Neoconservative Dreams and Global Nightmares

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By The Contrary Perspective

David Bromwich has an insightful post at TomDispatch.com on neoconservatives and their pursuit of regime change via war in the Middle East.  Describing them as a “political cult,” Bromwich notes that neocons not only create their own reality but they also aim to keep Americans ignorant of basic facts — facts such as these:

When you are educating a people who have been proselytized, as Americans have been, by a political cult for the better part of two decades, nothing should be taken for granted. Most Americans do not know that the fanatical Islamists, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, the Islamic State (IS) — the active and destructive revolutionary force in the greater Middle East at the moment — are called Sunni Muslims. Nor do they know that the Shia Muslims who govern Iran and who support the government of Syria have never attacked the United States.

To say it as simply as it should be said: the Shiites and Sunnis are different sects, and the Shiites of Iran are fighting against the same enemies the U.S. is fighting in Syria and elsewhere. Again, most Americans who get their information from miscellaneous online scraps have no idea that exclusively Sunni fanatics made up the force of hijackers who struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. They would be surprised to learn that none of these people came from Iraq or Iran. They do not know that 15 of the 19 came from Saudi Arabia — a supposed ally of the United States. And they do not know that the Islamist warriors who brought chaos and destruction to Syria and Iraq are bankrolled in part by members of the Saudi and Qatari elite who have nothing to do with Iran. It has never been emphasized — it is scarcely written in a way that might be noticeable even in our newspaper of record — that Iran itself has carried the heaviest burden of the fight against IS.

Throughout his presidency, when speaking of Iran, Obama has mixed every expression of hope for improved relations with a measure of opprobrium. He has treated Iran as an exceptional offender against the laws of nations, a country that requires attention only in the cause of disarmament. He does this to assure the policy elite that he respects and can hum the familiar tunes. But this subservience to cliché is timid, unrealistic, and pragmatically ill advised. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did not denounce the Soviet Union when they took that country’s dictator, Joseph Stalin, as a partner in war in 1941, though Stalin’s crimes exceeded anything attributable to the Iranian mullahs. Ritual denunciation of a necessary ally is a transparent absurdity. And in a democracy, it prevents ordinary people from arriving at an understanding of what is happening.

It’s good that Bromwich criticizes the Obama Administration as well as Bush/Cheney and their fellow neocons, but his critique doesn’t go far enough.  For Obama as well as Congressional liberals and progressives have largely failed to denounce and to reverse neocon initiatives. And so-called neo-liberals are not far behind the neocons in pushing for American hegemony over the world by continued war funding and blanket support of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Bromwich further notes that:

Between 2001 and 2009, the U.S. government was run by neoconservatives; they had a fair shot and the public judgment went against them; but in a climate of resurgent confusion about the Middle East, they have come a long way toward rebuilding their bridge. They are zealots but also prudent careerists, and the combination of money and revived propaganda may succeed in blurring many unhappy memories.

But whose fault is that?  In 2009, with a clear mandate for “hope” and “change” and possessing a “super” majority in Congress, Obama relied on some of those same neocons to provide him with foreign policy advice.  He failed, moreover, to hold anyone accountable for major crimes such as torture. He even won praise (briefly) from Dick Cheney, who assuredly was heartened — and empowered — by the new president’s mantra of “look forward.”

The neocons are resurgent because they were never called to account for their mistakes.  No Congressional hearings, as in the Fulbright Hearings held during the Vietnam War.  No public accountability.  Just business as usual by the Washington Beltway establishment.

So, as we look ahead to 2016, we see no major candidate other than perhaps Bernie Sanders or Rand Paul who is at all skeptical of continued U.S. military interventionism, notably in the Middle East but also around the globe.

Bromwich concludes that for the neocons “there is always another war ahead. They will push until they are stopped.”

But who is to stop them when big-name candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are ready to join them in the pushing?

18 thoughts on “Neoconservative Dreams and Global Nightmares

  1. Good article. Too true that the Neo-cons have gotten away with mass murder and other crimes. However, do you think Obama had any real power to confront the neo-cons? First thing he did was reappoint several of them to key positions. Given the essential coup of the Neo-cons under Bush/Cheney, I have to think that the deal with signed way before Obama’s election as to what he would be allowed to do and not. The ACA was/is a travesty of genuflection to the drug and insurance industries. The wars in the ME a continuation of the hegemonic goals of the neo-cons. Russian under attack more of the same. And efforts to impose austerity not he world and at home are ongoing at an increasing rate. Then we have the Democrats who even when they had congressional control acted as Republicans in disguise for the most part. Add to this the level of racism in this country, he and his family had real concerns for their literal survival. In his last 2 yrs he seems a wee bit more aggressive on Israel and Amreican racism but no wheres near enough for it to have significant impact I fear. Given all the powers organized against true progressive change, do you think Obama could have done much differently? And if so, how?

  2. Very briefly: 1.) re: original post–“The neocons are resurgent because they were never held to account for their mistakes.” The word “mistakes” needs to be replaced with “crimes”; 2.) “tamarque” is on the mark (sorry!). As I’ve noted numerous times here, the unwritten (or at least not publicly posted) and most important part of POTUS’s Job Description is to serve the interests of the Ruling Class. We shouldn’t be surprised by how he has performed in office, but it was his own rhetoric of “change” that set him up to be viewed by progressives as an extra huge disappointment.

    New question: To what extent, if any, should we believe Bernie Sanders’s rhetoric of “change”?

  3. Since Ike’s speech in 1961, and especially since 9/11, the National Security State/military-industrial complex has grown so powerful that few dare to challenge it directly. Certainly not Obama, who had virtually no experience with military matters and foreign policy when he became president in 2009. My best guess is that he decided to play it safe with the military while playing nice with the neocons. Of course, that got him nowhere.

    What could he have done? Surrounded himself with new people. Some fresh thinking. He could have fought for a saner, less militarized, foreign policy. But perhaps he decided he simply couldn’t win that battle. So he put his energy into domestic affairs, even as Republicans resisted his every reform because their only identity is as the party of “no.” No to Obama.

    Can any candidate effect significant change? So far, I don’t see one. You’d need a man or woman of iron will and also with the vision to chart a new course. Hillary has iron will but she fully supports the neocons. Jeb is clueless. Rand Paul — out of his element. Sanders? I don;t think he has the endurance to survive the process, and by “endurance” I mainly mean money.

  4. I do not think it is healthy for a democracy to offer excuses for a president not doing his job to serve the ‘people’ . Obama is as guilty as Bush of usurpation of power in the interests of the oligarchs. In fact he launched criminally aggressive actions under his watch that the Bush group wouldn’t have dared to or had the imagination to do.

    Cases in point: Pivot to the Pacific to make China an enemy; Overthrow of the first democratically elected Zelaga government in Honduras; Financing the insurrection in the Ukraine to ‘encircle ‘ Russia’, Allowing Saudi Arabia to finance jihadists in Syria; The Kabuki theater of peace negotiations with Israel while allowing them to continue building in the West Bank and arming them for criminal actions in Gaza; etc.

    • “b. traven”–Au contraire, mon ami! The situation is more like Obama carries out the policies the Cheney Gang would’ve put in motion. How can you say the latter would’ve been hesitant about pushing any of the measures you attributed to Obama? Also, a dandy job of further ratcheting-up tensions on the Korean Peninsula has been executed lately. This is what they teach you in law school these days, Barack???

  5. When the author refers to “fanatical Islamists” or “Sunni fanatics,” he leaves a mistaken impression that the groups he is referring to were/are religiously motivated. The current bunch are mercenary to the bone. The alleged hijackers were not practicioners of any faith & were crazed more by the glint in a stripper’s eye than by words of a prophet.

    But to the main point, Obama is as treacherous as Bush. Call it neocon resurgence or neoliberal hawkishness, or something altogether new. Two sides of the same coin?

    • Yes, indeed. what new Orwellian euphemism now serves to cloak this latest iteration of the same old Reactionary Panic, Mystic Dread, Abstract Angst, or just plain Fear Itself? For his part, President Obama now likes to blather on about “Overseas Contingency Operations.” I, on the other hand, prefer the more descriptive:

      “Conservative Liberal Hawkish Humanitarianism”
      (From The Triumph of Strife: an homage to Dante Alighieri and Percy Shelley) — lines 1639-1666

      We’ve done again the thing we swore we’d not
      The lesson never learned exacts its price
      Tuition paid for mucking up the plot

      Mistaking playing cards for shooting dice
      A green desire to get into the game
      No matter that the stakes are fire not ice

      A fleeting chance to grasp at idle fame
      Which molts to notoriety unclean
      When shedding flesh from off the bony frame

      The nice kid from the neighborhood turns mean
      When armed and trained to shoot ingratitude
      The vilest weed that chokes the garden scene

      The conquered, looted, ravaged multitude
      Persistently reject our rectitude

      We only want to cure them of their wrong
      We only plan to take the things we need
      We do not wish to stay too late or long

      Unless we cannot plant in them our seed
      Or find a way to mask our appetite
      Like Walruses and Carpenters we feed

      On oysters while acknowledging their plight
      We hold our handkerchiefs before our eyes
      So that no one can see the ugly sight

      Or count the oysters who believed our lies
      The Walrus ate the most but empathized
      And with his handkerchief his tears he dries

      So too have our brave leaders sanitized
      A thieving see-food orgy bowdlerized

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006-2010

      • This is a nice line: The nice kid from the neighborhood turns mean/When armed and trained to shoot ingratitude

        When will we learn to stop arming those nice kids and sending them overseas to kill in America’s name?

      • Mike Murry–Where is Lewis Carroll’s credit in this scheme??? [Not sure if anyone else brought this up; have other comments still to peruse.]

      • Gregg:

        My mother loved Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” from Alice in Wonderland and Thru the Looking Glass. Whenever she wanted to discuss something with me, she would say: “Come on, Michael. Let’s talk some more about the cabbages and kings.” I sure miss my mom.

        As for credit due Lewis Carroll, his works have long since passed into the public domain, if not the culture generally. I can remember political cartoonists in my youth depicting Richard Nixon as the Carpenter and Spiro Agnew as the Walrus. Everybody once knew these characters and needed no overt reminder of who had created them or what they represented metaphorically.

        As to the meter and rhyme scheme of this particular poem, it consists of interlocking terza rima sonnets, which format I adopted from Dante Allegieri’s Divine Comedy and Percy Shelley’s Triumph of Life. Lewis Carroll’s poem — he included many different ones in his famous story — follows a different stanza format which I adopted for my epic narrative poem Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s Post-Literate Retreat to Plato’s Cave. Terza Rima sonnets, for their part, consist of fourteen-line stanzas of iambic pentameter arranged in aba bcb cdc ede ff order.

        When I started writing verse as DIY psychotherapy over a decade ago, I went looking for challenging models to emulate. I got a copy of Harold Bloom’s book, How to Read and Why wherein I found this statement:

        “The Triumph of Life” [Shelley’s unfinished death poem] seems to me as close as anyone has come to persuading us that this is how Dante would sound had the poet of The Divine Comedy composed in English. The Triumph of Life is an infernal vision, a fragment of about 550 lines in Dantesque terza rima, and in my judgment is the most despairing poem, of true eminence, in the language.”

        I took that as a direct challenge. If Shelley could compose 550 lines of terza rima in English, then so would I. After I got to 550 lines, however, I thought about doubling that. So I did, Then I decided to add another 550 lines to that. And so on and so forth. When I got to 2743 lines — not quite 2750, or five times my original goal — I felt the creative demon depart. Sometime early in the Obama administration — around 2009 — it became apparent that nothing much would change and the same old dreary American imperial bungling would go on for probably the remainder of my life. “Despairing”? Yes, but I can live with it now.

      • Mike–Though I read (present tense) some poetry, and have written some on occasions when events moved me to, I have never delved into the “mechanics” of it as you have. I feel no urgency to delve into Shelley. I do, however, have a 1000+ page collection of “the major works” of Lord Byron. Bought it on “blind faith,” one might say. Had read a few excerpts from his writings that took my breath away. (And I vow to actually plunge into that tome one of these days!) Have you read Prof. Bloom’s book wherein he argued that Shakespeare “invented” the human being as we understand (?) “him” today? If so, what is your opinion of the book and its underlying thesis? Anyone else reading this familiar with the book in question should feel free to reply, of course.

      • Hi Greg: Invented the human being sounds very rich, almost god-like, though I think Shakespeare obviously captured the richness of human motivations and emotions. He built on the Greeks and all of their great comedies and tragedies.

        I knew an English professor, a serious scholar, not a crank, who was convinced that Shakespeare could not have written all of his plays. (I know there’s a whole industry on this, pro and con.) So was it one great man, Shakespeare, who captured the full range of human life in such richness and complexity? Or was it several authors who collaborated and who became conflated as “Shakespeare”?

        Also, does Bigfoot exist? :-)

      • Bill Astore–I believe Mark Twain was in the camp arguing that Francis Bacon penned the plays (not sure about sonnets, etc.). Have essay(s?) in one of my Twain tomes I haven’t gotten to yet.

      • Professor Astore:

        In writing those particular lines, I had in mind something I once read about Eugene O’Neil’s play Long Day’s Journey Into Night, wherein a young man gets into an argument with his father, an actor who quotes Shakespeare to him: “Ingratitude, the vilest weed that grows.” It seemed appropriate to me in view of those scruffy foreigners who just can’t understand why we paternalistic Americans keep destroying their villages in order to save them.

        Somehow that phrase about the weed of ingratitude stuck with me and I associate it with disagreements over the Vietnam War that I used to have with my WWII-generation mother, whom I loved unreservedly and respected utterly. She would say to me: “Who will protect us from our enemies if you don’t?” To which I would reply: “Who will protect me from my own government if you don’t?” We never resolved the conflict between these generational worldviews. I understood hers, but did not agree with it. No ingratitude intended, nor do I think that my mother inferred any. Not true of most of her WWII generation, unfortunately.

      • Thanks, Mike. I know less of Shakespeare than I should. However, I do recall the saying, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an ungrateful child.” Which when googling it I see is from “King Lear,” with thankless for ungrateful. But I digress.

        But, what does this have to do with U.S. foreign policy, one might ask? Well, you nailed it. We tend to look at foreigners as children who need to be taught by us how to run their lives.

        Witness the Iraq war, when our foreign policy experts talked about removing the training wheels from the Iraqi governmental bike. You see, we put those immature Iraqis on a bike of democracy, but they weren’t ready for it so we added training wheels so they wouldn’t fall off. And so the conversation back in 2005-07 was how quickly the U.S. could remove those “training wheels”; were those immature and somewhat tippy Iraqis ready for it?

        Using google again, I see that Biden spoke of training wheels with Afghanistan in 2010, and General (ret.) Anthony Zinni repeated the “training wheels” expression for Fox News at the end of 2014. Here’s the link:

        http://insider.foxnews.com/2014/12/14/time-take-training-wheels-gen-anthony-zinni-says-afghanistan-iraq-need-step

        Well, you know the rest, to include our anger at those ungrateful Iraqi and Afghan “children.” We give them everything — even “training wheels” for their bikes of democracy — and they still hate us. Why? Because of our freedoms?

        This might be my next article at the site, borrowing from your comment above, so thanks!

      • Surely the movers & shakers of U.S. actions in Iraq had an inkling of the civil, scientific, medical, & professional achievements of a society they were hellbent on destroying. I wish it had been true that the attitude towards Iraq was simply that of condescension, with good intentions mixed in (training wheels for democracy!). But it is much worse.
        Free Speech TV recently aired an 80-minute documentary “Cross Wise,”. a compilation of interviews with U.S. soldiers traveling to and from war zones in Iraq. & Afghanistan. Many of these young people were of the best intentions and of kind heart. The pain in their faces if difficult to bear witness to as they grapple with their realizations. Also, “Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre” is instructive.
        I think the aforementioned “movers & shakers” are guilty of the worse form of blatant disregard for human life that exists. Their condescension is just a bad habit.

      • Good point. And I think they’re related. Condescension breeds such blatant disregard, especially when the condescenders’ designs are thwarted by their willful “children.” Condescension — exacerbated by perceived ingratitude — ends in “a pox on them all” — a blatant disregard for life.

        Of course, it may all start with a blatant disregard, which is far worse. Is it that bad? Do we just not give a shit?

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