- Paperback: 328 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press; First Printing edition (19 Nov. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802141935
- ISBN-13: 978-0802141934
- Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 209,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Neocon Reader Paperback – 19 Nov 2004
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On the domestic side the neo-cons puff out their collective chests for being pro-growth. Whoop de doo. Who isn't? The problem with the neo-cons is that they are often pathologically pro-growth. Reducing fuel efficiency standards on automobiles may sell more cars in Detroit but the long term effects could be devastating. If increasing the GDP requires damaging the environment, driving the country deep into debt and reducing worker benefits was it all worth it? The neo-con view seems to be that raising the GDP will be the panacea for all social ills despite the fact that the wealth of the nation is often moving into fewer and fewer hands. Bill Clinton used to use the metaphor of a rising tide raising all the boats. The truth is that many boats rise up by pushing others down. Just look at the Walton family with 5 members having assets in the top ten nationwide thanks to cheap labor.
Another domestic pathology is the belief that lowering taxes on the wealthy (neo-cons generally ignore mentioning that the linchpin of the theory is that the tax cuts target the wealthy) will spur a magical industrial renaissance. The theory is that the increase in private savings will spur an increase in corporate investment and that will cause a modernization bonanza and happy days for all. After three massive tax the indicator of corporate investment (the stock market) continues to languish. So where did all the money go? None of your business. The neo-cons are too busy and wise to actually reflect whether their theories match reality.
In a final act of cowardice the neo-cons try to downplay their political influence to imply it's negligible at best. It's true that the Bush Administration has few card carrying neo-cons (`Scooter' Libby is one) but they do have converts like Rumsfeld and Cheney. The Pentagon, on the other hand, is flush with neo-cons helping to shape policy. As much as the neo-cons would love to play the shrinking violet they seem unable to reign in their own ego's and constantly feel compelled to list their formidable ranks which flies right in the face of their `don't blame little old us' argument.
In the section written by Jeane Kirkpatrick she says that she moved away from the traditional left during the early to mid 70's thanks to the `anti-american' views expressed by leftists. Quoting Michael Novak she writes, "As matters stand, we are just a few short years from being a pariah nation". Ironically it wasn't the left that made the United States a pariah nation it was the very arrogant, bullying tactics advocated by the neo-cons who so loath international treaties, negotiations and multinational organizations. The United States is in the midst of the lowest worldwide approval ever. Thanks Neo-Cons.
Since I do not agree with them, and wanted to learn their arguments, I thought it was a waste of paper. It seemed more like a collection of chatechismic provebs that social analysis, but then, much of the liberals, radicals, moderates essays suffer from the same ineffable quality.
The book is a waste of paper because readers might better read books such as Prestowitz's Three Billion New Capitalists, or Peterson's Running on Empty to encounter an intelligent and conservative critique of our nation today.
As the joke shows, reading The Neocon Reader was a tremendous source of enjoyment, in the Freudian sense of being "beyond the pleasure principle". The most painful historical experience can yet be felt as highly enjoyable. There is of course the joy of transgression, the malignant pleasure of reading the productions of a school of thought whose representatives (at least some of them) have demonstrated snarling contempt and even hatred for my home country, going so far as taking French fries away from the French and rechristening them "liberty fries" at the US Congress cafeteria. Mind you, no offense was taken. But for people who prize the ability of statesmen to distinguish friends from enemies, this was a singular error of appreciation. Last time I checked, France and the United States were still close allies.
Not that I feel systematically hostile to the neocon creed: particularly on domestic issues, their defense of the welfare state (a necessary pillar of a well-functioning democracy), their attack on the debasement of public life through obscenity, and their theory of "the broken window" resonate with the principles that I hold dear. In other words, and to borrow David Brooks' expression, I don't belong to "Planet Chomsky". I even discovered more sympathy for the neocon agenda than I cared to admit. Moving from the Democratic Party to the Republican camp, they illustrated Winston Churchill's famous saying: "Show me a young conservative and I'll show you a man without a heart. Show me an old liberal and I'll show you a man without a brain." One thing they kept during the journey is their taste for high culture and their polemical talent. As an admirer of style, I could only bow down to their mastery of the written word.
But where I radically part with the neocons is in their attack on the United Nations and on the multilateral system of governance. Dixit Irving Kristol: "World government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny." In a Star Wars episode, perhaps. But get real: when did the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocol cast a menace on our liberties and our democracies? Much as neocons came to realize, against their libertarian allies, that "there is in fact no road to serfdom through the welfare state" (Irving Kristol again), they must acknowledge that, based on the historical record and the teachings of political philosophy, there is no road to tyranny going through multilateralism. On the contrary, international cooperation is a public good that needs to be nurtured and sustained. As Kant argued, a political community of constitutional republics is the closest model that can bring us to world peace.
This resentment for multilateral cooperation, disturbing when it is applied by Americans to the United Nations, becomes ludicrous when British conservatives use it to reject the European Union. Asked "What are you conservatives going to hate, now that you can't hate Moscow?" George F. Will's instant response was: "We are going to hate Brussels". Bureaucrats from the European Commission would be the first surprised to be included in this new axis of evil. This begs a question: are there neocons outside the United States, and is neoconservatism an export product? The Neocon Reader was indeed first published in Great Britain, with the ambition to introduce the political movement to the European public. But here Irving Kristol's remark proves right: "There is nothing like neoconservatism in Europe." Or to be more precise, as Jeffrey Gedmin comments on the case of Germany, "There is a small network of pro-American writers and political intellectuals who are attracted to some neoconservative ideas. But the environment for neoconservatism as such is an inhospitable one." There are neocons in Europe, but there are no neoconservative Europeans.
In his article "Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction", John R. Bolton discusses what he considers to be the greatest threat to national security, namely state sponsorship of terrorists that use weapons of mass destruction. The article states the obvious, and has many unsubstantiated claims. One of these is the assertion that Iraq has developed, produced, and stockpiled biological warfare agents and weapons. In addition, they have developed, produced, and stockpiled chemical weapons. Also, Syria has been known to have a chemical warfare program. And Cuba has a well-developed biomedical industry, and that the US "believes" that Cuba has a limited biological warfare research and development effort. How does Bolton know all these things? What kinds of biological agents did they develop and how much of them did they have? What kinds of chemical agents? Bolton gives no references and the skepticism of this reviewer regarding these claims increased after completing the article. One fact though is beyond dispute: Bolton has not yet volunteered for military service to help America win "the fight to root out and destroy terror." He states in this article that America is leading this fight. Perhaps, but America is doing it without his assistance on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bolton, like so many others of his persuasion, has excused himself from doing the real fighting. His hands are too shaky and his intestinal fortitude too lacking for such an endeavor.
But by far the best example of vague and floating abstractions comes in the article by Condoleezza Rice entitled "The President's National Security Strategy". Rice is a Lieutenant Keefer with XX chromosomes, a person who keeps her skirts nice and starched and clean, even in the Iraq War. One will not find any Iraqi sand embedded into the fibers of her crisp, designer suits. What one will find, and this is exemplified perfectly in this article, is a capacity for stating much but proving little. She speaks of "existential threats", of the "crystallization" of our vulnerabilities after 9/11 and of threats being "fully materialized." These are certainly colorful metaphors, and an example of a sterile intellect hiding behind tact and prudence. They are never defined or subject to clarification, in spite of her statement in the article that "clarity is a virtue." Clarity is not to be found in this article, but what can be found is language that smoothes over the perturbations that real facts can induce when presented to an administration that is unprepared and ill-equipped mentally to deal with them. Rice speaks against the tension between the `realistic' and `idealistic' schools of foreign affairs, and asserts "these categories obscure reality." Her grasp of reality and facts though seems shaky at best, totally obscuring historical realities. This is readily apparent when she states that "we do not seek to impose democracy on others." Considering the carnage in the illegal and immoral war against Iraq, a war that Rice made happen and steadfastly supports, to make it a "stable democracy", this is indeed an odd statement to make, and is indicative of how shielded Rice is from the true realities of the world.
Indeed, throughout this book you will find a sizable collection of trembling hands, weak intellects, and yellow abdomens. But one thing you will not find in the book is an article that implores those in the neo-conservative camp to sign up for combat duty in the military. Nay, you will not find such an article, nor one that implores the sons and daughters of these individuals to do the same. They leave the horrors of warfare to those that do not think or act like they do.
The quality of essays in this book is extremely uneven. The introduction by Irwin Stelzer is masturbatory crap. If you can get by his drivel, the quality of the book improves markedly. There are some essays written by real neocon heavy hitters. If they can't sell their beliefs, then I doubt that any ditto heads will be able to either.
I think that a lot of the essays in the book have become dated, and some are available for free elsewhere. Any of the essays regarding the motivations for the Iraq War are now embarrassingly wrong.
Despite all the problems with this book, I think that it is still worth reading. The opportunity to read the "best" of what influential neocons have to say is well worth the price.