Neo-conservatism - interview on BBC Newshour 21.5.2004 20:00h UST

- BBC - Claire Boulderson (C): ... Congressman John Duncan. And as he said some conservatives are now questioning the war against Iraq, most particularly they are questioning the neo-conservative movement, which so vociferously pushed for war in the first place.
The neo-conservatives or neo-cons as they are known were once described by one of their leading thinkers as left-wingers who got mugged by reality. They believe passionately in America as a force for good, culturally and morally all over the world. They believe in a strong military that should be used to project that force. And they heavily influenced the Bush administration and its decision to go to war against Iraq.
[Mrs.] Devon Cross (D) supports that decision and the people behind it. She's a member of the Defence Policy Board (Richard Perle) in Washington [ed.note: Defence Policy Board, an influential civilian group that advises the Pentagon].
William Pfaff (W) is the author of "Fear, Anger and Failure - A Chronicle of the Bush Administration's War on Terror". He says neo-conservative policies have been a disaster.

- (W) Just in the last year of neo-conservative policy - in the war on Iraq - the neo-conservative policy has managed to turn Iraq into a world crisis, which it was not before.
It's turned it into a center of terrorism, which it was not before.
It has provided a whole new set of motives for terrorists to mobilise against the United States.
It has created by the civilian deaths profound motives for moderate Moslems everywhere to support the terrorists or at least acquiescent what they're doing as killing Americans.
It's alienated all of America's allies.
It's destroyed our credit in international institutions.
It's wasted the United States army, destroyed the Army reserve and the Guard for decades to come.
It's created an American Gulag outside international norms of treatment of prisoners of war.
It has given the Arab world a picture through the abuse in the prisons of the United States as a truly depraved society and destroyed the moral credit of the United States elsewhere.
Is that a good enough for a start?

- (C) Well, that's quite a list. Let's get a response to that from Devon Cross.

- (D) It has released at least 50 millions from a profoundly oppressive abusive murderous regime.
It has - he, to say the least - suspended a weapons of mass destruction programme and that was a major concern for the neighbouring contries, many of whom exhorted the United States this time go ahead and get this guy; don't mess around, don't back out. Make sure you finish the job!
It has restored the oil and the oil production to the Iraqi people.
It has created a hundred new news papers in Iraq where two existed in the past.
There have been sixty thousand municipal elections where Iraqis are experiencing local democratic civil society.
There are still polling figures from vast numbers in wide stretches of the country saying, Don't leave, it's ugly, it's nasty, don't leave.

- (C) And this is - as far as you're concerned - is the result of neo-conservatism.

- (D) Yes. It is.

- (W) And I would say that this is taking place within the context of fundamental failure of the policy, as general William Audance has said just recently, it has failed. Our question now is, are we going to go on losing ...

- (W) What has, what "it"?

- (W) "It" is, "it" is the attempt to create to recreate to recreate a democratic..()

- (D) The releasing of the Iraqi pri...?

- (W) to a democratic Iraq.

- (D) I would I would argue that it is far too early to say that

- (W) and to impose the American situation.

- (C) Let me put it to you, Devon Cross. Neo-conservatism has a strong moral and cultural component and it brings that component to foreign policy. And yet we don't see that in Iraq, certainly not as far as the American behaviour so far has illustrated.

- (D) Oh, I think American behaviour has been the one facilitating these local elections. American behaviour is the one opening up these new papers, setting up schools, setting up water treatment plants, repairing the power lines, getting food convoys, these contractors who were strung from the bridge, were contractors guarding food supplies, going through the country.

- (C) You're talking about the events in Falluja where...

- (D) I'm talking about the events in Falluja. There, there is deep demonstration of
American values going on. Abu Ghraib is one of the most sinister awful stains on the country and on its military and the advantage of military justice is that it is swift. We have already seen once sentence. We are going to see several more. None of this to

- (W) but how high will it go?

- (D) We have seen...

- (W) We've seen a private frist class be condemned we are talking about and we have others low level enlisted men. That climate in which those atrocities took place derive from very high in which from the beginning the United States repudiated international norms of conduct in dealing with prisoners. And I think it cannot be denied that this created the climate in which low level people under bad or no supervision but with encouragement - it would seem - from intelligence officers, carried out the atrocities that we have seen.

- (C) But William Pfaff, you're judging neo-conservatism and its influence on foreign policy by what has happened at
Abu Graid [ed.note: women at Abu Graid], something a lot of people say it's an isolated case.

- (W) I am not judging neo-conservatism by that! That's an aberration. As I say, I think that the climate was created by neo-conservatives for that. But not only by neo-conservatives because Donal Rumsfeld is not generally thought a neo-conservative. Neo-conservatism as a whole though has promoted an ideology of the United States having a special position in the world of unlimited right to assume responsibility for global order and to intervene despite international law to set the world right. I think it is this that has dramatically failed in Iraq. After all we went into Iraq in order to turn it into a democracy, to change the greater Middle East, and to eventually try and swarm Moslem civilisation. It's a preposterous and totally unrealistic view.

- (D) And and that is a preposterously overstated version of what these people aspire to do.

- (W) That not what I've said that's...([remainder of comments drowned by D])

(D) Neo-conservatism which is a broad brush-stroke term you are using. I mean Condoleeza Rice is not a neo-conservative, Dick Cheney is not a neo-conservative, George Bush is not a neo-conservative, Donald Rumsfeld is not a neo-conservative. We are democrats. We are small al. classical liberal democrats. We believe that there is a a ligitimate representational eh government that helps people achieve a better life and a better way an...

- (C) ..and believe in intervention to achieve that ...

- (D) and believe in intervention to achieve that. That's exactly right. The greatest spokesperson for neo-conservatism to my mind is Charles Krauthammer, who makes the point over and over again. America has never held territory that it has gained militarily. It does not go any place if it can possibly avoid it. When it gets there it wants to leave. There is absolutely no aspiration for empire whatsoever in America. And to infuse this neo-conservatism with with allegations of of conquest in territory and terrain and and political domination is completely outside...

- (W) I'm sorry. The the position of the United States and of the policy making under D [?] in Washington, by and large is not part of the neo-conservatives, has been that the the world has been on a long march from the neolitic caves to the condition of todays American society and that the rest of the world is adjusting to achieve our norms. At which point the culmination of history has been reached.

- (D) At which point one looks at the voices of the dissent in the opposition in Iran which is absolutely entirely and completely in sink with the US constitution and the way America has framed these political issues.

- (C) William Pfaff is it fair to blame an intellectual movement? But if any government is a lot more pragmatic than that, istn't it, it doesn't act on intellectual impulse.

- (W) When the government's actions are entirely consistent with an unrealistic and megalomanic conception of national mission, which is extremely dangerous, this new American outlook is a kind of political utopianism which justifies expedient actions in terms of the wonderful world that is going to be created afterwards and the characteristic of the twentieth century was that of idealists who were murdering for a utopian cause.

- (C) Devon, but I know not whether you agree with that. There is the problem for an American answer, the Bush administration, that the United States is more unpopular than ever, particularly in the Arab world but not just in the Arab world and this administration is becoming more and more unpopular to its own people.

- (D) It is a major concern that we are not spending the time explaining and working with our allies more actively on these things. This is something I I worry about constantly. That said. Our popularity is an unfortunate function of power. Name a powerful country at anyone point in time that is beloved around the world. I think that America comes as close as any if you look at the sheer fact of who wants to immigrate to

- (C) And neo-conservatism isn't dead?

- (D) Neo-conservatism is definitively not dead. Neo-conservatism is taking a very long hard look at the actual implemetation of its aspirations. There is absolutely no question that... Much of this has caught everybody very much short and very much concerned. It's somebodedy operating assumptions calling in this enormous enormous difficulty here. Huge difficulty. But I don't think they're giving up.

- (C) I was talking to Devon Cross, a member of the Defence Policy Board and journalist and author William Pfaff. But what do you think? Has the neo-conservative ideology been a disaster for the US, as William Pfaff says or is it unfair to blame an intellectual movement for a war that has succesfully deposed a dictator even if it is now running into problems. And our email address of course Newshour at bbc dot co dot uk. That's Newshour at bbc dot co dot uk. And you can send us an SMS message as well via your mobile phone. That's number four four seven seven eight six two zero zero zero three zero. Four four (seven eight) seven seven eight six two zero zero zero three zero. And do please get in touch.
(Source: BBC radio programme "Newshour", with Claire Boulderson, of 21 May 2004, 20:00 h UST
Transcript by 22.5.2004

ecoglobe notes:
0) Editing this page we made a brief web search about the people and institutions mentioned. Hence the links. This demonstrated - thanks to the internet very rapidly - how intricately intertwined the power system is. And - if one believes the critics - how much corruption there is around.
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1) From all one can read and see in the media, especially in independent and non-US media, violence and disrespect of basic human rights seem being omnipresent in US society, including prisoner abuse. So the US realy are exporting their values albeit not those of the US constitution.
But torture does does not only dehumanise the poor, miserable poor victim. It also dehumanisesboth the American perpetrators and us all.
Before all, we have put in place the structures and mechanisms that value economic gains above humane values. Our practice is based on violence and coercion, rather than real democracy.
We all fail when we trade with countries who are dictatorships with atrocious records of human rights. Countries who start respecting human rights and close their torture chambers and slave labour camps should be rewarded by finacial support. Countries, like the USA, who flaunt human rights and international agreements should be "punished" by freezing diplomatic and commercial relationships.
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2) Seeing "lacking communication of good intentions" as the main problem for neo-conservatism only illustrates their circular reasoning and inability to listen to and understand others. Most of Mrs. Cross's arguments can be countered even by a secondary school student, and we leave that to the reader. The real fault of the powerful is that they listen to flatterers, blindly follow ideological theories and are thus unable to unbiased judgements.
We think it is this that has lead the US into this and other illegal wars and military engagements around the world.
But we wish to repeat that we all bear our share of responsibility in as fas we tolerate breaches of
human rights, especially in our democratic countries where we can normally protest without fear.
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