The Neoconservative Personality

by , January 20, 2004

The gang that gave us this rotten war is not only stupidly reckless, as this little story makes all too clear, but also totally corrupted by greed and power-lust.

The greed part is abundantly illustrated by the story of what happened to one of the biggest media companies in the world, Hollinger International, which owns more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers in Canada, the United States, Britain, Israel and Australia, including the British Telegraph, the Spectator, the Jerusalem Post, and the Chicago Times. Lord Black of Crossharbour, formerly plain old Conrad Moffat Black of Canada, has now been kicked out as CEO of his own company, and is being sued by Hollinger’s stockholders for the $200 million he and his neoconservative friends, such as Richard Perle, looted from the company’s coffers.

Lord Black’s newspapers have been among the biggest guns in the War Party’s international arsenal, with the Telegraph even beating out the Murdoch-owned New York Post and Fox News as a purveyor of war propaganda. In the long run-up to war, the Telegraph was filled with stories about dubious “intelligence” ostensibly “proving” all sorts of things about Saddam Hussein’s fabled “weapons of mass destruction” and his alleged “links” to Al Qaeda. Every last one of these turned out to be bogus, and a distressing number of them involved outright forgeries.

Hollinger is also a co-publisher, along with the Nixon Center, of The National Interest, the neocons’ influential foreign policy journal, pumping hundreds of thousands into the nonprofit venture. Hollinger has funded the International Institute for Strategic Affairs, a key link in the chain of pro-war thinktanks, to tune of up to $250,000 in a single year. Lord Black also has an interest in the New York Sun, a newspaper explicitly founded to serve as a conduit for pro-war, pro-Israel sentiment, a neocon counterpoint to the New York Times.

According to a special committee of the Hollinger board set up to get to the bottom of the scandal, Black and his associates not only ripped off their own company, they also “altered company books and records to conceal their actions.” All this happened under the direction of a board of directors top-heavy with political types, such as neocon firebrand Richard Perle, Henry Kissinger, Robert S. Strauss, dean of the high-powered Washington lawyers and renown “fixer,” Richard R. Burt, former U.S. ambassador to East Germany, former Illinois governor James R. Thompson, Dwayne O. Andreas, head of Archer Daniels Midland, whose prolific political contributions have become legend, and Lord Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel, a neocon spitfire in her own right.

As the Washington Post‘s Steven Pearlstein trenchantly observed, “It’s amazing the coincidences you find digging into Hollinger International,” where corporate bandits and rip-off artists meet and merge with the intellectual Mafia that runs American foreign policy.

Perle’s role in all this is characteristic of the method by which Hollinger was used as a cash cow for the personal enrichment of the Board members, as well as to further their political and ideological interests. As Perle tours the country with his co-author, David Frum, pushing a slim volume of polemics calling for invading practically every country in the Middle East, the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating Hollinger’s investment in Trireme Partners. Also coming under scrutiny: Perle’s relations with Hollinger Digital, which ploughed $14 million into companies in which Perle has an interest.

In reading about this latest wrinkle in what might be called the Neocon Scandals, I am reminded of what Professor Claes Ryn – whose new book, America the Virtuous diagnoses the neocon disease – has to say in The American Conservative about the personality types behind the drive to war:

“Only great conceit could inspire a dream of armed world hegemony. The ideology of benevolent American empire and global democracy dresses up a voracious appetite for power. It signifies the ascent to power of a new kind of American, one profoundly at odds with that older type who aspired to modesty and self-restraint. That former personality was inseparable from, indeed, the creator of, the notion of limited, decentralized government. Traditional, constitutionalist America derived its moral and political assumptions from the classical, Christian, and British traditions.”

A voracious appetite not only for power, but also for haute cuisine is apparently a neocon tradition. As a Boston Globe profile of Albert Wohlstetter – mentor to Perle and Deputy Defense Secretary to Paul Wolfowitz – put it:

“The Manhattan-born Wohlstetter sure knew how to live. A famous epicure, he became legendary for ambling his way to overseas strategic conferences so that he got the chance to dine at as many three-star restaurants as possible.”

Along with Wohlstetter, a nuclear strategist who worked tirelessly to legitimize the idea of using “tactical” “pinpoint” nuclear weapons, this hedonic style is reminiscent of the main character in Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein, a thinly-disguised docu-dramatic treatment of the life of neocon theoretician Alan Bloom. Not surprisingly, Perle is also a glutton for extravagance and “the finer things in life,” as this review of his novel, Hard Line, makes a point of emphasizing:

“He is also a gourmet chef. These days, when he isn’t devouring coq au vin at his vacation home in Provence, he’s serving on the Defense Policy Board, an influential civilian advisory panel to the Pentagon. Harvard professor Michael Waterman, the menschy hero of Hard Line, is also a right-wing, Frenchified foodie with a No. 2 position at Defense, a house in Chevy Chase and a wife whose name begins with L. In early 2001, the New Yorker‘s Nicholas Lemann visited Perle at home and realized that the gurgling French stewpots in the lavishly appointed kitchen were straight out of the book.”

Greed, gluttony, and outright avarice, along with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, go hand in hand with the kind of vaunting triumphalism that is energizing the neoconservative imagination. It’s “the end of ideology“! Oh, no, wait, it’s “the end of history“! The U.S. must achieve “benevolent world hegemony“! We must “democratize” the entire Middle East at gunpoint! Grandiose schemes, grandiloquent words, gargantuan appetites – it’s all part of the same mindset, the warmongering mentality of would-be world-conquerors, who heedlessly pursue their ruthless pleasures without regard for cost or consequences.

The spirit of the neoconservative enterprise was captured, oh irony of ironies, in a wonderful piece in the Jerusalem Post, “Neoconservatives on Mars.” Author Jeff Bander chronicled the neocons’ enthusiasm for the President’s new space initiative, and went on to admit that, sure, there are plenty of non-neocons who support the space program, but:

“The difference is that for neocons this is a crusade, and not just any kind of crusade, but a delightful one, an amusing one. For them, going to Mars kills all sorts of birds with one rocket ship.

“It’s a hell of a display of American supremacism, planting the flag on the moon and all that. It’s warlike, the ultimate in capturing the high ground. It’s hard and unsentimental, all science and math, none of that squishy humanities idiocy.

“And it’s so Darwinian. When you can send a space ship up to the stars, that is really an assertion of dominance, that is some demonstration of prowess….

“But the best thing, the most thrilling aspect of the space program, the truly delicious part, is how it eats up so many hundreds of billions of dollars for no other purpose but one’s amusement! One’s joy. When all those rabble that the liberals are always blubbering over are starving, dying of thirst, dying of AIDS, dying of whatever – we’re going to Mars! It’s so – Roman.”

And Perle gets richer.

Civilization, as Professor Ryn points out in his excellent book, is the taming and minimization of the human will to dominate others: that’s what our constitutional form of government is all about. It was also the basis of the foreign policy of the Founders, which kept America apart from the machinations of Europe’s imperial powers. The personalities that make up the War Party are the antithesis of the stern republican virtues exemplified by the Founders. Puffed up in every sense, physically as well as intellectually, the glib megalomania that animates neoconservative ideology – “National Greatness”! “World Hegemony!” “Axis of Evil”! – is truly repulsive to behold.

Just as the neocons commandeered Hollinger International and drained it of resources and journalistic credibility in the service of their personal and ideological interests, so their Washington D.C. chapter hijacked American foreign policy, using our matchless military to implement their Napoleonic ambitions, fleecing American taxpayers in the process. The Hollinger rip-off operation is now in the process of being exposed to the light of day, and several of Hollinger’s board members now under investigation could possibly face large fines and/or prison sentences. But the same process of discovery ought to be taking place in the political sphere, where the biggest rip-off of them all is occurring. They lied us into war – and now brazenly call for extending and escalating that war throughout the Middle East and beyond.

I have yet to read the Perle-Frum manifesto, An End to Evil, but the title is yet another example of the in-your-face malevolence of this crowd. If the history of the neoconservative movement in America is ever written and published, it might well be called Endless Evil, for endless is certainly one way to describe the sheer longevity of this troublesome little sect.

How long have these ex-lefties turned rightward been hawking their proposals for perpetual war under one rubric or another? From class war, to world war, to cold war, to the perpetual “war on terrorism” – they’ve been haunting us since the 1930s, in one ideological guise or another, whether it be anti-Stalinist leftist, Scoop Jackson Democrat, or today’s neoconized Republicans. Through all these costume changes, they’ve always stayed on message: war, always war.

Long before 9/11, the neocons wished and waited for their moment, and now it has come. This is truly a nightmarish world we are living in, and it shall not be made one whit better until we are rid of them, one way or another, for good. The idea that this is just a theoretical issue, an arcane argument among a few intellectuals, is belied by the “letters to the editor” columns in many newspapers, which contain an increasing number of references to “neocons,” who are invariably described in unflattering and generally hostile terms. The other day, in conversation with my mailman, he told me that “the neocons” are “the real problem.” At this level of popular discourse, the great problem of the neocons becomes a political issue just waiting for some smart presidential candidate to make use of.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

We’re gong through a general design change, and the process is bound to be a difficult one, particularly since we are running short of money. But then that’s nothing new. What’s new, however, is that you’re soon going to be experiencing the New, Improved, sleek and glossy Antiwar.com. Yay!

I don’t understand the technology, but we’re going to become a fully searchable database, and we’re going to have a whole new look – I like the cool blue, which offsets my own often hot rhetoric and I particularly like the idea behind the new front page – yet to be unveiled! – which organizes the news stories by region and gives the page a much cleaner look.

You may have some trouble accessing us, on occasion, during the transition: it takes time to iron out the bugs. But there’s no way we can correct errors without first putting the new system in place and seeing what develops. Please let us know if you have any problems.

I want to thank the whole Antiwar.com team for putting these important changes in place: the heroic Mike Ewens, who labored so long and so hard, deserves a special mention. Jeremy Sapienza’s patience and hard work must not go unmentioned. Eric Garris, of all of us, bears the greatest weight of this project on his shoulders: as Webmaster, he must implement, maintain, and ultimately take responsibility if the whole thing goes kaput. I don’t know how he does it.

We’re going through a very difficult time right now, on multiple levels. The disaster we predicted and warned against for years has now come to pass. We are living our worst nightmare, an Imperial America complete with a wholesale assault on the Constitution and what is left of our liberties. The worst elements in our society are rising to dominate the decent majority.

But the challenge is also an opportunity. We are working, day and night, to shape Antiwar.com into the kind of precision tool that can one day play an instrumental role in dismantling the War Machine.

But we can’t do it without your help.

We aren’t looting the coffers of unsuspecting shareholders, or finagling the U.S. government into subsidizing our propaganda and other activities: we depend on voluntary contributions from our supporters to counter the multi-millions shelled out by the War Party, and, you know what? We’re right up there with the big boys. Fox News is inhaling our dust.

All this is a warm-up for the fundraising pitch you know is coming, but I’ll save the full spiel for next week. Unless, of course, you want to contribute right now and save yourself a lot of hectoring – er, I mean heart-felt exhortations of breathtaking sincerity.

I’ll give you some time to think about just how much you’re going to give this year. You’ve been generous in the past, albeit not without a lot of heavy-handed prompting, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll come through again.

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Think about it. And then act….

– Justin Raimondo

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