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August 20, 2007

Neoconservatism is Dead
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Well, not really, but more dead than alive. Anyway, I was prompted to say something in response to Glenn Greenwald's rather bizarre claim that

Unlike "lefty bloggers" and anyone who thinks like they do, neoconservatives are not only full-fledged members in Good Standing of the Foreign Policy Community, but are situated at its core [emphasis mine].

Maybe a handful of neocons are still around and kicking, in places like AEI perhaps. But PNAC, the former standard-bearer of the movement, appears to have fallen off the face of the earth, while analysts like Steve Clemons has documented extensively how the neocons are an embattled and dwindling minority in the Bush administration. In short, as a movement, they are significantly weaker and less respected now than they were, say, 4 years ago, which makes me wonder if Greenwald is using a different definition than I am.

Let's also keep in mind that one of the important distinctive features of neo-conservatism (in contrast to its cousin "muscular nationalism") was a belief that America should use its influence and power - and even military force - to spread democratic ideals abroad. Even the so-called "neo-cons" who are still around aren't talking much about this anymore. If anything, they seem to be have become increasingly comfortable (if not out outright cheerleaderish) with the fact that we're supporting and arming brutal sunni dictatorships ("the moderates") against shia powers like Iran and Hezbollah. In raising Iran as the new evil, and in failing to speak out in any real way against our indulgent support of Arab dictators, a movement once defined by what seemed a genuine desire to help oppressed peoples rise against their rulers, has lost any internal consistency or ideological distinctiveness it might have once had. 

On the other hand, if all Greenwald means by "neo-conservative" is someone who believes we should use our military as a first resort against anyone we don't like, then he is wrong on this count as well. If you look at the major institutions in the mainstream foreign policy community, there are few people who would seem to fit this categorization. 


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I think your right that neoconservativism has declined in power, and that Greenwald overstates things by suggesting that they are collectively still at the core of the FP community. Yet, some of them are still at the core: Kagan for example. And many neoconservatives are still given a serious hearing in mainstream foreign policy publications. But the left is systematically excluded from this level of participation, and is forced to makes its case through blogs and such.

Greenwald's most important contention is this:

"There is no such thing as placing oneself outside of the mainstream of the Community through excessive warmongering."

If you are an ultrahawk, you may not be at the core, but you still get to sit at the table. But if you are an ultradove, you do not get a seat.

I would add that if you have ultra-right wing, laissez faire or corporatist economic views on international trade, regulation, privatization etc., you might very well still be allowed to be the spokesman for one important FP camp. But if you have ultra-left wing views on these issues, or even pronounced left-wing views, you are persona non grata.

Let's also keep in mind that one of the important distinctive features of neo-conservatism (in contrast to its cousin "muscular nationalism") was a belief that America should use its influence and power - and even military force - to spread democratic ideals abroad.

If by this you mean that the laughable pretext that this was about spreading democracy has been abandoned, yes, it certainly has. But that was never the program. The program was the creation of a new set of client states. If this were about democracy, they would have been clamoring for Hamas' recognition, would be a big fan of Chavez and would never even thought of trying to install Chalabi.

In fact, it absolutely can NOT be about democracy, Democratically elected govenments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and, yes, Iraq, would not be friendly to the PNAC's idea of US allies. US support for Israel would alone doom any candidate running on a platform for their country to serve as a platform for US force extension.

To say that these guys have gone away makes no sense either. The current US operations in Iraq were designed by neo-cons. The leading republican presidential candidate's foreign affairs adviser is a neo-con. As you say, stripped of any moral pretext these guys are still worse, but they are certainly at the center of the foreign policy apparatus--and all over the traditional media.

So, other than a rejection of the label, what are you saying here? And isn't whatever you say a distinction without a difference. You wouldn't call Pollack a neo-con, but Pollack is advocating the same policies as the new "muscular nationalists, " which is, by the way, a pretty gentle name for people who would be better characterized as "military interventionists." As far as i can tell, there is a DC foreign policy consensus right now--an extended occupation of Iraq is in order. So how has anything changed?

Anyone who thinks neoconservatism is dead has not been following the Republican presidential race.

For that matter, he probably hasn't been following the Democratic race either. There, none of the leading candidates support a full pull-out from Iraq, nor have they renounced the (insane) idea of launching a war against Iran. That's how much neocon ideology still warps our political discourse.

So who other than neoconservatives are chomping at the bit to invade Iran.

"...which makes me wonder if Greenwald is using a different definition than I am."
Actually, um, yes, I think he is. How many Neo-cons lost their positions at the AEI? How many left the CFR? Would Richard Perle, Podhoretz, or Kagan be allowed to speak on MSNBC/CNN/FOX to give their views on a developing news story out of Iraq? Being out of the Bush Administration, and no longer having standing in the foreign policy community, are different things. Greenwald is talking about the fact that the supposedly 'disgraced' neocons simply left government, and went back to think-tanks and associated industries. They never lost their serious standing among the FPC or the public at large; only with the wonk-types who follow these kinds of discussions.
They are now either still cheerleading the war for Bush, or have repudiated Bush claiming that he screwed up their wonderful ideas. They aren't gone, they're just back to where they were in 1998, pontificating to anyone who will listen (like the gullible media), and ready to re-enter government and continue with the same policies they've always had. Militarism.

BTW, PNAC fell apart because its members went into government, followed through on all of their policy recommendations, and the whole project kind of lost its purpose.

One should not be too quick to condemn the position of Democratic presidential candidates with regard to supporting a full pull out of Iraq. A critical point to keep in mind is that Democrats have to play out the hand that George Bush, our inept commander in chief, has given them in Iraq. It is not going to be a simple task to extricate our forces from Iraq.

With respect to Iran, it isn't politically expedient for the Democratic candidates to preclude military action against Iran. Once in office, they then have no limitations on their range of options. I believe, however, they are very likely to be more pragmatic and wise than our current leader with respect to reckless military actions.

The PNAC/DLC Test for Future US Policymakers:

One of the below lists is the Project for a New American Century agenda and the other is from Will Marshall's Progressive Policy Institute, tied to the DLC. Which is which?

First, we must marshal all of America's manifold strengths, starting with our military power but going well beyond it, for the struggle ahead.

Second, we must rebuild America's alliances, because democratic solidarity is one of our greatest strategic assets.

Third, we must champion liberal democracy in deed, not just in rhetoric, because a freer world is a safer world.

Fourth, we must renew U.S. leadership in the international economy and rise to the challenge of global competition.

Fifth, we must summon from the American people a new spirit of national unity and shared sacrifice.

• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global
responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

Answer: The one with the numbers is 'progressive' and the one with the dots is not. Really.

I'm curious, which of the DLC's five points do you actually disagree with. They seem rather innocuous to me.

I'll offer two. We need to cut spending on "defense", and spend the rest to equip our forces to deal with problems we actually face. No more foolish "star wars" projects with a success rate like O'Hanlon's. There is an entire list of such idiocy in this administration's approach to crony funding.

And we can just ignore the idea that we are the policemen of the world. We can't do that, and we have proved it with Afghanistan and Iraq, and our failure to catch bin Laden. If we really focus, we might be able to catch an actual terrorist or two.

The main thing I thought was interesting was the similarity in the agendas. The basic thrust of American world hegemony and militarism is apparent in both. Now, as Shadi suggests, perhaps this movement is weakening on the R side, except we do see Giuliani and some other R candidates talking that way, don't we. And besides what is happening on the R side we need to keep an eye on the D side with the PPI and the candidate talk of invading new countries, possibly with nukes. So, is Neoconservatism dead? Or sleeping? And if sleeping, wouldn't it awake quickly with a new terrorist incident, an attack on Iran or some other unforeseen incident, perhaps with the Russians or Chinese?

"For the struggle ahead"--is this the America we want? Other countries don't see their futures as struggles, they see them as opportunities. Why do we have to be so militaristic? Ah, yes, the profits and the power. Well, live by the sword, . . .

On the other hand, if all Greenwald means by "neo-conservative" is someone who believes we should use our military as a first resort against anyone we don't like, then he is wrong on this count as well. If you look at the major institutions in the mainstream foreign policy community, there are few people who would seem to fit this categorization.

The fact that our army is broken might have something to do with that.

It's also unclear how sincere the Democrats are about negotiations with "rogue states." (Even Bush pretended that war wasn't his first choice. I'm sure Hillary can play that game as well.)

Rest assured, so long as our "defense" industries are willing to kick a few million dollars back into our political system, insane militarism can never truly die.

May I suggest that this is an internecine quarrel where the distinctions you evoke are so slight as to be nearly invisible to the rest of the world, including US watchers.

You might want to view John Pilger's BBC War on Democracy for an outsider's view of the US' foreign policy.

To the extent that the motivations of the bus driver who has just run you over are of little relevance, Greenwald is correct.

Perhaps the militaristic branch of the neo-con coalition is hiding out for the moment, but the economic branch is still hard at work.

What both these groups have in common is that they don't just consist of a bunch of ideologues who wake up in the morning and have a burning need to push their pet causes, but that these people are paid to do this. The left thinks that there can be a battle of ideas and the best ones will win, but the right uses money to attain its goals, the intellectuals just provide some veneer.

I'll give a single example. The libertarians are primarily funded by a single individual - Charles Koch. He has poured millions into such institutions as the Cato Institute and George Mason University. If it wasn't for his financial backing these ideologues would have no platform from which to promote their (master's) ideas.

I put together a short essay detailing how this all works out, which mostly pulls together some publicly available material. Here's the link:

Charles Koch and Libertarianism

Remember this is just an example of one individual, there are dozens of others, some with more well-known names like Coors, Mars and Scaife.
As long as the extremes of wealth inequality continue and as long as the rule is one dollar = one vote rather than one person = one vote then these people are not going to be thwarted by the popular will.

It's not a fight over ideas, the deck is stacked.

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