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What is a Neocon?
In the comments on my last post, there was a great deal of discussion about exactly who should -- and who should not -- be considered a neocon. This made me realize that I hadn't been very precise about my terms.
This is unfortunate, because I think there's a fair amount of confusion on this issue. I've noticed a tendency for some people, particularly on the left, to use the term to refer to just about any politician or policy analyst on the right whose views they dislike. It has become, in a sense, just another meaningless insult -- like "fascist" or "Saddam lover."
Ideological definitions are always a problem in politics, because it's so easy to over-generalize. That difficulty is compounded for the neocons, because they are both an ideological faction and a specific group of people.
Considered as a group, the neocons have a fairly concrete identity -- they are intensely hawkish Democrats (or the offspring of intensely hawkish Democrats) who bolted the party in the late '60s/early '70s after it turned against the Vietnam War. They tend to be Jewish, urban and intellectual. Many of them worked for Scoop Jackson (the hawkish Democratic Senator from Washington State.) Some of them started out on the far left fringe of American politics (Trotskyists, etc.) then moved right and kept going. Some are admirers of the late University of Chicago professor and philospher Leo Strauss.
These are all generalizations, but there are enough people who fit enough of the points to make the profile valid.
Ideologically, though, neocon is a much more nebulous term. It's not like there's some kind of neocon Politburo that lays down a rigid party line on any and all points -- although the Project for a New American Century probably comes closest to filling that function.
It's easy enough to point to some common themes that are generally identified with the neocons: contempt for international organizations and the concept of multilateralism; impatience with traditional balance-of-power diplomacy; a cultish devotion to the use of military power; an outspoken belief in the superiority of Western culture and political institutions; a messianic vision of America's mission to "civilize" the world, which at times (Max Boot) makes them sound like caricatures of old-fashioned European imperialists. And of course: an intense identification with the state of Israel, and a willingness, even eagerness, to use American power to protect and further Israeli security interests.
But there are nuances on all these points. Some neocons support the maximum Likud position -- one state (Jewish) between the Jordan and the sea. Some don't. Some are more willing to use multilateral institutions to pursue American interests. Some aren't. Some are more cynical about the "spreading democracy" meme than others.
Personally, I would not describe Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld as neocons. Certainly not on the first count (personal biography). And not on the second (ideological affinity), either. At the end of the day, Cheney and Rumsfeld are politicians and bureaucrats. They are not intellectuals -- not by a long shot. They are consumers of ideology, not producers.
To me, the neocons and the realists are rival schools of foreign policy intellectuals, competing for the patronage of political leaders such as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Delay, etc. With a few exceptions, they are servants of power -- not holders of power.
Since most American politicians (like most American voters) know very little about the rest of the world, they usually don't have detailed positions on the kinds of foreign policy issues the neocons and the realists spend their professional lives debating. Instead, politicians have belief systems, typically reflecting some fairly basic value judgments: America must always be the strongest nation on earth, or America should try to cooperate with its allies, or whatever.
The secret of the neocons' success, I think, is the fact that their ideology -- as well as the policies that grow out of that ideology -- appeal very strongly to a certain type of politician: intensely nationalistic, skeptical of diplomacy, suspicious of foreigners, a believer in the "Judeo-Christian tradition," and sentimentally attached to the American military (even if they haven't served in it themselves.)
At the same time, though, guys like Cheney and Rumsfeld appear to be strongly attracted to some of the more Machiavellian tactics of the realists -- like using proxies (even odious ones like Saddam) to fight enemies that cannot be attacked directly, playing allies off against each other (Old Europe vs. New Europe), forming temporary alliances with long-term rivals to achieve short-term objectives (Bush and Putin.)
It's important to remember that the realists are not liberals. They're not even multilateralists -- at least, not as matter of doctrine. They, too, believe in the primacy of American power. But they're neither squeamish nor doctrinaire about how that primacy is expressed. If it means using a thug like Saddam to fight Iran, they'll do it. But if it means haggling with the U.N. Security Council to obtain a resolution that serves U.S. interests, they'll do that, too. To them, that's just being realistic. If they don't have any of the neocons' lingering Wilsonian hang ups, they also don't have any of their neuroses about anti-Semitic Europeans.
Up until 9/11, I don't think you could say that either Cheney and Rumsfeld, or the Bush adminstration in general, were under neocon discipline (to borrow the old commie witch hunt phrase.) If anything, they seemed to be leaning the other way on most issues -- although not, perhaps, in the Middle East, where grassroots conservative pressure to line up with Sharon was already very strong. It's hard to say, though, since the administration consciously avoided making any moves in the region during its first seven months in power.
In my previous post, I speculated about why the administration's senior management team ended up adopting the neocon program for invading Iraq -- and why it even seemed for a time to embrace the entire vision of a Middle East remade through the exercise of American power.
Did 9/11 shake their confidence in the cautious methods and limited objectives of the realists? Were they suddenly converted to the need for more radical solutions -- which the neocons were happy to provide?
Or was it just a cynical, tactical shift? Perhaps senior management simply pretended to adopt the maximum neocon program in order to accomplish goals that were always much more limited: getting rid of Saddam, gaining leverage over OPEC, and securing new military bases to replace the old ones in Saudia Arabia.
I don't really know, of course -- although I tend to believe the former and not the latter, if only because the goals don't seem commensurate with the risks taken, from a realist perspective. Certainly, if the administration wasn't playing by the neocon game plan, it did a remarkable job of keeping it secret from everybody -- including the neocons.
Either way, though, I don't think senior management -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld -- has developed any kind of lasting self-identification with the neocons. Recent events would seem to bear this out. The same, however, can't be said of the conservative grass roots, which appears to find the neocon world view an increasingly comfortable fit -- for the reasons outlined above. So there may indeed come a day when a Republican politican will quip that "we're all neocons now." But I don't think we're there just yet.
But you probably use "bling bling" and "metrosexual" in your dialect anyway.
...a small compact convertible car made by Chrysler based off of the Dodge "Neon"...
its a glow-in-the-dark CONvict......
It is obvious. Because I have never even given a thought or cared what one was in the past. But now I know.
Posted by George Roof: "It's not a word Cecil, it's an acronym"
Wrong again George. An acronym is something like A.B.B, K.I.S.S, S.O.S., S.N.A.F.U. etc.
And you try so hard to be sophisticated George. LOL
this is over my head, so are you a neocon Cecil?
Is a bear catholic and does the Pope crap in the woods? Not even close. George Roof, Dave Toms, and John C. are perfect examples of Neocons.
Cecil, whats it like to be the class bully and get the crap kicked out of you every fricken day?
Seems that the US has been neocons since the beginning. Remember this word was invented by liberals.
Some basic questions answered.
What do neoconservatives believe?
"Neocons" believe that the United States should not be ashamed to use its unrivaled power -- forcefully if necessary -- to promote its values around the world. Some even speak of the need to cultivate a US empire. Neoconservatives believe modern threats facing the US can no longer be reliably contained and therefore must be prevented, sometimes through preemptive military action.
Most neocons believe that the US has allowed dangers to gather by not spending enough on defense and not confronting threats aggressively enough. One such threat, they contend, was Saddam Hussein and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Since the 1991 Gulf War, neocons relentlessly advocated Mr. Hussein's ouster.
Most neocons share unwavering support for Israel, which they see as crucial to US military sufficiency in a volatile region. They also see Israel as a key outpost of democracy in a region ruled by despots. Believing that authoritarianism and theocracy have allowed anti-Americanism to flourish in the Middle East, neocons advocate the democratic transformation of the region, starting with Iraq. They also believe the US is unnecessarily hampered by multilateral institutions, which they do not trust to effectively neutralize threats to global security.
What are the roots of neoconservative beliefs?
The original neocons were a small group of mostly Jewish liberal intellectuals who, in the 1960s and 70s, grew disenchanted with what they saw as the American left's social excesses and reluctance to spend adequately on defense. Many of these neocons worked in the 1970s for Democratic Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a staunch anti-communist. By the 1980s, most neocons had become Republicans, finding in President Ronald Reagan an avenue for their aggressive approach of confronting the Soviet Union with bold rhetoric and steep hikes in military spending. After the Soviet Union's fall, the neocons decried what they saw as American complacency. In the 1990s, they warned of the dangers of reducing both America's defense spending and its role in the world.
Unlike their predecessors, most younger neocons never experienced being left of center. They've always been "Reagan" Republicans.
What is the difference between a neoconservative and a conservative?
Liberals first applied the "neo" prefix to their comrades who broke ranks to become more conservative in the 1960s and 70s. The defectors remained more liberal on some domestic policy issues. But foreign policy stands have always defined neoconservatism. Where other conservatives favored détente and containment of the Soviet Union, neocons pushed direct confrontation, which became their raison d'etre during the 1970s and 80s.
Today, both conservatives and neocons favor a robust US military. But most conservatives express greater reservations about military intervention and so-called nation building. Neocons share no such reluctance. The post 9/11-campaigns against regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate that the neocons are not afraid to force regime change and reshape hostile states in the American image. Neocons believe the US must do to whatever it takes to end state-supported terrorism. For most, this means an aggressive push for democracy in the Middle East. Even after 9/11, many other conservatives, particularly in the isolationist wing, view this as an overzealous dream with nightmarish consequences.
How have neoconservatives influenced US foreign policy?
Finding a kindred spirit in President Reagan, neocons greatly influenced US foreign policy in the 1980s.
But in the 1990s, neocon cries failed to spur much action. Outside of Reaganite think tanks and Israel's right-wing Likud Party, their calls for regime change in Iraq were deemed provocative and extremist by the political mainstream. With a few notable exceptions, such as President Bill Clinton's decision to launch isolated strikes at suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, their talk of preemptive military action was largely dismissed as overkill.
Despite being muted by a president who called for restraint and humility in foreign affairs, neocons used the 1990s to hone their message and craft their blueprint for American power. Their forward thinking and long-time ties to Republican circles helped many neocons win key posts in the Bush administration.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 moved much of the Bush administration closer than ever to neoconservative foreign policy. Only days after 9/11, one of the top neoconservative think tanks in Washington, the Project for a New American Century, wrote an open letter to President Bush calling for regime change in Iraq. Before long, Bush, who campaigned in 2000 against nation building and excessive military intervention overseas, also began calling for regime change in Iraq. In a highly significant nod to neocon influence, Bush chose the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as the venue for a key February 2003 speech in which he declared that a US victory in Iraq "could begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace." AEI -- the de facto headquarters for neconservative policy -- had been calling for democratization of the Arab world for more than a decade.
What does a neoconservative dream world look like?
Neocons envision a world in which the United States is the unchallenged superpower, immune to threats. They believe that the US has a responsibility to act as a "benevolent global hegemon." In this capacity, the US would maintain an empire of sorts by helping to create democratic, economically liberal governments in place of "failed states" or oppressive regimes they deem threatening to the US or its interests. In the neocon dream world the entire Middle East would be democratized in the belief that this would eliminate a prime breeding ground for terrorists. This approach, they claim, is not only best for the US; it is best for the world. In their view, the world can only achieve peace through strong US leadership backed with credible force, not weak treaties to be disrespected by tyrants.
Any regime that is outwardly hostile to the US and could pose a threat would be confronted aggressively, not "appeased" or merely contained. The US military would be reconfigured around the world to allow for greater flexibility and quicker deployment to hot spots in the Middle East, as well as Central and Southeast Asia. The US would spend more on defense, particularly for high-tech, precision weaponry that could be used in preemptive strikes. It would work through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations when possible, but must never be constrained from acting in its best interests whenever necessary.
Well John I took the test and failed.Realist is what it came out to be.Looks like I better read more of your posts and study more.Lol
I bet Cecil turned out to be a Dellusionist !
Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?-Mr. Blonde
Cecil, you know for someone who always cries about being called names you sure don't mind labeling folks yourself. "Mama, mama those mean conservative republicans are making fun of me again. It's not fair, I'm telling my mommy."
AAAHHHHHHH SHUT UP YOU LITTLE TWIT