Right From the Beginning
How quickly time flies, and how much more quickly they forget? It was ten years ago that I flew to Washington to see Pat Buchanan with a proposal in mind. Scott McConnell was with me, and the deal we presented to Pat was a new magazine whose sole purpose would be to recapture traditional conservatism from the hijackers of the movement, namely the neo-cons, back then, as now, riding high and Iago-like whispering in W’s ears about an end to evil.
Pat immediately agreed. “But where’s the money coming from?” I swallowed hard, and pointed at my chest. “That’s great,” said Pat, “when do we start?” It was as simple as that. Pat runs a dry house, which was a bit of a letdown, but I did get rather drunk that evening in Café Milano. They say that owning a yacht is like sitting under a shower tearing up $100 bills. Financing a political magazine is less fun. It’s like sitting in a drab D.C. hotel room throwing $1,000 bills into a flickering fire. But I didn’t mind. This was six years before the you-know-what hit the fan, and the neocons were going over the top, conflating Israel’s interests with America’s, demanding that Uncle Sam go to war against Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and cheer-leading for American “benevolent global hegemony.”
The neocons back then—as now—had something very good going for them: namely, the ability of the American people to forget rather easily. In 2002 their rallying cry was the same one they had been preaching for decades, that wars are caused by appeasers, and that it was tough guys like W who do the unpopular thing and stand up to dictators. The media were like groupies allowed inside a rock star’s hotel suite. Ready to obey and strip.
Time dulls memory and makes it hard to evoke the war fever of those days, weeks, and months leading up to the greatest disaster ever for Uncle Sam’s foreign policy. The ground had been prepared by the usual suspects, the Podhoretzes, Kristols, Feiths, Perles, and Wolfowitzes of this world. Those of us who opposed the war were seen not only as unpatriotic, in a climate reminiscent of the Moscow purges, but also as anti-Semites, America Firsters, racist scum. Attending the funeral of a common friend with William F. Buckley, I noticed Norman Podhoretz about to have a seizure when Bill and I sat next to him. “Nothing to do with you, Bill,” I whispered. (Buckley, sitting on my boat three years later, told me that had he known then what he knew at present, he would have never backed the war. I asked if I could quote him and he said, “please do.”)
For a start up The American Conservative did rather well straight off the bat. Buchanan’s loyal readers had us selling close to ten thousand after couple of issues. Just before we published, we held a press conference in the National Press Club in D.C. It opened my eyes to the hostility of the so-called press. Most of the questions I faced were about my drug bust 25 years previously and whether the Saudis were financing the mag. The dwarfish Bill Kristol had prepared the way by making personal attacks against me, but in view of the fact I had always called him a smiling cobra and a Likud propagandist, that was to be expected. The Saudi query was simply malicious. I loathe the Saudis on a par with the Likudists, but I guess D.C. journalists are too busy trying to get access to the powerful to do any homework.
Our first cover story was written by Eric Margolis and ran as follows: “Iraq folly. How Victory Could Spell American Defeat.” Now just think about this. Tom Fleming in Chronicles aside, we were the only conservatives who not only warned that Saddam had no weapons to speak of, we also stated unequivocally that military victory would spell defeat. Ten years later, all we have to do is change a letter, from a Q to an N, from Iraq to Iran. The same slimy types are again beating the war drums.
Neocons only looked dead when the Iraqi disaster became obvious even to people as thick as W, but they are a resilient bunch, like flu bugs, and are back with a vengeance. Now it’s Assad and the ayatollahs who are about to blow us up, so we are helping the very same Syrians who are financed by the Saudis and Qataris and who will one day soon be killing Americans wherever they find them. I spent a lot of money financing TAC, and although I say so myself, it really was worth it. We always knew who the fifth columnists were. One day in the future, when history is written, more than just us will come to know it. Happy tenth anniversary!