The Neoconservative movement is being increasingly blamed for misleading the US into war with Iraq
, for advising US President George W. Bush
into "unconditional support" for Israel
, for threatening Iran
, and North Korea
. People accuse them of trying to start wars so that the US can assert global dominance, and remake foreign governments to suit their whims. Many accuse them of destabilizing certain international problems, putting Americans in danger.
"President Bush is an engaging person, but I think for some reason he's been captured by the neoconservatives around him."
--Howard Dean, U.S. News & World Report, August 11, 2003
Their ideology is a bit complicated. It is a movement founded on, and perpetuated by a hawkish foreign policy, opposition to communism during the Cold War and opposition to Middle Eastern states that pursue foreign and domestic policies which do not align with U.S. interests. Thus, their foremost target was the old Richard Nixon approach to foreign policy, peace through negotiations, diplomacy, and arms control known, détente and containment (rather than rollback) of the Soviet Union, and the beginning of the process that would lead to bilateral ties between the People's Republic of China and the US. There is a considerable rift between many members of the US State Department, who favor established foreign policy conventions, and the neoconservative hawks. The State department criticizes their shortsighted policies, and the Neoconservatives blast the State Department in return.
Their foreign policy is the real terrifying threat, but they have a domestic policy as well; The Neoconservative group supported a militant anti-communism, minimal social welfare, and sympathy with a traditionalist agenda. Libertarians are consternated over the neoconservative ideology, as it has a rather generous dispensation of corporate welfare and market regulation. There were more subsidies under Reagan than under any other president in the past 30 years, which is what Neoconservatives wish to continue. This, combined with strengthening the power of the Federal Reserve, and the expansion of military budgets to dramatic measures, represent major impositions for the market. It feuded with traditional right-wing Republicans, such as William F. Buckley and the nativist, protectionist, isolationists once represented by ex-Republican Pat Buchanan, separated them from the old conservatives.
Neoconservatives are conservatives who are "new" (neo) to the conservative movement in some way. Usually, this comes as a result from the migration from the left of the political spectrum to the right, over the course of many years. Though every neoconservative person of this sort has an individual story to tell, there are nevertheless several key events in recent American history which are often said to have prompted the shift.
Many of today's most famous neocons are from Eastern European Jewish immigrant families, who were frequently on the edge of poverty. The Great Depression radicalized many immigrants, and introduced to the new and revolutionary ideas of socialism and communism. The Soviet Union's break with Stalinism in the 1950's led to the rise of the so-called New Left in America, which popularized anti-Sovietism along with anti-capitalism. The New Left became very popular among the children of hardline Communist families.
The Neoconservative ideas really developed about 30 years ago. Back in the early 1970s, this group of then-young and still mostly Democratic political intellectuals grew alarmed by the post-Vietnam War Democrats' seeming indifference to the Soviet threat. They were equally appalled, however, by the amoral world-view espoused by establishment Republicans like Henry Kissinger, who sought coexistence with the Soviet Union. As is often the case with ex-socialists, the neocons were too familiar with communist tactics to ignore or romanticize communism's evils. The fact that many neocons were Jewish, and outraged by Moscow's increasingly visible persecution of Jews, also caused them to reject both the McGovernite and Kissingerian tendencies to ignore such abuses.
Enter Ronald Reagan, "America's greatest President." A real politician they could embrace. Like them, Reagan spoke openly about the evils of Communism and, at least on the peripheries of the Cold War, preferred rollback to coexistence. "Neocons" filled the Reagan administration, and men like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, and others provided the intellectual ballast and moral fervor for the sharp turn toward confrontation that the United States adopted in 1981. Many, including Richard Perle, advised then-President Reagan not to trust Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reform plans.
The Neoconservatives are widely criticized for hiding certain realities. From the beginning, the neocons took a much more alarmist view of Soviet capacities and intentions than most experts. As late as 1980, the ur-neocon Norman Podhoretz warned of the imminent "Finlandization of America, the political and economic subordination of the United States to superior Soviet power," even raising the possibility that America's only options might be "surrender or war." Today, we know now that US intelligence widely overestimated the threat. However, the Neoconservatives thought that these reports seriously underestimated the magnitude and durability of Soviet power. Many have accused them of "willing to deceive" based on past cases such as this, as well as the realization that there are no WMDs in Iraq.
Many Neoconservatives in office under the Reagan Administration spent years orchestrating bloody wars against Soviet proxies in the Third World, portraying thugs like the Nicaraguan Contras and plain murderers like Jonas Savimbi of Angola as "freedom fighters." They argued that the overthrow of leftist governments (such as the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile) and the installation of right-wing dictatorships was acceptable and essential. Under this doctrine, the Reagan administration actively supported the anti-Communist dictatorships such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the racist white rulers of South Africa. The real low point of this deceit was the Iran-Contra scandal, for which Norman Podhoretz's son-in-law, Elliot Abrams, pled guilty to perjury. Abrams was later pardoned by Bush's father, and today, he runs Middle East policy in the Bush White House. Some people in the US are quite outraged by having staff of that caliber advising the US policy.
The Neoconservatives weren't in power during the 1990s, but tried to be as vocal as possible. They were strongly opposed to the policies of George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. Richard Perle and William Kristol went nearly apoplectic when "Kissingerians" like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell left Saddam Hussein's regime in power after the first Gulf War. They considered the Oslo accords (a peace agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders) an obvious mistake; "how can you negotiate with a man like Yasser Arafat?" As the decade progressed they became increasingly convinced that there was a nexus linking burgeoning terrorism and mounting anti-Semitism with repressive but nominally "pro-American" regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In 1996, several of the hawks--including Perle--even tried to sell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the idea that Israel should attack Saddam Hussein on its own--advice Netanyahu wisely declined. Neoconservatives also members of the blue team which argued for a confrontational policy toward the People's Republic of China and strong military and diplomatic support for Taiwan.
When the Oslo process crumbled and the September 11, 2001 attacks killed over 3000 Americans, the hawks felt, not without some justification, that they had seen this danger coming all along, while others had ignored it. The timing was impeccable, because by September 2001 many already held jobs with George W. Bush, a new conservative president willing to hear their pitch.
They're very hawkish people who often see things only in terms of black and white. Their ideas are stupidly optimistic and lack real-world insight. They draw up poorly-fitting analogies (in my opinion) to the past. Many Neocons have written that any deal with terrorists is equivalent to the history of appeasement with Hitler at Munich in 1938. It's like they view the world in 1939 terms, with Osama bin Laden being the new Hitler that they must kill and "radical Islam" as some sort of fascist communist ideology that must be destroyed by aggressive war. They fail to realize that this could do more harm than good, it sounds as if they are talking past their opponents. What worries many is that they see no need for compromise, even on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which needs compromise instead of a "winner take all" belief. They have a John Birch Society sort of screed that replaces "communism" with "terrorism."
In his well-publicized piece "The Case for American Empire" in the conservative Weekly Standard, Max Boot argued that "The most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role... the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation." (emphasis mine)
According to the Neoconservative consensus, we are at war. They call it World War IV, against terrorism, and against "radical Islam" and Wahhabism as they put it, enraging many. Of course, World War III, in their eyes, was the Cold War, during which they took an alarmist role.
The Bush Doctrine, a radical departure from previous US foreign policy, is a proclamation of the right of the United States to wage preemptive war, regardless of international law, should it be threatened by terrorists or rogue states. The legitimacy of this doctrine, though questioned by many in the US and especially abroad, has been strongly, strongly asserted in numerous Neoconservative articles, papers, and interviews.
Neoconservative foreign policy pundits emphasize an abstract evil in their polemics, de-emphasizing the complexities of autocratic governance in the Developing World. Today, the most prominent supporters of the hawkish stance inside the administration are US Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Neoconservatives perhaps are closer to the mainstream of the Republican Party today since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than any competing faction, especially considering the nature of the Bush Doctrine and the preemptive war against Iraq. However, Colin Powell is largely seen as being an opponent of Neoconservatism. Most speculate that he will not be asked to return if Bush wins his re-election in 2004.
Neoconservatives are Very biased towards Israel. They support Israel's role as "the strongest ally of the United States in the Middle East" and "as the sole Western-style democracy in the region." Neoconservatives have attacked the Palestinian leadership, strongly criticizing each and every peace plan that offers compromise with Palestinians. The Road Map had critics say it was tantamount to appeasing Hitler when he annexed Poland. Moreover, they have long argued that the United States should emulate Israel's tactics of preemptive attacks, especially Israel's unprovoked, preemptive unilateral attacks in the 1980s on nuclear facilities in Libya and Iraq. Despite (or perhaps because of) condemnation by the United Nations, neoconservatives have admired such Israeli adventures, arguing that the United States, like Israel, should act in its national interests, regardless of international law.
The interest in Israel, and the large proportion of Jewish neoconservatives has led to the question of "dual loyalty." A number of critics, such as Pat Buchanan, have accused them of putting Israeli interests above those of America. In turn these critics have been labeled as anti-Semites by many neoconservatives (which in turn has led to accusations of professional smearing, and then paranoia and so on). The partisan support for Likud would suggest that their support for Israel is not merely motivated by blind ethnic loyalty, and not all neo-conservatives are Jewish, Michael Novak for example.
Neoconservatives are at odds with Libertarians in the United States, and also see China as a looming threat. The disputes over Israel and domestic policies has led to a conflict with "paleoconservatives" which is a name to contrast their "neo" (new) counterparts.
In addition, many critics - both within and, more commonly, out of, the recognized conservative movement - have accused some of the more prominent neoconservatives of hypocrisy for their aggressive post-9/11 foreign policy stand, considering the fact that these neoconservatives are Baby Boomers who managed to avoid military service, or at least combat duty, during the Vietnam War. Many people have labeled them "chicken-hawks."
The hawks' grand plan to remake Iraq differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam's. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East. When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they'll want the same themselves. With that happy prospect on one hand and implacable United States will on the other, they'll demand that the Palestinian Authority reform politically and negotiate with Israel. That in turn will lead to a real peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs in Iran, whose citizens are gradually adopting anti-fanatic, pro-Western sympathies. A democratized Iran would create a string of democratic, pro-Western governments (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) stretching across the historical heartland of Islam. Without a hostile Iraq towering over it, Jordan's pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom. Syria would be no more than a pale reminder of the bad old days. (If they made trouble, a U.S. invasion would take care of them, too.) And to the tiny Gulf emirates making hesitant steps toward democratization, the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would no longer look like examples of stability and strength in a benighted region, but holdouts against the democratic tide. Once the dust settles, we could decide whether to ignore them as harmless throwbacks to the bad old days or deal with them, too. We'd be in a much stronger position to do so since we'd no longer require their friendship to help us manage ugly regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
Their plans are certainly audacious, and count on too many variables. The Iraq agenda is a fiasco, the things they counted on have suddenly become unstable. It was a gamble, like many Neoconservative plans, and if it goes sour, it could be far more harmful than anything done so far by the Bush administration.
Currently, despite all the interviews, defense by Fox News 'analysts,' and general misinformation, the American public is starting to become distrustful of the Neoconservatives and their agenda, which by this point many are starting to brag about. Many Americans are disillusioned by the assertions that Iraq was an "imminent threat," that the Iraqis would welcome Americans into their country, that the war would cost the American taxpayer close to nothing, that Democracy would flourish by now, that Al Qaeda would be wiped out, and that there would be a safer society to live in. Many people see them as a right-wing group that hijacked American foreign policy and lied the US into war.
Prominent American Neoconservatives:
Neoconservative Publications and Institutions:
American Enterprise Institute
Project for the New American Century
John M. Olin Foundation
Smith Richardson Foundation
Justin Raimondo is a very popular anti-Neoconservative writer, who writes frequent articles with excellent sources: http://www.antiwar.com/justin/