- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE FORTY YEARS WAR: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NEOCONS, FROM NIXON TO OBAMA

By Len Colodny and

Tom Shachtman Harper/Harper Collins, $27.99 Reviewed by John R. Coyne Jr. Back in the day, when life was simpler and we were all in it together, Irving Kristol elegantly defined a neoconservative as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality,” Bill Buckley invited those politically victimized neocons, still mostly Democrats, to “come on in, the water’s fine,” and Bob Tyrrell opened up a journalistic training school at the American Spectator for neocon sons and daughters.

For a time, it seemed that Frank Meyer’s fusionist vision had become reality. But according to Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman, neocons were actually out for power, first establishing themselves in Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s office, then making alliances of convenience with traditional conservatives and infiltrating government at the highest levels, the ultimate objective being to control American foreign policy, which they believed was being undermined by Richard Nixon’s pragmatic policy of detente.

Mr. Colodny’s best-selling revisionist Watergate account, “Silent Coup,” laid the blame for Richard Nixon’s downfall on CIA and Pentagon plotting, with an assist from Bob Woodward. Here he and his co-author once again take us through the material covered exhaustively in “Silent Coup,” examine neocon success in blocking detente during the Ford and Carter administrations, wrestle with the apparent unity of purpose among most conservatives during the Reagan years and deplore the final neocon ascendancy during the administration of George W. Bush, culminating in what they see as the debacle in Iraq.

In the process of reconstructing this complex four-decade conspiracy, they once again lay blame at the doorsteps of the CIA, the military and its spokesman, Bob Woodward; stir the neocons into the witches’ brew of plotters and counterplotters; and attempt to pull together what otherwise might often seem a series of disparate stories by introducing a deus ex machine, Fritz G.A. Kraemer.

Mr. Kraemer, a German emigre who joined the U.S. Army and earned a battlefield commission, later served in the Pentagon as a civilian adviser, spoke seven languages, delivered lectures on military philosophy and geopolitics, was claimed as a mentor by Henry Kissinger and reportedly influenced the world views of Alexander Haig, Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, as well as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and other Bush-era policy shapers.

In an early sighting, Mr. Kraemer is described here in a kayak on a German river clotted with ice floes by Peter Drucker, who, in some amazement watched “a cadaverous man, naked except for the scantiest of black bathing trunks and a monocle on a wide black ribbon … furiously paddling upstream. And the stern of the fragile craft flew the black, white, and red battle pennant of the defunct German Imperial Navy.”

Mr. Kraemer never abandoned the monocle, nor, according to critics like Roger Morris, who provides the book’s foreword, his spiritual allegiance to something like the German imperial model. How much he actually influenced hard policy decisions is difficult to determine. One of the measures of his influence, we are told, was a meeting (the only one) with Nixon, arranged by Mr. Kissinger, at which he shared his views on Vietnam - views which he reinforced frequently with quotations in French and which contradicted many of Nixon’s basic premises.

One can only imagine what Nixon, as knowledgeable about Indochina as anyone in the Western world and not always thought to be tolerant of pronounced personal idiosyncracies, made of this man wearing a monocle and attacking his policies passionately with a strong German accent.

Finally, as in any topical book, there can be a significant gap between final chapter and today’s news, often rendering subtitles and conclusions somewhat misleading. Thus the final chapter tells us that Iraq had damaged the neocons’ positions, “perhaps beyond repair. The Forty Years War was now all but over, to be sealed by one final battle: the presidential campaign of 2008.”

Perhaps. But it’s interesting to note that President Obama’s Oslo speech, which initially had his admirers in the major media speaking of an “Obama doctrine,” with its emphasis on national strength and the need for just wars, and minus the occasional Niebuhrian felicities, could just as well have been read by George W. Bush.

Also worthy of note: The strongest appreciations of that speech came from respected neoconservative analysts.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author with Linda Bridges of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley, 2007).

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