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Posted by rocky at 07:01PM, Saturday, November 02nd, 2002

The End of Reason

The neoconservative movement seeks to end all rational debate by claiming sole ownership of an objective view of reality. Where do they get off?

I watched most of a fascinating Hudson Institute panel broadcast on CSPAN debating the current status of the "neoconservative" movement, featuring Richard Perle, the Reagan-era Assistant Secretary of Defense, and a preeminent neocon thinker. After introducing the panel, which also included blogger Josh Marshall, the moderator implored participants to avoid "ad hominem lines of argument and similar incivilites", citing the divisive nature of such a sharply divided right/left panel.

Perle was the first to speak, and immediately launched into a preemptive attack on Marshall. The left, he said, is "obsessed" with neoconservatism, as evidenced by Marshall's blog, where it is apparent that he spends "near every waking moment" thinking and writing about neoconservatives. He went on to state that the left was "investing their hopes not in the real world, but in a fantasy world where international institutions protect us from various threats," and the single option of defense is American strength.

Nice way to start a panel. We live in the real world. Everyone else is dreaming. End of argument. How can you claim to debate with terms like this? "You live in a fantasy world" is not cogent enough of an argument to win points with any thinking person I know.

Later, the discussion turned to the relationship of Israel to US foreign policy in the Middle East, and Perle stated "Rather than debate the merits of the policy, the critics prefer to describe it as some secret plot to advance the interests of Israel." This is true -- precisely because people like Perle refuse to acknowledge that our aid to israel -- $700,000,000 in cash and billions in loan guarantees in 2002 according to USAID -- could possibly influence Arab thinking about the United States and its presence in places like Saudi Arabia or military actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.

I'm fascinated by the politics of the Middle East, and how our foreign policy plays over there. Yet failing to acknowledge our support of Israel is ignoring a 600-pound gorilla in the room -- much akin to claiming that terrorists "hate our way of life" or "hate democracy", when WHO ARE THEY? their stated goals are relatively straightforward and non-abstract: to get American troops out of Saudi Arabia, and to get America to stop funding Israel [military action against unarmed palestinians and activists? Israeli fascism? terrorism? both terms are accurate]. It's akin to failing to acknowledge our former support of Saddam Hussein, our arming of the Taliban, or any number of other examples of "blowback" from earlier US foreign policy.

I used to think this "we're right, you're wrong, end of story" attitude was just the province of infotainment pundits like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, yet it seems present in the very core of modern conservatism. What happened to the days of William F. Buckley conducting an a principled, literate debate about the merits of policies?

When Grover Norquist compares taxation of the rich to the Holocaust, I think it's indicative of a kind of mental rot that has allowed bizarre ideas to flourish outside of the light of rational thought. Josh Marshall suggests that as neoconservatism's core ideas are being proved incorrect or impractical over and over, the intensity of their attacks against competing viewpoints is increasing. He's probably right. And as a political philosophy which sees force and strength as the only true expression of power begins to die -- one which drives a movement which had no fear using intimidation and violence to stop the 2000 recount in Florida -- we all need to watch our backs.

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