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"These must be strange days to be a neoconservative," writes Martin Sieff in a recent Salon piece, "caught between exultant hope and wild terror; utterly discredited, yet still securely in power; proven totally wrong on Iraq, yet still determined to believe against all odds that one more wild throw of the dice will recoup all." Sieff notes that despite setbacks, all the key neocons in the administration retain their posts, and they remain determined to realize their bold world-changing agenda. While many predict their imminent demise, and while I would very much like to believe them, I agree with Sieff that the neocons are fiercely determined, have great staying power, and remain highly dangerous to the world—most immediately, to Iran and Syria.
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So let us try to get into the mind of the neocon. Let us just imagine Let’s say you’re a Straussian ideologue assessing the current status of the broad plan that Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser drew up for the Likud government in Israel ten years ago. (That’s the game plan involving "removing Saddam Hussein from power," "rolling back" Syria, and "confronting" Iran. It echoes in the September 2000 "Rebuilding America’s Defenses" report from the neocon Project for a New American Century, which refers to defense of "the homeland," conflates Iraq, Iran and North Korea as threats to that homeland, calls for a shift in U.S. forces from west to southeastern Europe and southeast Asia and otherwise anticipates Bush policy.)
You sit at your desk in your book-lined office, buried in your sophisticated, nuanced thoughts, honed as much by academe as by the Pentagon and the corridors of political power. You have a vision of the world as it should be, which the fate of political appointment has allowed you and your fellows to realize in considerable part so far.
New U.S. bases dot Central Asia for the first time, and more of them now guard our interests along the Arabian littoral, outside the nervous, unwelcoming Saudi kingdom which has long since soured on our presence. Saddam Hussein is overthrown, the new regime fully dependent on our support. The Iraqi people may not like the regime, but that is not really the issue; people unfamiliar with democracy do not understand what sort of government they really need. The same goes for Afghanistan. It will take decades of wise policy to remake these Muslims.
To the extent that Iraqi oil is delivered, it is delivered courtesy of American power. The world must respect that, in this New American Century. In a region of independent rogue states unaligned with major powers, Iraq and Afghanistan are now firmly in our camp. There is much to do to consolidate gains, and not all has gone well. No, indeed much has gone badly wrong. We miscalculated about the oil, the sabotage problem. But there are ways to use the unexpected to maintain the general course: regime change from the Khyber Pass to the borders of Israel (wherever those borders are ultimately fixed). The attainment of geopolitical control over that vast region. The oil, other resources, markets. Leverage against traditional allies in Europe and Japan, and against oil-thirsty, rising China. The historic opportunity to manipulate, mold, or diminish local Islamic extremisms while fostering—by any means necessary—love of the United States. Or if not that, fear of the U.S. and its allies.
It is better to be feared than loved.
Staring out the window at the illuminated monuments to the great—your predecessors—you reflect on how rare your genius is. You smile smugly at the foolishness of the masses, the born-agains, the blessedly manipulated. You cannot tell the president that they are special precisely because they are so dumb; to do that would be to tell your boss that he too, is a gullible fool. But concealing that from him and them is essential to the project. Yes, there are risks. The press may yet make trouble, although few aside from Seymour Hersh have threatened us so far, and most reporters won’t attack us lest they get slapped with the defamation charge… always so useful! In any case we know what the president reads, and how little he understands of what he reads. Writers won’t turn him against us, unless the wrong people explain to him what they wrote.
Yes, we are under attack, various among us, for various reasons. So many hate us and our mission, which in their naiveté they cannot understand. Joseph Wilson, pitting his plebian version of truth against the greater good our deceptions produce, editorialized against our Niger uranium story. That made his CIA wife fair game, definitely. But her outing could hurt us if Bulldog Fitzgerald digs too deep. Yes, a cause for concern in the VP’s office, and for all of us if there’s an indictment. Business dealings have felled one of us, although he served the cause well before stepping down. And our patrons, too, may tread on unsteady ground. More than one Halliburton scandal will likely unfold in the coming weeks; a Parisian court may attack the keystone himself.
D’Amato’s call may continue to resonate, and if it does, where will we be? Would Giuliani or McCain stay the course and keep us on? Would Powell ruin everything, and turn the president against us?
The man in the Oval Office is good and decent, but oh, so impressionable. So far this has worked for us. But if he listens to the wrong people, we suffer. More torture reports will air, and our base, uneasily comfortable with what they have seen so far of Abu Ghraib, may wince at what will come out soon. Hersh has mentioned child-rape in the prison, in the presence of mothers He doesn’t mention that experience has shown that these methods, making use of Arab sexual shame, give us information that saves our troops’ lives!
You sigh deeply. We seem to be keeping the lid on, but yes, this may bring down some of us. More people will vilify us as amoral, brutal, dishonest. Interfering fools! The 9-11 Commission should not have been allowed— or at least, not allowed to announce that there was no "operational connection" between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Ahmad Chalabi insisted on that connection, and on Saddam’s WMD, and on the "cakewalk" we’d have in Iraq. He’s burned bad, and to some extent, we with him. If people start looking at the nephew, and his law firm, and Israeli and Defense Department contactswell, it could be damaging. Such is life. But not fatally so.
You brighten momentarily, sipping your cognac. The Commission blamed the CIA for "intelligence failures," you chuckle, knowing full well that many in the CIA, which you detest for its liberal biases and cowardice, were unwilling to sign off on the WMD reports and the al-Qaeda connection. They haven’t looked closely at the Office of Special Plans, and aren’t likely to under our man Goss. There must be no public discussion of Special Plans, and the background of its staff! Anyway, the rabble all these as details as just that—complicated and confusing bits of information—not shocking revelations about our method. Only the small minority who really follow the news have been influenced by O’Neill those traitors. It helps that Kerry says he too would have gone to war, too, regardless of the explanation used. We may continue to raise the issue of al-Qaeda links as an unresolved one, knowing that— operational connection or no— for the average American, an Arab is an Arab and that’s connection enough. The absence of weapons of mass destruction bothers some, but we’ve finessed this well to date by focusing on the future, not the past, and on the positive: the overthrow of a dictator. Americans don’t like dictators, when they’re told clearly who the dictators are, and that they’re anti-American. And anti-Americans like Michael Moore can be neutralized through careful use of our ties to media, who’ve depicted him as a wild-eyed radical.
You pace your office, alone with your musings. Sure, the Iraqis want us out, immediately. Al-Sadr’s popularity grows. The Sunni and Shiite insurgencies might unite, despite our best efforts. The oil pipelines are so routinely sabotaged that Iraqi production has greatly declined since we invaded, pushing up the price of oil and gas globally. European allies who didn’t back the war continue to resist inclusion in the project. Our wavering allies are withdrawing from the fray. They will all understand soon enough how unwise it was to break ranks with us at this time. The IAEC, and the Europeans, aren’t helping on Iran, downplaying the nuclear threat we need to justify action. But between us and our friends, we’ll deal with the reactors, the mullahs, and the Hizbollah connection
It’d be best to stabilize Iraq first, under Allawi. Strong man, resolute—he can crack down. But even if disorder continues, we can move on with the plan. We got through the Syria Accountability Act. Congress overwhelmingly supports regime change in Iran—no dissent about that! None! We can even use Chalabi’s disgrace in favor of our plans, by blaming any "intelligence failings" on Iranian disinformation! We can encourage our friends in the region to take actions that we cannot. Even if, God forbid, we fall from power, we’ll leave Sen. Kerry with a fait accompli he won’t be able to easily reverse. Anyway he’s saying all the right things about Israel, the wall, the Palestinians, and calling for more pressure on Saudi Arabia. The more we learn about his past, the more like us he seems. If we play our cards right, he may listen to us
But no, no, Bush-Cheney will win. Fear is on our side, and we have the tools to turn it on and off with a few announcements to the press that we’ll never, ever have to explain. The machine we created, so quickly after 9-11—how beautifully it works! How could an exposé, or scandal, or mere popularity contest at the polls undermine our project to secure the Homeland, the realm?
An ambulance siren tears through calm midnight in the nation’s capital, and somehow you feel a sudden sense of unease. No, no, it’s fine. We can still create and manipulate crises. Persia beckonsno way some rabble-rousing nay-sayers can keep us from fulfilling our purposes in the land of Cyrus. We will level mountains!
Those watching most closely, gesticulating from the sidelines, discredit themselves with their wild rhetoric. No one will pay them mind, and if they start to influence people…well… "Get outta line (you smile recalling the 60s tune) the man come, and take you away." We have tools they never had in the 60s.
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We leave you there, neocon, at the peak of your power, in your tortured, amoral, self-righteous, unapologetic, dangerous thoughts. We leave you confidant that the dead (whose numbers you tend to underestimate) have perished in the noblest of causes-which, unfortunately, you cannot openly explicate because people just wouldn’t understand. We leave you caught, as Sieff suggests, between hope and terror, discredited, yet still eager to roll your dice in a high-stakes game featuring whole countries as the tantalizing prize. We leave you impervious to the blood you’ve shed, eager for more. Strange days indeed, evil days that like all else will pass, whether or not you yourself are appropriately punished.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org