We neoconservatives have been through a startling few years. Who could have imagined six years ago that wild stories about our influence over U.S. foreign policy would reach the far corners of the globe? The loose group of us who felt impelled by the antics of the 1960s to migrate from the political left to right must have numbered fewer than 100. And we were proven losers at Washington’s power game: The left had driven us from the Democratic Party, stolen the “liberal” label, and successfully affixed to us the name “neoconservative.” In reality, of course, we don’t wield any of the power that contemporary legend attributes to us. Most of us don’t rise at the crack of dawn to report to powerful jobs in government. But it is true that our ideas have influenced the policies of President George W. Bush, as they did those of President Ronald Reagan. That does feel good. Our intellectual contributions helped to defeat communism in the last century and, God willing, they will help to defeat jihadism in this one. It also feels good to see that a number of young people and older converts are swelling our ranks.
The price of this success is that we are subjected to relentless obloquy. “Neocon” is now widely synonymous with “ultraconservative” or, for some, “dirty Jew.” A young Egyptian once said to me, “‘Neoconservative’ sounds to our ears like ‘terrorist’ sounds to yours.” I am shocked to hear that some among us, wearying of these attacks, are sidling away from the neocon label. Where is the joie de combat? The essential tenets of neoconservatism--belief that world peace is indivisible, that ideas are powerful, that freedom and democracy are universally valid, and that evil exists and must be confronted--are as valid today as when we first began. That is why we must continue to fight. But we need to sharpen our game. Here are some thoughts on how to do it:
Learn from Our Mistakes. We are guilty of poorly explaining neoconservatism. How, for example, did the canard spread that the roots of neoconservative foreign policy can be traced back to Leo Strauss and Leon Trotsky? The first of these false connections was cooked up by Lyndon LaRouche, the same convicted scam artist who spends his days alerting humanity to the Zionist-Henry Kissinger-Queen Elizabeth conspiracy. The second probably originated with insufficiently reconstructed Stalinists. To say that our core beliefs remain true is not to counsel self-satisfaction. We got lucky with Reagan. He took the path we wanted, and the policies succeeded brilliantly. He left office highly popular. Bush is a different story. He, too, took the path we wanted, but the policies are achieving uncertain success. His popularity has plummeted. It would be pigheaded not to reflect and rethink.
But we ought to do this without backbiting or abandoning Bush. All policies are perfect on paper, none in execution. All politicians are, well, politicians. Bush has embraced so much of what we believe that it would be silly to begrudge his deviations. He has recognized the terrorist campaign against the United States that had mushroomed over 30 years for what it is--a war that must be fought with the same determination, sacrifice, and perseverance that we demonstrated during the Cold War. And he has perceived that the only way to win this war in the end is to transform the political culture of the Middle East from one of absolutism and violence to one of tolerance and compromise.
The administration made its share of mistakes, and so did we. We were glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation. Did we fail to appreciate sufficiently the depth of Arab bitterness over colonial memories? Did we underestimate the human and societal damage wreaked by decades of totalitarian rule in Iraq? Could things have unfolded differently had our occupation force been large enough to provide security?
One area of neoconservative thought that needs urgent reconsideration is the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed. This love affair with technology has left our armed forces short on troops and resources, just as our execrable intelligence in Iraq seems traceable, at least in part, to the reliance on machines rather than humans. Our forte is political ideas, not physics or mechanics. We may have seized on a technological fix to spare ourselves the hard slog of fighting for higher defense budgets. Let’s now take up the burden of campaigning for a military force that is large enough and sufficiently well provisioned--however “redundant”--to assure that we will never again get stretched so thin. Let the wonder weapons be the icing on the cake.
Deploy More Than the Military. Recent elections in the Palestinian territories and Egypt have brought disconcerting results that suggest democratizing the Middle East may be more difficult than we imagined. That parties unappealing to us have done well should not in itself be a surprise. (After all, it happens in France no matter who wins.) But there is plenty of reason to wonder whether Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, once empowered by democracy, will simply turn around and crush it.
We need to give more thought to how we aid Middle Eastern moderates. They are woefully unequipped to compete with Islamists. When the U.S. government tries to help them, they stand accused of being American stooges. We can do more through private-sector groups, such as Freedom House, and partially private ones, like the National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliates. They could use appreciably more resources to train journalists, independent broadcasters, women’s advocates, human rights investigators, watchdog groups, and for civic education for various audiences, including imams. In relatively open countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and many of the Gulf states, funding from the Middle East Partnership Initiative should make it possible for a range of American nongovernmental organizations to maintain a presence on the ground. And we should develop and fund training programs back at home that allow Middle Eastern democrats to come to the United States--free of charge--to hone their electoral, organizational, and public relations skills. James Carville and Karl Rove should be the titular heads of this program.
Fix the Public Diplomacy Mess. The Bush administration deserves criticism for its failure to repair America’s public diplomacy apparatus. No group other than neocons is likely to figure out how to do that. We are, after all, a movement whose raison d’être was combating anti-Americanism in the United States. Who better, then, to combat it abroad?
The silver lining in the cloud of anti-Americanism is that every stuffy orthodoxy inspires some bright, independent-minded people to rebel. Like many of you, I receive a steady stream of messages from behind enemy lines, so to speak--from France, Germany, Arab countries, and even the BBC--saying, “The people all around me hate America, but I love America.” These people, strengthened and inspired, are our best defense against anti-Americanism. We need representatives on the ground in every country whose mission is to find and develop such friends, to let them know we appreciate them, to put them in contact with others of like mind, and to arm them with information and talking points.
Today, no one in the U.S. Foreign Service is trained for this mission. The best model for such a program are the “Lovestonites” of the 1940s and 1950s, who, often employed as attachés in U.S. embassies, waged ideological warfare against communism in Europe and Russia. They learned their political skills back in the United States fighting commies in the labor unions. There is no way to reproduce the ideological mother’s milk on which Jay Lovestone nourished his acolytes, but we need to invent a synthetic formula. Some Foreign Service officers should be offered specialized training in the war of ideas, and a bunch of us neocons ought to volunteer to help teach it. There should be at least one graduate assigned to every major U.S. overseas post.
Prepare to Bomb Iran. Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.
The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as MoveOn.org. We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes. In particular, we need to help people envision what the world would look like with a nuclear-armed Iran. Apart from the dangers of a direct attack on Israel or a suitcase bomb in Washington, it would mean the end of the global nonproliferation regime and the beginning of Iranian dominance in the Middle East.
This defense should be global in scope. There is a crying need in today’s ideological wars for something akin to the Congress for Cultural Freedom of the Cold War, a global circle of intellectuals and public figures who share a devotion to democracy. The leaders of this movement might include Tony Blair, Vaclav Havel, and Anwar Ibrahim.
Recruit Joe Lieberman for 2008. Twice in the last quarter-century we had the good fortune to see presidents elected who were sympathetic to our understanding of the world. In 2008, we will have a lot on the line. The policies that we have championed will remain unfinished. The war on terror will still have a long way to go. The Democrats have already shown that they are incurably addicted to appeasement, while the “realists” among the GOP are hoping to undo the legacy of George W. Bush. Sen. John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani both look like the kind of leaders who could prosecute the war on terror vigorously and with the kind of innovative thought that realists hate and our country needs. As for vice presidential candidates, how about Condoleezza Rice or even Joe Lieberman? Lieberman says he’s still a Democrat. But there is no place for him in that party. Like every one of us, he is a refugee. He’s already endured the rigors of running for the White House. In 2008, he deserves another chance--this time with a worthier running mate than Al Gore.
Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at AEI.
|Muravchik studies the United Nations, neoconservatism, the history of socialism and communism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and global democracy, terrorism, and the Bush Doctrine. His most recent book is The Future of the United Nations: Understanding the Past to Chart a Way Forward (AEI Press, 2005). |
-Adjunct professor, Institute of World Politics, 1992-present
-Member, Maryland State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1985-1997
-Member, Commission on Broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China, 1992
-Adjunct scholar, Washington Institute on Near East Policy, 1986-present
-Executive director, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, 1977-1979
-Editorial board member, World Affairs and Journal of Democracy
Ph.D., international relations, Georgetown University
B.A., City College of New York
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||To the left are some of neoconservatism’s most influential leaders. Click on a person to learn about his background.|
Widely referred to as the "godfather" of neoconservatism, Mr. Kristol was part of the "New York Intellectuals," a group of critics mainly of Eastern European Jewish descent. In the late 1930s, he studied at City College of New York where he became a Trotskyist. From 1947 to 1952, he was the managing editor of Commentary magazine, later called the "neocon bible."
By the late 1960s, Kristol had shifted from left to right on the political spectrum, due partly to what he considered excesses and anti-Americanism among liberals. Kristol built the intellectual framework of neoconservatism, founding and editing journals such as The Public Interest and The National Interest.
Kristol is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of numerous books, including "Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea." He is the father of Weekly Standard editor and oft-quoted neoconservative William Kristol.
Considered one of neoconservatism’s founding fathers, Mr. Podhoretz studies, writes, and speaks on social, cultural, and international matters. From 1990 to 1995, he worked as editor-in-chief of Commentary magazine, a neoconservative journal published by the American Jewish Committee. Podhoretz advocated liberal political views earlier in life, but broke ranks in the early 1970s. He became part of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority founded in 1973 by Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson and other intervention-oriented Democrats.
Podhoretz has written nine books, including "Breaking Ranks" (1979), in which he argues that Israel’s survival is crucial to US military strategy. He is married to like-minded social critic Midge Decter. They helped establish the Committee on the Present Danger in the late 1970s and the Committee for the Free World in the early 1980s. Podhoretz’ son, John, is a New York Post columnist.
After serving as deputy secretary of defense for three years, Mr. Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq war, was chosen in March 2005 by President Bush to be president of the World Bank.
From 1989 to 1993, Wolfowitz served as under secretary of defense for policy in charge of a 700-person team that had major responsibilies for the reshaping of military strategy and policy at the end of the cold war. In this capacity Wolfowitz co-wrote with Lewis "Scooter" Libby the 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance, which called for US military dominance over Eurasia and preemptive strikes against countries suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction. After being leaked to the media, the draft proved so shocking that it had to be substantially rewritten.
After 9/11, many of the principles in that draft became key points in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States, an annual report. During the 1991 Gulf War, Wolfowitz advocated extending the war’s aim to include toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Famously nicknamed the "Prince of Darkness" for his hardline stance on national security issues, Mr. Perle is one of the most high-profile neoconservatives. He resigned in March 2003 as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board after being criticized for conflicts of interest. From 1981 to 1987 he was assistant secretary of defense for international security policy.
Perle is a chief architect of the "creative destruction" agenda to reshape the Middle East, starting with the invasion of Iraq. He outlined parts of this agenda in a key 1996 report for Israel’s right-wing Likud Party called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm."
Perle helped establish two think tanks: The Center for Security Policy and The Jewish Institute for National Security. He is also a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, an adviser for the counter-terrorist think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and a director of the Jerusalem Post.
The defense department announced in January 2005 that Mr. Feith will resign this summer as undersecretary of defense for policy, the Pentagon’s No. 3 civilian position, which he has held since being appointed by President Bush in July 2001. Feith also served in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy. Prior to that, he served as special counsel to Richard Perle. Before his service at the Pentagon, Feith worked as a Middle East specialist for the National Security Council in 1981-82.
Feith is well-known for his support of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party. In 1997, Feith was honored along with his father Dalck Feith, who was active in a Zionist youth movement in his native Poland, for their "service to Israel and the Jewish people" by pro-Likud Zionist Organization of America at its 100th anniversary banquet. In 1992, he was vice president of the advisory board of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Mr. Feith is a former chairman and currently a director of the Center for Security Policy.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby
Mr. Libby is currently chief of staff and national security advisor for Vice President Dick Cheney. He’s served in a wide variety of posts. In the first Bush administration, Mr. Libby served in the Department of Principal Deputy Under Secretary (Strategy and Resources), and, later, as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
Libby was a founding member of the Project for the New American Century. He joined Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and others in writing its 2000 report entitled, "Rebuilding America’s Defenses - Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century."
Libby co-authored the once-shocking draft of the ’Defense Planning Guidance’ with Mr. Wolfowitz for then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1992. Libby serves on the advisory board of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies of the RAND Corporation.
In February 2005, Mr. Bolton was nominated US ambassador to the UN by President Bush. If confirmed, he would move to this position from the Department of State where he was Under Secretary for Arms Control, the top US non-proliferation official. Prior to this appointment, Bolton was senior vice president of the neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. He also held a variety of positions in both the George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations.
Bolton has often made claims not fully supported by the intelligence community. In a controversial May 2002 speech entitled, "Beyond the Axis of Evil," Bolton fingered Libya, Syria, and Cuba as "other rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction."
In July 2003, the CIA and other agencies reportedly objected strongly to claims Bolton made in a draft assessment about the progress Syria has made in its weapons programs.
In February of 2005 Elliott Abrams was appointed deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy. From December 2002 to February 2005, Mr. Abrams served as special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and North African affairs.
Abrams began his political career by taking a job with the Democratic Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson. He held a variety of State Department posts in the Reagan administration.
He was a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute from 1990 to the 1996 before becoming president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which "affirms the political relevance of the great Western ethical imperatives." Abrams also served as chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-Contra affair. President George H. W. Bush pardoned him in 1992. In 1980, he married Rachel Decter, daughter of neocon veterans Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter.
Mr. Kagan writes extensively on US strategy and diplomacy. Kagan and fellow neoconservative William Kristol co-founded the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in 1997. Kagan signed the famous 1998 PNAC letter sent to President Clinton urging regime change in Iraq.
After working as principal speechwriter to Secretary of State George P. Shultz from 1984-1985, he was hired by Elliott Abrams to work as deputy for policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.
He is a senior associate at the Carnegie endowment for International Peace (CEIP). He is also an international affairs columnist for The Washington Post, and contributing editor at The New Republic and The Weekly Standard. He wrote the bestseller "Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order." Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, was chosen by Vice President Dick Cheney as his deputy national security adviser.
Seen by many as one of the most radical neoconservatives, Mr. Ledeen is said to frequently advise George W. Bush’s top adviser Karl Rove on foreign policy matters. He is one of the strongest voices calling for regime change in Iran.
In 2001, Ledeen co-founded the Coalition for Democracy in Iran. He served as Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s adviser during the Reagan administration. Ledeen is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, where he works closely with Richard Perle. he is also a member of the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs’ advisory board and one of its founding organizers.
He was Rome correspondent for the New Republic magazine from 1975-1977, and founding editor of the Washington Quarterly. Ledeen also wrote "The War Against the Terror Masters," which advocates regime change in Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.