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Dear Trudy


Dear Trudy,

Your latest column appeared in the DoD Early Bird today. As I'm sure you already know, that guarantees it an oversize readership in Washington.

I must admit, I'm not half as baffled as you or Kristol and Kagan about why the President isn't calling for an escalation, at least not with American troops. To do so would be an admission of error and failure. Such things are verboten. Has this administration ever conceded an error? Just once, concerning a certain 16 words, and look at the storms that set off. It's such calculations that keep folks like Doug Feith and Jerry Bremer in place, for fear of how a dismissal would be understood.

Indeed, isn't it a measure of the meekness of the scribes that intense and probing criticism -- front-page investigative journalism, not just the op-ed page -- may proceed only once duly authorized by the White House press secretary?

A word about Kristol and how you characterize him. You say he's a neoconservative and, worse, "a prime mover behind the Iraq war." I wasn't aware that cheerleaders wield such awesome power. It would be baffling indeed if Kristol's were the pen that launched a thousand ships, yet he had no insights into subsequent policy.

Here you seem to have purchased a highly suspect package of labels without definitions and distinctions without differences. I'm referring to the idea of a neoconservative. In the 1980s and 1990s, I don't think I saw this word in print more than twice. I didn't see it in Pat Moynihan's obituaries. Isn't it worth questioning how it has come to be revived so suddenly, and why it is applied to some but not to others?

Indeed, what does it mean when a certain philosophy is routinely ascribed to Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, Doug Feith, and Paul Wolfowitz, but not to John McCain (Kristol's hero, lest we forget), Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, or George W. Bush? What does it mean when Irving Kristol attempts to define the term as something other than Reaganism by another name, yet winds up simply talking up the virtues of sunny optimism, tax cuts, and military spending?

What are we really looking at here? Isn't it what Pentagon types like to call a self-licking ice cream cone, i.e., a question that answers itself?

It seems to me that "neoconservative," as the term is used today, is an allusion to a perceived world in which a pundit, not a president, can be a prime mover of policy, and in which a large and fairly homogenous class of conservative pundits and policymakers can actually be divided in two, with the more junior, less influential, and less powerful half of them deemed both more influential and more powerful, and also deemed loyal less to their country or its ideals than to another idea or body of ideas that is generally not specified by those using the label.

There was a time when this was called McCarthyism. And its adherents weren't quite so coy about what they were trying to say. Presumably they were not restrained by the residue of shame that quite appropriately prevents decent liberals from railing against "Zionism" as McCarthyites once ranted about Communism.



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