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If President Bush achieved nothing else in his Inaugural Address last week, he at least provided fodder for media pundits to chew on for a solid week or more.

This is an unusual accomplishment, even for inaugural addresses, most of which are endured and then ignored by those whose job it is to listen to them and talk and write about them.

It was predictable that Republicans would like the speech, but what was notable about responses to it was what the neo-conservatives had to say. “Say” is perhaps not quite the word.

Their reaction was less one of verbal articulation than the kind of gushing one hears in tidal waves and mud slides. The neo-cons liked the speech. They should have, since they essentially wrote it.

The neo-conservative influence on the inaugural address is obvious from its text. The president’s unqualified endorsement of pop utopianism, the Wilsonian principle that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world” is exactly what neo-cons have been peddling for decades.

It reflects their breezy assumption that “democracy” and “liberty” are virtual synonyms (an idea largely foreign to both classical political theory and the Founding Fathers, who thought they had established a republic that mixed forms of government, not a pure democracy). It accepts without question the assumption that “freedom” as the West understands it is a universal value for the whole world and can be institutionalized only in Western political forms.

And from those flawed premises, it draws the non sequitur that American foreign policy should therefore export freedom (meaning “democracy”) everywhere. The premises, the flawed logic, and the reckless conclusion are all neo-conservative commonplaces.

But the speech not only reflects neo-conservative ideology; it was in large part the work of neo-conservative hands. The Washington Postnoted that neo-cons like Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and “a leading neoconservative thinker,” advised the president and his speechwriters on the address.[Speech Not a Sign of Policy Shift, Officials Say, Washington Post, Jan 21, 2005]

So were neo-conservatives Victor Davis Hanson and Charles Krauthammer, and so was Israeli politician (and neo-conservative) Nathan Sharansky, whom the president invited to the White House in November to talk about his own book on exporting democracy.

Predictably, the neo-cons not only helped write the speech but managed the gushing about it afterwards. “It was a rare inaugural speech that will go down as a historic speech, I believe,” Mr. Kristol swooned to the Post. “His importance as a world leader will turn out to be far larger than the sort of tactical issues that are widely debated and for which he is sometimes reviled,” neo-conservative kingpin Richard Perle solemnly pronounced a few days later. “Put this in a historic perspective: He’s already created profound change. All around the Middle East, they’re talking about the issue of democracy. They’re talking about his agenda. It’s an extraordinary thing.”

The neo-con domination of the inaugural address of course reflects their own continuing domination of the administration itself, now entrenched even more powerfully than in Mr. Bush’s first term. Just as the first term brought us war in Iraq, so the second we can expect to bring us wars—well—just about wherever the neo-cons want to wage them. By the logic of Mr. Bush’s speech, that could be almost anywhere that doesn’t conform to what he and they want.

As yet another neo-con gusher, Jonah Goldberg, affirmed, Mr. Bush’s foreign policy is “truly revolutionary.” In that description he concurs with liberal Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who writes that the president’s “goals are now the antithesis of conservatism. They are revolutionary.”

That’s OK, you see, because “the United States is a revolutionary power,” and Mr. Bush has now “found his way back to the universalist principles that have usually shaped American foreign policy, regardless of the nature of the threat.”

What is interesting here is not the flawed analysis of what has “usually shaped” our foreign policy but the convergence of neo-conservatism and liberalism. It’s interesting because for a generation it has been the constant theme of Old Right criticism of neo-conservatism that it is largely just liberal wine in a new bottle.

Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were liberals, and all remain neo-conservative heroes. Their foreign policies, and the words with which they defended and explained them, were barely distinguishable from what Mr. Bush wrapped himself and the nation in last week. The president perhaps accomplished something else in his address: He confirmed once and for all that the neo-conservatism to which he has delivered his administration and the country is fundamentally indistinguishable from the liberalism many conservatives imagine he has renounced and defeated.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Neocons 
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It didn’t take the neoconservatives long to figure out the real truth about the election and explain to us, hanging breathless, what we should think about it.

David Brooks in the New York Times was perhaps the first to unveil it to the rest of us out here in the boonies.

The truth, you see, is that “it is certainly wrong” that the “moral issue” was the driving force in the election. That delusion comes from a “poorly worded question” in the exit polls.

“When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote,”Mr. Brooks writes,

“voters were given the option of saying ‘moral values.’ But that phrase can mean anything—or nothing. Who doesn’t vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.” [The Values-Vote Myth, November 6, 2004]

And if you want a misleading result before you ask the question, you get neocon propaganda. Neoconservatives don’t like the “moral issue” or the white Christian evangelicals who take that issue seriously enough to vote on it.

What the neoconservatives care about is foreign policy, especially how all those white Christian cattle in the backwaters can be rounded up to fight the Middle East wars the neocons are slobbering to wage—World War IV,” as neocon guru Norman Podhoretz likes to call it.

Mr. Brooks, despite occasional reservations about the Iraq boondoggle, is on board for that agenda too, and much of his column sought to explain how the election was really “a broad victory for[President] Bush” and that a national consensus behind the “war on terror” was what led to his victory.

Yet, as I have noted before, only 51 percent of the voters supported Mr. Bush at all, and while he did win the election, there was nothing “broad” about it.

The broad victory was not that of Mr. Bush and his foreign policy but of the moral issue—the massive and simultaneous success of 11 state ballot measures that rejected same-sex marriage.

There’s no “misleading question” involved here. It was straight-forward and so simple even neocons could grasp it, which they do, which is why they are so eager to explain it away before the rest of the country starts talking about matters they don’t want to talk about.

The neoconservatives of course are not the only people who don’t want to talk about such matters—namely, the moral direction of the nation and its culture. The Republican establishment doesn’t want to talk about it either, which is why, as the Washington Post reported last week, evangelicals had to drag the GOP kicking and screaming to support the marriage amendments at all.

In Michigan, state Sen. Alan Cropsey, sponsor of a bill to ban homosexual marriage, told the Post “the Republican Party was not helpful at all. It’s not like they were the instigators. They were the Johnny-come-latelies, if anything.” Several other activists say the same.

So far from Republicans or the White House using the ballot measures to crank out the evangelical vote, the evangelicals themselves—and in some areas Roman Catholic groups—created the movement. Evangelical leader Charles Colson says, “The White House guys were kind of resisting it [the marriage issue] on the grounds that ‘We haven’t decided what position we want to take on that.’”[Evangelicals Say They Led Charge For the GOP, By Alan Cooperman and Thomas B. Edsall, November 8, 2004]

What the election returns really tell us, then, has little to do with President Bush (who a week before the election defended “rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do,” and explicitly renounced the GOP platform on same-sex marriage on ABC’s Good Morning America), let alone his foreign policy.

What they tell us is that the Republican Party including its top leader still doesn’t get it and that it still prefers to take its signals from neoconservatives like Mr. Brooks and the cultural and ideological ghetto they represent.

The White House and the GOP didn’t want to support the grassroots movement against same-sex marriage because the people who staff those institutions are more comfortable with the people who write the Washington Post and the New York Times than with the Middle Americans whose votes they desperately want and need.

It’s not easy to argue that a party able to win the White House and both houses of Congress is the Stupid Party, but stupidity is largely a matter of being unable to learn, and what this election tells us more than anything else is that, at least up until Election Day, the Republican Party had learned nothing.

Nor has Mr. Brooks. He and his neocon allies now have four more years to plot how to derail the Middle American Revolution toward which this election clearly points.

If Mr. Bush is not stupid, he’ll derail the neocons from the White House now.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Classic, 2004 Election, Neocons 
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If neither of the two major presidential candidates excites you very much, maybe you should consider staying home on Election Day and reading a good book. A good book to read on that day or others is Chilton Williamson Jr.‘s just-published The Conservative Bookshelf.Even if you don’t like it, it will tell you about a lot of other books you might like better.

The Conservative Bookshelf is a collection of fairly brief chapters about some 50 classic works of conservatism. “Classic works” does not include Rush Limbaugh or David Frum but real classics by real writers. Mr. Williamson, the former book review editor at National Review and current senior editor for books at Chronicles and the author of several novels and non-fiction books himself, knows the difference between a real classic and the mental belches that today often masquerade as “conservatism.”

Hence, what The Conservative Bookshelf tells us about is what real conservatism is, and it’s definitely not what the Republican Party is selling. “High-powered, high-pressured modern society has largely succeeded in reducing conservatism from a broadly informed religious, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic tradition to a narrow and shallow party politics that often amounts to nothing more than a party line,” Mr. Williamson writes in his introduction. “The Republican Party is the present embodiment of this politics in the United States; yet it has not always been so.”

He readily acknowledges that a Republican political leader like Robert A. Taft—a strong constitutionalist and anti-internationalist—was “the greatest congressional spokesman in his time for the conservative political tradition.”

But Taft’s days are long gone, as are those when conservatism was defined by either the GOP’s “Taft wing” or its intellectual mentors, most of whose books Mr. Williamson discusses knowledgeably.

The conservative classics range from St. Augustine, Cicero and Edmund Burke to C.S. Lewis and British political theorist Michael Oakeshott, with chapters on contemporary figures like Pat Buchanan,Peter Brimelow and others thrown in (purely in the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit I’m one of them). Conspicuous by their absence are the neo-conservatives who today have come to dominate what the media define as “conservatism.” Mr. Williamson has reasons for not including them.

“Neoconservatives are distinguished from traditional conservatives,” he writes, “not least by their determination to deny notions of peculiar national and cultural identities, which they seek to replace with the fantastical one of the First Universal Nation. Most important, neoconservatives have relentlessly promoted the secularization of government and of society to an extent that is wholly at odds with the explicitly Christian character of the Western tradition.”

He acknowledges that neo-cons have held some ideas in common with traditional conservatives and have come up with some interesting policy discussions, but there’s not much to include from them in a book like this. At their best, the neo-cons may know all about the shortcomings of federal urban policy, but most are neither very conservative nor very deep.

By now you’re probably catching the drift of what Mr. Williamson means by “conservatism.” What he means is what is today called paleo-conservatism,” and it is called that because what is called “neo-conservatism” has largely displaced it. Mr. Williamson’s description of “paleo-conservatism” is clear enough:

Christian faith, national sovereignty and cultural identity, federalism, republicanism, restraint of capitalism, community,agrarianism, and homocentric environmentalism.” Traditional, paleo or “old conservatism” is therefore not identical with libertarianism (which is for unrestrained capitalism and cares little for community and cultural identity) or “isolationism.”

Several of the authors Mr. Williamson includes are or were militant anti-communist interventionists during the Cold War—Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham and Pat Buchanan, among others.

Indeed, Mr. Williamson suggests that the very word “conservatism”no longer very well applies to what he’s talking about. “The primary distinction within the conservative tradition,” he writes, is “the difference between a conservatism founded uncompromisingly on eternal principles and the conservatism that appeals to historical context and the status quo, prudence and pragmatism.”

The first group, which is where Mr. Williamson and his paleo allies are coming from, he prefers to call “Rightists.” Only the second is “conservative” in the sense that it “seeks to conserve what exists in the present.”

The great dilemma that conservatives who are “Rightists” are coming to face is how they can retain loyalty to what prevails in this country today and remain wedded to their vision of eternal principles.

They are by no means the first generation of the real right to face that dilemma. Many of the thinkers whom Mr. Williamson discusses in his book faced it also in their own times. Reading his account of how they resolved it just might help real conservatives today deal with the same problem.

If you face that dilemma yourself, maybe you should read the book.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, Neocons 
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With all the chest-thumping and flag-waving the Republican Convention contributed to Western civilization last month, President Bush finally got the bounce in the polls that may well keep him in the White House for the next four years. If so, what will he and his party do and where will they move?

In the New York Times Magazine of Aug. 29, just before the convention gathered, columnist David Brooks tells us what he and his neoconservative colleagues have in mind. If you think it’s what most conservatives want, take a closer look.

“Should Bush lose,” Mr. Brooks warns, the party “will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody,” with civil wars between foreign policy realists and “democracy-promoting Reaganites” (apparently not the “foreign policy-realist Reaganites”),“the immigrant-bashing nativists vs. the free marketeers,”(apparently not the immigration-controlling free marketeers“), etc.

You begin to get the picture. Every dog would get to bark except those Mr. Brooks wants to muzzle, and those just happen to be—well—the conservatives. [How to Reinvent the G.O.P. By David Brooks, August 29, 2004 ]

That’s because Mr. Brooks believes that “conservatism” in the sense the term has been used for the last several decades is defunct, and in this he and Pat Buchanan, who says the same thing in his new book Where the Right Went Wrong, are in agreement.

Mr. Buchanan, however, believes the right—and with it the GOP—should resurrect something like old conservatism. Mr. Brooks doesn’t.

The great virtue of Mr. Brooks’ article is that it pretty much settles once and for all whether the neoconservatism he represents is really conservatism in the traditional sense or not.

Many neocons, especially when attacking real conservatives or claiming the conservative mantle for themselves, say it is. But it isn’t, as Mr. Brooks is honest enough to make clear.

What then should the Republican Party do? In Mr. Brooks’ view, it should announce, as the front cover of the magazine proclaims in displaying his article, “The Era of Small Government is Over.” The future of the Republican Party, Mr. Brooks tells us, lies in “progressive conservatism,” which gets us back to the “Republican tradition” of “strong government.”

“Long before it was the party of Tom DeLay,” he writes, using Mr. DeLay as a kind of metaphor for “small government conservatism,”

“the G.O.P. was a strong government/progressive conservative party. It was the party of Lincoln, and thus of Hamilton. Today, in other words, the Republican Party doesn’t need another revolution. It just needs a revival. It needs to learn from the ideas that shaped the party when it was born.”

Well, actually, it wasn’t Mr. DeLay who made the GOP “small government.” It was people like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and the conservatism to which they adhered.

The reason they did and the reason they succeeded is that there was a large constituency in the country for resisting the leviathan state that liberalism created and championed.

What Mr. Brooks and his “progressive conservatism” are proposing is to dump that kind of conservatism and those who favored it.

Among the “tasks that strong government conservatism will champion” are fighting the “war on Islamic Extremism and promoting “social mobility.”

We know what the former means—perpetual war with the Muslim world. Mr. Brooks is a bit vague as to exactly what the latter means, but you can figure it out.

“Progressive conservatives understand that while culture matters most, government can alter culture. It has done it in bad ways, and it can do it in good ways.”

Maybe so, but unprogressive conservatives believe government has no business altering culture at all. The culture—the way of life of a people—is what creates and disciplines government, not the other way around.

Mr. Brooks has a small raft of nifty ideas about how the leviathan state can change the culture in “good ways”—”design programs to encourage and strengthen marriages,” “wage subsidies,” federal education policy, etc.

“More and more conservatives understand that local control [of schools] means local monopolies and local mediocrity. Most Republicans, happily or not, have embraced a significant federal role in education.”

So they have, oblivious, as perhaps is Mr. Brooks, that a larger c role will mean federal monopolies and federal mediocrity.

Mr. Brooks, like Mr. Buchanan, is probably right that the old conservatism is defunct, and maybe he’s right it can’t be brought back to life.

But there’s another term for the sort of progressive conservatismhe’s proposing, and that is just plain old vanilla liberalism.

In more recent years it’s been called “neoconservatism,” which is where we came in.

If anyone still in the Republican Party wants something different, I couldn’t tell you who it is.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, David Brooks, Neocons 
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The first reaction from Washington insiders to news reports that the FBI was hot on the trail of an Israeli spy inside the Pentagon was to wonder what a spy could possibly tell the Israelis they don’t already know.

Since this administration, most of the Congress and its staff, and much of the media are all riddled with lobbyists for and friends, sympathizers and outright supporters of Israel, a spy for Tel Aviv would be rather like the Maytag repairman.

Who would bother to call him?

Nevertheless, the news stories about what turns out to have been an FBI counter-intelligence investigation that started two years ago have not gone away. Indeed, the more recent reports lend more credibility to the Israeli spy theory than the earlier ones.

Lawrence Franklin, the Pentagon analyst named as the subject of the investigation, works in the same office as his supervisor, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who is himself part of the now-notorious “cabal” of neoconservative policy makers who promoted war with Iraq from at least the days after the 9/11 attacks.

Along with Mr. Feith’s own boss, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle and several others in the administration, they are all part of a group that has been extremely close to the Israeli government and especially to Ariel Sharon’s Likud government. It is now clear that the investigation is interested in all of the above.

And they are not alone. Yet another figure surfacing in the case is Michael Ledeen, also a prominent neoconservative, who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, when he served as the conduit between the Israeli and U.S. governments in kicking off the whole covert business. Now, Mr. Ledeen is reported to have held meetings with Mr. Franklin and his old buddy from Iran-Contra days, Iranian Manucher Ghorbanifar.

It all gets curiouser and curiouser.

Mr. Ledeen himself denies that the smoke pouring out of the Israeli spy case means there’s any fire. “They have no case,” he insists . “If they have a case, why hasn’t anybody been arrested or charged?” [Spy Case Renews Debate Over Pro-Israel Lobby's Ties to PentagonBy JAMES RISEN and DAVID JOHNSTON NYT September 6, 2004 ]

Well, there might be a number of reasons, ranging from the obvious (the investigation is far from complete) to the speculative (political interference by some very powerful people inside the administration).

What people exactly? Well, some of the very ones at whom the FBI is looking.

The Washington Post reports that FBI investigators “have specifically asked about a group of neoconservatives involved in defense issues,” including Mr. Feith, Mr. Wolfowitz and “Iraq and Iran specialist Harold Rhode and others at the Pentagon.” They also asked about Mr. Perle and Vice President Cheney’s assistant David Wurmser, also a neoconservative hawk. As Sherlock Holmes would say, the game’s afoot.[ Defense, Cheney Iran Specialists Questioned,Washington Post, Sep 3, 2004]

But the reaction to the whole story from both the subjects of the investigation and their buddies in the neoconservative media has been to deny everything and insinuate “anti-Semitism.”

“Friends and associates of the civilian group at the Pentagon,”the New York Times reports, “believe they are under assault by adversaries from within the intelligence community who have opposed them since before the war in Iraq.”

The anti-Semitism card, always a favorite with neoconservatives, was played almost immediately by neocon David Frum, the ex-speechwriter for President Bush who gave the world the phrase “axis of evil” and co-author of a recent book with Mr. Perle.

Mr. Frum’s National Review Online article that popped up immediately after the spy case story broke was entitled “Jewish Conspiracies in the Pentagon?”

Until then no one had mentioned anything about Jews.

What Mr. Frum and the “friends and associates” of the usual suspects in the Pentagon are saying seems to be virtually identical — as Mr. Frum put it, it’s all those anti-Semites and “figures inside the US government who want to see Israel treated, not as the ally it is by law and treaty …but as the source of all the trouble in the Middle East and the world.”

Well, maybe — though it might be helpful if Mr. Frum or somebody could actually name someone inside the government who’s peddling “Jewish conspiracy” theories or anti-Israeli policies.

So far no one has. Their first and apparently only concern is not to examine whether American espionage laws have been broken and national security jeopardized by spies working for a foreign power, but to deny, exonerate and ignore the whole story, lobbing their usual smears along the way.

But the shoes that fit are leaving footprints that lead straight back to the Wolfowitz-Feith-Ledeen-Perle-Frum axis inside the Pentagon and perhaps to a massive foreign espionage operation on the scale of the Alger Hiss case of the 1940s.

It would not be surprising if some very powerful people don’t want those footprints followed too far.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Classic, Israel, Neocons 
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For the first presidential election since 1988, Pat Buchanan is not on the ballot this year, but his soul goes marching on in a new book just released on the eve of the Republican National Convention.

Where the Right Went Wrong is not, as it is already being billed, an “attack” on George W. Bush, but it does try to tell the president and his party why they are facing an election whose outcome is far from certain.

The Right went wrong, in Mr. Buchanan’s view, because of one major problem: Neoconservatives. “The boat people of the McGovern revolution” he calls the brood of liberals, social democrats and ex-Trotskyites who invited themselves into the GOP after the New Left gave them the heave from the Democrats.

Mr. Buchanan is far from being the only conservative to propose this explanation, but his case for it is probably more persuasive than what some have offered.

“Conservatism, as taught by twentieth-century leaders like Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Jesse Helms is dead,” he writes, and there are few who could disagree.

What has replaced it is neoconservatism,” a persuasion diametrically opposed to almost all that the Old Right stood for.

“Neoconservatives captured the foundations, think tanks, and opinion journals of the Right and were allowed to redefine conservatism,” he writes.

“Their agenda—open borders, amnesty for illegal aliens,free trade, an orderly retreat in the culture wars, ‘Big Government Conservatism,’ and Wilsonian intervention to reshape the world in America’s image—was embraced by Republicans leaders as the new conservative agenda.”

To those who don’t seem to have heard this before, he offers ample documentation.

Predictably, the book is already being denounced by those unable to confront its arguments. Neocon hatchet boy David Frum sneers that Mr. Buchanan is “a man who believes in negotiating with terrorists—wooing them, trying to find what they want and giving it to them.” [In a New Book, Buchanan Chastises Another Bush, By David D. Kirkpatrick, NYT, August 22, 2004]

Nowhere in the book or anywhere else does he suggest that, of course.

What he does offer is not only a full account of how neoconservatives have undermined traditional conservatism but also a learned and impassioned defense of what the Old Right believed—on the size and scope of the state, cultural issues, immigration, trade and foreign policy.

As for the war with Iraq, Mr. Buchanan argues, as he has been doing for years, that it is our own recklessness in the Middle East that provoked the attacks of 9/11 and eventually led us into a war with no obvious exit. He cites his 1999 book A Republic, Not an Empire, to show how he himself predicted what would happen: “If we continue on this course of reflexive interventions,” he wrote, “enemies will one day answer our power with the weapon of the weak—terror, and eventually cataclysmic terrorism on U.S. soil.”

Mr. Frum and his buddies really might want to read the book, or even both of them.

What’s a bit odd about Mr. Buchanan’s new book is that, so far from being an “attack” on George W. Bush and the Republicans, it’s an endorsement.

Unlike Bill Kristol, who says he’d prefer John Kerry to Pat Buchanan and would “make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives” if necessary, Mr. Buchanan offers what comes down to a strong defense of the president.

His main argument is that the next occupant of the White House will control the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future, and it’s critical that he be Mr. Bush and not Mr. Kerry.

But, as Mr. Buchanan himself recounts, there’s no guarantee whatsoever Mr. Bush would nominate justices any better than those his opponent would name. Earl Warren, William Brennan, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy are among the most anti-conservative justices in American history—and each was a Republican nominee.

Nevertheless, Mr. Buchanan also argues that

“a civil war is going to break out inside the Republican Party along the old trench lines of the Goldwater-Rockefeller wars of the 1960s, a war for the heart and soul and future of the party for the new century.”

Frankly, I doubt it, especially if Mr. Bush wins re-election.

The battle for the soul and heart of the GOP was fought some years ago, and Mr. Buchanan’s side lost.

His heart and soul do indeed go marching on, but there are few inside the Republican Party today inclined to march with him.

If Mr. Bush wins in November, those who are so inclined will find it’s more like the Bataan Death March.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2004 Election, Neocons 
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Having made such a smashing success out of its war with Iraq, the Bush administration now seems to be pondering the glories of yet another one in Iran.

In recent weeks, various administration officials and their amen corner in the neoconservative press have muttered and mumbled about the perils of Iran suddenly developing—guess what?—“weapons of mass destruction.”

Is there nothing that can embarrass these people?

Then there’s the matter of Iranian support for terrorism, which is probably more or less real, or certainly has been in the past. Not long after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State John Bolton and President Bush himself started warning about Iranian nukes in the last month, the Iraqi government began whining that Tehran was actually helping arm the militias that the world’s youngest democracy in the Middle East seems unable to defeat.

Of course Iran may well be helping the militias. Many of the latter, like the Iranians, are Shiite, and because of past unpleasantnesses with Iraq, Tehran has every reason to want a friendly Shiite regime in Baghdad rather than governments like those of either Saddam Hussein or the current one.

But the main reason (or rather rationalization) for a snit with Iran by the United States is the sudden blossoming of its nuclear capacities.

Last week Mr. Bolton, a major proponent of war with Iraq, described Iran’s weapons as “grave threats to international security” and claimed Iranian diplomats told European diplomats they could produce nuclear weapons within a year.

The Europeans don’t quite bear out that version of what the Iranians said, but since when do you expect accuracy from this administration?

Even before Mr. Bolton’s remarks, Dr. Rice unloosed some of her own on CNN. Despite years of American warnings about Iranian nukes, nobody paid attention, but now, the world is “worried and suspicious” as we said they should be all along. “The United States,” Dr. Rice insisted, “was the first to say that Iran was a threat in this way,”[Transcript] and she came very close to saying the United States would take pre-emptive action if Iran didn’t just junk the whole thing.

Since the administration still insists its war with Iraq was justified as preemption, and since the basis for a preemptive strike on Iran is the same as that offered for the one on Iraq, war would seem to be the logical thing to do.

But when top officials like Dr. Rice and Mr. Bolton call another state a “threat,” war becomes more than just logical—it lurches toward the probable.

And war is exactly what the war party in the neoconservative hive wants and has wanted for some time.

Last month, neocon columnist Charles Krauthammer informed us that the imminence of Iran’s acquisition of nukes makes “the question of preemptive attack all the more urgent.” “If nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of the ‘Great Satan’ will have both nuclear weapons and the terrorists and the missiles to deliver them.” Wow, just like Iraq, remember?

[Axis of Evil, Part Two? Charles Krauthammer, July 23, 2004]

Then there’s Michael Ledeen, also a charter member of the Let’s-have-a-war-with-everybody-as-long-as-they’re-Muslims persuasion. Mr. Ledeen has been growling for a U.S. war with Iran for years, and especially in the last month on the grounds, among others, that Iran has links with Al Qaeda.

Some observers argue that the administration is ginning up another war with Iran to mask its failures in Iraq, but in fact, as the rumblings from chaps like Mr. Krauthammer and Mr. Ledeen (and others) suggest, war with Iran has long been on the neocon table anyway, regardless of the immediate threats it may or may not pose to anybody.

For its part, Iran has met all this bluster from the administration and its friendlies with predictable threats of its own. Last week the Iranian Defense Minister announced that Iran might just launch its own pre-emptive strikes against U.S. troops in the area if it thought its nuclear facilities were threatened.

Iran’s response is predictable for the simple reason that most of what the administration accuses it of is not only probably true but also probably justifiable from the perspective of its own security, especially given the U.S. war with Iraq.

Having seen what the United States has done and is willing to do in Iraq, neither Tehran nor any other government in the region should delude itself that we and the armchair Napoleons of neoconservatism would not do it to them. It therefore has every good reason to prepare for war.

And what that means, of course, is that the entire Middle East may now be on the eve of yet another generation of war and chaos—which is one reason some people opposed the war with Iraq in the first place.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iran, Neocons 
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The 2004 presidential election may turn out to be decided by racial identities. For the last decade or so, the Republican Party has abandoned all pretense of controlling mass immigration on the superstitious ground that immigration control will alienate the booming Hispanic vote. Now, as two major news stories last week suggested, that superstition is exploded as the myth it has always been.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the growing Hispanic vote, centered mainly in the far Western states, is providing new hope for the campaign of Democratic nominee John Kerry. While the Democrats have never had much of a problem winning Hispanics (Al Gore won 65 percent in 2000; George W. Bush only 32 percent), the mass immigration the Republicans have tolerated and even supported has eaten into one of their main geographical bastions in the West.

“Many new arrivals” in the Western states, the Wall Street Journalreported last week,

“are lower-income workers drawn to the booming resorts,social liberals migrating from California and, most importantly, Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic by a two-to-one ratio. In Nevada, Latinos are expected to cast 10 percent of all votes this year, up from 3.9 percent eight years ago…. In New Mexico, Hispanics this year will cast one of every three ballots.” [New Frontier: Population Shifts In West Shape Kerry's Strategy; Jacob M. Schlesinger and Miriam Jordan. Wall Street Journal. Jul 21, 2004. [subscriber link]

Well, OK, but then President Bush has proposed what is in substance an amnesty program for illegal aliens. Won’t the Hispanic immigrants be so grateful to him that they’ll switch their traditional political allegiances and vote Republican?

No. The Washington Post last week released the results of a new poll that shows that

“At a time when Bush and Kerry are running about even among all registered voters, Kerry enjoys a 2 to 1 advantage over Bush among Latino registered voters. Hispanics give Bush lower approval ratings than the overall population does, and the poll shows that the bulk of the Latino community continues to identify with the Democratic Party.”[Kerry Has Strong Advantage Among Latino Voters By Richard Morin and Dan Balz Washington Post,July 22, 2004]

Moreover, not only do Hispanic voters not even like Mr. Amnesty himself, George W. Bush, they also don’t seem to care much about immigration.

It is a myth that the Hispanic vote is largely driven by concern over immigration and that opposing immigration will lose Hispanics.

In another new poll, only 27 percent of registered Latino voters said immigration would be an important factor in their vote for president, behind moral values (36 percent), taxes (33 percent) and the federal budget deficit (30 percent), according to the poll’s sponsors, the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation.[PDF] The only people for more immigration are the Open Borders crowd.

The Post’s poll found much the same trends, with the economy,education, terrorism, and the war in Iraq as the top issues among Hispanics.

Immigration, let alone amnesty, doesn’t even register with most Hispanic voters.

Neither the demographics of the Western states nor the new polls prove that Mr. Bush and the Republicans will—again—lose the Hispanic vote, but they do suggest, as his Democratic opponents have already figured out, that the president is vulnerable in what should be his home base—the Southwest.

As the Journal article noted, “In the 10 presidential elections from 1952 through 1988, only two Western states, Hawaii and Washington, voted Democratic more than twice.”

Democrats have been gaining seats and votes in local and state elections in this region because of immigration, and that’s why Mr. Kerry and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe are pushing the campaign into them.

“We as a party need to be putting stakes down in those states,”Mr. McAuliffe told the Journal. “In particular, he adds, ‘we needed to bring in Hispanics earlier than ever, so they’d feel empowered and energized.’”

Mr. Bush may not lose these states, but even he understands that if he does, he’ll lose the election.

What mass immigration has done is make the Republicans’ rivals competitive inside their own fortress. It’s the political equivalent of the D-Day landing.

So who was it that advised the Republicans to drop their opposition to mass immigration?

As with so many other blunders the party has made in the recent past, the fine fingers of the neoconservatives are smudged all over it.

Linda Chavez, Robert Bartley and Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal,Newt Gingrich, and Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett and their moronic decision to oppose Proposition 187 in California 10 years ago, as well as the usual gang of neocon eggheads, all badgered the party into dropping immigration control as an issue and courting the Hispanic vote through pandering.

If the Bush administration survives this election at all, it needs to consider that the neoconservatives whose advice it has followed on immigration politics have been no less disastrous than those whose counsel it took on foreign policy.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Hispanics, Neocons 
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Ideas Have Consequences is the title of a 1948 book by conservative thinker Richard Weaver that in recent years has become a kind of slogan for movement conservatives trying to convince themselves and their financial angels that their beliefs have triumphed at last.

The lesson we learn from a recent New York Times article on the “post-Buckley” right is that Professor Weaver was quite wrong: Ideas—his, at least—have no consequences.

That has to be the conclusion of anyone familiar with the ideas Weaver and similar conservative heavies emitted in the years after World War II down through the 1970s. The survival of these thinkers’ and writers’ legacy has been open to doubt ever since the neoconservatives arrived to share the benefits of their wisdom with real conservatives, but today, when even the elder neocons are fading, the situation is bleaker still.

“Conservative is a word that is almost meaningless these days,”one young rightist, Caleb Stegall, interviewed by the Times, announces. He’s entirely correct, but to judge from the article, he and his comrades are helping to keep it that way. Mr. Stegall is part of a new web site called newpantagruel.com, which the Times describes as “conservative but irreverent” (I guess the two don’t usually mix) and “about religion and politics.” Later we learn from Mr. Stegall that “If I could sum up what we stand for in one word, it would be sustainability.” [Young Right Tries to Define Post-Buckley Future,By David D. Kirkpatrick, July 17, 2004]

Huh?

The Times feels the need to clarify that “he meant theologically conservative views on sustaining family life, as well as typically liberal views on sustaining the environment and local communities and helping the poor.”

Noble causes all, no doubt, but exactly why they are conservative is never clear.

Yet another post-Buckleyite pops up at the Weekly Standard, the official voice of Bill Kristol and the neocons. Eric Cohen, at the hoary age of 26, is not only a Standard contributor but, among other achievements, also “director of the biotechnology and American democracy program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington,” an establishment neocon outfit that has been around for years.

Mr. Cohen’s deathless contribution to post-Buckleyism is that “conservatives needed to accept an active role for government in dealing with advancing technology, whether in the form of terrorists’ weapons abroad [we tried that, if you recall] or attempts to change the nature of life at home.”

Mr. Stegall then assured the Times “he shared Mr. Cohen’s support for government social programs, but for religious reasons.”

One idea of real conservatism is that post-New Deal government was far too big and needed to be reduced. That idea seems to have been dropped into File 13 by the post-Buckley geniuses. No consequences there.

The article continues, discovering unsung young post-Buckleyites thither and yon, and virtually nowhere does a single one offer any idea that bears much resemblance to what has been called “conservatism” in this country for the last 50 years.

Only Daniel McCarthy of the American Conservative utters anything like such a brainstorm.

Calling for a return to the “so-called isolationist and noninterventionist right,” Mr. McCarthy affirms forthrightly,“America is a nation state. It is not meant to be a sort of world government in embryo, not meant to be a last provider of justice or security for the entire world.”

As for the war in Iraq, only Mr. McCarthy openly expresses opposition to it. Mr. Cohen, as you might for some reason guess, is all for the war and is among those who “argue that the United States may need to become more active, not less.”

Nor do the post-Buckleyites seem to have much to say about the “culture war,” nor most any other real problem that confronts the real world today and which most pre-Buckley conservatives have traced to liberalism and pseudo-conservatism: cultural collapse, mass immigration, racial revolution, the war on the middle class, the future of the nation state, and the emergence of democratic totalitarianism in our own societies.

The Times of course is delighted to uncover a crowd of “conservatives” who offer no threat whatsoever to the dominant liberalism it regurgitates in its pages every day, but if it wanted to find them, there’s a real post-Buckley—we might even say a post-conservative—right out there.

What the real new right is talking about is not making government bigger or cryptic catchwords like “sustainability” but the problems the Times’ favorite conservatives won’t mention.

You can find them not only in the American Conservative but also at Chronicles, the Occidental Quarterly, American Renaissance, the Citizens Informer, Middle American News, and Vdare.com.

Not all their writers and editors agree with each other, and neither the Times nor the post-Buckley kids it’s pushing would care for them, but the ideas you find there might actually some day have some consequences.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, Neocons 
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Well over a year ago, neoconservative David Frum unleashed an unpleasant gob of spit in National Review accusing a number of veteran conservative writers (including me) of being “unpatriotic conservatives [NRO, March 19, 2003] because we opposed President Bush’s war with Iraq.

Today Mr. Frum ought to rewrite his article. The founder and editor of National Review himself, William F. Buckley Jr., has declared that he would not have supported the war either had he known then what he knows now.

Mr. Buckley’s confession came out in the New York Times last week, when he announced his retirement from the magazine that, in its first issue of November 19, 1955, boasted it would “stand athwart history and cry stop.” [National Review Founder to Leave Stage,June 29, 2004, By David D. Kirkpatrick.]

Today, nearly fifty years later, it has conspicuously failed to do so, but Mr. Buckley is to be congratulated on at least having the intellectual honesty to acknowledge he was wrong about supporting history’s unfortunate double time into Iraq.

“With the benefit of minute hindsight,” he told the Times,“Saddam Hussein wasn’t the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration one year ago. If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war.”

That makes Mr. Buckley as much of an “unpatriotic conservative,”by Mr. Frum’s standards, as Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, Chroniclesmagazine, Robert Novak, me or any of the other unusual suspects he lumped into the unpatriotic category.

The only difference is that we didn’t have to wait until more than 800 Americans and an untold number of Iraqis were dead, billions of dollars wasted, and half the planet despising us to know what would happen.

Nevertheless, if Mr. Buckley’s confession is honest, though a bit overdue, it’s not terribly typical. Thanks in no small part to his contributions in recent years, neoconservative hysterics like Mr. Frum and the lightweight kiddy-cons Mr. Buckley has handpicked to run his magazine have virtually destroyed the real right that Mr. Buckley himself helped kick off back in 1955.

Indeed, that’s a large part of the reason the left has come to regard Mr. Buckley so highly.

National Review for decades was the major and sometimes the only voice of serious conservatism in the country, and for a while it did indeed cry stop at the oncoming freight train of the future. Mr. Buckley assembled the leading conservative thinkers and writers of his generation to issue the magazine’s challenge—James Burnham, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Willmore Kendall, Whittaker Chambers and others.

Most of them today have still not won the recognition they deserve, and one reason they haven’t is that neoconservatives have rejected and ignored them and their works—not infrequently with Mr. Buckley’s help.

Indeed, looking at what Mr. Buckley himself has done in the last couple of decades, it’s hard to resist the view that it was the men he originally brought together at his magazine rather than his own mind and pen that made National Review the intellectual and political success it was.

As his colleagues and editors died off—several of them prematurely—Mr. Buckley failed either to replace them or take up their legacies. After they were gone, he seemed to forget most of what they had tried to impart. His own efforts started wandering—into spy novels and travel memoirs that were strikingly forgettable and today are all but forgotten.

Since at least the 1980s, Mr. Buckley has encouraged the alliance of real conservatives with the neocons and has done little if anything to pull the newcomers in the proper direction.

Instead, he at least acquiesced in and often promoted the dilution and distortion of conservatism the neo-cons were injecting.

The Frum article last year is a case in point. Nowhere in it did Mr. Frum come even close to proving his claim that the anti-war right has “made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe” or that “some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies,” and had he been a bit more specific as to who exactly he was talking about here, he might have enjoyed a libel suit.

Nevertheless, Mr. Buckley allowed these charges to be published in the magazine he controlled.

Today he says the people Mr. Frum smeared were right all along.

An apology is more than overdue.

William F. Buckley Jr. brought many gifts to American conservatism, and much of what all conservatives today know and think could never have flourished without his efforts.

It’s his tragedy and that of the movement he helped found that they finished up riding on the caboose of the very train they once vowed to halt.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iraq, Neocons 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”