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James Zogby Headshot

Neo-Cons or Just Plain "Cons"

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In a series of articles and interviews, architects of the neo-conservative movement have been trying desperately to absolve themselves of responsibility for the mess they helped to create in the Middle East. Like confidence men ("cons") everywhere, having sold the "snake oil" and been caught, they are now feigning sadness and innocence, pointing the finger of blame elsewhere.

But the fault is theirs.

The fundamental flaw in the world view of neo-conservativism is that it is ideological and non-empirical. Their case for pre-emptive war in Iraq and for the Administration's "democracy movement" deliberately ignored regional realities. Attempting a slight of hand transfer of what they perceived as former President Ronald Reagan's victory over the "Evil Empire", they believed and preached that forceful action designed to tear down the status quo in the Middle East would, by itself, usher in a new and more positive era.

There are parallels between neo-conservatism and other similar apocalyptical movements (like Christian fundamentalism). They see the world in Manichaeistic terms - good versus evil. They see a clash between good and evil as both desirable and inevitable. In their world, diplomacy is unacceptable, since it implies compromise with evil. And in the final battle, they see the outcome as assured - with good triumphant. All that is required, they believe, for good to be victorious is a determined act of the will. This was the ahistorical lesson they "learned" from Reagan. And this was the lesson they sought to impart to George W. Bush.

And so it was that President Bush bought their "snake oil". He declared a divine mission to promote freedom against its enemies - whom he termed the "Axis of Evil". Shunning traditional diplomacy, the Administration instead built a 'coalition of the willing'. Using "shock and awe" they brought down the Baghdad regime and declared "mission accomplished", convinced that out of the resultant chaos a new democratic order would spontaneously emerge, not only in Iraq, but across the Middle East.

It did not.

Now four years later, unrepentant, the same neo-conservatives who believed that will and force alone were sufficient to unleash freedom, now blame those who bought their elixir. They are accusing the Administrative of poor execution and incompetence. Some blame Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, once their "darling", some blame President Bush, some blame both.

To be sure, a few neo-conservatives appear to be remorseful, but most refuse to accept responsibility and don't want the Administration's failure in Iraq and beyond to discredit their world view. Others have actually been emboldened, advocating a stepped up offensive by fellow neo-cons to reassert their mission. But none are able to acknowledge that their dependence on ideology and refusal to understand reality, is what is principally at fault.

The simple unavoidable fact, however, is that the chaos in Iraq, the deteriorating Israeli-Palestinian situation and the worrisome enmity that many have for toward the US throughout the Middle East is the world the neo-cons gave us. Inspired by their simplistic vision, the Administration went to war in a country whose history and culture we didn't understand, unleashing forces we now cannot control. Emboldened by their view, we and Israel refused to negotiate with what we called, "evil" believing that it could be "stamped out". Instead, the President promoted the absurd idea that the Palestinians had to become a democracy before they could have a state. And because of the neo-cons, the Administration behaved in an unconscionably heavy-handed and unilateral manner exhausting the world's good-will and especially deepening the gulf between us and the peoples of the Middle East.

I blame the Administration for buying and forcing us all to drink this snake oil, but I can't excuse those who sold it. When it's finger pointing time, it's the "con" men who are to blame.