The Australian foreign affairs magazine ‘The Diplomat’ published an article by Dr Robert Horvath of the University of Melbourne entitled ‘The passions of the neo-cons’ (Vol 2, No 2. June-July 2003). Subtitled “[n]eo-conservatives have formulated a vision that identifies US security with the progress of human rights”, the essay details the neo-cons publicly stated belief in universal democratic values, and that moral absolutes, such as addressing human rights abuses, rather than cold national interest should be the driving force of US foreign policy. “[W]hat has really changed …is the readiness of the US to champion the cause of the victims of dictatorships – the dissidents, political prisoners and exiles – who… may yet have the last word on the neo-conservative revolution.” It’s certainly sounds like a noble vision.
However, Dr Horvath makes no attempt to test the neo-con rhetoric against reality. Even a cursory analysis of the neo-con agenda reveals massive credibility gap between their words and their actions. For example;
In order to maintain its newly established military presence in Central Asia, the United States has provided open and unconditional support for Uzbekistan’s dictator, Islam Karimov. Despite an extremely poor human rights record, Mr Karimov was welcomed to the White House in March this year. The US also supports other governments in the region with less than democratic credentials, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Pakistan.
The US has been muted in its criticism of undemocratic behaviour amongst its few Middle Eastern allies, such as Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The US continues to stymie any attempt to investigate possible Saudi links to al-Qaeda, despite the fact that 13 Saudi nationals were amongst the hijackers responsible for the September 11 attacks.
The US continues to sanction or excuse outright (and longstanding) human rights violations by Russia in Chechnya, Israel in Palestine, Pakistan and India in Kashmir, and Indonesia in Aceh. Under the banner of the ‘war on terrorism’ all manner of aggression and atrocities are permitted.
The US has shelved plans to establish democratic government in Iraq, sidelining even their own candidates in the Iraqi National Congress. This is largely the result of US terror of the power of Iraq’s Shi’ite population, whom they rightly fear will be able to dominate any democratic government. Donald Rumsfeld’s statement that an Iranian style Islamic republic “isn’t going to happen” represents a clear subversion of democratic principles. Iraq can have democracy only if they choose a US sanctioned government.
The US has permitted Afghanistan to slide back into warlordism. Civil and women’s rights have been dumped in favour of strategic interest. Only this week it has been reported that the US has begun negotiating a power sharing settlement with the Taliban, whom have regained effective power over most of the south of the country. As the US grip on the ground continues to slip, so does US explanations of its role in Afghanistan. In the words of John Pike, Director of GlobalSecurity.org, “All we’re trying to do in Afghanistan is to keep Kharzai as mayor of Kabul….” The United Nations has reported that under the restored ‘rule’ of the warlords, heroin production has returned to pre-Taliban levels and Afghanistan is once again the world’s largest supplier of heroin.
Domestically, the Bush administration has introduced bills, such as the US PATRIOT Act, that restrict democratic freedoms within the US.
The Bush administration has suspended the rule of law and key elements of the US constitution. Foreign and US citizens are held without trial or habeas corpus, without access to lawyers, subject to state sanctioned torture, in conditions in breach of the Geneva Convention.
The Bush administration has repudiated virtually every treaty or international legal obligation that might serve to restrict US interests or the exercise of US power.
Neo-con ’eminence grise’, Richard Perle and other key figures in the Bush administration have key financial interests in the further militarisation of the US economy and foreign policy. Mr Perle revealed his financial conflict of interest when he presented seminars to companies advising them how best to profit from the ‘war on terror.’ As the chairman of the Defence Policy Board, an advisory body to the Pentagon, he was in was in a position to share sensitive information and influence the distribution of contracts. Public outrage led to his symbolic resignation from the chairmanship, although he remains on the Board. President Bush did not publicly censor Mr Perle’s discretion. All the neo-cons have intimate financial links to the US military-industrial complex that is currently profiting from the ‘war on terror.’
Former Bush administration insiders, such as John DiIulio and Rand Beers have both revealed an administration running entirely on rhetoric, without any coherent policy except “steeringé. policy proposals as far right as possible.” As Beer’s wife, Bonnie said, “This is an administration that determines what it thinks and then sets about to prove it. There is no curiosity about opposing points of view.” John DiIulio concurred, “the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking.”
Like the Regan administration before it, the Bush administration is not a natural or organic entity. It is riven by disabling internal contradictions, competing personal and political ideologies, and vicious and potentially disabling petty jealousies. Nor are the neo-cons the most powerful force in the administration, but they are tolerated at present because their aggressive foreign policy agenda helps to facilitate and obscure a radical domestic policy agenda from public scrutiny. This can only be a temporary alliance, based on political convenience and positive poll results.
With the neo-cons now basking in, what for them is their first real foreign policy success (questionable though it is), it is difficult to impartially analyze their significance. What we can definitely say is that they do not represent a new ideology or political force. Their ideology is openly ‘old world’; anachronistically and unashamedly imperialist. The ‘democratic’ window dressing is of exactly the same vein as the nineteenth century ‘white man’s burden’, and is precisely as threadbare. In so far as a neo-con agenda actually exists, it seems on reflection to be closer to the hated foreign policy realists – although the realists also practiced the art of public and self-delusion, at least they were not so openly and blindly hypocritical.
. Robert Burns. “Iraqis Free to Form Own Gov’t As Long As US Oks” http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0424-11.htm
. Michael Tomasky. “Guess whose appeasing the Taleban now?” http://www.prospect.org/webfeatures/2003/06/tomasky-m-06-18.html
. Robert Schlesinger, Amber Mobley & the Boston Globe Staff. “Iraq occupation has deadly toll for US.” http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2003/030616-iraq-deathtoll01.htm
. John DiIulio. Esquire Magazine. “The DiIulio Letter.” http://www.esquire.com/features/articles/2002/021202_mfe_diiulio
. Laura Blumenfeld. “Former Bush Intelligence Insider Assails Counterterrorism Tactics” http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0616-01.htm
Paul Markham is a project manager for a bank and a student of Middle East history and international politics. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Australia.