Creating people's geographies
An article in the weekend Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) asks, ‘Does the neocon parrot have a pulse?’
Let’s hope the rumours of the demise of this ghastly Imperial Project have not been exaggerated.
We recall that within even the Republican administrations of Bush Senior and Reagan’s reign, the neocons were referred to as “The Crazies”. (See John Pilger’s documentary Breaking the Silence). While not denying the long term machinations of American hegemony that may be far from benign, the neocon ascendancy to power in the Bush administration and the drive to realize its PNAC manifesto has driven towards Empire as its terrible, logical extreme. I think the extremities is an apt way to describe where we are in what has often felt like surreal times. Its because the Crazies have taken over.
See also recent speculation about the apparently declining influence of Arch Neocon War Architect, VP Dick Cheney, indeed of the BushCo crime dynasty, with various articles ostensibly documenting a trajectory of waning influence. Others see only his lustre fading, but the pugnacious wardog is still snarling and the cracks in the administration’s Israel Lobby and its Iran threats yet holding in tact. Francis Fukuyama has entered the fray to proclaim the decline of the neocon project, before changing his mind once witnessing their tune on Iran, as the following featured article mentions.
Whether their repulsive “endless war” plans are still allowed to be executed and whether the Democratic Congressional reclamation overstates the challenge posed to the necon project in the remaining term of this presidency remains to be seen.
Does the neocon parrot have a pulse?
SMH | February 24, 2007
The ideology that took hold in Washington after September 11, 2001, and drove the US and its allies into Iraq is looking decidedly off-colour. Peter Hartcher and Cynthia Banham report.
To explain the status of American foreign policy today, one of the superpower’s leading experts uses a Monty Python skit as his reference point.
In an immortal scene, John Cleese plays the part of an aggrieved customer returning to a pet shop to complain that he has been sold a dead parrot. Michael Palin, as the pet shop owner, is defiant. The Norwegian blue parrot is not dead, he insists, only resting.
An irate Cleese responds: “Now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.”
To which an unrepentant Palin answers: “Well, he’s … he’s, ah … probably pining for the fiords.”
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the animating doctrine behind US foreign policy has been neoconservatism. It has three key tenets. One is that America has a profound duty to spread democracy [one should insert air inverted commas here methinks, AE] around the world; another is that it should not hesitate to use force to do so if necessary; and third is that it must be prepared to go it alone.
The former defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington offered “the kind of opportunities that World War II offered to refashion the world”.
By imposing democracy at gunpoint in Iraq, the US was living out the neocon project. But George Bush’s conduct of this doctrine has discredited it. He has failed in a number of ways, but the widening violence in Iraq has been the showcase disappointment.
Political support for the world’s principal experiment in neoconservatism has collapsed, and the neocon project itself looks to be dead.
Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and one of the top analysts of foreign policy in the US, isn’t so sure. This is where he turns to the dead Norwegian blue parrot for illustrative purposes. Is it dead, or just resting?
The key neoconservative officials in the Bush Administration have been purged; both chambers of the US Congress have been lost to the opposition party, the Democrats, in direct protest against the Iraq war; and the coalition of the willing in Iraq has turned into what the wits are calling the coalition of the leaving.
The countries that have already withdrawn – Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Japan and New Zealand – are now joined by Britain, which this week announced it would reduce its troop strength from 7100 to about 5000 by the end of the year.
Only two countries are increasing their force commitments to Iraq – the US, which is “surging” an extra 23,000 troops into Iraq, and Australia, with John Howard announcing this week that he would send up to 70 extra military trainers to turn Iraqis into soldiers.
And even in these two most stubbornly committed of countries the policy is under siege. In the US, the House of Representatives has passed a non-binding motion opposing the “surge”.
That is, the national legislature of the lead nation opposes the President’s decision. It will not try to cut off funds for the extra troops just yet, but congressional tolerance of the new tactic will be determined by its success or failure.
And in Australia a newly invigorated Labor Party is bringing an energetic new opposition to the deployment.
Bush is fighting a rearguard action in Washington to try to manage the US withdrawal with the minimum of military, strategic and political damage. He is in the final two years of his second and final term. Without control of the Congress, Bush is now in the “lame duck” phase of his presidency. Tony Blair, having begun the withdrawal of British forces, is destined to leave Britain’s prime ministership by the end of this year.
Could it be that John Howard will become the only surviving political relic of the brief and unhappy history of neoconservatism?
The Bush Administration and the Howard Government are trying to shore up some support for their Iraq venture by recourse to fear. In a speech in Sydney yesterday, the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, said of the Islamist terrorist movement:
“Their goal in the broader Middle East is to seize control of a country, so they have a base from which they can launch attacks against governments that refuse to meet their demands. Their ultimate aim – and one they boldly proclaim – is to establish a caliphate covering a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way to Indonesia. And it wouldn’t stop there.”
Howard likes to say that the “precipitate withdrawal” of coalition forces will embolden the terrorists, who will be encouraged and strengthened and more active everywhere, including “in our part of the world”.
The conservative American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama thinks that Howard has played a shrewd political game in Iraq so far but now is increasingly at risk of isolation.
Fukuyama, the author of The End of History and the Last Man and a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, says: “Obviously John Howard has been pretty clever because he’s given Bush tremendous support rhetorically, but he’s also been quite cautious in the size of the commitment.
“But if this surge fails, and if it looks like a failure by the end of this [northern] summer, a large number of Republicans will abandon ship and Bush will be forced to get the troops out quickly. If that happens, Howard will be in a very difficult position – because the whole effort will look kind of pointless.”
With Bush and Cheney forced to beat a retreat, would Howard be last political leader on Earth left defending the Iraq venture? Could John Howard become the world’s last neocon?
Howard, like Bush and Cheney, did not start out as a neocon. Professor Chris Reus-Smit, the head of the Australian National University’s department of international relations and the author of American Power and World Order, points out that the neocon movement was a feeble push in US policy until September 11 created a “policy vacuum”.
In the midst of the emergency, US policy makers were left searching around for a response. What was at hand when they went searching was the neocon formula.
“It was the interesting phenomenon of a group of often important people but with a minority voice gaining ascendancy through abnormal circumstances,” he says.
The US was left in such shock by the events of September 11 that Americans, and the President, were willing to give neocons a chance.
Neoconservatism is unapologetic about the use of force, but it is also idealistic because it aims to transform the world. The US no longer needed to accept the world as it was, but could craft it as it wanted it to be.
“The truth is that the US can step up and shape the world order or step back and things will happen that we have to react to, and by then it will be harder, and more people will die,” said William Kristol, editor of the neocon bible the Washington-based The Weekly Standard, in 2002.
To those standing outside the charmed circle of neocon faithful, however, it was a moment of deep abhorrence. The Bush Administration was “propelled to some extent by what I can only describe as a fundamentalist Christian and fundamentalist Jewish drive that is almost as powerful as fundamentalist Islam itself,” Baroness Shirley Williams told Britain’s House of Lords.
But the neocon lifeblood is draining away daily into the sands of the Iraqi desert. Reus-Smit believes the project is dead. As a result, in the next year or so in the lead-up to the US presidential election, what we will see is the emergence of a “strong new liberal democratic foreign policy vision”.
It will include some themes popular with the neocons, he predicts, such as the spreading of democracy and special alliances. But it will not have the unilateral, heavy militarist focus.
Walter Russell Mead disagrees.
“The neocon project isn’t like the parrot in Monty Python – the parrot is pining for the fiord, but the neocon project is in better shape than that,” he says.
Francis Fukuyama agrees. He had thought the neocon era was finished and famously pronounced it to be so, but now he has changed his mind. “I thought the neocon project was dead when Condi Rice moved to the State Department and the US took a more multilateral approach to problems like the North Korean nuclear crisis.
“But the old instincts are coming to the fore. All my old neocon friends are calling for the bombing of Iran. I don’t think they learned a thing in the last six years.”
And a crisis over Iran, which this week defied the UN Security Council by refusing to renounce its nuclear development program, could give new life to the Bush Administration and to the neocon movement, he says.
As the Pentagon moved a second aircraft carrier battle group into position in the Persian Gulf – the biggest deployment of US firepower since the invasion of Iraq was launched in 2003 – Fukuyama says he accepts that the Bush Administration is sincere in saying that it is not actively planning a military strike on Iran.
“I take them at their word, but the problem is Israel. Israel is in near panic and two-thirds of Israelis think they are under existential threat from Iranian nuclear bombs.
“They could force our hand. If the Israelis started something they didn’t finish, Bush would feel obliged to finish it. I think there is a chance, not a trivial chance, that there could be a third war in the Middle East before the end of the Bush years.”
If so, it could revive the Bush presidency, resuscitate the neocon movement, and give the Howard Government a new opportunity to demonstrate its credentials as a stalwart American ally. Unless and until that happens, however, the parrot will continue to look increasingly sickly.