Douglas Murray: Author of "Neoconservatism:Why We Need It" interviewed on Pipeline News
August 19, 2006
Douglas Murray, A Conversation
August 21, 2006 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - The term neoconservative has become both the balm and the bane of the most activist wing in the conservative movement. Within its own ranks it's looked upon as a transformational philosophy which has inspired the Bush doctrine and the audacious attempt to bring democratic forms to the Middle East, in others - predominantly on the left - it has become synonymous with intrigue, ultra-militarism and most incorrectly - a supposed Jewish cabal within the Bush administration which supposedly directs foreign policy as if it originated in a Zionist conclave in Tel Aviv.
So how better to approach this subject than to discuss it with Douglas Murray, the author of a remarkable new book "Neoconservatism : Why We Need It."
We caught up with Mr. Murray in Washington, DC last Friday, in the midst of the publicity tour to support his book
PLN - Good morning Douglas, how has your visit gone so far?
Mr. Murray - "Brilliant always great to be here...its been super..always heartening to see the number of people in America who are not signed over to the attitudes of a lot of people in Britain are..."
PLN - I understand that you got a chance to meet Irving Kristol.
Mr. Murray - "Exactly, I sat between Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb [Mr. Kristol's wife, a renown social critic and Victorian era scholar in her own right] at dinner the other night...I thought that was a high point of my life...I was star struck."
PLN - So what is your take on America at this point, less than ninety days out from an important election?
Mr. Murray - "Well...it seems to me that there's a whole set of problems in the air, simultaneously...I think for instance of what happened last Thursday morning as we all know, the arrests in London but I think there's a perfect sort of example of the way politics works at the moment. On Wednesday it was all Ned Lamont, it was all Connecticut and by Thursday morning we had all been wrenched back into the real issue of our time and I think the world at the moment is very largely divided in the West between those people who get stuck on the Ned Lamont stuff and those who understand there is a bigger story going on these days.
And I think the president and the Repubican party generally gets this and has its eye on the big story, the big narrative...and I think the Democrats are slowly losing it...and I don't know whether that's going to be felt at the polls..."
PLN - In your opinion what is the cause for the disjunct between the Republican party and the Democrats as far as the approach to the war on terror is concerned?
Mr. Murray - "There's one big one which is because that since the Democrats have been in opposition during all this, they found it hard to make any policy difference to begin with between them and the administration...the conservative party has the same problem in Britain, but it behaves more nobly I think..."
PLN - So you think it's more a mechanical problem rather than a philosophical one?
Mr. Murray - "Well it started off as a mechanical problem. The thing is that the democrats have then as a result of this have been pushed and leaned on by the wing of the party that really is pretty extreme and has ended up in this place...where essentially the story they are telling people is that terrorism is caused by our reacting to terrorism…this piece of opportunism is now perpetuating what I regard as one of the greatest lies in the war on terror which is the lie given by our opponents that when we act, we cause terrorism…there's something at the root of this, which is very insidious which is if you can keep on persuading people that...as John Edwards was saying last Thursday..."this bomb plot that we foiled in London was probably planned because of our involvement Iraq"...if you keep persuading them that terrorists will only hit us because of Iraq or before that we were only hit because of Afghanistan...what you are actually aiming to do is to disable the West, to make us incapable of action to say 'don't act because if you do, bad things will happen back to you'...it's a huge problem."
PLN - So what's the refutation of that proposition?
Mr. Murray - "Well to demonstrate to people the fallacy of it...for instance...just to give them the facts of it...actually, I would joke, but if John Edwards had held off speaking for a few hours on Thursday he would have learned the facts that the rest of us learned, that one of the people currently in detention in Britain had converted to radical Islam in 1998, even Mr. Edwards could work out that was before Iraq, that was before 911...
You can then say to them well ok why would someone convert to radical Isalm in 1998?...One of the things that would have been very likely to have told someone then...[as an excuse]...was because of inaction in the Balkans...I don't excuse it by any means...but remember...people like Omar Sheikh [Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh] the London School of Economics graduate who murdered Daniel Pearl...converted to radicalism...because of our inaction in the Balkans...as what they saw as our inaction in defending the death of their co-religionists..."
I would say, and I would wish the public to hear continually from their political leaders, is that if there is a group of people who threatens to kill us when we act and threatens to kill us when we do not act then we should not be listening to that group of people. We should not be pandering to their prejudices and to their opinions."
PLN - You have a new book out entitled "Neoconservatism and why we need it" why did you write it?
Mr. Murray - "The reason was really primarily because I was increasingly frustrated that the debate in the West really had reached such a low ebb that most of our terms of definition even, have been lost; I mean the fact that the word necon which was and is a fairly nuanced term had become a simply a term to denote somebody as a warmonger or a kind of ultra-hawk or the far, far right of the Republican party...I want to first of all explain what necons are and what they aren't...what neoconservatism is and what it isn't...to show people really that far from being a sort of awful cult or clique...that neoconservatives like myself simply believe certain things and view the world in certain ways...which I think many, many people share our opinion…its not hard for people to see that its not a prejudice to regard democracies and tyrannies as being on different moral planes. It's not hard to agree with that, but when it's characterized as being a warmongers' party, then its very hard…"
PLN - So part of your intent was to strip away the pejorative nature of the term itself?
Mr. Murray – "I don't think I'll win incidentally [laughs] it's been thrown around so much…the point is not just the name, the point is the ideas. It's so important I feel to communicate these ideas to people because ideas really do influence and dictate I think, the way that we act and when we lose our compass and terms of reference, you know its just swimming around in this kind of soup of relativism...in which good things can't be done because people with bad ideas come along…with fallacious arguments and try to stop you from doing anything…"
PLN – So what is neoconservatism and where would you place it within the constellation of conservatism in general?
Mr. Murray - "As I say its not a cabal or a party [it's] an instinct really, or even less, an outlook really…I think someone can be of a neconseravative outlook without having to know any of the philosophy behind it and I would say to that extent it's an impulse much like conservatism is and…some forms of liberalism are. So I say it's a conglomeration of realism and idealism that is a mixture of, of I say we look at the world through vaguely idealistic eyes but we have strong spectacles on…[differentiating it] against the traditional conservatives who are often very suspicious of social engineering projects and all of that, and whose narrative really is that things really are getting worse and there is very little we can do about it…very different from modern day liberalism that awful hijacked term which isn't seeing the world as it is…somewhat like the liberal view that we can make things better but at the same time the conservative understanding of seeing the world as it is."
PLN – If you could list some of the principles or precepts of neoconservatism what would they be?
Mr. Murray - "Oh things for instance things like supremacy of democratic states over tyrannies, which is just a very simply notion. The fact that there is not moral equivalence between a despot and a democratic leader, that we free people do not inhabit the same plane morally as terrorists
The freedom is what matters, both at home and abroad. At home freedom from too large a government and freedom from too much state interference. Abroad, freedom for other people…because we know instinctively that if we allow other people to suffer under dictatorial regimes, we end up…suffering from what those people are able to do to ourselves…what happens on the streets of Afghanistan ends up effecting us on the streets of New York."
PLN - How does Edmund Burke fit into all of this and his concepts of tradition, prescription and prejudice?
Mr. Murray - "Interesting yes, Burke is in my opinion the great conservative philosopher...I would say that Burke's descendents...people like Roger Scruton perhaps...conservative thinkers have an interesting problem which is that one of the instincts of conservatism as we know is loyalty to the status quo...one of the things I point out in this book, is that so much has changed in the West since the 60s...particularly in our institutions for the worse...that a conservative is left in a very awkward position...he ends up beingto a status quo which is not his status quo...he either has to keep doing that …ends up supporting something he can not support...or will becomes that seeming anathema that contradiction in terms that he should become a revolutionary conservative, a radical conservative and I think a neoconservative...If what you have lost is what you want then you have to fight and argue to get it, or to get something like it or something new and better...I would see this as a reforming ideology..."
PLN - In your view does neoconservativism differ in principle from what is commonly thought of as modern conservatism, that is the movement that was spawned by by WF Buckley and National Review since the mid 1950s?
Mr. Murray - "Yes...It has quite a lot of similarities as with Buckley's conservatism...but difference of temperament as well as differences of philosophy along the lines...including of course differences of what we can achieve...on that one I would think particularly on foreign policy...there's a lot of crossover here...and would think with Buckley that a lot of disagreement would end up being only on foreign affairs."
PLN - In that same line, if I were to mention the names of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz what would be your response?
Mr. Murray - "Irving Kristol and Norm Podhoertz…well they were the first generation, the two greats who took neoconservative notions and first of all defined them and secondly really brought them out into the main stream…neoconservatism was not invented by anyone it was an instinct that was around a very long time, one could cite forbearers, going back millennia incidentally…with both Podhoretz and Kristol…they really, with consummate brilliance and wit - as well, managed to define and refine this way of looking at the world…and make it appropriate and understandable to a particular era…that is what is so interesting with that moment that came out of the anti-communists and the anti-anti communists, the people that came out of that and then went through 60s, and came out fighting…[they are] the two great forebearers that stand at the beginning of this..."
PLN - Was it necessary for them to have gone through that Marxian, leftist stage?
Mr. Murray - "It's possible… as you know the first really good definition on a necon was given by Irving Kristol…"a neocon is a liberal who has been mugged by reality"…But something of the liberal instinct remains, the optimism and the reforming instinct…I would still be willing to describe myself as a classical liberal…and it's simply the fact that the term has been hijacked by the people who really have least right to it these day…you used to call them liberals with ironic quotation marks then we forgot about the quotations we got lazy and forgot the quotation marks…I try to get people to rename the liberals, rename them socialists…because that's what they are…The liberals in America are socialists they are what we in Britain would call socialists, people who believe that great line of T.S. Elliott where he described, "people dreaming of systems so perfect that no one would need to be good."
"When they [Podhoretz and Kristol] converted as it were, to conservatism they also understood the enemy very, very well it's a great advantage to have, if you know how they think you can better take apart and analyze how to destroy the arguments, at least how to hold it up to ridicule…both Kristol and Podhoertz are masters of that."
PLN - Is there a nexus between neoconservatism and Zionism?
Mr. Murray – "No, I wouldn't have said necessarily between neoconservatism and Zionism…but yes between neoconservativsm and Israel…I would describe myself as a Zionist but I would think a lot of neocons wouldn't necessarily…what they are is people who instinctively support Israel…nothing to do with dual loyalties or Jewish takeovers…It constantly amazes me, I would have thought that anyone with any decent outlook on the world would understand the difference between a democratic state and Syria or a democratic state and Hezbollah, but its amazing how many people don't…So neoconservatives support Israel because it is our ally, because it is our political brother and like. I remain baffled and amazed that the number of people who do not understand that there is not parity between the various countries in that region."
PLN - To what extent is anti-Zionism a dodge for anti-Semitism and Jew hating?
Mr. Murray - Almost entirely in some sectors these days…I was debating a particularly unpleasant woman called Yvonne Ridley…who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the Afghan war and subsequently converted to Islam, who has Stockholm syndrome…she had said about the Respect party, a horrible horrible Marxist party…[her referring to "hunting down and kicking out" possible Zionists in that party]…your language is not the language of somebody talking about a political idea or political ideals, this is just outright anti Semitism, and replacing the word Jew with the word Zionist…a lot of people fall into this one now…some do so deliberately, so do so accidentally…a lot of young people today particularly in Europe…are very unaware of Jewishness as such, it's not something they are brought up thinking about…a lot of young people would be able to identify a particularly Jewish name…it just wasn't something we are brought up with…it's another example like the anti-war movement of the sinister leading the silly…[they] have been dragged into it, an anti-Semitic slur campaign….dragged into it unknowingly by people who know very well what they are doing…the hard left…the hard socialist left, who has never apologized for what they did before…who preach just outright anti-Semitism…the Islamofascists…who preach outright anti-Semitism…these people manipulate the young people in particular …who turn on the television, get badly informed by the BBC and other organizations and they see bits that imply that Israelis just love bombing or something, and they feel for the underdog…that is what young people do…this is just what they do when they don't have much moral framework…they are just being manipulated…just look through the organizations that are organizing this all its all either hard core Respect style parties or it is groups that are effectively fronts for Hezhollah and Hamas…"
PLN - What is the affinity between the hard core Islamists and groups like International ANSWER which are essentially Stalinist artifacts?
Mr. Murray - "It's amazing…This is what is described as the unholy alliance…remember that before the Iraq war we were always being told by the idiots…told that the Saddam regime was atheist that this couldn't happen…it was a secular government…the two couldn't possibly have dealt with each other…now…aside from the historical idiocy of this…we were told it was a secular government and couldn't possibly be linked with al-Qaeda which is a religious organization and the two couldn't have dealt with each other...Yet it seems perfectly possible for secularists in the West to march down the streets in London Paris or Washington with the Islamofascists…so if it was possible in Washington…it was possible in Baghdad…
This is an opportunistic movement and I believe it's the communists and the hard left that are being taken advantage of more [in their alliance with the Islamists] but I have no sympathy for them in that it would be appalling if they were able to bring this down on us just like they did last time…its an amazing counter-cultural attempt to destroy everything that most decent people in our societies believe in…[their thesis] its not critical of our culture - its against it…"
PLN - Is there intellectual tension between the Bush doctrine and neoconservatism, especially as it regards the idea of the democracy and self government? And if I can expand on that…does Burke's criticism of the French Revolution have any bearing upon nation building of which there seems to be a growing criticism of even in places like the Weekly Standard and National Review. And if nation building is more or less a pipe dream how do we deal with the Islamic world which seems to be unable to contain its radicals?
Mr. Murray - "Well the hope is and the aim is that we can get someone within the Islamic world to contain those radicals…or a boil to be lanced…to take their opinions to the court of world ideas….what's the alternative, whats the alternative to democracy in this region……the truth is we know what the alternative is…it's to prop up the more benign dictatorships in the region…I don't think that's really a choice anymore…I think the ball was dropped by the Bush administration…with Assad and I think it was dropped with Tehran….I would for one say this is the main bone of contention between conservative thinkers and the Bush administration…take for instance last March, 2005 …that was the golden moment…Assad said to the journalism Joe Klein please go back and tell your leaders I'm not Saddam Hussein I want to cooperate…that was the position we needed to be in, where the dictators and the extremists realized that time had been called and they might be next…that was the golden moment and I greatly fear that opportunity has been lost, or at least we are going to have to fight to get it back [Assad]…has been emboldened…just over the course of a year that change in temperament has occurred and greatly, against our benefit."
PLN - I have a hypothesis that if things do go heels up in Iraq, that this is more a failure of Islam rather than failure of the West in attempting to essentially re-wire the Middle East, any comments?
Mr. Murray – "That's an interesting way of putting it…Everyone knows the stakes in Iraq…not just militarily…the cost in Iraq, is if Iraq fails then the jury will come in and say those guys don't want democracy don't want freedom…"
PLN - Is it possible to recover from a failure in Iraq?
Mr. Murray – "…it's not possible….this is why they are fighting us so vociferously…what we face there…not just the terrorism…the sheer barbarity of the enemy we face there…
"We did underestimate them in one way, in which we did not know, I don't think any human being could have predicted…that in Iraq we would face al-Qaeda and other groups that were willing to .blow up dozens of schoolgirls just to get at a couple of US soldiers or shoot dead Shiite teachers in front of 10 year old students…to make us feel such denigration such grotesqueness that we become demoralized…I don't think any of us could have expected that or prepared for it…we are being tried and tested and at the moment that we are being found wanting…but there is no reason that people can't understand what is being done…that what is being done by these terrorists and jihadists in Iraq is not the will of the Iraqi people, it is against the Iraqi people…the most important thing is that the Iraqi people having gone through this and have not given up to the terror…"
PLN - On the media's coverage of the Lebanon war
Mr. Murray – "…One of the things I have noticed which is coming across the media…is the way in which…I just got back from northern Israel…this conflict has been pushed into it being a conflict between Israel and Lebanon…that's the way it was portrayed…Again I wish more clarity in this exists, to make people see that this was no more a war against…the people of Lebanon than the war against the IRA was a war against the Ireland…the coverage has been grotesque…[the decision that] this is a 50-50 conflict don't take sides…and if you don't take sides you side with the terrorists…
…I saw Netanyahu in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago…he said you don't decide who is right by effecting a body count…but that is exactly what has been done…then when more terrorists are killed ….or more people are lost because they have been used for buffers for bunkers with missiles….that is the most immature moral judgment…its what people do when they don't have a moral compass….Germany lost more troops in the second world war than Britain did, but it wasn't right….they can't tell the difference even with a society - Israel which builds bunkers and a terror group, Hezbollah which builds bunkers...Israel…which builds bunkers to protect its people from missiles and Hezbollah which uses people to protect its bunkers..."
PLN - Is this a problem with relativism and post modernism?
Mr. Murray – "…everything was pulled apart…..this is the way in which a philosophical problem has had real consequences for our life and times...has become a real problem….moral abdication…is dangerous…"
PLN - Since you are a Brit let's wrap this up with your take on the current situation in England and if they are up to dealing with what now seems to be a full blown Islamist insurrection?
Mr. Murray - I don't think that it's a full blown Islamic insurrection…it's a little way away from being that…there are significant portions of the Islamic population which do not feel any loyalty to the state….this is a dual problem it's a problem that they have created but its also a problem that Britain and the West have created, if you do not put your foot down you are going to be taken advantage of…this is who we are and if you don't like it you can go somewhere else….but some cooperation continues…there are many Muslims in Britain who are deeply ashamed of this…all of the main Muslim organizations in Britain are only a handshake or two away from the terrorists….none of them outright condemn suicide bombing…none will condemn it in Israel….we are treading a very precarious path at the moment...this is a great problem….we do not want to alienate the good Muslims…but no state should be held hostage by a tiny minority within…I see the government pandering to them….we put a line in the sand this is what we are this is what we believe…we will not allow you to overthrow our country; we will not allow you to overthrow it violently, we will not allow you to overthrow it peacefully..."
Thanks so much Douglas for taking the time to spend with us, and good luck on the book.