Thursday, July 20, 2006
Warning: Neocon fury and a reporter to watch
You may take it as a given that the selection of stories that appear on the front pages of our major newspapers is a political decision if the story concerns foreign policy, no matter how loudly the editors protest otherwise. And when the story is titled "Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy," as appeared on Page 1 of yesterday's Washington Post, you more or less expect the story to cover a conservative point of view.
Since the position of true conservatives on Bush's foreign policy hasn't been in the news lately, I read Michael Abramowitz's article with interest.
At a moment when his conservative coalition is already under strain over domestic policy, President Bush is facing a new and swiftly building backlash on the right over his handling of foreign affairs.
Oh, great. We're going to learn what the "right" is thinking.
Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.
"Timidity and confusion?" I'll let anybody claim the Bush administration is confused. But timid?!!! I was beside myself in anticipation of who those "conservative intellectuals and commentators" might be.
"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."
Now I must admit I didn't know who Danielle Pletka is. Shame on me. But that mention of "timidity" in the second paragraph roused my suspicions. When I checked I found that Pletka was an early signer of the Neocon documents.1 And it was becoming clear that the "conservatives" under discussion were in fact the almost exclusively Jewish Neocon cabal.
Too much diplomacy, not enough fire power
Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon.
Weak, weak, weak! Don't you just detest weakness?! But Abramowitz continues to impute these ideas to "conservatives."
How foreign policy is influenced
Most of the most scathing critiques of the administration from erstwhile supporters are being expressed within think tanks and in journals and op-ed pages followed by a foreign policy elite in Washington and New York.
But the Bush White House has always paid special attention to the conversation in these conservative circles. Many of the administration's signature ideas -- regime change in Iraq, and special emphasis on military "preemption" and democracy building around the globe -- first percolated within this intellectual community. In addition, these voices can be a leading indicator of how other conservatives from talk radio to Congress will react to policies.
Yes, the administration's "signature ideas" did come from the Neocons, still unnamed by Abramowitz. But only in that last paragraph does Abramowitz drop a hint that there are, well, "other conservatives."
As the White House listens to what one official called the "chattering classes," it hears a level of disdain from its own side of the ideological spectrum that would have been unthinkable a year ago. It is an odd irony for a president who has inflamed liberals and many allies around the world for what they see as an overly confrontational, go-it-alone approach. The discontent on the right could also color the 2008 presidential debate.
Irony aside, that sounds remarkably like a threat.
What smart Presidential contenders are saying
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering a bid for president, called the administration's latest moves abroad a form of appeasement. "We have accepted the lawyer-diplomatic fantasy that talking while North Korea builds bombs and missiles and talking while the Iranians build bombs and missiles is progress," he said in an interview. "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?" he asked, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the North Korean leader.
"I am utterly puzzled," Gingrich added.
And I am utterly puzzled what Gingrich would do instead. The implication, though, is that he is in agreement with the Neocons in that we should at a minimum be doing something aggressive, like maybe bombing the bastards.
Now we get to hear from another Neocon: Ken Adelman—
Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms-control official ... close to Vice President Cheney, said he believes foreign policy innovation for White House ended with Bush's second inaugural address, a call to spread democracy throughout the world.
"What they are doing on North Korea or Iran is what [Sen. John F.] Kerry would do, what a normal middle-of-the-road president would do," he said. "This administration prided itself on molding history, not just reacting to events. Its a normal foreign policy right now. It's the triumph of Kerryism."
I never thought I'd say it, but a "normal middle-of-the-road president" would look pretty good right now.
The "other" conservatives
Finally, in the 12th paragraph, Abramowitz reveals who his "conservatives" really are. This is his first use of the word "neoconservative"—
Not all conservatives subscribe to such views. Some prominent conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr. and George Will, have been skeptical of the mission in Iraq and, in Will's case, much of the ability of America to build democracy abroad. In his syndicated column yesterday, Will referred to the neoconservative complaints in observing that the administration is "suddenly receiving some criticism so untethered from reality as to defy caricature."
George Will is referring to the very complaints that Abramowitz is so happily detailing for us—"neoconservative complaints," which are "so untethered from reality as to defy caricature." That is as felicitous a phrase as George Will has ever turned.
Abramowitz then quotes a few kind words from supporters of the Bush regime before getting back to his true, if camouflaged, topic: the Neocons' wrath.
In fact, it has been Bush's willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment -- which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more "multilateral" diplomacy in concert with allies -- that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive "neoconservatives" who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.
Abramowitz has now informed us of two foreign policy groups. In Paragraph 5 he told us about the "foreign policy elite" where the administration got all of its "signature ideas." Now he tells us of a "foreign policy establishment" to whose criticisms the Bush administration responds and that has long urged more multilateral diplomacy.
Finally Abramowitz unequivocally reveals—five paragraphs from the end—just who on the right is so distressed with Bush's foreign policy—the "neoconservatives." And again he rehashes their complaints against the administration—
- inadequate troop levels in Iraq
- incompetently managed war
- not "aggressive" enough to defeat the insurgency
- offering direct talks with Iran and inducements to curb their nuclear program
- no air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities
- wasting time on multilateral talks with the Europeans
A letter to the White House
Michael Abramowitz is the National Editor of the Washington Post. He can get his stories on the front page of the paper pretty much when he chooses. But I have some serious problems with this story.
First, this is a "story" about Neocon displeasure that includes a veiled threat, and by putting it on the front page of the Post it's like hand-delivering a letter to the White House. It is actually one of those critiques of the administration that Abramowitz himself describes as "expressed within think tanks and in journals and op-ed pages followed by a foreign policy elite in Washington and New York." This "story" is an op-ed piece masquerading as news. It is not really intended for you or me but for the White House and the "foreign policy elite" that read the Post.
Second, toward the average reader Abramowitz is either intentionally deceptive or he shouldn't be the National Editor of the Dogpath Gazette. I would have less concern if Abramowitz had written a piece headlined "'Neoconservatives' enraged by White House foreign policy" in which he forthrightly laid out their complaints.
But when he hides his subject with locutions such as "the right" and "conservatives," you know something's up. Abramowitz knows there's a difference; he also knows that the average reader doesn't. And further, he knows that the average reader doesn't make it to the 12th paragraph of an article on foreign policy, which is where the term "neoconservative" first appears.2
This is a story that Abramowitz has conjured up. (Check his second paragraph. Also check Footnote 1 below and notice the date. This is old news.) Nothing has happened to warrant front-page positioning of some sore-loser gripes—or at least nothing that Abramowitz wants to tell us in his opening paragraph.
But there are two events mentioned later in the article that may be related to its timing: (1) George Will's column Tuesday criticizing the Neocons and (2) the Israeli aggression against Lebanon. George Will's column has been the talk of the Right, and the Israeli attack has been the talk of everyone.
Of course the Neocons are much more interested in Israel than in George Will. While dismissing Will's editorial by a brief mention, the subtext to Abramowitz's article is that support for Israel must not flag.
I don't really know anything about Michael Abramowitz. Aside from his actual writings, there is very little about him on the Web. Was it obscure, coded columns such as this that landed him his position as National Editor? I will certainly be very careful in the future of anything he writes, and I hope you will be too.
And the Jewish media cabal
Meanwhile, let's see what the Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz, himself Jewish, had to say today about another Jewish reporter in the Post company's stables.
Jacob Weisburg is the editor of Slate, one of the Washington Post properties. He just got back from a trip to Israel courtesy of the great Israeli lobbying group AIPAC. As it happened he visited the Lebanese border just "a few days before war broke out" and "could see Hezbollah fighters standing atop one of their concrete bunkers." He then sets about the task of deciding whom to blame in an article titled "Don't Blame Bush."
Weisberg shows he's not a knee-jerk partisan. But wouldn't it have been better if Slate, and not a pro-Israel lobby, had paid for his trip?
So much for the "objectivity" of the Post's reporters.
How a dictatorship works (10/4/05)
1Pletka is an Australian fruit-loop who by way of her former association with Jesse Helmes managed to make a name for herself among right-wing foreign-policy pundits. Here are some excerpts from her Right Web profile—
Pletka gained a reputation as an influential player in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East while working with Sen. Jesse Helms and the Senate Intelligence Committee. At AEI, Pletka has chaired numerous conferences on “rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq” and democratization in the Arab world.
Notice this date—
In October 2005, Pletka wrote that the Bush administration was not fully committing itself to the war on terrorism and the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. “The Bush revolution has indeed lost its energy,” she wrote. “The evidence is widespread and disturbing. Whether on the question of Iranian nuclear proliferation, Iraqi constitution-building, or Libyan dictatorship, the rhetoric retains its ring, but it does not resonate through the Department of State, let alone through the region.”
With respect to Iran, Pletka along with other AEI scholars regularly denounces those who propose diplomatic engagement.
Pletka advocates a more aggressive “regime change” foreign policy along the lines described by AEI colleagues Richard Perle and David Frum in their book, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. “The political prescriptions contained are terrific,” Pletka told the Jewish magazine The Forward.... Among those policy prescriptions offered by Perle and Frum are, according to The Forward, universal biometric fingerprinting, immediate steps to bring about regime change in Iran and Syria, a military blockade of North Korea, a diplomatic approach that treats Saudi Arabia and France as rivals if not “enemies” and a decreasing American involvement in the United Nations.
That should fix things right up. But wait, there's more—
Torture is an acceptable practice in the war against terrorism, says Pletka. “I'm not a big fan of torture. Unfortunately, there are times in war when it is necessary to do things in a way that is absolutely and completely abhorrent to most good, decent people,” she told the BBC. “If it is absolutely imperative to find something out at that moment, then it is imperative to find something out at that moment, and Club Med is not the place to do it.”
2So what's the harm, you ask? Just this: (1) By conflating "neoconservative" with "conservative" Abramowitz implies a broader popular base and influence for the group. There are many people who consider themselves "conservative" but actually very few who think of themselves as "neoconservative." (2) By conflating the terms he also assists the Neocons with their project to be "a leading indicator of how other conservatives from talk radio to Congress will react to policies." [back]