Saturday, January 22, 2005

The "Neocon" Myth

Once upon a time, the term "neoconservative" was a quaint relic of Cold War intellectual history. It referred to formerly liberal and leftist thinkers such as Norman Podhoretz who had migrated rightwards and embraced anti-Communism. For Podhoretz and other "neoconservatives", American power is a force for good that should be employed when necessary in support of both American ideals and interests.

All this has changed since 9/11, and especially since the liberation of Iraq. Today, "neoconservative", or "neocon" for short, has become the ultimate political pejorative, to be used only in concert with terms such as "conspiracy", "warmongers", or "cabal". For many liberals and leftists, and for "paleoconservatives" like Pat Buchanan, "neocons" such as Paul Wolfowitz have become a bete-noire. At best, the "neoconservatives" are to blame for whatever problems have arisen in post-Saddam Iraq. At worst, they are architects of an evil imperialist conspiracy. Little-known think tanks such as the Project for the New American Century have replaced the Trilateral Commission in the minds of conspiracy theorists. For many, the term has ceased to have any concrete meaning and is simply an all-purpose ad hominem, such as the January 6th caller to C-SPAN who described Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell as being part of the "neocon cabal".

As any who read this blog regularly can attest, my views are very much in the Podhoretz/Wolfowitz mold. Yes, I am a low ranking member of the "neoconservative cabal". Seeing how the term "neoconservative" has been distorted beyond all recognition has been frustrating. Thankfully, for those whose minds haven't been completely poisoned by the hype, distortions, and infantile conspiracy theories, there are some sources where you can read about what neoconservatives actually believe:

-Just yesterday, Victor Davis Hanson, in his Friday column for National Review Online, debunked some of the myths that have been circulated regarding "neocons" and the decision to invade Iraq:

Yet note the misinformation about its meaning and usage. The five most prominent makers of American foreign policy at the moment - George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld - are (1) not Jewish, (2) hard-headed and not easily bamboozled by any supposed cabal, and (3) were mostly in the past identified with the "realist" school and especially skeptical of using the military frequently for anything resembling Clintonian peace-keeping.

So, for example, while Secretary Rumsfeld signed the now-infamous 1998 letter to President Clinton calling for the de-facto preemptive removal of Saddam Hussein, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice did not. Yet Richard Armitage - considered a stalwart in the Colin Powell camp - was a signatory. Thus there seems no hard ideology or past litmus test to neoconservatism other than a coalescence of once-differing views after September 11.

-A year ago, Max Boot wrote a piece for the magazine Foreign Policy, entitled "Think Again: Neocons". In this article, Boot refutes the ridiculous exaggerations and conspiracy theories of both right and left:

A cabal of neoconservatives has hijacked the Bush administration's foreign policy and transformed the world's sole superpower into a unilateral monster. Say what? In truth, stories about the "neocon" ascendancy-and the group's insidious intent to wage preemptive wars across the globe-have been much exaggerated. And by telling such tall tales, critics have twisted the neocons' identities and thinking on U.S. foreign policy into an unrecognizable caricature.

-If you want to want to know what "neoconservatives" such as myself do believe, the best place to start is with this speech by Charles Krauthammer, delivered in February 2004.

Yet they are the principal proponents today of what might be called democratic globalism, a foreign policy that defines the national interest not as power but as values, and that identifies one supreme value, what John Kennedy called "the success of liberty." As President Bush put it in his speech at Whitehall last November: "The United States and Great Britain share a mission in the world beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest. We seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings.'

Beyond power. Beyond interest. Beyond interest defined as power. That is the credo of democratic globalism. Which explains its political appeal: America is a nation uniquely built not on blood, race or consanguinity, but on a proposition--to which its sacred honor has been pledged for two centuries. This American exceptionalism explains why non-Americans find this foreign policy so difficult to credit; why Blair has had more difficulty garnering support for it in his country; and why Europe, in particular, finds this kind of value-driven foreign policy hopelessly and irritatingly moralistic

Krauthammer refers to his own preferred vision as "democratic realism". Intervening on behalf of democracy, in his view, "must be targeted, focused and limited. We are friends to all, but we come ashore only where it really counts. And where it counts today is that Islamic crescent stretching from North Africa to Afghanistan."

I would argue, as President Bush did so eloquently on Thursday, that the dichotomy between our ideals and our interests has all but vanished. This does not mean invading every dictatorship around the world. It does mean that America needs to persuade, pressure and cajole dictatorial regimes to begin the process of genuine democratic reform. Promoting the spread of democracy is not just some vague moral imperative, it is the only long-term strategy for defeating radical Islamism.


Post a Comment

<< Home