October 29, 2007

There have been two intriguing book reviews over last weekend in the establishment press. Both concern the overriding topics of war and peace and the future of America. The first article was in Friday’s New York Times, written by the inimitable Michiko Kakutani, perhaps the most influential book reviewer in the country. The book under review was Norman Podhoretz’s
” title=“World War IV”>World War IV
.  The review is a zinger, although not in the same category with the frontal assault by former CIA agent Mike Scheuer a month ago. Scheuer’s attack was entitled “Why Does Norman Podhoretz Hate America?” and was the result of studied and understandable outrage by a man who had worked inside the Cheney Regency. 

The significance of Kakutani’s review comes from the fact that it is written by a neutral, innocent bystander, for lack of a better term. Ms. Kakutani does not bring ideology or foreign policy expertise to the table. She is trying to judge Podhoretz’s book on the merits, for what it is.  Kakutani concludes that “neocon” godfather Podhoretz “has served up a hectoring, often illogical screed based on cherry-picked facts and blustering assertions (often made without any supporting evidence), a book that furiously hurls accusations of cowardice, anti-Americanism and sheer venality at any and all opponents of the Bush doctrine, be they on the right or the left.”  The review goes on to give credit to Scheuer: “In claiming that Mr. Bush’s strategy of regime change is draining the swamps that breed terrorism, he [Podhoretz] ignores experts like Michael Scheuer, a former head of the bin Laden tracking unit at the CIA, who have argued that the Iraq war, far from making America safer, has served as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.”

Is Scheuer right? Of course he is right. It is self-evident that Scheuer is right. It is beyond dispute. Al Qaeda did not exist at all inside Iraq prior to the Cheney/Bush invasion. Washington created Al Qaeda and the insurgency in Iraq. But here’s the kicker. This may well have been the Cheney/Bush strategic game plan from the outset, presumably sold to them by their “neocon” brain trust, of which Podhoretz is an outside consultant. The chaos and insurgency inside Iraq, south of Kurdistan, may have been a deliberate U.S. strategy. Fight the Arabs over there, before they can bomb us here. Get the picture? Keep the bad guys busy. This is not complete speculation on my part. It can be inferred from Bush Jr’s statements and his actions in 2003.

Look closely at what the dauphin said in his famous “Bring ‘em on!” pronouncement of July 2nd, 2003: “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” Have you ever? The “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq commenced on March 19th of that year; Bush Jr. declared that “major combat operations” in Iraq had ended on May 1st. Afterwards, some in Congress were suggesting that U.S. troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible. It must be clear in retrospect that withdrawal from Iraq was never part of the Cheney/Bush agenda. Just the opposite. A long term occupation was and is the “neocon” agenda, allegedly for the purpose of spreading “democracy”.

What was needed was a tangible excuse to stay, to buttress the “democracy” cover story. What better reason for staying than to fight an insurgency by terrorists as part of a “war on terror”? Bring ‘em on! After enduring more than a decade of murderous economic sanctions, Iraq was doomed to become the battleground of choice for the New World Order. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) was dumbfounded by Bush Jr’s July 2nd, 2003 remarks. “I am shaking my head in disbelief,” said the Senator. “When I served in the Army in Europe during World War II, I never heard any military commander—let along the commander in chief—invite enemies to attack U.S. troops.”

From the American military point of view, the only problem with the “bring ‘em on” strategy as it has played out to date, aside from being amoral and insane, is that it has resulted in an urban guerrilla war in which the American military has ceded its technological advantage. By bringing the war down to street level, we are back with German troops in Stalingrad and with Napoleon’s Grand Armee inside Moscow and during its retreat from Moscow, fighting partisans. The advantage of American B-2 stealth bombers and tomahawk cruise missiles has been negated. We are at the mercy of crude roadside bombs and fanatical suicide bombers. Under this scenario of asymmetrical warfare, ground troops of the U.S. Army and the Marines are at a distinct disadvantage. The “insurgents” can’t win, but the situation is self-defeating for the American side. Concurrently, the U.S. treasury is being steadily drained of assets, with no end in sight.

Obviously, somebody somewhere has badly miscalculated the best interests of America from the very start of this whole rotten affair. Why? How did it happen? At this point, one is even justified in wondering if, in fact, those in charge at the White House were primarily interested in America’s own best interests at all. Did elected officials inside the White House and those on Capitol Hill have in mind some other overarching domestic political agenda which blinded them to reality in foreign affairs? What was their ultimate concern? What were they thinking? Or were they just clueless?

In our current predicament, we are left to contemplate apparent gross incompetence on the part of the Regent Cheney and the dauphin, which incompetence beggars belief. It is either that or malfeasance by the “neocon” brain trust who sold Cheney and Bush Jr. a flawed and idiotic strategy. Either way, the results are a disaster. The warmongering Podhoretz is a prime representative of the brain trust, a close-knit gang of “neocon” operatives and propagandists, many of whom worked at the very top levels of the Administration, put there by Cheney and Karl Rove. What were Norman Podhoretz and his fellow “neocons” trying to achieve in the Iraq misadventure? Why is he now praying for Bush Jr. to bomb Iran yesterday?

These important questions bring me to the second book review. Entitled “Cents and Sensitivity”, it appeared in the weekend edition of the Financial Times of London. The book under review is the now-famous treatise entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by Professors J.J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and S.M. Walt of Harvard. The book is reviewed by the FT’s UN correspondent, Harvey Morris. He is not in the same league with Kakutani, but his short article is more thought-provoking in ways perhaps not intended.

What is Morris trying to say here: “By conflating the influence of the pro-war neo-conservatives…with the pro-Israel lobby, they [Professors M & W] ascribe the decision to go to war [the invasion of Iraq] to the campaigning efforts of the latter.” Can anyone honestly separate the “neocons” from the “pro-Israel lobby”? If so, I would like to see how. Morris concludes: “The neo-cons were militantly pro-Israel and included a high proportion of Jews. But then so did the left-radical, anti-Stalinist ’ but not exclusively Zionist ’ tradition from which many of them sprang.” Come again? Ah yes, the charms and machinations of 20th century, left-wing intellectual life in the U.SA. Read the FT review, and try to figure it out.

But wait. Does not “the left-radical, anti-Stalinist but not exclusively Zionist tradition” bring us right back to the whacky world of Norman Podhoretz? Of course it does. Wasn’t he a Trotskyite in his salad days at Columbia University? Or am I getting him confused with the “founding father” of Neoconservatism, Irving Kristol who attended City College? Does it matter? An infatuation with Trotsky’s folderol was par for the course in such left-wing circles back then. Of late, Podhoretz has transmogrified into the “neocon” godfather, advocating perpetual war for perpetual peace. How very debonair. One wonders why, with such a dubious track record, Podhoretz is taken seriously. The exact same could be said of that fellow former Trotskyite and intellectual mountebank, warmonger and irritating one-man debating society, Christopher Hitchens.

In point of fact, has not the Iraq war itself completely discredited Podhoretz, his ideas, forecasts and assumptions, along with all the other “neocon” luminaries and their fellow travelers? One would certainly hope so. But clearly the “neocons” do not reason on the same wavelength as the rest of humanity. They are alive and kicking. Their effrontery, egocentricity and ethnocentricity are hard habits to kick, and beyond all reason. And they have no shame.

The best deconstruction of Norman Podhoretz could be Murray Rothbard’s “The Evil of Banality” written in 1979 for the almost-forgotten intellectual journal, Inquiry. My essential concern here is not the self-obsessed mind of Norman Podhoretz, but U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East under the Cheney Regency. Maureen Dowd aptly described the situation in
” title=“a recent column”>a recent column
: “Dick Cheney’s craziness used to influence foreign policy. Now it is foreign policy.” I am interested in Podhoretz only to the extent that he and his comrades have distorted and hijacked U.S. foreign policy, using Dick Cheney and Bush Jr. to do so.

In this regard, the brilliant libertarian icon Rothbard hit the nail on the head back in 1979 with the following observation on Podhoretz: “Explicitly and unabashedly, Podhoretz assumes ideological positions on the basis of the old question ‘Is it good for the Jews?’ Not for Podhoretz the older, broader, but presumably namby-pamby ideal of the intellectual as citizen of the world…. His foreign policy is grounded on an all-out and unmitigated support for the state of Israel, which he identifies with the cause of Jewry. A foreign policy of nonintervention is attacked, not on the basis of moral principle or even of American security, but because it ‘represented a direct threat to the security of Israel.’” Is it all coming into focus yet?

Bereft of obfuscation and flag-waving, there you have it, in Rothbard’s 1979 description of Podhoretz: the essence of current U.S. foreign policy, as carried out by the Regent Cheney, using the dauphin as a front man. At some point in the 1990’s, Cheney caught the bug from godfather Podhoretz and/or from Podhoretz’s comrades like “Scooter” Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and David Wurmser. Besides, the domestic politics were perfect, which was icing on the cake for Karl Rove and the dauphin. The charade known as the “Israel Lobby” continues unabated. After reading Rothbard’s “The Evil of Banality” and Mike Scheuer’s article noted above, one can set aside and be done with Podhoretz and with the canard called “neoconservatism” for at least a few months, maybe forever.


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