Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.
|•||Belief in Deity |
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.
Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.
|•||Origin of Universe and Life |
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.
|•||After Death |
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.
|•||Why Evil? |
Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature, which leads some to immoral behavior.
Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven, as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic or nonexistent.
|•||Undeserved Suffering |
Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design, even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.
|•||Contemporary Issues |
Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.
Friday, September 24, 2004
by Tom Regan-->Jim Bencivenga csmonitor.comThe announcement this week by Israel that it would buy 500 "bunker-buster" bombs from the United States concentrated the world's attention on the escalating crisis over Iran's clerical-ruled republic's alleged development of nuclear weapons, reports the International Herald Tribune.
The 2,000 pound bombs, capable of penetrating concrete fortifications 15 feet thick, are part of one of the largest weapons deals between Israel and the US in years. The bombs include airborne versions, guidance units, training bombs and detonators. They are guided by an existing Israeli satellite used by the military.
In addition to the 500 one-ton bunker-busters, the purchase includes 2,500 other one-ton bombs, 1,000 half-ton bombs and 500 quarter-ton bombs. Funding will come from US military aid to Israel.
The timing of the sale couldn't be more pointed.
Both the US and Israel have strongly objected to Iran's nuclear enrichment program, claiming it is a thinly veiled ploy to develop a nuclear strike capability, and not the energy project Iran says it is.
'There's no ring, and no spies...' at Gitmo09/22/04
Pundits weigh in on Bush's UN speech09/21/04
UN turns up heat on Iran
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Emphasizing this concern, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom told the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday, that "Tehran has replaced Saddam Hussein as the "world's No. 1 exporter of terror, ... threatening the Jewish state and the entire world," reports the Associated Press.
Earlier in the week the Israeli foreign minister told members of the UN that Iran must be taken before the Security Council over its nuclear program, and that it posed a threat not only to Israel, but to the world because "Tehran's missiles can reach London, Paris and southern Russia," reports AP.
On Tuesday, Iran defied the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reported The Christian Science Monitor, by announcing it is producing uranium hexafluoride, the material for centrifuge enrichment.
Iranian atomic energy chief Reza Aghazadeh told reporters in Vienna on Tuesday "that some of the 37 [metric = 2,200 lbs.] tons of uranium yellowcake which Iran had previously said it would be converting had now been used." This sparked a strong response by both the US and Israel, reports The Australian.
Kurtis Cooper, a US State Department spokesman, declared:
'Although Iran has repeatedly asserted that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes and its pursuit of uranium enrichment technologies are to fuel a planned civilian power program, Iran will have no peaceful use for enriched uranium for many, many years... The rush to convert 37 tons of yellowcake into feed-stock for centrifuge enrichment has no peaceful justification. ...Thirty-seven tons of yellowcake is not a test. It is a production run.'The IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, called on Iran to "immediately" suspend all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, including conversion activities and set a deadline of November 25, when its board of governors will meet for a definitive review of Iran's nuclear program, reports The Guardian.
Iran's failure to comply could refer the matter to the UN Security Council for censure, and /or economic sanctions.
Sensing it was being cornered in the arena of world opinion, on Thursday, Iran came "out fighting, issuing an open invitation to countries to participate in the construction of its nuclear-powered plants," reports Asia Times Online.
"Not only do we invite you, we also welcome whole-heartedly countries to invest in our nuclear program for civilian purposes," Mohammad Hossein Mousavian, the secretary of the political department of Iran's Supreme Council on National Security (SCNS), told Asia Times. But he seemed to hedge on just what this welcome might mean:
'A country that has such an extremely important nuclear project cannot depend on foreign countries for the fuel needed for its atomic reactors. Hence Iran's determination to master the full cycle of enriching uranium, which is an essential step in the production of nuclear fuel.'Iran's nuclear efforts must be seen in their regional context, an unnamed Iranian analyst told Asia Times. Iran's goals are a "matter of high importance for Iran because once this technology is fully mastered, it changes its stature in the region, particularly facing the Arabs and the Turks".
A similar point was raised Abdul Rahman al-Rashid writing in the Saudi English language Arab News and quoted by Asia Times. He charged that Iran's efforts to become a nuclear power were aimed at the Arabs, not Israelis:
Iran does not share borders with Israel and has had no hostile contact with it. It is only supporting forces that fight Israel. Its developed weapons cannot be sent to these parties to fight Israel. Then who are the targets of these sophisticated weapons? There is only one logical answer: neighboring countries. And they are already paying the cost. They are the ones scared by Iran's race to build weapons. They don't scare Israel. Nevertheless, the US and Israel don't buy this line of reasoning. Both "insist that the ruling ayatollahs' main goal is to divert their nuclear technology to developing an atomic bomb for use against the Jewish state," reports Asia Times.
Neither country forgets that some years ago, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who is still the second-most influential man in Iran's clerical-ruled republic after [President] Khamenei, proposed that Muslim nations drop an atomic bomb over Israel.In 1981, Israel, believing that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons, bombed Iraq's Osiraq reactor.
Also...• Israel agrees to inspections of atomic monitoring stations (Haaretz)• US cybersecurity office may relocate (The Associated Press)• NSF announces two cybersecurity centers to study internet epidemiology and "ecology" (Innovations Report
Thursday, September 23, 2004
LONDON The editorial cartoon in the Times of London on Wednesday was derisive: the first panel has President George W. Bush telling the United Nations General Assembly, "Friends, our policy in Iraq is directed solely toward a successful election."The second panel has him saying which election: "Mine."European newspapers, including some that supported the American military campaign in Iraq, were largely critical of Bush's address on Tuesday to the United Nations.The Financial Times contended in its lead editorial that Bush's administration "systematically refused to engage with what actually has happened in Iraq" namely, in its view, that American policy "mistakes" have "handed the initiative to jihadi terrorists" who "now have a new base from which to challenge the West and moderate Islam."The paper said that Bush's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, "after being evasive, long winded and sometimes contradictory," was beginning to speak more realistically than Bush about deterioration in Iraq.And, the newspaper asserted, Bush's "disengagement from the reality of a sinking Iraq is alarming."The left-leaning Independent newspaper carried an editorial cartoon of Osama bin Laden putting up a Bush campaign poster saying "4 More Years" on a shell-pocked bit of masonry in Iraq. The cartoon seemed to be inspired by a diplomatic spat over remarks attributed to the British ambassador to Rome, Sir Ivor Roberts. After a private discussion on policy that was deemed to be off the record, Roberts was quoted by an Italian newspaper saying that Bush had become "the best recruiting sergeant" for Al Qaeda.In its editorial, the Independent said that Bush "gave little hint" in his speech of the "catastrophic war" under way in Iraq. "Instead of a measured account of reality in Iraq," the editorial said, "he treated the ranks of national leaders gather at the UN to a portentous and self-justifying speech brimming with clichés about 'freedom' and 'democracy' that glorified the American way."Applause for Bush was scarce on the Continent, but in Poland, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper ran a commentary by Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who noted that Bush's speech had to be considered in the context of an election campaign.And after hearing the views of Kerry, the foreign minister said that Poland considers itself "closer to the position presented by Bush."The Polish newspaper Nasz Dzinnik, however, argued in an editorial that, having "attacked Iraq in defiance" of those nations that called for UN authorization for invasion, Bush was now trying to convince the international community that it should pay for the "chaos" caused by "reckless policy."In France, two major newspapers commented on Bush's remarks in New York. The left-of-center Liberation congratulated Kerry for belatedly setting forth a comprehensive position on Iraq, and for advocating an approach that would "involve U.S. allies in a broader way."Bush, the paper said, is "part of the problem rather than the solution" when it comes to working with allies. In his speech to the United Nations, the paper said, Bush "showed that slightly autistic self-satisfaction remains the dominant tendency of American power."In Le Figaro, which reflects the thinking of France's conservative establishment, the correspondent Philippe Gelie observed that Bush was "impervious to criticism" in the conduct of American foreign policy. His speech in New York was that of a "campaigning American president" who "lectured the rest of the world." "In his vision of a global war between good and evil, each new crime strengthens his conviction of having been right against those who accuse him of having invaded Iraq under false pretenses," Gelie wrote.The German daily Tagesspiegel's editorial was blunt in its review of the speech. Its headline said, "U.S., UN, Iraq: the truth counts for nothing."Italy's largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera said Bush had "forgotten that his go-it-alone approach has alienated many sympathizers" with American goals in the Middle East, and admonished the White House that it would take more "than an isolated appeal during an election campaign" to rebuild the consensus that once existed on Iraq.There was no burst of applause during Bush's speech, even when he talked about the world's common struggles against poverty and disease. And the applause at the end was subdued.This was in contrast to the warm, persistent applause that met his appearance shortly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.Before Bush spoke, Secretary General Kofi Annan gave a stern address warning that even the world's most powerful countries must follow the rule of law, which many interpreted to be a rebuke of Bush's actions in Iraq.And just after Bush's motorcade sped away from the flag-draped UN headquarters, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain told a news conference that he had withdrawn troops from Iraq because peace demands "more heroism than war." President Joseph Deiss of Switzerland took the podium at the General Assembly to declare that the U.S.-led project in Iraq was "doomed to failure."These critical sentiments reflect the obstacles that Bush faces in persuading UN member states to join him in rebuilding Iraq, 18 months after he ordered the invasion of Iraq without explicit UN backing.The United States is now struggling to persuade other countries to take part in a military force that will protect UN workers, a crucial first step to ensuring a large-scale return of the world body to assist with elections that are slated for January."It has not been an easy process," said a New York-based UN official involved with the efforts to put together a smaller force of about 150 soldiers to guard the UN compound in Iraq. "The ones that are already there are already stretched and for the ones who aren't there, it's a political decision." U.S. officials spearheading the effort to put together a brigade-sized force of soldiers to protect UN workers outside of Baghdad have met similar reluctance.U.S. officials have approached at least 22 countries to send troops to the special force, which would operate under the command of the U.S.-led multinational force, but so far have received no positive responses.Before their speeches to the General Assembly, Bush and Annan met behind closed doors for about 20 minutes and spoke about Iraq and the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur. At that meeting, Bush thanked Annan for the UN's efforts to get countries to contribute to the special protection force.
Copyright © 2004 The International Herald Tribune www.iht.com
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
The slow-motion wreck of American valuesHow George W. Bush and his circle used the 9/11 crisis to reshape politics and culture and to launch a religious war against the entire world. An exclusive excerpt from "Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War."
- - - - - - - - - - - -By James Carroll
Sept. 22, 2004 At the turn of the millennium, the world was braced for terrible things. Most "rational" worries were tied to an anticipated computer glitch, the Y2K problem, and even the most scientifically oriented of people seemed temporarily at the mercy of powerful mythic forces. Imagined hobgoblins leaped from hard drives directly into nightmares. Airlines canceled flights scheduled for the first day of the new year, citing fears that the computers for the traffic control system would not work. The calendar as such had not previously been a source of dread, but all at once, time itself held a new danger. As the year 2000 approached, I bought bottled water and extra cans of tuna fish. I even withdrew a large amount of cash from the bank. Friends mocked me, then admitted to having done similar things. There were no dances-of-death or outbreaks of flagellant cults, but a millennial fever worthy of medieval superstition infected the most secular of cultures. Of course, the mystical date came and went, the computers did fine, airplanes flew, and the world went back to normal.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001, the millennial catastrophe -- just a little late. Airplanes fell from the sky, thousands died, and an entirely new kind of horror gripped the human imagination. Time, too, played its role, but time as warped by television, which created a global simultaneity, turning the whole human race into a witness, as the awful events were endlessly replayed, as if those bodies leaping from the Twin Towers would never hit the ground. Nightmare in broad daylight. New York's World Trade Center collapsed not just onto the surrounding streets but into the hearts of every person with access to CNN. Hundreds of millions of people instinctively reached out to those they loved, grateful to be alive. Death had shown itself in a new way. But if a vast throng experienced the terrible events of 9/11 as one, only one man, the president of the United States, bore a unique responsibility for finding a way to respond to them.
George W. Bush plumbed the deepest place in himself, looking for a simple expression of what the assaults of Sept. 11 required. It was his role to lead the nation, and the very world. The president, at a moment of crisis, defines the communal response. A few days after the assault, George W. Bush did this. Speaking spontaneously, without the aid of advisers or speechwriters, he put a word on the new American purpose that both shaped it and gave it meaning. "This crusade," he said, "this war on terrorism."
Crusade. I remember a momentary feeling of vertigo at the president's use of that word, the outrageous ineptitude of it. The vertigo lifted, and what I felt then was fear, sensing not ineptitude but exactitude. My thoughts went to the elusive Osama bin Laden, how pleased he must have been, Bush already reading from his script. I am a Roman Catholic with a feeling for history, and strong regrets, therefore, over what went wrong in my own tradition once the Crusades were launched. Contrary to schoolboy romances, Hollywood fantasies, and the nostalgia of royalty, the Crusades were a set of world-historic crimes. I hear the word with a third ear, alert to its dangers. Bush's use of "crusade," as it were, conscripted my complete attention, and from that instant on I found myself an unwilling witness to the slow-motion wreck of American values that has occurred over the past three years. I had long been a writer of slice-of-life essays. My subject had been the passing scene, but once George Bush launched his crusade, it became my only subject. Week after week, despite myself, I wrote, in my column in the Boston Globe, of almost nothing else. This is the record of what I witnessed, and I offer it here to mark the most extraordinary shift in American meaning and purpose of which I am aware.
Memory fades, and the past gets forever twisted up in arguments of the present. But a close reading of what actually happened as Bush and his circle used the moment of postmillennial crisis in an attempt to transform politics and culture can make plain why that transformation must not be brought to completion. How Bush used a crime to justify a war. How he deflected one failure -- to capture bin Laden -- into another -- bringing "order" to Afghanistan. How he declared victory in Iraq as a slow, grinding defeat was just beginning. How the airy ambitions of a neoconservative clique were thwarted by a combination of primitive fervor, tribal factionalism, and the simple stubbornness of human beings who refuse to be told what to think and feel. How the expectation that other nations, including once firm allies, would have no choice but to obey an imperial Washington proved to be illusion. How the wars of the Middle East went from bad to worse. How George W. Bush proved to be the ultimate proliferator. How he lied to us. How he betrayed, above all, the young men and women whom he so carelessly sent into harm's way. On Sept. 11, 1990, as it happened, George W. Bush's father had declared a "new world order." Eleven years to the day later, the son set out on his crusade to make that order his. Destruction followed upon destruction, and this is its chronicle.
For George W. Bush, "crusade" was an offhand reference. But all the more powerfully for that, it was an accidental probing of unintended but nevertheless real meaning. That the president used the word inadvertently suggests how it expressed his exact truth, an unmasking of his most deeply felt purpose. "Crusade," he said. Later, his embarrassed aides suggested that he had meant to use the word only as a synonym for struggle, but Bush's own syntax belied that. He defined crusade as war. Even offhandedly, he had said exactly what he meant.
Osama bin Laden was already understood to be trying to spark a "clash of civilizations" that would set the West against the whole House of Islam. After 9/11, agitated voices on all sides insisted that no such clash was inevitable. But "crusade" was a match for "jihad," and such words threatened nothing less than apocalyptic conflict between irreconcilable cultures. Indeed, the president's reference flashed through the Arab news media. Its resonance went deeper, even, than the embarrassed aides expected -- and not only among Muslims. After all, the word refers to a long series of military campaigns, which, taken together, were the defining event in the shaping of what we call Western civilization. A coherent set of political, economic, social, and even mythological traditions of the Eurasian continent, from the British Isles to the far side of Arabia, grew out of the transformations wrought by the Crusades. And it is far from incidental still, both that those campaigns were conducted by Christians against Muslims, and that they, too, were attached to the irrationalities of millennial fever.
If the American president was the person carrying the main burden of shaping a response to the catastrophe of Sept. 11, his predecessor in such a grave role, nearly a thousand years earlier, was the Catholic pope. Seeking to overcome the century-long dislocations of a postmillennial Christendom, he rallied both its leaders and commoners with a rousing call to holy war. Muslims were the infidel people who had taken the Holy Land hundreds of years before. Now, that occupation was defined as an intolerable blasphemy. The Holy Land must be redeemed. Within months of the pope's call, a hundred thousand people had "taken the cross" to reclaim the Holy Land for Christ. As a proportion of population of Europe, a comparable movement today would involve more than a million people, dropping everything to go to war.
In the name of Jesus, and certain of God's blessing, crusaders launched what might be called "shock and awe" attacks -- laying siege, first, to the Asia Minor city of Nicaea, where they used catapults to hurl the severed heads of Muslim defenders over fortified walls. In Jerusalem they savagely slaughtered Muslims and Jews alike -- practically the whole city. Eventually, Latin crusaders would turn on Eastern Christians, and then on Christian heretics, as blood-lust outran the initial "holy" impulse. That trail of violence scars the earth and human memory even to this day -- especially in the places where the crusaders wreaked their havoc. And the mental map of the Crusades, with Jerusalem at the center of the earth, still defines world politics. But the main point, in relation to Bush's instinctive response to 9/11, is that those religious invasions and wars of long ago established a cohesive Western identity precisely in opposition to Islam, an opposition that survives to this day.
With the Crusades, the violent theology of the killer God came into its own. To save the world, in this understanding, God willed the violent death of God's only beloved son. Here is the relevance of that mental map, for the crusaders were going to war to rescue the site of the salvific death of Jesus, and they displayed their devotion to the cross on which Jesus died by wearing it on their breasts. When Bush's remark was translated into Arabic for broadcast throughout the Middle East, the word "crusade" was rendered as "war of the cross."
Before the Crusades, Christian theology had given central emphasis to the resurrection of Jesus, and to the idea of incarnation itself, but with the war of the cross, the bloody crucifixion began to dominate the Latin Christian imagination. A theology narrowly focused on the brutal death of Jesus reinforced the primitive notion that violence can be a sacred act. The cult of martyrdom, even to the point of suicidal valor, was institutionalized in the Crusades, and it is not incidental to the events of 9/11 that a culture of sacred self-destruction took equally firm hold among Muslims. The suicide-murderers of the World Trade Center, like the suicide-bombers from the West Bank and Gaza, exploit a perverse link between the willingness to die for a cause and the willingness to kill for it. Crusaders, thinking of heaven, honored that link, too.
Here is the deeper significance of Bush's inadvertent reference to the Crusades: Instead of being a last recourse or a necessary evil, violence was established then as the perfectly appropriate, even chivalrous, first response to what is wrong in the world. George W. Bush is a Christian for whom this particular theology lives. While he identified Jesus as his "favorite political philosopher" when running for president in 2000, the Jesus of this evangelical president is not the "turn-the-other-cheek" one. Bush's savior is the Jesus whose cross is wielded as a sword. George W. Bush, having cheerfully accepted responsibility for the executions of 152 death-row inmates in Texas, had already shown himself to be entirely at home with divinely sanctioned violence. After 9/11, no wonder it defined his deepest urge.
But sacred violence, once unleashed in 1096, as in 2001, had a momentum of its own. The urgent purpose of war against the "enemy outside" -- what some today call the "clash of civilizations" -- led quickly to the discovery of an "enemy inside." The crusaders, en route from northwestern Europe to attack the infidel far away, first fell upon, as they said, "the infidel near at hand." Jews. For the first time in Europe, large numbers of Jews were murdered for being Jews. A crucifixion-obsessed theology saw God as willing the death of Jesus, but in the bifurcated evangelical imagination, Jews could be blamed for it, and the offense the crusaders took was mortal.
The same dynamic -- war against an enemy outside leading to war against an enemy inside -- can be seen at work today. It is a more complex dynamic now, with immigrant Muslims, and people of Arabic descent, coming under heavy pressure in the West. In Europe, Muslims are routinely demonized. In America, they are "profiled," even to the point of being deprived of basic rights. But at the same time, once again, Jews are targeted. The broad resurgence of anti-Semitism, and the tendency to scapegoat Israel as the primary source of the new discord, reflect an old tidal pull. This is true notwithstanding the harsh fact that Ariel Sharon's government took up the Bush "dead-or-alive" credo with enthusiasm and used the "war on terrorism" to fuel self-defeating overreactions to Palestinian provocations. But some of Israel's critics fall into the old pattern of measuring Jews against standards to which no one else is held, not even our president. That the war on terrorism is the context within which violence in Israel and Jerusalem has intensified should be no surprise. It wasn't "Israel" then, but conflict over Jerusalem played exactly such a flashpoint role a thousand years ago.
The Crusades proved to have other destructive dynamics as well. The medieval war against Islam, having also targeted Europe's Jews, soon enough became a war against all forms of cultural and religious dissent, a war against heresy. As it hadn't been in hundreds of years, doctrine now became rigidly defined in the Latin West, and those who did not affirm dominant interpretations -- Cathars, Albigensians, Eastern Orthodox -- were attacked. Doctrinal uniformity, too, could be enforced with sacred violence. When the U.S. attorney general defines criticism of the administration in wartime as treason, or when Congress enacts legislation that justifies the erosion of civil liberties with appeals to patriotism, they are enacting a Crusades script.
All of this is implicit in the word that President Bush first used, that came to him as naturally as a baseball reference, to define the war on terrorism. That such a dark, seething religious history of sacred violence remains largely unspoken in our world does not defuse it as an explosive force in the human unconscious. In the world of Islam, of course, its meaning could not be more explicit, or closer to consciousness. The full historical and cultural significance of "crusade" is instantly obvious, which is why a howl of protest from the Middle East drove Bush into instant verbal retreat. Yet the very inadvertence of his use of "crusade" is the revelation: Americans do not know what fire they are playing with. Osama bin Laden, however, knows all too well, and in his periodic pronouncements, he uses the word "crusade" to this day, as a flamethrower.
Religious war is the danger here, and it is a graver one than Americans think. Despite our much vaunted separation of church and state, America has always had a quasi-religious understanding of itself, reflected in the messianism of Puritan founder John Winthrop, the Deist optimism of Thomas Jefferson, the embrace of redemptive suffering that marked Abraham Lincoln, and, for that matter, the conviction of Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, that communism had to be opposed on a global scale if only because of its atheism. But never before has America been brought deeper into a dynamite-wired holy of holies than in our president's war on terrorism. Despite the post-Iraq toning down of Washington's rhetoric of empire, and the rejection of further crusader references -- although Secretary of State Colin Powell used the word in March 2004 -- Bush's war openly remains a cosmic battle between nothing less than the transcendent forces of good and evil. Such a battle is necessarily unlimited and open-ended, and so justifies radical actions -- the abandonment, for example, of established notions of civic justice at home and of traditional alliances abroad.
A cosmic moral-religious battle justifies, equally, risks of world-historic proportioned disaster, since the ultimate outcome of such a conflict is to be measured not by actual consequences on this earth but by the earth-transcending will of God. Our war on terrorism, before it is anything else, is thus an imagined conflict, taking place primarily in a mythic realm beyond history.
In waging such a "war," the enemy is to be engaged everywhere and nowhere, not just because the actual nihilists who threaten the social order are faceless and deracinated, but because each fanatical suicide-bomber is only an instance of the transcendent enemy -- and so the other face of us. Each terrorist is, in effect, a sacrament of the larger reality, which is "terrorism." Instead of perceiving unconnected centers of inhuman violence -- tribal warlords, mafia chieftains, nationalist fighters, xenophobic Luddites -- President Bush projects the grandest and most interlocking strategies of conspiracy, belief, and organization. By the canonization of the war on terrorism, petty nihilists are elevated to the status of world-historic warriors, exactly the fate they might have wished for. This is why the conflict readily bleeds from one locus to another -- Afghanistan now, Iraq then, Iran or some other land of evil soon -- and why, for that matter, the targeted enemies are entirely interchangeable -- here Osama bin Laden, there Saddam Hussein, here the leader of Iran, there of North Korea. They are all essentially one enemy -- one "axis" -- despite their differences from each other, or even hatred of each other.
George W. Bush has taken on, as he pridefully declares, Evil itself. (In 2004, shapers of the "Bush Doctrine" David Frum and Richard Perle published a book titled "An End to Evil.") Bush does this with no awareness of the association between his project and larger, mythic forces, but future historians may well look back on America's panic-stricken global campaign in the context of millennial fever. It happened a thousand years ago, and it is happening now. The idea of the millennium seems to stimulate an apocalyptic imagination, a sense that end-time is dawning, an epoch when some final battle between good and evil is destined to be undertaken. (And one sign of that end-time in the evangelical imagination is the elimination -- through conversion or sacred violence -- of the infidel, an expectation that unconsciously plays its part in the hatred of Muslims, in fresh hostility toward Jews, and even in the Christian right's anxious support of Israel, as a prelude to Jewish conversion.) One needn't attribute the kooky extremes of this intuition to Bush to recognize in his rhetoric signs of a cosmic concern that transcends geopolitics and national security.
The Crusades, too, were a manifestation of end-time millennialism. When crusaders slaughtered the infidel, and forced conversion on Jews, they thought they were ushering in the new age. Robert Jay Lifton shows how this phenomenon manifests itself now, with Islamist and American apocalyptic visions in fierce competition, both aimed at "purification and renewal." In his book "Superpower Syndrome," Lifton observes, "We are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing war-making and military power."
Hard-boiled men and women who may not share Bush's fervent spirituality can nonetheless support his purpose because, undergirding the new ideology, there is an authentic global crisis that requires an urgent response. New technologies are now making it possible for small groups of nihilists, or even single individuals, to wreak havoc on a scale unprecedented in history. This is the ultimate "asymmetric threat." The attacks of 9/11, amplified by the murderous echo of the anthrax mailer, the as yet unapprehended psychopath who sent deadly letters to journalists and government officials in the weeks after 9/11, put that new condition on display for all the world to see. Innovations in physics, biology, chemistry, and information technology -- and soon, possibly, in nanotechnology and genetic engineering -- have had the unforeseen effect of threatening to put in a few hands the destructive power that, in former times, could be exercised only by sizable armies. The millennialist Adolf Hitler was a crackpot nonentity until he had the German nation behind him, and promises of a thousand-year Reich helped him do it. Today's Hitler needs no nation, no party, no army. A pound of anthrax will do. A suitcase nuke. Even a cleverly manipulated computer virus. Such power in the hands of any one person amounts to a new sphere of existence on the earth, to a "new metaphysics," as the journalist Lance Morrow put it in his book "EA," that "transforms both the political and personal dynamics of evil." This is the real condition to which the Bush administration is responding. The problem is actual, if not yet fully present. The danger is transcendent -- after all, the 9/11 attackers, using far more modest means, created a televised version of a mini-apocalypse -- but the Bush administration is taking steps that, instead of meeting the danger, make it far worse. The impulse that has driven this administration's global policies is defined, at its simplest, by the determination that no hostile power will be allowed to have so-called weapons of mass destruction. Leaders of "rogue regimes," so the Bush reading goes, by definition lust after such weapons, and so "regime change" has become the dominant purpose of American power, whether by means of "preventive war," as in Afghanistan and Iraq, or by other forms of coercion. Even as the difficulties of Iraq have undercut glib American assertions of imperial sway, it remains likely that Washington will permit neither Iran nor even North Korea, which evidently has a head start on the process, nor any number of other unfriendly states to develop active and usable nuclear arsenals. It is nukes, above all, that roil the sleep of the White House, with the recurrent dream of 9/11 as the mildest hint of what would come if such an act went nuclear.
So, to put the best face on the Bush agenda (leaving aside questions of oil, global market control, and economic or military hegemony), a humane project of antiproliferation can be seen at its core. Yet a nation that was trying to promote the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, would behave precisely as the Bush administration has behaved over the past three years. The Pentagon's chest-thumping concept of "full spectrum dominance" itself motivates other nations to seek sources of countervailing power, and when the United States actually goes to war to impose its widely disputed notion of order on some states, but not others, nations -- friendly as well as unfriendly -- find themselves with an urgent reason to acquire some means of deterring such intervention.
On Dec. 19, 2003, the Bush administration claimed a victory for its "counterproliferation" belligerency in announcing that Libya had agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, but Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy's decision actually put the lie to the Bush approach. Following revelations of its complicity in the terror bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, Libya had been subject to years of coercive diplomacy, sanctions, and isolation. These U.N.-centered pressures, firmly advanced by the Clinton administration, finally worked. Preventive war and regime change were simply not necessary to stem Khadafy's aggression. And not incidentally, with Libya's new cooperation, it was confirmed that a steady supporter of its abandoned nuclear project had been Pakistan, which the Bush administration counts as an ally, proving that proliferators do not fall into the good-versus-evil categories favored in Washington. And in counterpoint to the December announcement of Libya's compliance, it was announced on the same day that Japan would spend billions of dollars on a U.S.-sponsored ballistic missile shield. Another "victory" for the Bush administration. But this first major exporting of "Star Wars" abroad amounted to an unprecedented escalation both of Japanese military expenditures and of the arms race in Asia.
It will inevitably prompt countermeasures from North Korea, China, and Russia. Those will, in turn, spark the further militarization of Japan, as defense leads to offense, an upward spiraling that is likely to increase the dangers of nuclear war. Here on earth and in the heavens could be found the real meaning of the Bush approach to the problem of proliferation. The odd and tragic thing is that the world before Bush was actually nearing consensus on how to manage the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and had begun to put in place promising structures designed to prevent such spread. Centrally embodied in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, which had successfully and amazingly kept the number of nuclear powers, actual as well as admitted, relatively low, that consensus gave primacy to treaty obligations, international cooperation, and a serious commitment by existing nuclear powers to move toward ultimate nuclear abolition. All of that has been trashed by Bush. "International law?" he smirked in December 2003. "I better call my lawyer." Now indications are that nations all over the globe -- Japan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Brazil, Australia -- have begun reevaluating their rejections of nukes, and some are positively rushing to acquire them. Iran and North Korea are likely to be only the tip of this radioactive iceberg. Nuclear-armed Pakistan and India are a grim forecast of the future on every continent. And the Bush administration -- by declaring its own nuclear arsenal permanent, by threatening nuclear first strikes against other nations, by "warehousing" treaty-defused warheads instead of destroying them, by developing a new line of "usable" nukes, by moving to weaponize the "high frontier" of outer space, by doing little to help Russia get rid of its rotting nuclear stockpile, by embracing "preventive war" -- is enabling this trend instead of discouraging it. How can this be? The problem has its roots in a long-term American forgetfulness, going back to the acid fog in which the United States ended World War II. There was never a complete moral reckoning with the harsh momentum of that conflict's denouement -- how American leaders embraced a strategy of terror bombing, slaughtering whole urban populations, and how, finally, they ushered in the atomic age with the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Scholars have debated those questions, but politicians have avoided them, and most citizens have pretended they aren't really questions at all. America's enduring assumptions about its own moral supremacy, its own altruism, its own exceptionalism, have hardly been punctured by consideration of the possibility that we, too, are capable of grave mistakes, terrible crimes. Such awareness, drawn from a fuller reckoning with days gone by -- with Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, above all -- would inhibit America's present claim to moral grandeur, which is simultaneously a claim, of course, to economic and political grandiosity. The indispensable nation must dispense with what went before.
"The past is never dead," William Faulkner said. "It isn't even past." How Americans remember their country's use of terror bombing affects how they think of terrorism; how they remember the first use of nuclear weapons has profound relevance for how the United States behaves in relation to nuclear weapons today. If the long American embrace of nuclear "mutual assured destruction" is unexamined; if the Pentagon's treaty-violating rejection of the ideal of eventual nuclear abolition is unquestioned -- then the Bush administration's embrace of nukes as normal, usable weapons will not seem offensive.
Memory is a political act. Forgetfulness is the handmaiden of tyranny. The Bush administration is fully committed to maintaining what the historian Marc Trachtenberg calls our "nuclear amnesia" even as the administration seeks to impose a unilateral structure of control on the world. As it pursues a world-threatening campaign against other peoples' weapons of mass destruction, that is, the Bush administration refuses to confront the moral meaning of America's own weapons of mass destruction, not to mention their viral character, as other nations seek smaller versions of the American arsenal, if only to deter Bush's next "preventive" war. The United States' own arsenal, in other words, remains the primordial cause of the WMD plague.
"Memory," the novelist Paul Auster has written, "is the space in which a thing happens for the second time." This collection of writings against Bush's war, a detailed and contemporaneous chronicle of that war, intends to be a book of memory. No one wants the terrible events that came after the rising of the sun on Sept. 11, 2001, to happen for a second time except in the realm of remembrance, leading to understanding and commitment. All the ways George Bush exploited those events, betraying the memory of those who died in them, must be lifted up and examined again, so that the outrageousness of his political purpose can be felt in its fullness. Exactly how the war on terrorism unfolded; how it bled into the wars against Afghanistan, then Iraq; how American fears were exacerbated by administration alarms; how civil rights were undermined, treaties broken, alliances abandoned, coarseness embraced -- none of this should be forgotten.
Given how they have been so dramatically unfulfilled, Washington's initial hubristic impulses toward a new imperial dominance should not be forgotten. That the first purpose of the war -- Osama "dead or alive" -- changed when al-Qaida proved elusive should not be forgotten. That the early justification for the war against Iraq -- Saddam's weapons of mass destruction -- changed when they proved nonexistent should not be forgotten. That in former times the U.S. government behaved as if facts mattered, as if evidence informed policy, should not be forgotten. That Afghanistan and Iraq are in shambles, with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands at risk from disease, disorder, and despair, should not be forgotten. That a now disdainful world gave itself in unbridled love to America on 9/11 should not be forgotten.
We remember the past, even the recent past embodied in this chronicle, to motivate resistance in the present. We remember the past, especially as in this chronicle of Bush's "crusade," so that the future can be different.
About the writerJames Carroll is the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning memoir "An American Requiem," "Constantine's Sword," a history of Christian anti-Semitism, and 10 novels. He lectures widely on war and peace and on Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation. He lives in Boston.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Sunday, September 19, 2004
by SEYMOUR M. HERSH
Donald Rumsfeld has his own special sources. Are they reliable?
Issue of 2003-05-12
They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal—a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. They relied on data gathered by other intelligence agencies and also on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, or I.N.C., the exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi. By last fall, the operation rivalled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush’s main source of intelligence regarding Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda. As of last week, no such weapons had been found. And although many people, within the Administration and outside it, profess confidence that something will turn up, the integrity of much of that intelligence is now in question.
The director of the Special Plans operation is Abram Shulsky, a scholarly expert in the works of the political philosopher Leo Strauss. Shulsky has been quietly working on intelligence and foreign-policy issues for three decades; he was on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Com-mittee in the early nineteen-eighties and served in the Pentagon under Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle during the Reagan Administration, after which he joined the Rand Corporation. The Office of Special Plans is overseen by Under-Secretary of Defense William Luti, a retired Navy captain. Luti was an early advocate of military action against Iraq, and, as the Administration moved toward war and policymaking power shifted toward the civilians in the Pentagon, he took on increasingly important responsibilities.
W. Patrick Lang, the former chief of Middle East intelligence at the D.I.A., said, “The Pentagon has banded together to dominate the government’s foreign policy, and they’ve pulled it off. They’re running Chalabi. The D.I.A. has been intimidated and beaten to a pulp. And there’s no guts at all in the C.I.A.”
The hostility goes both ways. A Pentagon official who works for Luti told me, “I did a job when the intelligence community wasn’t doing theirs. We recognized the fact that they hadn’t done the analysis. We were providing information to Wolfowitz that he hadn’t seen before. The intelligence community is still looking for a mission like they had in the Cold War, when they spoon-fed the policymakers.”
A Pentagon adviser who has worked with Special Plans dismissed any criticism of the operation as little more than bureaucratic whining. “Shulsky and Luti won the policy debate,” the adviser said. “They beat ’em—they cleaned up against State and the C.I.A. There’s no mystery why they won—because they were more effective in making their argument. Luti is smarter than the opposition. Wolfowitz is smarter. They out-argued them. It was a fair fight. They persuaded the President of the need to make a new security policy. Those who lose are so good at trying to undercut those who won.” He added, “I’d love to be the historian who writes the story of how this small group of eight or nine people made the case and won.”
According to the Pentagon adviser, Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States.
Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction had been a matter of concern to the international community since before the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons in the past. At some point, he assembled thousands of chemical warheads, along with biological weapons, and made a serious attempt to build a nuclear-weapons program. What has been in dispute is how much of that capacity, if any, survived the 1991 war and the years of United Nations inspections, no-fly zones, and sanctions that followed. In addition, since September 11th there have been recurring questions about Iraq’s ties to terrorists. A February poll showed that seventy-two per cent of Americans believed it was likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th attacks, although no definitive evidence of such a connection has been presented.
Rumsfeld and his colleagues believed that the C.I.A. was unable to perceive the reality of the situation in Iraq. “The agency was out to disprove linkage between Iraq and terrorism,” the Pentagon adviser told me. “That’s what drove them. If you’ve ever worked with intelligence data, you can see the ingrained views at C.I.A. that color the way it sees data.” The goal of Special Plans, he said, was “to put the data under the microscope to reveal what the intelligence community can’t see. Shulsky’s carrying the heaviest part.”
Even before September 11th, Richard Perle, who was then the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, was making a similar argument about the intelligence community’s knowledge of Iraq’s weapons. At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing in March, 2001, he said, “Does Saddam now have weapons of mass destruction? Sure he does. We know he has chemical weapons. We know he has biological weapons. . . . How far he’s gone on the nuclear-weapons side I don’t think we really know. My guess is it’s further than we think. It’s always further than we think, because we limit ourselves, as we think about this, to what we’re able to prove and demonstrate. . . . And, unless you believe that we have uncovered everything, you have to assume there is more than we’re able to report.”
Last October, an article in the Times reported that Rumsfeld had ordered up an intelligence operation “to search for information on Iraq’s hostile intentions or links to terrorists” that might have been overlooked by the C.I.A. When Rumsfeld was asked about the story at a Pentagon briefing, he was initially vague. “I’m told that after September 11th a small group, I think two to start with, and maybe four now . . . were asked to begin poring over this mountain of information that we were receiving on intelligence-type things.” He went on to say, “You don’t know what you don’t know. So in comes the daily briefer”—from the C.I.A.—“and she walks through the daily brief. And I ask questions. ‘Gee, what about this?’ or ‘What about that? Has somebody thought of this?’” At the same briefing, Rumsfeld said that he had already been informed that there was “solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members.”
If Special Plans was going to search for new intelligence on Iraq, the most obvious source was defectors with firsthand knowledge. The office inevitably turned to Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. The I.N.C., an umbrella organization for diverse groups opposed to Saddam, is constantly seeking out Iraqi defectors. The Special Plans Office developed a close working relationship with the I.N.C., and this strengthened its position in disputes with the C.I.A. and gave the Pentagon’s pro-war leadership added leverage in its constant disputes with the State Department. Special Plans also became a conduit for intelligence reports from the I.N.C. to officials in the White House.
There was a close personal bond, too, between Chalabi and Wolfowitz and Perle, dating back many years. Their relationship deepened after the Bush Administration took office, and Chalabi’s ties extended to others in the Administration, including Rumsfeld; Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy; and I. Lewis Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. For years, Chalabi has had the support of prominent members of the American Enterprise Institute and other conservatives. Chalabi had some Democratic supporters, too, including James Woolsey, the former head of the C.I.A.
There was another level to Chalabi’s relationship with the United States: in the mid-nineteen-nineties, the C.I.A. was secretly funnelling millions of dollars annually to the I.N.C. Those payments ended around 1996, a former C.I.A. Middle East station chief told me, essentially because the agency had doubts about Chalabi’s integrity. (In 1992, Chalabi was convicted in absentia of bank fraud in Jordan. He has always denied any wrongdoing.) “You had to treat them with suspicion,” another former Middle East station chief said of Chalabi’s people. “The I.N.C. has a track record of manipulating information because it has an agenda. It’s a political unit—not an intelligence agency.”
In August, 1995, General Hussein Kamel, who was in charge of Iraq’s weapons program, defected to Jordan, with his brother, Colonel Saddam Kamel. They brought with them crates of documents containing detailed information about Iraqi efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction—much of which was unknown to the U.N. inspection teams that had been on the job since 1991—and were interviewed at length by the U.N. inspectors. In 1996, Saddam Hussein lured the brothers back with a promise of forgiveness, and then had them killed. The Kamels’ information became a major element in the Bush Administration’s campaign to convince the public of the failure of the U.N. inspections.
Last October, in a speech in Cincinnati, the President cited the Kamel defections as the moment when Saddam’s regime “was forced to admit that it had produced more than thirty thousand liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. . . . This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and is capable of killing millions.” A couple of weeks earlier, Vice-President Cheney had declared that Hussein Kamel’s story “should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself.”
The full record of Hussein Kamel’s interview with the inspectors reveals, however, that he also said that Iraq’s stockpile of chemical and biological warheads, which were manufactured before the 1991 Gulf War, had been destroyed, in many cases in response to ongoing inspections. The interview, on August 22, 1995,was conducted by Rolf Ekeus, then the executive chairman of the U.N. inspection teams, and two of his senior associates—Nikita Smidovich and Maurizio Zifferaro. “You have an important role in Iraq,” Kamel said, according to the record, which was assembled from notes taken by Smidovich. “You should not underestimate yourself. You are very effective in Iraq.” When Smidovich noted that the U.N. teams had not found “any traces of destruction,” Kamel responded, “Yes, it was done before you came in.” He also said that Iraq had destroyed its arsenal of warheads. “We gave instructions not to produce chemical weapons,” Kamel explained later in the debriefing. “I don’t remember resumption of chemical-weapons production before the Gulf War. Maybe it was only minimal production and filling. . . . All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear—were destroyed.”
Kamel also cast doubt on the testimony of Dr. Khidhir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who defected in 1994. Hamza settled in the United States with the help of the I.N.C. and has been a highly vocal witness concerning Iraq’s alleged nuclear ambitions. Kamel told the U.N. interviewers, however, that Hamza was “a professional liar.” He went on, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything. . . . He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.”
After his defection, Hamza became a senior fellow at the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington disarmament group, whose president, David Albright, was a former U.N. weapons inspector. In 1998, Albright told me, he and Hamza sent publishers a proposal for a book tentatively entitled “Fizzle: Iraq and the Atomic Bomb,” which described how Iraq had failed in its quest for a nuclear device. There were no takers, Albright said, and Hamza eventually “started exaggerating his experiences in Iraq.” The two men broke off contact. In 2000, Hamza published “Saddam’s Bombmaker,” a vivid account claiming that by 1991, when the Gulf War began, Iraq was far closer than had been known to the production of a nuclear weapon. Jeff Stein, a Washington journalist who collaborated on the book, told me that Hamza’s account was “absolutely on the level, allowing for the fact that any memoir puts the author at the center of events, and therefore there is some exaggeration.” James Woolsey, the former head of the C.I.A., said of Hamza, “I think highly of him and I have no reason to disbelieve the claims that he’s made.” Hamza could not be reached for comment. On April 26th, according to the Times, he returned to Iraq as a member of a group of exiles designated by the Pentagon to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure. He is to be responsible for atomic energy.
The advantages and disadvantages of relying on defectors has been a perennial source of dispute within the American intelligence community—as Shulsky himself noted in a 1991 textbook on intelligence that he co-authored. Despite their importance, he wrote, “it is difficult to be certain that they are genuine. . . . The conflicting information provided by several major Soviet defectors to the United States . . . has never been completely sorted out; it bedeviled U.S. intelligence for a quarter of a century.” Defectors can provide unique insight into a repressive system. But such volunteer sources, as Shulsky writes, “may be greedy; they may also be somewhat unbalanced people who wish to bring some excitement into their lives; they may desire to avenge what they see as ill treatment by their government; or they may be subject to blackmail.” There is a strong incentive to tell interviewers what they want to hear.
With the Pentagon’s support, Chalabi’s group worked to put defectors with compelling stories in touch with reporters in the United States and Europe. The resulting articles had dramatic accounts of advances in weapons of mass destruction or told of ties to terrorist groups. In some cases, these stories were disputed in analyses by the C.I.A. Misstatements and inconsistencies in I.N.C. defector accounts were also discovered after the final series of U.N. weapons inspections, which ended a few days before the American assault. Dr. Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in political science at Cambridge University, compiled and examined the information that had been made public and concluded that the U.N. inspections had failed to find evidence to support the defectors’ claims.
For example, many newspapers published extensive interviews with Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer who, with the I.N.C.’s help, fled Iraq in 2001, and subsequently claimed that he had visited twenty hidden facilities that he believed were built for the production of biological and chemical weapons. One, he said, was underneath a hospital in Baghdad. Haideri was apparently a source for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s claim, in his presentation to the United Nations Security Council on February 5th, that the United States had “firsthand descriptions” of mobile factories capable of producing vast quantities of biological weapons. The U.N. teams that returned to Iraq last winter were unable to verify any of al-Haideri’s claims. In a statement to the Security Council in March, on the eve of war, Hans Blix, the U.N.’s chief weapons inspector, noted that his teams had physically examined the hospital and other sites with the help of ground-penetrating radar equipment. “No underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage were found so far,” he said.
Almost immediately after September 11th, the I.N.C. began to publicize the stories of defectors who claimed that they had information connecting Iraq to the attacks. In an interview on October 14, 2001, conducted jointly by the Times and “Frontline,” the public-television program, Sabah Khodada, an Iraqi Army captain, said that the September 11th operation “was conducted by people who were trained by Saddam,” and that Iraq had a program to instruct terrorists in the art of hijacking. Another defector, who was identified only as a retired lieutenant general in the Iraqi intelligence service, said that in 2000 he witnessed Arab students being given lessons in hijacking on a Boeing 707 parked at an Iraqi training camp near the town of Salman Pak, south of Baghdad.
In separate interviews with me, however, a former C.I.A. station chief and a former military intelligence analyst said that the camp near Salman Pak had been built not for terrorism training but for counter-terrorism training. In the mid-eighties, Islamic terrorists were routinely hijacking aircraft. In 1986, an Iraqi airliner was seized by pro-Iranian extremists and crashed, after a hand grenade was triggered, killing at least sixty-five people. (At the time, Iran and Iraq were at war, and America favored Iraq.) Iraq then sought assistance from the West, and got what it wanted from Britain’s MI6. The C.I.A. offered similar training in counter-terrorism throughout the Middle East. “We were helping our allies everywhere we had a liaison,” the former station chief told me. Inspectors recalled seeing the body of an airplane—which appeared to be used for counter-terrorism training—when they visited a biological-weapons facility near Salman Pak in 1991, ten years before September 11th. It is, of course, possible for such a camp to be converted from one purpose to another. The former C.I.A. official noted, however, that terrorists would not practice on airplanes in the open. “That’s Hollywood rinky-dink stuff,” the former agent said. “They train in basements. You don’t need a real airplane to practice hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists went to gyms. But to take one back you have to practice on the real thing.”
Salman Pak was overrun by American troops on April 6th. Apparently, neither the camp nor the former biological facility has yielded evidence to substantiate the claims made before the war.
A former Bush Administration intelligence official recalled a case in which Chalabi’s group, working with the Pentagon, produced a defector from Iraq who was interviewed overseas by an agent from the D.I.A. The agent relied on an interpreter supplied by Chalabi’s people. Last summer, the D.I.A. report, which was classified, was leaked. In a detailed account, the London Times described how the defector had trained with Al Qaeda terrorists in the late nineteen-nineties at secret camps in Iraq, how the Iraqis received instructions in the use of chemical and biological weapons, and how the defector was given a new identity and relocated. A month later, however, a team of C.I.A. agents went to interview the man with their own interpreter. “He says, ‘No, that’s not what I said,’” the former intelligence official told me. “He said, ‘I worked at a fedayeen camp; it wasn’t Al Qaeda.’ He never saw any chemical or biological training.” Afterward, the former official said, “the C.I.A. sent out a piece of paper saying that this information was incorrect. They put it in writing.” But the C.I.A. rebuttal, like the original report, was classified. “I remember wondering whether this one would leak and correct the earlier, invalid leak. Of course, it didn’t.”
The former intelligence official went on, “One of the reasons I left was my sense that they were using the intelligence from the C.I.A. and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn’t like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff. They were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with—to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God.” He added, “If it doesn’t fit their theory, they don’t want to accept it.”
Shulsky’s work has deep theoretical underpinnings. In his academic and think-tank writings, Shulsky, the son of a newspaperman—his father, Sam, wrote a nationally syndicated business column—has long been a critic of the American intelligence community. During the Cold War, his area of expertise was Soviet disinformation techniques. Like Wolfowitz, he was a student of Leo Strauss’s, at the University of Chicago. Both men received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972. Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in the United States in 1937, was trained in the history of political philosophy, and became one of the foremost conservative émigré scholars. He was widely known for his argument that the works of ancient philosophers contain deliberately concealed esoteric meanings whose truths can be comprehended only by a very few, and would be misunderstood by the masses. The Straussian movement has many adherents in and around the Bush Administration. In addition to Wolfowitz, they include William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, and Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, who is particularly close to Rumsfeld. Strauss’s influence on foreign-policy decision-making (he never wrote explicitly about the subject himself) is usually discussed in terms of his tendency to view the world as a place where isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements abroad, and face threats that must be confronted vigorously and with strong leadership.
How Strauss’s views might be applied to the intelligence-gathering process is less immediately obvious. As it happens, Shulsky himself explored that question in a 1999 essay, written with Gary Schmitt, entitled “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)”—in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality. In the essay, Shulsky and Schmitt write that Strauss’s “gentleness, his ability to concentrate on detail, his consequent success in looking below the surface and reading between the lines, and his seeming unworldliness . . . may even be said to resemble, however faintly, the George Smiley of John le Carré’s novels.” Echoing one of Strauss’s major themes, Shulsky and Schmitt criticize America’s intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment.
The agency’s analysts, Shulsky and Schmitt argue, “were generally reluctant throughout the Cold War to believe that they could be deceived about any critical question by the Soviet Union or other Communist states. History has shown this view to have been extremely naïve.” They suggested that political philosophy, with its emphasis on the variety of regimes, could provide an “antidote” to the C.I.A.’s failings, and would help in understanding Islamic leaders, “whose intellectual world was so different from our own.”
Strauss’s idea of hidden meaning, Shulsky and Schmitt added, “alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.”
Robert Pippin, the chairman of the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago and a critic of Strauss, told me, “Strauss believed that good statesmen have powers of judgment and must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. If you have that talent, what you do or say in public cannot be held accountable in the same way.” Another Strauss critic, Stephen Holmes, a law professor at New York University, put the Straussians’ position this way: “They believe that your enemy is deceiving you, and you have to pretend to agree, but secretly you follow your own views.” Holmes added, “The whole story is complicated by Strauss’s idea—actually Plato’s—that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.”
When I asked one of Strauss’s staunchest defenders, Joseph Cropsey, professor emeritus of political science at Chicago, about the use of Strauss’s views in the area of policymaking, he told me that common sense alone suggested that a certain amount of deception is essential in government. “That people in government have to be discreet in what they say publicly is so obvious—‘If I tell you the truth I can’t but help the enemy.’” But there is nothing in Strauss’s work, he added, that “favors preëmptive action. What it favors is prudence and sound judgment. If you could have got rid of Hitler in the nineteen-thirties, who’s not going to be in favor of that? You don’t need Strauss to reach that conclusion.”
Some former intelligence officials believe that Shulsky and his superiors were captives of their own convictions, and were merely deceiving themselves. Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of counter-terrorism operations and analysis at the C.I.A., worked with Shulsky at a Washington think tank after his retirement. He said, “Abe is very gentle and slow to anger, with a sense of irony. But his politics were typical for his group—the Straussian view.” The group’s members, Cannistraro said, “reinforce each other because they’re the only friends they have, and they all work together. This has been going on since the nineteen-eighties, but they’ve never been able to coalesce as they have now. September 11th gave them the opportunity, and now they’re in heaven. They believe the intelligence is there. They want to believe it. It has to be there.”
The rising influence of the Office of Special Plans has been accompanied by a decline in the influence of the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. One internal Pentagon memorandum went so far as to suggest that terrorism experts in the government and outside it had deliberately “downplayed or sought to disprove” the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. “For many years, there has been a bias in the intelligence community” against defectors, the memorandum said. It urged that two analysts working with Shulsky be given the authority to “investigate linkages to Iraq” by having access to the “proper debriefing of key Iraqi defectors.”
A former C.I.A. task-force leader who is a consultant to the Bush Administration said that many analysts in the C.I.A. are convinced that the Chalabi group’s defector reports on weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda have produced little of value, but said that the agency “is not fighting it.” He said that the D.I.A. had studied the information as well. “Even the D.I.A. can’t find any value in it.” (The Pentagon, asked for comment, denied that there had been disputes between the C.I.A. and Special Plans over the validity of intelligence.)
In interviews, former C.I.A. officers and analysts described the agency as increasingly demoralized. “George knows he’s being beaten up,” one former officer said of George Tenet, the C.I.A. director. “And his analysts are terrified. George used to protect his people, but he’s been forced to do things their way.” Because the C.I.A.’s analysts are now on the defensive, “they write reports justifying their intelligence rather than saying what’s going on. The Defense Department and the Office of the Vice-President write their own pieces, based on their own ideology. We collect so much stuff that you can find anything you want.”
“They see themselves as outsiders, ” a former C.I.A. expert who spent the past decade immersed in Iraqi-exile affairs said of the Special Plans people. He added, “There’s a high degree of paranoia. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re on the side of angels, and everybody else in the government is a fool.”
More than a year’s worth of increasingly bitter debate over the value and integrity of the Special Plans intelligence came to a halt in March, when President Bush authorized the war against Iraq. After a few weeks of fighting, Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, leaving American forces to declare victory against a backdrop of disorder and uncertainty about the country’s future. Ahmad Chalabi and the I.N.C. continued to provoke fights within the Bush Administration. The Pentagon flew Chalabi and hundreds of his supporters, heavily armed, into Iraq, amid tight security, over angry objections from the State Department. Chalabi is now establishing himself in Baghdad. His advocates in the Pentagon point out that he is not only a Shiite, like the majority of Iraqis, but also, as one scholar put it, “a completely Westernized businessman” (he emigrated to England with his parents in 1958, when he was a boy), which is one reason the State Department doubts whether he can gain support among Iraqis.
Chalabi is not the only point of contention, however. The failure, as of last week, to find weapons of mass destruction in places where the Pentagon’s sources confidently predicted they would be found has reanimated the debate on the quality of the office’s intelligence. A former high-level intelligence official told me that American Special Forces units had been sent into Iraq in mid-March, before the start of the air and ground war, to investigate sites suspected of being missile or chemical- and biological-weapon storage depots. “They came up with nothing,” the official said. “Never found a single Scud.”
Since then, there have been a number of false alarms and a tip that weapons may have been destroyed in the last days before the war, but no solid evidence. On April 22nd, Hans Blix, hours before he asked the U.N. Security Council to send his team back to Iraq, told the BBC, “I think it’s been one of the disturbing elements that so much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been so shaky.”
There is little self-doubt or second-guessing in the Pentagon over the failure to immediately find the weapons. The Pentagon adviser to Special Plans told me he believed that the delay “means nothing. We’ve got to wait to get all the answers from Iraqi scientists who will tell us where they are.” Similarly, the Pentagon official who works for Luti said last week, “I think they’re hidden in the mountains or transferred to some friendly countries. Saddam had enough time to move them.” There were suggestions from the Pentagon that Saddam might be shipping weapons over the border to Syria. “It’s bait and switch,” the former high-level intelligence official said. “Bait them into Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. And, when they aren’t found, there’s this whole bullshit about the weapons being in Syria.”
In Congress, a senior legislative aide said, “Some members are beginning to ask and to wonder, but cautiously.” For now, he told me, “the members don’t have the confidence to say that the Administration is off base.” He also commented, “For many, it makes little difference. We vanquished a bad guy and liberated the Iraqi people. Some are astute enough to recognize that the alleged imminent W.M.D. threat to the U.S. was a pretext. I sometimes have to pinch myself when friends or family ask with incredulity about the lack of W.M.D., and remind myself that the average person has the idea that there are mountains of the stuff over there, ready to be tripped over. The more time elapses, the more people are going to wonder about this, but I don’t think it will sway U.S. public opinion much. Everyone loves to be on the winning side.”
Weapons may yet be found. Iraq is a big country, as the Administration has repeatedly pointed out in recent weeks. In a speech last week, President Bush said, “We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated.” Meanwhile, if the American advance hasn’t uncovered stashes of weapons of mass destruction, it has turned up additional graphic evidence of the brutality of the regime. But Saddam Hussein’s cruelty was documented long before September 11th, and was not the principal reason the Bush Administration gave to the world for the necessity of war.
Former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been a strong supporter of the President’s decision to overthrow Saddam. “I do think building a democratic secular state in Iraq justifies everything we’ve done,” Kerrey, who is now president of New School University, in New York, told me. “But they’ve taken the intelligence on weapons and expanded it beyond what was justified.” Speaking of the hawks, he said, “It appeared that they understood that to get the American people on their side they needed to come up with something more to say than ‘We’ve liberated Iraq and got rid of a tyrant.’ So they had to find some ties to weapons of mass destruction and were willing to allow a majority of Americans to incorrectly conclude that the invasion of Iraq had something to do with the World Trade Center. Overemphasizing the national-security threat made it more difficult to get the rest of the world on our side. It was the weakest and most misleading argument we could use.” Kerrey added, “It appears that they have the intelligence. The problem is, they didn’t like the conclusions.”
By Nicholas Xenos
very curious piece appeared on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times on June 7, 2003. Its author was Jenny Strauss Clay, a professor of classics at the University of Virginia, and the title was, “The Real Leo Strauss.” Highlighted in a box midway down the page were the words, “My father was a teacher, not a right-wing guru.” Clay wrote,
Recent news articles have portrayed my father, Leo Strauss, as the mastermind behind the neoconservative ideologues who control United States foreign policy. He reaches out from his 30-year-old grave, we are told, to direct a ‘cabal’ (a word with distinct anti-Semitic overtones) of Bush administration figures hoping to subject the American people to rule by a ruthless elite. I do not recognize the Leo Strauss presented in these articles.
The “recent articles” had appeared in an array of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, and The New Yorker. In only one of these does the term “cabal” appear. That one was Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article, the opening line of which is, “They call themselves, self-mockingly, ‘The Cabal,’ a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans.” Abram Schulsky, “a scholarly expert in the works of the political philosopher Leo Strauss,” directs this self-identified cabal, according to Hersh.
In Clay’s apologia on behalf of her father, she wrote, “My father was not a politician. He taught political theory, primarily at the University of Chicago.” It is not incidental that Leo Strauss rarely, if ever, referred to what he taught as political theory, but that is another thing that I will come back to. “He was a conservative insofar as he did not think that change is necessarily for the better,” which is a rather bland description of a conservative. “Leo Strauss believed,” she wrote,
In the intrinsic dignity of the political. He believed in and defended liberal democracy, although he was not blind to its flaws. He felt it was the best form of government that could be realize, ‘the last best hope.’ He was an enemy of any regime that aspired to global domination. He despised utopianism, in our time Nazism and communism, which is predicated on a denial of a fundamental and even noble feature of human nature, love of one’s own. His heroes were Churchill and Lincoln.
Keep in mind a few of the things that come up in this paragraph. Among these is the notion of the “dignity of political.” We still need to know exactly what Leo Strauss thought the political was, as well as what he thought liberal democracy was and in what sense he was a defender of it. The use of the word “regime” on the part of his daughter is not entirely innocent, as we will see later on, and the notion that Churchill and Lincoln were his heroes and on the other hand that Nazism and communism were the things that he abhorred—I am going to come back to all of those things in due course.
Prof. Clay went on to say, “The fact is that Leo Strauss”—and this is very important and is the reason why the issue here is ultimately of much more than academic interest—
Also recognized a multiplicity of readers, but he had enough faith in his author to assume that they, too, recognized that they would have a diverse readership. Some of their readers, the ancients realized, would want only to find their own views and prejudices confirmed. Others might be willing to open themselves to new, perhaps unconventional or unpopular, ideas. I personally think my father’s rediscovery of the art of writing for different kinds of readers will be his most lasting legacy.
Strauss’ students are aware of the impression their admiration for him makes on outsiders. Allen Bloom was the best known of those students thanks to his best-selling 1987 anti-egalitarian diatribe The Closing of the American Mind, and more recently to his having been “outed” by his old friend Saul Bellow in Bellow’s novel, Ravelstein. In his tribute to his former teacher, published after Strauss’s death, Bloom observed that “those of us who know him saw in him such a power of mind, such a unity and purpose of life, such a rare mixture of the human elements resulting in a harmonious expression of the virtues, moral and intellectual, that our account of him is likely to evoke disbelief or ridicule from those who have never experienced a man of this quality.”[i] Bloom’s rhetorical strategy here of appropriating a projected criticism—the fawning admiration Straussians have for their teacher/founder and turning it around—also has the effect of demarcating an “out-group” that does not understand from an in-group that has experienced the truth, which is another characteristic feature of the style and substance of what makes a Straussian.
It is partly the aura that emanates from Strauss that gives credence to the claims of conspiracy when Straussians are involved in something, if that is in fact the claim that people make. More particularly, the prominence given to the notion of a charismatic founder within the Straussian fold means that it quickly begins to look like a cult.
Who was Leo Strauss? He was born in Germany in 1899 and died in the United States in 1973. As was the case for many German Jewish intellectuals of his generation, he was active in Jewish youth groups in the 1920s. The ones that he was involved with were mostly inspired by the German nationalist youth movement. In Strauss’s case, he admired the sense of spiritual unity that was promulgated in these German youth groups and it was that sort of nationalist or spiritual element that was appealing to him. He wrote a book on Spinoza published in 1930 and left Germany in 1932 on a Rockefeller Foundation grant for research on Thomas Hobbes in Paris and London. He was thus in Paris when the Nazis took power. However, Strauss should not be confused with the anti-Nazi refugees who soon arrived in the French capital, because at this time he was a committed anti-liberal, in the German sense of anti-liberal, which is to say, among other things, an anti-parliamentarian. Also in 1932, he wrote an extended review of a book by the German legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt entitled The Concept of the Political, in which Schmitt articulated his notion that the core of the political problem is the distinction between friends and enemies. Schmitt later became a member of the Nazi party and a leading figure in the main legal organization of the Third Reich. In Strauss’s review, he criticized Schmitt from the political right. He argued that “the critique introduced by Schmitt against liberalism can . . . be completed only if one succeeds in gaining a horizon beyond liberalism. In such a horizon Hobbes completed the foundation of liberalism. A radical critique of liberalism is thus possible only on the basis of an adequate understanding of Hobbes.”[ii] His point was that Schmitt was, in his criticisms of liberalism, working within the bounds of liberal society because liberalism had become so dominant that it was difficult see beyond it anymore, and it was thus necessary to go back to Hobbes to see what was there before. What was there before was a very strong sense of the absolute dichotomies of good and evil. For Strauss, Hobbes represents the foundation of liberalism and modernism in the claim that these notions of good and evil are nominalist; they simply do not exist in anything other than our judgment about them. So Strauss was suggesting that you had to go back before liberalism to reconnect with the sort of absolutist distinctions upon which Schmitt was attempting to ground the political.
German scholar Karl Löwith. This letter is included in an edition of Strauss’ works and letters that has not been translated.[iii] Strauss wrote to Löwith in May 1933, five months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor and a month after implementation of the first anti-Jewish legislation, that “Just because Germany has turned to the right and has expelled us,” meaning Jews, “it simply does not follow that the principles of the right are therefore to be rejected. To the contrary, only on the basis of principles of the right—fascist, authoritarian, imperialCommentaries, and valued Virgil’s judgment that, “under imperial rule the subjected are spared and the proud are subdued.” And he concluded, “there is no reason to crawl to the cross, even to the cross of liberalism, as long as anywhere in the world the spark glimmers of Roman thinking. And moreover, better than any cross is the ghetto.” [emphasis in original]—is it possible in a dignified manner, without the ridiculous and pitiful appeal to ‘the inalienable rights of man’ to protest against the mean nonentity,” the mean nonentity being the Nazi party. In other words, he is attacking the Nazis from the right in this letter. He wrote that he had been reading Caesar’s
Two months later, in July 1933, he wrote to Schmitt—he did not realize that Schmitt had joined the Nazi party, or seemed not to fully understand what the regime was about in terms of its anti-Semitism—asking for help in getting entrée to Charles Maurras, the French right-wing Catholic leader of the Action Française. What all of this suggests is that in the 1930s Strauss was not an anti-liberal in the sense in which we commonly mean “anti-liberal” today, but an anti-democrat in a fundamental sense, a true reactionary. Strauss was somebody who wanted to go back to a previous, pre-liberal, pre-bourgeois era of blood and guts, of imperial domination, of authoritarian rule, of pure fascism. Like Schmitt, what Strauss hated about liberalism, among other things, was its inability to make absolute judgments, its inability to take action. And, like Schmitt, he sought a way out in a kind of pre-liberal decisiveness. I would suggest that this description of fascist, authoritarian, imperial principles accurately describes the current imperial project of the United States. Because of this, examining the foundational elements of Strauss’s political theory helps us to see something important about our current situation, independently of any kind of Straussian direct influence, although there is certainly some of that.
In 1935, Strauss published a book on Hobbes as well as a book entitled Philosophy and Law. The latter, on Maimonides and other Jewish themes, is the book in which he announced the discovery of what he called “the forgotten kind of writing,” to which his daughter referred. This entailed writing for different kinds of audiences simultaneously. Strauss had been working on Maimonides and he came to the conclusion that in order to understand Maimonides he had to understand the writers to whom Maimonides was relating and that led Strauss to Alfarabi, the medieval Islamic philosopher. In these authors, and in Machiavelli and Spinoza, and ultimately in Plato, Strauss thinks that he discovered something about the way that they wrote. In an oral presentation entitled “A Giving of Accounts,” recorded near the end of his life, he said, “I arrived at a conclusion that I can state in the form of a syllogism: philosophy is the attempt to replace opinion by knowledge, that opinion is the element of the city, hence philosophy is subversive, hence the philosopher must write in such a way that he will improve rather than subvert the city.” That is, the philosopher has to conceal what he is actually doing.
In other words, the virtue of a philosopher’s thought is a certain kind of mania [inspired frenzy], while the virtue of the philosopher’s public speech is sophrosyne [discretion or moderation]. Philosophy is as such transpolitical, transreligious, and transmoral, but the city is and ought to be moral and religious. . . . To illustrate this point, moral man, merely moral man, the kalosgathos in the common meaning of the term [that is, the good man], is not simply closer to the philosopher than a man of the dubious morality of Alcibiades.[iv]
The suggestion here is that philosophy always has to go underground, to conceal itself in some way because philosophy deals with truth while society is based on opinion and truth subverts opinion. This is the basis of what Strauss calls a “philosophic politics.” In his book On Tyranny, about which I will have more to say below, he explains:
In what then does philosophic politics consist? In satisfying the city that the philosophers are not atheists, that they do not desecrate everything sacred to the city, that they reverence what the city reverences, that they are not subversives, in short that they are not irresponsible adventurers but good citizens and even the best of citizens. This is the defense of philosophy that was required always and everywhere, whatever the regime might have been.[v]
Philosophers have to convince the city that they are not subversive. What is entailed here is that philosophers such as Maimonides and the others that he described wrote for at least two different audiences. To one audience was addressed the so-called exoteric meaning of their texts, which was the edifying, superficial level, while to another audience was addressed an esoteric meaning, which is embedded in the text but which only some people are capable of drawing out. This “discovery” is what his daughter says is going to be his lasting contribution. Now there is something right about the claim that some writers conceal to some degree what their real intention is, but Strauss raised this observation to an art form, or thought that it was raised to an art form by the authors with whom he was dealing.
What is particularly interesting about this to me is that while he described this quite clearly in the middle 1930s, in his study of Alfarabi and Maimonides, he did not himself start to write in this mode until he came to the United States in 1936. This is an issue concerning Strauss that people gloss over too easily. The question, starkly posed, is why did Strauss himself start to write in this esoteric/exoteric manner only after he came to an “open” society, to the United States? It is often said that Strauss’s discovery was somehow situated in terms of the Nazi regime and its repression, but that does not explain why he would only revert to this kind of writing when he came here. I suggest that Strauss’s political position, which he articulated in the letter to Löwith and in his critique of Schmitt, never fundamentally changed, but when he came to the United States it had to take on a more prudent presentation. Strauss’s criticisms of liberal-democratic societies did not stop at liberalism but went all the way through to the core—he was, in other words, far more reactionary than many contemporary critics suggest.
The notion of esoteric and exoteric writing means that one has to read writers, as Strauss put it, “between the lines,” and he developed a very elaborate system of reading, which included silences, things that are not included in the text, and obvious errors or thematic points that appear to pop up out of nowhere. I do not want to get into this conception of writing too much, but to characterize it a little bit, Strauss held that the great books were written by authors who had complete and total control of their texts. Thus there are no errors, no false starts, everything is very tightly, beautifully constructed so that the initiated can pick up on little mistakes, little openings in the text and find their way in. Strauss himself adopted a system of using a great many interrelated footnotes and references and of quoting people whose position he would not overtly take while pointing to the fact that that was his position by other clues in the text, among other techniques. It is almost impossible to avoid the term Talmudic to describe the way in which he read and later wrote books. Two of his books are particularly instructive.
Strauss’s On Tyranny was published in 1948. This complex book consists of his translation of Xenophon’s dialogue Hiero, also known as Tyrannicus, a work and an author whom Strauss considered unjustly ignored by modern scholars, along with an interpretive essay that partly decodes it and partly adds another layer or layers of convoluted meanings. In beginning his commentary, Strauss says that contemporary social science cannot identify the very tyranny that it faces. He writes of what he calls the modern form of tyranny that,
Not much observation and reflection is needed to realize that there is an essential difference between the tyranny analyzed by the classics and that of our age. In contradistinction to classical tyranny, present-day tyranny has at its disposal ‘technology’ as well as ‘ideologies’; more generally expressed, it presupposes the existence of ‘science,’ i.e., of a particular interpretation, or kind, of science. Conversely, classical tyranny, unlike modern tyranny, was confronted, actually or potentially, by a science that was not meant to be applied to ‘the conquest of nature’ or to be popularized and diffused. But in noting this one implicitly grants that one cannot understand modern tyranny in its specific character before one has understood the elementary and in a sense natural form of tyranny which is premodern tyranny. The basic stratum of modern tyranny remains, for all practical purposes, unintelligible to us if we do not have recourse to the political science of the classics.[vi]
In reference to the structure of such a political science, which he sees as a subdivision of philosophy, he goes on to say that “socratic rhetoric is meant to be an indispensable instrument of philosophy, its purpose is to lead potential philosophers to philosophy, both by training them and by liberating them from the charms which obstruct the philosophic effort, as well as to prevent the access to philosophy of those who are not fit for it.” Strauss then claims that,
The experience of the present generation has taught us to read the great political literature of the past with different eyes and with different expectations. The lessons may not be without value for our political orientation. We are now brought face to face with a tyranny which holds out the threat of becoming, thanks to ‘the conquest of nature’ and in particular of human nature, what no other tyranny ever became: perpetual and universal. Confronted by the appalling alternative that man, or human thought, must be collectivized either by one stroke and without mercy or else by slow and gentle processes, we are forced to wonder how we could escape from this dilemma. We consider therefore the elementary and unobtrusive conditions of human freedom.[vii]
Strauss’s warning that modern society is heading toward a kind of tyranny is not directed only toward Hitler and Stalin, toward fascism and communism; he is talking about the development of Western civilization generally: the diffusion of modern science and technology, the spreading of education throughout the entire population, the foundation of democratic claims in the notion of popular sovereignty. This is the beginning of the end of a certain notion of the political, of a certain relation to the world that Strauss wants to reinvigorate. The tyranny that he is talking about when he is writing in 1948 is the tyranny that he experiences, or thinks he experiences, in the West. It is under the threat of that tyranny that he adopts this dual form of writing and this book is itself the great example of that form.
The other text, or collection of texts, from the period that is relevant here is entitled Persecution and the Art of Writing. It was published in 1952, but the essays in it were mostly written in the 1940s. And he says there of the literature of multiple meanings: “The fact which makes this literature possible can be expressed in the axiom that thoughtless men are careless readers, and only thoughtful men are careful readers.”[viii] Obviously, Strauss is writing for careful readers and careless readers are going to give up on his texts after a certain point. In that same book, he writes: “What attitude people adopt toward freedom of public discussion depends decisively on what they think about popular education and its limits. Generally speaking, premodern philosophers were more timid in this respect than modern philosophers.”[ix] Here again, Strauss identifies with the premodern philosophers, which is to say that his attitude toward popular education is completely negative. Strauss’s entire orientation here is a criticism of Western modernity. This becomes especially clear at the end of the passage from which I just quoted. He goes on to write, “Those to whom such books are truly addressed”—the esoteric books—
Are, however, neither the unphilosophic majority nor the perfect philosopher, as such, but the young men who might become philosophers: the potential philosophers are to be led step by step from the popular views which are indispensable for all practical and political purposes to the truth which is merely and purely theoretical, guided by certain obtrusively enigmatic figures in the presentation of the popular [i.e., exoteric] teaching—obscurity of the plan, contradiction, pseudonyms, inexact repetitions of earlier statements, strange expressions, etc. Such features do not disturb the slumber of those who cannot see the woods for the trees, but act as awakening stumbling blocks to those who can. All books of that kind owe their existence to the love of the mature philosopher for the puppies of his race, by whom he wants to be loved in turn. All esoteric books are ‘written speeches caused by love.’[x]
This last comment is one of the meanings of the “love of one’s own” to which Jenny Strauss Clay referred.
* * *
Returning to the biography, we see that Strauss comes to the United States, gets a teaching position at the New School—his daughter said he was first and foremost a teacher, but he did not start teaching until he was thirty-eight years old and here in the United States—and then goes to Chicago in 1949 as professor of political philosophy. Now, his daughter said he taught political theory, but Strauss never said he taught political theory; he taught political philosophy. As Strauss understood it, political philosophy is the face that philosophy turns to the public. It is the way that philosophers address the public to convince them that they are not subversive at the same time that they are embedding another kind of message to those who will understand. Strauss went to Chicago in 1949, where he taught for twenty years, and it was there that he established his reputation.
This signals the establishment of Strauss as an academic influence in the United States. Up until this period I have been discussing his books alone. At Chicago he begins to have students, schooling them in the techniques of his own writing, including, perhaps most centrally, irony. However, for Strauss, what philosophers say to each other, to their friends, in conversation someplace out of the public realm is one thing; what they say in writing to any group beyond that is another. The exoteric/esoteric distinction applies only to writing, and so you find Strauss’ students emphasizing the conversations with Strauss that they had in classes, and that means that the people who were students of Strauss have a privileged knowledge that the people who were not students of Strauss do not have. Thus one begins to see a kind of network build outward from his charismatic center, where the truth is spoken in small groups and seminar rooms, and then conveyed in secondary kinds of ways to a larger group after that.
Besides his teaching activities, Strauss rather skillfully turned his attention, after he got to the University of Chicago, to struggles within academe rather than struggles in the popular, political arena. Positioned in a social science department, he started attacking social science for its value neutrality. He and his associates began attacking elements of contemporary society through their supposed representation in social science and other academic disciplines rather than out in the open as a direct political attack, and doing it in a way that made it seem that he and his students and friends were defending the principles of liberal-democratic society at the same time. This collective struggle was another element in the building of a Straussian network, one that continued after his death primarily through attacks on so-called multiculturalism and post-modernism.
The Straussian network is really an amazing thing. Any political theorist or anyone who has been around political science departments has seen it at work. Long before attaining public attention, the Straussians were often ridiculed for their cult-like qualities: they speak and write the same way, they write the same books on the same themes over and over again, they dress alike, they are almost all men, they went to the same schools—those sorts of things. It thus comes as a shock to discover that Leo Strauss may turn out to be the most influential political theorist of the last fifty years in the United States with respect to the exercise of political power.
If the Straussians were only one academic school among others, that would be one thing. But in the mid-1980s some commentators suddenly realized that they had begun to follow the lead of their liberal academic neighbors in heading for Washington, D.C. At that time, it was noticed that something strange was going on in the Reagan administration. The first sign of this was in an article by Stephen Toulmin, a historian of science, in the New York Review of Books in 1984, in the middle of a review of a book on Margaret Mead. Toulmin used Mead as an example to which he compared the then-current State Department policy planning staff, where, he said, they had more people who were acquainted with the writings of Leo Strauss than they were with the cultures that the State Department has to deal with.
Few people probably knew what he was talking about until Nathan Tarcov, a University of Chicago professor and a former student of Strauss, wrote a letter to the Review because he recognized himself in Toulmin’s description and attempted to defend himself and the staff on which he served. Two years later the classicist F. M Burnyeat, in another article in the New York Review, still possibly the best single piece anyone has written on the Straussians, took up the theme again and did a very thorough critique of Strauss’s writings and the whole basis of the Straussian school. Burnyeat tackled the subject not just because it was an academic issue but because he knew there were influential Straussians in Washington. In the Reagan administration there were Tarcov, Carnes Lord, who was a member of the National Security Staff, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later on, William Kristol and Carnes Lord were part of Vice President Dan Quayle’s staff. The Straussians clearly were aligning themselves with certain elements of the right-wing of the Republican Party.
Straussians have been around Washington for twenty years. In a sense, they invite the criticism of being a cult or a conspiracy by the networking that they do, by their purposive replication, and by the use of a certain kind of coded language. (For example, whenever Strauss talked about someone’s theory he referred to his “teaching,” and this is a term similarly deployed by all Straussians.) Strauss and his descendants use all kinds of stilted, oftentimes archaic language, and some of that language has found its way into the rhetoric of the so-called war on terror.
The most obvious place where one sees it is in the administration’s use of the term “regime.” Some people were surprised by what it turned out “regime change” meant, but one would not have been surprised if one were familiar with Leo Strauss’s writings or those of the Straussians. “Regime” is the term that Strauss used to translate the Greek politeia, an Aristotelian category, and Strauss understood it to mean—what it more or less does mean in Aristotle—the form of a city; that is, its essence as opposed to the unformed humans, the matter, that the city forms. Aristotle, in Book Three of the Politics, makes the case that there are different kinds of polities—democracies, aristocracies, and so on—and that in each case, if one changes into another one it changes essentially; it changes its form into something else. And the citizens are different, they are changed—the citizen of a democracy is not a citizen in an aristocracy—so it is a total transformation of the city’s essence, a formal transformation. Thus Strauss wrote that “a change of regime transforms a given city into another city,” into something totally different. So to talk about “regime change,” which was a relatively new term in the discourse of international relations, meant a total transformation of the model of the society in question rather than a simple change of government in the narrow sense. This has had immediate effects in the policy in Iraq.
But for Strauss, what was important about using this term is because in Strauss’s mind it leads necessarily to the question of the “best” city. Strauss thought that if you start talking about fundamentally different forms, it necessarily leads you to begin comparing those forms, and the comparison leads you to a judgment about the best or worst sort of city. You see this, too, in the current discourse. On the one hand, the Bush administration always says it is not making judgments; on the other hand it is clear that there is a preferred form for the transformation they seek to effect, which they call liberal democracy—a combination of market economics and the appearance of representative political institutions. So regime is one clear example of Straussian influence on the administration’s rhetoric and the thinking behind it. And indeed, William Kristol and a coauthor, in an article entitled “What Was Strauss up To?” point to the notion of regime as an instance of Strauss’s influence.[xi]
Another important element is the “good versus evil” trope. Here William Kristol and Robert Kagan can show us the way toward an understanding. They coauthored an article in Foreign Affairs in 1996, entitled “Towards a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy.” They argued for the importance for conservatives to put moral judgments back at the center of American foreign policy, as Reagan had with the notion of the “evil empire.” Carnes Lord, to whom I referred above and who now teaches at the U.S. Naval College and who was a member of the Reagan administration and the Quayle staff as well as a translator of Aristotle, wrote an article in 1999, in which he argued that the crisis of liberalism as he understood it was a crisis of the political class, of the leadership in this country. He blamed the agenda of what he called “multiculturalism” in both domestic and foreign affairs for the fact, as he saw it, that we had lost our way in this country.
Straussians are dogged critics of what they call multiculturalism in academia in general and in the society as a whole, and the supposed spread of multiculturalism in American society was castigated by Lord both on the domestic and foreign levels. Thus there was the need for an effort, he wrote, aimed at “arresting the decline of American education, reviving a sense of citizenship and civic responsibility, and repairing vital national institutions such as the armed forces.” He was concerned that the next time there was a crisis and the president called us to sacrifice, will we be ready to do that? So the Straussians were talking about the need to infuse foreign policy with a moral language during both the George Bush and the Clinton administrations, and of course it came to fruition after September 11.[xii]
In this context, an Op-Ed piece written by William Bennett in the Wall Street Journal in September 2002, entitled “Teaching September Eleventh,” is worthy of note. Bennett wrote, “An appropriate response to September eleventh begins with a kind of moral clarity, a clarity that calls evil by its true name, terms like evil, wrong, and bad were rightly put back into the lexicon. September eleventh also requires that we point to what is good and right and true. The dark day was pierced with rays of courage, honor, and sacrifice and they should be upheld for all to see, they too are enduring lessons.” That kind of reliance on courage, honor, these are pre-bourgeois, aristocratic kinds of categories and they fall into Strauss’s whole framework of the way “gentlemen” behave. Strauss saw the world divided up into three layers: there are the vulgar, there are gentlemen, and there are the wise. And honor and courage are the virtues of the gentleman; the virtue of the wise is wisdom. The wise need the gentlemen to be governing. And the gentlemen, this elite, do not operate with the categories of wisdom, but with the “simple virtues” that they are able to grasp and assert.
Another element of the administration’s rhetoric, of course, is the division of the world into friends and enemies. Strauss said the way of the philosopher is the way of Socrates; of the pursuit of wisdom, of the good in itself. But the way of the world is the way of Thrasymachus. And the argument for justice that Thrasymachus makes in Plato’s Republic is that justice is helping friends and hurting enemies. And this is in fact the moral compass that Straussians adopt in the world. It accounts, partly, for the network that they have constructed. And when the friends are philosophers then that is a really good thing, but if they are not philosophers, well, that is the way the world works anyway—you help friends, you hurt enemies. It is a form of realism, but it is realism in the hidden interests of wisdom. Now, this attitude and this kind of language do not only derive from Strauss, but it is notable the degree to which this administration, in particular, has articulated the world in terms of friends and enemies from September 11th on. That is the way the world has been divided by this administration, and it does what it can for its friends, regardless of what regime they may have, and it does what it can to its enemies, or what the administration perceives as its enemies, domestic and foreign.
The trickiest element in the current rhetorical structure of things is “tyranny.” As in the case of “regime,” one perked up one’s ears with the sudden ubiquity of the term tyranny. The term had not been used in contemporary political discourse until recently. Academic political science and public political discourse had used terms such as authoritarian or dictatorship or despotism to describe varieties of political domination throughout the last century. For the last half of it, the category of totalitarian was added. Despite Strauss’s effort in 1948, it is only now that tyranny has entered the speechwriters’ lexicon, and it seems clear that it is the work of Strauss’s descendants.
This is the most complicated part of Strauss’s thinking and the most important in terms of understanding the current political situation. In the passage quoted above, Strauss referred to an ancient teaching on tyranny with which he contrasted a problematic modern tyranny. In the ancient teaching, which is the teaching with which he wishes to identify himself, it is possible for the wise man to move a tyranny toward its best possible form. That is, there are tyrannies and there are tyrannies; there are really bad ones and relatively good ones. The good ones are ones in which the tyrant rules beneficially for his subjects, but does so beyond the law. And Strauss says in his book, through the words of Xenophon, the author of the Hiero, that the rule of a good tyrant is better than misrule under law, so that tyrannical rule can be superior to constitutional rule or to the rule of misguided political elites. It is simply not the case that Strauss is entirely hostile to the notion of tyranny; he is hostile to the modern notion of tyranny, which is articulated in the passages already cited and then is further articulated by Strauss in his response to Alexandre Kojève’s review of his book.
In Strauss’s post-Nietzschean view, the modern form of tyranny leads necessarily to a flattening out of experience, to the so-called “last man.” Society eventually becomes uninteresting when it is permeated by technology and science and a generalized level of education, the flattening out of experience that Tocqueville partly anticipated for democratic societies and which Nietzsche railed against. Strauss held out the hope, under those circumstances, for some rebellion, for acts of courage or honor to reverse this trend, this so-called tyranny. For Strauss, tyranny is a problem in the modern sense, not in the ancient sense, and I would suggest that his admiration for Churchill and Lincoln is because they actually mirror, to some degree, the ancient notion of the tyrant, especially Lincoln, who sidestepped the Constitution during the Civil War.
Straussians love Lincoln and they love him for a couple of reasons, one of which is that he was not reluctant to set the law aside when he felt it was necessary. But they also venerate Lincoln because he quite consciously set about the business of constructing a mythology about American identity, a patriotic mythology. Lincoln made the claim, in his Lyceum speech in 1838, that those who had had the experience of fighting for the establishment of the country in the Revolution were dying out as a generation and that future generations would have to revive this experience through myths and stories that they told about this founding generation. And that is what Straussians do in terms of American culture, primarily through the myth of the Founding Fathers, the notion of this aristocratic elite that established America and the way that it is established. So Lincoln is a very important figure for them because he resorted to tyrannical measures when he had to and because he sought to mythically restore heroic virtues.
As for Churchill, who was also something of a tyrant, the issue is somewhat different. Churchill stood up to Hitler, and Hitler is a representative of the bad kind of tyrant. It is embedded in the Straussian notion of the vulgar that they are thoughtless readers but they can see things, you can construct images—Strauss develops this out of Plato’s notion of the noble lie—that it is easier for people to see constructions and through then to glimpse the principles that lie behind them. And so what was important about Churchill was his image as a figure representing this opposition; that one could then begin to raise the question of good and evil by having this figure confronting Hitler, and then you label Hitler as evil and Churchill as good and you are into that dialectic of good and evil, which is so important to Strauss, and such a fundamental element of what he understood the political to be about; that is about struggle, about this sort of confrontation. So when Jenny Strauss Clay says her father was opposed to all kinds of utopianisms, and then she cites the Nazi and Communist ones, there is more to it than that. For some, there is the utopia of a peaceful world, a Kantian sort of utopia, of an end to conflict, of a resolution of grievances through peaceful means. For Strauss, that eliminates the struggle that is at the core of the political and which is necessary to be going on in the political realm while philosophers can be busy doing whatever it is that philosophers do.
One modern philosopher who is important in a complicated sort of way for Strauss is Martin Heidegger. Strauss says he encountered Heidegger for the first time in the early 1920s when Strauss “attended his lecture course from time to time without understanding a word, but sensed that [Heidegger] dealt with something of the utmost importance to man as man.” But despite his disclaimer of limited understanding, Strauss says that where he broke with Heidegger was with what Strauss called Heidegger’s moral teaching, which he describes in this way: “The key term” in Heidegger’s vocabulary “is ‘resoluteness,’ without any indication as to what are the proper objects of resoluteness. There is a straight line that leads from Heidegger’s resoluteness to his siding with the so-called Nazis in 1933. After that I ceased to take any interest in him for about two decades.”[xiii] In this post-Nietzschean world, where nothing really matters anymore, one possible moral position to take is to say: well, you choose something and you adhere to it with resoluteness; you affirm it, even though there is really no foundation for it other than your affirmation of it. Where Strauss differs with Heidegger is that Strauss wants to put truth in that place; the thing that you adhere to with resoluteness is truth. If you are going to hold society together, and keep it from becoming completely chaotic, you must affirm the notion of an absolute truth. And that is where he makes the break with Heidegger, though actually they are on the same ground. He is also on very similar ground to all of the political and philosophical movements that descend from Heidegger, including a voluntarist existentialism and deconstruction.
I do not want to leave the impression that I think that Straussians are the root cause of all of contemporary political problems. They have clearly contributed on the rhetorical level. They have helped codify certain notions, they have helped push a war of images; but I do not for a second think that there are no material interests at stake in American foreign policy. Perhaps what is most worrisome about the Straussian influence is the way in which some of this language has permeated public discourse generally and not just what is coming from this administration. Paul Berman, for example, in Terror and Liberalism, wants to characterize everything that is opposed to liberalism, as he understands it—a liberal sentiment—as “terror.” This is falling into the kind of dichotomous and problematic constructions that Strauss articulated.
Liberalism is itself fearful, in most instances, of popular power, of—for want of a better term—the power of the people. The big event in Allan Bloom’s life, aside from meeting Strauss and writing a best seller and becoming rich, happened at Cornell University, while he was teaching there, when armed black students took over the student center. In many respects, Straussian cultural criticism is a reaction against the counter-cultural and political movements in the 1960s, including the student movement. But there has been a liberal reaction to that, too. And a liberal discourse that talks about the need for civic education, that talks about the need for a patriotic discourse—Wesley Clark’s campaign talk about the need for a “new American patriotism” is an example—is really moving in the same area as the Straussian discourse. And there are some crossover types, as well. Mark Lilla, a professor in the Straussian redoubt of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and an associate director of the Olin Center there, published an article in the “liberal” New York Review of Books on the importance of the concept of tyranny. What is troubling in a lot of ways, more than anything else, is that the Straussians have begun to dominate the terms of public discourse. A fearful liberalism and a political and punditry elite have been fertile ground for Straussian seeding. It was shocking in some ways when the New York Times hired David Brooks as a regular columnist, but it was not a shock when he very soon afterward wrote a column on the persecution of conservatives in American universities and interviewed Straussian professors to drive the point home. There is no conspiracy at work here, but rather a conflation of a Straussian and a liberal discourse that is really, really troubling. And both of them are fundamentally anti-democratic.
[i] Alan Bloom, “Leo Strauss,” Political Theory 2:4 (1974): 372.
[ii] Leo Strauss, “Notes on Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political,” in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue, trans. J. Harvey Lomax (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 119.
[iii] I am indebted to Eugene R. Sheppard for this reference and translation. See his “Exile and Accommodation: Leo Strauss 1932-1937” (paper presented to the Working Group in Modern European Jewish History, Center for European Studies, Harvard University, February 2003).
[iv] Jacob Klein and Leo Strauss, “A Giving of Accounts,” in Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, ed. Kenneth Hart Green (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997), p. 463.
[v] Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, ed. Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth (New York: Free Press, 1991), pp. 205-6.
[vi] Strauss, ibid., p 23.
[vii] Strauss, ibid., p. 27.
[viii] Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), p. 25.
[ix] Strauss, ibid., p. 33.
[x] Strauss, ibid., p. 36.
[xi] Steven Lenzner and William Kristol, “What Was Leo Strauss Up To?” The Public Interest (Fall 2003).
[xii] Carnes Lord, “Thoughts on Strauss and Our Present Discontents,” in Deutsch and Murley, eds., Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime, pp. 413-17.
[xiii] Strauss, “A Giving of Accounts,” p. 461.
Nicholas Xenos is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of Scarcity and Modernity (Routledge, 1989), and has contributed essays and reviews to The Nation, Grand Street, The London Review of Books, and other periodicals. He is currently completing a book on Leo Strauss and U.S. foreign policy to be published by Routledge.