Let others hail the rising sun: I bow to that whose course is run – David Garrick (1717-1779)
IT’S OVER. In its present incarnation, neo-conservatism is – to borrow Vice President Cheney’s phrase -- “in its last throes.” Despite the still-developing legacy of the neo-con-plagued administration of George W. Bush, Jr., it’s quite obvious that no longer can contemporary neo-conservatism be viewed as a viable philosophical commodity.
To it’s liberal critics in general and perhaps Bush in particular, the manner in which neo-conservatism has become little more that an evanescent philosophy may be the stuff of schadenfreude. But a bit of malicious joy would be apropos in that George W. Bush is to red meat neo-conservatism, what Jimmy Carter was to insouciant liberalism. Virtually single-handedly, he discredited it.
“The truth is, it was always (about) Bush.” submitted Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol in a the article “The Last Man Standing,” which appeared in a December, 2006 edition of Newsweek.
It’s still fairly easy to recall just a few short years back when the devotees of an audacious dogma – individuals who redefined hubris with their know-no-bounds optimism about the legitimacy of their cause --- hovered over both the domestic and geo-political landscape propelled by the sheer energy of their own ironclad certitude.
These were the post-Cold War-era, neo-cons. The contemporary ideologists of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and the Bush Doctrine’s “white man’s burden” view of the world, fortuitously emerging at a time when the peerless nature of America’s military superiority was unequivocal. This new breed, as Kristol, PNAC’s co-founder and chairman might point out, was not your father’s conservatives.
Certainly they weren’t his father’s conservatives. As it remains today, the world in which the PNAC/Bush Doctrine neo-cons inherited then was characterized by something that was not a reality for the previous generation’s Cold War-era neo-cons including Bill Kristol’s iconic father, Irving – that something was America’s position as the world’s sole superpower. Beyond that, they had something equally as important: the White House.
The Cold War was over, won precisely, they believed, because of neo-conservative concepts such as overtly extravagant military buildups and clandestine support for disparate anti-communist groups around the world. Having eliminated the Soviet Union and the communist threat through these and other means, the military restraints established by the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) theory of the Cold War era suddenly no longer existed. In an instant, any real retaliatory threat posed by the alliance of Warsaw Pact nations had vanished. For the neo-cons, the possibilities were absolutely breathtaking, and seemingly endless.
In the barest of descriptions, the version of neo-conservatism promoted during the Cold War-era by its pioneers including Irving Kristol (considered the “father” of Cold War-era neo-conservatism); sociologists Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer; political activists like Ben Wattenberg and foreign policy experts such as Edward Luttwak, was a specific formulation of three basic elements: economics, domestic affairs and geo-politics. It advocated concepts such as tax reductions as a means of stimulating economic growth without concern for enormous budget deficits that may result. Its position on domestic affairs held that government must be strong but unobtrusive, and that broad cultural change must be eschewed. In the geo-political arena, nationalism was fervently stressed; a clear delineation between friend and foe was essential and a powerful, hyper-vigilant military de rigueur.
However, to the think-tank policy theorists who comprise the post-Cold War era neo-cons --- “warrior nerds” like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Bill Kristol, Richard Perle and Bill Bennett --- the first two elements, though significant, channeled little of the macho “new sheriff in town” appeal of the third. Consequently, PNAC’s agenda focused sharply on pursuits that played into its vision of America’s role as global leader, or, as old school conservative Patrick Buchanan is fond of saying, “Globo-Cop”.
“Neo-conservatism, which emerged in the ‘90s as a distinct foreign policy” wrote the Carnegie Institute’s John Judis in a 2003 New Republic Online article, “shares the aims of liberal internationalism, including global democracy promotion and the removal of barriers to trade and immigration, but aims to accomplish these ends unilaterally or through ad hoc alliances. It seeks a unipolar democratic world under American hegemony. “
In clear hot pursuit of these goals, PNAC, which was formed in 1997 chiefly by Kristol and Council on Foreign Relations member Robert Kagan, published report just months prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks entitled: Rebuilding America’s Defense: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century. A veritable monument to bellicose nationalism, ostentatious sabre rattling and hegemonic vision, it recommended, among other things that “America ... seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S military forces.” It also advocated “...challenging regimes hostile to U.S. interests and values; promoting the cause of American political and economic power outside the U.S.; preserving and extending an international order friendly to U.S. security, prosperity and principles.” Yet another key recommendation, serving perhaps as the chilling embodiment of PNAC members’ apocalyptic outlook, was the insistence that the U.S. military prepare to “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars,” and “perform the ‘constabulary’ duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions.”
Within two years of the PNAC report’s release, Bush, with the overwhelming approval of a 911-traumatized America, began sending contingents of U.S. soldiers to fight an initial two-pronged “terror war” in Afghanistan and Iraq. That some form of major military operation would occur during the watch of a neo-con-inspired president is something likely to be acknowledged as unsurprising by most of the philosophy’s believers.
“Neo-conservatism just happened to provide a convenient ideological infrastructure with which to justify metonymic revenge against some Muslim Arab or other,” wrote Austin W. Bramwell, formerly of conservative William F. Buckley’s National Review in the November 2006 edition of The American Conservative. “Before 9/11, the movement was praising modesty in foreign affairs; after 9/11, it did not so much embrace neo-conservatism as blunder into it by accident.”
Death by a Thousand Cuts