Neocons get a bad rap. If you people like Pat Buchanan or Joe Klein writing from their bunkers on computers adorned with swastikas, a neocon is a code word for a war crazy Jew that will force people to do anything as long as it promotes Israel’s interests. But Neoconservatism has nothing to do with Jews or Israel, but its roots are in what made America Great
Robert Kagen would defines Neoconservatism as “potent moralism and idealism in world affairs, a belief in America’s exceptional role as a promoter of the principles of liberty and democracy,” then it was a doctrine held by Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, and Theodore Roosevelt. “The effort to explain the [Iraq] war as the product of manipulation by a handful of ‘neoconservatives,'” Mr. Kagan writes, “is an effort to escape what for many may be a more troubling reality: that there is something in the American character which leads it in this direction.”
And for those people like Buchanan and Klein, I have some bad news… Neoconservatism is on its way back:
Neocon Resurgence By ADAM KIRSCH
History books, as the saying goes, are written by the winners. But when it comes to American history, it is often the losers of old debates whose interpretations are enshrined in the textbooks. The Spanish-American war, for instance, was hugely popular at the time, and featured dramatic American victories. But the critics who were not able to stop the war have still taught us to remember it as a travesty whipped up by the Hearst papers.
Today, the debate over the Iraq War is giving way to the debate over how that war will be remembered by posterity. More is at stake than simply the historical reputation of President Bush; for the way we remember, or misremember, our past will help to determine the way America acts in the future. That is why World Affairs is shaping up to be one of the most important magazines in the world of foreign policy. Since it launched at the beginning of this year (actually, relaunched — the journal has been published in one form or another since the 19th century), the main focus of World Affairs has been to determine the moral and intellectual legacy of the Iraq War. And its surprising discovery, which its contributors from across the political spectrum seem to agree on, is the continuing vitality of what used to be called neoconservative principles. Since 2003, the word neoconservative has become an all-purpose slur. For the left and far right, it has come to refer to an undemocratic, belligerent ideology, promoted largely by Jews, who dragged America into the Iraq War against its will. Much ingenuity has been expended to link neoconservatism to Leo Strauss, Leon Trotsky, or Sayyid Qutb — just about any intellectual godfather will do, so long as he is sinister and foreign. Why, then, is it so hard for respectable foreign-policy thinkers to discard the basic principles of neoconservatism? The best answer I have found comes in the Spring issue of World Affairs, in Robert Kagan’s essay “Neocon Nation: Neoconservatism, c. 1776.” Mr. Kagan lays out a powerful case that neoconservative innovations in foreign policy are as old as America. If we define neoconservatism, in Mr. Kagan’s words, as “potent moralism and idealism in world affairs, a belief in America’s exceptional role as a promoter of the principles of liberty and democracy,” then it was a doctrine held by Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, and Theodore Roosevelt. “The effort to explain the [Iraq] war as the product of manipulation by a handful of ‘neoconservatives,'” Mr. Kagan writes, “is an effort to escape what for many may be a more troubling reality: that there is something in the American character which leads it in this direction.” Reading World Affairs underscores the truth of Mr. Kagan’s observation. The magazine, edited by Lawrence Kaplan, is not open to the extremes of left or right — neither Noam Chomsky nor Pat Buchanan. But that still leaves a pretty broad swath of opinion, from Mr. Kagan on the right to Todd Gitlin on the left. And the remarkable thing is that almost none of its contributors can or would challenge the “belief in America’s exceptional role as a promoter of the principles of liberty and democracy.” It follows that the current attempts of the left, and the far right, to dismiss the Iraq War as a neoconservative adventure, a nightmare from which the country will soon awoke, are intellectually dishonest. On the contrary, as Mr. Kagan points out in his essay, the Iraq War initially was popular with both political parties and in the country at large. To criticize the way the war — or, more precisely, the occupation — was handled is not the way to dispute the rationale for the war. “The decision to invade Iraq,” Mr. Kagan writes, “might have been correct or mistaken, but the lessons to be learned from the war … concern matters of judgment, tactics, and execution.” Some contributors to World Affairs do try to sketch an alternative to Mr. Kagan’s frank neoconservatism. In the Summer issue, Peter Beinart urges America to “revive the collective security tradition,” and Mr. Gitlin suggests that the test of our foreign policy should be that it “proves capable of mobilizing a substantial coalition of national forces.” Yet these hopeful phrases evade the basic fact that viable collective security arrangements depend on powerful countries’ willingness to use their power. The League of Nations could not save Abyssinia, and without American armies, the United Nations could not have saved Kuwait. As Christopher Hitchens, a regular columnist for the magazine, points out, “It’s eternally fashionable in Washington (and elsewhere) to contrast ‘diplomatic’ initiatives with ‘saber-rattling’ ones. What this naïve dichotomy overlooks is the plain fact that without the known quantity of the American saber, few if any diplomatic movements would be possible, either.” Generations from now, Americans may be taught that “the neoconservatives” forced America into war, much as Hearst believed in 1898. But after reading World Affairs it seems clear that, no matter who is in the White House when the next serious crisis comes, America is likely to find itself returning to the same calculus of interest and idealism — call it traditional, liberal, interventionist, or simply neoconservative — that it used when dealing with Iraq.