Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Franklin Foer

A couple of weeks after Peter Beinart's discussion of the future of liberalism appeared, Franklin Foer has published a sort of parallel piece on the fate of neoconservatism. I think one of his hyptheses, that the neoconservative impasse over Iran is a manifestation of the end of any cohesive neoconservative movement, may be a bit strong, but in general he is right on. The troubles on the ground in Iraq cannot be separated from the neocons losing the war of ideas re American foreign policy; namely, that we could easily fight a new type of war on the cheap, that our brand of democracy would be easily exportable in the Muslim world, that Western imports such as Chalabi and Karzai would be embraced in their respective 'home' countries, etc. Neoconservative foreign policy (a.k.a. neoconservatism) is being seen for the vacant promise that it has always been. The article ends on a priceless note: many neocons are insisting that there was never really any such thing as neoconservatism to begin with, that it was a creation of the media and the paranoid left. Hmm, maybe the death knell has sounded after all.

There is one aspect of neoconservatism which has always been assumed to be true among writers on the topic, and it is something that I pretty strongly disagree with: namely, that there is a sharp dichotomy between realists on the one hand and idealists or democratic globalists on the other. When people refer to neoconservatism's Trotskyite roots, they are thinking in terms of democratic globalism, analogous to Trotsky's global revolution. Democracy should be seeded everywhere by the American hand. In contrast, the realists believe that the U.S. should only strive to create democracies where the situation is compatible with our strategic interests. Here's the rub: I don't think the former camp truly exists. It's a long time since Irving Kristol and Company's 'road to Damascus' experience, and more is made of the Trotskyite idealism than should be. I'm not so cynical as to say that neoconservatives are all realists to the extent that they are only concerned with, for example, petroleum interests, but they are far from idealistic crusaders. To them, democracy should be seeded where and when it can help American interests in general, but not solely because it does help American interests. It's too bad, because their ineptitude could more easily be explained by calling them pie-in-the-sky idealists, but I truly think there are few of those in the neocon camp.

Charles Krauthammer, a self-described realist, derided U.S. intervention in Bosnia as "social work," and I think that the apparent neocon disinterest in the Sudan shows how aligned most of them are with Krauthammer's realism, despite the incessant debates about the neocon division. There is maybe a 1% faction of idealists among them.

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