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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- (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
- (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
- (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 America.
- (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 ecoglobe.ch 22.5.2004
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.
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.
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.