A Man, a Plan, a Cabal

Joel Bleifuss

Wars have a way of creating military heroes honored not for bravery on the battlefield but their willingness to follow their conscience and break ranks.In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, exposing the Vietnam War for the lie it was. One of today’s heroes is Karen Kwiatkowski, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, who retired in July after more than 20 years of service. Her last detail was a 10-month tour at the Pentagon’s Near East South Asia directorate. There she observed firsthand how the Office of Special Plans (OSP) formulated a “process of decision making for war not sanctioned by the Constitution we had all sworn to uphold.” Kwiatkowski, formerly a speechwriter for the National Security Agency director, told that story on Salon.com on March 10. (See “In Person” on Page 10).OSP was conceived days after September 11 by Paul Wolfowitz, deputy Secretary of Defense and a protégé of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. OSP’s director was Abram Shulsky, who worked for Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle in the Reagan administration. Both Shulsky and Wolfowitz are Straussians, that is, followers of political philosopher Leo Strauss. He directed both their dissertations at the University of Chicago, and his teachings guide their actions. It was out of the Office of Special Plans that, in the best Straussian tradition, the war in Iraq was conceived, packaged, sold and delivered.Kwiatkowski, explaining why she has “gone public” with her story, describes what she saw in this “well-appointed den of iniquity”:While the people were very much alive, I saw a dead philosophy—Cold War anti-communism and neo-imperialism—walking the corridors of the Pentagon. … I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president. While this commandeering of a narrow segment of both intelligence production and America foreign policy matched closely with the well-published desires of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of us in the Pentagon—conservatives and liberals alike—felt that this agenda, whatever its flaws, or merits, had never been openly presented to the America people. Instead, the public story line was a fear-peddling and confusing set of messages, designed to take Congress and the country into a war of executive choice, a war based on false pretenses, and a war one year later Americans do not really understand.Kwaitokowski provides an on-the-ground account of the OSP operations. The OSP, in effect, was a public relations outfit that produced “talking points on Iraq, WMD and terrorism.” They were propagandistic in style,” she writes, “and all desk officers were ordered to use them verbatim in the preparation of any material prepared for higher-ups and people outside the Pentagon.”She describes a staff meeting at which William “Wild Bill” Luti, the undersecretary of defense in charge of the OSP, called former Chief of Central Command Gen.Anthony Zinni a “traitor” because he publicly expressed reservations about the war. Then there is David Schenker, a neoconservative political appointee, who told her “the best service Powell could offer would be to quit right now.”And she recounts how “the regard many of us had held for Colin Powell” dissipated on February 5, 2003, when he addressed the United Nations and “capitulated to the neoconservative line” in a “speech not only filled with falsehoods pushed by the neoconservatives but also containing many statements already debunked by intelligence.”Yet Kwiatkowski’s detailed account- of how the neoconservatives in the OSP hijacked U.S. foreign policy is different from the Pentagon Papers in one respect: An embedded mainstream media are all but ignoring it.The OSP got its special name from an administration that sought to hide its real purpose through linguistic subterfuge. Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, to whom the OSP reports, explained to the BBC in July 2003, “We didn’t think it was wise to create a brand new office and label it an office of Iraq policy.”Indeed, according to the New York Times’ Ben Brantley, the OSP is a fiction. In a snide review of Tim Robbins’ play Embedded, he writes that Robbins presents “a United States in which not only war but also the reporting of it is carefully engineered by an elitist Washington cabal. That cabal is the satanic power center in Embedded, a coven of policymakers called the Office of Special Plans.”His ignorance can be forgiven. The New York Times has cited OSP in only two news stories. And it is not even mentioned in a Times essay by James Atlas that explores the influence of Leo Strauss, whose followers founded and staff the OSP. Atlas writes, “To intellectual-conspiracy theorists, the Bush administration’s foreign policy is entirely a Straussian creation.”But to all accounts, the conspiracy is actual not theoretical. Strauss as a political philosopher and follower of Plato advocated the need for an all-knowing elite to conspire to guide public policy.Shulsky, the OSP director, and Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century, co-authored an article, “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence.” They write that Strauss “alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.”Shadia Drury, a professor of political theory at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, is the author of The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss and Leo Strauss and the American Right. Straussians both revere Drury for her understanding of his thought and revile “the bitch from Calgary” for letting that understanding see the light of day. “Nothing is more threatening to Strauss and his acolytes than the truth in general and the truth about Strauss in particular. His admirers are determined to conceal the truth about his ideas,” she told Danny Postel in an interview.And with good reason, Straussians hold profoundly undemocratic views. “The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty,” she said. “Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognizes that the vulgar masses have numbers on their side, and the sheer power of numbers cannot be completely ignored. Whatever can be done to bring the masses along is legitimate. If you can use democracy to turn the masses against their own liberty, this is a great triumph. It is the sort of tactic that neoconservatives use consistently, and in some cases very successfully.”The various fictions about the need for a war in Iraq that emanated from OSP are a prime example of Straussians in action. “Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics,” Drury said. “Public support for the Iraq war rested on lies about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States.”In Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlined why lies were necessary. “He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons—to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals. The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right—the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many,” she said.William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and a Straussian, dissembles whem discussing his philosophical mentor. “Strauss’ kind of conservatism is public-spirited,” he told Fox News. “He taught a great respect for politics and the pursuit of the common good.” Note, however, that Kristol does not mention who determines what is in the “common good.”Drury will have none of this. “The idea that Strauss was a great defender of liberal democracy is laughable,” she said. “I suppose that Strauss’ disciples consider it a noble lie. Yet many in the media have been gullible enough to believe it.”At the hearings of the commission investigating 9/11, no one has highlighted the work of OSP, and no one in the mainstream media has raised that troubling omission.In post-9/11 Washington, Drury sees the spirit of Strauss at work. “I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realized in the political life of a great nation like the Untied States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.”

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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