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"Mommy, where do Neocons come from?"

The Forty Years War - Len Colodny, Tom Shachtman

A bit dry in parts, but this was overall a satisfactory explanation to me for the origins of the "Neocons" (i.e. Neo-conservative Republicans in the American political system)- with particular attention to their worldview (essentially America-centric, embracing the ideas of American exceptionalism, and a "might makes right" attitude which is enamored of any application of military force, and disdainful of diplomacy as inherently weak and compromising).  The short answer is that most of their ideas are traceable back to a foreign policy expert named Fritz Kraemer who first came onto the American political stage in the late 1940's. This is a name I hadn't heard before, as many Americans haven't, because he intentionally kept a low profile. He wore dual hats as an academic and a foreign policy advisor to Presidents from Eisenhower through George W. Bush.  ...And none of us might have ever known who he was, except one of his young protégé was embraced by the Rockefeller family, who launched his political career into the stratosphere.


That would be Henry Kissinger I'm talking about. 


After giving us the background on Kraemer and Kissinger, the book becomes a linear narrative, tracing the growing influence of Neoconservatism through the Nixon, Ford, (not so much Carter), Reagan, Bush I, (not so much Clinton) and Bush II years.


What was most intriguing to me is how officials infected with the Neoconservatism "bug" elevated this philosophy over the partisan loyalties which had put them into public office to begin with.  The text is seriously chock-a-block with Republican Neoconservatives undermining- almost downright sabotaging- the Republican Presidents they serve, in order to advance the cause of Neoconservatism.  I hadn't pegged Nixon as a wimp who was giving away the Free World to the Soviet Union... but that's how Neoconservatives saw him.  Consequently, we have White House Chief of Staff Al Haig actively fanning the flames of the Watergate investigations, and encouraging the impeachment proceedings which would drive him from office.  Later, we see another White House Chief of Staff-  Dick Cheney, as well as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (these names keep recurring throughout the book) -foiling communications in the Ford administration because he isn't as aggressive towards the Soviet Union as they would like. (I seriously get the impression that Rumsfeld and Cheney wouldn't have been happy with anything short of Ford starting a nuclear war.)  It's not just a few incidents; it's one of the central and recurring themes of the book. 


One of the nagging contradictions of Neoconservatism is that all the while they are undermining the Presidents they serve, they are simultaneously pushing for a vision of government in which a stronger Executive branch operates free of checks or oversight by the (supposedly coequal) Legislative and Judicial arms of government. This is the idea of the "Unitary Executive", and even in the distorted reality of a Neoconservative, it is completely myopic. The American political process more or less guarantees that eventually a non-Neoconservative President will come into power, and I can't imagine that Cheney, Rumsfeld, or any of their ilk would want a liberal Democrat (or worse!) acting as an unchecked Unitary Executive. 


Eventually the Neoconservatives come into their own in the the George W. Bush administration, and- a bit too conveniently-  9/11 gives them carte blanche to put their philosophies into practice. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that in 8 years, they managed  to completely discredit everything they had been advocating for the previous forty. 


At least that's how the author tells it.  Neoconservatism has been decisively discredited in my and many other peoples' minds, but I'm not so sure it's gone and forgotten as a movement. The persistent popularity of politicians like John McCain (who was re-elected to the Senate in 2010) makes me think Neoconservatism hasn't been nearly as discredited in the mainstream public eye as it deserves. It may yet come back to haunt us.


As a side-issue, this book does not intentionally dwell on 9/11, and the author gives no indication that he disbelieves anything about the official story of what happened on that day, but if you are inclined towards skepticism (as I am), there is plenty in here to suggest that the Bush II administration intentionally let its guard down, to allow something (they may not have known exactly what) to happen, which would give them a casus belli to return to Iraq and (in the Neoconservative mind) "finish what [George W. Bush's] father started."