Conversations with Machiavelli's Ghost, Part 3

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Monday March 20, 2006

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In the final installment of a series of interviews with RAW STORY Managing News Editor Larisa Alexandrovna, controversial Neoconservative scholar and Iran Contra figure Michael Ledeen denounces his reputation as a Neo-Fascist, criticizes the Bush administration's personnel decisions with regard to high level officials, and calls for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The most striking comment Ledeen makes is in reference to Osama bin Laden as having died in Iran late last year, echoing already long circulated accounts that bin Laden has been presumed dead for some time now.

In describing the Iraq war, Ledeen explains that he had strongly advised against the plan, saying that the invasion of Iraq was the "Wrong war, wrong time, wrong way, wrong place."

Ledeen also describes National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley as in a state of permanent "deputy" status. Hadley was Deputy National Security Advisor under now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ledeen provides a rather telling comparison of the Hadley/Rice relationship by using a precursor:

"I think Hadley is to Rice as Scowcroft was to Kissinger; not inclined to think or act independently," said Ledeen.

Other highlights include Ledeen's definition of the controversial concept of "Creative Destruction," as well as his hope for a bipartisan foreign policy solution in which different view points would stop "borking" one another: "We can't keep on Borking each other, describing one another in ugly caricatures, and refusing to think through what are, after all, often very difficult issues," says Ledeen.

Part I of this series, The Democratic Revolutionary

Part II of the series, aptly titled Dymistifying Intrigue

Staffing the Deck:

Iraq through a 911 Lens

RS): I want to revisit what we briefly touched upon with regard to the Iraq war and pre-war intelligence, but I want to continue from a different vantage point. Let's begin with the attacks of September 11, 2001. Do you think the attacks could have been and should have been avoided? Were there enough warnings? If so, where did the failure, in your opinion, occur?

ML): Wrong war, wrong time, wrong way, wrong place. As I said at the time. The key to the terror structure was and is Iran, and we should have started by supporting democratic revolution in Iran, not invading any place. And even if you decided to 'do' Iraq first, it should have been political first, and military second-if-necessary. I proposed declaring the 'no fly zones' to be 'free Iraq,' and then dropping leaflets on the country urging Iraqis to go govern themselves, preparing for the fall of the regime.

RS): Why do you think we have failed in democratic endeavors with regard to Iran?

ML): I think the CIA is both incompetent and unwilling to find and report the truth about Iran. They are afraid some president will tell them to get active in Iran, and they don't know where to start. To get the top al Qaeda people you would have to go into Iran, where most of them spend most of their time, and the CIA isn't up to that.

We still have no Iran policy, and we are trying to win a regional war while playing defense in one country alone. That is a sucker's game.

RS): Why do you think we did not and are not out chasing leads for Osama bin Laden and other high level Al Qaeda members?

ML): I wrote several weeks ago that I was told bin Laden died in Iran in mid-December, 2005. I trust the (Iranian) person who told me, but it's easy for even the best people to get such things wrong, so time will tell. Thus far there is no sign he's alive, and Zawahiri acts more and more like the commander.

RS): So will someone be letting us know about this or is the myth of him needed?

ML): Great question, to which I don't have the answer. I doubt Zawahiri wants to say he's dead (if indeed he is dead), that would not be good news. More likely we won't know for a while, unless he's alive and shows himself.

RS): What in your opinion defines a post-911 world? What separates it from a pre-911 world?

ML): The recognition by more people than before that we are under attack, as we have been for more than a quarter of a century.

RS): In responding to the attacks of 911, do you think we failed in any meaningful way to both secure the nation and to address terrorism?

ML): The world's leading supporter of terrorism, the Iranian regime, is still in power, and racing toward nuclear capacity. Ditto for the terror masters in Damascus. And it's obvious that our security systems are not as good as they should be. Have you been through an airport recently?

RS): Yes, I know what you mean, but what do you make of the Dubai port deal in this context? It seems to me that we, the US, are entering it from a point of weakness. National security has been used by this administration to justify everything under the sun, including illegal domestic surveillance programs.

The Dubai port deal has essentially exposed that national security is nothing more than a political ploy for this administration. The gamble is not worth it, especially not during such a high stakes election cycle. Why would the Bush/Cheney administration expose themselves like this if their hand was not being forced on the issue? Perhaps I am not seeing another element to this whole thing.

ML): I don't agree that national security is just a political ploy. I think the president takes it very seriously, and I also think the NSA program is legal. Obviously the Democrats now see that, since they are retreating.

RS): The NSA spying program is not legal, maybe justified in intent, but not remotely legal. Even if the FISA was not adequate, as some have argued, the White House was obligated to seek new legislation or corrections to already existing legislation, not simply ignore the law until found out. I don't know one credible legal scholar, from every side of every aisle, who would say that domestic surveillance without a warrant is legal. Again, we can speculate if it is justified or not, but it is hardly legal.

ML): I know plenty of legal scholars who think it's perfectly legal. Do you read Power Line blog? Andy McCarthy? Maybe the Supreme Court will pronounce on it some day.

RS): No, I have not read Power Line. But let's move on to the other part of my question. What about the Dubai deal? Why do you think it was pushed so hard?

ML: The problem with the Dubai deal is that they did it all wrong. It was a mid-level bureaucratic decision (no political people, hence no political sensitivity), they had a template, the case fit inside their template, and that was that. Von Mises teaches us that "bureaucrats don't solve problems, they apply the rules," and in this case they even applied the wrong rules. They should have used the old model, which would have required a kind of firewall between the U.S. operations and the foreign owners. That method has been used in dozens of cases, and satisfies most reasonable people.

Iraq In Chaos

RS): Secretary Rice, who at the time of the attacks of 911 was the National Security Advisor, was promoted. Stephen Hadley, who was at the time of the attacks the Deputy National Security Advisor, was also promoted. George Tenent was awarded with a medal. These are just a few examples of what is mind boggling in terms of incompetence and chaos.
Let's talk about Iraq against this backdrop. What do you think are the reasons that have contributed most greatly to the mess, the civil war, we are now seeing in Iraq? Is it reliance on the same circle of people who are not qualified?

ML): There is no civil war in Iraq, much as many people seem to wish. I keep saying that the Nobel Peace Prize should go to the Iraqi people. It would certainly be understandable if there were a civil war, but they have not fallen for it, despite the massacres of civilians by the terrorists.

RS): We can debate what to call the mess in Iraq, but the terrorists there are there in large numbers now and unified under a mission flag by the war we started. I don't think anyone wants this thing to fail; failure means dead bodies piling up. I don't think people would wish for so much death. What should/could we have done differently?

ML): The main failure in Iraq is to have misconceived the nature of the war, to have chosen the wrong target to begin with, and to have refused to launch a political challenge to the other terror masters. Most of the violence in Iraq would end if there were political freedom in Iran and Syria.

I agree that personnel is the weak point of this administration, and very few people have been held accountable for failure. Tenet should have been fired on the 12th of September, 2001. Rice is better than Powell, but not good enough, and Hadley is still her deputy. The NSC is extremely weak, and Rumsfeld should have been replaced long since.

RS): what do you mean Hadley is "still her deputy?" Who do you think should replace Rumsfeld? Is he not taking direct orders from Cheney, Addington, etc.?

ML): I think Hadley is to Rice as Scowcroft was to Kissinger; not inclined to think or act independently. I think the next SecDef should be a top notch manager, the Pentagon desperately needs smooth management instead of trying to function in constant crisis mode. And no, I don't think Rumsfeld is a puppet for anyone else. It's a hilarious idea, actually.

RS): Has this whole thing not turned out rather badly for Israel, as we have previously discussed? What do you think is the solution to this crisis now, given the situation, not just for Israel but for other nations in the region?

ML): Israel's stuck, as far as I can tell. The Arab-Israeli conflict cannot even be sensibly addressed until the war is over. The Palestinians cannot deliver what Israel needs, which is security, because the terrorists are in the hands of the terror masters in Tehran and Damascus and Riyadh. So what exactly are the Israelis supposed to do?

RS): You have told me before about your distrust of the CIA and other intelligence agencies regarding pre-war intelligence relating to Iraq. Is it specifically the CIA or American intelligence agencies in general? What is the history of this distrust and frustration?

ML): Pick your favorite commission report, everybody finds the same disaster. Everyone who looks seriously at our intelligence community emits a primal scream.

RS): Okay, I pick the 911 Commission Report; it is a bestseller after all. The CIA figures in here a great deal, yet the President gave Tenet a medal. But they are hardly the main character. NORAD, NSA, NSC, FAA, FBI all appear to have failed on that day, either through the leadership at the helm of each or through miscommunication based on a flawed design. So why has not a single person been fired? Why is such incompetence rewarded?

ML): Beats me, I've been yelling about it for nearly four years.

RS): Doesn't the "buck" stop at the White House, not the agencies it relies on? Ultimately, one can blame all of these agencies who failed to do their jobs on that day, but the President had ample warning from all of them, and the President ignored those warnings. Yet even after that, the President promoted most of the people in charge of those agencies. To me that smells of not only incompetence but an attempt to silence those that could expose an administratin so self-absorbed that it fell asleep at the wheel on the single most important issue for the country. There is no other way to see it, is there?

ML): There are lots of ways to see it, but you are right that the ultimate responsibility lies in the Oval Office.

Politics of Empire and Fascism

RS): Some have noted that the US has been empire building since the late seventies. Do you think we are empire building?

ML): No, quite the opposite. We are always in a rush to bring the boys (and now the girls) home. Often too early.

RS): Was Vietnam too early?

ML): I have no idea

RS): Much has been made of your identifying with neo-Fascism, specifically with the idea of perpetual war. Can you explain a reason for perpetual war and how the concept of "creative destruction" applies to perpetual war as well as peace? Is the war on terror the realization of perpetual war? If yes, do you feel that you may have contributed directly or indirectly to the process? If not, what is the war on terror then and how would you describe it?

ML): Of all the nonsense spread about me, the most outrageous is the claim that I have ever had the slightest sympathy for fascism. I spent fifteen years or so in the fascist archives, trying to figure out how such a terrible thing could have happened. I have always been an open enemy of all totalitarian movements, from fascism and Nazism to communism and jihadism. It is entirely fanciful to suggest that someone who studies evil somehow sympathizes with it. Tout comprendre is NOT tout pardonner. My work on fascism has stood up very well, several of my books are still in print, and there is now a second generation of work on subjects I was the first to identify as important, such as the efforts to create a fascist international in the late twenties and early thirties.

"Creative destruction" comes from an entirely different context. The phrase is Schumpeter's, and he used it to describe the effect of capitalism on society. I found it particularly descriptive of American character, because we are always tearing down old things and building new ones, whether in art or literature or intellectual fads or business or sports. It's part of our national DNA, as it were. And I have sometimes applied it to the happy outcomes of some of our international campaigns, as when we brought democracy to Italy, Germany and Japan after the Second World War.

I don't know what, if anything, that has to do with war and peace, those are much bigger issues. Generally, I think that man is a warlike animal. Anyone who studies human history has to agree that most of it is the history of war or the preparation for war. It's sad, but there you have it.

RS): We are tearing down a great deal, that is correct, but we rarely rebuild it. One need only look at countries that have been exploited by US creativity and corporate interests and what little is left of them when our corporations go in to rebuild the very thing they were involved in taking down. We are three years into Iraq and Halliburton is busy building something, but it is not rebuilding the basics needed for Iraq's stability.

It does apply to war and peace, but I think there is some romanticizing going on with what Germany was, for example. Germany, as we had discussed in part one of this series, was first torn down when it was already a democracy and rebuild by western interests into a war machine, destroyed again, and rebuilt into a democracy.

ML): That's not my understanding of German history. They built their own war machine.

I have obviously failed to explain what "creative destruction" is all about. Look at America alone. Look at all the corporations that used to exist, indeed that used to dominate their industries: Woolworth's, Pan Am, TWA, Bell Labs, and so on. All gone. It's the nature of American capitalism. On their graves, so to speak, we now have a galaxy of very new corporations, from Microsoft and Apple to Google and Southwest. Ditto for sports dynasties, political dynasties, buildings large and small, mafia chieftains, you name it. Americans love it when the big guys fall, and we love it when little guys rise. That's what I'm talking about. It's not "corporations" doing this or that.

RS): This may be a stupid assumption, but I don't see the corporate model you talk about. Bell Lab still exists in smaller pieces and is now trying to reform into a monolith it once was. TWA was absorbed by American Airlines in 2001. Pan Am is now in its third iteration and, again, absorbed by something bigger than itself. If anything, corporations have simply absorbed other smaller companies and emerged as mega-corporations, whereby a few large corporations have a monopoly on several markets. And now with the global marketplace, what we are seeing is not so much the rise and fall of corporations, but the subjugation of state government and its citizens to the interests of corporations.

ML): You can't find PanAm on a stock exchange, or a Woolworth's in America, while Bell Labs doesn't exist as such, it's part of other things now. Somehow you've accepted a bizarre notion of American capitalism.

LA): All of that said, you must allow that some of your comments and some of your theories on policy are very much reflective of the very philosophy you have tried to repudiate, no?

ML): No. I have always tried to advance freedom, never tyranny.

LA): Take for example:

"And we have strengths and weaknesses in this war. Our weaknesses are our poor education and our embrace of all kinds of silly ideas; foremost among which is the ideas that peace is the normal condition of mankind. Only a country devoted to the systematic ignorance of human history could believe a thing like this because war is the normal condition of mankind."

ML): That's an accurate historical statement, not advocacy. Peace is very rare, war is a commonplace.

LA): I think it is an interesting analysis and has some truth to it, but I do dispute some of it as fact, yes. While I agree that the last few centuries have been war with little peace, I do not agree that war is the normal condition of mankind. I think survival is the normal and primal condition of mankind, not violence and chaos. What separates us from animals is our ability to choose how we will survive: diplomacy vs. war and so forth. The whole point of progress is to move toward the better parts of ourselves. Most people, if asked to kill someone so that they may take that person's house, will not do it. The idea of embracing what is believed to be our inner warmonger rings very Fascist to me. Does it not to you?

ML): You keep asking when I stopped beating my wife. I am not advocating war; I am saying that it is a very common human activity. I don't like it. But it's true.

RS): Okay, no more wife beating then. What about this example:

"Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence our existence, not our politics threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission."

What gives America the right to "undo traditional societies?"

ML): I did not say that we have a right to undo traditional societies, I said that we are a revolutionary people that constantly tears down the old order. Sometimes it's creative, sometimes it makes a mess, and sometimes it produces awful results. You really must stop suggesting that descriptions are the same thing as policy advocacy.

RS): I apologize if I have given the impression that I equate descriptions with policy advocacy. Let me try a different way. There are observations and descriptions that are codified into policy, rightly or wrongly, and those policies either through force or through advocacy become conditions that we later look back on as descriptions or, as you say, historic mission.

When mankind is defined to be naturally warlike and that opinion becomes coded into policy, is that not when we see the very things you describe occur?

What I am trying to ask is if you do not see how defining something as evil, for example, and then acting as an advisor on government affairs where that definition of evil becomes policy could be seen as advocacy on the part of the person defining the evil to begin with? Can you then appreciate why so many people have confused your observations and/or descriptions with Fascism, given the current US policy?

ML): It's precisely fascism and oppressive regimes that I define as evil, and seek to defeat. It's outrageous to be accused of defending the very thing I am trying to destroy, just as it's outrageous to be accused by the likes of Vince Cannistraro of being involved in the Niger forgeries, which is totally groundless. People just make up things, and then I'm supposed to defend myself against their fantasies.

We disagree on the nature of man, and I must say I admire your optimism, given that you have often seen and experienced the dark side. As for human progress, well, no one can dispute that the twentieth century was the most terrible in human history, so I remain puzzled by folks who think we're improving. I don't see it.

RS): I think we can improve if the model of man's warlike nature is not something that continues to be embraced as the natural state of man.

How would you describe democracy? Is America still a democracy? How do you describe fascism (I know you have written about it extensively, but I cannot quote whole books, so if you could simply find a way of doing a short version, that would be great).

ML): Democracy is a political system in which the people choose their own leaders and the rules by which they are governed. So yes, America is a democratic political system.

RS): What if the state and corporate interests privatize the "choosing" of leaders, thereby making it impossible for anyone to really know the truth of who was chosen? Take the last election, both here and in my former stomping ground in Ukraine. In the latter, the exit polls differed so drastically from the results that the people took to the streets and American leaders agreed with them. Here in the US, where the mathematical anomalies were seen across the nation and the exit polls vs. the actual results were so differing, what happened?

ML): I don't know about the Ukraine, probably it was a stolen election. Here, some folks went nuts over early exit polls when they shouldn't have. At AEI our polling people all said, categorically, nobody should pay any attention to them.

Fascism is a single-party dictatorship in which the dictator determines the rules and imposes them on the people, using mass mobilization as the basic method of inspiring loyalty.

That is the main difference between fascism and communism; communist regimes do not try to engage the masses in political activity.

Pre-emptive war, Iran, and WMD

RS): What do you make of the administration's policy to use, preemptively, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons?

ML): Nothing, since it hasn't happened and I haven't heard it advocated. The so-called doctrine of preemptive war is very old and the essence of common sense, since the alternative is to tell your enemies they will always have the first shot. No one running on that platform would ever win an election.

RS): It was just released by the administration. Read here.

ML): You've misread the grammar: it does not say Bush wants to use WMDs, it says we should take preemptive action against enemies who have WMD.

RS): I never said "wants to", I simply asked what you thought of the policy. In any case, can he or should he? Whether he wants to or not is not really the point, the mechanism is the point and that mechanism is lethal.

On Jews, Muslims, and the Strategy of Tension

RS): Do you think that the West has abused the rift between the Muslims and Jews by playing both sides against each other in order to create a permanent strategy of tension? If so, what do you cite as the latest example?

ML): I don't think that "the West" has played Jews and Muslims against one another. A lot of contemporary Muslim anti-Semitism came from the West, specifically from the Nazis, so in that sense one can argue that European anti-Semitism was successfully transplanted into parts of the Muslim world.

RS): America and Europe fully support the Saudi regime, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist and which funds many of the terrorist activities we see playing out, while at the same time supporting Israel. America and Europe turns a blind eye to Pakistan and its role in literally creating a nuclear Middle East, but then wants to attack Iran for purchasing centrifuge blueprints on the grounds that Iran's not-remotely operational nuke program is threatening Israel. Halliburton has offices in Tehran and works to help Iran with its not- remotely operational nuclear program, but Dick Cheney rattles the saber using Israel's survival as the reason.

I could go on and on really, everything from arming the PLO while at the same time arming Israel, to the right leaning politics of blaming American support for Israel as the reason for the attacks of September 11th.

There is something very wrong with this picture, is there not?

ML): Indeed. It seems impossible for some of our policy makers to recognize that some countries are simultaneously friends and enemies. In the Dubai debate, for example, the administration kept saying "but they are our friends, look at all the good things they have done." True enough. But they are also friends of Iran, and they have done good things for the mullahs, too, from weapons smuggling to money laundering. And they're part of the boycott of Israel.

Ditto for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both have helped and hurt us. Both are profoundly corrupt, as Dubai. Both would behave better if we were clearer and more forceful about the things we don't like. I mean, how can we call the Saudis our friends when they fund and operate the world-wide network of radical jihadi mosques and schools that breeds the next generation of Islamic terrorists?

If we end up bombing Iran it will demonstrate a terrible failure of American policy. We should have worked for non-violent regime change years ago. And here the reactionary left has a big share of the blame, having reflexively supported the mullahs all these years.

RS): Is there any chance for a sensible bipartisan foreign policy in the United States?

ML): Only if we stop demonizing and dehumanizing our opponents. We can't keep on Borking each other, describing one another in ugly caricatures, and refusing to think through what are, after all, often very difficult issues. That means one has to have respect for the facts. I don't believe it's possible for people to call me the names I've been called if they have actually read what I have written, and at least some of it comes from people who have simply accepted hateful stereotypes of "neocons."

There are some concrete things we can do that might improve the situation. One thing is to give victims of libel a better chance to be "made whole" in court. I'm all for rough-and-tumble debate, as you've seen. But I think that when people accuse me of actions that never took place, I should be able to take them to trial, demonstrate my innocence, and collect damages.

RS): I know you are pursuing legal action against the Italian publication La Republica.

ML): I think that might encourage people to be more careful with their accusations, and correct the record when they are exposed, or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, when they discover they have been misled. I have made mistakes in print, and I try to correct them. I am grateful to readers who correct me. I don't find that attitude among my attackers, on both political poles. Do you?

RS): I don't know in your specific case what has been said and by whom exactly. I do know in my case I have been described as having reported something I had never reported, and that straw man is then used to discount other works of mine.

ML): We badly need to change certain aspects of our behavior, and the main one is to stop trying to criminalize policy disagreements. I have fairly low expectations of human nature, so I am not surprised when people make mistakes. But when that happens, the important thing for all of us is to advance understanding, not liquidate the idiot who did it (there is a long line of similar idiots waiting for that job, after all). So even if you think that Bush has done everything wrong, your response should be to list the errors and suggest better alternatives, not to call him names or clamor for impeachment, which will only make the administration dig in deeper and make any change far less likely.

RS): The whole issue with this administration is not that they made mistakes, because as you say all people and groups of people make mistakes. The issue is really twofold: The administration will not listen to suggestions to begin with, then when things go badly, they won't correct the course they are on based on still more suggestions. We just discussed above the promotion of the very people who keep failing, failure upwards as it were. I think impeachment is not only a proper legal course when there is at best criminal negligence (lack of accountability, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, etc.) and maybe even worse, but it is ethically the thing that must be done in an actual democracy when the leadership violates domestic and international law and abuses its power. The time has passed to push for change with this administration or to make still more suggestions. That has been tried and rebuffed over and over. There is too much death, distrust, abuse of power, abuse of basic human rights, for us to now say that we should all have a group hug not if we want to call this a democracy.

ML): If crimes have indeed been committed, they should be prosecuted and punished, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about policy disagreements that are transformed into prosecutions.

RS): Violating Geneva is not a policy disagreement, it is a crime.