Bill Kristol and
the Stink of Fear

How, in the name of all that’s holy, could a rational human being look at what’s going on in Iraq and hold out any hope of “success” for America’s colonial project? The American and Iraqi casualty rates are soaring, the government of Iraq is collapsing, the Turks are getting ready to invade Kurdistan in reaction to the regional government’s nurturing of Kurdish terrorists on its territory, and the government we are committed to protecting with American troops and treasure is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of the Iranian mullahocracy. The American military occupation coexists with and enables widespread ethno-religious “cleansing” and the imposition of Sharia law in much of the country.

If this is success, then what would failure look like?

In the Bizarro World of the neoconservatives, however, none of this matters: indeed, it merely spurs them on. Since the pursuit of American national interests is entirely unrelated to their foreign policy agenda, the horrific damage to this country and its relations with the world are, for them, quite beside the point. Which is why Bill Kristol’s latest screed claiming that victory is right around the corner is particularly disingenuous.

Kristol takes up the case of a recent New York Times/CNN poll of under 1,000 nationwide respondents who were asked, by phone, various questions about the course of the Iraq war. One of those questions – which has been asked continuously by various pollsters for the last few years – is whether, in retrospect, respondents think the Iraq war was “worth it.” Kristol claims that a rise of a few percentage points in the positive replies is proof that “media bias,” and not the facts on the ground, is obscuring the possibility of “victory.”

The Times rechecked the poll results in order to confirm a result that seems, on reflection, “counterintuitive,” as the Times put it. The results stood. Kristol crows that this reveals the media’s “bias” in favor of the antiwar viewpoint – this, about a paper that ran the lies of Ahmed Chalabi and co-conspirator Judy Miller on the front page above the fold, and a “mainstream” news media that abjectly followed in the old grey lady‘s wake. In the neocon worldview, however, you’re either a tool or a fool: there’s no in-between.

The neocon methodology is, at least, consistent: they cherry-picked the “evidence” to allege the existence of Iraq’s WMDs and Saddam’s personal responsibility for 9/11, and Kristol employs the same technique when measuring public opinion. On a summer weekend when anyone halfway employed was either away on vacation or otherwise preoccupied, one poll detected slightly less regret among the general population over the decision to go to war. And never mind all those young folks who don’t have land lines: these people don’t count and can be safely disappeared. The War Party has long boasted of its ability to create its own reality, and here we have an instance of such mystic conjuration that not even J. K. Rowling could have conceived it.

Other polls consistently tell quite a different story. A Washington Post/ABC News poll, taken nearly simultaneously, shows 63 percent of the American people think going to war was not worth the price paid, while 36 percent disagree. The regretful majority passed the 60 percent mark in February and has been inching toward 70 percent ever since. Kristol’s protests to the contrary notwithstanding, this is a settled question as far as the American people are concerned: Kristol and his neocon brethren were wrong, their crusade to “liberate” the Middle East has been judged a failure – and the Weekly Standard can sacrifice countless acres of trees to the cause of salvaging Kristol’s reputation, and that of his confreres, for all the good it will do them.

Kristol characterizes these sentiments as “defeatist,” with the clear implication that the antiwar movement – and especially those partisan Democrats who make up a very visible minority of it – is “defeatist,” and so is the news media. We want to hear only bad news, and that is what gets reported and commented on: the “good” news, including the much vaunted “success” in Anbar province in getting the tribal chieftains to turn on al-Qaeda in Iraq, is ignored.

Well, then, let’s look at this “good news” from Anbar and Diyala provinces and ask ourselves just how good it really is; because, you see, those Sunni leaders who have turned their guns on bin Laden’s acolytes are themselves insurgents, i.e., deadly enemies of the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – a government backed by American guns.

The Sunni tribal chiefs’ new turn is a “victory” only if seen as a logical extension of what Seymour Hersh calls “the redirection” of American war aims in the region: America’s new alliance with our former Sunni enemies (the “terrorists” and “dead-enders” of yesterday) against our newest enemy-of-the-moment – the Iranians. The blowback from this “victory” won’t come raining down on Kristol’s head, however: it will hit our troops in the field in the form of increased attacks from newly empowered and emboldened Sunni guerrillas. Being a chickenhawk means never having to say you’re sorry.

The American people are not “defeatists” on Iraq: they realize that we could, if we wanted, station a million-man Army in Iraq, change the rules of engagement to permit much more “collateral damage” (i.e., war crimes), and pour half the Treasury into Bill Kristol’s grand scheme to remake the Middle East. But you know what? They don’t think it’s worth it. The whole misbegotten scheme, in their view, was wrong from the very beginning because it was based on outright deception. You want polls? Last year, before pollsters stopped asking the question, nearly 60 percent believed the administration deliberately misled the American people in taking them to war.

This isn’t “defeatism” – it’s “regretism.” Americans feel ripped off because they were sold a bill of goods – a “cakewalk” that materialized into a quagmire, a “liberation” that turned into a nightmare, and “weapons of mass destruction” that turned out to be mirages of mass delusion.

Incredibly, Kristol tries to create a dichotomy between “the elites” – represented by the news media and the Democrats in Washington – who are antiwar, and the people, who are supposedly “moving in the right direction.” Says Kristol: “The public remains more sensible than much of elite opinion – and more open to new facts.” He then quotes charter members of the foreign policy elite – two Democrats, Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon, who were instrumental in shepherding congressional Democrats into the pro-war camp, back when the war was popular – to buttress his point that a sea-change is in the air.

That he doesn’t even see the contradiction in his argument is an indication of just how disconnected from reality these people have become. Only Kristol could somehow “spin” the Iraq war poll numbers into a favorable reading for this administration: Hey, look fellas, he’s saying to his fellow neocons, we’re a little bit less hated and discredited this weekend. Now why isn’t the news media reporting that all-important “new fact”?

Backed up against a wall, neoconservative dead-enders are desperate to shore up the ranks of their followers and Republican politicians, who show signs of faltering and even defecting to the other side. This is the real intended target of Kristol’s piece: without the GOP and its congressional regiment to provide them cover, the neocons are all alone out there, isolated and increasingly targeted for public opprobrium on account of their leading role in pushing us into war. Perhaps more than a few of them – those formerly in government service, such as Douglas Feith – will face, as Scooter Libby did, the legal consequences of their actions, which involved much more than “outing” a CIA agent and committing perjury.

What rises up out of Kristol’s piece is the stink of fear – fear that the neocons are being abandoned by their erstwhile hosts, fear that anger over the war will boil over into their political and personal ruination, fear that their game has finally been exposed, and fear that Americans are bound and determined to take their country back. Their fears are our hopes.


I had a very entertaining Sunday morning watching the Iowa Republican presidential debate and recording my impressions over
at Taki’s Top Drawer blog. Check it out.

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].