The Cons and the Neo-Cons
Jude Wanniski
April 24, 2002


Memo To: Website fans and browsers
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: April 15 Client Letter

You’ll almost never see a Polyconomics client letter in this public space, but this one, which went out a week ago, is purely political and already a bit obsolete. It did get such a positive reaction, though, that I think the insights are worth your time. In the days since I wrote it, you may have seen several articles in various publications about how Christian conservative Republicans are sticking with Jewish neo-conservatives in backing the Israeli government, no matter what! What you will see here is a little history of how the cons and neo-cons got together in the first place.

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Ariel Sharon's strategy of burning the West Bank to the ground to pave the way for a "Greater Israel" with no Palestinians was finally too much for William F. Buckley, Jr., who devoted his most recent column to its "stupidity." I think this is the beginning of the end of the compact arranged in 1995 by the "neo-cons" and the conservative activists in the GOP, a compact that long ago outlived its usefulness. The "neo-cons" essentially are the Jewish intellectuals who were led out of the Democratic Party 35 years ago by Irving Kristol in support of hardline anti-Soviet policies, domestic economic growth and Israel. My hawkish views in the 1960s are what pulled me into this coalition, my work on behalf of supply-side economics, and led me to bolt the Democratic Party in 1978 and become a "neo-con." The loose coalition of neo-cons and old-fashioned conservative activists -- traditional right "wingers" -- held together beautifully to the end of the Cold War in 1992.

With the loss of the USSR as an "enemy," that glue was lost. And when the GOP got control of Congress in the 1994 elections, the "wingers" decided to balance the budget and the "neo-cons" decided to stamp out the enemies of Israel. Rather than fracturing altogether, the leaders of both contingents got together at a closed-door conference and decided to take on China and the Arab World. The new House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, was among the first to pick up the banner. One of the first strategic moves they made, though, was to oppose the presidential aspirations of General Colin Powell. The reason they gave for opposition was that he was "pro-choice." The "pro-life" wingers had that in mind. The neo-cons joined in opposition because they feared Powell would be kind to Arabs and Muslims. He had not only dragged his feet in supporting a war with Iraq, they believed, but also talked President George Bush the elder and then - Defense Secretary Dick Cheney into stopping at the Iraq/Kuwait border, instead of "finishing the job" by going to Baghdad and "taking Saddam Hussein out." The opposition to Powell was so intense he decided not to run.

Pat Buchanan long ago separated himself from the neo-conservatives in the Republican Party, and has been demonized by the neo-cons as an anti-Semitic "fascist." Buchanan and I are both Catholics and lifelong supporters of Israel, but the fact that we would like to see a Palestinian state has not been good enough for the neo-cons, who all along have had in mind a General Sherman approach to the West Bank. Ariel Sharon has had a foot in both camps, but former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always had both feet in the "Er'etz" Greater Israel camp, and has been guided by Richard Perle and Perle's father-in-law, the late Albert Wohlstetter. Perle chairs the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon, where seats have been arranged for the rest of his troupe, including Gingrich, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and Jim Woolsey, former CIA director and Perle stooge from way back. Their aim is not only a Greater Israel, but one surrounded by friendly puppet states, which means blowing up Iraq as soon as they finish off the Palestinians.

If you think back, you will recall that the campaign against Communist China was first on the list of "things-to-do" by the neocon/con coalition. In his first days as Speaker-to-Be in early 1995, Gingrich actually proposed recognizing Taiwan and to hell with Beijing!! I ridiculed him in a client letter, "Newt in the China Shop," and we have not spoken since. The coalition combined for some incredible propaganda, with the "right-wing" Weekly Standard edited by Bill Kristol and controlled by neocons, and The New Republic, a left-wing periodical that became part of the anti-China, pro-Israel intellectual junta in Washington. In those days, the plan was to irritate the Chinese government to a point where it would do something stupid, like bombing Taiwan. Beijing nibbled at the bait a few times, but in between Paula and Monica, President Bill Clinton did a decent job of maintaining good relations with the mainlanders. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which was not part of the formal "pact," remained sensible on China and fanatical on Israel, which prevented the coalition from making more headway than it did. The new editpage editor, Paul Gigot, is fully in accord with the coalition and may even have attended its original meeting. As things go awry in the campaign to eliminate the Palestinians, we may see Perle & Co. trying to instigate a new crisis with mainland China. I have been counseling China's government (without pay) for years, suggesting they normalize relations with the Vatican and the Catholic Church. If they did, the Christian "wingers" would have far less reason to foment trouble with Beijing. And it would be a nice "going-away present" for the Pope, I e-mailed Buckley today.

A division over Sharon's Israeli policy would of course be wonderful for President George W. Bush, who now has his entire Republican base supporting Netanyahu and a "greater Israel" (minus William F. Buckley, Jr.). How can he possibly face down the maniacs in Tel Aviv as long as the GOP activists are officially against any change in the lebensraum dreams of the Likud government? The answer is that there are very, very few neo-cons and many, many conservatives. The neocons are blasting away hour by hour at Colin Powell, insisting Sharon be allowed to ignore the President's demands, the demands of the United Nations and the European Union, and the pleas of the Holy Father in Rome. All it would take, I think, is for the President to give Powell a public pat on the back and invite Bill Buckley to dinner upstairs at the White House.

What would happen? We would have a deal in the Middle East faster than anyone can now imagine. Even with all details to be worked out, there would be peace on Earth and an end to political terrorism by Christmas. The April 13 Economist has the details of the Arab/Israeli negotiations that followed the collapse of the Camp David talks last year -- which you can link to here. The two sides got much closer to a deal, even if their talks took place with certain knowledge that Barak would lose his re-election bid. It is plain that if you throw in the Saudi peace plan guaranteeing Israeli security in perpetuity, the great majority of Israelis and Palestinians would be tickled pink with the result. The rest would do no more than shrug and try to figure out how to fix the Israeli economy and help rebuild the new state of Palestine.

Few American have any idea that there are factions within factions within factions among Jews and among Arabs. Most folks my age have long ago stopped reading the daily reports about the peace process in the Middle East. President Bush can deal with the Israeli extremists, as they are secular. I still think Minister Louis Farrakhan will be needed to deal with the Palestinian extremists, who have a theological bent that must be straightened. Here is a piece about yours truly and Min. Farrakhan that appears in the London Guardian. It captures my association with him better than any I have seen in our press, which has feared any viewpoint that might conceivably threaten Israel's security. It need not fear him.