The Neoconservative Moment

So it turns out that there weren’t any links between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, after all, but, hey, guess what? The story has been revised and updated. Forget Iraq, we really meant to link Al Qaeda to – Iran! Yeah! That’s it!

And the beat goes on….

I wonder how many months from now we’ll all be sitting around wondering how and why we let ourselves be fooled – again. It’s the same mantra, and the same game, featuring pretty much the same players: only now it’s the mullahs as opposed to the Ba’athists – and the stakes are getting higher.

The War Party, caught in a lie, simply keeps lying: “No, not over there, over here!” Time to do a little spring cleaning over at the Office of Special Plans, or whatever they’re calling it these days: out with the old and in with the new! Iraq was yesterday, Iran is tomorrow.

So what if a few more neocons are deemed felons: they’ll do their time, face temporary exile, and then pop up a few years later, committing the same crimes all over again. It’s a familiar pattern. In the meantime, for all the chest-pounding mea culpas on the part of the American media and Congress, the War Party can take satisfaction in knowing that their mission was accomplished.

We are, after all, in Iraq, regardless of how we got there. Furthermore, U.S. troops are likely to remain there far longer than anyone in Washington is yet admitting. While George W. Bush is trying mightily to look like he’s walking-not-running to the nearest exits, his Democratic opponent dares not yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater – even as flames lick the rafters.

If the Iranians really were developing nuclear weapons, while claiming to be interested in generating nuclear power for peaceful purposes, it would come as a shock to exactly no one. After all, if the chief executive of the mightiest nation on earth had dubbed your country a card-carrying member of the “axis of evil,” wouldn’t you suspect that maybe he has it in for you? The Iranians, who appear to have had some hand in lying us into war with Iraq, have no intention of winding up like their erstwhile enemies.

Saddam tried to make peace with the Americans, and, as war loomed, released a massive amount of documents to prove what Hans Blix and David Kay discovered soon afterward: that he had long ago destroyed his “weapons of mass destruction,” and was desperate to avoid a war he was certain to lose. If Saddam really had WMD – say, nuclear weapons – the U.S. and Britain would have been far more circumspect in trying to bring about “regime change.”

Surely the Iranians appreciate the irony of this, which is why they are openly declaring their right to acquire nuclear power, and, by implication, the capacity to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent against future American aggression – a future that seems to be approaching with frightening suddenness.

Recent revelations that the Iranian nuclear program is considerably more advanced than previously thought has the neocons gleefully exclaiming “Aha!” But the reality, as James Traub explained in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, is quite different from the impression we are getting from Bush administration pronouncements:

“Is it possible, then, that all those lies don’t add up to a terrible truth? John Bolton ridiculed ElBaradei last fall for reporting that no evidence had yet emerged that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program. And yet ElBaradei was stating a fact. Last summer inspectors found particles of uranium enriched as high as 54 percent, far above the 3 to 4 percent needed to produce energy; but the material may have entered as contaminants on foreign equipment the Iranians purchased from their intermediary. Officials like Soltanieh have been so oblique on the subject that it’s impossible to tell. Nor have the Iranians yet provided convincing explanations for experiments involving polonium and other radioactive materials. But inspectors have found no weapons, no weapons drawings, no evidence of weapons research. ‘Everything seems to be lined up to support enrichment of 3 to 4 percent to produce fuel,’ said Christian Charlier, an I.A.E.A. inspector. While he finds all the lies maddening, ‘so far, we don’t have any facts that say they have a nuclear weapons program.'”

Where have we heard this sort of thing before? As Traub and Yogi Berra would have it, it’s déjà vu all over again:

“You would think, given the humiliating experience in Iraq, where no evidence of an active nuclear weapons program has been found, that the Bush administration would subject the evidence in Iran to exacting scrutiny. But it hasn’t. In fact, its position amounts to ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ One White House official explained to me that ”there is no other rational explanation’ for Iran’s nuclear program than the development of weapons. But of course there was no other rational explanation for Saddam Hussein’s stonewalling of inspectors. You would think that by now no other rational explanation’ might have been discredited as a cause of action.”

The neocons are such big Lincoln fans that one would think they’d recall his famous aphorism about fooling all of the people all of the time. Ah, but then Lincoln was wrong about that – if he ever said it – as he was about so many other things: you can fool all of the people enough of the time so that the rest of it doesn’t matter.

Why the Bush administration should be subjecting its own war propaganda to “exacting scrutiny” is beyond me. That’s our task. In any case, that Congress – and the “mainstream” media – fell down on the job last time is hardly grounds for optimism this time around.

My pessimism is further exacerbated by other, even more ominous developments on the Arabian peninsula. The recent tremors that have shaken the Kingdom may be opening up cracks in the Arab world that foretell the “creative destruction” dreamed of by the more nihilistic neocons. As James Akins, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told blogger Robert Dreyfuss:

“I’ve stopped warning that bin Laden might take over Saudi Arabia. I think that’s exactly what they want.”

Although an entire division of neocon cadre are given over to anti-Saudi propaganda, this tendency has its echo in what passes, these days, for the “Left,” exemplified by the Greg PalastForbidden Truth conspiracy theory that posits a Bush Family-Bin Laden connection, and some vague implication of Saudi government collusion with the 9/11 hijackers. If you close your eyes and listen to these guys, you might almost be hearing some neocon hack rail about the “Wahabist conspiracy” to veil all the world’s women and establish a global Caliphate.

Speaking of the Idiot Left, John Kerry is big on anti-Saudi rhetoric, and is quite clearly intending to cash in on Bush’s alleged “softness”:

“If we are serious about energy independence, then we can finally be serious about confronting the role of Saudi Arabia in financing and providing ideological support of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. We cannot continue this Administration’s kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money. As President, I will impose tough financial sanctions against nations or banks that engage in money laundering or fail to act against it. I will launch a “name and shame” campaign against those that are financing terror. And if they do not respond, they will be shut out of the U.S. financial system.”

The Bushies aren’t the only ones disappointed by the findings of the 9/11 Commission. Not only did the commissioners fail to find a credible connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but they also couldn’t see any merit in the much-touted financial connections between Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the 9/11 hijackers, which had been reported practically as fact by major news media far beyond the usual suspects.

But this is just a small setback for the neocons, and their allies on the “Left.” The war now being waged by Al Qaeda on Saudi soil raises the prospect of a wider rebellion against the monarchy, a wave of instability that would almost surely provoke U.S. military intervention to “protect” the oil fields. What the wilder neocons imagined aloud in their busy little seminars before the war looks likelier by the day.

Some, like Pat Buchanan and myself, have optimistically pronounced the neoconservative moment to be over, but Los Angeles Times editorial writer Jacob Heilbrunn opines that “Rumors of the Neocons’ Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated,” as the title of his piece puts it:

“Neoconservatism is finished. According to the conventional wisdom, the Pentagon’s top neocons, like Paul D. Wolfowitz, Douglas J. Feith and William J. Luti, have been discredited by the insurgency in Iraq, by Abu Ghraib and by growing public discontent with the war. The United Nations has been invited back – begged, really – while the organization’s chief opponent, Richard Perle, has been marginalized. The exposure of Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi as a charlatan, and possibly as an Iranian spy, has delivered the knockout punch. The neocons have lost President Bush’s confidence, it seems, and will be abandoned if he wins a second term.

“That’s the way the story goes, anyway. In Washington, it is widely believed, easy to understand and fun to pass along. But it is also wrong.”

It’s wrong because Bush is the neocons’ biggest supporter, his rhetoric has not wavered, and neither have his actions. Sanctions on Syria, the gathering storm over Iranian WMD, continued unconditional support for Ariel Sharon: “If this is moving away from neoconservatism,” asks Heilbrunn, “what would an embrace look like?”

An embrace would look like defending them even as they are indicted for outing a CIA agent, passing top secret U.S. intelligence to Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi, and passing off forged “evidence” of Iraqi WMD as the real thing to U.S. government officials.

Heilbrunn is right insofar as there is no basis for believing that the President is turning out his neocon advisors: not a single one, it’s true, has been tossed out the door. But this leaves out the legal implications of at least three ongoing investigations, in which several prominent neocons are principal suspects.

Heilbrunn portrays the defiant Douglas Feith, a key locus of the neocon network in government, as “sitting in his library surrounded by stacks of Commentary magazines and books on the British empire,” and

“Adamant in saying that the neoconservatives had not been sidelined. They remain influential, he said, and will remain so as long as ideas remain important in the administration. ‘Bush is not some empty vessel that we’re pouring this stuff into. He’s [been] underestimated the way critics underestimated Reagan.'”

One wonders if perhaps Feith and his fellow neocons weren’t a bit less adamant, the other day, when the FBI showed up at the Pentagon’s doorstep and top civilian employees were obliged to take a polygraph test (that is, if they didn’t want to take the Fifth). And if they aren’t snared by Chalabi-gate, they’re just as likely to fall victim to Plame-gate, or some other burgeoning scandal currently metastasizing in the inner bowels of the national security bureaucracy.

A major reason why Bush can afford to embrace the neocons – whose policies have been thoroughly discredited, and are increasingly questioned in the President’s own party – is because his Democratic opponent hasn’t made an issue of it. Howard Dean targeted the neocons, denouncing them as “extremists” who were leading the nation over a cliff, but he was soon knocked out of the running – gee what a coincidence! – and we were left with … Kerry, who, in formulating his foreign policy positions, seems as though he might have consulted those volumes of Commentary and books on the glories of empire that adorn Feith’s shelves. Kerry wants more troops in Iraq, and is apparently conducting a contest with Bush to see who can more slavishly accede to every Israeli demand. Why not stick with the neocons, as long as there’s no political price to pay?

Yes, the President has stood by them, so far, but will he stand by them when the special counsel comes calling? That remains to be seen.

The future is bleak with menace, yet bright with promise. On the one hand, a regional explosion – perhaps the only one of several dark predictions by war opponents that has yet to be fulfilled – seems to be in the offing. On the other hand, it looks like the neocons will get their come-uppance, one way or another. Although I, for one, would prefer to look on the bright side, and eagerly look forward to reading the prison memoirs of Scooter Libby, a future that includes both outcomes is easily imagined. Revenge is sweet, but peace would be sweeter. I’m afraid, however, that we won’t be seeing much of the latter no matter who wins the White House.


Good news! Pat Buchanan’s new book, with the tantalizing title of Where the Right Went Wrong, will be out in August. The New York Post headlines the story: “Pat Joins Bush Bashers.” Well, that’s one way to look at it. But he isn’t just bashing Bush – but the degenerated “conservative” movement that has lost its mind and decided to throw the principles of limited government and anti-Jacobinism in the service of pure demagoguery.

“The proto-conservative will blast the Bush Administration for behaviors both domestic and foreign,” says the Post. “He is particularly scornful of the U.S. foreign policy that has ‘ignited a war of civilizations’ with the Islamic world.”

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].