A Tragedy of Errors
But too much can be made of the mendacity of the neocons. The influence of Leo Strauss's teachings about the need for the "philosophers" to conceal the truth from the masses can be exaggerated. The conviction on the part of neocons of their own rectitude may be sufficient, in their minds, to justify deception of the public in matters like Iraq's nonexistent threat to the United States. After all, they are waging World War IV against--well, against whomever--a revived Russia this year, China the next, and the next year a vague "Islamist" threat that somehow contains anti-Islamist Baathists and secular Palestinians along with Osama bin Laden. In their own minds, the neocons are Churchillian figures, a heroic minority who, as they battle a generic "totalitarianism" of which radical Islam is the latest manifestation, are handicapped by cowardly establishment "appeasers" and purveyors of a decadent "adversary culture" among the "new class" in the academy and the media. I don't doubt that many leading neocons sincerely wanted to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the Iraqi masses would embrace Ahmad Chalabi as their de Gaulle, that there would be a democratic domino effect in the Middle East, bringing pro-Israel and pro-American secularists to power. Now that they have been proven wrong, at enormous cost in American and Iraqi life, they are disoriented. Instead of acknowledging and taking responsibility for their catastrophic failure, they are desperately trying to avoid blame.
Unfortunately for them, a political ideology can fail in the real world only so many times before being completely discredited. For at least two decades, in foreign policy the neocons have been wrong about everything. When the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, the hawks of Team B and the Committee on the Present Danger declared that it was on the verge of world domination. In the 1990s they exaggerated the power and threat of China, once again putting ideology ahead of the sober analysis of career military and intelligence experts. The neocons were so obsessed with Saddam Hussein and Yasir Arafat that they missed the growing threat of Al Qaeda. After 9/11 they pushed the irrelevant panaceas of preventive war and missile defense as solutions to the problems of hijackers and suicide bombers.
They said Saddam had WMDs. He didn't. They said he was in league with Osama bin Laden. He wasn't. They predicted that no major postwar insurgency in Iraq would occur. It did. They said there would be a wave of pro-Americanism in the Middle East and the world if the United States acted boldly and unilaterally. Instead, there was a regional and global wave of anti-Americanism.
David Brooks and his colleagues in the neocon press are half right. There is no neocon network of scheming masterminds--only a network of scheming blunderers. As a result of their own amateurism and incompetence, the neoconservatives have humiliated themselves. If they now claim that they never existed--well, you can hardly blame them, can you?