The Neocon Armchair Generals | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

The Neocon Armchair Generals


To hear President Bush tell it, all he does is sit back and patiently take the advice of his generals in the field and in the Pentagon. But every field commander to return from Iraq and put on his civvies has told a different tale: the White House hammers ridiculous strategies down their throats, doesn’t listen to a word they say, and instead takes direction from a group of juveniles in their fifties over at Neocon Central Command, the American Enterprise Institute.

This is another point on which White House lies are wearing thin and the truth is beginning to shine through. And Rowan Scarborough over at the D.C. Examiner has offered up an extremely revealing vignette. He looks at where the current strategy for the surge got cooked up. He notes that in the final analysis, there were three plans sent to the White House. One was prepared by General Petraeus and his team out in Baghdad. The second was crafted by the Joint Chiefs in the Pentagon. And the third plan was put together by a bunch of overgrown teenagers who play with lead soldiers at the American Enterprise Institute. And guess which one the White House picked? That’s right, the AEI plan.

And guess who put on his duck hunting fatigues to come over and run the show? That’s right, it’s Dead-Eye Dick himself, Vice President Cheney.

Even Vice President Dick Cheney came. “We took the results of our planning session immediately to people in the administration,” said AEI analyst Thomas Donnelly, a surge planner. “It became sort of a magnet for movers and shakers in the White House.” Donnelly said the AEI approach won out over plans from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command. The two Army generals then in charge of Iraq had opposed a troop increase . . .

The emergence of AEI as a power player on Iraq belies the notion that neo-conservatives are on the decline in Washington. AEI brags an impressive roster of neo-con thinkers. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, an Iraq war architect, arrived at AIE this summer, joining such prominent conservatives as John Bolton, David Frum and Michael Ledeen.

With its plan in place, the AEI Iraq team is not sitting still. Keane is an adviser to Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. He has inspected war conditions on two visits. Kagan left for Iraq this week. “It was kind of the 11th hour, 59th minute,” Donnelly said of AEI’s surge plan. “It’s the function that think tanks are supposed to perform to provide independent advice and analysis.”

When all this fails–and now it looks very far from any sort of success–let’s please keep a sharp focus on who called the shots and who bears the blame. Not the generals in the field. Not the Pentagon. It’s the armchair generals from the Neocon Battalion. We’d all be a lot safer if they’d keep to playing paintball on the weekends. And even at that sort of game I wouldn’t want to be on their team.

More from