Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Death of Neoconservatism?

Michael van der Galien and I have had a polite argument about neoconservatism. I tend to think it had good intentions when it started in the 70s as an alternative to the so-called New Left, but has degenerated into a philosophy that is focuses on a belligerent foreign policy and basically on bigotry towards Islam. Michael has a far less generous view, seeing the who ideology as dangerous. However, we both agree that neoconservatism has had a big influence in the GOP and it has hurt the party.

These days, Neoconservatism is not very popular among the general public. With Iraq becoming an albatross for the US, there is a lot of anger for neocons for having got America into this mess. So, with things going badly, there is a lot of talk about the coming demise of this movement. Jacob Weisberg has basically written an epitath:

...whether or not the neo-cons are prepared to face it, there are increasing signs that their moment is finally over. At the Defence department, Donald Rumsfeld has been replaced by Robert Gates, a member of the Iraq Study Group and an affiliate of the realist school associated with the previous President Bush. Paul Wolfowitz, the architect who wanted to build a new Middle East on Saddam’s rubble, has been moved to the World Bank, where he observes a Robert McNamara-like silence on the failure of his war. Another former Pentagon official, Douglas Feith, is under investigation for misrepresenting intelligence data to make the case for the invasion.

At the State department, Condoleezza Rice is returning to her realist roots and now actually seems to direct policy. She has embraced shuttle diplomacy in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, is considering conversation with Syria and Iran and even made a nuclear deal with North Korea. These steps signify a broader shift away from what the neo-con defector Francis Fukuyama calls “hard Wilsonian” ideas and back towards the less principled, more effective pragmatism of Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser, and James Baker, former secretary of state.

The most important sign of all is the fading influence of Mr Cheney, who for six years dominated foreign policy in a way no previous vice-president ever has. Mr Cheney is discredited, unwell and facing various congressional investigations. He was badly damaged by the Libby trial, which exposed his ruthless mania to justify a war gone wrong.

But the larger factor in Mr Cheney’s demise is that his neo-conservative hypotheses have been falsified by events. Invading Iraq did not catalyse a new Middle East; isolating North Korea advanced its nuclear programme; high-handed unilateralism has reduced American power. At the outset of his presidency, Mr Bush thought himself lucky to have a number two who did not aspire to his job. He may now grasp the hazard of lending so much power to someone with no incentive to test his views in the political marketplace.

As disciples of Bernard Lewis, it is unlikely Mr Cheney and the neo-con crusaders will apologise for what they have wrought. Like Mr Bush, they look to the long span of history for vindication. It will indeed be eons before anyone trusts them again.

I think it's too soon to start writing obituaries. For some reason, journalists and others love to write about the demise of so-and-so movement, usually after an election loss or when something has gone wrong. I've heard more often than not about how the Religious Right is finished, and yet we see them coming back to prominence again and again.

Neoconservatism is at a nadir right now, but that doesn't mean it is finished. Movements can also grow dormant, with thinkers "going underground" and waiting until there is an opening.

If you want to end a movement, you need to challenge it. Conservative Realists will need to start chugging out papers and studies as to why we need a less agressive foreign policy than the one the neocons have been pushing. In short, we need to present an alternative.

The neocons still have think tanks and thinkers with book contracts who can still peddle their ideas to the public. All they need is a politician that is willing to listen and boom, they are back in power.

So basically, unless I see a death certificate, I will tend to hear all those reports about the demise of the neocons as premature.

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