WASHINGTON — AFTER nearly a decade in the political wilderness, the neoconservative movement is back, using the turmoil in Iraq and Ukraine to claim that it is President Obama, not the movement’s interventionist foreign policy that dominated early George W. Bush-era Washington, that bears responsibility for the current round of global crises.
Even as they castigate Mr. Obama, the neocons may be preparing a more brazen feat: aligning themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign, in a bid to return to the driver’s seat of American foreign policy.
… Consider the historian Robert Kagan, the author of a recent, roundly praised article in The New Republic that amounted to a neo-neocon manifesto. He has not only avoided the vitriolic tone that has afflicted some of his intellectual brethren but also co-founded an influential bipartisan advisory group during Mrs. Clinton’s time at the State Department.
Of course, Robert Kagan’s brother Fred Kagan is at AEI.
Meanwhile, Robert Kagan’s wife, the foreign policy adventuress Victoria Nuland, is Our Woman in Kiev for the State Department, which Heilbrunn doesn’t mention, probably because it would make his story of a Neocon Comeback less newsy-sounding because the truth is the neocons never really went away.
instead, he’s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, that citadel of liberalism headed by Strobe Talbott, who was deputy secretary of state under President Bill Clinton and is considered a strong candidate to become secretary of state in a new Democratic administration. (Mr. Talbott called the Kagan article “magisterial,” in what amounts to a public baptism into the liberal establishment.)
A digression: Strobe Talbott (1946-)? Are we to be ruled forever by guys lucky enough to have been born in the first year of the Baby Boom? People like Talbott, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were born right after a decade and a half-long Birth Dearth so they went through life without much competition from slightly older men and being able to claim to be in touch with the masses of Today’s Youth growing up younger than them.
Other neocons have followed Mr. Kagan’s careful centrism and respect for Mrs. Clinton. Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted in The New Republic this year that “it is clear that in administration councils she was a principled voice for a strong stand on controversial issues, whether supporting the Afghan surge or the intervention in Libya.”
If you want a vision of the future of American foreign policy debate, imagine Max Boot stamping on a human face – forever.
And the thing is, these neocons have a point. Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iraq war; supported sending arms to Syrian rebels; likened Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to Adolf Hitler; wholeheartedly backs Israel; and stresses the importance of promoting democracy.
… Far from ending, then, the neocon odyssey is about to continue. In 1972, Robert L. Bartley, the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal and a man who championed the early neocon stalwarts, shrewdly diagnosed the movement as representing “something of a swing group between the two major parties.” Despite the partisan battles of the early 2000s, it is remarkable how very little has changed.
Here are some interesting excerpts from Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right:
“The neocons claim to be an intellectual movement with no ethnic component to speak of. But neoconservatism is as much a reflection of Jewish immigrant social resentments and status anxiety as a legitimate movement of ideas. Indeed, however much they may deny it, neoconservatism is in a decisive respect a Jewish phenomenon, reflecting a subset of Jewish concerns. …
“As the children of immigrants who came to the United States from Central and Eastern Europe, the original neoconservatives were steeped in the ideological feuds of the past and present. As Jews, they were exquisitely attuned to the social exclusion and WASP snobbery that their fathers experienced in the early part of the twentieth century — an attitude they carried with them through the debates of the cold war and the halls of power after 9/11. …
“At the same time, the neocons are apoplectic about the allegiance of American Jews to liberalism. Irving Kristol made a useful distinction in 1979, trying to account for why so many American Jews, as he saw it, retained lingering socialist sympathies. His explanation was that they were drawn to the prophetic mode of Judaism rather than the rational one that emphasized adherence to orthodox laws. Socialism became a secular prophecy, the new civic religion of American Jews, who embraced secular humanism. … But Kristol’s conceit can also be turned on the very movement that he himself has headed for several decades. The neoconservatives themselves have veered between the prophetic and the rational schools. A good case could be made that they have now gone astray in indulging their own prophetic tendencies. …
“[N]eoconservatives are less intellectuals than prophets. They tend to be men (and women) of an uncompromising temperament who use (and treat) ideas as weapons in a moral struggle, which is why the political class in each party regards them with a mixture of appreciation and apprehension, even loathing.
“That temperament is hardly confined to Jews, and it is often objected that not all neocons are Jewish. That is, of course, quite true. … Despite the fervent protestations of its founders and adherents, then, it is anything but an anti-Semitic canard to label neoconservatism a largely Jewish movement. I hope it’s clear, however, that I am talking about a cultural proclivity specific to America Jews of a certain generation not about something that is “essentially” Jewish in either a religious or a racial sense.
Well, but neoconservatism is remarkably hereditary: the Kagan brothers, for example, are sons of historian Donald Kagan who managed to rewrite even Athens’ misadventure in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War according to neocon emotions. There are also the Podhoretzes, Kristols, Perles, Feiths, etc. The Netanyahus are a distant branch that wound up in Israel after years in America.
Some of this generational continuity is racial in the sense that IQ is partly hereditary and very much subject to regression toward the mean, and Jews tend to regress toward a higher IQ mean. But a lot of it is via dominance of The Narrative. History is written less by the victors than by the people who most want to write the history, so our contemporary picture of the past is bizarrely influenced by carefully nurtured grievances over great-grandpa having to start his own country club.
The best way to understand the phenomenon may be to focus on neoconservatism as an uneasy, controversial, and tempestuous drama of Jewish immigrant assimilation — a very American story. At bottom, it is about an unresolved civil war between a belligerent, upstart ethnic group and a staid, cautious American foreign policy establishment that lost its way after the Vietnam War.”