Neocon avatar predicts trouble for right

by Jordan Green

An influential neoconservative thinker whose intellectual fingerprints are on both the Iraq war and the 1994 electoral sweep that gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress warned an audience in Winston-Salem on Feb. 7 that the conservative movement is at a crossroads, with Republicans facing a ‘“bitter domestic struggle’” to defend their agenda in the next two elections.

‘“Historians will look back on 2004 and conclude that it was either the beginning of the Republican era or that it was the high watermark in which they won the presidency and both houses, and voters took a look and saw corruption with Abramoff,’” said William Kristol, a commentator on Fox News and editor of The Weekly Standard, speaking to a luncheon audience of about 275 at the Benton Convention Center.

‘“Everything’s at stake,’” he added. ‘“Under Clinton, everything was a standoff. This is not a standoff. The Republicans are accountable. This is a very big moment politically.’”

Kristol declared himself ‘“mildly pessimistic’” about this year’s congressional election, and noted the fact that there is no incumbent from either party ‘— including Vice President Dick Cheney, who has promised not to run ‘—’ for the presidency in 2008 who ‘“makes the race particularly volatile and unpredictable.’”

Due to unanticipated interest the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh, had been forced to move the luncheon from the 180-capacity Piedmont Club to the Benton Convention Center.

‘“The Republican Party has been going through a rough time recently with all the scandals with the National Security Agency and [disgraced lobbyist] Jack Abramoff,’” said Kory Swanson, the foundation’s executive vice president, ‘“so I’m sure Bill Kristol will talk about what to do from a neoconservative viewpoint to get the party out of the doldrums.’”

Kristol said he believes that if voters focus on national security and the courts, Republican candidates will benefit in the 2006 elections. If they focus on the prescription drug benefit recently passed by Congress, federal spending or government corruption the Democrats will see solid gains.

‘“We could have a real nightmarish situation by August or September,’” he said. ‘“The elderly will start spending their benefit in May. When they go into Eckerd’s in August and September the pharmacist will tell them, ‘Well you used up your $2,200. Now you’ll have to pay out of your pocket.’ The Republican congressional representatives won’t want to spend more money, and the media will be telling these horror stories about elderly people who can’t get their medication.’”

Laura Wiley, a Republican legislator from High Point who serves in the NC House of Representatives, brought up another potential fault line in the Republican consensus during a brief question-and-answer period.

‘“I agree with ninety-nine percent of what Bush is doing,’” she said. ‘“The one thing I have to ask a question about is Bush’ s immigration policy.’”

Kristol said he was informed by Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents North Carolina’s 5th district, that Tar Heel Republicans favor tight restrictions on immigration, but told her that doesn’t hold true everywhere in the country.

‘“There are some Republican congressmen who know that business depends on immigrant labor ‘— perhaps illegally,’” he said. ‘“Here you see more of the problems. Where we live, in northern Virginia, it’s been quite positive. We’ve got different kind of immigrants I guess. I agree: it could be quite explosive potentially.’”

The neoconservative thinker acknowledged that rising healthcare costs and uncertainty about job loss stemming from economic globalization could prompt voters to reject the Republicans, but insisted that Bush could tell a more compelling story about economic growth under his watch.

‘“It’s really amazing that Bush has not managed to take more credit for economic performance, but I think it’s really the result of his tax cuts,’” Kristol said. ‘“Europe could have cut taxes like us. We’ve grown. Europe hasn’t.’”

Kristol is perhaps best known for his early and aggressive advocacy of military action against Iraq. He largely avoided the subject in his talk in Winston-Salem but in final comments indicated that he has few regrets about his role in the war.

Kristol is a chairman of the Project for the New American Century, a group that has long advocated for the ouster of Saddam Hussein. The project’s 1997 founding statement of principles, signed by future Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, declares: ‘“We need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity and our principles.’”

Throughout 2002 Kristol retailed allegations about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda that were later widely discredited in editorials and talking point memos to conservative pundits. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Kristol and the Project for the New American Century have been at the forefront of opposing a military withdrawal from Iraq.

The neoconservative thinker has been candid about his support of official deception.

In an Oct. 12, 2002 guest editorial in the Washington Post he wrote: ‘“[Bush] has benefited, in making the case for war, from an impressive clarity of presentation and lucidity of argument. But now his task is not to educate or persuade us. It is to defeat Saddam Hussein. And that will require the president, at times, to mislead rather than clarify, to deceive rather than to explain.’”

Kristol went on to say that Bush should pretend to be interested in giving peace a chance through UN inspections even if he had already made up his mind to go to war in order to maintain a tactical surprise when he chose to launch military attacks.

With the US invasion of Iraq a done deal, Kristol seemed more preoccupied with US policy toward Iran.

‘“We’ll have a big debate on foreign policy in 2008: on our relationship with Europe, whether we should let Iran get nuclear weapons, whether we should have enough military force to respond to a crisis anywhere in the world,’” he said.

Kristol envisions some kind of military approach to containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and foresees more difficult challenges there than troops have experienced in Iraq in he past three years.

‘“I think Iran will be the test of the Bush doctrine,’” he said. ‘“Iraq will be okay. Reagan-style destabilizing of the regime should have been done a lot earlier. Military strikes might be a possible option.’”

Kristol said he believes history will vindicate Bush’s aggressive foreign policy.

‘“We will either change the Middle East gradually or we will live in an impossibly dangerous world,’” he said. ‘“I think Bush’s instinct is right. When you poke the hornet’s nest hornets fly out and sting you, but if you didn’t poke it the hornet’s nest would still be there.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at