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Published on February 11th, 2010 | by Ali Gharib

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Is Leon Wieseltier a Neocon?

While I’m in the follow-up mood, I’ve got a thing or two to say about Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary editor of The New Republic.

Daniel had this incisive post about Wieseltier and his accusation of anti-Semitism against Andrew Sullivan, and the larger effects of these sort of wanton attacks on even the most reasoned of critics. I’ll let his post speak for itself.

But I do want to hit on the notion that Wieseltier’s attack fits perfectly the neoconservative meme — selective information (Iraq war build-up), character assassination of critics (Plame/Wilson affair), and arguments built on delusional premises (just about everything this cadre does, from the Iraq War heralding a new Middle East to support for expansionist Israel, an untenable position that will be the bane of the Jewish state). In short, the screed against Sullivan reads like a literate Michael Goldfarb.

But there is much, much more than his modus operandi connecting Wieseltier to neoconservatives.

To answer the title question, Wieseltier is probably not a neoconservative. But it’s worth looking at his record to see if he’s one of their many liberal enablers — the type that neocons, because they tend to be such a small cabal of armchair warriors, rely upon as allies to enact their radical agenda (think Democratic votes authorizing force in Iraq).

This is all not to even mention that Wieseltier writes for TNR. I’m in line with Glenn Greenwald, who said, about Marty Peretz’s long record of Muslim bashing, “We just collectively agree to ignore the fact that this respectable political magazine is edited by one of the nation’s most nefarious haters among those with a platform beyond a street corner cardboard box.” Indeed, TNR is a liberal journal, but with a neoconservative foreign policy. (It’s no surprise that TNR assistant editor and frequent writer on U.S. foreign policy, Jamie Kirchick, also contributes regularly to neoconservative magazines like The Weekly Standard and Commentary.) While important in framing this spat, however, attacks on Peretz and TNR smack of guilt by association.

Drawing mostly on his RightWeb profile, here are a few examples of Wieseltier’s own noecon leanings that we ought to think about as we consider this latest episode:

– Wieseltier was a signatory of the Sept. 20, 2001, Project for a New American Century (PNAC — the now-defunct who’s who of neoconservatives) letter to President George W. Bush calling for war on Iraq, Hezbollah, the latter’s sponsors in Iran and Syria, and ending aid to the Palestinian Authority.

– He was an advisory board member of the PNAC spin-off Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which, rather hilariously, declared shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: “Following the successful liberation of Iraq, the Committee has ceased its operations.” As the war continued to rage (right up into the present) Wieseltier backed off — a bit. His mea culpa on the Iraq war was more thoughtful than the neocons (that is, there was one) but fell into the typical parsings of the war’s liberal supporters — that the problem was with the way the war was conducted. Or, as Wieseltier put it, he has “come to despise some of the people who are directing it.”

– His rousing defense of his close friend I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby as a “state-of-the-art fall guy” in the Plame/Wilson affair (another neoconservative smear campaign), in which Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.

In the last case, Wieseltier insists again and again, ad nauseum, that he is a “liberal” and “in no sense a neo-conservative.” Indeed, in his thoughts on the Sullivan/Wieseltier affair, TIME’s Joe Klein writes that his “friend Leon Wieseltier is too quirky and complicated to be called a neoconservative–or any other label except, perhaps, Van Morrison cultist…”

I think Klein may be right — with a caveat. I’m happy to affix other labels to Leon Wieseltier. So, no, he’s probably not a neocon. Just another liberal neocon enabler and booster.

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One Response to Is Leon Wieseltier a Neocon?

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  1. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    You’re final paragraph is exactly right. And Wieseltier is, indeed, one of many.


About the Author

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Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



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