John V. Walsh
Clash of the Elites: Beltway Insiders Versus Neo-Cons
Thu Jan 18, 2007 01:09

Beltway Insiders Versus Neo-Cons
Clash of the Elites


A titanic power struggle is being waged within the policy elite or power elite, or more simply the U.S. ruling class. The clash is taking place over the war on Iraq, U.S. policy toward Israel--and ultimately over the best way to run the U.S. empire. The war on Iraq is shaping up as such a disaster for the empire that it can no longer be tolerated by our rulers in its present form. The struggle is as plain as the nose on your face; nevertheless it draws little comment. One reason is that we are taught to view matters political through the prism of Democrat versus Republican, whereas this struggle among our rulers cuts across party lines. On the "Left," few so much as allude to this internecine war, much less use it to good effect. This is apparently due to a very rigid, very dogmatic view of how empires function, indeed how they "must" function, and due to a fear of being labeled anti-semitic and thus running afoul of the Israeli Lobby. In many cases this silence reflects an actual sympathy among "liberals" for neocon foreign policy, either out of a latter day do-gooder version of the White Man's Burden, or an attachment to Israel.

This struggle is in no way hidden and definitely not a secret conspiracy. It is out in the open, as it must be, since it is in great part a battle for the hearts and minds of the American public. This fact makes the absence of commentary about it all the more chilling. The fight among our rulers sets the neocons against other very important elements in the establishment: the senior officer corps, represented by Jack Murtha and Colin Powell; the old money like Ned Lamont; the oil men, like James Baker (With Baker against the war, how then can oil be the only reason for the war?); those who want to see the American imperium run effectively, like Lee Hamilton and Robert Gates of the Iraq Study Group; many in the CIA, both active duty and retired; policy makers like Zbigniew Brzezinski who has long opposed the war which he has ascribed to the influence of certain "ethnic" groups; and even former presidents Gerald Ford who kept his mouth shut and Jimmy Carter who has not and whose frustration with Israel and the neocons is all too clear in his book "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid."

Influential voices tied to the ruling circles include some writers for the militantly anti-war publication of the Old Right, The American Conservative.
On the other side are the neocons, based in the Washington "Think" Tanks, in the civilian leadership of the pre-Gates Pentagon, in Dick Cheney's office, in large parts of both parties in Congress, and in the editorial and op-ed pages of the print media. Most of the House and much of the Senate is still under the control of the neocons thanks to the fund-raising exertions and threats from AIPAC and its minions. Hence, the most powerful political allies of the neocons are the leading Democrats, who indulge in the most intense and shallow anti-Bush rhetoric but are reliable allies in the neocon crusades in the Middle East. The neocon side has relied heavily on the power of ideas,. This in turn hinges on the second rate level of those writing for the mass media who think little for themselves and go along with whatever framework for policy discussion is put forward by the neocons. Good examples of this are most op-ed pages, TV programs like the Sunday morning talk shows, Weekend Edition on NPR and Washington Week in Review on PBS. The neocons have not dominated the weekly news magazines, with the exception of U.S. News and World Report, but they are working to remedy that. Witness, for example, the adoption of William Kristol as a star columnist at Time!

Given this balance of forces, it would seem that the neocons must lose but the outcome remains an open question. If they do prevail, that will be the end of our democracy and freedoms as we have known them. If you have any doubts about that, consult their philosopher, Leo Strauss. The neocons cannot be automatically counted out, even though their base is narrow, for they can draw on all the resources of a mighty nation state, Israel, a modern Sparta, with its vaunted intelligence services and special forces which span the world and operate in the U.S., as well as its ability, if it desires, to launder cash and deliver it to U.S. operatives. And of course the war profiteers like Halliburton and others love the Iraq adventure. The arms manufacturers may be less happy with it, since money is not being spent on profitable high-tech weapons which do not have to function but rather on highly unprofitable "boots on the ground."

The public forays of the anti-neocons in this struggle are well-known. James Wilson in the New York Times, accusing Bush of lying about uranium from Niger; Richard Clarke's expose on the incompetence behind 9/11; the exposure of Judith Miller as lying about WMD, thus corrupting the NYT reportage (even the Washington Post, dominated as its opinion pages are by the neocons did not allow its reporting to be undermined by the likes of Judith Miller); the antiwar stance of John Murtha indicating the unhappiness of the senior officer corps with the dominance of US Middle East policy by the Israel-first neocons; Mearsheimer and Walt's paper, as important for who wrote it as for its content, which finally took on the Israeli Lobby, the core adversary of the anti-neocons; and most recently Jimmy Carter's book which inevitably raises the question of the shedding of American blood to preserve Israeli apartheid and to lay waste every and any nation perceive by Israel to be a threat. Add to this the report of the Baker Commission and the near-simultaneous removal of Rumsfeld and his replacement with a member of the Baker Commission.

The biggest blow to the neocon agenda came from the people themselves, in the form of the 2004 election defeat of the Republicans. Unfortunately, this defeat amounted only to a registration of national disgust over the war in Iraq but not one which would result in policy changes since the establishment Dems are solidly neocon in their foreign policy especially when it comes to the Middle East and Israel. The same is true of many progressives. One looks in vain for a reference to the Lobby on the Michael Moore web site for example or in the missives from UFPJ or from "P"DA.

Two questions emerge. Are there advantages to be gained from this struggle for the peace movement? Most definitely. We are being provided with powerful testimony from the most unassailable sources Jimmy Carter, Richard Clarke and Mearsheimer and Walt to name a few. And we should not allow this important information to be discredited by the neocons. The leading anti-neocons are not anti-empire, but at least they want to end the bloody war on Iraq and the dominance of Israel over key segments of U.S. foreign policy. That is a step forward. And second, given the key power of the Israel Lobby, can the peace movement fail any longer to ignore it as though it were irrelevant? Absolutely not. We ignore it at our peril. And we must get rid of all fears of being labeled as anti-semites. Most Jewish Americans, much to their credit, oppose the policies of the Lobby, which in the long run may be responsible for stirring up considerable anti-semitism in the U.S. and around the world. Would it not be wonderful if an anti-Lobby organization of Jewish Americans emerged with a title like "Not in Our Name"?

Finally, given the balance of forces at play, it is difficult to discern what Bush is likely to do in the coming days and months. The punditry is now predicting an escalation of the war in Iraq (aka a "surge"), but Bush surprised once with the firing of Rumsfeld of which there was no advance hint quite the contrary. He is certainly under enormous pressure to alter course, and he may have to do so no matter how much he recoils from it. He may even do so after a "surge" which could be used as a smoke screen for a policy shift. But escalating the conflict even temporarily will sink his ratings below 30% and make him the most unpopular president in history. We shall see.

John V. Walsh can be reached at

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