December 19, 2003

Readers Corner From reader RE,

Readers Corner

From reader RE, writing in from the Upper West Side (no hotbed of Perle fandom), this exchange:


"You write: "Indeed, Perle described neo-conservatism as a "common sense" pragmatic approach to foreign policy repeatedly during his remarks. "

There is a difference between an assertion and a description. The latter requires examples.

What are Perle's specific examples of neo-conservatism's common sense and pragmatism? I have been unable to find any. despite looking long and hard."

I responded, somewhat in haste, as follows:

"What about holding states that harbor terrorists as culpable as terror groups themselves? I think that's rather common sensical."

To which reader RE was kind enough to respond in detail:

"I don't think your answer speaks directly to my question because it is not a concrete example, which is what I was hoping for, but instead it's just a maxim, like "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Superficially, it sounds nice, but the devil is in the details, and it's the details I'm looking for. I will respond to it nevertheless:

To consider a specific example of this maxim in practice, you are saying that neoconservatives believe it is common sense to assert that since Iraq harbored terrorists, Iraq should be considered "culpable" as a terror group itself.

As you know as well as I, there is a serious logical fallacy at the heart of such an assertion. But let us, for the sake of argument, not dispute that. Let us assume that the middle IS excludable, that states that harbor terrorists are equally culpable as terrorists for their misdeeds. (I'll even pass over the uncomfortable fact that confounds your maxim, namely that the US was funding Saddam when he gassed the Kurds, which would, by the standard you propose, make the US at least partly culpable in those attacks. Even though the neocon principle you state all but forces that conclusion, I don't believe the US was culpable, so let's leave that out, too.)

Even by this weakest of standards, the neoconservative position fails the test of common sense when applied to the practical example of Iraq. For there is still no evidence made public, including the recently leaked Feith memo, that has demonstrated any real working relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. So it makes no sense to hold Iraq culpable for the 9/11 attacks if they were not harboring the 9/11 terrorists, as they apparently weren't.

Saddam's enthusiastic support of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and the Territories is well known, and deplorable. Certainly, Saddam is culpable for those specific incidents (and many others, no doubt). But Israel is *not* the United States. The Palestinians also had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, even if they celebrated their success. Palestinian nationalism is very different than bin Laden's radical interpretation of Wahabbism, even if there are a few Islamist themes in

Now, one can attempt to concoct an elaborate chain of associations whereby Israel's security is considered basically equivalent to American security so therefore Saddam's support of Palestinian suicide bombers is really an attack on the US, but such a chain is to say the least debatable, and in any event, easily falls victim to Occam's Razor. Such a chain is definitely not what is usually meant by common sense.

And so, I fail to see any common sense at work in the maxim you propose when you look at a specific example.

So I ask again: where are the specific examples of common sense in neo-conservatism? Where is the pragmatism Perle asserts?

Now, "pragmatism" and "common sense" appear to be the province of a far different approach to international relations, namely that of Raymond Aron, if my preliminary reading of his work is indicative of his opinions. In Peace and War, he provides numerous, highly specific examples of what commonsense foreign policy looks like. Aron, for example, has numerous criticisms of supra-national organizations like the UN. But Aron realizes that groups such as the UN have a very useful purpose in international relations, in spite of their problems. He advocates using them, but carefully. He would never question their existence. That is pragmatism.

In contrast, Perle dismisses such internationalism as essentially worthless, if not actively harmful. Because the UN cannot do everything well, it can do nothing good at all. Whatever such a viewpoint is, that is not the view of a pragmatist.

But Perle and his associates don't stop there., Perle and Wolfowitz, for example have a distressing propensity to entertain the totally unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of Laurie Mylroie and a willingness to rely on the highly unreliable "intelligence" of Chalabi and his friends. That demonstrates to me a considerable deficit in the areas of judgment and common sense. And their inability to understand that in all but the most extreme circumstances* tough diplomacy and broad international consensus is far more effective than bombing is cause, frankly, for alarm.

Like so many other neoconservatives when challenged, Perle resorts to ad hominem assaults instead of reasoned, sourced argument. He rarely provides specific examples where his critics are mistaken except on trivial asides, where he focuses to the exclusion of all else. And so those criticisms stand unchallenged.

If you believe his critics are wrong, you need to come up with specific, non-trivial examples, to real-life situations, not philosophical declarations of purpose. You won't find many such examples, but you will find numerous putdowns, legal threats and insults by Perle and others directed at his opponents..

If serious critiques of neoconservatism, and Perle in particular, are unknown to you, I will gladly give you plenty of backup once I have from you some specific examples of Perle's pragmatic, commonsense, seeing-the-world-as-it-is approach, and where it has proven inarguably correct and inarguably helpful primarily to US interests."

We will be addressing much of this soon over at B.D.

Let me say straight away, however, that I'm no fan of Chalabi--and to the extent Perle carried water for him in the Beltway as presumptive heir apparent to Saddam--it does call Perle's wisdom, on that matter at least, into question.

Josh Marshall, whose blog has been particularly interesting of late (perhaps he should catch the flu more often, though I certainly wouldn't wish it on him having just recently gotten over a particularly nasty one over here!), has an interesting post up on Chalabi's newspaper, Al-Mutamar, running a front page maga-sized photo (ostensibly with Pachachi and other governing council bigwigs excised from the shot) of Chalabi, with barely concealed swagger, surveying a hapless looking Saddam.

I don't know if the Pentagon, as Josh suggests, gave Chalabi any assists on the photo front or such. What I do know, however, is that it reinforces Chalabi's image (to me at least) as somewhat of a charlatan and a pretty shameless self-promoter.

He knows that the Iraqi public is starved for additional photos of Saddam. He somehow manages to get in on the post-hobo (or should I say "bum" instead?), post-shave second round of the action knowing the shots will fly off the vendor stands.

It's a transparent bid to look the key Shi'a player serving up some humble pie to Saddam. It's about as risibly self-promoting as P. Diddy's antics.

So what, you might say? After all the years of pain and repression, can't he enjoy a little gloat peering down at Saddam?

Except that he was likely living not too far down the road from where I'm writing in London in pretty comfy exile throughout the "time of troubles."

I mean, if your paper is going to print a shot of said meeting, print a shot with the entire governing council delegation visiting Saddam rather than crop the pic for maximum self-aggrandizing effect.

Put differently, such stunts positively reek of self-promotion and won't win him additional friends among thoughtful folks in the Beltway.

So leave aside the potentially shady bank deals in Jordan. Leave aside the dearth of grass-roots support for Chalabi among the Shi'a. And, for Perle-haters (and there are many) leave aside that he's popular with that nefarious crowd.

Just focus on the (increasingly tiresome and frequent) self-promotion.

So I'll agree with reader RE on that point, at least. More soon.

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