Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Men Who Weren't There

One of the most curious features of the neoconservative political/philosophical movement is the near reflexive, compulsive tendency on the part of its adherents to conceal the full breadth of their positions, beliefs and ideological moorings. The most extreme example of this pattern probably came when David Brooks tried to claim that there was, actually, no such thing as a neoconservative in the first place (just a crude form of anti-Semitic classification). Though ultimately unsuccessful, Brooks' Copperfield-esque attempt to make the entire neoconservative movement disappear from sight would have made a lot of subsequent small-bore efforts at subterfuge unnecessary.

I think at its root, the desire to conceal the true motives, policy recommendations and beliefts (and, for Brooks, existence!) of the neoconservative movement is based on an estimation of the benefits that can be derived from plausible deniability, and the appearance of measured circumspection. In coming to this conclusion about the advantages of shrouded movements, the neocons are not alone of course, and are following in the footsteps of many ideological warriors before them.

In support of this, several neocons probably realize that a full, unvarnished accounting of some of their more radical policy preferences could be shocking to the established foreign policy elite, and induce a potent backlash (see, ie, Norman Podhoretz's dream of World War IV, and Perle and Frum's An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, et al). Further, as Iraq is proving, sometimes it's better not to be so publicly associated with a policy-gone-wrong.

As a prophylactic measure, neocon pundits tend to engage in much dissembling, double-speak and contradiction. One recent example of the confusion resulting from such rhetorical tricks came in July 2006, when there was much ado about a Rolling Stone article that claimed neoconservative pundit Michael Ledeen favored military confrontation with Iran. Andrew McCarthy and Mark Levin had this to say in Ledeen's defense:

Yet, anyone even vaguely familiar with Michael’s work knows that he has opposed military action against Iran....

In defense of McCarthy and Levin, anyone vaguely familiar with Michael's work could easily come to the conclusion that he opposes military action against Iran - he has said as much on various occasions. But, on the flip side, a Ledeen follower would also be able to argue, convincingly, that Ledeen strongly favors military action against Iran. See, for example, Ledeen's arguments and exhortations in favor of military confrontation assembled here.

Ledeen is not alone in neocon circles in calling for military confronation with Iran (there is surprising consensus). He is also not alone in dissemanating contradictory recommendations in favor of, on the other hand, abstaining from such military engagement. In furtherance of confusion, many neocons, like Ledeen, persist in promulgating the fiction that we could send troops across the Iranian border in order to engage Iranian troops, and carry out bombing campaigns against Iranian military installations (and for some, nuke facilities) without the conflict erupting into something larger: Not invasion, or all-out war, just some discreet military actions. Semantics can be a useful tool to the duplicitous.

In reality, though, Iran would retaliate to these highly provocative acts of war and we would be forced to respond to their reprisals - or suffer the ignominy of limping away with a bloody nose. Before long, as that tit-for-tat cycle continued, we would be pitted in a full military conflict with Iran. If the conflict escalated enough, it very well could result in an attempt on our part to depose the Iranian regime through invasion. But no - be absolutely sure - that is NOT what the neocons are advocating. They don't want the powder keg to explode, they just want to light the long piece of fuse dangling from it. Clever sleight of hand.

Matt Yglesias uncovered another, more innocuous, example of the near pathological refusal on the part of neocons to acknowledge their own existence. This one came from Joshua Muravchik, who issued a call to arms to his fellow neocons - advocating a series of steps designed to help his cohorts regain the momentum:

Learn from Our Mistakes. 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?

How indeed? Matt offers a couple of possible explanations:

What crazy canards! This here is the Amazon page for Irving Kristol's 1995 book, Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. John J. Miller writes that in the book, "Kristol sketches his intellectual growth, which began while he was a young man attending neo-Trotskyite meetings in Brooklyn (where he met his wife, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb) and eventually took him to Washington, D.C., where today he is a fixture at right-of-center political gatherings." Canard! Publisher's Weekly writes, "Particularly interesting is his previously unpublished opening memoir concerning influences such as Lionel Trilling, Leo Strauss and army life as well as the founding of his magazine and his work with the American Enterprise Institute to extend conservatism beyond free enterprise to reflect "on the roots of social and cultural stability." Canard!

In his essay "A Man Without Footnotes" included in The Neoconservative Imagination: Essays in Honor of Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer recounts that "Irving Kristol at one point wrote that the two chief influences on his thinking were Lionel Trilling and Leo Strauss." Canard!

Yeah, I guess that would sort of lead to some misunderstandings.

For his part, Muravchik is one of the neocons who is willing to say that he favors military confrontation with Iran - though I haven't the patience to pore through his prior work to see if he has also crafted a cloak of deniability through contradictory, Ledeen-esque, writings.

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.

The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.

Again, keep in mind, Muravchik is not arguing for an all-out military confrontation and/or invasion. Just some bombing runs on nuclear facilities. And possibly military positions. Maybe, like Ledeen, he would urge that we send troops across the border as well. Which, of course, couldn't possibly lead to any wider conflict - or be construed as an invasion. No, that would be an entirely unpredictable outcome, that nobody could foresee.

Or, in the present case, a political movement of nobodies.

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