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The Neocon Reader Paperback – November 19, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Neoconservatives have formed the first successful American political movement of the 21st century, and this anthology takes a needed step toward identifying the ideas, most of them at least 20 years old, that can be loosely identified as their platform. Though Stelzer, a former American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, points to a diversity of neocon positions in his introduction, most would probably agree with the contributor who considers democracy "a framework to protect, and be protected by, a moral ethos," a belief shaping many of the views on foreign policy found here. Many of the names are familiar: Kristol, Kirkpatrick, Rice, Thatcher, Will, James Q. Wilson. George L. Kelling's famous "Broken Windows" essay (1982), which re-envisions police forces as a means of preserving social order before crime breaks out, is absorbed into the neocon canon in a prominent example of Stelzer's historical reach. The anthology's more significant achievement, however, may be in its presentation of lesser-known views on domestic policy, such as a relative lack of concern over federal deficits. Whether David Brooks and Tony Blair can genuinely be viewed as belonging here may be open to question. Some contributors defensively downplay the movement's influence, while others dwell repeatedly on fringe accusations of neoconservatism's alleged roots in a pro-Israeli cabal. The prevailing tone throughout, though, is one of cautious optimism.
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On the domestic side the neo-cons puff out their collective chests for being pro-growth. Whoop de doo. Who isn't? The problem with the neo-cons is that they are often pathologically pro-growth. Reducing fuel efficiency standards on automobiles may sell more cars in Detroit but the long term effects could be devastating. If increasing the GDP requires damaging the environment, driving the country deep into debt and reducing worker benefits was it all worth it? The neo-con view seems to be that raising the GDP will be the panacea for all social ills despite the fact that the wealth of the nation is often moving into fewer and fewer hands. Bill Clinton used to use the metaphor of a rising tide raising all the boats. The truth is that many boats rise up by pushing others down. Just look at the Walton family with 5 members having assets in the top ten nationwide thanks to cheap labor.
Another domestic pathology is the belief that lowering taxes on the wealthy (neo-cons generally ignore mentioning that the linchpin of the theory is that the tax cuts target the wealthy) will spur a magical industrial renaissance. The theory is that the increase in private savings will spur an increase in corporate investment and that will cause a modernization bonanza and happy days for all. After three massive tax the indicator of corporate investment (the stock market) continues to languish. So where did all the money go? None of your business. The neo-cons are too busy and wise to actually reflect whether their theories match reality.
In a final act of cowardice the neo-cons try to downplay their political influence to imply it's negligible at best. It's true that the Bush Administration has few card carrying neo-cons (`Scooter' Libby is one) but they do have converts like Rumsfeld and Cheney. The Pentagon, on the other hand, is flush with neo-cons helping to shape policy. As much as the neo-cons would love to play the shrinking violet they seem unable to reign in their own ego's and constantly feel compelled to list their formidable ranks which flies right in the face of their `don't blame little old us' argument.
In the section written by Jeane Kirkpatrick she says that she moved away from the traditional left during the early to mid 70's thanks to the `anti-american' views expressed by leftists. Quoting Michael Novak she writes, "As matters stand, we are just a few short years from being a pariah nation". Ironically it wasn't the left that made the United States a pariah nation it was the very arrogant, bullying tactics advocated by the neo-cons who so loath international treaties, negotiations and multinational organizations. The United States is in the midst of the lowest worldwide approval ever. Thanks Neo-Cons.
Since I do not agree with them, and wanted to learn their arguments, I thought it was a waste of paper. It seemed more like a collection of chatechismic provebs that social analysis, but then, much of the liberals, radicals, moderates essays suffer from the same ineffable quality.
The book is a waste of paper because readers might better read books such as Prestowitz's Three Billion New Capitalists, or Peterson's Running on Empty to encounter an intelligent and conservative critique of our nation today.
In his article "Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction", John R. Bolton discusses what he considers to be the greatest threat to national security, namely state sponsorship of terrorists that use weapons of mass destruction. The article states the obvious, and has many unsubstantiated claims. One of these is the assertion that Iraq has developed, produced, and stockpiled biological warfare agents and weapons. In addition, they have developed, produced, and stockpiled chemical weapons. Also, Syria has been known to have a chemical warfare program. And Cuba has a well-developed biomedical industry, and that the US "believes" that Cuba has a limited biological warfare research and development effort. How does Bolton know all these things? What kinds of biological agents did they develop and how much of them did they have? What kinds of chemical agents? Bolton gives no references and the skepticism of this reviewer regarding these claims increased after completing the article. One fact though is beyond dispute: Bolton has not yet volunteered for military service to help America win "the fight to root out and destroy terror." He states in this article that America is leading this fight. Perhaps, but America is doing it without his assistance on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bolton, like so many others of his persuasion, has excused himself from doing the real fighting. His hands are too shaky and his intestinal fortitude too lacking for such an endeavor.
But by far the best example of vague and floating abstractions comes in the article by Condoleezza Rice entitled "The President's National Security Strategy". Rice is a Lieutenant Keefer with XX chromosomes, a person who keeps her skirts nice and starched and clean, even in the Iraq War. One will not find any Iraqi sand embedded into the fibers of her crisp, designer suits. What one will find, and this is exemplified perfectly in this article, is a capacity for stating much but proving little. She speaks of "existential threats", of the "crystallization" of our vulnerabilities after 9/11 and of threats being "fully materialized." These are certainly colorful metaphors, and an example of a sterile intellect hiding behind tact and prudence. They are never defined or subject to clarification, in spite of her statement in the article that "clarity is a virtue." Clarity is not to be found in this article, but what can be found is language that smoothes over the perturbations that real facts can induce when presented to an administration that is unprepared and ill-equipped mentally to deal with them. Rice speaks against the tension between the `realistic' and `idealistic' schools of foreign affairs, and asserts "these categories obscure reality." Her grasp of reality and facts though seems shaky at best, totally obscuring historical realities. This is readily apparent when she states that "we do not seek to impose democracy on others." Considering the carnage in the illegal and immoral war against Iraq, a war that Rice made happen and steadfastly supports, to make it a "stable democracy", this is indeed an odd statement to make, and is indicative of how shielded Rice is from the true realities of the world.
Indeed, throughout this book you will find a sizable collection of trembling hands, weak intellects, and yellow abdomens. But one thing you will not find in the book is an article that implores those in the neo-conservative camp to sign up for combat duty in the military. Nay, you will not find such an article, nor one that implores the sons and daughters of these individuals to do the same. They leave the horrors of warfare to those that do not think or act like they do.