Do Two Rights Make a Wrong? 

Not this time: New mag publishers Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos take on the neoconservatives

Wednesday, Dec 11 2002

Pat Buchanan is making trouble again. We‘re used to “Pitchfork Pat,” the barnstorming conservative contrarian ready to unleash his army on liberals and Mexicans, but the Pat Buchanan I’m talking to can sound disconcertingly like a liberal himself, if not yet like a guy who‘s ready to tear down the borders.

Seated in his sparsely furnished office at MSNBC in the nation’s capital, the scourge of the left is lunching on . . . red meat? Barbecued spare ribs? No, a dainty fruit salad. And he‘s criticizing . . . gay-rights activists? The multiculterati? On the contrary. Both in person and in his new biweekly magazine, The American Conservative, the people Buchanan seems most upset with are his old anti-communist buddies from the Cold War days. Particularly galling are those trigger-happy “neoconservatives,” headquartered at Fox News and journals like The Weekly Standard and National Review, who are itching for a showdown with Iraq. In Buchanan’s opinion, they have betrayed the true conservative faith, which is to preserve what is good and mind your own business.

“What do the neoconservatives want? I think they want an exciting life,” he says of the Republican Party‘s pro-war wing. “They’ve had boring little lives as aides, and they want to be part of a global empire. They want to hang around Versailles. They want to be courtiers to Louis XIV. This is what it‘s all about to these guys. They’re puffed-up people.”

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If Buchanan the anti-war crusader isn‘t enough of a surprise, here’s another one: His partner in crime at The American Conservative (TAC) is Peter Theodoracopulos (universally known as “Taki”), a columnist and Greek-American playboy who once spent three months in a British jail for possession of cocaine. Taki, normally so right-wing he‘s off the charts, isn’t sounding like much of a fascist these days either, even if he does have a dog named Benito. He calls Bill Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard, “a little dictator who wants Kristol first, the U.S. second and the world third, in that order.”

Five afternoons a week, Buchanan is on Buchanan & Press, a political talk show he co-hosts on MSNBC with Bill Press, a liberal sparring partner from his Crossfire days. The guest he‘s most interested in today is Michael Ledeen, author of the new book The War Against the Terror Masters. It’s not, to put it mildly, Buchanan‘s kind of thing. Ledeen is a radical neocon who advocates war not just on Iraq, but on Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia as well. To make matters worse, he’s also late, still en route from the airport. But at the last moment he strolls into the cramped television studio dressed in a rumpled wool sweater and sneakers, not having had time to change. Too busy, too many planes to catch -- for hawks, these are stirring times.

Face to face with the enemy, Buchanan betrays no ill will. He‘s warm, friendly, his manner one of slightly barbed bonhomie. “We gave you a great review in The American Conservative, Michael,” he jokes as they wait to go on air, referring to the thorough lambasting of Ledeen’s book that has just appeared in the magazine‘s fourth issue.

“Yeah, I saw that,” Ledeen replies equably as a blond makeup artist brushes powder onto his bald pate. (“Oh, that feels so good,” he comments lasciviously.) And then the show starts. It’s November 8, and the U.N. has just voted to send inspectors back into Iraq. “The president has his U.N. resolution, inspectors are going into Iraq, and there may well be war with Iraq,” Buchanan says, looking into the camera. “Our guest is Michael Ledeen, author of . . .” Buchanan pauses. He‘s forgotten the name of the book. Or is he making a not-so-subtle point about it? Offscreen, Ledeen coolly provides the prompt. “. . . author of The War Against the Terror Masters, which is a very controversial book,” Buchanan continues. Then, rather like a carny introducing a circus freak, he says, “There it is, folks. Take a look at that cover! Michael Ledeen, a very controversial author!”

It’s not, surely, the preface Ledeen would have wished for, but if he‘s annoyed he doesn’t show it. Anyway, compared to what reviewer Justin Raimondo said about his opus in Buchanan‘s magazine, this is nothing. But Ledeen is on the defensive today, because U.N. inspector Hans Blix is on his way to Baghdad. “Look, I’ve read your book,” Buchanan says, “and from your standpoint this U.N. thing was a debacle, and it has diminished the United States‘ power and authority to do what we ought to do in our national interests.”

Ledeen regretfully agrees. Power has now shifted from George Bush to Hans Blix, he admits. As long as Blix is in Iraq, Bush’s hands are tied. “My view was we should have kept on going after Afghanistan -- that we should be already now supporting the Iranian people to get rid of this terrible regime that they all hate.”

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