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The Divided Camp

by Malke Buss Friday, Jul. 22, 2005 at 7:21 AM

"There is no reason for the Iraq war, Buchanan said..The neoconservative approach is everything but conservative: they bomb a pseudo-democracy in the countries of the Middle East.."


American Conservatives and the Iraq War

By Dr. Malke Buss, U.S.

[This article published in Zeit-Fragen, Nr.28, 7/11/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

[A conference of “old” conservatives on the Iraq war including the politician and repeated presidential candidate Pat Buchanan showed clearly: American conservatives are divided in “neos” (new) and “paleos” (old). Buchanan organized the conference so both camps could discuss argumentatively which they did in a calm and friendly way.]

“America’s Security in the Age of Terrorism” was the theme of the conference organized by “The American Cause” foundation on April 23, 2005 in McLean near Washington, D.C. On one side American foreign policy and the Iraq war were discussed. On the other side domestic policy and the consequences of the “Patriot Act” for civil rights in America were broached. The titles of the three discussion rounds were: “Has the Iraq invasion made America safer?”, “Has George Bush made Americans more secure or less free?” and “Is democracy the remedy for Islamic terrorism?”

Both camps of conservatism, the old- and the new conservatives, presented their positions in a balanced way. Patrick Buchanan, Bob Barr (as representative of the more libertarian line of old conservatives), Robert Novak and Armaud de Borchgrave spoke for the old conservatives (also called paleo-conservatives). Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney, Clifford may and Michael Waller represented the neo-conservatives.

An intense controversy developed on the question of the Iraq war. The advantage of this “Pro-Contra” debate is that representatives of different positions had to stand the test in confrontation with the other position. The disadvantage of this procedure is that good positions are occasionally weakened and diluted. Before a concrete example is offered, an observation from the European perspective should be allowed: American debates are often marked by an explicitly open and tolerant mood. Other opinions are overlooked. Representatives of other positions are not attacked polemically or personally. Most discussants have long known each other personally on a “first-name basis.”


This form of discussion becomes problematic when all the participants are not playing with open cards and the counter-arguments of the others are not really tackled. Some neoconservatives like Michael Waller tried to convince the public of the necessity of war. Only by means of this war could the United States break the resistance of regimes intent on gaining weapons of mass destruction and becoming potential dangers for America. For example, Gaddafi has now abandoned his project of obtaining weapons of mass destruction. The “neocon” Frank Gaffney also pleaded for an “offensive strategy” in dealing with so-called Islamo-fascists. The Americans had to bring the war to the enemies so they would not attack Americans in their country. Part of the argumentation was that the strategy is successful and realizes the goal of Americans: making America more secure.

These discussants did not question their premises. They did not ask why many Arab and non-Arab Moslem countries are anti-American and whether America’s conduct contributes to this hatred. With simplifying arguments, they build a pseudo-structure that may have appeared sound in itself but had little relation to reality. The following questions could have been asked: Who first deployed troops – the Moslems in America or Americans in the holiest countries of Moslems like Saudi Arabia? People even imagine Moslem troops were stationed in Italy near the Vatican! Neoconservative intellectuals present the situation as though extreme Moslems hate and want to destroy western civilization and that they alone are actively mobilized against the West. On the other hand, the question could be raised: For how many decades did the US and friendly western states manipulate governments in the Middle East so that the oil-producing countries were pro-American?

Many old-conservatives in the US raise similar questions, are very anxious about the foreign- and domestic policy of their country and sharply criticize the Iraq war. They do this on the background of a worldview that insists America should withdraw from all other countries and concentrate on the fate of America – as the American founding fathers intended. They are strictly against any imperial foreign policy.


Pat Buchanan commented at the conference: there was no reason for attacking Iraq. On the contrary, the chaotic situation produced by the American attack on Iraq produced a new harbor for terrorists. “We have metastasized the cancer,” Buchanan declared. He answered clearly the question why Islamic fundamentalists attacked America: “They are here because we are there.”

Buchanan emphasized that Americans first came into the Moslem countries of the Middle East and stationed soldiers there – and thereby injured the feelings of many Moslems – before Islamic fundamentalists tried to harm America. “One way to stop terror would be abandoning the empire.” “Bring the troops home” was Buchanan’s demand. He also expressed serious doubt in the possibility of imposing democracy on a country from the outside. A glance at the history of the 20th century demonstrates this: “We destroyed the empires in Europe, overthrew the German emperor and what did we gain? Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin!” Buchanan underlined the problematic side of a democratization process forced and accelerated from the outside.

Bob Barr, former Republican congressman and lawyer, showed the dangerous consequences of the Iraq war and the so-called “war against terror” for American democracy. As a member of a group of attorneys, he critically accompanies the new legal changes of the “Patriot Act” and focuses on restrictions of freedom rights in America. The private sphere that he describes as the core of civilization is increasingly undermined by tightening the law. The US government may in no case undermine freedom in the name of security, Barr insists. The goal must be bringing the United States back to the constitution again.

Like Bob Barr, the4 journalist and book author Jim Bovard was also critical about the domestic policy consequences of US foreign policy. In a recent development, the US president stands above the law and can ignore the law if necessary. This is a dangerous development. He raised particular objections in relation to the application of torture methods in prisons like Guantanamo.

Other speakers referred to the condition of the US military. Michael Desch, professor at the George Bush School of Government, emphasized the miserable mood and moral standards in the military. Among American soldiers in Iraq, there were already 18,000 “casualties” (wounded or dead) including 1600 dead (the number has climbed to over 1700 since then). “We are destroying the US military,” Desch said. There is increasing disagreement and dissatisfaction within the leadership. In connection with the legitimate concern of every American that their sons must give their blood for an unjust war and could be sent irresponsibly into a chaotic war situation, the concrete and sympathetic sorrow for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the destruction of their country was unfortunately absent at this meeting.

Pat Buchanan made clear that the reasons for the Iraq war have shifted. The war did not start from the concrete danger of Saddam. Saddam did not seek to attack America with weapons of mass destruction or even possess these weapons at the moment of the American attack.

When confronted by Buchanan with this fact, the two representatives of the neo-conservative standpoint, Michael Ledeen and Clifford May, had weak counter-arguments or simply evaded the discussion. Clifford May, journalist and president of the “Foundation for the Defense of democracy.” Argued that American democracy had to be defended even in the Moslem countries. “You cannot combat terrorism without combating terrorists.” With simple slogans like this, May could not win many listeners for his position. The predominant impression was that the neo-conservatives do not have any convincing arguments for their aggressive policy. With another slogan, May referred to Ronald Reagan: “The future belongs to the free.”


The main argument of the neo-conservatives in fact is that Ronald Reagan carried the day over communism only because he moved to an aggressive policy toward the Soviet Union (remember, many former Trotskyites like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz joined the Republican party in the 1970s and influenced Reagan’s foreign policy in the 1980s to fight against the Soviet Union).

The neo-conservatives now say that they must deal with the Islamists in the Middle East and elsewhere just like the successful republican Reagan and unfortunately have captured a large part of the conservatives with this argumentative trap. Their approach is actually everything but conservative: they “bomb” a pseudo-democracy in the countries of the Middle East. The neo-conservatives do not conceal that they understand themselves as revolutionaries intent on changing political systems worldwide.

At a meeting of the “American Enterprise Institute,” one of the leading neo-conservative think tanks, Richard Perle, an important representative of the neocons with influence on the Bush administration, pleaded for revolution on March 30, 2005. Yes, the neo-conservatives want revolution everywhere in the world. Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples of how America helps enforce freedom. Freedom movements everywhere should be supported. “Something is in the water and in the air: the discovery of the possibility of freedom. This will come in a moment when we have a revolutionary administration.” Bush’s government is a revolutionary government!

Perle said: “He [Bush] was willing to adopt revolutionary ideas. The most important is spreading human freedom.” Perle uses beautiful phrases. However when one considers the reality in the “model countries” Afghanistan and Iraq, one sees that only puppet-governments rule, not democracy! Do we face here a new form of “international revolution” that already brought suffering to millions of people in history? Didn’t a revolutionary group once bring freedom to people with force?

Michael Ledeen, another leading “neocon,” said proudly at the Buchanan meeting that America could finance several revolutions in the Caucasus countries with 0 million in the next months. For him, this is the promising method of the future. Democratic movements must be financed and supported from the outside everywhere in countries that represent a danger to the world without having to wage war. Perhaps he provoked a certain rethinking among some neo-conservatives who realize their war plans developed at the writing desk cannot be simply converted in reality. Perhaps they also see a certain resistance since the American military has more and more problems recruiting new soldiers. What mother would drive her son into this madness? Desertions in Iraq are also increasing.


In any case, the argumentation of the neo-conservative representatives at the conference was weak. They did not convince but still gained much time for their arguments at this paleo-conservative meeting on account of this parity principle. Isn’t this process disproportional and therefore unwise in a time of mass propaganda for war? Was it good to give so much room for sophistry? Wouldn’t it have been better to grant more time to the opponents of war and allow them to present their arguments in detail? Didn’t the calm discussion atmosphere weaken the moral fervor of the theme? How can a Michael Ledeen regarded as one of the sharpest war-mongerers among neo-conservatives suddenly claim he was never for the Iraq war? When someone lies, is true communication possible? Does the basis for a genuine discourse still exist, for a genuine dialogue that seeks the best solution for the current world-political situation?

Nevertheless Pat Buchanan must be applauded for this conference that enabled listeners to form their own opinion and hear both sides. There are many educated Americans who know nothing of the critical points presented by Buchanan and his comrades-in-arms. This emerged again and again in the discussions. At the catholic “prayer breakfast” organized on May 20, 2005 where President Bush was the speaker, he was greeted with jubilation by 1600 leading (neo-) Catholics (bishops, professors, politicians and so forth) and praised as the “defender of the dignity of human life.”

Cardinal McCarrick, Washington, said: “We are very blessed with President Bush.” One of the organizers of the meeting, Leo Leonard, declared: “Many Catholics have a great thankfulness for everything you have done for this country.” Bush received standing ovations. Only a few looked depressed and thought: How can anyone defend the dignity of human life when he is responsible for the deaths of thousands and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians?

Many Americans show a certain lack of concern and superficiality in this question. They follow the arguments of the media, are patriotic – which is basically good – and don’t worry too much. However there are also brave warriors like Pat Buchanan and Bob Barr at this conference who level clear criticism. They deserve special praise.

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