Neocons and the Cult of State

In a recent column documenting the alleged hopelessness of dragging the Democratic Party back into alignment with mainstream America, George Will unwittingly put his finger on what is soon likely to ail the GOP as well: the impossibility of reconciling its underlying agenda with the values of the American people.

Will’s column draws much inspiration from an essay that appeared in liberal mainstay The New Republic titled “An Argument for a New Liberalism,” by Peter Beinart, the neocon-left editor of that magazine. Will says the Democratic base has been “polluted by the Michael Moore/MoveOn faction” (Moore, Will says, “despises the American people”). Beinart complains that Moore and MoveOn “do not put the struggle against America’s new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world.”

Will/Beinart both take a shot at John Kerry for one of his few winning positions in the 2004 presidential campaign: “We shouldn’t be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in our own communities,” they quote Kerry as saying on the stump. According to Will and Beinart, this is “isolationist” rhetoric.

Will then goes on to compare the Democratic Party’s current guilt-by-association troubles to those of the pre-Reagan GOP: “Liberalism’s problem with the Moore/MoveOn faction is similar to conservatism’s ’60s embarrassment from the claimed kinship of the John Birch Society, whose leader called President Eisenhower a Kremlin agent.” (The John Birch Society was and is a Christian-oriented group of anti-Communist ultra-conservatives.)

Will congratulates Beinart for his efforts to draw the Democrats away from their antiwar wing and refocus the party on the threat of “Islamic totalitarianism.” Beinart, says Will, “is bravely trying to do for liberalism what another magazine editor – National Review‘s William Buckley – did for conservatism by excommunicating the Birchers from the conservative movement.”

“The nation needs a 1947 liberalism,” writes Will, “anti-totalitarian, but without what Beinart calls the Bush administration’s ‘near-theological faith in the transformative capacity of U.S. military might.'”

Will’s and Beinart’s assessments can thus be fairly summarized as follows: Those who oppose Washington warmongering from the right are “isolationist” and beyond the pale, just like the Birchers. Those who oppose Washington warmongering from the left “despise America” and are also beyond the pale, just like the Birchers. The patriotic and prudent course for the Democrats, then, is to follow the example of the neocons, conflate “Islam” with “totalitarianism,” and encourage the country to unify for a war against “Islamic totalitarianism” – but without hinting at the “theological faith” (read Christian) motive.

In other words, the Will/Beinart tag team is proposing the sort of divide-and-manipulate strategy commonly employed by two-party-statist Washington: the Republicans will hold down the Christian constituency for war, while the Democrats will take those leaning to the left or hostile to Bush and/or Christianity, and steer them toward accepting the war by divorcing it from any Christian motive and adopting an “anti-totalitarian,” secularly pious position of official intolerance toward Islam. Or, using the feel good lefty language Beinart might employ: “Let’s move the destruction of Islam to the center of our hopes for a better world.”

Ponder this for a moment. Will and Beinart think America can go to war under the anti-totalitarian banner to impose, through force, a system of government that is highly offensive to the religious sensibilities of the occupied natives. They believe that over time, occupying U.S. forces can eliminate enough of the opposition to socially engineer the remaining inhabitants into accepting that system and making it work. And they believe that those who have been manipulated into paying for all this can be manipulated into cognitively embracing it if only the intellectual elites who put the plan together work to steer them in the right direction.

Hey, why not? It worked for the Bolsheviks.

Remember, the Soviets adopted a similar position toward Christians and other inconvenient elements during their attempts to engineer them away from their “backward” religious orientation toward the “inevitable” and “more advanced” system of Communism – a process that included the state-arranged imprisonment and murder of millions of the Christian faithful and other dissidents – years before Hitler killed his first victim.

Now some in Washington want to do the same thing to “primitive” and “barbaric” Islam in the name of the “more advanced” system of “democracy.”

As a neocon leftist, Beinart’s enthusiasm for using the state to terrorize a religion into submission is understandable. After all, many on the American left have long had mixed emotions about the Soviet ambition to erase Christianity from the face of the earth, and many continue to be hostile to Christianity today. Beinart’s revisionist New Republic essay attempts to obscure the Communist, Stalinist sympathies that mainstream Roosevelt Democrats long harbored by admitting there was a powerful vein within the party that was indeed soft on Communism, which the anti-Communist Truman Democrats promptly rooted out. He hopes to convince his readers that those in the anti-Islamic neocon left are the rightful heirs to the anti-Communist Truman Democrats instead of the flaky, militant Trotkyists they really are.

But coming from the ostensibly conservative George Will, this bizarre and shameful government-can-play-God fantasy shows just how far beyond any paranoid conspiracy theories the Birchers ever entertained the War Party has already gone – and how barren it is of conservative principles.

Unfortunately, Will is far from alone.

Here is what Frank Gaffney, a contributing editor of National Review Online (yes, the same National Review that Will celebrates as the guardian of conservative virtue) has in the way of advice for the Bush administration in setting foreign policy goals:

“Regime change – one way or another – in Iran and North Korea, the only hope for preventing these remaining ‘Axis of Evil’ states from fully realizing their terrorist and nuclear ambitions;

“Providing the substantially increased resources needed to re-equip a transforming military and rebuild human-intelligence capabilities … while we fight World War IV….

“Contending with the underlying dynamic that made France and Germany so problematic in the first term: namely, their willingness to … thwart the expansion and application of American power where deemed necessary by Washington….

“Adapting appropriate strategies for contending with China’s increasingly fascistic trade and military policies, Vladimir Putin’s accelerating authoritarianism at home and aggressiveness toward the former Soviet republics, the worldwide spread of Islamofascism, and the emergence of a number of aggressively anti-American regimes in Latin America.

“These items do not represent some sort of neocon ‘imperialist’ game plan. Rather, they constitute a checklist of the work the world will demand of this president and his subordinates in a second term.”

Apparently, in the universe that George Will, Peter Beinart, Frank Gaffney, and the other neocons inhabit, to build fire stations in America before building them in Iraq is “isolationist”; risking the lives of thousands of American troops for willy-nilly “regime change” and carrying out “World War IV” is something to be put on a “checklist”; Cold War allies like France and Germany shouldn’t be allowed to in any way thwart the militaristic ambitions “deemed necessary by Washington”; and wars of religious extermination should be carried out against “the worldwide spread of Islamofascism.” Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s put China, Russia, and Latin America on notice, too.

Is this what passes for “mainstream” in Washington these days? Sadly, it is. George Will Republicans and the neocons, the pied pipers of the current Washington establishment, have dressed up a radical, warmongering agenda and are pulling out all the stops to make it respectable – indeed, to make it appear to be the only rational course.

While it may be true that left-flank Democrats are completely out of touch with the average American on social issues, George Will and those in Washington who have fallen in line behind the neocons’ left-totalitarian world view (freedom and democracy at gunpoint) are completely out of touch with the average American on the moral issue of war, and it can only be a matter of time before America realizes that.

The GOP’s big November victory has made it drunk with power and blissfully unaware of how far the Republican Party’s manic brain trust continues to drift from mainstream American sensibilities.

Beinart and others on the neocon-left are encouraging the Democrats to follow them over the cliff.

Author: Steve Breyman

Steve Breyman will teach "War in Afghanistan" at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fall semester. Breyman is a veteran of the U.S. Army.