The Return of the neocons

The oft-cited dark lords of the Iraq war are making a silent return.
April 08, 2009

The Project for a New American Century — now disbanded — was a neoconservative think tank formed in the 1990s to support President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy against a strong anti-government crusade by Republicans. The robust belief in American Exceptionalism and the United States as the “indispensable nation” put neoconservative belief closer to liberal foreign policy than conservative isolationist thought. Their advocacy helped lead Congress to pass the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 then signed by Clinton. Following Sept. 11, the policy goals of the defense hawks in the government aligned with neoconservatives, which created the political breeding ground for the Iraq war. Now, neoconservatism, perhaps the most misunderstood political label in use today, is a blanket term for the incompetence of President George W. Bush’s administration.
The Iraq war was not only falsely justified but was executed clumsily. But the neoconservative label creates a false belief of their Svengali influence on the Bush presidency; very few members of the previous administration can actually be described as neoconservatives. Assuming that a small cabal of ideologues wielded exorbitant power over foreign policy is fun conspiracy theorizing but is otherwise of little use. The burden of proof still lies on those who think otherwise — why didn’t the Bush administration pursue neoconservative agendas elsewhere in the world?
The other side of the coin is that there is little accountability in United States foreign policy. The coalition of foreign policy thinkers that advocated the Iraq war will never be held to task for it. But whether that is even necessary is debatable. Blaming a small, elite group for such a big event as a war is an attempt by the media, Congress and the majority of the population to absolve their own responsibility. In 2003, it wasn’t only neoconservatives who thought it was a good idea to depose Saddam Hussein.
Six years on the public is war-wary. Some are advocating a withdrawal from Iraq posthaste, genocide be damned. It is Iraq’s problem. Some conservatives are even attempting to label the war in Afghanistan as President Barack Obama’s war. Amid a global economic crisis on par with the Great Depression, concern is, understandably, focusing domestically. Politicians are becoming increasingly nationalistic, especially economically. Other countries are doing the same; Europe, despite pledging to help the war effort in Afghanistan, still needs to back up its words.
So in order to support Obama, neoconservative thinkers have formed a new think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative. Has the movement been humbled?
Many critics of the Iraq war demonstrated the same ideological impatience as its advocates: utterly focused on Iraq, utterly convinced the existing foreign policy establishment was wrong. Indeed, it is invaluable to have dissenting voices on foreign policy, which helps to create a balance of power in the market for ideas. Tibet is not only a human rights issue but also a strategic border dispute between China and India. Russia’s attempt at reasserting itself with power it does not have cannot go unchecked.
One line of thinking cannot and never has dominated United States foreign policy. As for neoconservatives, they are keeping a low profile. The Foreign Policy Initiative still believes American power is a good thing, but gone is the talk of a new American century. That, gentlemen, is a good start.

St. James’ Street welcomes comments at stjamesstreet@mndaily.com.

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