As a snobbish Harvard conservative in 1972, young William Kristol praised Richard Nixon’s Christmas B-52 bombing raids over Hanoi as “one of the great moments in American history”. He never had second thoughts, and today is regarded as the foremost promoter of the Iraqi war. His magazine, The Weekly Standard, funded by Rupert Murdoch, is described by the New York Times as, “Reader for reader, it may be the most influential publication in America”.
So towards what cliff is Bill Kristol (not my neighbor, Billy Crystal) pushing us now? A quick resume is needed here.
William’s father, Irving Kristol, traveled a path from Trotskyism in the Thirties to a key role in the neo-conservative backlash against the Sixties. Along the way he championed McCarthyism and co-edited an anti-communist intellectual journal called Encounter, covertly funded by the CIA during the Cold War. William’s mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb, was a Victorian scholar with a strong affinity for the British empire who became a political and intellectual leader of the backlash against Sixties feminism.
Young William Kristol carried on the family revolt against all things Sixties. He eventually joined up with Ronald Reagan’s neo-conservative education czar William Bennett in the mid-Eighties. Not particularly religious himself, Kristol became a staunch partisan of the fundamentalist Christian Right. Kristol then became a crusading chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle where he approved Quayle’s attacks on Candace Bergen’s single mother character, Murphy Brown. You get the picture: Kristol quickly became an official point man or strategist for virtually every right-wing crusade of the era. In the Clinton years, he played “cheerleader” to the inquisitive Kenneth Starr and anchored the impeachment movement from the pages of The Weekly Standard . According to one interviewer, “if not for Kristol’s obsessive marshaling of the pro-impeachment forces, said a number of conservatives, independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation might have petered out, and House Republicans might have allowed the public’s disapproval of their course to dissuade them from voting to impeach the president”. (Easton, 2000, p. 395)
Though never having served in combat or elected office, Kristol has been fearless in urging others to take extreme paths. In a 1985 article that attracted Bennett’s attention, Kristol condemned moderate Republican accomodationists, charging that they end up “fighting on others’ terrain, at someone else’s chosen time and place”. In the Clinton impeachment fight, he argued with certitude that the “doomed” President would be forced to resign if the Republicans had “the nerve to fight”.
Along the way he bonded with the circle of Republican “chicken hawks” who urged uncompromising war in Iraq, unilateralism in foreign policy, and massive military buildups. His pages bristled with neo-conservative visions of empire and running acclaim for the British imperial era. After September 11, The Weekly Standard became more like the “Weekly Pander” for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle, while issuing steady warnings against Colin Powell’s tendency to multilateralism.
Kristol was so convinced of the “cakewalk” thesis of a short, triumphal war in Iraq that The Weekly Standard immediately took paternal credit for the concept of “shock and awe” when the bombing began. They re-ran their previous editorials like that of September 24, 2001, that called for toppling Saddam Hussein and preparing to “scorch southern Lebanon and Revolutionary Guard dormitories and depot facilities in Tehran”. According to the journal’s past prophecies, “awe is the sine qua non of politics” in the Middle East where “being seen as ‘wobbly’ is fatal”. (Jan. 19, 1998)â€¦”America’s hayba – its ability to inspire awe” – had vanished in the mid-90s, “and once hayba is lost, only a demonstration of indomitable force restores it”. (May 14, 2001)â€¦”We have to restore our awe, and the only way you acquire and retain such majesty in the Middle East is through the use of military power”. (Sept. 24, 2001) In the run-up to war, Kristol promoted his views of “Baghdad and Beyond” through a new book and continual interviews on Fox News, the television outlet of his patron, Rupert Murdoch.
I will leave the psychoanalysis to others, but this memory with the reader. Once in the West Bank, in the early Eighties, I came upon a Palestinian family standing with their meager possessions in the road while Israeli soldiers methodically blew up their two-story house. Stunned by the cold-blooded military precision, I interviewed the Israelis as to their purpose. The Palestinian family didn’t appear to be an “enemy”, weren’t being arrested for anything, but nevertheless were made homeless, displaced on the road. Apparently someone in their extended family was an alleged “enemy”, and for that the home had to be destroyed. You see, said the Israeli spokesman, the only thing the Arab understands is awesome power. It is, you see, the way they are.
That was 15 years after the Six Day War which was supposed to teach the Palestinians a lesson, five years before the first intifada, 15 years before the second intifada, and still the Palestinians apparently haven’t been awed by the occupier’s hayba.
Does anyone besides William Kristol (once again, not to be confused with my neighbor Billy Cristal) believe that Iraqi nationalism has been “awed” by the American and British occupiers? When it doesn’t turn out that way, Kristol is unfazed, telegenic. Unable to acknowledge his mistaken prediction , he spins and spins. A man who has no apparent awe himself, except for higher Iqs, is vulnerable to hubris.
If he was a real general, instead of a pretender, there might be serious questions, behind closed doors to be sure, about his mental competence, like a mad officer out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Or perhaps he’s the Great Gatsby, a spoiled rich boy who leaves destruction behind in the sublime confidence that some lesser, awed people will clean up. Or maybe this is William Kristol”s Excellent Adventure. He is responsible for manipulating the Congress, the media, perhaps even George Bush, and most of the American people into the illusion that the Iraqis, the Palestinians, the Arabs, the hundreds of millions of them – the wogs! the camel jockeys! The ragheads! The boys! – can be cheaply and easily “liberated” through shock and awe.
No wonder he didn’t serve. God save our beleaguered troops from any more of this man’s editorial advice.