A question on Greg Sargent’s blog got me thinking rather more deeply about the Freeman matter because some odd contradictions and complexities arise when we peek in.
As with so much about the last eight years, we are in upside-down land again.
There’s a very good reason that the Bush propaganda machine, as it worked through the sequence of rationales on ‘we must attack Iraq because…’, put a major emphasis on “spreading democracy” and on “the evils perpetrated by Saddam and sons”. Those reflect traditional liberal notions/values and as such, made the sales job much easier. Had they said, “this is about control of petroleum resources and about supporting our lobby-heavy client state in the region”, that sales job woud have been a tad tougher.
All of which brings us to the “neoconservative” camp. We all recognize that term now but I hadn’t even heard of it until I read an essay by Anatol Lieven in the London Review of Books (it’s well worth reading the whole essay) back in late 2002 as the propaganda campaign was being ramped up.
To understand the Administration’s motivation, it is necessary to appreciate the breathtaking scope of the domestic and global ambitions which the dominant neo-conservative nationalists hope to further by means of war, and which go way beyond their publicly stated goals. There are of course different groups within this camp: some are more favourable to Israel, others less hostile to China; not all would support the most radical aspects of the programme. However, the basic and generally agreed plan is unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority, and this has been consistently advocated and worked on by the group of intellectuals close to Dick Cheney and Richard Perle since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
This basic goal is shared by Colin Powell and the rest of the security establishment. It was, after all, Powell who, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared in 1992 that the US requires sufficient power ‘to deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world stage’. However, the idea of pre-emptive defence, now official doctrine, takes this a leap further, much further than Powell would wish to go. In principle, it can be used to justify the destruction of any other state if it even seems that that state might in future be able to challenge the US. When these ideas were first aired by Paul Wolfowitz and others after the end of the Cold War, they met with general criticism, even from conservatives. Today, thanks to the ascendancy of the radical nationalists in the Administration and the effect of the 11 September attacks on the American psyche, they have a major influence on US policy.
Though the neoconservative set of ideas may have some intersection points with traditional liberalism, that’s really a matter of chance more than anything. The philosophy is, at its core, unyielding Platonism in its “understanding” that the dirty and emotional masses need a small and select elite to guide them and the world. It is profoundly undemocratic. Further, it holds (as voiced by Strauss, the progenitor of this worldview) that is is the moral imperative of rulers to forward falsehoods (the “noble lie”) where necessary to herd the masses in the right directions.