'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Weekend Brain Teaser 

Glenn Greenwald published a post over at Salon on Monday that it got a lot of play in the liberal blogosphere. He catalogued the pathetic performance of the Democratic Congress elected in 2006 in regard to the war in Iraq, a possible war with Iran and civil liberties, and then proceeded to speculate how to pressure the Democrats to abandon their collaboration with the Republicans.

Needless to say, Greenwald's solution did not include urging people to support other, non-Democratic Party candidates who actually support his perspective. But you probably already knew that, and, anyway, that's not the reason that I'm highlighting his post. I have a different purpose in mind. First, let's look at his list of instances of Democratic facillitation of Bush policy:

Since that overwhelming Democratic victory, this is what the Democratic-led Congress has done:

Repeatedly funded -- at the White House's insistence -- the Iraq War without conditions;

Defeated -- at the White House's insistence -- Jim Webb's bill to increase the intervals between deployments for U.S. troops;

Defeated -- at the White House's insistence -- a bill to restore habeas corpus, which had been abolished by the Military Commissions Act, enacted before the 2006 election with substantial Democratic and virtually unanimous GOP support;

Enacted -- at the White House's insistence and with substantial Democratic and virtually unanimous Republican support-- the so-called Protect America Act, vesting the President with extreme new warrantless eavesdropping powers;

Overwhelmingly approved the Senate's Kyl-Lieberman Resolution, to declare parts of the Iranian Government a "terrorist organization," an extremely belligerent resolution modeled after those which made "regime change" the official U.S. Government position towards Iraq;

Deleted from a pending bill -- at the direction of the House Democratic leadership and at the insistence of the White House -- a provision merely to require Congressional approval before the Bush administration can attack Iran;

Overwhelmingly enacted -- at the White House's insistence, and with substantial Democratic and virtually unanimous GOP support -- the "FISA Amendments Act of 2008," to vest the President with broad new warrantless eavesdropping powers and to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, all but putting an end to any chance for a real investigation and judicial adjudication of the Bush administration's illegal NSA spying program;

Confirmed, with the indispensable support of two key Democratic Senators, Bush's nominee for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, despite his support for radical Bush theories of executive power and his refusal to oppose torture;

Stood by passively and impotently while Bush officials flagrantly ignored their Subpoenas and refused to comply with their investigations.

Certainly, not a pretty picture, and it raises a more profound question that has been missed by the emphasis upon the difficulty of seeking change within our sclorotic two party system. Through these actions, the Democrats have been approving and financing neoconservative policies, thus raising the question, does the term neoconservative have any meaning, beyond its historic context? After all, if the President and the Congress are walking together on these issues, what use, if any, does it have for enhancing our understanding of the way by which this country is governed?

By way of background, wikipedia provides with a good introductory definition of the term:

Neoconservatism is a political philosophy that emerged in the United States from the rejection of the social liberalism, moral relativism, and New Left counterculture of the 1960s. It influenced the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, representing a realignment in American politics, and the defection of some liberals to the right of the political spectrum; hence the term, which refers to being 'new' conservatives. Neoconservatism emphasizes foreign policy as the paramount responsibility of government, maintaining that America's role as the world's sole superpower is indispensable to establishing and maintaining global order.

Most of you are probably aware that the foreign policy roots of neoconservatism stretch back to Scoop Jackson, and that their aggressive stance in relation to Russia during the Cold War was transferred to new enemies like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Iran, and, more subtlely, even China and Russia (yes, hard for them to let the Russians go, isn't it?). They have aggregated themselves to push their borderline paranoid views in influential groups like the Project for a New American Century, which played an indispensable role in exploiting, and, indeed, even anticipating, 9/11 as a way of inducing the invasion of Iraq, and the Committee on the Present Danger.

Until around 2002 or 2003 and the impending invasion of Iraq, the term neoconservative was not in common circulation. It was significantly because of the efforts of the libertarians at antiwar.com, and Justin Raimondo in particular, that the term entered the popular consciousness after a failed attempt by neoconservatives to preserve their relative anonymity by making the absurd claim that such a designation constituted anti-semitism.

But this is, as they say, ancient history. As I said, if the President and the Congress are walking together in the passage and implementation of neoconservative policy (a current example being the fast movement of a resolution urging expanded sanctions and the interdiction of Iranian shipping in attempt to stop Iran's nuclear program), then what use is the term neoconservative in today's contemporary context? By continuing to use the term as a way of explaining US foreign policy, are we accidentally deceiving people into believing that our policies in Iraq, the Middle East and elsewhere are the consequences of the influence of a small, influential, entrenched group, when, in fact, there is general unanimity through the US social and political elite?

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