The Right Turn
Compared to other U.S. conservatives, neoconservatives are characterized by an aggressive stance on foreign policy, a lesser social conservatism, and lesser dedication to a policy of minimal government. The "newness" refers either to being new to American conservatism (often coming from liberal or socialist backgrounds) or to being part of a "new wave" of conservative thought and political organization.
Neo-conservatism is a controversial term whose meaning is widely disputed. The term is used more often by those who oppose "neoconservative" politics than those who subscribe to them; indeed, many to whom the label is applied reject it. The term is sometimes used pejoratively, especially by the self-described pale conservatives, who oppose neo-conservatism from the right. Critics of the term argue that the word is overused and lacks coherent definition. For instance, they note that many so-called neoconservatives vehemently disagree with one another on major issues.
As a rule, the term refers to journalists, pundits, policy analysts, and institutions affiliated with policy think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Heritage Foundation and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and periodicals such as Commentary, Policy Review and The Weekly Standard. The neoconservatives, often dubbed the neocons by supporters and critics alike, are credited with (or blamed for) influencing U.S. foreign policy, especially under the administrations of Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and George W. Bush (2001-present). Neoconservatives have often been singled out for criticism by opponents of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, many of whom see this invasion as a neoconservative initiative.
Neoconservatives are conservatives who are "new" (neo) to the conservative movement in some way. Usually, this comes as a result from the migration from the left of the political spectrum to the right, over the course of many years. Though every such neoconservative has an individual story to tell, there are several key events in recent American history that are often said to have prompted the shift.
Many of today's most famous neocons are from Eastern European Jewish immigrant families, who were frequently on the edge of poverty. The Great Depression radicalized many immigrants, and introduced them to the new and revolutionary ideas of socialism and communism.
The Soviet Union's break with Stalinism in the 1950's led to the rise of the so-called New Left in America, which popularized anti-Sovietism along with anti-capitalism. The New Left became very popular among the children of hardline Communist families.
Opposition to the New Left and Détente with the Soviet Union
Later to emerge as the first important group of social policy critics from the working class, the original neoconservatives, though not yet using this term, were generally liberals or socialists who strongly supported the Second World War. Multiple strands contributed to their ideas, including the Depression-era ideas of former New Dealers, trade unionists, and Trotskyites, particularly those who followed the political ideas of Max Shachtman. The current neoconservative desire to spread democratic capitalism abroad often by force, it is sometimes said, parallels the Trotskyite dream of world socialist revolution. The influence of the Trotskyites perhaps left them with strong anti-Soviet tendencies, especially considering the Great Purges targeting alleged Trotskyites in Soviet Russia. A number of neoconservatives such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz were Shachtmanites in their youth while others were involved in the Social Democrats, USA, which was formed by Schachtman's supporters in the 1970s.
The original "neoconservative" theorists, such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, were often associated with the magazine Commentary, and their intellectual evolution is quite evident in that magazine over the course of these years. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the early neoconservatives were anti-Communist socialists strongly supportive of the civil rights movement, integration, and Martin Luther King. However, they grew disillusioned with the Johnson administration's Great Society. Some neoconservatives also came to despise the counterculture of the 1960s and what they felt was a growing "anti-Americanism" among many baby boomers, in the movement against the Vietnam War and in the emerging New Left.
According to Irving Kristol, former managing editor of Commentary and now a Senior Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington and the Publisher of the hawkish magazine The National Interest, a neoconservative is a "liberal mugged by reality." Broadly sympathetic to Woodrow Wilson's idealistic goals to spread American ideals of government, economics, and culture abroad, they grew to reject his reliance on international organizations and treaties to accomplish these objectives.
As the radicalization of the New Left pushed these intellectuals further to the right in response, they moved toward a more aggressive militarism. Admiration of the "big stick" interventionist foreign policy of Theodore Roosevelt remains a common theme in neoconservative tracts as well. Now staunch anti-Communists, a vast array of sympathetic conservatives attracted to their strong defense of a "rolling-back" of Communism (an idea touted under the Eisenhower administration by traditional conservative John Foster Dulles) began to become associated with these neoconservative leaders. Influential periodicals such as Commentary, The New Republic, The Public Interest, and The American Spectator, and lately The Weekly Standard have been established by prominent neoconservatives or regularly host the writings of neoconservative writers.
Academics in these circles, many of whom were still Democrats, rebelled against the Democratic Party's leftward drift on defense issues in the 1970s, especially after the nomination of George McGovern in 1972. Many clustered around Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a Democrat derisively known as the "Senator from Boeing," but then they aligned themselves with Ronald Reagan and the Republicans, who promised to confront charges of Soviet "expansionism."
In his semi-autobiographic book, "Neo-conservatism", Irving Kristol cites a number of influences on his own thought, including not only Max Shachtman and Leo Strauss but also the skeptical liberal literary critic Lionel Trilling.
The influence of Leo Strauss and his disciples on some neoconservatives has generated some controversy. Some argue that Strauss's influence has left some neoconservatives adopting a Machiavellian view of politics. See Leo Strauss for a discussion of this controversy.
Reagan and the Neoconservatives
During the 1970s political scientist Jeane Kirkpatrick increasingly criticized the Democratic Party, of which she was still a member, since the nomination of the antiwar George McGovern. Kirkpatrick became a convert to the ideas of the new conservatism of once-liberal Democratic academics. During Ronald Reagan's successful 1980 campaign, he hired her as his foreign policy adviser and later nominated her as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a position she held for four years. Known for her anti-communist stance and for her tolerance of right-wing dictatorships (which she would often temperate in her criticism, calling simply "moderately repressive regimes"), she argued that Third World social revolutions were illegitimate, and thus that the overthrow of leftist governments, even if replaced with right-wing dictatorships, was acceptable and at times essential because they served as a bulwark against the expansion of Soviet interests. Under this doctrine, known as the Kirkpatrick Doctrine, the Reagan administration actively supported leaders such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. Support for such regimes was based primarily on their usefulness, however, which could at times be impaired by their undemocratic natures. Hence, the U.S. could turn against them if circumstances changed. For example, U.S. support for Marcos continued until and even after the fraudulent Philippine election of February 7, 1986. In the days that followed, however, with the widespread popular refusal to accept Marcos as the purported winner, turmoil in the Philippines grew. The Reagan administration then urged Marcos to accept defeat and leave the country, which he did. The Reagan team also supported the 1988 Chilean plebiscite that resulted in the restoration of democratic rule and Pinochet's eventual removal from office.
In this sense, the neoconservative foreign policy makers were different than some of their more traditionalist conservative predecessors. While many from the old school believed that America's allies should be unquestionably defended at all costs, no matter what the nature of their regime, many neocons were more supportive to the idea of changing regimes to make them more compatible and reflective of U.S. values. The belief in the universality of democracy would be a key neoconservative value which would go on to play a larger role in the post-Cold War period. (However, their emphasis on the need for externally-imposed "regime change" for "rogue" nations such as Iraq conflicted with the democratic value of national self-determination.)
For his own part, President Reagan largely did not move towards the sort of protracted, long-term interventions to stem social revolution in the Third World that many of his advisors would have favored. Instead, he mostly favored quick campaigns to attack or overthrow terrorist groups or leftist governments, favoring small, quick interventions that heightened a sense of post-Vietnam triumphalism among Americans, such as the attacks on Grenada and Libya, and arming rightwing militias in Central America seeking to overthrow radical leftist governments like the Sandinistas.
The comeback of neo-conservatism under George W. Bush
Many critics charged that the neoconservatives lost their raison d'étre following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Others argue that they lost their status due to their involvement with the Iran-Contra scandal. During the 1990s, neoconservatives were once again in the opposition side of the foreign policy establishment, railing against the post-Cold War foreign policy of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, which reduced military expenditures and was, in their view, insufficiently idealistic. They accused it of lacking "moral clarity" and the conviction to unilaterally pursue U.S. strategic interests abroad. In the writings of Paul Wolfowitz, Norman Podhoretz, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Max Boot, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, William Bennett, Peter Rodman, and others influential in forging the foreign policy doctrines of the Bush administration, there are frequent references to the appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1938, to which are compared the Cold War's policies of détente and containment (rather than rollback) with the Soviet Union and the PRC. Also particularly galvanizing to the movement was George H.W. Bush and Colin Powell's decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power and what neoconservatives viewed as a betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds. Neoconservatives were also members of the blue team, which argued for a confrontational policy toward the People's Republic of China and strong military and diplomatic support for Taiwan.
Early in the George W. Bush administration, neoconservatives were particularly upset by Bush's non-confrontational policy toward the PRC and Russia and what they perceived as Bush's insufficient support of Israel, and most neoconservatives perceived Bush's foreign policies to be not substantially different from the policies of Clinton. Following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, however, the influence of neo-conservatism in the Bush administration appears to have increased. In contrast with earlier writings that emphasized the danger from a strong Russia and the PRC, the focus of neoconservatives shifted from Communism to the Middle East and global terrorism.
Richard Perle in his well-publicized piece "The Case for American Empire" in the conservative Weekly Standard, Max Boot argued that "The most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role." He countered sentiments that the "United States must become a kinder, gentler nation, must eschew quixotic missions abroad, must become, in Pat Buchanan's phrase, 'a republic, not an empire'," arguing that "In fact this analysis is exactly backward: The September 11 attack was a result of insufficient American involvement and ambition; the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation."
Neoconservatives won a landmark victory with the Bush Doctrine after September 11th. Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an influential conservative think-tank in Washington that has been under neoconservative influence since the election of Reagan, argued in his AEI piece "The Underpinnings of the Bush doctrine" that "the fundamental premise of the Bush Doctrine is true: The United States possesses the means—economic, military, diplomatic—to realize its expansive geopolitical purposes. Further, and especially in light of the domestic political reaction to the attacks of September 11, the victory in Afghanistan and the remarkable skill demonstrated by President Bush in focusing national attention, it is equally true that Americans possess the requisite political willpower to pursue an expansive strategy."
The Bush Doctrine, a radical departure from previous U.S. foreign policy, is a proclamation of the right of the United States to wage pre-emptive war, regardless of international law, should it be threatened by terrorists or rogue states. This doctrine can be seen as the abandonment of a focus on the doctrine of deterrence (in the Cold War through Mutually Assured Destruction) as the primary means of self-defense. There is some opinion that preemptive strikes have long been a part of international practice and indeed of American practice, as exemplified, for example, by the unilateral U.S. blockade and boarding of Cuban shipping during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The doctrine also states that the United States "will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."
While more conventional foreign policy experts argued that Iraq could be restrained by enforcing No-Fly Zones and by a policy of inspection by United Nations inspectors to restrict its ability to possess chemical or nuclear weapons, neoconservatives considered this policy direction ineffectual and labeled it appeasement of Saddam Hussein.
Today, the most prominent supporters of the neoconservative stance inside the administration are Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Neoconservatives perhaps are closer to the mainstream of the Republican Party today since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than any competing faction, especially considering the nature of the Bush Doctrine and the preemptive war against Iraq. Nevertheless, many of the prominent people labeled as neoconservatives are actually registered Democrats.
At the same time, there have been limits in the power of neoconservatives in the Bush administration. The Secretary of State Colin Powell is largely seen as being an opponent of neoconservative ideas, and while the neoconservative notion of tough and decisive action has been apparent in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, it has not been seen in U.S. policy toward China and Russia or in the handling of the North Korean nuclear crisis.
As compared with traditional conservatism, which sometimes exhibited an isolationist strain, neo-conservatism is characterized by support for significantly increased defense spending, challenging regimes deemed hostile to the values and interests of the United States, pressing for free-market policies abroad, and ensuring that the United States remains the world's sole superpower. Neo-conservatism has influenced the conservative agenda in the United States on such issues. Critics have charged that, while paying lip service to American values, neoconservatives have supported undemocratic regimes for real politik reasons.
Neoconservatives and Israel
The neoconservatives also support a robust American stance on Israel. The neoconservative influenced Project for the New American Century called for an Israel no longer dependent on American aid through the removal of major threats in the region.
The interest in Israel, and the large proportion of Jewish neoconservatives has led to the question of "dual loyalty." A number of critics, such as Pat Buchanan, have accused them of putting Israeli interests above those of America. In turn these critics have been labeled as anti-Semites by many neoconservatives (which in turn has led to accusations of professional smearing, and then paranoia, and so on).
However, one should note that some prominent neoconservatives are not Jewish, such as Michael Novak, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Frank Gaffney, and Max Boot. Furthermore, neoconservatives in the 1960s were much less interested in Israel before the June 1967 Six Day War. It has only been since this conflict, which has raised the specter of Israel's military invincibility, that the neoconservatives have become preoccupied by Israel's security interests. They promote the view that Israel be the US's strongest ally in the Middle East as the sole Western-style democracy in the region.
Moreover, they have long argued that the United States should emulate Israel's tactics of pre-emptive attacks, especially Israel's unprovoked, pre-emptive unilateral attacks in the 1980s on nuclear facilities in Libya and Iraq. Despite (or perhaps because of) condemnation by the United Nations, neoconservatives have admired such Israeli adventures, arguing that the United States, like Israel, should act in its national interests, regardless of international law.
The partisan support for Likud suggests that their support for Israel is not merely motivated by blind ethnic loyalty, and their critics' criticism of American politicians judged to be too friendly to Britain or the Soviet Union suggests that dual loyalty is a genuine fear amongst Old Right conservatives.
To read the read, from WordIQ.com:
In my view, George W. Bush is not exactly a neo-con himself, but his administration is. But I definitely have a girlfriend who is. She was a leftist in the 1970's and part of the 80's until she divorced her first husband and married a very conservative man. She and I have had some interesting conversations of late. She claims she's not changed her political position but it's hard to see sometimes what's inside you. She made a slight right turn, which she denies, but I think she did. She's voting for Bush because she embraces some religion in matters of school and state. She was not religious until she had children with her current husband. I like her husband because he is good to her, but I do not care for his ideology because he too is a neoconservative. He's homophobic and both of them are become more xenophobic as well. I have more than once hinted that she allows other people to influence her and that she is not reading enough for herself to make informed decision. I look at her and see why so many married women, particularly stay at home moms who can afford to stay at home (which BTW I think is great because I believe better parenting occurs if one or the partner/spouse can do this) and have a great deal of discretionary income, but not involved in volunteer work outside of their children are voting for Bush. It's disconcerting to me, because she's telling me that while she supports a woman's right to choose and she still engages in toking, she also believes the blurring of church and state are OK.
As a moderate, I was unhappy with both Reagan and the Democratic Party in the 1980's. I voted Libertarian most of the time, or not at all because I was socially liberal, but felt the government was spending too much money on the Cold War and cutting out programs right and left and I think Reagan would have cut out Social Security had he been allowed a third term. Then when I saw the divisiveness Bush 41 was creating with nominating Clarence Thomas (who parrots every vote with Scalia's) and going to the Gulf War, I started paying attention to Paul Tsongas as he was one of the first (along with Perot) to notice our deficit was too high. I still think he was a fine candidate to vote for in the primaries, but he was right to concede to Clinton. I voted for Clinton knowing that there was an opportunity to make the Supreme Court more centrist. And he did.
I think where some undecided voters are in their thinking are the following:
1) I want a centrist president, neither fits the bill
2) Kerry's ideas sound OK, but how can he pay for the domestic programs without increasing the deficit or having not to ask for more money from the middle class? Even a tax rollback won't pay for everything, and getting the alliance together to get Iraq back to stability will take quite a while
3) In the case of my girlfriend, she finds the Iraq situation of snaring terrorists over there an acceptable solution because it keeps them from being here
3) My friend’s son needs special educational attention, but has chosen to school him herself, thus work around private schools since she has mistrust of them as well; she confesses “No Child Left Behind” hasn’t worked for her son.
4) They keep thinking the OBL is being hunted. May be, may be not. That’s an odd one.
In any event, my best girlfriend has turned a “slight right”. My brother turned a slight left, but both of us believe sometimes the fork in the road, as Frost put it well, may be the best road after all if you want to think independently, which is what the poem suggests. Slightly left or moderate is the “right” turn for me and my brother.