Thursday, March 23, 2006

Recanting Neoconservatism

Commentary by Martin Kelly
May 12, 2004

The intellectual roots of neoconservatism lie in Trotskyism, and there’s nothing a Trotskyite likes more than a good recantation. Once, neo-conservatism seemed like a very bold and brave vision for the world, but not any more. If the Abu Ghraib photos are its legacy, it’s finished.

As Frank Salvato has said, Arab outrage at the photos must be taken with a pinch of salt. One is tiring of the cultural bankruptcy of Arab society, evidenced by a Basra Mullah’s call for female soldiers of the Coalition to be captured for the purposes of concubinage. America will ultimately win this war because of American culture, nothing to do with rigid ideology, the stock in trade of Trotskyism. After the burning of Washington and Pearl Harbor the American spirit picked itself up within hours and got on the move. Its dynamism meant that December 7 1941 or September 11 2001 were not the disasters that the fall of Granada or the retreat from Vienna were for Islamic culture, nursing its grievances for centuries, the human potential of Muslims only released when their skills, abilities and common humanity are unleashed in the Western world. Not for nothing are America’s Muslims the richest in the world per capita.

The older conservative doctrine of containment and deterrence couldn’t work in the face of Saddam Hussein’s defiance. The UN’s inability to act against defiance of its resolutions arose from its Cold War roots, and you can’t have a Cold War with only one superpower.

However, the deed is done. Unless, for some obscure reason, the public is not being told, there have been no WMD discovered. The apparent failure of the Bush White House to devote resources to this quest or at least keep the public informed on why there have been no WMD found is one of the most startling aspects of this whole period in history. There is a callousness about its failure to communicate which is wholly unbecoming of a White House at war.

Those who called for war had mostly never fought in one. This is a point that has been made again and again by those who criticise the think tanks and magazines from which neo-conservatism sprung. It’s a perfectly valid criticism, although in a civilian society the oversight of wars must be left to civilians. But there is just as equally valid criticism to be made of very distinguished conservatives who oppose the war appearing on the same websites as people like Justin Raimondo (‘Go F…. Yourself, Mr. President’) or the extreme left-winger John Pilger, whose beliefs on everything except the war are the antithesis of conservatism. Such people do not good bedfellows make for the likes of Pat Buchanan and Paul Craig Roberts.

The real failing of neo-conservatism is its belief that all societies, if not free, cannot just be made free but made to be free. The historical pointers suggesting its ultimate failure were all there – anyone who cries for Zimbabwe will see that that country’s failure has been the result as much of Mugabe’s Shona tribalism as his Communism. Nearly every failed country in Africa has failed because of tribalism, and few places are more tribal than the Middle East. Loyalty to tribe trumps loyalty to fellow citizens in the form of the state, the first demand of an open society. Democracy has never thrived in tribal societies, and there was no real prospect of it ever taking root either in Iraq or in Afghanistan. It is not the war that will ultimately fail – it is the peace that will fail, and because of the world vision of a few people living cloistered and privileged lives in the smart parts of Washington DC US forces will be in that part of the world for decades to come, not to keep the peace but to enforce the peace.

The final straw has been the last two weeks. Anyone connected to the regime of Saddam Hussein is art and part responsible for his regime’s atrocities. If the Iraqi Army was to be disbanded, its generals should never have been re-hired. When the statues came crashing down in April 2003, the line that was spun was that the Iraqi people would know that the Saddam regime would never be coming back. Now, even if the involvement of Ba’athist officials is limited they can’t be so sure, which negates the whole exercise.

It was over with Abu Ghraib. As a result of the idiotic actions of Lynndie England and her colleagues, and the equally idiotic actions of CBS in broadcasting the photos without thinking that there might be competition between their news value and the national interest of protecting American lives, American soldiers are at further risk of attack. If you don’t think that could happen, remember last summer, when six Brit MP’s were murdered by a mob after holding out in a crappy wee police station in the wholly crappy town of Majar-al-Kabir, a last stand of enormous courage and élan for which not one of them has received a medal. England’s Alamo happened because the Parachute Regiment had quite deliberately broken the terms of an agreement with the town headman to respect cultural differences, by using sniffer dogs.

Such needless loss of American, British and other coalition life was not, never was the point. After a year, there has been no point.

Instead, let’s return to the proven ways. It is wholly conservative to suggest that the best way to keep the peace right now is for the USA and UK to recruit spies. I don’t mean a few, I mean thousands and thousands of spies, to destabilise and subvert every damn dictatorship from China to Cuba to these demented crackpots in otherwise valueless and unimportant, unproductive places like Turkmenistan. Let’s do a Dutch, cut Medicare and build up the forces properly, starting by giving the Japanese the bomb and outsourcing the defence of Korea to them. Let’s start by saying ‘No’ to the Chinese just for once and park every ship we can find on their lawn, just as we did with the Soviets, and really test their enthusiasm for a fight over Taiwan. Two generations did not grow up under the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction to enable international Communism to win because it can make cheap DVD players. We still have enemies, many of them in Iraq. But we have other, more dangerous ones as well.

Pride makes me hate to admit this, but Shane, you were right all along.