Magazine article The American Conservative

The Long Fuse to the Iraq War

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Long Fuse to the Iraq War

Article excerpt

The Long Fuse to the Iraq War [They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, Jacob Heilbrunn, Doubleday, 289 pages]

by Philip Weiss

IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE a title more overdue than They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons. Ever since neoconservatism's chief contribution to world betterment, the Iraq War, began losing its luster, its adherents have gone into a kind of hiding, and the media has given them cover. Former Deputy secretary of Defense Paul WoIfowitz and New York Times columnist David Brooks, one or both of whom are neoconservatives, have suggested that the word is an anti-Semitic epithet. Others try to avoid it entirely: when Bill Kristol, who was definitely once a neoconservative, was hired by the New York Times as a columnist, the paper called him a "conservative" and said his father Irving Kristol, one of the movement's founders, was a leader of "modern conservatism."

Jacob Heilbrunn asserts that neoconservatives have so far gotten away "scotfree" with planning the greatest foreignpolicy disaster since Vietnam. And so his book will call them to account. Not quite.

Heilbrunn achieves one important chore: a forthright social narrative of the neocons as a Jewish movement. Tracing ideological currents in the Jewish community from the 1940s to the 1970s, Heilbrunn, a journalist who himself flirted with neoconservatism, describes how the neocons were propelled by resentments against WASP elites-the men who had ignored the Holocaust, they felt, and "frozen out" Jews from the establishment. It would be hard to overemphasize Heilbrunn's accomplishment. There has been endless prevarication about the fact that neoconservatism is an element of the Jewish experience, even from liberal Jews. Yet Heilbrunn will have none of it. He says that neoconservatism is "intimately linked with the memory of the Holocaust and the allies' failure to save the Jews during the war" and notes that a "peculiar amalgam of intellectual rigor and ethnic resentment... lies at the heart of the neoconservative outlook."

And here's the topper a "lifelong antipathy toward the patrician class among the neocons... prompted them to create their own parallel establishment."

The sociological insights in his story are often exciting. Neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz had "the classic Jewish experience with the WASP elite" but became a "social climber" himself Heilbrunn says. The other godfather, living Kristol didn't at first take the late Allan Bloom seriously. Bloom told Heilbrunn that his relationship with Kristol got "easier" once Bloom, like Kristol, had wealth. The neocons didn't like Kissinger because he was hofjude, "a court jew of the WASP foreign policy establishment." They didn't like Zbig Brzezinski because he was Polish and the neocons suspected him of Pale-era anti-Semitism.

Boiling resentment meant very little without a political program. The neocons got that in the late 1960s. And not surprisingly, the issues had a Jewish character. "With the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, the 1967 war, and the rise of black anti-Semitism in the United States, neoconservatism was born," Heilbrunn writes. So now Brzezinski was resented because he was against the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and McGeorge Bundy because he wanted to push Israel to make a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Neoconservative ideas might have been confined to small magazines, but the neocons stunned themselves in the 1970s by gaining traction in American political life-through the offices of Washington Sea Henry Jackson (whom a Saudi ambassador called "more Jewish than the Jews"). With Jackson's support, the neocons staged their first great victory, pressuring the Soviet Union to free Jews. After Daniel Patrick Moynihan won his New York Senate seat with "strong Jewish support" in 1976, the neocons had a second home.

At that time, of course, they were Democrats. Martin Peretz, the once leftwing editor of The New Republic, was so shaken by the Left's friendliness to the Palestinians, that he provided access in his pages to hawks, and became "a major force in the mainstreaming of neoconservative ideas. …

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