The public, and probably those in national power, have become distrustful of the Neoconservatives. Characterized as former liberals turned conservative, the Neocons have diminished their credibility by sponsoring an ill-conceived and disastrous Iraq war that expanded terrorism, caused a loss of American lives and invited a decline in U.S. prestige.
Neocons survive by not being directly allied to a particular political party and not being responsive to the demands of the general public. They are more allied to an agenda that presumes global stability can be achieved by aggressively eliminating governments they consider antithetical to their concept of liberal democracy. An ideological bent allows them to constantly transform their allegiances and modus operandi. Buffeted by the vagaries of history, they shift their operations to re-guide history.
The neoconservative movement is not easy to define. Those considered to be associated with neoconservatism deny there is a coordinated Neocon movement. History relates a different story.
Who are the Neocons?
The Statement of Principles of the Project of New American Century describes Neoconservative ideology:
- 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.
In pursuing their agenda, the Neocons demonstrate a narrow vision of the world:
- They are concerned almost entirely with foreign policy and don't consider its relationship to domestic policy;
- They are insensitive to the plights in most of the world's nations, especially those of Central and South America and Africa;
- They omit the human factor in their plans and the effects of aggressive policies on the everyday life of the world's citizens;
- They don't consider the demands of the American public in their objectives ;
- They don't run for political office, but try to steer politicians to their views;
- They are elitist.
Attempts to portray the neoconservative movement as an extension of Wilsonian democracy fail to meet Woodrow Wilson's criteria for democracy: The elitist Neocons impose their vision of democracy and freedom on foreign peoples, ignore social and cultural restraints and deter the democratic choice of self-determination, especially for the Palestinian people.
Where Did they Come From?
The Neocons are not new. They have tried to influence U.S. foreign policy since the1930's. They are not conservative. If conservatism means maintaining the status quo, then the Neocons, who advocate broad changes, are just the opposite. Furthermore, if the early pioneers of neoconservatism are those who eventually sought global stability through use of American power and promotion of its values, then the pioneers of neoconservatiam were radical leftists The more prominent devotees were followers of Leon Trotsky:
- James Burnham, founding editor at the conservative National Review and a vocal anticommunist figure of the Cold War era, started his political life as a Trotskyite. David Kelly, in a biography of Burnham, considers him the first neoconservative.
James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: Daniel Kelly. ISI Books, 2002.
- Max Shactman, a philosophical founder of the Democrat Socialists, USA, that was guided for many years by Michael Harrington, gravitated from Trotskyism to Socialism and finally to neoconservatism. Shactman urged the Socialists to support U.S. funding of the Nicaraguan contras and support nuclear weapons in Europe and the Pacific.
- Irving Kristol, Distinguished Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a former editor of the once liberal Commentary magazine, is also considered a leading founder of Neoconservatism. In his memoirs:
...the honor I most prized was the fact that I was a member in good standing of the Young People's Socialist League (Fourth International). This organization was commonly; and correctly, designated as Trotskyist.
Memoirs of a Trotskyist, Irving Kristol
- Leo Strauss, a guiding philosopher of Neoconservative thought, has been credited with giving the Neocons the proposition that "not all lies are self-evident."
Strauss believed that the essential truths about human society and history should be held by an elite, and withheld from others who lack the fortitude to deal with truth. Society, Strauss thought, needs consoling lies.
The long reach of Leo Strauss, W. Pfaff, Int. Her. Trib., May 15, '03
The heirs to the original Neocons claim they are only a coterie of loosely related persons with a common purpose. However, they appear as unified groups in many organizations, media and in the U.S. government. Some samples:
- Organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Empower America and Project for a New American century are only a few of many organizations that present the new conservative mindset.
- Government officials of prominent importance in administrations of the last twenty years and well-identified with the Neocon ideology include State and Defense department appointees Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and John R. Bolton, former CIA Director James Woolsey and previous Democrat and UN representative Jeane Kirkpatrick.
- The media well represents the voice of Neoconservatism in the writings of pro-war Campus Watch leader Daniel Pipes, syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and Robert Kagan, media pundit David Brooks, Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and Commentary Magazine's Norman Podhoretz.
- News empires and television broadcasters, principally Reverend Moon's Washington Times and Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, favor Neocon policies and personalities.
- Financial support of the organizations that favor the Neocons (as well as other conservative causes) come from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation ($489 million in 2002 and the largest contributor to conservatives), chemical and munitions profits of the John M. Olin Foundation and the banking and oil money of The Scaife Foundations of Pittsburgh.
Although the Neocon personalities deny any structural connection between the Neocon government officials, columnists, media and organizations, David Lind, a former Neocon has described their close connections in an article: A Tragedy of Errors, David Lind. Nation Magazine, feb. 23, 2004.
PNAC is run by William Kristol, who edits The Weekly Standard, for which Brooks writes, and is the son of Irving Kristol, founder of The Public Interest and former publisher of The National Interest, who wrote a book called Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, and is married to the neoconservative historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, William's mother. Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, is the father of John Podhoretz, a neoconservative editor and columnist who has worked for the Reverend Moon's Washington Times and the New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns The Weekly Standard and Fox Television. Norman is the father-in-law of Elliott Abrams, the former Iran/contra figure and former head of the neocon Ethics and Public Policy Center and the director of Near Eastern affairs at the National Security Council. Elliott's mother-in-law and Norman's wife, Midge Decter, like many older neocons a veteran of the old Committee on the Present Danger, was recently given a National Humanities Medal after publishing a fawning biography of Rumsfeld, whose number-two and number-three deputies at the Pentagon, respectively, are Wolfowitz and Feith, veterans of the Committee on the Present Danger and Team B, the intelligence advisory group that grossly exaggerated Soviet military power in the 1970s and '80s. Perle, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (and its former head), is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and sits on the board of Hollinger International, a right-wing media conglomerate (including the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Telegraph) controlled by Conrad Black, the chairman of the editorial board of The National Interest, which Black partly subsidizes through the Nixon Center. Perle and Feith--both PNAC allies--helped write a 1996 paper called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," on behalf of Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Perle, Feith and the other US and Israeli authors called on Israel to abandon the Oslo process and to restore martial law in the Palestinian territories long before the second intifada began. Co-authorship is common among the neocons: Brooks and Kristol, Kristol and Kagan, Frum and Perle.
How did they Arrive to Power
After Roosevelt's New Deal policies prevented mass rebellion in Depression America and allowed capitalism to continue, the Trotskyites and other leftist groups shifted their energies to fighting their arch-enemy, the Communists. They became ardent anti-communists and cold war advocates. Their sympathy with Zionism's socialist roots and its liberal philosophy connected them to the state of Israel
The Cold War and continuous Middle East strife shaped a militaristic America to act as a watchdog of world peace and carelessly use war as a means to impose liberal democratic values throughout the globe. The events brought the Neocons closer to the military-industrial complex. Their hero became Henry "scoop" Jackson, a Washington Senator whose principal objective was to maintain a mighty U.S. military capability.
While slowly observing their foreign policy recommendations become realities, the Neocons received impetus from Israel's capture of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the 1967 war. They now had a "liberal democracy" they favored in the Middle East, that could be used to combat Arab nationalism and repressive regimes.
President Jimmy Carter's egalitarian views, inattention to military imperatives, less tolerant policies to Israel's expansion and close reliance on international organizations disengaged the more conservative Democrats and many began to drift from the Democratic Party.
Ronald Reagan's presidential victory gave the Neocons a new home. They welcomed Reagan's strong stance against the Soviet Union, overjoyed at the collapse of the Communist state, supported the Iran-Contra affair and pushed Reagan to aggressively support the Contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and increase support for Israel. The Neocons became more expressive, more vocal and more self-assured.
Their policies of achieving global stability by eliminating from the world the governments they consider alien to their concept of liberal democracy (even by the use of military force), began to bear fruit with George Bush's invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf war.
The Neocons delighted when the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton's leadership moved to the center of the political spectrum. Max Shactman, who had shifted his allegiance from Trortskyism to Socialism and finally to neoconservatism, had stated: "The AFL-CIO is the only legitimate representative of the American working class, and the Democratic Party must become a more legitimate social democratic/labor party by 'moving to the center." The bombings of Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq, America's incursion into Somalia and NATO"s attack on Yugoslavia (to bring peace and freedom to the Balkans) during Clinton's administration, were in the Neoconservative agenda. The selection of neoconservative Senator Joseph Lieberman as Al Gore's running mate demonstrated that the Neoconservative movement was not burrowing in but was being accepted from within.
By the time George W. Bush arrived to the presidency of the United States, the Neocons were on a roll to power. An intellectually weak Bush and the 9/11 terrorist attack catapulted the militarist Neocons into the highest echelons of government, media and "think tanks." On 9/12/2001, the Neocons had arrived. On 3/19/ 2003, the Neocons proudly observed the "day of deliverance," the culmination of their cleverly arranged scheme for the invasion of Iraq. They didn't realize that the invasion initiated their "swan song." Within one year, they were disgraced.
Whither go the Neocons?
The Neocons concentrated their rhetoric and energies on the world's "hot spots" - Nicaragua, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Iran and Israel/Palestine - tended to make each of them hotter and ignited them into incendiary situations. Norman Podhoretz, who recommends attacks on almost all Arab countries, and James Woolsey, who remains assured that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, argue that the U.S. is now in World War IV, a catastrophe they might bring about and then say: "We told you so." (It's a relief nobody else knows we are in World War IV or else there could be many casualties.) They still don't realize that the explosions they fostered are similar to those of "suicide bombers," maiming the carrier as well as the intended victims. The explosions generated by the Neocons have exploded in their faces. Rather than being called Neocons, it might be preferable to call them neowrecks or neoconks - one of a long line of groups that have steered American foreign policy into reckless adventures.
The desertion of followers won't deter them. They will step back, examine their errors, soothe their pain, metamorphose into new roles and devise an alternative strategy to accomplish their purposes. They won't give up. They'll offer advice on how to aggressively confront upstart North Korea, ballistic Iran, human rights violator China and out of control Russia
Questions: Have the Neowrecks latest efforts done permanent damage to the United States? Is the present trip of the U.S. military to Iraq, a voyage of no-return, a withering away of America's resources, prestige and ability to defend itself? Which will come first - the extinguished light of the Neocons or the dimming light of America?