Dear American friends of the Straight Dope,
I would have posted this next week, but my conscience forbade me to wait. Consider this an infinitessimal attempt to change the course of history, on behalf of a non-American who loves Americans but simply cannot believe what their country has become. Rest assured that should any of you compose a treatise similar to this before a British or EU election, I would consider it wholly appropriate and explore it with you in earnest.
Future History Lesson
Teacher: On 11th September 2001 Al Qaeda, a terrorist organisation headed by Osama Binladen, attacked America by hijacking and crashing 4 planes. The US, under president George W Bush (son of George H Bush), attacked Afghanistan where Al Qaeda were known to operate. The US then attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Student: So Al Qaeda were also in Iraq? Or Iraq was funding or sheltering them?
Teacher: No. No significant links with Al Qaeda were ever demonstrated.
Student: So… Iraq was somehow a threat to the US in another way, and was about to attack the US independent of Al Qaeda?
Teacher: The US presented such an argument, that Iraq possessed chemical, biological and possibly even nuclear weapons, collectively known as weapons of mass destruction or WMD, that were a threat to the US either directly or if Saddam ever supplied them to Al Qaeda. However, no WMD were ever found in Iraq. They were likely destroyed a decade before, and UN sanctions and US bombing throughout the 1990’s made his likelihood of developing them ever smaller.
Student: So, it was humanitarian invasion? The US changed a brutal regime, even though it had nothing to do with 11/9/04, in some “good can come from bad” lesson?
Teacher: Perhaps, but no such argument was ever seriously presented before the invasion. Indeed, the administration seemed keen to shy away from such justification since it set a rather dangerous (and “liberal”; a term commonly misused at the time) precedent.
Student: So, why invade Iraq when Al Qaeda was still in Afghanistan?
Teacher: Afghanistan did not provide the “knockout blow” the president had hoped for. Binladen was not captured, nor evidence of his death apparent, and many high-ranking AQ personnel went missing also. He had to present a “big victory” to the US electorate in order to show that he had “done something” after 2001. Also, Iraq had large oil resources and was in a strategically important location (indeed, there were even plans to invade Iraq before 2001). Ultimately, George W Bush was convinced that invading Iraq was the way to win the 2004 election.
Amazingly, it worked.
I argue that it was not so amazing (indeed, given past history it is perhaps more surprising that the race was as close as it was). The story of the neo-conservatives in America is one of incredibly similar instances of “justified deception” based on the philosophy of Leo Strauss. He believed that the political elite must lead the people, if necessary resorting to ideologically driven myths, so that personal freedom and individual choice did not unstick the glue which held society together, making government ever weaker and more irrelevant. And what better to focus a country on working together under a strong, necessary government? Why, a common enemy.
Several admirers and former students of Strauss took his philosophy to heart when they entered government: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to name a few. Throughout the Cold War, these “neoconservatives” (more accurately “Straussians”) trumpeted the threat of the Soviet Union. If the CIA said there was no evidence of a particular weapon, they said it was because it was so advanced that it was undetectable. They screeched about how the Soviet Union secretly coordinated terrorist organisations worldwide, only to be informed that this was propaganda that the CIA had made up from whole cloth in the first place. They opposed a thaw, since they saw the power of government as dependent on an external threat: negotiation, diplomacy and détente were (and still are) dirty words. Instead, they supported the brave freedom fighters in Afghanistan against the Evil Empire, even when Gorbachev asked them to stop supporting those dangerous anti-democratic fanatics in order to help him create an Afghan democracy (which, of course, they ignored). They would side with anyone, and demonise anyone, so long as it advanced their aggressive ideology. Even Fundamentalist Christianity, which had traditionally avoided voting in grubby, worldly politics, was pressed into service, even though they held it in contempt (another necessary “noble lie”, as Plato would have called it 2400 years ago).
Dishonesty and legerdemain was, for those decades of their influence, fair play. Their Straussian philosophy was blatantly elitist, and yet with sheer breathtaking hypocrisy they convinced “down home” America that it was liberals (and even moderate conservatives) who were “intellectual elitists”. They said, with equally bewildering audacity, that they sought a safer world, when clearly their central philosophy necessitated an enemy such that should one become less of a threat they would immediately seek another. A genuinely safer world made government less relevant and raised the dread spectre of personal freedom: far better to kick the hornet’s nest and make a great show of subsequently killing the hornets (which will sting you and your family, America!). As for traditional conservative values such as “small government” and economic prudence, well, kicking hornet’s nests was expensive, and personal liberty was what they were saving America from.
September 11th 2001, engineered by the man they had refused to help Gorbachev eliminate, ironically made them almost invincible. The Straussian neoconservatives, having stolen the Republican Party, had only one Achilles heel: democracy. Their only vulnerability lay in the ability of the US electorate to see through the wool which neoconservatism said that the elite may pull over its subjects’ eyes occasionally, for the sake of their ideology. They had become so skilled at this, and the electorate so hypnotised by it, that not even losing a truth telling contest with Saddam Hussein was enough to break the trance. Iran, China, even EU allies or the UN could be presented as the enemy, and only traitors would question it.
The US electorate had one chance to finally reject neoconservatism, on November 2nd 2004. They blew it.
Teacher: And we all know what those psychopaths did next.