Ah-ha! Now we know what the real trouble with the neo-cons is.

“President George W Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq demonstrates the remarkable durability of neo-conservative foreign policy,” Gideon Rachman writes in The Financial Times.

“Just a couple of months ago, the neo-cons were being written off. The Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq was advertised as signalling the triumphant return of the ‘grown-ups’ and the ‘reality-based community’. But the president chose to ignore Baker-Hamilton, reportedly dismissing the document as a ‘flaming t-rd’… The neo-cons, like President Bush, are getting another throw of the dice in Iraq.”

How do they get away with it?

Rachman has a number of theories: “The neo-cons stand accused of many errors: imperialism, Leninism, Trotskyism (New York school), militarism. Some believe that the real problem is that so many of them are Jewish – this is an alarmingly popular theme, to judge by my e-mails.”

But there’s another answer. “The problem with the neo-cons is not that so many of them are Jews. The problem is that so many of them are journalists.”

Rachman explains: “In making this point, I hope that I do not come across as some sort of self-hating journalist. The best opinion journalism has a clarity and readability that far surpasses most academic papers or diplomatic telegrams. But opinion journalism also has its characteristic vices.

“An editor of The Economist in the 1950s once advised his journalists to ‘simplify, then exaggerate’. This formula is almost second nature for newspaper columnists and can make for excellent reading. But it is a lousy guide to the making of foreign policy. The fingerprints of simplifying and exaggerating journalists are all over the Iraq debacle.”

What lessons do we draw from all of this?

“The experience of recent years should caution against basing policy on the urgings of neo-conservative journalists, no matter how persuasively they write. The current debacle in Iraq is what you get when you turn op-ed columns into foreign policy. Does that conclusion strike you as simplified and exaggerated? Maybe so – but that’s journalism.”

Peter Fray

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