Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been one of the few U.S. politicians willing to depart from accepted political discourse and announce, as she did last week, that U.S. politics has been captured by a “right-wing apparatus.”
Of course, Clinton has first-hand experience of this “apparatus,” which waged a tireless campaign against her husband when he was president. Back then, however, she made the mistake of describing the network of conservative activists, pundits, and funders as a “vast-right wing conspiracy,” a claim for which she was roundly denounced in the media and by political pundits. It never was a conspiracy, but the senator surely was on the right track.
On “Meet the Press,” Clinton assailed the Bush administration’s “radical ideas” such as eliminating overtime payments for workers. “I thought they wanted to undo everything Bill Clinton had done,” she said, “I took that a little personally…. Then I realized they’re taking aim at the New Deal.”
Sidney Blumenthal, author of The Clinton Wars, quoted Senator Clinton as concluding that there exists “an interlocking network of groups and individuals who want to turn the clock back on many of the advances our country has made, from civil rights and women’s rights to consumer and environmental regulation, and they use all the tools at their disposal–money, power, influence, media, and politics–to achieve their ends.” In hindsight, Clinton acknowledged that her description of this network as a “conspiracy” was inappropriate, but she has not deviated from her warning that a powerful complex of rightists is coordinating a “radical” political project.
Not So “Vast” Clinton may have also erred when she described the “right-wing apparatus” as being “vast.” Exploring this apparatus, one finds that is it extraordinarily compact and intertwined. A case in point is L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, who is profiled on Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/ind/bremer/bremer.html). Opening a press conference in which he announced the capture of Saddam Hussein, Bremer said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him!” Bremer, however, said nothing about the Bush administration’s arguments for the invasion–weapons of mass destruction and ties with Al Qaeda–that put himself and more than 125,000 U.S. troops, as well as some 20,000 employees of private contractors like Halliburton, in Iraq in the first place. Instead, he said that Hussein’s capture was a victory for Iraqis who suffered under his tyranny–echoing the administration’s revised rationale for the invasion.
Sometimes lauded in the press as a practical-minded administrator, an assessment of Bremer’s relations reveals a very different picture. Indeed, Bremer is a member of the “right-wing apparatus,” a person who maintains close ties with its corporate, neoconservative, think tank, and “realist” wings. He was a founding member of the Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT), a neocon-driven and pro-Likud Party group headed by William Bennett, the author of the Book of Virtues and self-appointed moral compass of America who castigates every moral weakness except one–gambling, which just happens to be his own particular personal poison.
Bremer’s speeches reflect the patriarchal and neo-imperial attitudes that have become commonplace in the writings and ideas of many social conservatives and neoconservatives. Two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bremer wrote: "Our retribution must move beyond the limp-wristed attacks of the past decade, actions that seemed designed to ‘signal’ our seriousness to the terrorists without inflicting real damage. Naturally, their feebleness demonstrated the opposite. This time the terrorists and their supporters must be crushed. But we must avoid a mindless search for an international ‘consensus’ for our actions. Tomorrow, we will know who our true friends are."
Bremer’s colleague, William Bennett, along with other AVOT founders Frank Gaffney and James Woolsey, is also at the center of Clinton’s “apparatus.” Bennett, Gaffney, and Woolsey are all supporters of the Project for the New American Century and Bennett is founder of Empower America, a social conservative organization. Like AVOT, Empower America receives financial support from Likudnik philanthropists such as AVOT adviser Lawrence Kadish, head of the American Jewish Coalition and a longtime financial supporter of new Israeli settlements in occupied territories. Interestingly, as Right Web contributor Jim Lobe has pointed out, besides being an abbreviation, the word “avot” means “the patriarchs” or “patriarchy” in Hebrew. In its forums and writings, AVOT directors and advisers have voiced strong support for the hard-line policies of Israel’s Likud Party.
After AVOT’s launch in March 2002, it arranged for Bremer, Gaffney, and other AVOT principals to speak at teach-ins on college campuses in support of the open-ended war on terrorism. In a sign of things to come, Bennett warned, “The commonalities of the domestic and foreign enemies stem from a hatred for the American freedom and equality.” He declared that AVOT and Empower America would concentrate their patriotism in fighting the war of “public opinion.” In a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on March 10, 2002, AVOT declared that “the best defense is a good offense” and noted that the “threats we face today are both external and internal.” Taking up the culture-war theme that Empower America popularized, AVOT warned of foreign “groups and states that want to attack us,” and said that domestically “there are those who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of ‘blame America first’.” AVOT beseeched U.S. citizens to fight the two fronts of the war on terrorism, an act that would “call us all to the better angels of our nature.”
Bremer, who remains listed as one of AVOT’s half-dozen senior advisers, participated in AVOT’s campus “teach-ins” to support the invasion and to combat the “internal” enemies of the war on terrorism. Bremer, who together with former Attorney General Edwin Meese cochaired Heritage Foundation’s terrorism task force, which created the blueprint for the Bush administration’s Homeland Security department, told an AVOT-sponsored forum at UCLA on March 4, 2003 that “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has clear connections with Al Qaeda. The intelligence is conclusive, these connections go back a decade. Top Al Qaeda leaders are even today, so far as we know, still in Baghdad. We know from the camps that were overrun in Afghanistan that Iraqi intelligence officials helped Al Qaeda develop and practice chemical and biological weapons. It is quite possible that when we get into the archives in Baghdad, after the war is over, we will find that these ties with Al Qaeda are even deeper and richer than we already know.” The U.S. has found no such evidence, however, which is why Bremer and the administration now trot out humanitarian reasons for an invasion that was not approved by the UN Security Council precisely because other security council members said there was not “good intelligence” that Iraq represented a current security threat to the United States or its neighbors.
At the same forum, Bremer alluded to the neocon policy agenda in the Middle East. “It’s going to take,” Bremer told the students, “most of your lifetimes to bring about the kinds of things we’ve talked about here tonight, dealing with this new kind of radical Islam and… bringing about a fundamental reordering of the political structures of countries in the Middle East.” (See http://www.avot.org/stories/storyReader$141 ) Bremer spoke at other AVOT-sponsored pro-war “teach-ins” around the country, such as one held at the Kraft Center for Jewish Life at Columbia University in February 2003. At a gathering of business leaders in Cincinnati shortly before the U.S. invasion, Bremer said: "We’re going to be on the ground in Iraq as soldiers and citizens for years. We’re going to be running a colony almost”–and as it turned out with Bremer becoming the Imperial Highness.
The well-connected Bremer not only travels in neocon circles but is also close to Republican Party national security “realists” such as Henry Kissinger, having served as the managing director of the Kissinger Group before forming his own terrorism consulting enterprise called Marsh Crisis Consulting.
Neocon, Realist, and “Big Oil” Architects of Power Figuring out who is calling the shots in U.S. foreign policy became further complicated last week after Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz announced that only corporations from countries that supported the Iraqi invasion would be eligible for U.S.-funded reconstruction contracts. President Bush immediately jumped in to support Wolfowitz, commending the controversial neocon as “doing an outstanding job to help make the world a safer and better place.”
William Kristol and Robert Kagan, cofounders of the Project for the New American Century, criticized the president last week on two occasions: one for cautioning Taiwan against any “unilateral” moves toward independence, and also for the “dumb” Pentagon policy on awarding contracts only to certain nations. However, only the week before Kagan and Kristol had anointed Bush as a “neoconservative” for recent speeches declaring, among other things, that democratizing the Middle East was part of the “plan of heaven for humanity” and part of America’s “calling” and the “design of Nature.” According to Kagan and Kristol, “Bush has broken from the mainstream of his party and become a neoconservative in the true meaning of the term. For if there is a single principle that today divides neoconservatism from traditional conservatism, it is the conviction that promotion of liberal democracy abroad is both a moral imperative and a profound national interest.”
It’s unlikely that Kagan and Kristol would characterize former Secretary of State James A. Baker III in the same glowing terms. Baker, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the first President Bush, has been called backed into national service–as a “special government employee”–with the assigned task of persuading France, Germany, and Russia to write off as much as $100 billion in Iraqi debt. President Bush called Baker’s assignment a “noble mission.” Baker is a “Big Oil” Republican, who was born into the Texas aristocracy. His family’s law firm, Baker Botts, is one of the largest in the nation, representing Halliburton among other major corporate clients. Another corporate connection that has raised concerns that he may personally benefit from his mission is his position as senior counselor to The Carlyle Group, which has been a major defense contractor and has investments in the Middle East, including close financial ties with the Saudi royal family.
The role of Big Oil in Washington’s foreign policy also came under fire last week when the Pentagon found that Halliburton, which has two contracts in Iraq whose total worth approaches $5 billion, of overcharging the government by at least $67 million. Vice President Cheney, who was defense secretary in the first Bush administration, served as chief executive of Halliburton from 1995 until 2000, when he joined the Republican ticket. In October, the vice president gave the keynote address at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, honoring James Baker as founder of the highly influential think tank ten years ago. The Houston-based Baker Institute has among other programs an Energy Forum, which is sponsored by Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Exxon Mobil, Kuwait Petroleum, BP, Chevron, and numerous other energy firms. Among the task force members of the institute’s April 2001 report, Strategic Energy Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century, was Kenneth Lay, chairman of Enron. After leaving the first Bush administration, Baker became a “consultant” to Enron. Baker has been closely tied through his law firm and banking investments to an array of energy firms such as Texaco, Zapata Offshore Company, Tenneco, and Pennzoil.
Last week another public figure, Robert Bartley, highly regarded by the Bush family, died. Bartley, former editor of the Wall Street Journal, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom–which is the highest civilian award–by the younger Bush. In honoring Bartley, who considered himself a neocon, President Bush said that Bartley “helped shape the times in which we live.” Jack Kemp, director of Empower America, said: “Bob Bartley’s legacy will endure, because without him, there would have been no Reagan revolution.” Bartley was a strong supporter of the Israeli hardliners and a close ally of such neocons as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Irving Kristol.
Bartley credited Irving Kristol, the so-called “godfather of neoconservatives,” for his political education. In the 1980s he said that Kristol, whom he hired as a columnist, “had a big influence on me. It was possible to be intellectual, erudite, and conservative. The demonstration of that was encouraging. You shouldn’t underestimate the National Review crowd, but they couldn’t have done it. They weren’t able to generate the same kind of support and acceptance in the intellectual community as the neoconservatives.” Kristol and Bartley teamed up to support Jude Wanniski, the neocon who popularized supply-side economics, which is distinguished by its promotion of tax cuts for the wealthy–an economic policy that debuted during the Reagan era and being reprised by the current Republican administration.
Tom Barry is Policy Director of the Interhemispheric Resource Center. Send feedback and suggestions of news items to include in This Week on the Right to <email@example.com>.