Best supporting neocon

MAX BOOT is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

DEAR George Clooney,

Congratulations on that best supporting actor Oscar you picked up last week. I couldn’t be happier for you. Not only because I admire your Cary Grant-esque panache but because I admire your politics. As an advocate of a hawkish but high-minded foreign policy, I can’t find much to cheer about in Hollywood, but you, my friend, consistently deliver. Dare I say it -- you’re the No. 1 neocon in Never Never Land.

Oh, I know you try to hide your real views behind a lot of progressive rhetoric. You’ve compared George W. Bush to Tony Soprano and warned that he’s leading the country down the same road as Nazi Germany. I don’t hold it against you; you gotta do what you gotta do in a liberal business. But your movies are what really count, and, no matter what you say, they’ve made the neocon case.

Even “Syriana,” which has been criticized for its America-bashing by a lot of conservatives (myself included), has a neocon message. It’s a protest against the influence of Big Oil on U.S. foreign policy. Neocons couldn’t agree more. They argue that the policy supported by the oil companies -- backing Middle Eastern despots -- is leading us to ruin. It only helps create anti-American suicide bombers -- as illustrated by “Syriana.” The movie suggests that we should be helping liberal Arab reformers, like the fictional Prince Nasir, just as neocons have been urging.


Then there’s “The Peacemaker,” your terrific 1997 thriller that sought to shake the nation out of its post-Cold War complacency by showing how easily terrorists could smuggle a nuclear bomb into the U.S. Neocons in the 1990s were arguing for a more ruthless anti-terrorist policy. Your character, Lt. Col. Thomas Devoe, didn’t let legal niceties stop him from saving New York.

All that is by way of prelude to your 1998 neocon masterpiece, “Three Kings.” It showed that the 1991 Gulf War didn’t achieve its goals when it left Saddam Hussein in power. Amid frenzied postwar celebrations, your character, Maj. Archie Gates, observes gloomily, “I don’t even know what we did here.” Neocons like Paul Wolfowitz were saying the same thing; they wanted to oust Hussein from power, not just from Kuwait.

You lead a group of three other soldiers to steal gold taken from Kuwait, but it soon becomes apparent that, despite your crusty exterior, you can’t ignore the suffering of Iraqi Shiites who have risen up against Hussein at American instigation, only to be slaughtered. In the movie’s pivotal scene, you watch as an Iraqi goon shoots a Shiite woman in the head. The Iraqi officer in charge is willing to let you leave with the loot. “You go now please,” he pleads. “I don’t think so,” you growl. And then you beat up the Baathists on behalf of the Shiites.

The rest of the movie follows your attempts to get a group of 55 Shiites safely across the border to a refugee camp in Iran. Saving them isn’t cheap -- you lose most of your bullion, one of your soldiers is killed and another is badly wounded -- but it’s the right thing to do.

The message is clear: The U.S. should pursue its ideals in foreign policy, not simply try to protect its strategic or economic interests. Believe it or not, that is the essence of modern neoconservatism. And that is precisely the policy that President Bush has been following in Iraq, notwithstanding the sniping he’s received from you and your friends.

Perhaps the problem is that you support the ends -- getting rid of Hussein -- but are leery of the military means. But what other alternative is there? As “Three Kings” showed, asking the Iraqi people to rise up against their oppressor wouldn’t have worked. The U.S. had to step in, if only to make up for its betrayal of the Iraqis in 1991.

Anybody who wonders what U.S. troops are doing in Iraq today should rent “Three Kings.” It makes an ironclad moral case for the invasion.

Good work, George. I’m looking forward to your next project: “Leo! The Leo Strauss Story.”