NeoCons back to the future

I have to admit I am really confused by the new US neocon strategy to say that they had nothing to do with the failure of the neocon strategy.

Another top neocon, Ken Adelman, had assured the administration in February 2002 that “liberating” Iraq would be a “cakewalk,” but today disavows all responsibility with how the venture has turned out.

There is nothing more annoying than having someone say that a plan is low or even no-risk, and then blame the operator(s) if the plan fails. Reminds me of some big software deals where the salesmen constantly say that everything will just “plug-and-play”, when those who know better understand that they really mean “plug-and-pray”.

Speaking of prayer…

Joshua Muravchik, a leading conservative scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, agreed that the neocon role has been overstated.

“In reality, of course, we don’t wield any of the power that contemporary legend attributes to us. Most of us don’t rise at the crack of dawn to report to powerful jobs in government,” he said in an article in Foreign Policy magazine.

“But it is true that our ideas have influenced the policies of President George W. Bush, as they did those of President Ronald Reagan. That does feel good. Our intellectual contributions helped to defeat Communism in the last century and, God willing, they will help to defeat jihadism in this one.”

In other words, don’t blame us when things fall apart, but we’d sure like to take credit for anything good that happens. Sounds like the sort of consultants you are better off never hiring.

The sad irony to Muravchik’s point is that the Soviet Union unilaterally stood down from the arms race because Gorbachev brought a reasoned and rational focus to his role and called upon Reagan to follow his lead. He started a process whereby the USSR could finally recognize that it had been run so poorly that it was over-committed to the war in Afghanistan, overspending on defense initiatives, and unable to keep up with the economic growth and expansion of the US. He argued for a more diplomatic, less militant, foreign policy, just like he did when he warned that Bush and Blair would regret their decision to invade Iraq.

Frankly, I guess I am truly disappointed by the neocons for mistaking the diplomatic compliance of Reagan and his cooperation with Gorbachev as some kind of clarion call for future half-baked unilateral military intervention into the Middle East. Instead, I thought they would recognize that China’s economic strength and influence in developing markets poses the same challenge to the US that the US once posed to the USSR. I thought they would try to avoid past mistakes (as Gorbachev suggested) rather than become the image of the enemy they thought they destroyed. Perhaps most notably, I do not see how they could have thought that pride and greed are a sound foundation for foreign policy. Harpers provides some insight into how the neocon strategy was a disaster waiting to happen:

The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush’s Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromising form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions.

Of course, if you flatten the playing field and erase the rules, you might not like it when someone shows up that you simply can’t beat, or the tide turns from cooperative to contentious hard work and your hope for return on investment was based entirely on implied rules of engagement. This of course raises the question of whether the neocons were just sitting in the back row making suggestions to the Bush administration, or whether they were actively driving the Iraq bus while Bush gamely rode along?

Slate had an interesting opinion piece in 2004 describing the neocon foreign policy role in the Bush administration:

In December 2002, Wolfowitz, Feith, Wurmser and Vice President Cheney’s national security advisor, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, acting together, maneuvered Condoleezza Rice into appointing Elliott Abrams to the position of special assistant to the president and senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council. This appointment gave the neocons everything they wanted — the NSC, Executive Office of the President, Office of the Vice President, the Pentagon, a cornered director in George Tenet at CIA, and Wurmser at State.

The neocons had control of the information reaching the president and a channel for their pseudo-intelligence product from Wolfowitz and Feith’s secret Pentagon Office of Special Plans. The only wild card was Colin Powell and State’s elite and independent Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR).


INR kept telling Powell the truth about Saddam’s nonexistent WMD. State’s Future of Iraq project, led by a career Foreign Service officer, who was cold-shouldered by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, laid out what might happen if we took over control of Iraq. Unfortunately, even the sober minds of INR could not stop Powell from lending his credibility to the “unfortunate error” show at the U.N. Security Council.

That pretty-much says to me that the whole debacle is, in fact, more proof of the disaster of neocon strategy. If nothing else, the neocons had successfully gained so much control of the administration that there was virtually only one source of information allowed — that which suited the neocon strategy. Such amazing power coupled with blinkered pride, arguably fueled by Halliburtonesque greed, is hardly the sort of thing you can overlook when wondering where things went wrong. I mean they might have been able to make their plan workable in a utopian country endowed with a strong, secure infrastructure and a friendly yet competitive population (in the real world, the only thing close to that is usually a result of years of friendly and progressive economic/public policy balance — not exactly Iraq under Saddam), but to completely tear down all the rules and regulations of a country, fail to establish a secure foundation, and then just expect a “honeypot” approach to attract more good flies than bad…that totally defies the fundamentals of security, as well as common sense.

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