August 26, 2002


IN DEFENSE OF THE NEOCONS (Patrick Ruffini, 8/25/02)
Neoconservatism is both more diverse and expansive than Orrin imagines it to be. The peculiar brand of McCainite "national greatness" belief he correctly attacks is pretty much limited to Kristol, Brooks, and a few hangers-on. I would argue that its very authenticity is brought into question by Brooks, perhaps the most consumeristic public policy writer in America today. As one who celebrates the marked benefits commercial capitalism has brought us, how is he in any position to bemoan the avariciousness of business interests when they are brought to bear on the political system? Even Charles Krauthammer, whom Orrin singles out as archetypical of neoconservative belief, has a view of government that is diametrically opposed to the incoherent "national greatness" ideology of Kristol and Brooks. He goes so far as to say that public apathy breeds smaller government and is thus healthy for the political process.

[...] Traditionally, the neocon obsessions have been with foreign policy and social issues usually lacking a sharp moral dimension, such as welfare, education, and race relations. It is on those issues that the neocons have led us in new and innovative directions — strongly opposing the Soviet Union, questioning Great Society social programs with their perverse incentives towards dependency, and espousing a color-blind ideal. The neocons have also been fairly liberal on immigration, and the GOP is now leaning on the work of pro-immigration neocons like Ben Wattenberg and Michael Barone to shape party ideology.

Mr. Ruffini, as one would anticipate, makes some excellent points here, but I'm not sure he ever refutes the main points of the original essay. Firstly, while the crusade against radical Islam has certainly become the focus of the administration, George W. Bush has cast it in theoconservative terms, rather than neoconservative, with continual references to evil and the starkly Manichean vision of a war between good and evil. More importantly though, to the neocons at least, it seems unlikely that this conflict will last for terribly long. The Middle East appears to be on the verge of an implosion, one which may occur even if we leave the region entirely. This has become the most effective argument against war with Iraq, not that war would be wrong but that it would be superfluous. Between the economic situation there, the growing power of the Kurds in the North, the efforts of the expatriate Iraqi opposition to form a coherent and cohesive alternative to Saddam, and seemingly reliable reports about the demoralization and dissatisfaction of the Iraqi military, it looks like Saddam is living on borrowed time. He certainly can't threaten his neighbors much, because if he tried to deploy his army he'd risk mutiny and rebellion from within his own country. So what should be the neocons easiest sell for the next step of the "national greatness" project has already hit a snag. It still seems probable that we'll take Saddam out, but it is not a given and should we do so it will be because he's evil not because he's any real military threat.
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 26, 2002 10:10 AM
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