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Of Hawks and Hacks | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Of Hawks and Hacks

In an icy blast from the past, Cold War Hawks (the original neo-conservatives) recently resurrected their decades-old group--the Committee on the Present Danger.

Originally formed in 1950, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) was designed as a "citizen's lobby" to alert the nation to what it saw as the grave menace of Soviet communism. The CPD advocated a "rollback" strategy--a huge military buildup for the purpose of rolling back Communist influence and attaining and maintaining US military supremacy in the world. Bush's preemptive war doctrine has its roots in this "rollback" agenda.

In 1976, the second incarnation of CPD came about when hawks (and hacks) from both parties argued that detente had lulled us into complacency. The group emerged from an organization called Team B, whose aim, according to muckraking columnist Robert Scheer,was to re-evaluate "the [CIA's] own assessment of the Soviet menace, which Team B found too moderate." To the hard-liners, Team B--which was authorized by President Ford and organized by CIA chief George Bush--was a wish fulfilled.

In the eyes of Team B, the CIA was a wobbly organization. (Sound familiar?) Agency experts, it argued, had severely misjudged the Soviets' nuclear capabilities. In 1982, the CPD darkly warned that the US had "become No. 2" to the Soviets in nuclear arms, and "if the United States remains No. 2--US survival would be in jeopardy."

The CPD's ranks were filled with neo-conservative hawks who later occupied high ranking positions in the Reagan Administration. Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served as Reagan's UN representative, was a prominent member of the committee. One typically outspoken member, William Van Cleave, insisted that nuclear war was winnable.

The CPD consistently hyped the Soviet threat and argued that what counted, above all, was Soviet intent, not capabilities. (Sound familiar?) Its key members were quick to engage in redbaiting--they even criticized Reagan for recognizing the authenticity of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. charged in Foreign Affairs magazine, the CPD had made "extravagant and now abundantly disproven claims that the Soviet Union was overtaking the United States in the arms race." In a recent New York Times editorial, the historian John Patrick Diggins pointed out, "Mr. Reagan was also informed [by Team B] that the Soviet Union was preparing for a possible pre-emptive attack on the United States." That position, said Diggins, was an "alarmist" one.(Sound familiar?)

In recent weeks, the CPD has mounted a third campaign. Reconstituted, the organization ran full-page advertisements last month in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal vowing to "raise a unified voice for a policy of national resolve in the War on Terrorism."

The latest CPD crowd is comprised of discredited hawks and hacks: Fellows from the American Enterprise Institute, and board members or fellows of several other rightwing or neocon think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the former Committee to Liberate Iraq and the National Institute for Public Policy. The majority of members, natch, are associated with policy statements by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose founding members in 1997 included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a good number of others associated with the discredited policies of the Bush Administration.

Indeed, it's fair to say that many of the current Committee members have a shameful record in foreign affairs. Take, for example, Henry Cooper, who directed the Pentagon's failed Strategic Defense Initiative in the Reagan years; Ken Adelman, who predicted that invading Iraq would be a "cakewalk" and Frank Gaffney, who in a February 2003 interview, predicted that after the invasion of Iraq was finished, Americans would witness:

"An outpouring of appreciation for [Iraqis] liberation that will make what we saw in Afghanistan recently pale by comparison. You'll see, moreover, evidence in the files and the bunkers that become available to our military--not only of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs and his future ambitions for their use perhaps and for aggression against his neighbors, but also I would be willing to bet evidence of his past complicity with acts of terror against the west which will further vindicate the course of action that this president is courageously embarked upon."

The Committee, in its third incarnation, has gotten off to a rough start. It's managing director, Peter Hannaford, a former Reagan aide, was forced to resign just a few days after the group's big bang relaunch when the New York Sun reported that his PR firm had once represented the interests of Austria's Freedom Party in Washington DC, while the Austrian neo-fascist, Joerg Haider, was the Freedom Party's leader. (Ironically, Haider paid a visit to Saddam Hussein in 2002 as a show of "solidarity" with the Iraqi dictator.)

Our world is defined by grays, but the CPD sees things in black and white: either you're with us, or out to betray us. The CPD is offering Americans a false foreign policy choice in a 9/11 world: appeasement, or escalation. As one leading member--former CIA director James Woolsey--falsely puts it, the battle against radical Islam is "World War IV."

The CPD honorary chair, Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ, Republican), subscribes to a faith-based foreign policy. (He also spearheaded President Bush's national missile defense program, which most experts believe doesn't work.) The other honorary chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, has now fully broken with his former running mate, Al Gore, and become an open and avid supporter of the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.

The CPD, in the end, is eager to replay old battles in a new era. Islamic terrorism is an occasion for this gang to fight again, the more so as the very nebulousness of the enemy opens up the prospect of endless conflict. But the CPD's discredited leaders deserve to be exposed, shunned and refuted as charlatans. They are more than just a blast from the past, but also a danger to America's future, a chief reason why America is bogged down in Iraq with no exit strategy in sight. America is no longer respected in the world, and if the CPD's extremist ideology prevails here at home, America will remain an object of derision and a terrorist target for years to come.

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