Neo-Con Sophistry at its Most Confusing

In an op-ed in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal, erstwhile Giuliani foreign-policy adviser Peter Berkowitz can’t seem to make up his mind about whether invading Iraq was a good thing or a bad thing, but you have to admire the sophistry that he applies to the task of defending the neo-conservative record on the issue., a sophistry perhaps born as an English major at Swarthmore, honed at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and perfected with a law degree and a PhD in political science at Yale.

On the one hand, he notes correctly that the single-minded drive to overthrow Saddam Hussein without regard for “the price tag of military intervention, our capacity to rebuild dictator-ravaged and war-torn states, the effects of our actions on regional stability …is a recipe for disaster.” And he goes on (citing Frances Fukuyama) to argue that “neoconservative thinking drew a false analogy (between communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union) and the very different cultural circumstances of Arab and Muslim Iraq.”

On the other hand, Berkowitz, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and directs its Task Force on National Security and Law, praises “today’s neoconservatives” for their “nobility and hard-headed realism” in supporting the invasion and occupation.

“Neoconservatives faced up to, as few of their critics have, the grave threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the spiraling costs of our containment of his regime. They did not turn a blind eye to the conclusion of all major Western intelligence agencies that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction. They did not dismiss the real danger that Saddam in a post-9/11 world, would transfer WMD to al Qaeda or other jihadists. They did not look away from Saddam’s flagrant violation of international agreements and international law. They did not forget about the tens of thousands, mainly children, who were dying each year because Saddam was stealing Oil-for-Food money to prop up his military machine.”

In other words, it seems that the neo-conservatives were right to beat the drums for war, after all, even though their failure to consider the costs in advance (or, for that matter, anything much about the region and its people) constituted a “recipe for disaster.” Moreover, according to Berkowitz, now that “things are looking up,” neoconservatives are perfectly right in “appreciating the need for the U.S. to make a long-term commitment to achieving stability and decent government in Iraq.”

There is a certain coherence to Berkowitz’s argument, which he essentially took from Fukuyama. It is that “today’s neoconservatives” have deviated from the “neoconservative teachings” of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick which he cites as providing the seeds of “the neoconservative sensibility.” “That sensibility evinces a fierce pride in American constitutional government [Tell that to David Addington and John Yoo!],” he goes on. “It insists that government policy should not be judged not by the hopes of advocates and intentions of decision makers, but by real world consequences.”

In other words, “The failure of today’s neoconservatives to anticipate the challenges of postwar reconstruction does not discredit neoconservatism,” presumably because “today’s neoconservatives” are not really neo-conservatives. Indeed, “[T]he problem for those of us who analyzed the challenge of Saddam’s Iraq from the perspective of neoconservative principles was not that we were too neoconservative, but that we were not neoconservative enough,” Berkowitz concludes.

I guess that means that if Berkowitz had been more neo-conservative five years ago, he would have opposed the invasion of Iraq. Right?

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. So… all we have to do is redouble our efforts and… on to Iran!

    Here’s a safe bet: There will be nothing in the editorial section of the Wall Street Journal even feigning a counterpoint to Berkowitz’s specious nonsense. Facing up to the “grave threat of Saddam Hussein”? Here’s a speech from Karen Kwiatkowski last fall:

    “Iraq was a fourth rate military state, with no air force, no navy and not much of an Army, in part due to the destruction of the first Gulf War, a dozen years of sanctions and being bombed by the US and the UK since 1991.”

    Why do they continue publishing this crap? With cutbacks in newsrooms all over the country – including the mighty New York Times – doesn’t it become obvious that their credibility is shot and no one listens anymore? No one buys their cheap pulp and wishful thinking? When do they get the picture? When they’re shouting their ass-backwards “insight” to feral cats in wino back alleys?

  2. I don’t know anything that better illustrates the problem with neo so called intellectuals inhabiting America than this…

    “neoconservative thinking drew a false analogy (between communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union) and the very different cultural circumstances of Arab and Muslim Iraq.”

    …they are probably the only people on earth who:

    1) didn’t get this
    2) are lying about not getting this
    3) Both 1 & 2

    There is no cure for stupidy.

  3. What I find most bizarre is how the first says that one of the great things about neoconservativism is how it “insists that government policy should be judged not by the hopes of advocates and intentions of decision makers, but by real world consequences,” and then says “the failure of today’s neoconservatives to anticipate the challenges of postwar reconstruction does not discredit neoconservativism.” He can’t have it both ways!

    Curt – unfortunately, I wouldn’t say their ideas are “wishful thinking”, but closer to “pure evil”. They are driven by greed and fully prepared to lie, cheat, and steal to bolster their own wealth and that of their friends. Never assume maliciousness where stupidity will suffice, but this is way beyond stupidity.

    Berkowitz can’t come up with anything new to say. He’s recycling Karl Rove’s table scraps from years back, trying to pull Republicans back into the discredited neocon wing. They’re printing it because somebody at the WSJ *really* likes neoconservativism, since it essentially boils down to “use any means necessary to bring more capital to Wall Street.”

    I wrote a longer analysis of Berkowitz’ article at that you may find interesting.

    I find it amazing and interesting too that neoconservativism has been so thoroughly eviscerated as a policy philosophy on the net, yet mainstream traditional media still largely won’t say that the emperor has no clothes.


  4. as to redoubling our efforts. Iraq had just emerged from 12 yrs of war with Iran, then we bombed the shit out of that country in the Persian Gulf War. Then for 12 years we overflew, spied on and bombed them while starving them with sanctions. Then we attacked them again. Then, we entered the shithole we created. And a country and people so devastated, so powerless can rout our efforts?

    If these beaten people can throw off our controls, and I assert the same is true of Vietnam and unknown numbers of South and Central American countries, we need to abandon our miltary. Evidently, the benign suburban skaters that was my pre-auto teen experience could so flummox the US military that we should cut the Trillion dollar defense budget to nil and invite any impetuous aspiring empire to bring it on. It is folly to think that there are rewards abroad that can be stolen and brought back without an equal or greater blowback.

    The neo-cons are stupid and arrogant. These are the pre-requisites of sophistry, the total absence of integrity or sincerity completes the package. This lack of character is what allows someone to grope for excuses even those that would condemn their own perspective. But it is their arrogance, that they are defending. They are so conceited they refuse to consider others, or other perspectives. These are the Pharisees, and the courteans that that murmur “tut-tut” while chaos engulfs the palaces where the obsequious sycophants genuflect before the illusion of power.

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