The art of neoconservative innuendo

An e-mail exchange with Michael Ledeen shows that, as always, neocons lack the courage of their implicit smears.

Published September 20, 2007 4:57PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Writing in National Review a couple of days ago, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute blatantly violated the New Rule in America which prohibits questioning the credibility of a four-star General in a Time of War, when Ledeen (during a Time of War) attacked recently retired Four-Star General John Abizaid for explaining why a nuclear-armed Iran is less dangerous than a U.S. war with Iran. Said Ledeen in attacking the General:

Abizaid Speaks! Oh Dear... [Michael Ledeen]

General Abizaid has unburdened himself on the subject of nuclear Iran. He thinks Iran is kinda like the Soviet Union, it's deterrable, and while he'd rather Iran not have nukes, all in all we could live with it. . . .

I'm grateful for this bit of enlightenment from the former commander of Central Command, whose failed strategy in Iraq led us to fight more effectively, especially against the Iranians' depredations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It was under Abizaid that the copious evidence of Iranian activity was suppressed, and we, let's say, took it easy on the thousands of Revolutionary Guards killers running all over the country. He now wants to extend that policy to Iran itself. He's got plenty of company in Foggy Bottom, Langley, and the White House.

So Gen. Abizaid, who "failed" in his mission, also "suppressed" the "copious evidence" of Iranian involvement in Iraq. That sounds like Ledeen is accusing General Abizaid of being less than honest -- how else can one characterize someone who "suppresses" evidence? -- and that, as we learned this week, is not allowed. The Commander-in-Chief just explained this morning that such attacks are "disgusting" and constitute attacks on The Troops Themselves.

This morning, Ledeen wrote a post reciting the only political argument he knows (other than slandering Four-Star Generals in a Time of War) -- namely, that we are at War with Iran and have been for 3 decades:

But We Are at War with Iran [Michael Ledeen]

The current kerfluffle over Adhmadinejad's proposed pilgrimage to Ground Zero shows once again how bad ideas drag us irresistibly to bad policy. Having refused for nearly thirty years to deal with the reality that Iran declared war on us in 1979 and has been waging it ever since, we are now acting as if Iran were just another country and its president therefore entitled to all the usual courtesies for visiting foreign dignitaries.

As I wrote recently:

Ledeen is plagued by the single most absurd yet fundamental contradiction one can imagine. His central argument, repeated over and over and now a staple in neoconservative mythology, is that Iran has been at war with the U.S. continuously ever since 1979. We just haven't fought back yet.

Yet Ledeen played a central role in brokering the sale by Israel to Iran of highly advanced weapons as part of the Reagan administration's Iran-contra shenanigans in the 1980s. A military confrontation with Iran would likely subject U.S. troops to attack from the very same nasty weapons which Ledeen and his friends provided to Iran during a time when, Ledeen and neoconservatives now insist, Iran was waging war on the U.S. As Scott Lemieux, among many others, has noted, providing arms to a country "waging war against the U.S." -- as Ledeen did with Iran in the 1980s if his central premise is to be believed -- is called treason.

As I've documented previously, one of the most intellectually dishonest attributes of neoconservatives generally -- one of the principal features that makes them such a corrosive presence in our political discourse -- is their fondness for trafficking in innuendo and argument by implication. They love to spew out vague phrases filled with obvious, implied meaning yet they virtually always lack the courage to explicitly state what they are trying to convey. They will say things like "it's time to get our hands dirty in this war" or "we need to stop being so politically correct in how we fight" or "it's time that there be real consequences for those who undermine America in a time of war," but they will be too afraid to specify exactly what they are advocating even when asked to do so.

Examples of this neoconservative intellectual cowardice are too numerous to chronicle. As I noted in that prior post, after AEI's Michael Rubin kept spewing out warmongering slogans regarding Iran, he was pressed by Andrew Stuattaford on what we should do specifically (invade them? bomb them? what?), and Rubin finally wrote: "With regard to much more precise options, such things are better discussed in private, and I would be glad to do so."

That same week, Mark Levin pounded his chest and wrote about a NYT article which he claimed "gives up more of our strategic secrets": "I long for the good old days when Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, punished such acts of betrayal. And no, I am not joking." But he refused to say what he meant when I emailed and asked specifically what he had in mind -- hanging or imprisoning reporters and editors? In 2005, Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard ominously urged that the White House issue "a clear delineation of what's permissible and what's out of bounds in dissent on Iraq" without bothering to say what that means. And super tough guy Frank Gaffney, after he got caught using a fake Lincoln quote in his column implying that anti-war Senators be hanged for treason, then meekly refused to say what he really thought should be done to such traitors.

One would hope that with the Existential War of Civilizations -- World War IV -- raging, our most courageous Churchillian Warriors wouldn't be so passive about what they believe. But alas, arguing by implicit smears and deniable innuendo -- and lacking the courage of one's convictions to state clearly what one is implying -- is perfectly compatible with a character which calls for endless wars to be fought by others.

Along those lines, I had the following e-mail exchange with Michael Ledeen today, whose views on these matters -- in light of his new book, the various and increasingly absurd Iran "controversies", and his status as favorite right-wing Iran "expert" -- I really was hoping to probe in order to write about. This is the exchange with the emails printed verbatim and in their entirety:

GG to ML

Mr. Ledeen - I'm writing a piece for Salon on your new book. I am curious about one issue in particular -- if, as you frequently say (including this morning), "Iran declared war on us in 1979 and has been waging it ever since," do you consider it to be an act of treason for those in the Reagan administration who helped facilitate the sale of highly sophisticated weapons to Iran during the 1980s, during the time when they were waging war against the U.S.?

Isn't it the ultimate act of treason to help a country at war with the U.S. obtain weapons? Any thoughts you have to be included in the article would be appreciated.

Glenn Greenwald

GG to ML

While I have you - one other question: yesterday, you indicated that Gen. Abizaid had "suppressed" evidence of Iranian acts of war inside Iraq. Do you have any ideas as to what motivated him to do so?

Glenn Greenwald

ML to GG (re: arming Iran)

As I wrote at the time, quoting Talleyrand, "it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder."

ML to GG (re: Abizaid)

it's all in the book, which i'm sure you are memorizing.

GG to ML

But was it treason to work to provide arms to a country at war with the U.S.?

ML to GG

listen, i've answered you twice. you've slandered me from pillar to post, please stop being rude.

GG to ML

It's true that you responded to my emails, but you didn't actually answer the question. I'll include the email exchange and let the reader decide if you did.

Glenn Greenwald

That wasn't very constructive. Ledeen is perfectly content to urge war with Iran based on the moronic slogan -- now a right-wing article of faith -- that they have been "at war with us since 1979," but he is completely unwilling to account for his own behavior or that of the Reagan administration towards Iran during that time. And he's eager to leave all sorts of dark innuendo about Gen. Abizaid ("suppressing evidence" of Iranian acts of war) but refuses to state what he means or why he thinks Abazaid would engage in such treacherous behavior.

This is how neoconservatives function. Ledeen's intellectually dishonest tactic is found in virtually every one of Bill Kirstol's columns and Fox News television sneers. For instance, Kristol -- attacking Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's invitation to New Adolph Hitler President Ahmadinejad to speak -- says today: "A perfect synecdoche for too much of American higher education: they are friendlier to Ahmadinejad than to the U.S. military." So is Bollinger anti-American? A Traitor? As always, Kristol merely leaves the dirty innuendo against anyone who opposes more wars against Israel's enemies, but always lacks the courage explicitly to make the argument.

As noted, the Commander-in-Chief himself has spent the last couple of days wallowing in this tactic. In addition to his adoption of this smear at his Press Conference this morning, the President also -- during one of the little meetings yesterday he is so fond of holding with adoring sycophants calling themselves "journalists" -- announced about the MoveOn ad, with a proud Bill Kristol present: "this attack was not just on General Petraeus, it was on the military up and down the line." Kristol, the True Expert in such innuendo, then added:

For to accuse Petraeus of cooking the books is to accuse a host of his subordinates and staff of colluding with him in lying to Congress and the American public. And to remain silent in the face of this slander. . . is to show a striking lack of concern for the reputation and honor of the American military."

Why do Democrats have such a "striking lack of concern for the reputation and honor of the American military"? Why are war opponents attacking "the military up and down the line"? Do they hate the military? Are they anti-American? Are they rooting for the Terrorists to win? The swaggering Commander-in-Chief and his resolute warrior-followers will never say. They lack the courage to say what they imply. They constantly opt instead to argue by unstated implications and lurking innuendo and smears. Whatever else that might be, courageous and resolute it isn't.

UPDATE: In fairness to the neoconservatives and their cowardly smearing tactics, one could argue that it is rational for them to continue to wield them given how effective they are against Congressional Democrats, who are well on their way to making the Democratic Party the single most pathetic political entity one can recall encountering:

Senate Condemns MoveOn Ad [Byron York]

The Senate has just passed, with 70+ votes, the Cornyn Amendment, which reads:

To express the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.

York went on to note, helpfully, that "No Republican voted against condemning the MoveOn ad," but Democrats split 22-25 in favor of the Resolution. Congratulations to Dianne Feinstein, Pat Leahy, Jim Webb and 19 other Senate Democrats for finally finding something they can get done with the control of the Congress given to them by the American voter. Nobody can say anymore that they have achieved nothing.

By condemning the largest and most active anti-war organization in the country, at least Bill Kristol won't say anything mean about them. It's too bad they have never found the time or inclination to pass resolutions condemning the endless attacks on the patriotism and integrity of war opponents, including decorated combat veterans within their own party. Is there anything left to say about how barren and worthless these Senate Democrats are? I can't find anything.

UPDATE II: There is a lot of good commentary around regarding the indescribably stupid hysteria generated by the proposed visit to Ground Zero by Iranian President Ahmadinejad. I linked to some of that commentary above. I actually set out to write about this matter earlier today but found the reaction so utterly infantile that I couldn't really find a way to say anything constructive about it.

Fortunately, Josh Marshall has now written the perfect post, expressing all of the points that ought to be made. Both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are at the center of this, competing with one another -- as usual -- to see who can be more extreme, as they vie for the affection of the Civilization Warriors who think they own 9/11 and who believe that every vaguely unfriendly Muslim and/or Arab is responsible for it. I recommend highly reading Josh's post.

UPDATE III: Attaturk has made a critical find for the Nation. The Senate must convene, overnight, one of those dramatic emergency sessions which it heroically called to save Terri Schiavo, this time to condemn National Review, Jonah Goldberg, and an active duty military member for slandering our Troops -- in a Time of War no less -- as follows:

Anyway, just wanted to give a perspective on Wesley Clark from the active-duty side of things. . . . [N]othing that Clark has said or done has surprised me in the least. Why? Because he acts just like the vast majority of general officers that it has been my displeasure to deal with during my 16 years in the U.S. military. . . . . There are a few good generals here and there but most of them are an embarrassment.

Generals are dishonest. This is a tricky charge to throw out, but it's the sad truth. I've seen more out-and-out lies from general officers than any other people in the military. In a weird way, they are just like professional politicians in this regard.

The Senate cannot stand by quietly while NR and Goldberg defame our men and women in harm's way. The Senate formally announced today that it "strongly condemn[s] personal attacks on the honor and integrity of . . . all members of the United States Armed Forces" and must act against this anti-military slur from our nation's leading conservative pro-war magazine. This is just despicable.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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