My wrapup of the Maureen Dowd controversy yesterday missed a couple of important developments: wise men Jim Fallows and John Judis taking Dowd’s side. These interventions, by veteran respected journalists, have (I’m hoping) turned the tide. Note that Fallows is playing offense, questioning why the neoconservatives are even granted visas to Washington after pushing the Iraq war. I thought this accounting was going to happen years ago. It looks like now is the moment. And of course Dowd’s chief antagonist, Jeffrey (Saddam linked to Al Qaeda) Goldberg has a lot to lose in that conversation! No wonder he’s playing smashmouth politics.
First, here is Judis at the New Republic, yes the New Republic, explaining the role of the neocons in a historical framework:
American history does not have tightly organized parties that set policy. Policies sometimes emerge out of informal networks. And key foreign policy decisions have often come about in exactly that manner. In the 1890s, a group of intellectuals that included Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Brooks Adams met on Lafayette Square to discuss, among other things, the need to abandon America’s insular foreign policy and to join the global struggle for empire. They urged the McKinley administration to invade Cuba and the Philippines to replace Spanish with American rule. They had connections to the important magazines and newspapers of the day. And when Roosevelt became McKinley’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy, they had a crucial voice within the administration. McKinley, like George W. Bush, was a foreign policy neophyte who was pushed, prodded and even (in the case of Roosevelt) manipulated into becoming a champion of American imperialism.
The neo-conservatives of the mid-1990s played a very similar role in the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq. They were different from the first generation of neocons: they were more focused on foreign than domestic policy; they embraced a quasi-Trotskyist strategy of transforming the world in America’s image through hard as well as soft power; they saw Israel and to some extent Taiwan as irreproachable outposts of American power and idealism; and they were obsessed with overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
These neo-conservatives established a network of intellectuals, publications (led by William Kristol’s Weekly Standard) and policy groups (including the Project for the New American Century, which later spawned the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq). They promoted resolutions in Congress, and when Bush was elected, got people in key second-level positions in the Pentagon and Vice President’s office. Bush himself ran as an anti-interventionist, but taken aback after September 11, became a convert to the neo-conservative view of the world. He made the final decisions, but he made them within a strategic framework that the neo-conservatives had developed. If you want this story in detail —along with the analogy with the 1890s—I wrote about it in The Folly of Empire.
Now to the present. What about Romney? After the disaster in Iraq, many of the key neo-conservatives, including Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, left the administration, but neo-conservatives have remained at the center of Republican foreign policy.
I agree with Maureen Dowd in nearly all of her criticism of the foreign policy team around Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. In specific I agree with her (a) that since there is so little there, there to Romney’s own expressed foreign policy views, it is fair to observe that he has surrounded himself with advisors whose well-established past opinions are now reflected in his policy statements, and (b) that those advisors were deeply involved in leading the United States into its costliest foreign-policy error of at least the past 40 years, the invasion of Iraq…
- For what it’s worth, I know that the term “puppet-master,” which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago’s role as “puppet-master” of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name.
And Fallows links a Paul Pillar piece at the National Interest asking, Why are the Neocons still around? Good question:
The Iraq War was one of the biggest and costliest blunders in the history of U.S. foreign relations. The human and material costs, including an ultimate fiscal and economic toll in the multiple trillions in addition to the political and diplomatic damage, have been immense. Moreover, promotion of that war demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of fault lines in the Middle East, political culture in the region, the nature of political change there, the roots of enmity and security threats toward the United States, and the limitations of U.S. power and especially military power. There is no reason anyone should pay one iota of attention to what the promoters of that war have to say today on anything related to those subjects. And yet those are the very sorts of subjects, often with particular reference to countries such as Iran, Syria and Libya, on which neocon promoters of the Iraq War expound today.
In some other political system, anyone who had been involved in an official capacity in promoting that war might, after resigning in disgrace, retire from public affairs to tend a garden, write fiction, or make money in private business. But somehow that has not happened with many of the people concerned in this instance.