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So you want to be a neoconservative? C’est facile!

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kaganRecently I read that Robert Kagan is the smartest neocon around and, being enormously competitive, I bought a couple of his books– skinny ones–to figure out what makes him so goddamn smart. And then it came to me: I have to spend more time in the south of France! A few of Kagan’s mots juste:

Louis XIV remarked, “L’Etat c’est moi”

Napoleon attempted to promote egalite and fraternite with the sword

France’s proposed defense budget increase will prove, like the force de frappe

Hubert Vedrine coined the term hyperpuissance to describe an American behemoth

But leaving aside French amour propre

Some Frenchmen still yearn for la gloire

Joschka Fischer’s volte face was the most striking

Bourbon kings and other powerful monarchs spoke of raison d’etat

Europeans may want to pursue an accommodating Ostpolitik

The European government and peoples believed in Machtpolitik

The ancient Greeks believed that embedded in human nature was something called thumos

The modern European strategic culture represents a rejection of the evils of Machtpolitik

the dangers that arise from balance of power and raison d’etat

historically minded European Machiavels

raison d’etat and the amorality of Machiavelli’s theories

arguments over Germany’s Ostpolitik

Europeans were still extolling the laws of Machtpolitik

Their actions may be justified by raison d’etat

About Philip Weiss

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51 Responses

  1. libra
    November 14, 2011, 9:09 am

    Well, judging by hard he is to follow, he’s smart but not as smart as Witty.

    • thetumta
      November 16, 2011, 1:12 am

      Oh stop, my rib cage can’t take it. I’m getting to old for this humor. Do mention to Phil that we need an ignore button. Witty will then fade away. He has nothing to contribute. He is the problem.

  2. Shmuel
    November 14, 2011, 9:25 am

    How gauche … I mean droite, or recht as they say in German. Some Italians might argue that he is simply trying to cut a bella figura, using all of these superfluous foreign bons (and not so bons) mots, but what is it the English call someone like that? Ah yes, le pretentious prat.

    • philweiss
      November 14, 2011, 9:54 am

      prat is new to me, shmuel. love it! thanks! (quanto linguas sprechen zie?)

      • LeaNder
        November 14, 2011, 10:31 am

        Phil, that’s almost correct too, almost:

        “sprechen Sie”, the formal address (singular Sie, versus plural “sie” = they) is capitalized. What you want is: Sprichst du? But yes the sound is pretty similar to your “z”.

        Answering your question: At least English, Italian, French, Hebrew and he learns Arabic, there may be more.

      • MRW
        November 14, 2011, 2:45 pm


        There’s sort of a slang here that has evolved around sprechen. As is ‘soda sprechen’ and such. It has the sound of opening beer. ;-) How the hell do you even pronounce Sprichst? Or is that a Spritz?

      • LeaNder
        November 14, 2011, 7:11 pm

        “How the hell do you even pronounce Sprichst?”

        yes, I agree that may be difficult. Here you go by soundbites

        The pronunciation of the speaker on sprechen is more careful. Strictly there is a bit of a range in the phonetic patterns from north-to-south-from-east-to-west.

        In the North the “sp” would be pronounced like in your “spelling”.

      • LeaNder
        November 15, 2011, 8:16 am

        soda sprechen

        You used this before, but if I noticed I surely didn’t understand.

      • Mooser
        November 14, 2011, 4:03 pm

        “prat is new to me, shmuel. “

        Oh, come on, Phil! You’ve never seen a prat fall?

    • LeaNder
      November 14, 2011, 10:15 am

      or recht as they say in German

      Shmuel, Recht (noun, capital letter) means law, right, justice, privilege, due; while the directional or locative left and right would be “links” (left) and “rechts, like turning right or left. …

      • marc b.
        marc b.
        November 14, 2011, 10:27 am

        so is Recht used as a political ‘direction’ as well, like the ‘Linkspartei’, lea?

      • LeaNder
        November 14, 2011, 11:04 am

        Marc, I shortened my response, since it felt patronizing.

        But yes you have compounds like “Linkspartei” and e.g. Rechtspopulist = right-wing populist.

        There is one reason I left that out, since we occasionally use “s” as a glide in compounds. Like Rechtsanwalt, is a lawyer. Here the “s” is a glide the two nouns are Recht + Anwalt, law and lawyer.

      • Shmuel
        November 14, 2011, 10:34 am

        Oops. I bet Kagan has a good editor.

      • MRW
        November 14, 2011, 2:49 pm

        You learnin arabik, Shmuel?

      • Shmuel
        November 14, 2011, 3:46 pm

        You learnin arabik, Shmuel?

        Took a course in spoken (Palestinian) last year. Hope to try it out soon in Falasteen, where I expect to get plenty of looks of incomprehension and barely suppressed giggles ;-)

      • MRW
        November 14, 2011, 2:45 pm

        (noun, capital letter)

        Jesus, no wonder old German texts look so weird.

    • Mooser
      November 14, 2011, 1:45 pm

      “How gauche … I mean droite, or recht as they say in German. Some Italians might argue that he is simply trying to cut a bella figura, using all of these superfluous foreign bons (and not so bons) mots, but what is it the English call someone like that? Ah yes, le pretentious prat.”

      If I hadn’t wasted my chance to learn Yiddish from mayvens, it could be me talking like that, instead of Kagan!

      • marc b.
        marc b.
        November 14, 2011, 3:34 pm

        If I hadn’t wasted my chance to learn Yiddish from mayvens, it could be me talking like that, instead of Kagan!

        don’t insult yourself, mooser. you could never talk like kagan. and he could never talk like you.

      • Mooser
        November 14, 2011, 6:26 pm

        “don’t insult yourself, mooser.”

        Like somebody else could do it better? I think not! With me I get personal service.

  3. Kathleen
    November 14, 2011, 9:29 am

    Who thinks he is so smart? Kagan and team want the next bloody stop to be Iran

    Arrogant in response to someone’s serious question.

    Sometimes I have found myself agreeing with some of the things he says

    Mearsheimer and Walt mention Kagan in their book

    And thanks Phil for alerting us to Kagan joining the Romney team
    ” In an April 2003 issue of the Jewish Forward magazine, we read “As President Bush attempted to sell the … war in Iraq, America’s most important Jewish organizations rallied as one to his defense. In statement after statement community leaders stressed the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.”

    In the 1 October 2001 issue of the Weekly Standard, Israeli apologists Robert Kagan and William Kristol called for regime change in Iraq after changing the regime in Afghanistan. They and the cadre of Israeli apologists (both leaning to the Democratic Party and leaning to the neocon wing of the Republican party) repeated these calls often in countless interviews and articles. One could fill a whole book on these quotes but it is the actions of Israeli advocates within Congress and within the administration carried more weight. Of course those within government are functionaries who pay heed to where their money and support comes from when elections come around. You can bet that those inside the government watched carefully and got the messages when the the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations had Iraq on top of its agenda on July 26, 2002

    The history of this period leading up to the war will be written by historians when all the documents are declassified and/or leaked from the hundreds of Israel-first think tanks and other lobby organizations become available. But enough material exists to draw a rather somber reminder for those who now bought the non-sense that Iran is a threat to the US. I think it is critical for people who want to understand and hopefully prevent the upcoming war on Iran to first understand the lobby’s role in pushing the war on Iraq. While I wrote about this issue before (see for example, Connect the Dots) the most thorough research on this issue was done by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt. So here is the section of the work of these two distinguished professors that is worth reading or rereading. This will help start the process of rethinking the slippery slope that the endless and misnamed “war on terrorism” has been taking people and why. Only such an understanding disseminated to people around the world who then act could help humanity avoid the international catastrophe that would be an attack on Iran (which would make the mayhem in Iraq look like a walk in the park by comparison). Go to excerpt of Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy “

  4. pabelmont
    November 14, 2011, 9:40 am

    Wow! Thanks! What a smarter-than-anyone-else guy this smarter-than-the-other-neocons Robert Kagan must be!!

    Why, I could spend whole minutes on Google looking up this stuff (“greek:thumos” -> high spirits).

    And how really, really dumb the other neocons must be if they cannot flaunt such knowledge with such flair, such elan, such je ne sais quoi.

    But, smart or not, they (collectively) got USA into two really, really stupid and costly wars, and are working on a third. So don’t knock them too much. Results count as much as brains, honor, humanity, and all that other soft, mushy stuff.

    • philweiss
      November 14, 2011, 9:53 am

      i agree pab, that is their achievement. they actually successfully marketed their terrible ideas

      • Pamela Olson
        Pamela Olson
        November 14, 2011, 12:48 pm

        They didn’t have to market that hard, apparently. As the line goes in Holiday Inn, “The lady must have been willing.” They waited until Americans wanted war (i.e., revenge) and then swooped in en masse. And the Defense “community” and journalists were just fine with it.

        I hope they don’t succeed again with this Iran nonsense. It will be like Bush’s second term. One term could be seen as a tragic mistake. (I know Bush probably didn’t really win that one, but enough people voted for him to make it close.) Two terms proved we were idiots. We deserve what we get, but why should the rest of the world suffer so much?

        A supposedly very smart guy in my think tank recommended Kagan to me specifically, and I couldn’t deal with his short-sighted arrogance. Where do you even begin with someone like that? Guess my friend is smart only in a very limited sense — the perfect type loved by Washington and major universities. (All he said about my book was that it made him hungry for Palestinian food.)

    • Kathleen
      November 14, 2011, 10:15 am

      “Results count as much as brains”
      And the results of their brutal policies continue to be death and destruction. Not sure who considers this “smart” except other psychopaths.

      Most of these individuals would never encourage their own children to put their lives on the line for these destructive policies in action. Kagan is another yellow bellied chickenhawk. Willing to send your family off to unjust and bloody wars for his and his fellow neo cons agenda. They do not give a rats ass about the American “boys and girls” sent off to Iraq based on their lies.

      George Carlin says it best
      “we like war”
      In 1992 10 major wars.

  5. Kathleen
    November 14, 2011, 10:05 am

    Phil the BBC World Service just did a fairly lengthy segment on outside Foreign donations to Palestinian human rights groups being cut.

    Focus on “foreign meddling” No mention of US funding being used to help build illegal settlements.

    think you would be interested. Can not find the link

  6. MarkF
    November 14, 2011, 10:52 am

    Didn’t these guys HATE France in the run up to the Iraq war?

    They must be smart. They’re able to show their deep appreciation for the language while maintaining contempt for the country and it’s people.

  7. Eva Smagacz
    Eva Smagacz
    November 14, 2011, 1:18 pm

    If vocabulary gives an insight into the depth of one’s erudition, I think there is a compelling argument that Mr. Kagan’s language studies need to continue. Umberto Eco he is not.

  8. G. Seauton
    G. Seauton
    November 14, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Wow. That Kagan is so damn SMART. All those foreign words! Not that he had to spell them right or even use them correctly, mind you. That job probably fell to his editor.

    Of course, it’s handy to keep a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases around, or some other such reference.

    But anyone can use transliterated ancient Greek in their writing, coughing up such obscurities as thumos in their printed texts. The real trick is to use Greek words in speaking–in the ancient Greek script, with accents, breathings, and all the rest. It’s a feat not just anyone can pull off.

    Doing that makes you a neocon’s neocon, the smartest of the smart.

  9. November 14, 2011, 2:02 pm

    Another stupid “competition” that “civilised” people like to engage.
    “He is the Smartest”, and “I have the biggest cookie”.
    It is like some kind of a battle in a playground.
    Who is to say that “he is the smartest” ? In what?
    What does it really mean?
    Does it mean anything?
    Like, for example, him and another 24 “smart” fellows are going to make decison if the US is going into the war with Iran or not??
    From what the Friedman revealed in the public interview, “it took about 25 people in the US to start the war with Iraq”.
    So is it that kind of ” smartness” that is broadly admired??
    Or maybe in the country of blind men, one-eyed man is the king??

  10. MRW
    November 14, 2011, 2:51 pm

    being enormously competitive


  11. MRW
    November 14, 2011, 3:01 pm

    I wish I could find my 1906 The King’s English by Fowler & Fowler, which is the best put-down book for a Kagan ever written, even though its dated type makes it hard to read. The rule is that all foreign words that can must be anglicized in English—valet must be pronounced val-ett, chauffeur must be pronounced show-fer—and that writing foreign words when English words will do is considered the height of bad taste and indicative of a poor public school education (they call a private school education public school, I think). . . but Fowler & Fowler said it so much better.

  12. November 14, 2011, 3:04 pm

    and here is a nice song, dedicated specialement for Philip, so he can practice his Frrrrreeench, ( and he will not have to compete). Whew.
    I hope they don’t sing anything bad.
    I have no f…rench idea.
    I like the song though.
    Almost everything, sang in French, sounds soo fancy, soo sophistiquee, soo uniques. Magnifique.

    • Mooser
      November 14, 2011, 3:52 pm

      I won’t hear a word against Michel Legrand. A ton of saccharin and Streisand are more than balanced by “You Must Believe in Spring”.

      • November 14, 2011, 4:14 pm

        Who is Michel Legrand , mon cheri Mooserrrrr??
        Je suis ignorante.
        Merci pour google interpreter.

      • Mooser
        November 14, 2011, 4:22 pm

        French popular composer. Wrote many wonderful songs. And music for Barbara Striesand’s “Yentl” among other things.

      • November 14, 2011, 4:27 pm

        Merci beaucoup ma très chère for the info.
        Now we know everything.

  13. seanmcbride
    November 15, 2011, 9:28 am

    Most of the self-described neoconservative “intellectuals” associated with Norman Podhoretz’s and Irving Kristol’s ideological network have always struck me as second-rate minds — obsessive-compulsive ethnocentrism tends to radically lower one’s IQ. It’s no wonder that they engineered the worst foreign policy disaster in American history without learning a single lesson from the experience.

    Some of these people were my professors and classmates — they were not the brightest bulbs on the chandelier. Steven Pinker is brilliant. Stephen Greenblatt is brilliant. Ray Kurzweil is brilliant. Robert Kagan is not brilliant. He’s basically a hack and a mediocre propagandist for an increasingly tiresome ethnic nationalist movement. All of these neocons are interchangeable clones of one another — there is not a creative or original mind in the bunch.

    It’s no wonder that Phil Weiss found them to be so oppressive and annoying.

    • LeaNder
      November 15, 2011, 10:13 am

      Sean, I never heard about Pinker, looks interesting, Stephen Greenblatt was one of my absolute favorites, he still is. No doubt you are right about Kurzweil.

      I’ve read Kagan’s Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order.It felt it mirrored to a large extend the US political climate at the time, but from my point view didn’t offer a genuinely new perspective, but seemed more a summary of what I had read before.

      How dated and timed it was you can easily deduct from the fact that it is sold now as a used book starting from 0,01 € via Amazon over here.

      I agree with Steffen Dederich, enlightened diplomacy or military force?, 14. Mai 2003;

      Although Kagan appears to be objective at first side, his terminology and concept of reasoning foster the image of the Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”. For he perceives defence spending as a indicator of strength. It is far fetched to criticise politics of integration and diplomacy on the basis of them symbolising weakness. If the Second World War has not let to insights and a different more pacifistic approach in the mind of Europeans what else could have done so? Certainly not weakness, but rather experience.

      • seanmcbride
        November 15, 2011, 11:08 am


        I can’t think of any neoconservatives who aren’t tacky and heavy-handed propagandists (Podhoretz, Ledeen, Perle, Kagan, Kristol, Pipes, Feith, Frum, etc.). Most of them are driven by the compulsion to rationalize their neurotic and obsessive-compulsive ethnocentrism. Mainly they are in the business of stridently dictating to others whom they should hate, punish, cripple, crush, obliterate, etc. This is not a rhetorical style that is generally favored by first-rate minds. :)

        Possible exception: Saul Bellow may have had some neoconservative sympathies. But Bellow is a great novelist whose virtues do not rely on crude xenophobia. I overlook his prejudices in the same way that I overlook the prejudices of T.S. Eliot — their work greatly transcends their petty biases. Not so for the neocons. They are stuck in the muck and never take flight. They are appalling.

        Robert Kagan will have zero impact on Western intellectual history other than as a warning about the dangers of inciting disastrous wars on the basis of weak and distorted thinking.

    • philweiss
      November 15, 2011, 1:46 pm

      that’s fascinating, sean. though pinker hung out with leon wieseltier. i wonder if he has kept his mouth shut on the zionist project.
      also: how soon before with a thunderclap someone in the new republic announces, im for democracy between the river and the sea! as if it were their idea?

      • seanmcbride
        November 15, 2011, 1:56 pm


        I get the vague impression (I haven’t looked into it too closely) that Pinker may not be too progressive on Zionist issues. But I greatly admire his work in linguistics and cognitive science. I tend to set aside the politics of really great minds and focus on enjoying their best work.

        Regarding thunderclaps: I definitely feel something building in the air regarding a radical shift in thinking about Zionism in the mainstream Jewish community. Jews overall are too smart to permit themselves to be backed into the self-destructive corner that Netanyahu and Lieberman (and Hagee and Santorum) are trying to drive them. At least that is my hope. The entire world has a major stake in the outcome of this debate — and Americans especially.

  14. November 15, 2011, 10:20 am

    Phil: “I have to spend more time in the south of France!”

    or in Belgium, where Kagan wrote “Paradise & Power” laboring, struggling, shivering in his drafty garret while his devoted wife, Victoria Nuland (1) (nee Nudelman), so believed in her husband’s genius that she scrubbed floors (2) at NATO headquarters in Brussels to keep the wolf from the door of the tormented genius’s Dickensian digs.

    (1) Nuland, educated at Choate and Brown, is daughter of Bronx-born physician/Yale lecturer and author. Among Nuland’s accomplishments:
    -she was awarded the Secretary of Defense’s Distinguished Civilian Service medal for her work with the Russians during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
    {Nuland’s got a thing for bombing. Kagan — merely bombast. Although, he said last week that the “least bad option for dealing with Iran is a military attack, preferably by US.” }

    (2)-she was the Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO from July 2000 to July 2003. {the bit about floor-scrubbing was a lie} There she was instrumental in NATO’s invocation of Article 5 of its charter – “an attack on one ally is an attack on all” – in support of the United States after September 11, 2001. {the first time in its history that Art. 5 of the NATO charter was invoked, and, according to Ellen Tauscher, the basis for US proposal to place anti-missile shield in Ukraine to defend Turkey from an Iranian missile strike. I shit you not; click podcastat , go to Q&A }

    -she was Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Cheney from July 2003 until May 2005. {maybe the bit about scrubbing the floor wasn’t a lie after all}

  15. seanmcbride
    November 15, 2011, 11:28 am

    Is it possible that Philip Weiss is Theodor Herzl 2? Perhaps. :)

    In any case, the most interesting Jewish minds around the world these days are challenging the basic premises of Zionism in interesting and creative ways, not serving as mindless and robotic Likud propagandists. And what could be more Jewish than challenging the status quo?

    One wonders if the Kagans and Kristols ever feel the subversive impulse to free their minds and pursue the truth wherever it leads. Probably not.

    • LeaNder
      November 15, 2011, 12:28 pm

      Sean, Phil wrote a really brilliant little piece a couple of years back, meditating on what he would have been under different times and different circumstances.

      I like his unpretentiousness and although I obviously mirror my own feelings on our topic here into his contributions, I doubt his mediation included the idea he maybe would have been Theodor Herzl at Herzl’s time; in spite of the fact that Herzl was a journalist too. But it surely stated that under specific historic circumstances he may well have been a Zionists; I find that rather obvious.

      • seanmcbride
        November 15, 2011, 1:34 pm


        To be clear on what I meant by Theodor Herzl 2: I’ve been thinking for quite some some that a visionary needs to arise in the Jewish world to rethink the entire Zionist project from the ground up and either radically revise its core premises, ideology and policies, or possibly even discard it altogether as a failed experiment. It’s not impossible that a Theodor Herzl 2 might completely overturn the thinking and work of Theodor Herzl 1.

        I noticed some of Phil’s thought-provoking, daring, seeringly truthful and intellectually muscular articles back in the 1990s and wondered then if he might be the man for the job. ;) Certainly he has a more formidable and original mind than Robert Kagan or any of the neocons.

        I also noticed that Uri Avery hit upon this Herzl 2 theme last month in a fine article “The Second Herzl” This is the kind of vigorous and innovative intellectual exploration that is missing entirely in the writings of neocons like Robert Kagan.

      • LeaNder
        November 15, 2011, 2:52 pm

        OK, I understand, you had this in mind:

        A second Herzl could, perhaps, effect such a miracle, against the odds. In the words of the first Herzl: “If you want it, it is not a fairy tale.”

        concerning this:

        I noticed some of Phil’s thought-provoking, daring, seeringly truthful and intellectually muscular articles back in the 1990s and wondered then if he might be the man for the job. ;)

        Yes, I seem to remember he first appeared on your lists (one of the names I had to look up) slightly before you linked to his Observer blog. Your lists, links and knowledge helped me a lot to stir around the dissonance of confused voices in the post 911 US universe. In hindsight, I even enjoyed our “clashes”. Remember the alleged list take-over? ;)

    • Kathleen
      November 15, 2011, 12:31 pm

      good one

  16. thetumta
    November 16, 2011, 1:41 am

    Lost me on this thread. I’m guessing you’ve run out of time(Uri does as well). Next 90 days will be interesting. The Iranian people are going to step up in spite of their disadvantage. It does happen. Once again many, innocent American patriots will pay the price while the Israelis will be nowhere to be found. We’ll have to clean up yet another of their pathetic messes. The Iranian people aren’t going to say, “Oh well”. Somebody is going to have to kill a whole bunch of them before the survivors submit. Nothing theoretical here, if you’ve ever done it.

    This time the weapons should turn south on the way in. Just deny it. Their just gone.
    Any patriots in the Pentagon?

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