9/01/2005

Neoconservatism's Berlin Wall

Apart from their superficial resemblances, such as their capacity for inflicting human misery, all ideologies share one critical historical feature.

At some point, events confront the ideology with a situation for which it cannot provide a solution. At that point, the ideology suffers a mortal blow to its prestige and is rendered untenable. Soviet Communism’s moment was the fall of the Berlin Wall. We await to see what crisis of untenability lurks in Chinese Communism’s future. The Third Reich’s National Socialism crossed that bridge at the Second Battle of El Alamein.

The battle, fought over 12 days in October 1942, saw the might of Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps stopped in their tracks by Bernard Law Montgomery’s Eighth Army.

It was only after that battle that Churchill could say ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’

One cannot help but wonder whether or not the recent sad events of Hurricane Katrina have provided neoconservatism with its crisis of untenability. They just might have, if, for no other reason, ideologies demand ideologues; and when the ideologues start to turn on the figurehead, as they are doing now, the game is nearly over.

It is always futile to analyse events such as those that have unfolded in the Mississippi Delta. We have always lived at Nature’s mercy. The loss of human life in New Orleans alone seems to have been catastrophic, but perhaps those who lived there had the same kind of relationship with Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico as those who live on the side of volcanoes do with an entity that could kill them and destroy their livelihoods in an instant. Human beings and their productions, such as governments, cannot stop such events – all they can do is try their best to predict them and manage their consequences.

However, the nature of our age is such that airtime and column inches have to be filled, presumably as much for the purpose of fulfilling commercial contracts as the provision of meaningful insight; and it has to be said that if a few reputations have not already been knocked over their post-Katrina commentary then they certainly deserve to be.

Take for example, Paul Craig Roberts. If one is not merely speaking to oneself from one’s perch on the side of a North Atlantic rock, then those who take the time to read this blog will know that I have the greatest admiration for Dr. Roberts’ economic analyses. However he has published a column on Antiwar today that can only be described as being both tasteless and stupid, emphasising his own antipathy towards George W. Bush without expressing a word of sympathy for those who have died. The point he makes, that the rescue and recovery efforts may have been impaired by the absence of Louisiana and Mississippi National Guardsmen serving in Iraq whose services were more urgently required at home, is certainly not without validity; however, there’s a time and place for such arguments, and right now in that forum is neither the time nor the place.

From the left, Sidney Blumenthal has continued to justify his reputation for rabid Bushophobia with this incredibly tasteless screed, which includes the sentence ‘The Bush administration's policy of turning over wetlands to developers almost certainly also contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge.’ (hat tip Kathryn Jean Lopez). The same rules apply to Blumenthal as apply to Onan the Barbarian; if you make a claim like that, you have to back it up. The Bush Administration is worthy of criticism if, and only if, it can be proven that it diverted resources away from the construction of the New Orleans levee towards efforts in Iraq, as indicated by the comments of Walter Maestri, emergency management chief of Jefferson Parish in 2004, linked to by Josh Marshall (hat tip Andrew Sullivan). One hopes that right now Mr. Maestri is safe, well and keeping on moving, because I’m sure he has bigger matters to attend to than having his words picked over by bloggers.

Blumenthal, like all leftists, has clearly never learned the Japanese maxim, ‘Fix the problem, not the blame’.

It’s unfortunate that ‘The Washington Dispatch’ has tanked, if only because I now can’t link to my last article there, called ‘The Last Conservative Value’, which I believe to be pitilessness. VDire is an anti-immigration website run by an immigrant which features his immigrant brother. At this time of great crisis in the country they wish to keep others out of, neither of the Battling Brimelows of Birkenhead have expressed so much as a whimper of sympathy for those of their fellow Americans who have lost, life, home, property and livelihood. Nothing to do with you, cock, eh? Never mind, how’s the gold market?

But the most startling commentary I have read has come from the most unlikely sources.

Alan Reynolds, usually a wild free-marketeer, registers stinging criticism of George W. Bush in a Townhall article today, called ‘Strategic reserves -- no strategy’. Criticizing the length of time it had taken Bush to deploy the Strategic Oil Reserve, Reynolds writes,

“Another week of SPR diddling, while private oil reserves were allowed to dwindle to a paper-thin level, would be irresistible bait for oil speculators, who would rightly bet that oil prices would spike on the slightest disruption in that situation”.

In a similar vein, Reid Collins has this semi-facetious piece on The American Spectator today, which contains this fictitious conservation on the subject of oil prices:

“The gas we are talking about. It is not coming in by pipeline from Mr. Exxon, Chevron or whomever. It has been in there for days -- down in the storage tanks below the pumps, right in the filling station.
"So?
"So, it had a price once, a value when it arrived. And that didn't change. It is the same gas that was there last week. How come it is more valuable -- that same gas -- today than it was when the truck brought it in last week? Why more today? Is it like whiskey, getting better with age?"
'Cause its replacement is gonna cost the service station guy more.
"Okay. Then raise the price of the replacement gas, when it arrives with its higher tag. It's like the looters in New Orleans. They say they need the stuff, desperate times that have changed the game. But they go for the guns and ammo at the Wal-Mart, and TV sets, as well as chow. Ever try to munch on a 30-ought-6 shell -- or watch TV in a city without electricity?"

‘Townhall’ and ‘The American Spectator’ are not outlets which ever go out of their way to criticize either the Bush Administration or the oil companies. To pardon the expression, one senses a turn in the tide.

That sense is reinforced by some of the criticism that has been pouring out of ‘The Corner’. Even with a lot of padding, Byron York noted that,

“This month began with the deaths of 21 U.S. Marines in Iraq, continued through the Cindy Sheehan protest/media circus, and ended with Hurricane Katrina. There is no doubt that, if only from a political and communications perspective, the president would have been in a better position to deal with those issues if he had been based in Washington for much of the month.”; and,

“There is a proper time for a president to leave Washington, but five weeks is just too much.”

This view was, surprisingly, echoed by neoconservatism’s Chief Zampolit on the
USS William F. Buckley, John Podhoretz.

Rod Dreher, a Louisiana native, commenting on a fire in the French Quarter, wrote,

“Good grief, Mr. President, send in the federal troops to restore order. For pity's sake, this is America!”

Jonah Goldberg echoed Dreher’s plea in favour of Federal intervention, writing,

“I'm no fan of compassionate conservatism or federal interventions, but if this doesn't qualify as the mother-of-all-exceptions I'm not sure what does. What was it Bush said a few years ago? "We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move." I don't buy that. But when a city is sinking into the sea and rioting runs rampant, government probably should saddle-up.”

Even although Rich Lowry did his best to debunk the Levee story, to use an inappropriate analogy the dam had burst. It was open season on Bush, in particular for his speech. Lowry though the president ‘didn’t seem that engaged’, Kathryn Jean Lopez thought it ‘disappointing’ and Comrade JPod thought it ‘lousy’. Even the droolers were at it. Podhoretz was in such a state that he said, “it's not too much to say that the continued viability of his presidency resides in how he and the administration respond in the next week.”, a view echoed by Rod Dreher in no uncertain terms.

Neoconservatism has always an ideology dependent on the global projection of national power. What gave it its strength was that after 9/11, Americans were so angry at the assault that they wanted to go overseas and attack those responsible – thus was ‘The War on Terror’ born.

They were lied into thinking that the removal of Saddam Hussein would make the world a safer and more prosperous place. Clearly it hasn’t; if anything, you’re more at risk riding the Tube now than you were three years ago.

The lie has been shown not to stand up; and when that has not only failed but has been shown to have failed, what can an ideology based on the global projection of national power do when confronted with a crisis which shows it to be nationally powerless?

Nothing. The collapsed levees of New Orleans will have consequences for neoconservatism just as long and deep as the collapse of the Wall in East Berlin had on Soviet Communism; for when hacks and fulminators like John Podhoretz are openly criticizing the president, the Great Leader, the ideology is on the way out. And hopefully all of those who urged the ideology on, myself included, will have a long time to consider the error of our ways.

10 Comments:

Blogger Rufus said...

Well, no time like the present then.

I'm not sure this is their Berlin Wall, but at least, it's their Iran hostage crisis.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Zhong Lu said...

Nice article. But the turning point of WWII was the Battle of Stalingrad, and not El Alamein. At Stalingrad, the Germans lost an entire army at a critical section of their most important front.

1:24 AM  
Blogger melior said...

Too bad that it makes you feel uncomfortable when Paul Craig Roberts and Sidney Blumenthal tell the unvarnished truth. You use the word "tasteless", but I don't think it means what you think it means.

Try for a moment to examine those feelings. I expect what you mean is it makes you uncomfortable, embarassed to have been a cheerleader for Bush, and you aren't ready to confront that yet, when people are still dying.

You claim that "now is not the time" to call out the disastrous consequences of being leaderless in this crisis, but that's what they said about rushing to war based on threats of WMDs. Later they will find time to blame scapegoats, concoct lame excuses, and whitewash.

Right now, when no one can deny what a disaster Buah's gutting of prevention efforts, his appointment of ineffective political cronies with no disaster management experience, his selfish and arrogant distraction with his vacation, guitar-playing, and cake-cutting, has produced -- a deadly, long term mess -- right now IS exactly the right time to make the point.

I can tell by how it makes you squirm.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Tzemach Atlas said...

Wasn’t conservatism about strengthening local powers and delegating power to local authorities away from Washington? And in the case of New Orleans the problem was initial incompetence of the local authorities (compare to R. Guliani). Perhaps we can argue that this reaffirms the ideal of neo-conservatism.

2:52 AM  
Blogger Paul Robinson said...

Tzemach Atlas - my hat is off to you, sir.

"Wasn’t conservatism about strengthening local powers and delegating power to local authorities away from Washington? And in the case of New Orleans the problem was initial incompetence of the local authorities (compare to R. Guliani). Perhaps we can argue that this reaffirms the ideal of neo-conservatism."

That's what this disaster is all about, of course - putting the best possible patisan spin on dying babies in New Orleans.

3:18 AM  
Blogger danielmick said...

Thank you for your constructive dialogue on so many fronts. It's my first time to your site and I scanned through a lot.

But concerning this post which brought me here, it's interesting stuff, but I disagree. I think it's going take a lot more than this to wash away the nationalistic pride, anger, and selfishness of neoconservatism. Now IS the time to proclaim the truth. In a few months when the cameras have forgotten those who are just beginning to restart their lives, most will again be lulled into apathy by Bush and his reality-defying rhetoric machine.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Douglas said...

Yes, the Bush presidency, while better than any offered alternative, is truly conservatism betrayed. We as conservatives need to take the Republican party back. I say it that way because no one other than a Republican or a Democrat will ever be elected. Well, the Corrupt Party is so far out there on the Left that true conservatives only have a chance of taking over the Stupid Party.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Bad Mojo said...

I am as liberal as they come but the honesty of the essay above was pretty incredible. I think that both parties have strayed so far from their fundamental base beliefs that society is now starting to question them. The reality is that what is being questioned are not the true forms of the belief systems, but odd bastardizations of the more pure ideals.

The country would be well served if principled liberals and conservatives on both sides of the aisle took their parties back.

http://listenloudly.blogspot.com/

1:46 PM  
Blogger purpleprose said...

There is a good reason, pace the Japanese slogan, to fix the blame in addition to the problem: to ensure that those responsible for the problem are never again put in a position of responsibility.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Lorenzo said...

Great post. A couple of quibbles.

Neo-conservatism was an approach originally mainly concerned with domestic issues. Arguably its greatest triumphs are welfare reform and Guiliani-style crime reduction.

On the Middle East, the argument was that the region would continue to produce al-Qaida style eruptions while it remained dominated by oppressive tyrannies. The solution was to democratise the region, appropos WWII and Cold War experience where you won if your enemies became democracies.

I agree with Carter's point about the analogy being the Iran hostage crisis, given Dubya appears to have descended to Carter-level incompetence.

11:18 PM  

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