Commentary

William Kristol: Dulce Bellum Inexpertis

Today we will look at a perfect example of sack of gutlessness that goes by the name of William Kristol. But he is far from alone.

This past weekend I turned on the TV and saw the end of a past event that was held at the Brookings Institution back on May 13. The event was Neoconservatism and the Future of American Foreign Policy and was held to mark the publishing of the book Neoconservatism — The Biography of a Movement. by Justin Vaïsse. All well and good; especially given the role neoconservatives have played in advocating the invasion of Iraq or urging military strikes on Iran.

The panelists were E.J. Dionne, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution; William Kristol, Editor, The Weekly Standard, Francis Fukuyama, Bernard L. Schwarz Professor School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and the book author Justin Vaïsse, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution.

Unfortunately, the part I saw was at the very end of the Q&A, literally the last question that was asked. But it was more than enough.

Here is how it appears in the transcript

SPEAKER: Hi. My name is Pete and I’m just a taxpayer. I guess one of the lines I liked in your book, Justin — my French is terrible, but I apologize — was that speaking about the neoconservative love of — love affair with the military. And I’m just curious to each member of the panel whether or not the intellectual underpinnings of the ideas should at all be influenced by the fact that as far as I know — and, hopefully, I’m wrong — none of the leading thinkers or proponents of the movement as you call it have ever served in the military. And I’m just curious does that contribute in a way to their lack of understanding of what soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors can actually do on the ground, especially in those forward operating bases, joint security stations, combat outposts that we speak about, continuing to man and our posture in the years ahead?

Interestingly, or perhaps tellingly, almost all panelists avoided dealing with the question.

Vaïsse said, “And as for any neoconservatives serving in the military, I will simply defer to the other panelists and to Bill maybe.”

Dionne said, “Just on this question, I want to leave it to them.

Fukuyama said nothing.

And here is what Kristol is said:

You know, people can debate. I’m not going to give some — in some defensive way, give some list of people who have served in the military on one side or the other. I think the question is really contemptible.

One can understand Dionne. After all he was never a neoconservative and has not incessantly called for invading other countries.

Fukuyama should have said something considering that as a key Reagan Administration contributor to the formulation of the Reagan Doctrine, he was an important figure in the rise of neoconservatism. He was active in the Project for the New American Century think tank starting in 1997 and as a member co-signed the organization’s letter recommending that President Bill Clinton support Iraqi insurgencies in the overthrow of then-President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. He was also among forty co-signers of William Kristol’s September 20, 2001 letter to President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks that suggested the U.S. not only “capture or kill Osama bin Laden”, but also embark upon “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”

But beginning in 2002 he began to distance himself from the neoconservative agenda of the Bush Administration, citing its overly militaristic basis and embrace of unilateral armed intervention, particularly in the Middle East. By late 2003, Fukuyama had voiced his growing opposition to the Iraq War and called for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation as Secretary of Defense.

So perhaps he feels he has already done his penance.

But it is Kristol whose rhetorical chutzpah that deserves our attention. Remember that Kristol, aside from being the son of Irving, who served as the managing editor of Commentary magazine and has been described as the “godfather of neoconservatism” was best known as Chief of Staff to the Vice President Dan Quayle in the George H. W. Bush administration. The New Republic dubbed Kristol “Dan Quayle’s brain” upon being appointed; which, both in retrospect and obvious at the time, was not exactly a big hurdle to jump.

Kristol was a leading proponent of the Iraq War. In 1998, he and other prominent foreign policy experts sent a letter to President Clinton urging a stronger posture against Iraq. Kristol argued that Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat to the United States and its allies: “The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.”

In June 2006, at the height of the Lebanon War, he suggested that, “We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?”

Now everyone has the right to exercise their First Amendment opinion, no matter how ill-informed it is. The country has allowed American neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois in the late 1970s and more recently we’ve let the funerals of dead soldiers be disrupted by hateful, religious bigots, all in the name of free speech.

But by the same standard people have every right to question the qualifications and wisdom of those advocating a policy, especially when the stakes are literally life and death. If a member of the general public suddenly claimed that eating Big Macs was the way to cure America’s obesity one would expect that questions would be asked of their medical credentials.

Similarly, when Kristol who rarely, if ever, sees a possible U.S. military action he doesn’t support — as he said in his response “we are just generally hawkish” — should absolutely expect to be questioned about his qualifications for advocating wars.

As is obvious to anyone who has ever served in the military wars are ALWAYS about killing people and destroying things. There is no way around it.

People like Kristol and Fukuyama, and so many others in Washington and elsewhere who deliberately choose to be mouthpieces in the service of American empire deserve all the skepticism and doubt that can be piled on them. Wars are not just another mere public policy debate; they are the ultimate life and death choice, affecting not only those in the military who carry them out but the rest of the country which sends them as well. Those who advocate them damn well better be prepared to back up their choices with logical reasoning, instead of gutlessly sputtering with feigned indignation and acting like the American version of the famed British Colonel Blimp . You want to know what is really contemptible? Being a pompous, jingoistic warmonger who has no stake in the policies he advocates is contemptible.

After all, taking responsibility for one’s action is supposed to be a bedrock conservative principle. One would never have seen a real conservative like Bill Buckley ducking the question. Of course, unlike Kristol, Buckley had actually served in the military, and the CIA.

All in all, Kristol, and far too many others like him, is the perfect example of the classic Latin expression, “dulce bellum inexpertis”, translated as war is sweet to those who have never experienced it. This is a quote from an ancient Greek poet Pindar, made famous by the Dutch Renaissance humanist Erasmus as the title for his meditation on the subject of war.

And, before you ask, I served four years active duty in the U.S. Navy, 1973-1977.

David Isenberg is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, a US Navy veteran, and the author of a new book, Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.