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?

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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.

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