Two facts about George W. Bush now seem incontestable: He has been the neoconservative chief executive par excellence, and he has become a failed president. Bush has led the nation to war in Iraq, branded Iran and North Korea as members of the “Axis of Evil,” and declared in his Second Inaugural Address that America’s security depends on fighting “tyranny” and spreading “democracy” throughout the whole world. In the Middle East, he has often deferred to Israel and steadfastly refused to deal with Palestinian leaders of whom the Israelis disapprove. He is firmly committed to free trade and sees the United States as the “first universal nation,” as shown by his unwavering support for a guest-worker/amnesty bill that would bring 60 million new immigrants to the United States over the next decade. He has presided over a vast expansion of the size and scope of the federal government. All of these policies are firmly rooted in neoconservative doctrine, and there were no more zealous advocates for the invasion of Iraq than the neocons.
As was predicted in these pages, Bush’s embrace of neoconservatism has proved disastrous for his presidency and the country. Iraq has descended into violent anarchy; North Korea and Iran appear committed to developing nuclear weapons; and America’s prestige has plummeted in the Middle East and throughout the world. And voters disenchanted with Iraq, a stagnating industrial economy, and President Bush’s support for mass immigration and big government handed the House and the Senate over to the Democrats. Bush has steered his presidency and his party right into an iceberg, and the water is rising fast.
But some of the passengers have already pushed their way onto the lifeboats. Several prominent neoconservatives were interviewed by Vanity Fair before the election, and they took advantage of the opportunity to blame all the failures in Iraq on the Bush administration, while accepting none of the blame for peddling their crackpot ideas to the credulous. Richard Perle told Vanity Fair that “you have to hold the president responsible” and that “I’m getting damned tired of being described as an architect of the war.” Kenneth Adelman, who famously predicted that Iraq would be a “cakewalk,” now says that Bush’s national-security team is “the most incompetent . . . in the post-war era” and that “these are not serious people.” Frank Gaffney told the magazine that “[Bush] doesn’t in fact seem to be a man of principle,” and Eliot Cohen sees failure in Iraq: “I do think it’s going to end up encouraging various strands of Islamism . . . and probably will bring de-stablization of some regimes of a more traditional kind, which already have their problems.”
Now, the chickenhawks are all upset. In a National Review Online symposium, some of them attacked Vanity Fair for being dishonest. Michael Ledeen claimed to have been the victim of an earlier smear piece in its pages. What Mr. Ledeen does not explain is why, if he was convinced of the dishonesty of Vanity Fair, he agreed to be interviewed by the magazine in the first place. Indeed, as Daniel Larison has noted, this is a curious defense to hear from these would-be masters of the universe. Who would trust the neocons to run the world when they are so easily outwitted by a high-end celebrity-gossip magazine?
Several others claim to have believed that Vanity Fair would not publish their burblings until after the election. Another curious defense. If they did not feel that what they said would be seen as betraying the Bush administration, why would they want their musings kept under wraps until after the election?
Others, such as David Frum, complain that their words have been taken out of context. Oddly, such concerns have never before troubled Mr. Frum, who has made a name for himself smearing paleoconservatives by taking their words out of context.
It is easy to see why Mr. Frum is worried. Frum told Vanity Fair that “I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.” Had I said that, I would be worried about others reading my remarks and concluding that I was a vain, arrogant, self-serving knave.
Paleoconservatives have been trying for years to warn other conservatives that the neocons are a deceitful lot who peddle ideas that are more Marxist than conservative and vilify all who disagree with them. Maybe, just maybe, other conservatives will begin to listen after this latest example of neocon treachery.