Nihilism and Neoconservatism

The idea that we invaded and occupied Iraq and launched a bid to "transform" the Middle East because we wanted to install liberal, democratic societies in the region is just not believable on many levels, and certainly recent headlines about the Palestinian coup by Fatah against Hamas – and the president’s endorsement of the Abbas putsch – underscore this point. One year after Hamas soundly defeated the old, corrupt Fatah movement at the polls, the former has been expelled from the government by the unilateral action of "President" Abbas and is outlawed in the West Bank – where the Fatah-Bush theory of the "unitary presidency" apparently holds sway.

"Democracy" in the Middle East marches on!

Elections in the Middle East are like those in the European Union – if the Powers-That-Be don’t get the result they want, then the results are overturned and a new election is held… a process that continues until the people learn their lesson, i.e., that resistance is futile, and ratify what has already been decided.

From the occupied territories to the war-torn cities of Iraq, what was sold as an effort to export "democracy" has instead turned into an effort to import chaos, death, and universal destruction. The "liberation" of Iraq hasn’t let the democratic genie out of the bottle, but it has unleashed sectarian demons that have engulfed the country in a vicious civil war. In Lebanon, our effort to aid the Sunnis as a counterbalance to the Shi’ite Hezbollah has boomeranged, with the Fatah al-Islam group rising up against the U.S.-supported government. In Afghanistan, the regime of "President" Karzai can barely claim control of the capital city of Kabul, while in Pakistan, our biggest and most important ally in the Muslim world, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is being buffeted by the tides of pro-Islamic, anti-American public opinion, and is not expected to last much longer.

By any rational measure, the results of our Middle Eastern policy of regime-change in Iraq and bullying intervention throughout the region have been an abysmal failure from beginning to end. By neoconservative Bizarro World standards, however, what we are witnessing is a smashing success.

Because, you see, smashing up the Middle East was and is the whole point. Every new day’s headlines reminds me of a prescient piece by Joshua Marshall, published in the April 2003 issue of The Washington Monthly, entitled "Practice to Deceive," the subtitle of which was "Chaos in the Middle East is not the Bush hawks’ nightmare scenario – it’s their plan." Marshall pointed to:

"[T]he curious fact that much of what could go awry with their plan will also serve to advance it. A full-scale confrontation between the United States and political Islam, they believe, is inevitable, so why not have it now, on our terms, rather than later, on theirs? Actually, there are plenty of good reasons not to purposely provoke a series of crises in the Middle East. But that’s what the hawks are setting in motion, partly on the theory that the worse things get, the more their approach becomes the only plausible solution."

Marshall’s piece is a masterful analysis and refutation of the ostensible reasons we got into Iraq because it goes beyond the exoteric rationales and penetrates the esoteric, or inner, significance of the invasion and occupation. In the process, he gives us a concise history of the neocons and an account of their methodology, which, he rightly avers, is centered around the practice of deception. "Democracy," "weapons of mass destruction," Saddam’s nonexistent "links" to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks – this was just the window dressing that lured us into the store, where we bought the Iraq war narrative, at least initially. Now that we’re in so deep, with little hope of digging ourselves out, the real neocon agenda is becoming all too apparent. Iraq was only the dress rehearsal for a general conflagration that will replicate the Iraqi civil war on a regional level. Seymour Hersh wrote about some of the strategic implications of this in "The Redirection," and I’ve consistently warned in this space over the years that in getting involved in Iraq we were getting on the Middle East escalator and not stopping until we reached a whole new level of warfare – a conflict that could comfortably fit within the parameters of a new world war.

As the neocons marched America to war against Iraq, Marshall surveyed the tragic scene and foretold World War IV:

"The great majority of the American people have no concept of what kind of conflict the president is leading them into. The White House has presented this as a war to depose Saddam Hussein in order to keep him from acquiring weapons of mass destruction – a goal that the majority of Americans support. But the White House really has in mind an enterprise of a scale, cost, and scope that would be almost impossible to sell to the American public. The White House knows that. So it hasn’t even tried. Instead, it’s focused on getting us into Iraq with the hope of setting off a sequence of events that will draw us inexorably towards the agenda they have in mind."

Few liberals had the presence of mind at the time to see the larger picture and warn us of the impending disaster: almost none had a sense of the true significance of the decision to go to war, or any real inkling of the War Party’s true agenda. Nowadays, at least some of Marshall’s fellow liberals and "progressives" are waking up – now that it may be too late…

Iran is the next target on the neocons’ timetable for regime-change in the Middle East, and growing indications that an attack is in the offing before President Bush’s term of office ends underscore Marshall’s point, which is that the worse things get the more the neocons revel in it. Theirs is a Bizarro World "morality," where evil is good, universal destruction is global peace, and a turn for the worse is, in effect, a turn for the better. Every "crisis" – various run-ins with the Iranians in the Gulf and on the Iraq-Iran border, Lebanon’s refusal to surrender its sovereignty to a UN "tribunal," U.S. covert operations inside Iran – threatens to become the spark that sets the entire Middle East aflame.

Where will it all end? The goal of the neocons is a U.S.-Israeli-dominated region, patrolled by U.S. troops and divided into a large number of much smaller statelets. With both Iraq and Iran broken down into their constituent ethno-religious parts, the Middle East becomes Lebanon writ large: weak, vulnerable to attack, and easy to control.

A central premise of the "realist" critique of the neoconservative agenda is that it promotes a dangerous instability, which shows that the realists just don’t get what neoconservatism in the foreign policy realm – and particularly when it comes to the Middle East – is all about. The idea is to create – and preside over – a condition of permanent instability. There is no better way to justify the permanent presence of U.S. troops and plenty of aid to U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes.

Nihilism and neoconservatism are brothers under the skin, and nothing illustrates this more starkly than the horror unfolding presently in Iraq. It is a war we were lured into by means of a massive and quite artful deception, and its true purpose remains hidden beneath layers of presidential rhetoric and "patriotic" posturing. Yet a big problem for the neocons is that the closer they get to achieving their objective, the more their real agenda is exposed to the light of day – and they run the risk of a major backlash, one that could take an unexpected – and quite ugly – turn. Quite ugly for them, that is, and quite a relief to the rest of us…

In the end, the War Party’s foreign policy objectives are inextricably intertwined with their domestic agenda, which is authoritarianism, pure and simple. The red-state fascist mentality that promotes the doctrine of the "unitary presidency," i.e., the cult of the Leader, and seeks to establish a surveillance state in place of our constitutional form of government, is today the animating spirit of the GOP. As personified by Benito Giuliani, the Republican form of the new authoritarianism is no scarier, however, than the threat posed by Hillary Clinton, who, asked if online speech required regulation, proclaimed:

"Without any kind of editing function or gate-keeping function, what does it mean to have the right to defend your reputation? I don’t have any clue about what we’re going to do legally, regulatorily, technologically – I don’t have a clue. But I do think we always have to keep competing interests in balance. I’m a big pro-balance person. … Anytime an individual or an institution or an invention leaps so far out ahead of that balance and throws a system, whatever it might be – political, economic, technological – out of balance, you’ve got a problem, because then it can lead to the oppression [of] people’s rights, it can lead to the manipulation of information, it can lead to all kinds of bad outcomes which we have seen historically. So we’re going to have to deal with that."

Known for her vengefulness, Hillary, I’m sure, will know just how to "deal with" her online critics. The Republicans who voted for the PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act [.pdf], and all the other licenses granted by a compliant Congress to spy on and harass American citizens engaged in peaceful, legal conduct will live to regret their hasty ratification of a police state. With Hillary at the helm of the U.S. government, you can bet that the secret police agencies will be run efficiently – while the war in the Middle East rages on without respite.

It’s true that the more radical wing of the War Party currently favors the Republicans, but that could change in an instant, especially if the Democrats get on board the let’s-attack-Iran bandwagon. As it is, the major Democratic presidential candidates have all refused to take war with Iran "off the table," and Hillary the Hawk, now and perhaps forever the front-runner for the nomination, is relentless on this score.

It’s heads the War Party wins, tails the Peace Party loses. That’s what "democracy" in America is all about.

The permanent crisis of perpetual war abroad and a state of siege on the home front – that’s the neocon utopia, in a nutshell. Tragically, both parties seem irrevocably committed to this program, at least at the leadership level. Whatever opposition arises from the grassroots is quickly neutralized by big money, stacked primaries, and a media campaign that marginalizes mavericks like Ron Paul and anyone else who challenges the basic premise of our bipartisan foreign policy – which is the near-divinely inspired rightness of global intervention on the part of the U.S. government.

To question this is heresy, yet when asked what kind of foreign policy they would prefer, Americans answered that we ought to start minding our own business. That was a couple of years ago, and one imagines this tendency toward "isolationism," to use the neocon-inspired scare word, is even more pronounced these days, when the hard lessons of our Iraq misadventure are being absorbed by a war-weary public.

The ruling elites, however, have a different point of view, one shaped by their own Washington-centered perspective. They like to believe that they really are running the world, no matter what party they belong to, and they – the elites in government, media, and the corporate world – act accordingly. As for the American public at large – they are like children who can be manipulated this way and that according to the convenience of the moment. Ordinary Americans may be unruly at times, but, ultimately they can be controlled – or so the elites believe and hope. In their hubris, the War Party embarked on a large-scale military campaign in the Middle East, without considering the power and scope of the possible "blowback" – up to and including the political blowback here in the U.S.

With the presidential primaries of both parties effectively rigged against the possibility of a credible antiwar candidate arising to wrest the nomination from the pro-war front-runners, and the War Party’s propaganda machine revving up its motors for another go, this time at Iran, we are in for a very explosive next couple of years. The reason is because the political system lacks any effective safety valves: there is no way for ordinary people to have any real impact, and therefore the special interests – and the War Party is just a collection of very special ideological and corporate interests – have taken over. That’s why a radically unpopular war not only continues but is now being escalated in a "surge" of air strikes and major movements on the ground. We had an election in which the "antiwar" party won – and that’s when the war got hotter, more violent, and started to spread. While it may be somewhat of an exaggeration to say that we no more have "democracy" here than the Palestinians have it in the West Bank and Gaza, it isn’t all that much of one.

While we are not quite reduced to fighting it out in the streets, Palestinian-style, for the first time since the Civil War that possibility no longer seems quite so far-fetched. And if that doesn’t scare you, then you’ll do well in the dark age to come.

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].