Neocon chieftain and liberal bogeyman Bill Kristol made his debut as the newest New York Times columnist this weekend. His choice of inaugural topic? The great potential of candidate Huckabee — the same subject his fellow Weekly Standard hand turned Times Op Ed columnist David Brooks tackled months ago.
Commentary doesn’t wield the influence it once did (as our Alana Newhouse noted a few years back), but its pages continue to crackle with often intelligent, lively and provocative right-wing perspectives, as well as some of the most thoughtful writing on Jewish affairs that’s out there. Of course, it also publishes more than a few crazily bellicose articles on foreign policy (often penned by the elder Podhoretz).
In its heyday, Commentary rose to influence with sharp — and frequently necessary — critiques of left-liberal orthodoxies. At its best, Commentary has been invaluable. In recent decades, however, Commentary has all too often simply substituted the rigid orthodoxies of the neocon right for the dogmas of the left. At its worst, Commentary can be laughable.
Which side of the Commentary tradition will Podhoretz fils embrace? Given his work so far, I have my own prediction.
Former New Republic editor Peter Beinart eviscerates neo-con chieftain Norman Podhoretz’s new book “World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism” in The New York Times Book Review:
His assertions are bold, sweeping and almost wholly unencumbered by evidence. We learn, for instance, that “almost to a man, Muslim clerics in their sermons” endorsed the 9/11 attacks. “Just about everyone in the whole world who was intent on discrediting the Bush doctrine,” he tells us, claimed that Jews were behind the Iraq war. And none of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib “so far as anyone knew, was even maimed, let alone killed.”
But what really gets Beinart — hardly a starry-eyed dove himself — is the Commentary editor’s blustering antagonism toward his domestic political opponents. Beinart writes:
Quotable Washingtonian Norman Ornstein has a fun piece in The New Republic complaining that he’s always getting labeled a neocon because he’s based at the American Enterprise Institute. In fact, Ornstein explains, he’s “one of those Jurassic-era Washingtonians who believes in the virtues of centrism and bipartisanship.”
But, predictably, it’s not only Ornstein’s AEI affiliation that contributes to the misunderstanding of where he stands:
I have a suspicion (based on occasional e-mail rants I get) that, for some lunatics, my knee-jerk inclusion in the neocon camp has to do with my double whammy: a home at AEI and a very Jewish name.
(Although, in all honesty, I have to confess, in the days before I had read much from Ornstein, I, too, assumed he was a neocon for those two reasons.)
Ornstein says that the eagerness of people to lump him into the neocon camp is indicative of the increasing polarization in political life, something that has made life in the middle, as he puts it, “a pain in the tuchas.”
Neoconservatives have variously been pigeonholed as crazed former Trotskyites, duplicitous Straussians and American Likudniks. Often, “neoconservative” seems to simply be used as shorthand (or code) for “conservative Jewish intellectual.”
Since the Iraq war, however, the term has entered popular usage. What it means now is a little difficult to put one’s finger on, as a passage from a recent article in Time Out New York demonstrates. Explaining why she doesn’t date guys of her own ethnic background, a Korean-American woman, identified only as Jane, told the magazine:
My problem with most of the Korean guys I’ve dated is that they usually want to go out with girls who are just like their mothers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m no neocon, and I won’t be slaving over your kimchi in the kitchen.
I wonder what Irving Kristol has to say to that?
The former head of Israel’s Mossad, Efraim Halevy, has some harsh words about American foreign policy in the cover story of the June issue of The Atlantic. The story, by journalist David Samuels, is a fascinating, in-depth exploration of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s ambitious effort to straighten up the mess that is the Middle East.
Halevy gives the writer a withering take on the administration’s democratization program:
“I used to deal with Condi when I was head of Mossad and she was national-security adviser, and I had a great respect for her, and admiration,” Halevy says. “I still do. But I think that in her role of secretary of state, things are not going too well. The main problem is that Condi Rice was never an expert on the Middle East. That’s not her area of expertise. And therefore, she has to rely on others. And the others in this case is a lawyer who is an ideologue” — meaning Elliott Abrams — “who believes that you can promote a certain ideology anywhere and everywhere around the world if you think it’s the right ideology. And you really don’t have to know very much about the basic facts in the region that you’re dealing with, because you have to tailor the region to your ideology.”
Maybe Paul Wolfowitz deserved to get pushed out at the World Bank for helping his girlfriend get a new job and a hefty pay raise. At the same time, though, his critics should at least have the decency to admit that the latest scandal disproves the popular (and unfair) claim that Wolfowitz is a neocon-Likudnik whose main goal in pushing for war in Iraq was to help Israel.
How many Likudniks do you know with a “companion” named Shaha Ali Riza?
Whatever you want to say about Wolfowitz, there appears to be nothing cynical or phony about his belief that American military and diplomatic action could let loose a wave of Democratic reforms in the Islamic world that would improve the lives of the Muslim masses.
And it’s not just the Muslim girlfriend.
In April 2002, at the height of the current intifada, with Israel under attack, he stood in front of a right-leaning pro-Israel rally in Washington and drew boos for declaring that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact.” In an October 2003 speech, he warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was hurting America’s standing in the Middle East and could only be resolved through “political means,” spoke well of the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, and praised Israeli and Arab leaders who have made land-for-peace deals, including Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan. (Hard to imagine Doug Feith or Richard Perle talking like that.)
And then there was the 1989 farewell speech that Wolfowitz gave at the end of his tenure as America’s ambassador to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. “If greater openness is a key to economic success, I believe there is increasingly a need for openness in the political sphere as well,” Wolfowitz said. Some observers have argued (here for instance) that the comment buoyed the reform movement that eventually brought down President Suharto — and it’s not hard to connect the dots between Wolfowitz’s conclusions about Indonesia and the view that Muslims deserve better than the usual choice in the Middle East between monarchs and strongmen.
Finally, of course, his decision to go to the World Bank suggests a universalist urge to improve the world, rather than a dedication to advancing Aipac talking points.
Wolfowitz may be arrogant, naïve and incompetent — but he’s not Jerusalem’s lackey.