Friday, February 20, 2009

In Denial

A recent Gallup poll found that two-thirds of the US public want investigations into the crimes of the Bush Administration. Could that be the reason that Richard Perle, one of that Administration's inner circle and one of the chief architects of the war on Iraq, is now publicly denying not only that he had anything to do with Bush's policies, but even that he is a neoconservative? One of the Washington Post's regular political columnists, Dana Milbank, writes in a column titled "Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence":

Listening to neoconservative mastermind Richard Perle at the Nixon Center yesterday, there was a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.

In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack. But at yesterday's forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:

1. Perle is not a neoconservative.

2. Neoconservatives do not exist.

3. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn't be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.

"There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy," Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. "It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy."

So what about the 1996 report he co-authored that is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy? "My name was on it because I signed up for the study group," Perle explained. "I didn't approve it. I didn't read it."

Mm-hmm. And the two letters to the president, signed by Perle, giving a "moral" basis to Middle East policy and demanding military means to remove Saddam Hussein? "I don't have the letters in front of me," Perle replied.

Right. And the Bush administration National Security Strategy, enshrining the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom? "I don't know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements," Perle maintained. "My guess is he didn't."

Perle, according to Milbank, even went so far yesterday as to imply that neoconservativism is a mythology invented by journalists:

At times, the Prince of Darkness turned on his questioners. Fielding a question from the Financial Times, he said that the newspaper "propagated this myth of neoconservative influence." He informed Stefan Halper of Cambridge University that "you have contributed significantly to this mythology."

"There are some 5,000 footnotes," Halper replied. "Documents that you've signed."

But documents did not deter denials. "I've never advocated attacking Iran," he said, to a few chuckles.

You can read Milbank's column (which includes a video clip) here.

His audience apparently thought the whole exercise of denial and disavowal a joke. I myself don't find his performance in the least entertaining. Sure, it'd make a great skit on Saturday Night Live. But for me, the real-life effects of the policies he shares responsibility for, weighed in the balance, makes such clownish behavior disgusting rather than amusing.


Josh said...

Ever since I heard Elvis Costello contrast disgust and amusement, I've been nonplussed by how many Gentiles seem to think the two affects are incompatible. For all his shortcomings, I'm glad that Bérubé is an exception.

Timmi Duchamp said...

Hmm. I didn't sense any actual disgust present in Berube's his amusement. Satire generally keeps the disgust at bay, don't you think? (Else it wouldn't be satire.)

I've been trying to think of examples in which disgust & amusement are paired, & all I've been able to come up with is the gross-out joke-- whether its verbal or slap-stick, or a real-life situation that strikes one as hilarious (for instance, the sorts of things toddlers achieve, either with their food or their personal waste products). But I find myself wondering if disgust is really, viscerally present when one's laughing one's ass off. Do many people find it possible to laugh when they're gagging or vomiting with revulsion? (No, reading or thinking about Perle et al doesn't make me literally vomit, though it certainly does raise my blood pressure & occasionally gives me heartburn.)

Perhaps you can give me an example to the contrary, Josh. But it seems that the funniness only comes when the potentially disgusting scene/situation is distanced & the disgust held effectively at arm's length.