Jihad Hunters vs. the Neocons

by , March 29, 2011

When David Horowitz starts throwing around the label “neoconservative” as if it were a four-letter word, you know a real schism is at hand.

That’s because right-wing jihad hunters like Horowitz, Caroline Glick and others are reaching levels of near hysteria over the prospect of Islamic movements gaining political power in a post-revolution Middle East, particularly right now in Egypt. Sure, they believe everyone has the inalienable right to freedom, but not if they live on “hostile soil” or when it is not in America’s “core regional interests.” Under those circumstances, the despots and dictators—as long as they are pro-western and maintain vital security agreements with Israel—are always preferred.

“The neoconservatives are not motivated to act by concern for the US’s core regional interests. What motivates them is their belief that the US must always oppose tyranny,” writes Glick, an American who emigrated after college to Israel, where she joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), retired at the rank of captain and worked in the Israeli government. She is now the managing editor of The Jerusalem Post and a senior fellow at the D.C-based Center for Security Policy, which was founded by Frank Gaffney, yet another hyperbolic jihad hunter who recently declared that the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) had been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“In some cases, like Iran and Iraq, the neoconservatives’ view was in consonance with US strategic interests and so their policy recommendation of siding with regime opponents against the regimes was rational,” Glick wrote in a March 21 column. However, “the problem with the neoconservative position is that it makes no distinction between liberal regime opponents and illiberal regime opponents. It can see no difference between pro-US despots and anti-US despots.”

In other words, neoconservatives, at least in her mind, have no concept of freedom a la carte.

Glick calls President Obama’s response to the Arab revolutions—particularly in Egypt and Libya— a “descent into strategic dementia,” and “insanity.” She blasts Obama for hewing to an “anti-imperialist” agenda that would end “US global hegemony.” Of course such “irrationality,” as she puts it, puts at risk those important “core interests” in the Middle East, which she defines as cheap oil, deterring enemies and fighting “pan-Arabists and the jihadists that advance a political program inherently hostile to US power.”

She doesn’t invoke Israel, but she doesn’t really have to. Others do that for her. Horowitz jumped in immediately in a blog post stating that “if Caroline Glick is correct in this analysis of what is happening in the Middle East,” it in part, “signals the beginning of the next war with Israel.”

Horowitz continued on this thread the next day. “The reality is that a totalitarian Islam is the vibrant and increasingly dominant movement in the Arab world,” he wrote under the headline “Why I am not a Neoconservative,” on his own FrontPageMag, a roiling cauldron of Islamophobia and second only to Atlas Shrugs as the boobyhatch of unreconstructed right-wing weblogs.

Not entirely unlike when he rejected his Marxist loyalties 40 years ago, Horowitz wrote that he was regretfully “swept up” into the neoconservative vision during the Bush years and in the run up to the Iraq War, by far the biggest and most expensive American foreign policy disaster since the Vietnam War (at least when Horowitz was “swept up” then, it was in opposition to the war. Perversely, he now blames the antiwar protesters for prolonging Vietnam).

Horowitz on Iraq:

“Bush did the right thing. When he named the campaign Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was also an enthusiast. It put the Democratic Party, which soon betrayed the war, and the political left, which instinctively supports America’s enemies, on the defensive. When he said he was going to establish democracy in Iraq, I almost believed him. And that seemed to put me in the camp of the neo-conservatives for whom democracy in Iraq was not only a wish but an agenda. In any case, people labeled me that not least because I am a Jew and ‘neo-conservative’ functions for the ominously expanding anti-Semitic Left as a code for self-serving Jews who want to sacrifice American lives for Israel.”

(One wonders, if “Neoconservative” is merely “Anti-Semitic Left” code, why does Horowitz use it to describe his former compatriots, as well as himself?)

“But whatever I wrote about the war in support of the democracy agenda, inside I was never a 100% believer in the idea that democracy could be so easily implanted in so hostile a soil… But I allowed myself to get swept up in the Bush-led enthusiasm for a democratic revolution in the Middle East. I remained on board until the Beirut spring began to wither and got off when election results in Gaza came in and put a Nazi party into power. That spelled the end of my neo-conservative illusions.

“It looks like we are headed for the same result in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to win the September elections…

“Neo-conservatives are now cheering on the Obama administration’s reckless intervention in Libya.”

Thus the interesting break among friends. The differences have always been there, of course. During the Bush Administration, there was a clear conflict among those who supported Bush’s freedom agenda on broad, messianic grounds that it was America’s mission to transform the world into a mirror image of itself—even at the butt of a gun—and those who preferred to coddle dictators as long as they were friendly to “core interests.”

One of the latter is scholar Martin Kramer, who once served as a foreign policy adviser for Republican presidential-hopeful Rudy Giuliani and is currently a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a fellow with the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. At the height of the Iraq War in 2007, he gave a speech in Prague criticizing the so-called Bush doctrine, in which he said:

“Democracy competes not against (‘genocidal dictatorships,’ like in Iraq, Sudan), but against this consensual authoritarianism. And the reason democracy is losing that competition is that consensual authoritarianism produces security for its peoples, and exports security to its neighbors and the world.

“We mustn’t be blind to these facts: these regimes cooperate with the world in combating terrorism and containing an aggressive Iran, they have peace treaties with Israel or float peace initiatives, they don’t threaten or intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, and they don’t seek weapons of mass destruction. None of them has gone to war in the last thirty-plus years.”

Until now, of course, because as we have always known and now WikiLeaked cables and personal testimony have now detailed in stark relief, there was nothing “consensual” about the oppression and injustice visited upon individuals and groups unlucky enough to be born into the wrong religious or ethnic class or outside the ruling political elite—which counts for millions of people— as evidenced in the recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan and elsewhere.

One of those disenfranchised groups is the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928 in Egypt as both an Islamist and nationalist movement in times of British military occupation and colonial influence. It has a long history of agitation and armed resistance—its own influence spread to create numerous branches among its neighbors in the Middle East—but in the 1970’s it repudiated violence and strove toward political empowerment. Although strong and well organized, it was not recognized by Hosni Mubarak’s government and its members were often jailed if not killed for their activities.

Though it is widely acknowledged that different strains of the Brotherhood have splintered off and thrived over the decades, the nub of the argument today seems to be whether the Brotherhood in Egypt has the best interests of Egypt in mind, whether it will marginalize the liberal, more secular thrust of the young revolutionaries in favor of conservative Islamism and put Israel’s security at risk by supporting Hamas and rejecting current agreements between the two counties. Critics cite, for example, reports that Egypt’s new foreign minister, Nabil al-Arabi, wants an end to the Israeli siege of Gaza, and an opening of the border between Egypt and the Palestinian territory.

The noise was at a fever pitch this weekend after a New York Times article reported that “religion has emerged as a powerful force” in Egypt after a revolution “based on secular ideals.” The move to schedule elections sooner than later was part of a constitutional reform referendum and approved by 77 percent of Egyptians who voted on March 20. Critics say the swift elections were not supported by liberal opposition groups who need more time to build; they complain that the voters were manipulated by the Brotherhood, which helped to build fear that a “no” vote would lead to a non-Islamic state.

On the other hand the Brotherhood has insisted that it is dedicated to religious tolerance, a pluralist government and has no desire to run a candidate for the presidency in the upcoming elections.

The key is whether the United States should support the free will of the people, or smother the baby in the crib like these hysterical reactionaries seem to prefer to do.

Like Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the uber-neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who offered these gems for Glick’s Jerusalem Post last week:

“You will see the Brotherhood, without a shadow of a doubt, try to go after the United States whenever possible … You will see them whenever possible [try] to go after Israel, to demonize Israel …”

Gerecht is (in)famous for his rabid support for the regime change not only in Iraq in 2002, but for overthrowing the mullahs in Iran at the same time. “If America can hold its ground, two Muslim peoples who were badly burned by the 20th century just might lead the way for their religious brethren to a more civil society, where the basic human decency their countries knew a century ago could return,” he wrote in The Weekly Standard in 2002. Apparently, there are limits to “basic human decency,” and they begin and end with our “core regional interests.”

Nor is “democracy” necessarily for everyone. “A nation, predominantly Islamic in culture and religion yet democratic in aspiration, presents an inbred conflict that has tended repeatedly toward the solution of military or civilian autocracy,” writes George Wittman over at the American Spectator.

Apparently this didn’t bother the neocons too much when they put a pro-Iranian political Islamist in charge of Iraq and helped draft a constitution that ambiguously hews to Islamic law.

Scholars insist that the Cassandras are oversimplifying the situation, that fears over Egypt breaking off relations with Israel and succumbing to a strict interpretation of sharia, are so far unfounded.

“I worry in Washington we have this situation where fear is used to inject into the minds of western policy makers the idea that somehow Islamists coming to power ultimately means bad news,” said Ed Husain, author of the neocon-feted book, The Islamist, at a panel discussion about the “prospect of Islamist governments” at the Hudson Institute on March 25.

He said he interviewed dozens of members of the Brotherhood in a recent trip to Egypt and encountered varying levels of conservatism, differing attitudes about sharia, and of its role in political and religious life. He acknowledged, however, that “without fail” they all had “problems with Israel,” though the “jury was out” on what to do about it. In other words, there are healthy internal debates going on that are likely to work themselves in a natural course—if given the opportunity.

“There is no one Brotherhood, there are many Brotherhoods,” Husain insisted, noting that most of the individuals he interviewed—with one or two exceptions—came down in favor of an Islamic state that fosters tolerance and the rule of law. “There are various Islamisms, there is not just one Islamism.”

Over at The Daily Beast, Brookings Institution fellow Bruce Riedel says, “don’t fear Egypt’s Brotherhood.”

“Living with it won’t be easy but it should not be seen as inevitably our enemy,” he said. “We need not demonize nor endorse it. In any case, Egyptians now will decide their fate and the role they want (the Brotherhood) to play in the future.”

Horowitz said in his March 22 column that “neo-conservatives need to admit they were wrong, and return to the drawing board. They should give up the ‘neo’ and become conservatives again.”

Horowitz is anything but conservative. He and his ilk promote meddling and military intervention where they see fit and not for humanitarian or moral reasons, but for their own “core interests.” Their claim that healthy democracy cannot thrive in an Islamic country is baldly Islamophobic if not racist.

Real conservatives oppose further U.S intervention in the Middle East uprisings in order to promote a free will that most of these countries have not experienced in modern times, whether under the thumb of colonial rule or native dictatorships. That’s a drawing board that Horowitz, once a single-minded Communist, now single-minded jihad hunter, has never met.

Read more by Kelley B. Vlahos