Smearing General Zinni

by , January 03, 2004

General Anthony Zinni, formerly chief of Central Command, who voted for George W. Bush in the last election and describes himself as a “Hagel-Lugar-Powell Republican,” has been among the most vocal and visible of the military critics of the Iraq war. Last year, he spoke for many top military personnel when he warned that an invasion of Iraq would unleash forces that could prove difficult if not impossible to control:

“You could inherit the country of Iraq, if you’re willing to do it – if our economy is so great that you’re willing to put billions of dollars into reforming Iraq. If you want to put soldiers that are already stretched so thin all around the world and add them into a security force there forever, like we see in places like the Sinai. If you want to fight with other countries in the region to try to keep Iraq together as Kurds and Shiites try and split off, you’re going to have to make a good case for that. And that’s what I think has to be done, that’s my honest opinion.”

Zinni was right. So was Gen. Merrill A. McPeak. So was Marine Gen. John J. Sheehan. So was Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf. So was former Navy Secretary and much-decorated Marine veteran James Webb. So was Commander Maj. Gen. Patrick Cordingley. So were a host of other top officers, both retired and active duty, who saw another Vietnam – or worse – in the neocons’ plans for postwar Iraq. They no doubt cringed whenever they heard neoconservative agitator and war profiteer Richard Perle describe the coming conquest of Iraq as a “cakewalk.” Here was another brilliant idea dreamed up by civilian national security intellectuals soon to turn into a living nightmare for the grunts on the ground.

The War Party was never all that worried about opposition coming from the Left, which is all too easy to mock and marginalize. Antiwar conservatives posed a more complex but less immediate problem, since these amounted to a small if vocal minority on the Right. But when American military leaders began to speak out against their imperial adventure, the neocons had a major conniption. Claiming that the sacred principle of civilian control of the military was being violated, the neocons ordered the soldiers to go back to their barracks and never return to the public square. Yet they have returned, to wonder aloud why they were not listened to. A recent Washington Post profile of General Zinni cites him attempting to answer this question:

“The more he listened to [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz and other administration officials talk about Iraq, the more Zinni became convinced that interventionist ‘neoconservative’ ideologues were plunging the nation into a war in a part of the world they didn’t understand. ‘The more I saw, the more I thought that this was the product of the neocons who didn’t understand the region and were going to create havoc there. These were dilettantes from Washington think tanks who never had an idea that worked on the ground.'”

“…The goal of transforming the Middle East by imposing democracy by force reminds him of the ‘domino theory’ in the 1960s that the United States had to win in Vietnam to prevent the rest of Southeast Asia from falling into communist hands. And that brings him back to Wolfowitz and his neoconservative allies as the root of the problem. ‘I don’t know where the neocons came from – that wasn’t the platform they ran on,’ he says. ‘Somehow, the neocons captured the president. They captured the vice president.'”

As Iraq degenerates into a maelstrom of violence and warring ethno-religious enclaves, Lebanon writ large, the neoconservatives who schemed for years to drag us into this disastrous war have been flushed out of the shadows and thrust into the spotlight. And they don’t like it one bit. Monsters love the dark.

The bloody failure of their policy has forced the neocons out into the open, and they are screeching in pain, like Dracula pulled from the tomb. We can hear – in their shrieking cadences, their whiny shrillness, their sheer unpleasantness – what it means to be a cornered rat. The sound is music to my ears. But don’t get too close: rats are often rabid, and they bite, as in the case of Joel Mowbray’s recent column smearing General Anthony Zinni as an anti-Semite:

“Discussing the Iraq war with the Washington Post last week, former General Anthony Zinni took the path chosen by so many anti-Semites: he blamed it on the Jews. Neither President Bush nor Vice-President Cheney – nor for that matter Zinni’s old friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell – was to blame. It was the Jews. They ‘captured’ both Bush and Cheney, and Powell was merely being a ‘good soldier.'”

Written in the style of a bathroom-wall scrawl – “General Zinni, what a ninny” is the title of this juvenile screed – Mowbray’s ravings amount to a kind of political pornography. Pornography is, after all, wish-fulfillment, and don’t the neocons dearly wish they could get away with marginalizing their most formidable opponents in this way. As the conservative scholar Claes Ryn has pointed out, conceit is the one defining characteristic of the neocons, whose political platform is the embodiment of hubris. They can get away with anything, or so they believe, even a vicious smear campaign directed against a man of unimpeachable integrity.

Evidence? Mowbray doesn’t have any, as he readily admits, except the rather odd linguistic revisionism that translates “neocon” to mean a person of the Jewish faith:

“Technically, the former head of the Central Command in the Middle East didn’t say ‘Jews.’ He instead used a term that has become a new favorite for anti-Semites: ‘neoconservatives.’ As the name implies, ‘neoconservative’ was originally meant to denote someone who is a newcomer to the right. In the 90’s, many people self-identified themselves as ‘neocons,’ but today that term has become synonymous with ‘Jews.'”

Some crimes against both nature and society are so awful or otherwise memorable that the transgressors have their transgressions named after them, such as Sadism, sodomy, and now mowbraying, which means telling a lie so brazen as to make every decent person within earshot cringe with embarrassment.

Far from deterring the mowbrayer, however, such a response only emboldens him to raise the decibel level:

“And if anybody should know better, it’s Gen. Zinni. It is well-known that those who are labeled ‘neocons’ within the administration – whether the number-two official at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, or undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith – are almost always Jews. … yet Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – neither one Jewish – [are described] as simply ‘key allies.’ Policy beliefs and worldviews were not different between these two groups; only religion distinguishes them.”

To begin with, the Business Week piece doesn’t focus on the Jewishness of neoconservatives in high office, it merely names them. Are we supposed to understand these officials are above criticism because they are Jewish?

Secondly, there are significant differences between the neocons and Rumsfeld, as Max Boot – writing in the January issue of Foreign Policy magazine, not online yet – and the Weekly Standard/Project for a New American Century crew have recently made clear. Rummy and a growing chorus of grumbling Republicans in Congress want an expedited exit strategy, which is one reason for the neocons’ increasing desperation.

Jonah Goldberg once tried to pull this same “neocon = Jew” card trick, at more length but without much more success. According to the former editor of National Review Online, neoconservatism, having become the conservative mainstream, is a relic of the past: “We’re all neoconservatives now,” as David Brooks once put it. But Goldberg’s argument fell apart soon after it was made, when Irving Kristol announced the neocons’ revival in the pages the Weekly Standard, and we haven’t heard a peep from him on the subject since then.

From a mode of self-denial, the neocons, it seems, have discovered the joys of Neocon Liberation. As various neocons have began to come out of the closet, so to speak, and identify themselves with the love (of war, of Israel, of “national greatness” and “big government conservatism“) that usually didn’t dare speak its name, Mowbray’s contention that neocon – the n-word – is an ethnic slur just isn’t with it. Look at this list of luminaries standing up to declare for Neocon Pride: “godfather” Irving, Max Boot, Richard Perle, who proudly defended the neocons in a recent debate with Joshua Marshall, and Stephen Schwartz, the Michelangelo Signorile of the neocon set in Washington, who “outed” Wolfowitz as part of a group of closet neo-Trotskyites (or Trotsky-cons, as National Review dubbed them).

In answer to an email query from me, Mowbray qualified his argument:

I know there are still many self-identified ‘neocons,’ but I also know that in many, if not most, contexts, it has become a code word. Zinni knows that for inside-the-beltway types (which he is), ‘neocon’ has become synonymous with ‘Jew.’ But it wasn’t just that; it was the way he used the term that I take issue with. Please note that I did not take Zinni to task for criticizing ‘neocon’ policies or even ‘neocons’ generally; I have no problem with that. What he did was take a known code word and combine it with a classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews rule the world by acting as Puppetmasters. (Remember, he said that both Bush & Cheney had ‘somehow’ been ‘captured’ by the ‘neocons.’) That’s a far cry from critiquing particular policies or even specific individuals.”

What’s interesting about this response is that he acknowledges that there is such a thing as a neoconservative policy, after all: so the word isn’t an ethnic slur, as presented in his original piece. His contention that neocon is a “code word” known only to Washington “insiders” (such as himself) – decades of scholarly books and articles on the subject of neoconservatism as a distinct ideology to the contrary notwithstanding – is hardly convincing.

As for the “context” of Zinni’s remark somehow transforming the formal meaning of “neocon” into a hate crime: why couldn’t the adherents of an ideology – neoconservatism – proselytize and capture the allegiance of the President, the Vice President, and other high officials, especially in the wake of 9/11? Zinni’s attack on those who pined for war with Iraq has nothing to do with the ethno-religious obsessions and persecution complexes of Mowbray, and everything to do with the neocons’ destructive and dangerous policies.

Except for Mowbray’s bald assertion that “everybody knows” what they don’t know, there is not a single shred of evidence to back up the claim that Zinni is a Hitlerite. But the idea of mowbraying is that you don’t need any but the most tenuous and improbable proof to slime the object of your attention: it is the political equivalent of Tourette’s Syndrome.

Read more by Justin Raimondo