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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Neocons getting nervous . . . very

If people become a little desperate and start losing touch with reality when they begin to realize that they are losing, then it’s safe to say (and to celebrate) that the neocons are starting to realize that their fun militaristic games are coming to an ignominious end. Uber-neocon Father and Iraqi War theoretician Norman Podhoretz has a new essay out in Commentary which is really nothing short of bizarre, delusional, and perhaps even a little disturbed.

While many people compare the war in Iraq to the Vietnam War, Podhoretz has now decreed that the proper analogy is actually to the American Revolutionary War. Michael Moore previously drew this same analogy, provoking great scorn and ridicule from the Right because Moore equated the Iraqi insurgents to the American Minutemen bravely fighting for their country’s independence against the imperialist British intruders (the U.S.). But to Podhoretz, it is the steadfast American supporters of the Iraq War (such as himself, his wife, his son, his long-time comrade Irving Kristol, and Kristols’ wife and son -- the whole neocon family) who are the great revolutionary patriots, and he now sees anti-war critics as actually comparable to colonial sympathizers with the British Crown. Really.

Podhoretz molds this Iraq-Revolutionary War analogy and then goes all the way with it. Podhoretz thus casts himself as the courageous, resolute freedom-fighter Thomas Paine, while those who were formerly pro-war but now have growing doubts are castigated as "sunshine patriots," i.e., those colonial cowards who pretended to be supporters of the American Revolution but then lost their nerve and their will when the war against the British got tough, and they quickly started revealing themselves to be British sympathizers:

Here’s Podhoretz naming names and assigning everyone a role in his pretend Revolutionary War:

A goodly number of these Democrats (Howard Dean and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, to name only two) are the "Tories" of today, in the sense of having from the very beginning stood openly and unambiguously against the revolution in foreign policy represented by the Bush Doctrine and now being put to the test in Iraq. But a much larger number of Democrats fit more smoothly into Tom Paine’s category of "disguised" Tories. These are the Congressmen and Senators who in their heart of hearts were against the resolution authorizing the President to use force against Saddam Hussein, but who—given the state of public opinion at the time—feared being punished at the polls unless they voted for it. Now, however, with public opinion moving in the other direction, they have been emboldened to "show their heads."

Finally, we have a certain number of Democrats who correspond to the "the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots" of the American Revolution.

One of them is Congressman John Murtha, who backed the invasion of Iraq because (to give him the benefit of the doubt) he really thought it was the right thing to do, but who has now bought entirely into the view that all is lost and that the only sensible course is to turn tail.


Podhoretz even invokes Paine’s most famous and melodramatic passage in order to bathe himself and fellow chest-beating neocons with courageous and revolutionary glory even as their dream crumbles:

They are, he memorably wrote, "the times that try men’s souls," the times in which "the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot" become so disheartened that they "shrink from the service of [their] country."


To Podhoretz, what is happening today to the poor, increasingly lonely patriots like him is exactly what happened to Paine and his fellow revolutionaries:

Tom Paine grew so disgusted with "the mean principles that are held by the Tories," with the hypocrisy of the disguised Tories, and with the shrinking from hardship of the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots of 1776-7 that he finally gave up trying to persuade them:

"I have been tender in raising the cry against these men, and used numberless arguments to show them their danger, but it will not do to sacrifice a world to either their folly or their baseness."

And so, "quitting this class of men . . . who see not the full extent of the evil that threatens them," Paine turned "to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out," and rested his hopes on them.


Poor Norm Podhoretz. With his revolutionary zeal and noble dedication to the "liberation" of Iraqis, he sees (as usual) what so few others can see -- that we are on the road to glorious victory against the British in Iraq. It's just that the media (of course) won’t let anyone see how great things are going. You see: "The reporters and their editors in the mainstream media have been working overtime to show how badly things have been going for us in Iraq" (because they keep talking about minor matters like the brewing civil war and police stations blowing up and U.S. torture holes instead of what is really newsworthy -- the latest girl in Basra to get chocolate from a nice Marine). As a result, Norm’s little war is being ruined by people who just won’t or (thanks to the Saddam-loving media) can’t recognize the reality which Norm sees so clearly.

And with this, we arrive at the real goal of the essay: to shift blame for the failures in Iraq away from Norm and his friends who urged this war in the first place -- and away from their followers in the Government who planned it horrendously -- and onto, ironically enough, opponents of the war. It is these anti-war critics, Norm tells us, who - despite no having control over any parts of the Government - are the ones who are somehow "pulling off the proverbial feat of snatching an American defeat from the jaws of victory."

The litany of Great Things in Iraq which Podhoretz cursorily trots out -- in a way that makes it seem like he is almost boring himself rather than just his readers -- is by now mind-numblingly familiar: schools are being built, we’ve paved some roads, bonds are being traded, and, of course, we get to hear the Grand Neocon Tale of how the people put purple ink on their fingers. These things are recited as though any of it even mitigates, let alone overrides, the not-so-great things which Norm’s war has unleashed: little things like the sectarian civil war, great and dangerous regional instability, a new Al Qaeda operating ground, the destruction of American credibility, government-sponsored death squads, Abu Grahib, a whole new image of the U.S. as Grand Torturers in black prisons, and a bloody conflict from which the U.S. seemingly has no honorable or constructive exit.

And, by the way, Norm also wants us to know that we haven’t actually made any real mistakes in Iraq, and if we did, they pale in comparison to the mistakes we made in World War II and other wars. And the casualties aren’t really a big deal either, because the number of American dead (just a couple thousand, with another 15,000 seriously maimed) is so much lower than it was for other wars, so only someone feigning concern about the lives of American soldiers -- rather than someone who has genuine concern -- would use the growing number of body bags and severed American limbs as an argument to oppose the war.

Norm does not even think that it’s a big deal -- at all -- that the war planners seemed to have had no idea that we would be fighting a formidable and vicious insurgency, and thus made no plans to do so:

As for the insurgency, even if its dimensions had accurately been foreseen, it would still have been impossible to eliminate it in short order. To cite Eliot Cohen himself:

"If the insurgencies in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, Sri Lanka, and Kashmir continue, what reason do we have to expect this one to end so soon?"

So Podhoretz here is dismissive of the complaint that the U.S. failed to realize we would be fighting an insurgency because, so says Podhoretz, it would have made no difference if we had realized it, because we can’t contain them anyway. But surely we would be in a much better position had we planned for it, and more importantly, perhaps we would have thought differently about whether to wage this war -- meaning perhaps we wouldn’t have waged it at all -- if we realized that we would be in the grim, protracted conflict we are now in rather than floating on the glorious victory parades celebrating the "cakewalk" we were promised by Podhoretz’s friends.

This quite emotional essay by Podhoretz contains a glimpse of almost every defining neocon trait – an audacious willingness to depict reality exactly the opposite from what it is, snide dismissals of anything which stands in the way of The Great Neocon Wars (U.S. military deaths, the disappearance of U.S. credibility, a complete relinquishing of U.S. values) and, most prominently, a total contempt for the truth.

Thus, to Podhoretz, it does not matter if we entered the war on false pretenses about WMD’s because the war is still a good thing. It does not matter if we failed to plan for - and failed to disclose - that we would be trapped in a years-long insurgency war because there was nothing we could do about it anyway. It does not matter if far more soldiers have been maimed and killed, and far more will be, than we ever thought. In fact, he’s sick of " the relentless harping on American casualties by the mainstream media." And, most of all, nobody should point out the bad things happening in Iraq because to do so is to turn people against the war project and prevent more Middle Eastern countries from being attacked.

It is not hard to see what is happening here. Everyone knows who is responsible for bringing America into this war. And anyone can see that we were brought to this war based on assumptions and promises which turned out to be wholly false. A day of reckoning for the responsible parties is inevitable, and it’s likely coming sooner rather than later. As a result, I can’t say I blame Norm Podhoretz & Company for flailing around trying to insist, even now, that things have gone great in Iraq - better than expected even - and that we are on the verge of victory. Or that, in the alternative, if things don’t end up so great in Iraq, it’s everyone else’s fault except theirs.

This essay, like so much of what the neocons say and do these days, is an act of self-defense and self-preservation. They were so eager to get America into this war that they didn’t care, at all, what methods they used to get us here or what consequences would ensue once it started. The consequences – for the U.S. and for them – are lurking around the corner. And they know that. And that’s why we’re reading increasingly strident and blame-shifting essays like this one from Thomas Paine Norm Podhoretz this week.

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