Denying that Bush’s policy is neoconservative

Charles Krauthammer has an article in the current Commentary called “The Neoconservative Convergence,” arguing that President Bush’s policy is not a distinctively neoconservative policy but a convergence of the “realist” foreign policy school and neoconservatism. I haven’t yet read Krauthammer’s article, but I have read Paul Mirengoff’s exposition of it at the Weekly Standard, and here’s my reply.

Dear Paul,

Your article at the Weekly Standard has some good points, but I question its main thrust, which is to deny that Bush’s policy is neoconservative.

First, you go after straw man, namely:

—”it is an article of faith that neoconservatives have hijacked American foreign policy.”

—”The argument that the strong-willed Cheney and Rumsfeld were brainwashed by neoconservatives”

—”The claim that the administration is the captive of neoconservatives”

It is true that rabid enemies of Bush say these things. But it’s irrelevant to any serious discussion of the war. The real point is not whether neocons have “hijacked” or “captured” Bush, but whether Bush is, in fact, following a neoconservative policy.

This brings us to your four aspects of Bush’s policy, which you (following Krauthammer’s article, I presume) examine one by one and conclude that each one is not neocon. I agree with you on 2 1/2 of them out of four.

I agree with you that the invasion of Afghanistan was not a neocon act. I agree with you that the invasion of Iraq—to the extent it was done for national defense and not for spreading democracy—was not a neocon act. And I agree with you and Thomas Friedman that “it is radical [i.e. neocon] to invade a country for the purpose of making it democratic; it is normal to promote democracy in a country we have invaded for other reasons.” Indeed, most people including me accepted the democratization on that basis at the time, before the democratization became an end in itself.

But that’s what has happened. Democratization is not something Bush has pursued as a prudent measure. It is something he has pursued as an ideological goal, the all-purpose answer to all problems. Thus when asked how the battle against the insurgency was going, the administration keeps saying, “It’s going good, we’re making progress in democratization.” Huh? When the insurgency was getting stronger they’d say, “An election is coming in January, that will mean the defeat of the insurgency.” Huh? And so on and so on. They now openly say that the war will be won “politically,” i.e., they’ve given up on winning it militarily. (By the way, I’ve been repeatedly arguing for two years that the administration has had no strategy in place to win the war militarily; the administration has now admitted that what I was saying was right all along.)

So your supposition, that Bush merely pursued democracy as a responsible, realistic option for a country we had conquered and were responsible to re-build, is not correct. Pure ideology—the notion that holding an election or building something “democracy” was tantamount to victory—took over the brain of the administration, of the military, of the neocon media, and of much of the country. For the last two years, we have been fighting a largely ideological, neocon war—in fact, the first neocon war in history.

As for the fourth test of Bush’s policy, his democratize-the-world rhetoric, here is your explanation of why this is not neocon:

The final prong of President Bush’s foreign policy is the use of powerful universalist pro-democratic rhetoric. But as Charles Krauthammer points out, while President Bush talks like a “democratic globalist” he makes policy like a “democratic realist,” maintaining cozy relations with various autocracies including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and sometimes Russia (and taking criticism from liberals for doing so). Nor does employing the rhetoric of democracy seem distinctively neoconservative, especially in the post-9/11 environment. It should be clear to any intelligent pragmatist, liberal or conservative, that you can’t combat something (radical Islamic ideology) with nothing (an unqualified embrace of discredited ruling elites and no offer of hope for anything better).

With regard to your first point above, all policies involve exceptions; that Bush makes exceptions to his general neocon policy doesn’t mean that it’s not a neocon policy. Indeed, no leader has ever put forward a policy with more messianic sweep than Bush has put forward his democratization policy. The explicit, insistent, repeated, impassioned words of the president mean something. They shape political reality. You can’t dismiss this by saying that Bush has made lots of hypocritical exceptions to his public statements.

In your second point, you’re making an argument similar to what you said earlier: since the democratization of the world is the only realistic thing to do, it’s not ideological, and therefore it’s not neocon. It seems to me that what you are doing here is taking your preferred policy (democratization), defining it as the only effective option under the circumstances, and then concluding that because it’s the only reasonable and effective option, it’s not ideological; and that because it’s not a distinctive position compared to other positions, therefore it’s not neocon!

In fact, there were very different strategies we could have pursued other than Bush-style democratization. We could have said, with Angelo Codevilla, that we have no interest in the internal politics of Moslem countries, as long as they don’t threaten us. We could have abandoned our universalist ideology, ended all Moslem immigration, expelled all jihad supporting aliens. We could have decided that we do not have the ability to reform Islam by employing a counter ideology against it (which you say is our only option); we could have said that the way to make ourselves safe is not to reform Islam but to isolate and contain Islam, as I’ve argued at FrontPage Magazine. But we didn’t pursue any of these options. The option that we did pursue—which you call the only reasonable and effective option, automatically excluding all others—just happened to be the neocon option.

In brief, you deny that an ideology is being pursued; but your very manner of making the point is ideological, that is, you portray your view as the only conceivable rational view, and then conclude, since this position is not a particular or distinctive position, but merely common sense, that it’s not neoconservative.

Curiously, Norman Podhoretz used a somewhat similar argument ten years ago in his important article, “Neoconservatism: A Eulogy.” Claiming that neoconservatism was now in agreement on all major points with regular conservatism, he concluded that neoconservatism was simply part of the common sense shared by all conservatives and no longer existed as a distinct ideology. What he really meant, but didn’t want to admit, was that neoconservatism had taken over conservatism. Come to think of it, his article could easily have been named: “The Neoconservative Convergence.”

Lawrence Auster

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 12, 2005 07:14 PM | Send

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