SECOND GENERATION NEOCONS
The debate over neoconservatism and what it exactly stands for continues to rage on the blogosphere including on Calpundit
and Brad DeLong's
site. Part of the resultant confusion about neoconservatism is generational. The thinkers, bureaucrats and politicians idescribed as " neocons" today are generally not the same people in the original neoconservative movement and even when they are, as in the cases of Wolfowitz and Perle, they're grappling with a completely different world in 2003.
A fact the neocons grasped way back in the 1990's
but one that more or less still eludes their critics on both the radical left and in the elite foreign policy community.
Neoconservatism was born in the 1960's as a reaction to the Soviet threat by some Left intellectuals- Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and many others-who moved rightward rather than join the young radicals of the New Left in their reflexive pro-Hanoi, pro-Castro, anti-Americanism and anti-anti-Communism. The original Neoconservatives contributed much intellectual firepower to the " Reagan Revolution " through vehicles such as the Committee on the Present Danger
magazine. One neocon active at the CIA and NSC, Constantine Menges
, conceptualized " The Reagan Doctrine"
and pushed hard for the invasion of Grenada and Contra aid. Menges in particular, was an advocate of using military force to initiate regime change for the purposes of establishing democratic rule so in a sense he contributed to " the Bush Doctrine" of preemption as well, at least by precedent.
Most of the original Neocons were a tightly knit group of intellectuals, often Jewish though not exclusively, with shared assumptions about the world as a result of having lost faith in " the Cause" of socialism. Many of the prominent individuals now considered as " neocons" like Max Boot or Bill Kristol, had not been leftists and never made that kind of intellectual evolution to the right. In any event, they are also too young to have taken a role in influencing national policy in the 1970's and 1980's. These younger neocons, like Andrew Sullivan, also adhere to a more libertarian perspective in social and economic matters than one finds in reading say Gertrude Himmelfarb
or William Bennett.
To further cloud matters, older, experienced statesmen like Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, are now often lumped by critics with the Neocons. Ironically, both were originally Nixon-Ford men ( Cheney was a Rumsfeld protege)- Rumsfeld in particular was a " tough", Nixonian realist while Cheney went on to be a socially conservative GOP leader in Congress and Secretary of Defense in the first Bush administration. Neither were associated with the Wilsonian-type idealism that fires neocon theories about spreading democratic rule but with hardline stances on U.S. defense policy.
What Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice share with Perle, Wolfowitz and Kagan is not idealism but the acceptance of risks in handling foreign policy problems with military force, philosophically reinforced by their mutual experience with the neocons as fellow anticommunists during the Cold War. They oppose, as do the neocons, the Beltway foreign policy bipartisan establishment preference for " managing" problems and preserving the status quo, no matter how bad the present circumstances might be in a given region, rather than risk the unknown by provoking change. (This opposing " stabilitarian" perspective is well represented by Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Lawrence Eagleberger, Anthony Lake, Warren Christopher, Sandy Berger, most of the Foreign Service and not a few people at the CIA)
How to define the ideology that is currently called " Neoconservative " ? It might be simplest to recognize that what we are seeing after 9/11 is a broader-based, foreign-policy centered movement best described as " Second Generation Neoconservatism " to distinguish it from it's narrower and more philosophically coherent parent. In some cases, with Bill Kristol and Daniel Pipes, we mean " second generation" literally; in others, as with Dick Cheney, the term signals movement to accepting and advocating Neocon policy positions. Second Generation Neocons are playing offense against Islamism, terrorism and rogue states, not trying to rally a flagging defense against Soviet expansionism as in the late 1970's. Spreading democracy is of greater importance to Second Generation types than to First Generation Neocons - recall Jeanne Kirkpatrick's famous moral and strategic distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and contrast that with today's Neocon criticism of the Saudis. Domestic policy does not excite this group to the extent it did Moynihan, Himmelfarb, Kemp and Bennett, so you are not going to hear nearly as much about virtue, welfare or polarizing social issues like abortion.
What you will get from the Second Generation Neoconservatives is foreign policy like a laser beam. Their ambition is epochal, on par with the magnitude of the changes that took place in the aftermath of the Second World War where the foundations of the postwar era - the UN, Bretton Woods, the IMF, NATO, the GATT, the EU - were set. The collapse of the USSR and the Cold War world and the rise of rogue regimes and non-state actors like al Qaida have undermined the old structures of the international community as surely as Germany, Italy and Japan once defied Versailles and the League of Nations. In defeating terrorism and thwarting the proliferation of WMD Second Generation Neocons will attempt to organize new international institutions that will reflect and reinforce in international law individualist and market values and political democracy instead of collectivism, autarky and authoritarianism.
This is why there is so much sound and fury among the elites and on the left; the Neocons might succeed.