Stanley I. Kutler: How the Neo-Cons Falsified History and Blundered in Iraq

Roundup: Historians' Take

Stanley I. Kutler, in the course of a review of a new book by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order; in the Wash Post (Aug. 15, 2004):

Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke are experienced, conservative foreign policy experts. Halper served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, and Clarke had extensive service in the British diplomatic corps. In America Alone they document the neoconservative capture of American (and British) foreign policy, under the guise of a War on Terror, to reorder Middle East politics and initiate a newly proclaimed doctrine of preemptive war. Halper and Clarke are insiders who know the players and the sources. Their thoughtful, insightful work spans ideological and partisan differences, a rare phenomenon in these times.

The authors understand the two-centuries-long history of American foreign policy. Detente, bipartisanship and respect for the views of allies are at the center of that history; they are not, as the neocons would have it, notions of weakness best replaced by a militant American world view and unilateralism. Halper and Clarke blend realism and idealism. For them, victory in the Cold War resulted from a firm U.S. adherence to the doctrine of containment and a moral authority rooted in fostering the idea of a free, open society. Now, the authors contend, President George W. Bush and a band of ideological zealots have put that moral authority at risk....

Today neocons are the key players in the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney; his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz. They are seconded by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and influential academic intellectuals and writers who preach warnings and celebrate their alleged triumphs. Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute has somberly described the French as a"strategic enemy." Max Boot, author of a book celebrating the United States'"splendid little wars," said that the American sweep through Iraq made"Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian seem positively incompetent by comparison." (Well, they were not fortunate enough to fight Saddam's vaunted Republican guard.) Boot loves war so much that he envisions a United States like the British Empire of old, always fighting some war, somewhere, against someone. And we thought that the British Empire collapsed under the weight of all that white man's burden.

The neocons have exalted values over interests in shaping American policy. To further their agenda, they have masked themselves as the true keepers of the Reagan flame, but Halper and Clarke will have none of that. The neocons, they bluntly charge, have"falsified history" and have inflicted a"historical mugging" on Reagan. Like George Orwell, the authors understand that those who control the past control the present and, eventually, the future.

The neocons have ignored Reagan's strong commitment to arms control, his summitry, his minimal use of military power and his rejection of the nuclear doctrines of their mentor, Albert Wohlstetter. They similarly ignore Reagan's China policy, his arms deal with Iran and his failed Lebanon intervention. They love Reagan's invasion of Grenada, which made the Caribbean safe for American medical students, but they insist that in doing so he thwarted a rising communist power. They were decidedly unhappy when Reagan lifted the grain embargo on the Soviets, a decision that he hoped would result in"meaningful and constructive dialogue which will assist us in fulfilling our joint obligation to find lasting peace."...

With an election campaign looming, President Bush now concedes that"like 11 Presidents before me, I believe in the international institutions and alliances that America helped to form and helps to lead." Alas, the president and his advisers have rediscovered American history and policy only as our financial and military resources have dwindled, our moral authority has evaporated, our allies have become alienated and, worst of all, our adversaries are newly energized.

Regime change in Iraq, as this book tells us, has substituted one order of chaos for another, but this time at the cost of substantial American blood and treasure. The war in Iraq was imposed amid a climate of fear and patriotic fervor, with manufactured deceptions about our purposes and the enemy's. Our leaders mislead us with distortions of historical events, twisting and trivializing them as precedents when they are not applicable. For example, former secretary of state Dean Rusk regularly invoked the Munich agreement and the folly of appeasing Hitler as a warning for us to resist Soviet and Chinese communism in Vietnam. Saddam Hussein was a brutal, ruthless tyrant, but he was no Adolf Hitler, and no realistic threat to the United States and the rest of the world, whatever George W. Bush and his neoconservative warriors tell us.

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David a. Cousins - 8/24/2004

The people who "squandered" the unity after 9-11 are you liberals. You set about to systematically undermine this president and divide us with hate for Bush. You are nothing more than the Neville Chamberlins of the 21st century! Go cower with the voters of Spain in a movie theater watching a Michael Moore flick! The kooks of the left have taken over the Democratic party. Where are your JFKs and Trumans who understood the nature of evil in the world and stood up to it? With you guys, maybe we can go back to bombing aspirin factories.

Walter D. Kamphoefner - 8/20/2004

Stick to pizza delivery! The war in Iraq and the war on terror are two different things. Bush was planning the Iraq war even before 9/11, although a much wiser President Bush had a chance to take out Saddam when international protests would have been minimal, and passed on the opportunity. Saddam and Bin Laden were still denouncing each other from the underground when they were both on the run from the Americans. And the Iraq war has become a huge recruitment poster for terrorists, all the more so since Abu Grave prison hit the headlines.

Remember all the candlelight vigils at American embassies around the world after 9/11? Bush has squandered a huge reservoir of good will toward Americans with the Iraq war, not to mention a hugh budget surplus besides.

David a. Cousins - 8/18/2004

As a pizza delivery driver I may not have the big word of you liberals from among the halls and walls of academia, but as Bush supporters we don't need big words. Just big ideas. How is this for one-IT IS DANGEROUS TO LET THE SPLIT ON THE CULTURE WARS SPILL OVER AND DIVIDE US ON THE WAR ON TERROR. Because of the hate on the left for Bush (Moore, Dean,Mahr, Franken, etc) it is causing a fift we can't afford in these times. It was right to take down Hussein in a post 9-11 world and plant freedom in the Middle Esat. How about that for a "Big Idea"?