The Neocons, Undaunted

You have to give the neoconservatives credit for tenacity. Any other political or ideological group saddled with their record would crawl off into the shadows to expire without fanfare. Not the neocons. Vampire-like, they rise from the crypt of Bush’s "global democratic revolution," fangs extended and hungry for fresh blood. There isn’t enough garlic in the world to deter them – I doubt that even a pointed stake in the heart would suffice. The War Party, it seems, is immortal – like evil itself.

They told us the Iraqis would greet their American "liberators" with showers of rose petals; instead, U.S. troops are caught in a hail of bullets. They said Saddam Hussein was harboring "weapons of mass destruction," including an advanced nuclear weapons program, that posed a deadly threat to America; the closest they could come, once we’d invaded and combed the country for many months, was a storehouse of some very old mustard gas – the bad guys’ WMD of choice, circa 1917. They proclaimed that the invasion of Iraq would lead to democratic revolutions throughout the region; what we got was Hamas, Hezbollah, and a flood of recruits to al-Qaeda’s bloody banner. They assured us it would be a "cakewalk"; it turned into a death march.

Instead of changing their names and getting as far from the crime scene as possible, the neocons – or, at least, some of them – are not only lingering, they’re openly proclaiming their intention to visit fresh disasters on us. The most explicit such statement comes from Joshua Muravchik, a former leader of the Young Peoples Socialist League who now inhabits the heady heights of that neocon Olympus over at the American Enterprise Institute. Muravchik, author of Exporting Democracy, a pre-9/11 polemic in which he outlined what was to become the Bushian policy of "global democratic revolution," is as pure a neocon as exists outside of Michael Ledeen’s study. Undaunted by the massive failure of the democratist crusade, he writes in Foreign Policy magazine of "Operation Comeback," in the form of a memo to his partners in crime. The subject line is: "How to Save the Neocons." Which raises the question: save them from whatpublic obloquy? The penitentiary? A lynching?

I’d settle for two out of three, and much of the rest of the country is behind me, yet Muravchik finds this rising anti-neocon sentiment baffling, even "startling." Oddly, he has not been startled into anything like repentance, or even caution: instead, even as he describes himself and his fellow cultists as "proven losers at Washington’s power game," Muravchik boasts "our ideas have influenced the policies of President Bush" and avers "that does feel good." I’ll bet. As I have pointed out before, the most powerful man in the world is the world’s biggest, most fanatical neocon, and that is the ultimate prize in Washington’s power game, now isn’t it?

He also crows that "a number of young people and older converts are swelling our ranks," yet he later complains that the ranks are being decimated by defectors. Which is it? Oh, but no matter, mere numbers are irrelevant, because the neocons have always been motivated – or, rather, inspired – by the sense that capital-H history is on their side. Stepping over the corpses, they confidently proclaim their next conquest, sights fixed firmly on Iran.

Before they can get to that, however, it is necessary to deal with the blowback from their "success" in reducing Iraq to rubble and murdering 650,000 of the "liberated" in cold blood:

"The price of this success is that we are subjected to relentless obloquy. ‘Neocon’ is now widely synonymous with ‘ultraconservative’ or, for some, ‘dirty Jew.’ A young Egyptian once said to me, ‘"Neoconservative" sounds to our ears like "terrorist" sounds to yours.’"

The relentlessness of this obloquy has nothing to do with "ultraconservatism," since the real ultraconservatives have always hated the neocons, and with good reason: there is nothing in the least bit "conservative" about their doctrine of perpetual war and their towering hubris, unmitigated in spite of the massive rebuke the neocons have suffered.

As for the anti-Semitic epithets he throws into the mix, one can only note that, next to the marginal David Duke, Muravchik is the loudest proponent of the neocon = Jew equation. It doesn’t matter to him that some of the most prominent opponents of the neocons are themselves Jewish, nor does it matter that the quotation marks around the above epithet are unsourced. Muravchik knows perfectly well that the neocons’ chief critics are not to be found in Egypt, but in the good old U.S. of A.

As for those defectors:

"I am shocked to hear that some among us, wearying of these attacks, are sidling away from the neocon label. Where is the joie de combat? The essential tenets of neoconservatism – belief that world peace is indivisible, that ideas are powerful, that freedom and democracy are universally valid, and that evil exists and must be confronted – are as valid today as when we first began. That is why we must continue to fight. But we need to sharpen our game."

For someone who holds as an "essential" tenet "that ideas are powerful" to disdain second thoughts about the efficacy of those ideas is passing strange – unless one’s ideas are held as dogma. Attributing defections to weariness, rather than an honest reevaluation in light of new evidence – such as that voiced by former neocon philosopher Francis Fukuyama – is indicative of the neocons’ peculiar blindness. And who would’ve guessed, with all their warmongering and lists of countries that ought to be invaded forthwith, that neocons are advocates of "world peace" and its "indivisibility"?!

All of this is easily dismissed as the apologetics of an ordinary thug standing in the dock attributing his career as a champion carjacker to high idealism, flawed only in its execution. The criminal assures the judge that he and his kind will "learn from our mistakes," as Muravchik writes, confessing that

"We are guilty of poorly explaining neoconservatism. How, for example, did the canard spread that the roots of neoconservative foreign policy can be traced back to Leo Strauss and Leon Trotsky? The first of these false connections was cooked up by Lyndon LaRouche, the same convicted scam artist who spends his days alerting humanity to the Zionist-Henry Kissinger-Queen Elizabeth conspiracy. The second probably originated with insufficiently reconstructed Stalinists."

If neoconservatism has been poorly explained, then it hasn’t been for lack of opportunities and a public platform. The neocons have been agitating for a war in the Middle East for over a decade, and they have had at their disposal more than ample space in the mainstream media, as well as their own wholly-owned-and-operated press, including the Murdoch conglomerate, Lord Black‘s now-fallen media empire, and National Review, not to mention the impressive array of books penned by neoconservative authors, who never seem to lack for publishers – and fat grants from big foundations that cater to their cadre.

As for the "canard" that Trotsky and Strauss are indeed avatars of neoconservatism, Matt Yglesias has a good retort here. One can only wonder how Muravchik expects us to ignore the public record – including the memoirs of such neocon worthies as Irving Kristol – and accept his contention that the neocons were born, like Venus, from the foam of the sea. The irony is that Muravchik is himself the exemplar of the neocons’ Trotskyist roots, having served as youth leader of the Shachtmanite "third camp" Social Democrats, USA, the Young Peoples Socialist League, otherwise known as the "Yipsels." Lyndon LaRouche has nothing to do with it: plenty of mainstream commentators have traced the neoconservatives’ ideological genealogy back to the founder of the Red Army.

If Muravchik is not exactly loyal to his neo-Trotskyist past, his present allegiances are a bit more solid. Unlike Richard Perle, who now despises George W. Bush for supposedly abandoning the War Party, Muravchik argues that the neocons should stick by the president. Bush is, after all, a politician, and, by the way,

"The administration made its share of mistakes, and so did we. We were glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation. Did we fail to appreciate sufficiently the depth of Arab bitterness over colonial memories? Did we underestimate the human and societal damage wreaked by decades of totalitarian rule in Iraq? Could things have unfolded differently had our occupation force been large enough to provide security?"

They weren’t just "glib" – they were dead wrong about "how Iraqis would greet liberation." Too many were "liberated" from their very lives. This never occurs to comrade Muravchik, who instead attributes the liberators’ failure to over-dependence on high-tech weaponry, not enough troops, and not enough money spent on the military.

Yet it was the very smallness of the invasion force that was one of the major selling points of the war. Those who suggested that half a million troops were required for the occupation of Iraq were attacked as "defeatists," and sidelined, as Gen. Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff, discovered when he was publicly attacked by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. And, of course, the American people would never have gone along with sending that many troops to Iraq – which is precisely why the number was kept low.

The neocons, however, are not really interested in Iraq any longer: that, after all, was yesterday. But tomorrow belongs to them, as a very similar political movement once put it. Iraq is in ruins, the credibility of the U.S. as a force for good in the world is at an all-time low, and the body bags are coming home at an increasing pace – yet Muravchik, willfully blind to all this, is recommending that we:

"Prepare to Bomb Iran. Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran."

By all means, let’s attack another Middle Eastern country – after all, it worked so well the last time.

Speaking of "religio-ideological fanatics," only such a one would dare propose attacking Iran in the present context. Not content with plunging Iraq into a hellish nightmare, Muravchik and his confreres would start a regional war with global consequences – including the threat of renewed terrorism against the United States. Notice, too, the odd phraseology: Bush "will need to bomb" – this is said in spite of the CIA’s assessment that Iran will not have a nuclear capacity for a good 10 years. What, then, is the big hurry? It’s a high principle of neoconservatism that it’s never too early to start the bombing.

Muravchik’s other suggestion: the Republicans should "recruit Joe Lieberman in 2008," running, no doubt, on a platform of Nuke Tehran! That should go over big with the American public – not! To say nothing of the reaction inside the network of "freedom-loving" "pro-American" "rebels" he suggests we set up abroad. To revive the stalled neocon "revolution," he wants increased aid to Muslim moderates, via the National Endowment for Democracy, and a Cold War-style propaganda apparatus, with sufficient resources to plot regime change on a political basis.

Like the Marxists, who complain that communism didn’t fail because it was never really tried, the neocons are full of excuses for the embarrassing implosion of their ideological hopes and dreams.

The Iranian contingent of Muravchik’s Democratic Internationale will doubtless be thrilled to learn that their country is targeted for pulverization. That should inspire them, all right – as long as they’re getting subsidies from Muravchik’s proposed version of the Congress of Cultural Freedom (a Cold War front group of intellectuals funded by the CIA) and are safely ensconced in Washington.

You can’t make this stuff up. The delusions piled on hallucinations are psychedelic in their effect, causing a uniquely dangerous collective craziness. Dangerous because the madness that infects large portions of Washington, D.C., also possesses our chief executive, never all that psychologically stable to begin with. Muravchik’s evaluation of what President Bush will "need" to do to Iran is shared by many. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the bombs starting falling the day after the election – or, as rumored, sometime in January.

The Israelis are reportedly blackmailing us into a strike by declaring that they’ll do it if we don’t. And that’s what this is all about. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are quite correct in noting that Israel’s American lobby is in the forefront of the "let’s bomb Iran" contingent, just as they were in the case of Iraq, and Muravchik’s analysis perfectly reflects the Israeli perspective. His contention that Iran will "dominate" the Middle East leaves out one important fact: Israel already has nukes, at least 400. An Iranian nuke would end Israeli dominance and strike a balance of power in the region. By eliding this strategic reality – and the fact that Israel is somehow exempted from "the global nonproliferation regime" Muravchik supposedly seeks to uphold – Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. hopes to scare us into war.

However, the polls show that it isn’t selling, and the neocons know it. That’s why Muravchik is giving them this little pep talk and strategizing a "comeback" for a thoroughly discredited – and justly vilified – movement.

It won’t work. Muravchik is right that "the global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening." The storm will likely include a good deal of lightning strikes, in which Muravchik, the neocons, and the legacy of Bush II all go up in a puff of foul-smelling smoke. If so, it will almost be worth it.

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].