(I would also liked to have posted this in the Iraq section where it is equally relevant, and where Takeo, TDidier, & co can see it.. but decided here)
How the 'neo-cons' are taking over the world - or Not
January 7, 2004
(Originally Appeared in NY Times; SMH link here)
As the United States enters an election year, the conspiracy theories are on the rise, writes David Brooks.
Do you ever get the sense the whole world is becoming unhinged from reality? I started feeling that way a while ago, when I was still working for The Weekly Standard and all these articles began appearing about how Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Doug Feith, Bill Kristol and a bunch of "neo-conservatives" at the magazine had taken over US foreign policy.
Theories about the tightly knit neo-con cabal came in waves. One day you read that neo-cons were pushing plans to finish off Iraq and move into Syria. Websites appeared detailing neo-con conspiracies; my favourite described a neo-con outing organised by Dick Cheney to hunt for humans.
The Asian press had the most lurid stories, the European press the most thorough. Every day, it seemed, Le Monde or some deep-thinking German paper would have an expose on the neo-con cabal, complete with charts connecting all the conspirators.
The full-mooners fixated on a think tank called the Project for the New American Century, which has a staff of five and issues memos on foreign policy. To hear these people describe it, it is sort of a Yiddish Trilateral Commission, the nexus of the sprawling neo-con tentacles.
We'd sit around the magazine guffawing at the ludicrous stories that kept sprouting, but belief in shadowy neo-con influence has now hardened into common knowledge. The Democratic presidential contender Wesley Clark, among others, cannot go a week without bringing it up.
In truth, the people labelled neo-cons (con is short for "conservative" and neo is another term for new, although some see it as short for "Jewish") travel in widely different circles and don't actually have much contact with one another.
The ones outside government have almost no contact with President George Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to the insidious power of Richard Perle, chairman of the Defence Policy Board, over Administration policy, but I've been told by senior Administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he's shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.
It's true that both Bush and the people labelled neo-cons agree that Saddam Hussein represented a unique threat to world peace. But correlation does not mean causation.
All evidence suggests that Bush formed his conclusions independently. Besides, if he wanted to follow the neo-con line, Bush wouldn't know where to turn because while the neo-cons agree on Saddam, they disagree vituperatively on just about everything else. (If you ever read a sentence that starts with "neo-cons believe", there is a 99.44 per cent chance everything else in that sentence will be untrue.)
Still, there are apparently millions of people who cling to the notion that the world is controlled by well-organised and malevolent forces. And for a subset of these people, Jews are a handy explanation for everything.
There's something else going on, too. The proliferation of media outlets and the segmentation of society have meant that it's much easier for people to hive themselves off into like-minded cliques. Some people live in towns where nobody likes Bush. Others listen to radio networks where nobody likes Bill Clinton.
In these communities, half-truths get circulated and exaggerated. Dark accusations are believed because it is delicious to believe them. The White House aide Vince Foster was murdered. The Saudis warned the Bush Administration before the September 11 attacks.
You get to choose your own reality. You get to believe what makes you feel good. You can ignore inconvenient facts so rigorously your picture of the world is one big distortion.
And if you can give your foes a collective name - liberals, fundamentalists or neo-cons - you can rob them of their individual humanity. All inhibitions are removed. You can say anything about them. You get to feed off their villainy and luxuriate in your own contrasting virtue.
You will find books, blowhards and candidates playing to your delusions, and you can emigrate to your own version of Planet Chomsky.
You can live there unburdened by ambiguity.
Improvements in information technology have not made public debate more realistic. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Conspiracy theories are prevalent. Partisanship has left many people unhinged.
Welcome to election year, 2004.
The New York Times