussion because that is the means by which the ideal -- democracy -- is to be achieved. If one accepts the flawed premise that democracy can take root in an imperial bomb crater, the argument is not without a veneer of logic. But there�s another PNAC document that doesn�t even attempt to paper over the militarism.

A 90-page report of September 2000, entitled �Rebuilding America�s Defenses,� argues for permanent bases in southeast Europe and southeast Asia. It states that the U.S. must have the capability to �fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major-theater wars. It contends that the U.S. should �control the �new international commons� of space and cyberspace, and pave the way for the creation of a new military service -- the U.S. Space Force -- with the mission of space control.�

The report also argues that the U.S. military should play a �constabulary� role in the world. All of these recommendations bristle with militaristic, anti-democratic fantasy, but it�s this �constabulary� business that best illustrates the neocons� true colors. In America, the local constable, or sheriff, usually gets the job democratically -- by running for election. If a group of local citizens proposed seizing the badge by force, they�d be laughed out of town or arrested and thrown in the loony bin. Yet the neocons, supposed champions of democracy, propose that very thing for the entire planet, and are taken seriously by many.

The personal views of certain neoconservatives also suggest an emphasis on imperialism over idealism. Paul Wolfowitz, the former World Bank president and chief architect of the Iraq war, in a July 2003 interview for Vanity Fair, said, �The decision to highlight weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for going to war in Iraq was taken for bureaucratic reasons.� Also that summer, at a meeting in Singapore, Wolfowitz was asked why North Korea was being approached differently than Iraq. He replied, �Let�s look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.�

To grant the neoconservatives a na�ve idealism is to grant them an innocence unearned, given the lies for war, the blood spilled, and the damage to national security inflicted by their unilateralism. Any shred of naivete we might lend them stems not from a lack of guile, but from ignorance. This is the great paradox of the neoconservatives: their movement is a bizarre blend of intellectual arrogance and stupefying ignorance. If one individual could personify neoconservatism, he would be a combination of Friedrich Nietzsche and Forrest Gump.

In all their papers, in all their letters to presidents and members of Congress, one finds no understanding or appreciation of the historical, cultural, ethnic or religious complexities that make up Iraq. If any of them ever read Barbara Tuchman�s �The March of Folly,� they learned nothing from it. As Max Cleland put it, �The people who got us into this war didn�t want to learn from history.�

From the very beginning the neocons were not so much idealistic as they were prisoners of their own ideology. They have yet to free themselves. As late as 2005 -- long after the cakewalk had become a death march -- in a paper, entitled �Iraq: Setting the Record Straight,� the neocons exhibit a willful ignorance. After a section arguing that the search for WMD might still bear fruit, the paper states: �Whatever the results of that search, it will continue to be the case that the war was worth fighting, and that it was necessary.�

In the report�s concluding section, there is a sentence whose tragic irony is so stark that it leaps off the page and slaps a sane person in the face: �The prospects for war in the region have been substantially diminished by our action.�

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