April 5, 2008

MORE THEO, LESS NEO:

Idealists with guns or evil ideologues: the neocon myth: Their rise and influence was exaggerated – but so were the stories of their fall from grace (Gerard Baker, 3/17/08, Times of London)

[I]t is probably fair to say that it was only when Mr Bush dismissed Mr Rumsfeld and started to listen more closely to what neoconservatives such as the AEI scholar Fred Kagan were saying that US fortunes in Iraq began to turn around.

Mr Kagan was one of the intellectual authors of the “surge”, the steep acceleration of US military efforts that was hatched last year and which seems to have produced the clearest signs of success in stabilising Iraq since the US invaded five years ago.

Some neocons, it is true, were guilty of blithe underestimation of the difficulties of the task in Iraq. But it is worth remembering that the basic objective of US policy now – in Iraq and in Afghanistan – remains not just stability but the painstaking creation of recognisably democratic political structures.

Even as approval ratings for President Bush continue to languish at historic lows, it is not at all clear that future US policy is going to deviate radically from the goals that he has laid down.

Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton is likely, despite the rhetoric, to effect an early departure of US troops and the relapse of Iraqi politics into tyrannical stability.

And John McCain, the near-certain Republican nominee, is a fervent supporter of neoconservative objectives in foreign policy. He was a prime mover behind the Iraq surge.

He plans significant increases in US military resources and he takes a radical, quasi-ideologically assertive line on other aspects of US foreign policy such as dealing with the challenges from the undemocratic powers in Russia and China.

In the end none of this should be all that surprising. Despite their much-maligned ideas and claims these past few years, the neocons were not really far out of line with the historic objectives of US foreign policy.

Idealism, a firm faith in the transforming capabilities of US power, has long been a central part of how Americans see their role in the world. The belief, perhaps touchingly naive at times, in the redemptive power and universal applicability of freedom and democracy, is unlikely to stop being the central pillar of American global policy just because of the supposed discrediting of a group of like-minded intellectuals.


If anything the neocons have been undone by insufficient faith in those ideals, especially as regards their fear of democracy in the Islamic world because it may initially elect Islamic parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 5, 2008 6:02 AM
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