Yesterday, June 16, there was a lengthy–and rather fawning–article in The New York Times recounting the policy-promoting exploits of the Kagan family: Brothers Robert and Fred, and father Donald, a hawkish triumvirate of unrepentent neocons that has untiringly encouraged U.S. military interventionism abroad, notably including but not limited to the Bush Administration’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Then today, June 17, I listened to John Hockenberry–as part of his excellent NPR radio show, The Takeaway–interviewing Richard Perle, another heavy-hitting neocon interventionist chickenhawk with considerable blood on his unapologetic hands (as well as an irresistible fondness for nuclear weapons). Both the NYT puff piece and the Hockenberry interview were occasioned by the current ISIS military offensive in Iraq, and in both cases, the individuals being interviewed were treated as wise and knowledgeable…rather than discredited and culpable.

Which makes me wonder. What would it take for such people to be discredited rather than respected? To be seen as the blundering, immoral, geostrategic numbskulls and international war criminals that they are, rather than being treated as strategic sages? Tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) have died and whole countries laid waste, many thousands more have had their lives ruined by the heedless incompetence and ideologically blinkered vision of such people, and yet for the most part they continue to be treated with a kind of esteem.

Like the undead, these soulless national security zombies keep crawling out of their crypts, staggering around blindly and covered with flies, utterly unrepentant and without the good grace to stay quiet and buried. More to the point, our most respected journalists can’t refrain from treating them as purveyors of wisdom.

When Marx corrected Hegel to note that history repeats itself initially as tragedy and then as farce, he might have been describing neocon military interventionism...except that in this case, immense tragedies have been imposed on so many (but not on those who precipitated it), while the farce inheres in the fact that the U.S. political establishment keeps taking the toxic assertions of Perle, the Messrs Kagan and their various unindicted co-conspirators seriously.

And so I ask once again: What would it take for those who merit nothing but calumny to receive it?

David P. Barash is professor of psychology at the University of Washington. His most recent book is Buddhist Biology: ancient Eastern wisdom meets modern Western science (Oxford University Press, 2014)

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