Fulcrum Ruminations

Monday, March 21, 2005

Items in the News

Columnist Jack Kelly points out that the tone is often just as important as the content. Check it out.

Basically. Army and Marine Corp recruiting is down due to concerns about the war in Iraq and, to a lesser extant, Afghanistan, but not terribly so. The press, of course, blows it all out of proportion.

And here's a piece from the London Times by Gerard Baker that points out a curious discrepancy in the mutterings of the Left.

Wolfowitz critics call him a warmonger but as a neocon he's also a real democrat
Gerard Baker on America

AMID the howls of horror around the world that greeted the nomination this week of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank, one word was uttered with particular clarity and venom.

Mr Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary, is well known, according to his many critics, as a warmonger, a unilateralist, a scourge of the working classes, a bloodsoaked twister of the truth in avaricious pursuit of oil and American power.

But he is, of course, something else, something far, far worse than any other insult in the lexicon of modern political demonology.

As one World Bank employee, evidently in full suicidal mode, put it in a comment to a website (www.worldbankpresident.org ) on Friday: “The mood here in the bank in the last 2 days is one of shock and disgust. It feels like a funeral here. From a public relations point of view, this is a disaster. It took years for us to disassociate the bank from the bad old days of being on a leash for the US . . . now we are in a worst position ever (sic) by being the tool of not even the US as a whole, but neoconservatism.”

There it was, that heavily pregnant appellation, that ugly abstract noun, spat out like a perfect arc of phlegm from across the ether — Mr Wolfowitz is not just your common or garden evil genius. He is a neoconservative.

The puzzle for most Europeans and leftish Americans these past few years is how the neocons, a tightly knit group of highly motivated men, came to seize the reins of political power in the US and subvert American foreign policy to their ends.

But a much more germane question is: how did the neocons, a hitherto obscure group of intellectuals and policy specialists, whose principal ambition is the spread of democracy around the world, come to be so maligned and despised by almost everyone across the political spectrum?

The question is particularly apt in the light of developments in the Middle East in the past few weeks, where positive expressions of popular will in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia have raised hopes of democratic change in the region.

Since this change, welcomed even by most Europeans and leftwingers, was always the principal aim of American neoconservatives, why have people like Mr Wolfowitz provoked such fear and loathing?

Miles of newsprint and documentary film footage have been spent in an effort to flush out the neocons in the past four years and by any measure the efforts have been spectacularly successful.

Institutions generally identified as hotbeds of neoconservatism — think-tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century — have received the kind of treatment usually accorded to Mafia families.

This attention is mystifying. As one neocon puts it: “Have you ever seen the Project for the New American Century? It consists of five men and a fax machine.”

In the late 1990s perhaps one person in a million had heard of neoconservatism. In those days the term was understood generally for what it actually was — a portmanteau ideological worldview that united many former liberals and leftwingers to some more traditional conservatives around a belief in the liberating potential of American power.

Though Ronald Reagan was no neocon, several of his advisers were, and all members of the tribe argue now that it was Reagan’s willingness to articulate a strong moral approach to foreign policy and to face down the Soviet Union that led to the spread of democracy in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

In the 1990s neocons were enthusiastic supporters of the Clinton Administration-led wars against Serbia.

They argued for a redirection of US policy away from connivance at or outright support for tyrannical regimes, towards an active policy of promoting democratic change.

The intellectual roots of neoconservatism are more abstruse. Many adherents were enthusiastic followers of Leo Strauss, the 20th-century University of Chicago philosopher. Strauss was a classicist first and foremost, an admirer of 5th century BC Athens, who advocated the assertion of moral values in politics and foreign policy.

Why all this should arouse such opprobrium inside and especially outside the US is hard to fathom.

Part of it might be some musty intramural academic critique of Strauss, who was, ironically, not much of a believer in democracy and who thought governments should occasionally deceive their publics in the broader public interest.

The Great Neocon Conspiracy is even harder to understand if one considers their actual role in US policymaking.

Finding neocons in the US government is not easy.

The true believers in the Bush Administration probably only stretch as far as Mr Wolfowitz and his deputy at the Pentagon, Douglas Feith (both now leaving the Administration) as well as Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff of Dick Cheney, the Vice- President.

Neocon-phobia is probably, therefore, just a more sophisticated way for President Bush’s critics to articulate their opposition. It’s a lot easier to say that you are against neoconservatism than to say that you are against democracy.

I would have linked it but the Times has a strange way of searching for stories. Anyway.

The strange thing is that Baker is right on at least one point. The "neocons' " central idea is the promotion of democracy by vigorous means. And yet the chattering classes equate the "neocons" with the Legions of Hell. Makes you wonder what they might have against democracy, eh? I mean, aren't these the same people who were telling us for the last couple years that democracy couldn't work in the Middle East (or in arab societies, or islamic societies, or . . . well, anywhere, it seems like sometimes).

And yet there are those pesky elections in Iraq and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and . . . Yeah.

Of course, it remains to be seen if this fragile blossom will take root in that bitter soil and actually grow.

The Left isn't doing too well with its predictions for the Bush administration. They thought Bush would lose the 04 election. Thought Iraq would be VietNam redux. Threw the "quagmire" word around with reckless abandon. And yet those of us who watch the goings-on with a jaundiced eye, cynicism fully engaged, can see that things seem to be working out for Bush. He says he's gonna do something and he does it, which is pretty rare for a politician.

Maybe that's why the Left is confused.


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