Neocons Down, Not Out
Since the neoconservatives began to emerge as a political force in the mid-to-late 1970s, they have followed a consistent strategy of targeting the information flows inside the United States, paying particular attention to controlling the nation’s intelligence analysts and purging independent thinking from the U.S. news media.
Those were the two key switching points that allowed the neocons to push out favorable information and suppress contrary facts to shape how Americans perceived reality. Thus, the neocons could guide the public on issues such as the severity of the Soviet threat in the late Cold War or the WMD danger from Iraq and Iran this decade.
That neoconservative strategy reached its zenith after the 9/11 attacks as the U.S. intelligence community and the Washington press corps caved under intense political pressure. Essentially, President George W. Bush and the neocons got to manipulate reality itself – and they used that power to scare the heck out of the American people.
Some grassroots resistance emerged to challenge these faux realities, but it didn’t gain much traction on the national level until Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in late summer 2005 and Bush couldn’t spin his administration’s incompetent response.
Since then, the struggle has been up and down. Public revulsion over Bush’s arrogance and the neocons' bloody fiasco in Iraq led to the Republican congressional defeat in 2006. But the Democrats then frittered away their advantage with a feckless approach on Iraq troop withdrawals and a failure to mount sustained investigations of administration wrongdoing.
Then, in fall 2007, Bush and the neocons sold the Iraq War “surge” as a great success, even though the result appears to be an open-ended U.S. military occupation of a hostile Arab country with one or two American soldiers and scores of Iraqis still dying each day.
Nevertheless, the neocons were again beating their chests and baiting their opponents as defeatists who want to undermine the troops. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The ‘Triumphant’ Neocons.”]
But the neocons were dealt an unexpected body blow with the Dec. 3 release of a stunning U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago, a finding that contradicted Bush’s belligerent rhetoric about Iran’s nukes possibly provoking “World War III.”
The National Intelligence Estimate knocked the wind out of the neocons’ hope for a military confrontation with Iran before the end of Bush’s term. [See Consortiumnews.com's "A Miracle: Honest Intel on Iran Nukes."]
At a Dec. 4 press conference, Bush was left sputtering an unpersuasive claim that his warning about “World War III” on Oct. 17 was uttered while his intelligence advisers were keeping him in the dark about the new information that supported the NIE.
On Dec. 5, Bush tried to regain his political balance by blaming Iran for the doubts about its nuclear program.
"The Iranians have a strategic choice to make,” Bush said in Omaha, Nebraska. “They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities and fully accept the longstanding offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation that is not in the best interest of the Iranian people. The choice is up to the Iranian regime."
Still, the NIE represented a declaration of independence by professional U.S. intelligence analysts who had been bullied by the neocons over the past three decades and especially during the run-up to the war with Iraq. [For the fullest account of this history, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and our new book, Neck Deep.]
Though Bush and the neocons again find themselves on the defensive, the political battle is far from over. The neocons retain extraordinary strength within the U.S. news media as well as in the leading Washington think tanks and inside many of the presidential campaigns.
Except for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the Republican contenders are enthusiastic backers of the neocon agenda of an imperial United States with an all-powerful Executive who will subordinate America's constitutional rights to the waging of an indefinite “war on terror.”
While all the Democrats criticize Bush's approach to some degree, the neocons view purported front-runner, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, as an ally who often votes with neocon hawks, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut. Until recently, Sen. Clinton was getting foreign policy advice from “surge” advocate Michael O’Hanlon.
So, if the early political handicapping holds up, the neocons could find themselves in the enviable position next fall of having a super-neocon Republican versus a neocon-lite Democrat. Then, whoever wins, the neocons can expect their policies in the Mideast to continue.
If that's how Election 2008 does turn out, the again-triumphant neocons might be looking to dish out some payback to those newly independent-minded CIA analysts. Plus, the neocons implicated in abuses during Bush’s presidency could expect to get off scot-free.
Neither a new Republican administration nor a second Clinton presidency would likely seek accountability for the crimes and other misdeeds of the Bush years. Hillary Clinton likely would follow the forgiving pattern of her husband.
When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he appointed neoconservative Democrat James Woolsey to head the CIA. Then, in a gesture of bipartisanship, the new President pulled the plug on ongoing investigations of Reagan-Bush-era wrongdoing regarding secret arms deals with Iran and Iraq.
By turning out the lights on that history, President Clinton apparently felt he would gain some reciprocity from the Republicans. But Clinton’s actions only emboldened the Republicans and gave the neocons time to regroup. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Clintons’ Real Trouble with Truth.”]
So, the neocons may have been staggered a few times in recent months, but it would be premature to count them out.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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