THE FORTY YEARS WAR by Len Colodny and Tom Schactman
“The neocon movement coalesced around four core beliefs….First and foremost, they were moralists who despised not just Communists but also all tyrants and dictators….Second, neocons were ‘internationalists’ in the Churchillian sense….Third, neocons ‘trusted in the efficacy of military force’….Fourth, neocons believed in ‘democracy both home and abroad.’ ”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (MAR 22, 2010)
Ask who the godfather of neoconservatism is and the typical answer is Leo Strauss, a German-born Jew who came to the U.S. in the 1930’s and taught political science first in New York and then at the University of Chicago. Among his notable students were Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind) and Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of state during the Iraq War.
Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman, the authors of The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama, acknowledge that “plenty of philosophers and strategists on the right, including Leo Strauss and Albert Wohlstetter, said and wrote similar things” concerning political theory. However, they shine some light on another, less acknowledged founding figure, Fritz G. A. Kraemer. He was also German-born, but a devout Lutheran, rather than Jewish. Peter Drucker, famed for his management books, once characterized him as an “old-fashioned Prussian conservative.” In Germany, Kraemer obtained a law degree in 1930, but when the the Nazis came to power, he opposed them. He left his family there and entered the United States seeking a university position. Drafted by the U.S., he eagerly served in the army, where he first met Henry A. Kissinger, a fellow soldier. After the war, Kraemer’s family joined him in America where he continued to serve in the military. At forty years old this senior officer became an advisor to the Army chief of staff. From 1951 on, as a civilian, he continued, under various titles, to work as a Pentagon strategist for another twenty-seven years. “Dr. Kraemer — who by now habitually also carried a swagger stick to complement his monocle” mentored a number of notable people too, including General Alexander Haig, and, for a time, Secretary of State Kissinger.
Kraemer’s views are described by Colodny and Shachtman in this way: “First, Kraemer contended that foreign policy must have primacy over domestic policy to assure a nation’s survival. Second, he insisted that the essence of foreign affairs was “political strength and ultimately military might.” He was a man who opposed totalitarianism; first, of course, Nazism, and then Communism. During the years of the Cold War, he often counseled a hard line and warned against “provocative weakness.” When Donald Rumsfeld departed his post as Defense Secretary in 2006, he stated “It should be clear that not only is weakness provocative, but [that] the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative, as well.” This term, “provocative weakness,” had actually been coined by Kraemer, and Rumsfeld, whether consciously or not, was “drawing on the rhetoric, and the thinking, of a little-known, now-deceased civilian intellectual at the Pentagon.”
However, Kraemer in his last years (he died at age 95 in 2003) found himself increasingly as odds with certain actions of the neoconservatives in power in the George W. Bush administration. He supported the post-9/11 military moves against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but not the Iraq War. “To Kraemer, to engage in preemptive war was to abandon the high moral ground that had previously characterized and even ennobled American actions.” Kraemer insisted he was no warmonger, explaining that В “anyone who has been a soldier in wartime, as I have, cherishes peace and knows what war means.” He thought also that those such as George Bush, Richard Cheney, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, who wanted to use the American military as the policeman of the world and to propagate democracy, were wrong. Kraemer did not believe it was realistic to embark on such missions. He wanted a foreign policy based on ideals, and he was a rational man who did not think every country could or should be transformed into an American vision of democracy.
Throughout the forty years covered in Colodny and Shachtman’s book — from Richard Nixon’s first inauguration in 1969 to Barack Obama’s oath of office in 2009 — Fritz Kraemer exerted, either personally or through his acoloytes (including his son, Sven Kraemer, who followed his father into government service), influence on American foreign affairs. He was a man who, unlike Kissinger or Haig, cared little for personal glory or even any kind of credit. He lived simply. He declined promotions that he felt would have hindered his ability to continue be an effective advisor. He had a few affectations (the stick and the eyepiece), but, according to the authors, he was, above all, a principled man. So much so that he placed those principles above friendship. Case in point: in 1975, when President Ford fired James Schlesinger as secretary of defense and substituted Donald Rumsfeld, Kraemer thought Kissinger had something to do with it. “Kraemer became convinced Kissinger had fatally overreached himself. In Kraemer’s view, Kissinger was no longer concerned with what was best for the country, only what was best for him — and that, Kraemer could not tolerate.” Kraemer cut his ties with Kissinger. Despite this rejection, Kissinger has maintained, “Fritz Kraemer was the greatest single influence of my formative years, and his inspiration remained with me even during the last thirty years when he would not speak to me.”
Kraemer is a recurring personage in this history and serves as its uniting influence. The authors want to introduce this obscure political and military analyst to a wider audience, and in their enthusiasm arguably overstate his actual importance, although obviously if Henry Kissinger considers Kraemer to be the “greatest single influence” of his “formative years,” one cannot dismiss that. However, verbiage about Kraemer actually doesn’t take up a great deal of the four hundred plus pages. The authors can’t or just don’t provide more than relatively meager biographical and professional information on Kraemer. Furthermore, their contention that he was a first-rank founder of neoconservatism isn’t as persuasive as they probably intended. He seems more of a dedicated bureaucrat/public servant than a man of great influence.
I had anticipated a broader examination of neocon roots and a more in-depth study of neocon motives and actions than are actually provided. The Forty Years War reads less like a comprehensive analysis of neoconservative history than a not-entirely convincing promotion of one founder…and a chronological survey of what happened during those forty years.
More than half the book deals with the Nixon administration and the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy initiatives. It also rehashes many details of Watergate. Len Colodny co-authored Silent Coup (1992), a controversial Watergate history, and one gets the feeling much of the material in this new volume results from Colodny’s prior research, not from any new effort. Also, occasionally it seems as if neocon history takes a back seat to the simple recitation of Watergate ins-and-outs.
The remainder of The Forty Years War covers the succeeding administrations and their highlights with professional clarity that certainly would be educational for students taking their first dive into the facts and faces of these decades and for anyone interested in brushing up on details and timelines about which they may be somewhat rusty. At times, the authors refute widely repeated interpretations of history. For instance, the authors cite statistics and other historians to disprove the conservative contention that the Soviet Union collapsed because of overspending on defense. They side with those who contend the decline of the Soviet economy as a whole caused the collapse. The reader can decide, in each of these cases, whether the authors or the other side has a better argument.
During this chronology, the authors do remember their book’s title and outline what the neoconservatives were doing during each administration. Of course, it is in the Bush ’43 presidency that the neoconservatives reach unprecedented power. People will argue about the exact definition of “neoconservative” and about which members of the Bush cabinet and phalanx of advisers most adhered to its principles: Donald Rumsfeld, for example, was not ideologically considered a neoconservative, but often allied with them. Condoleezza Rice also wasn’t technically a neocon, although she chose Eliot Cohen, a neoconservative champion, as State Department Counselor and, of course, she backed the Iraq War, publicly repeating the administration’s line about WMD. However, Rice also gets blame from some diehard neocons for persuading President Bush to adopt a more pragmatic foreign policy toward the end of his second term.
The Forty Years War can perhaps be best be summarized as a recapitulation of the struggle between those who approach foreign policy with ideological rigidity and those who prefer a rubbery pragmatism. Nixon and Kissinger were pragmatists. Fritz Kraemer and Dick Cheney were ideologues (although these two would not entirely agree with one another). Ronald Reagan had an ideological core, but his actions and those of his lieutenants could be pragmatic. Colodny and Shachtman document how pragmatism and ideology face off and the consequences their respective applications stamped on the nation and the world we live in today. Their book is perhaps more valuable as a record of these conflicts than as a study of neoconservative progression or a revisionist attempt to position Fritz Kraemer as the mastermind behind the neocon movement.
The Forty Years War may not be conspicuously revelatory, but it is a valuable single-volume synthesis of recent political history. Being introduced to Fritz Kraemer and reading political opponents’ contradictory explanations for the unfurling of events further enhances that value.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 4 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper (December 8, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||The Forty Years War: : The Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Len Colodny and Tom Schactman|
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