Viewpoint: The rotten roots of policy

“Strange times are these in which we live, when old and young are taught in falsehood’s school. And the one man that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.” —Plato

Where did we get the idea that the way to have a secure world is to have perpetual war and attack anyone or any nation that might attack us at some future time?

It is becoming very clear that the neoconservative juggernaut in Washington extracted its inspiration for these moves from the perceptions of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher named Leo Strauss. He is the current topic of the capital’s cocktail and cloakroom circuit.

Strauss, who came to this country in 1938 and died in 1973, held views that were elitist, amoral and anti-democratic. Small wonder current policy is not in line with American traditions.

Architects of the administration’s foreign policy are said to consider themselves as disciples of Strauss and his doctrines.

Chief among them is Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. They’re calling him “Wolfowitz of Arabia” because he led the charge for war on Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Wolfowitz also was the leading promoter of changing the Mideast to an American hegemony. He also advocated the pre-emptive strike strategy.

Two others who are very influential followers of Strauss are William Kristol, chief editor of the Weekly Standard, and Gary Schmitt, founder, chairman and director of the Project for the New American Century.

The latter is a 6-year-old group of neoconservatives that includes Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, plus several other senior foreign policy officials.

Kristol’s father, Irving, who was a founder of the neoconservative movement here, is on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, an ultra-right wing think tank where Richard Perle of Defense Policy Board fame resides, admits to being a Strauss devotee.

Awareness of the Strauss influence was first presented by Asia Times, a leading publication in the Orient, and by the New York Times.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker magazine, disclosed that Abram Shulsky, a close associate of Perle, also is a Straussian. Shulsky operates a special intelligence unit in Rumsfeld’s office.

Hersh reported Shulsky’s unit gave its own interpretation of evidence dealing with Iraq’s alleged links to the al-Qaeda terror network and Saddam’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Hersh identified another Strauss follower as Stephen Cambone, an aide to Rumsfeld and head of the new job of Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

Deception is a key element of Strauss’s prescription for effective governance. Shadia Drury, who wrote a book about the philosopher, said: “Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in Strauss’s view), because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what’s good for them.”

Strauss, who was an authority on Plato, believed “those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior.”

Today’s followers think that separating church and state was a major mistake of America’s Founding Fathers.

“Secular society, in their view,” said Drury, “is the worst possible thing” because it fosters individualism, liberalism and relativism, precisely those traits that might encourage dissent. “You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty,” Drury said.

Strauss was strongly influenced in his thinking by Thomas Hobbes, who thought human nature is basically aggressive and could only be checked by a powerful state based on nationalism (jingoism).

He also saw a need for a boogeyman to make all this work. “Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat,” Drury said in her 1999 book. “Following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured,” she said.

We have just come through the experience of hearing the president assert that Iraq was full of weapons of mass destruction. Now, since none have been found, the administration is saying, in effect, “we were just kidding.”

Perpetual war leads to an aggressive, belligerent foreign policy. The advocates of this strategy have Bush’s ear. They also are members of the “Israel First” bloc.

It is no coincidence that our foreign policy in the Mideast mirrors that of Ariel Sharon and the Likkud Party of Israel.

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