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Neo-conning the world

Dominic Hilton
14 May 2003

We’ve all heard about how the world has been taken over by neo-cons, but who or what exactly are neo-cons? And when exactly were they released?

In search of answers to these questions, I travelled this week to Washington in the openDemocracy Sopwith Camel (inconveniently, the openDemocracy Concorde was retired last month).

Here’s what I found.

The term ‘neo-con’ comprises the words ‘neo’ (meaning ‘new’) and ‘con’ (meaning ‘prisoner’). Neo-cons are often known as ‘ex-cons’ or ‘con-men’, but mostly no one knows who they are at all.

I spoke to someone who does: my old friend Max E. Mise, the ageing but legendary hack of the ageing but legendary Beltway Bulletin (circulation: seventeen).

Bellowing into his ear trumpet, I asked him to explain the phenomenon of the neo-cons to my ignorant readers.

“It’s ironic,” he told me, cracking a lobster between his capped molars as we dined in his favourite All-You-Can’t-Afford-To-Eat dining club. “Neo-cons were created by the Democratic Party and now they’re destroying it.”

“Hold your fire, Tex!” I said, even though Mise is from New England. “What do you mean neo-cons were created by the Democrats?”

“Just as I said,” he just about said through a mouthful of beluga. “Neo-cons are a legacy of the Clinton presidency, a result of the revolving-door prison policy of those bleeding-heart liberals. After Bush 41, everyone figured the cons were history, that the liberals had the whole show locked up for years. Then, out of nowhere, Bush 43 appears. The cons have been let loose.”

“What can we do?” I asked, inhaling my $20 bowl of hot water.

“Order more wine,” Mise suggested.

We did, and after he’d emptied the bottle into his gizzard, we continued our conversation.

I asked him who the neo-cons were, and why there was such a big fuss made about them by people like me in columns like this.

“Because people like you are cashing in on the latest political vogue,” he said, springing me.

“So, there’s actually no such thing as neo-cons?” I suggested.

“Whad’ya want, names?” the legend exploded. “I can’t give you names. Only rumours.”

“Perfect,” I said, showing him copies of my previous columns to illustrate my contempt for facts.

“There’s a cadre that surround the President,” Mise began, approvingly eyeing my work. “A cabal of Hobbesians. A clique of geeks. An unelected court. A faceless junta. A school of thought. A flock of creeps. They are the men in the shadows whose names no one ever remembers. Except Wolfowitz. Who could forget the name Wolfowitz? At the Bulletin we know him as Hawkowitz!”

“Why,” I asked, “because you’d forgotten his name?”

“No! It’s a joke, you idiot! Hawkowitz instead of Wolfowitz!”

“Oh, right,” I said, somehow holding back my laughter as he somehow held back from ordering another bottle of Californian merlot. “So which is he, a Wolf or a Hawk?”

“Forget it,” Mise said, ordering a barrel of said merlot with a wink of his monocle.

As the waiter filled the bloated hack’s trough, I asked another question. “Is it true that neo-cons were once Trotskyists who suddenly decided they hated communists, left the Democrats in disgust at liberals, then became hard-line spokesmen for the military industrial complex?”

“Yes, that’s exactly it,” my companion nodded, taking down what I’d said in his moth-eaten notebook. “Did you say Trotskyists? Amazing! Tell me more.”

“Well, as I understand it, there is a big row going on between paleo-cons and neo-cons. Paleo-cons are those old fossils you see in the South who want a return to segregation.”

“You mean Bush and Cheney?”

“Well, no ... not exactly. I’m not sure.”

“Then what are Bush and Cheney, neo-cons?” He looked into the ceiling thoughtfully, before shrugging his shoulders. “Makes sense, I guess, what with Enron and all.”

“Hold your fire, Tex!” I said, again. “I think Bush and Cheney are somewhere in between paleo and neo.”

“You mean like Neanderthal?”

“That’ll do. What I’ve heard is that Bush isn’t really anything.”

“You heard right.”

“The left-wing conspiracy theory – shared, as ever, by the ultra-conservative right – claims that Bush is weak-minded, and is being led down the heavily-mined neo-con garden path by this small cadre of totalitarian fundamentalist fanatics, whose aim is to turn America into one big Israeli settlement for Ariel Sharon’s even bigger family. Cheney, it is argued, is not really a neo-con, just a con, who is happy to support the neos if it gets some good gas in his tank.”

“Where did you say this was happening?”

“I didn’t say it was happening, I just said some people are saying it is happening. I thought you might be able to shed some light on the mystery.”

“What mystery?”

“The mystery of the neo-cons.”

“Who are they?”

“I told you. They’re a small group of men who are said to be forging the foreign policy of the United States in a distinctly unilateralist, imperialist, hawkish, hard-line manner, aiding and abetting Donald Rumsfeld, and undermining Colin Powell.”

He chewed on an enormous piece of celery. “So, what’s the mystery?”

“Why I ever came to interview you,” I said.

“A free holiday?”

“Oh, yes,” I remembered. “That’s it.”

“So live a little,” he said, calling over the waiter. “Try the Iraqi kebab. It’s great and they’ve only just added it to the menu. Comes with a side-order of freedom fries.”

The waiter took my order, adding that chef hopes to soon include North Korean noodles in his repertoire.

“You can’t miss that!” said Mise. “At this rate, we might even get French wine back on the list. Anything’s possible.”

Next time: Who are the neo-neo-Democrats? Do they exist? And can I get another free trip out of trying to find out?

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