Sunday, December 30, 2007

Preventive Strike? Declaring War on Neoconservative Foreign Policy

Obviously, considering all the controversy surrounding Bill Kristol and the New York Times, the political demonization of neoconservatism isn't fading away.

Indeed, with success in Iraq - and the media's reduced sensationalism in (anti)war reporting - many might see (or fear) a vindication of neoconservative ideas. Further,
as the Democratic party continues to founder in its congressional power, voters may well continue to give the GOP superior marks on foreign policy - not great news for the Democrats in November 2008.

Perhaps such logic explains the genesis of
Michael Desch's new preventive strike against Rudy Giuliani's neocons over at the paleoconservative flagship, the American Conservative.

Desch is a respected scholar of international relations, now at Texas A&M University; and in his introduction to the article, where he recounts confronting Giuliani at a lecture at the university, Desch portrays himself as above partisanship:

Like most Americans, I knew little about Rudolph Giuliani, save that he had been the very successful mayor of New York City catapulted to iconic status for his cool-headed demeanor after the Sept. 11 attacks. I was curious about where he stood as a presidential candidate, so in April 2007, I joined nearly 3,000 other Texas A&M faculty and students to hear him speak.

After saying some nice things about his host, President George H.W. Bush, Rudy launched into a stemwinder about the “war on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism” that basically repudiated everything the former president stood for in his foreign policy. Moreover, in the space of 40 minutes, Giuliani never once mentioned Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the attack on his city.

I was so appalled by the mayor’s simplistic message that terrorists were attacking us because they “oppose our freedom and ... want to impose their ideology on us” that I ignored protocol and challenged him during the Q&A. To the accompaniment of hisses from the rabidly pro-Rudy students, I reminded the mayor that Islamic fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East have taken our side against al-Qaeda at various times. Like the students, Hizzonor was not amused, and I got five minutes of unvarnished Rudy chiding me for just not getting it.

To the cheers of the partisan crowd, Giuliani argued that my “failure to see the connection between Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups [was] a recipe for disaster.” In his view, the campaign of radical Islamic terrorism began back in the 1960s and 1970s and included things like the Black September attack upon Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich in 1972. He ridiculed my call to disaggregate the terrorist threat, saying it ignored the fact that Yasir Arafat, whom, he lamented, we helped win the Nobel Prize, was responsible for “slaughtering 29 Americans” over the years. I learned later that Giuliani was so annoyed by my hectoring that he complained about it at the reception after the talk. He was reportedly shocked to learn that I was not some lefty professor but a member of the faculty at the Bush School.

After this disheartening experience, I decided to look more closely at what Giuliani was saying about foreign policy and who was advising him. What I found alarmed me: Rudy’s performance here was no aberration. Those who thought George W. Bush was too timid in the conduct of his foreign policy will find a champion in Rudy.
So begins Desch's examination of the "Giuliani cabal" of neocon foreign policy advisors.

The article's almost like an intelligence dossier on the enemy operatives of some rival nation, with one recurring theme: Rudy Giuliani and his neocons would be even more bellicose and bloodthirsty than the current administration.

Take Desch's discussion of Norman Podhoretz, a neoconservative godfather and recent high-profile proponent of preventive strikes on Iran's nuclear program:

Podhoretz is the person whose presence has done the most to set in concrete the notion that Team Rudy is all neocon all the time. Famous for arguing that we are in the midst of “World War IV,” Podhoretz is scathing in his criticism of those he suspects of not waging the war with enough vigor. He even charges that many senior military officers show insufficient stomach for the fight, singling out former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid and his successor, Adm. William Fallon. Podhoretz is also an assiduous peddler of the new neocon myth that the antiwar camp stabbed President Bush in the back.

And he doesn’t stop at Iraq: Podhoretz constantly beats the drum for bombing Iran to halt its nascent nuclear program. Air Marshal Podhoretz assured The Telegraph that the air campaign “would take five minutes.” His optimism that attacking Iran would be another cakewalk combines with pessimism about the prospects of multilateral sanctions preventing Iran from getting the bomb. “Yet for all their retrospective remorse over the wholesale slaughter of the Jews back then,” Podhoretz sneers, “the Europeans seem no readier to lift a finger to prevent a second Holocaust than they were the first time around.”

There are areas where Podhoretz is out of sync with the rest of the Giuliani team. One is his steadfast commitment to the Bush administration’s efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East, which he applies equally to American enemies like Iran and Syria and friends like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Other Giuliani advisors are more restrained about democracy promotion. Another point of departure is Podhoretz’s long-standing critique of the Clinton administration for treating terrorism as simply a “crime problem,” a charge somewhat discordant with the mayor’s claim that his successful campaign against crime in New York City justifies electing him global sheriff.
It's odd for Desch to suggest that Podhoretz is "out of sync" with the rest of Giuliani's advisors, since the article goes out of its way to make a person-by-person case that this foreign policy team is hell-bent on bulking-up America's neocon wars of neo-imperial aggression.

Desch, for example, hammers Daniel Pipes (which is nothing new), who he calls "the crazy uncle" of Giuliani's campaign and one who "stands out as an extremist." What Desch doesn't like is Pipes' unabashed support for Israel, which includes hardline (and unpopular) positions on Iranian strategic designs and the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood.

For Desch, even Giuliani's advisors of questionable neoconservative credentials -
like Yale lecturer Charles Hill - come under fire for their alleged alarmist bellicosity. In his slam against Hill, Desch compares the former diplomat to Vice President Dick Cheney:

Hill describes himself as an “Edmund Burke conservative,” but as one former Yale International Security Studies Fellow explained to me, “There’s not much if any daylight between Charlie and the neocons, except on the degree to which is Charlie is more of a multilateralist than them. ... I suppose the only difference is that Charlie is more like Cheney, who dovetails with the neocons on most issues of the last 6.5 years, rather than strictly being a neocon. And like Cheney, I think 9/11 had a massive effect on Charlie. You can’t underestimate just how much it galvanized him.”
In the next paragraph Desch castigates Hill for moving "steadily closer to the neocon camp," as if he's jumping into a rattlesnake pit.

This criticism wouldn't be surprising, except recall that Desch describe's himself in the introduction as "not some lefty professor but a member of the faculty at the Bush School." Unfortunately, though, Desch's demonization of the neocons fits right into
the left-wing antiwar, anti-American movement and its paleoconservative allies. Look at this concluding statement on Giuliani's support for neoconservative ideas:
Unfortunately, he is of one mind with some of the most unrepentant, unreconstructed neoconservatives around. Podhoretz told the New York Observer that “as far as I can tell, there is very little difference in how he sees the war and how I see it.” If anyone thinks that neoconservativism is on the outs after the debacle in Iraq, they need look no further than the Republican frontrunner’s brain-trust.

Note Desch's language, the call to "repent" and the slur of "unreconstructed" neocons. That tone's not too far off from some of this weekend's leftist denunciations of the New York Times!

It's certainly not very conservative, as noted by David Frum over at the National Interest:

Have we really reached the point where a magazine [the American Conservative] that masquerades under the label of "conservative" thinks that the very worst possible allegation to throw against a president is that he has advisers who admire Israel and support democracy, that he knows his own mind, and that he is ready to defend the country against his enemies? If this is the American Conservative's idea of criticism, God save the Republican party from ever deserving its praise.
But let me close with some perspective from this side of neoconservatism.

In a recent review of Podhoretz's World War IV, Bruce Thornton argues that Podhoretz not so much overstates his case endorsing the Bush Doctrine, but rather fails to focus clearly enough on the long-term existential nature of the Islamic challenge facing American national security:
Podhoretz is right that we have a “fighting chance” to create the conditions for the reconciliation of Islam with modernity. But we need to accept that the job is one of decades, and that it will require continued force and a strong presence in Afghanistan and Iraq for many years. It also requires that we realize that the assault on Israel is a theater in the jihadist war, not a quarrel over Palestinian “national aspirations.” And it will necessitate speaking the truth about Islam and compelling Muslims to acknowledge that truth and to stop hiding behind distortions and propaganda about the “religion of peace.” We must compel more Muslims to step up and start telling us –– and other Muslims –– how that reconciliation can take place, and back their words with deeds. Yet whenever Muslims do this –– Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq come to mind –– they have to go into hiding from the devotees of the “religion of peace.”

But the ultimate question is whether we Americans have the stomach for this fight, whether we can drop our sentimental “we are the world” multiculturalist fantasies and speak plainly about Islam and its dysfunctions, whether we can cast off the hair shirt of colonial and imperial guilt so eagerly donned by self-loathing Western elites. Podhoretz ends his important, indispensable book by affirming his belief that enough Americans do have that resolve and that we will ultimately win. But as he also says, “the jury is still out, and it will not return a final verdict for some time to come.”
The notion of having "stomach for this fight" is alien to antiwar types - whether these are protesters in the street or academics ensconsed at realist foreign policy schools who publish wildly anti-neocon tracts in paleoconservative journals.