Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Disappear Completely

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. It's like they fear truth as a matter of course. The first 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.

Speaking of those lesser sleights of hand, Michael Ledeen is probably the most prolific in terms of comical self contradiction. As I've documented over the past few years, Ledeen has a peculiar tic whereby he pens impassioned calls for military confrontation with Iran, but then claims- with a straight face - that he opposes any such use of force. Perhaps emboldened by his own perceived success in terms of Iran-related duplicity, Ledeen took it one step further and actually claimed, against the weight of the evidence, that back in 2002 he opposed the invasion of Iraq! The audacity of that attempt alone secures his status as my favorite hawk in dove's feathers.

The attempts to conceal their policy proposals - and identities - are understandable on some level. The total war agenda outlined in prominent neoconservative texts such as Norman Podhoretz's dream of World War IV, and Richard Perle and David Frum's An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, is shocking in its unrestrained bellicosity - each advocating for a series of wars with Iraq being just the first, brief pit stop. Further, when their ideology has been put in practice under the stewardship of its practitioners, as in Iraq, the results have been so utterly disastrous that one can appreciate the desire to create distance. If I were a neocon, I'd sure want to pretend I wasn't.

If Richard Perle's recent statements are any indicator, the desperation in the neoconservatives camp is palpable. Perle, it seems, is returning to the David Brooks playbook: trying to, again, convince the world that there's no such thing as a neoconservative. Dana Millbank (via Steve Benen):

"There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy," Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. "It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy."

So what about the 1996 report he co-authored that is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy? "My name was on it because I signed up for the study group," Perle explained. "I didn't approve it. I didn't read it."

Mm-hmm. And the two letters to the president, signed by Perle, giving a "moral" basis to Middle East policy and demanding military means to remove Saddam Hussein? "I don't have the letters in front of me," Perle replied.

Right. And the Bush administration National Security Strategy, enshrining the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom? "I don't know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements," Perle maintained. "My guess is he didn't."

Benen adds:

It was apparently quite a performance, which literally drew laughter when Perle insisted, "I've never advocated attacking Iran." He added that he doesn't "accept" the notion that there's even a "neoconservative school of thought," and said his book, "An End to Evil," is actually a text devoted to realism.

Not even a "neoconservative school of thought"? Maybe Perle should consult with Irving Kristol, whose 1995 book is entitled, Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. Or maybe The Neoconservative Imagination: Essays in Honor of Irving Kristol, a compilation edited by William Kristol, another non-neo-con. Or NeoConservatism: Why We Need It and The Neocon Reader. Or Joshua Muravchik who wrote an essay a few years back on how to save a school of thought that is...apparently a figment of our collective imaginations?

Oh, and give Muravchik credit for openness:

Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office.

But don't be surprised when at some point in the future he confidently assures the reader of his longstanding - and well known - opposition to bombing Iran.

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