Neo-conservative (neocon) writers in America provide intellectual firepower to the Bush administration as it continues to develop its national security strategy based on the doctrine of pre-emptive war. Necons have become increasingly vocal about an apocalyptic conflict involving the US and the Muslim world. Norman Podhoretz, their godfather, is a former leftist who has made an ideological U-Turn. In the September issue of Commentary, he calls for en masse regime change in the Middle East. Podhoretz’s list of the “axis of evil” goes beyond the three countries cited in President Bush’s State of the Union speech, and includes Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, the Palestinian National Authority, Saudi Arabia and Syria. He wants the US to unilaterally overthrow these regimes in the Arab world and replace them with democracies cast in the Jeffersonian mold.
But what neocons seek is not just a political transformation of the Muslim Middle East. Their end game is to bring about “the long-overdue internal reform and modernization of Islam.” These ideologues recognize that such American military intervention will provoke terrorist attacks on Americans, both at home and abroad. But, in their view, the terrorists will unwittingly provide the US with the pretext for even stronger military intervention. Neocons believe that the US will emerge triumphant in the end, provided that it shows the will to fight the war against militant Islam to a successful conclusion, and provided too, that it has “the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated parties.”
The neocons pride themselves on being politically incorrect. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, notes on the magazine’s web site that if terrorists from Muslim countries detonate a “dirty bomb” in the United States, the US should launch a nuclear attack on Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Lowry justifies this outrageous proposal by portraying it as a deterrent to terrorist attacks, believing that Muslim militants would not want to risk the destruction of their holiest site.
Professor Elliot Cohen is the most influential neocon in academe. From his perch at John Hopkins, Cohen refers to the war against terrorism by a chilling name: World War IV (citing the Cold War as WWIII). His viewpoint is diametrically opposed to that of the distinguished historian of war, Sir Michael Howard, who has cautioned that the fight against terrorism is not even a war, let alone a world war. Cohen claims America is on the good side in this war, just like it has been in all prior world wars, and the enemy is militant Islam, not some abstract concept of “terrorism.” In his view, Afghanistan was merely the first campaign in WWIV, and several more are likely to follow.
Cohen argues that the US should throw its weight behind pro-Western and anticlerical forces in the Muslim world, beginning with the overthrow of the theocratic state in Iran and its replacement by a “moderate or secular” government. He was one of the first neocons to call for an attack on Iraq, and is not bothered by the fact that there is no credible evidence linking Iraq with the events of September 11 or with al-Qaida. Cohen says that while America scored a decisive victory against the Taliban, they were not the hardest side to beat. Noting that the US used aging B-52s to bomb the Taliban, Cohen calls for increasing US military spending by at least $20 billion a year, so that America can modernize its military and be capable of taking on any and all enemies around the globe.
Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum is an especially strident neocon. He opines that US academics are trying to sugar coat the true meaning of jihad, and thereby hide its violent and political character. In the November issue of Commentary, he cites numerous Islamic scholars–most of them non-Muslim–who state that jihad is confined to militarily defensive engagements, and its primary meaning is the attainment of moral self-improvement. This view is, of course, shared by the Islamic Ulema throughout the world.
Pipes contends that bin Laden and jihadists worldwide understand the meaning of jihad better than the academics, who have merely become apologists for Islam. He alleges that fourteen centuries of Islamic history confirm the bin Laden view, since jihad has been used as an offensive weapon for expanding Muslim political power. Showing his biased reading of history, Pipes has concluded that only one out of the first 78 battles in Islamic history was a defensive battle. When groups such as the Council of American-Islamic Relations contend that jihad is not a holy war, Pipes argues that they are engaged in spreading misinformation, like the Soviets did during WWIII. He sums up his case by saying, “jihad was part of the warp and woof not only of pre-modern Muslim doctrine but of pre-modern Muslim life.”
Last week the neocons quietly launched a bipartisan Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. One of its prominent members is the 81-year old George Schulz, now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Schulz served as Secretary of State in the Reagan administration and Treasury Secretary in the Nixon administration. Several key members of the Bush administration have worked for him–including Dick Cheney, Paul O’Neill and Donald Rumsfeld–while Colin Powell worked at the National Security Council when Schulz was Secretary of State. In a recent interview, Schulz called Saddam Hussain a menace to peace, and said that he would be surprised if the US does not initiate military action against Iraq by the end of January. His words, considered “tracer fire” by US journalists, confirm the hypothesis held by many peace activists in America and Europe that the Bush administration will merely use UN Resolution 1441 as a cover to wage war against Iraq.
The neocons are determined to bring their apocalyptic vision to reality at all cost. Critiquing their worldview, Philip Stephens writes in the Financial Times that “in the long term even a nation as uniquely powerful as the US cannot remake the political systems at the heart of the Islamic world: not in 30 years and probably not in 100.” Stephens correctly points out the dangers in pursuing such a myopic policy. The Muslim world will view a string of US military attacks on Muslim countries as the aggression of an oil-thirsty superpower on the Muslim world, not a march to liberate people from tyranny. In the end, the neocons noble but foolish designs will come to nothing.
AHMAD FARUQUI, an economist, is a fellow with the American Institute of International Studies and the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org