I now close the subject of the Hari-Cohen dispute, save only (as I have indicated) a comment to come on the subject of threats of legal action for defamation, on which I have some experience. This conclusion is partly because I've made the essential points, but also because Johann, in commenting further on the argument (scroll down for his later remarks), has demonstrated my objections. In inveighing against the "aggressive invective" that Nick Cohen and I have deployed, Johann says this:
To be fair to Oliver, at least he admits he is an outright defender of neoconservatism, even if he glosses over the real actions of the neoconservatives and even if he surreally cites Eliot Abrahms - who helped unleash the fascist Contras on Nicaragua - as a witness for his defence. Nick won't even admit to his own fawning descriptions of neconservatism and George Bush, instead posing as some sort of critic of them.
I've never admitted, or even merely stated, any such thing - and note that that's an attributed statement, not a paraphrase. To advance his criticism, Johann has just made up the evidence. He may possibly have been misled by the title of my book Antitotalitarianism: the Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy. There is no reason Johann should have read this slim volume, and I'm not aware he's ever claimed to have done, but that's hardly a defence of his distortion. The book's concluding argument, so far from being an "outright defence" of neoconservatism, is that neoconservatism is a variegated force; that those of us who support liberal interventionism are going to get called neoconservatives anyway; and that, owing to the apparent rejection of the term by people such as Norman Podhoretz, whose wider political views I reject in almost every particular, we might as well appropriate the term for our own uses, much as the early Methodists (or indeed the original neoconservatives) themselves adopted a label that had originally been intended as an insult. I also referred specifically to the fact that the founding father of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, is sceptical of the case for spreading democracy overseas - that is, the original neoconservative opposes precisely the argument I was seeking to advance. My view of neoconservatism is, as I've stated in criticism of Johann, that one part of it - broadly represented by Paul Wolfowitz - holds views on the expansion of democracy, and also on a neogotiated peace in the Middle East, that are different from those of other neoconservatives, and that the Left should acknowledge the congruence of those positions with its own aims.
That is in microcosm how Johann treats Nick Cohen. He doesn't represent the arguments accurately; he advances propositions that he clearly thinks ought to be true but that aren't. Johann goes on to complain: "Oliver talks about the fracture-lines within the American right over what should drive US foreign policy, and suggests I am ignorant of them. I can assure him I'm not: I have interviewed some of the leading figures in these debates, and read extensively about them. (I must admit I find it a bit tedious that he argues as if almost everyone who disagrees with him is ignorant.)"
I don't argue, or believe, that anyone who disagrees with me is ignorant. I argue that Johann is ignorant on this subject. I'm glad he's spent time in interviewing and researching his subject, but his twice referring to "Eliot Abrahms" (the man's name is Elliott Abrams) suggests that Johann's attention might have been elsewhere at the time. And as he's determined to compound his misrepresentations, let me deal briefly with the figure of Abrams. Abrams, like Podhoretz, is not a neoconservative of the school I identify as consistent with the Left's ideals, nor have I ever said he was. Among other episodes in his career, during the Iran-Contra hearings, Abrams denied that the administration had financed the operation in Nicaragua or raised funds in the Middle East - claims that were clearly false. (A revealing exchange took place before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in which Thomas Eagleton declared to Abrams: "Under oath, my friend, that's perjury. Had you been under oath, that's perjury." The exchange is recorded in a new and excellent biography of Ronald Reagan by John Patrick Diggins, 2007, p. 299.) His strong criticism (in the Kagan & Kristol volume I've previously cited) of those who were "obsessed with the Oslo Accords" is another doctrinaire expression of views clearly not in accord with Wolfowitz's. My reason for citing Abrams's government service at State is that while being far from the version of neoconservatism that I welcome he nonetheless marked a turn in policy from the message of the early Reagan years, when Jeane Kirkpatrick's views held sway. This is clearly true, and why, other than simple obstinacy, Johann finds it difficult to conceive of neoconservatism as other than a monolithic force is beyond me.
Oh, and a brief comment on oil. Here's Johann again:
He says I don't offer evidence that the US is acting in Iraq primarily because of oil. In 1977, Paul Wolfowitz - as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Regional Programs - wrote: "We... have a vital and growing stake in the Persian Gulf Region because of our need for Persian Gulf oil and because events in the Persian Gulf affect the Arab-Israel conflict." In 1990, Dick Cheney - then Defence Secretary - said of Iraq and Kuwait: "The fact of the matter is, that part of the world controls the world supply of oil." When does Oliver think this stopped being the driver of US foreign policy? How does the presence of Eliot Abrahms change it?
Can Johann not see that "a vital and growing stake" in the Persian Gulf owing to oil, is not the same concept as "acting in Iraq primarily because of oil"? I'd be horrified if I thought the free world had been indifferent to the threat of Saddam's expanding his control of oil in the region. But Johann's reduction of the neoconservatives' advocacy of intervention to that interest is, I'm afraid, Johann all over. He starts not from evidence but from dogmatic assertion, and when challenged on the point casts round for evidence, which then doesn't say what he hopes it says. I have no doubt he will speedily Google for the terms "Kamm" and "neoconservatism" to try and substantiate his most recent manufacture, but the same point holds with me as it does with Nick. Johann has constructed an argument without first assembling the supporting structure. His review of Nick's book exhibited neither accuracy, nor fairness, nor scupulousness, nor competence, and Dissent and The Independent ought to have pressed him on these points before publication.