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Profile: Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss was a participant or observer in the following events:

Albert Wohlstetter in 1969.Albert Wohlstetter in 1969. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Albert Wohlstetter, a professor at the University of Chicago, gathers a cadre of fiery young intellectuals around him, many of whom are working and associating with the magazine publisher Irving Kristol (see 1965). Wohlstetter’s group includes Richard Perle, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Paul Wolfowitz. Wohlstetter, himself a protege of the Machiavellian academic Leo Strauss, is often considered the “intellectual godfather” of modern neoconservatism. Formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, Wohlstetter wielded a powerful influence on the US’s foreign policy during the heyday of the Cold War. Wohlstetter, who is believed to be one of several analysts who became a model for director Stanley Kubrick’s title character in the 1968 film Dr. Strangelove, added dramatic phrases like “fail-safe” and “second strike” capability to the US nuclear lexicon, and pushed to increase the US’s military might over what he saw as the imminent and lethal threat of Soviet nuclear strikes and the Soviet Union’s plans for global hegemony. He was such a powerful figure in his hundreds of briefings that he projected far more certainty than his facts actually supported. Though his facts and statistics were often completely wrong, he was so relentless and strident that his ideas gained more credence than they may have warranted. By 1965, he is known in some circles as a “mad genius” who is now collecting and molding young minds to follow in his footsteps. Author Craig Unger writes in 2007, “To join Team Wohlstetter, apparently, one had to embrace unquestioningly his worldviews, which eschewed old-fashioned intelligence as a basis for assessing the enemy’s intentions and military capabilities in favor of elaborate statistical models, probabilities, reasoning, systems analysis, and game theory developed at RAND.” An analyst with the Federation of Atomic Scientists will write in November 2003: “This methodology exploited to the hilt the iron law of zero margin for error.… Even a small probability of vulnerability, or a potential future vulnerability, could be presented as a virtual state of emergency.” Or as one-time Wohlstetter acolyte Jude Wanninski will later put it, “[I]f you look down the road and see a war with, say, China, twenty years off, go to war now.” Unger will observe, “It was a principle his acolytes would pursue for decades to come—with disastrous results.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 42-46]

Entity Tags: University of Chicago, Stanley Kubrick, Richard Perle, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, RAND Corporation, Leo Strauss, Albert Wohlstetter, Paul Wolfowitz, Irving Kristol, Federation of Atomic Scientists, Craig Unger, Jude Wanninski

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Gary Schmitt.Gary Schmitt. [Source: Think Progress (.org)]Prominent neoconservative Abram Shulsky, who worked under former Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s), joins fellow neoconservative Gary Schmitt, the founder of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC - see January 26, 1998), in penning an essay called “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence.” Both are Strauss proteges, having studied under him at the University of Chicago. Strauss is considered an intellectual guiding light for neoconservative philosophy. Strauss, as Shulsky and Schmitt write, believed that all intelligence work essentially boils down to deception and counterdeception, as much with the governments and citizenry an intelligence agency ostensibly serves as with an enemy government or organization. Strauss viewed intelligence as a means for policymakers to attain and justify policy goals, not to describe the realities of the world. Intelligence is “the art of deception,” Strauss taught. Shulsky will go on to implement Strauss’s views in his work with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Gary Schmitt, University of Chicago, Abram Shulsky, Leo Strauss, Office of Special Plans, Project for the New American Century

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Leo Strauss.Leo Strauss. [Source: Publicity photo]The BBC airs a three-part documentary entitled “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear.” It is directed by Adam Curtis, who the Guardian calls “perhaps the most acclaimed maker of serious television programs in Britain.” The documentary argues that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism “is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media.” The documentary begins by focusing on Sayyid Qutb in Egypt and Leo Strauss in the US. Both developed theories in the 1950’s and 1960’s that liberalism and individualism was weakening the moral certainties of their societies. Qutb has a strong influence on Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and then through him, Osama bin Laden. Strauss meanwhile has a strong effect on neoconservatives such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, who all eventually gain prominent positions in George W. Bush’s administration. The documentary follows the rise of Islamic radicals and compares and contrasts this with the rise of the neoconservatives. Curtis argues that both groups have greatly benefited from 9/11, because both have been able to use fear of terrorism to gain widespread popular support. Curtis claims that al-Qaeda is not the highly centralized, widespread, and powerful organization that it is frequently depicted to be. Rather, it is more of a concept and loose alliance of groups with coinciding interests. He says, “Almost no one questions this myth about al-Qaeda because so many people have got an interest in keeping it alive.” The documentary gains favorable reviews in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Guardian. [Christian Science Monitor, 10/18/2004; BBC 2, 10/20/2004; BBC 2, 10/27/2004; BBC 2, 11/3/2004; BBC 2, 11/3/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sayyid Qutb, Paul Wolfowitz, Osama bin Laden, Leo Strauss, Donald Rumsfeld, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Adam Curtis

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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