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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 09, 2006

Neoconservatives -- exposed, scorned, but still in control

The one positive aspect of the Baker-Hamilton report is that the reactions it is provoking -- both positive and viciously negative -- have shed as bright a light as one could hope for on our current predicament. Never before have the reasons we are in Iraq -- and staying indefinitely -- been as clear as they are now.

Most notable is the frothing intensity of the personal attacks on Jim Baker coming from the neoconservatives and other assorted warmongers. Here is Marty Peretz, Editor of the very sober and serious foreign policy magazine The New Republic:

Yes, I can't get over James Baker being the chairman of a civil commission on war and statecraft. The first reason is that he is primarily responsible for American policy in the first Bush administration. That policy was a strategic disaster and a moral enormity. On Baker's head rests almost all of the responsibility for Saddam Hussein surviving in power after the first Gulf war.

And, given that fact, also responsible for Saddam's atrocities against the Shia and Kurds for which the deposed tyrant is at last being tried in the very context of this war. James Baker is actually an accessory to war crimes of the Iraqi Baath Party in a war fought entirely against civilians. The truth is that he trusted Saddam ... just as he seems to trust Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be reasonable. If he truly trusts them on anything he is, well, as gullible as Chamberlain.

To Peretz, the 1991 ejection of Iraq from Kuwait -- undertaken with U.N. approval and a genuine, worldwide coalition -- was "a strategic disaster and a moral enormity," all because we didn't proceed to invade Iraq and occupy Baghdad. But the current war in Iraq is noble and wise. How much more extremist and out of touch can a person be?

Beyond branding Baker as a war criminal, neonconservatives are also (of course) smearing him as an anti-Semite -- again. Peretz, in a separate post, accuses Baker of using the Report to further wage what Peretz calls "Baker's old war with the Israelis and with the Jews." Powerline's Paul Mirgenoff compared Baker to the Hated Anti-Semite de Jour: "other than Jimmy Carter, I can't think of a major public figure I like less than James Baker." Rush Limbaugh accused Baker of leading the "Iraq Surrender Group," and at Pajamas Media, Michael Ledeen called Rush's epithet "elegant" and himself pronounced the B-H Report "disgusting" because it recommended talks with Israel's enemies.

As I argued immediately after the election, the disaster of the Iraq War and the resulting rejection of Bush-Republican policies presents a real opportunity to isolate, and relegate back to the fringes, the neoconservatives and more generic crazed warmongers who have dictated our foreign policy over the last five years -- the Bill Kristols, Rush Limbaughs, John McCains, Charles Krauthammers, Joe Liebermans, American Enterprise Institutes and Rich Lowrys, who have an insatiable appetite for endless wars that degrade America's credibility, resources, strength, security and national character.

At a time when most Americans have recognized that this war is a disaster and want to withdraw, this group of radical warriors continues to insist not only that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do, but that we need more of it -- more troops, more fighting, more threats, less diplomacy, less concern for world opinion, more regime change, more wars. John McCain and Bill Kristol favor a policy -- i.e., deploy as many more American troops as possible to Iraq -- which only a tiny percentage of Americans (ranging from 8% to 16%) support. Although the media has yet to realize it, this group is already on the outer fringe of our political spectrum.

Hateful rants directed towards Baker like those from Peretz, Limbaugh and the AEI luminaries (even as Baker endorsed an indefinite presence in Iraq) illustrate just how radical they are. And as they are now quite openly admitting, neoconservatives hate Jim Baker for three reasons -- Israel, Israel and Israel.

It isn't just that the B-H Report committed the crime of suggesting in passing that it might be beneficial for the U.S. to increase its efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Even worse (to them), it also suggested that there might be benefits for the U.S. if we tried to achieve some sort of cooperative understanding with Israel's two remaining formidable enemies -- Syria and Iran. Treating Syria and Iran like anything other than new Nazi Germanys to be bombed and crushed is the greatest neoconservative sin there is.

We're told that these two countries are so hateful and insane that the mere idea of doing anything other than bombing them into submission -- or, even better, out of existence -- is "unrealistic." Neoconservatives argue this even though, as Baker himself pointed out during his friendly chat with Larry King this week, Iran already cooperated with the U.S. in stabilizing Afghanistan (because a stable Afghanistan was in their interests), and Syria was cooperative on multiple post-9/11 fronts until the neoconservatives succeeded in convincing Bush to treat them like lepers, thereby forcing them into the arms of the Iranians.

It may (or may not) be true that Syria and/or Iran are intractable when it comes to hostility towards Israel (those who argue this previously said the same about Egypt). But it is clearly false -- empirically proven to be false -- that those countries are dedicated to "waging war" on the U.S. and would thus refuse to cooperate no matter how much their interests were served by doing so. Those two countries are the implacable enemies of Israel, not the U.S., but many neoconservatives want to abolish any such distinction.

At the same time, Baker and his friends are far from pure in their motives either. Much of their bickering with the AIPAC warriors was driven not by some principled belief in the unfair plight of the Palestinians, but by their desire to forge business relationships with Arab governments. As this generally pro-Israel, anti-Baker history of that period recounts, Bush 41 officials were eager to pursue arms sales and oil contracts in the Middle East, transactions that required a "realist" approach, meaning a willingness to do business even with the most brutal and suffocating Arab dictators who also happened to be Israel's enemies.

In Syria and Iran, Baker, Frank Carlucci and company saw (and see) large oil fields and/or a large market for Boeing to be cultivated, while American neoconservatives saw (and see) enemies of Israel needing to be smashed. As the events of this week revealed, neither Baker nor his neoconservative enemies have changed any.

Hence, Baker's Report urges the privatization of Iraqi oil fields and negotiations with Israel's enemies, while American neoconservatives see him as a surrender-happy anti-Semite. All of this is so tiresome and dishonest that it really engenders a strong desire to ignore it all, which one could do if not for the fact that the Baker-Hamilton Report has virtually sealed the fate of our Iraq policy for the next two years -- stay the course with a few cosmetic alterations, at best -- and still greater dangers lie ahead.

The Baker-hating neoconseratives continue to agitate for more war, undeterred by their growing repudiation and loss of credibility because they believe they still possess the ultimate trump card -- namely, their ongoing ability to continue to sway the poor, besieged, increasingly isolated President with their visions of neoconservative grandeur. Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol all but demanded a show of Bush's manhood yesterday in their war-rallying column in The Weekly Standard, entitled "It's Up to Bush":

It's all up to the president now. . . . That means the president will have to be, much more than he has been, his own general and strategist. He will have to decide on his own that incremental measures, such as stepping up the pace of Iraqi training, will not make enough of a difference in a short enough time to prevent a collapse of American policy and of Iraq itself. He will have to decide, contrary to the advice of many of his top advisers, that many more American troops need to be sent to Iraq, and as quickly as possible. . . .

Now he needs to display a different kind of courage. He has to take into his own hands the fate of Iraq and make his own decisions about what needs to be done. Of course, he should listen to all his advisers. But he must also know that his advisers, both civilian and military, have been failing him for the past three years. American policy, if it is to have any hope of turning the tide, must change dramatically in the next month or two. No one other than President Bush can make that change.

All of the American anti-war sentiment and Baker-Hamilton Reports in the world do not change the one fact on which neoconservatives and warmongers are (understandably) placing all of their war-hungry hopes and dreams -- namely, that the President, who is in fact still the Commander-in-Chief, will remain convinced that both his historical legacy and theological goodness depend upon Victory in the Epic War of Civilizations, the Great Challenge of the 21st Century. Thus, unburdened and unrestrained by any future elections, they hope that Bush will continue to wage war, and will escalate those efforts -- in Iraq and beyond.

Yesterday, the President -- jarringly enough -- petulantly provoked an argument with Dick Durbin by making clear that he sees himself as Harry Truman, pressing forward with our grand, important wars even in the face of a lack of resolve on the part of Americans. Bush believes he will be vindicated by history -- like Truman -- and anyone who thinks he is going to change course or moderate his aggression any simply hasn't been paying attention to how he operates. The opposite course -- a marked increased in aggression and military force in order to prove he still can -- is the far more likely outcome.

That is the truly bizarre and indescribably dangerous situation we face. America has turned against these extremists and this warmongering sentiment, but the President (and especially his closest advisor, the Vice President) remains solidly in their camp. They're convinced that they will be vindicated by staying forever in Iraq, and possibly expanding our military force beyond Iraq. And Jim Baker, having supported the war in the first place, all but ensured that this would happen (even, admittedly, while forcing into the establishment dialogue some important observations).

It's true that these extremists (and, hopefully, the establishment institutions which have enabled them, beginning with the Beltway media) are being marginalized as they become further and further removed from popular American sentiment. And that could be a real long-term gain for the country. But it's also true that we are going to remain in Iraq (at least) through the Bush Presidency (at least), and it's hard to see any benefit that could possibly compete with that tragic harm. Chris Floyd captured the bottom line perfectly:

The Iraq Study Group's report simply confirms, yet again, the bedrock truth of the war: the American Establishment has no intention of leaving Iraq, ever, and no intention of having anything but a pliant, cowed, bullied puppet government in Baghdad to carry out whatever the Establishment decides is in its best interests on any given day.

Iraq was invaded because large swathes of the American elite thought they could make hay of it one way or another (financially, politically, ideologically or even psychologically, for those pathetic souls who get their sense of manhood or personal validation from their identification with a big, swaggering, domineering empire).

And U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, indefinitely, at some level, because the American elite think they can make hay of the situation one way or another. The war is all about -- is only about -- what the American elite feel is in their own best interest, how it aggrandizes their fortunes, flatters their prejudices, serves their needs.

I've been persuaded by those who have argued here over the past couple days that the Baker-Hamilton Report isn't pure evil, because it so fundamentally undercuts the neoconservative narrative about the world. That may be true. But its effect of solidifying our ongoing presence in Iraq and transforming anti-withdrawal sentiment into the mainstream, centrist, bipartisan position vastly outweigh that. As long as we stay as an occupying force in Iraq -- with all of the abuses and destruction and drain that inevitably goes with it -- it is difficult to imagine how we are going to reverse any of the damage that has been done to our country over the last six years.

The neoconservatives are being revealed as the ugly, crazed extremists that they are. But they still remain more or less firmly in control in the form of George Bush, Dick Cheney and company. And that control has not been loosened any by the Baker-Hamilton Report. If anything, the opposite has occurred.

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