You don’t hear the word “neoconservative” very often these days. It’s funny that, considering how much press the neoconservatives received not long ago, when they were high-level foreign policy advisers to President George W. Bush during his first term (2000-2004). In 2005, however, beginning with his second presidential term, Bush began replacing the neoconservatives in his administration with realists. They had fallen out of favor because neoconservatism was the prominent political ideology behind the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Begun in March 2003, the war after less than two months seemed to have ended with an unquestionably decisive U.S. victory. The neoconservatives, whose program includes reordering the Middle East, were flying high. By late 2003, however, the situation in Iraq was rapidly deteriorating and in 2004 the project was turning into a disaster. In 2005, President Bush had become wise enough to discern the limits of neoconservative militarism, not to mention the gloomy mood of the electorate concerning U.S. policy in Iraq (many pundits were shocked, especially in Europe, that Bush had been reelected).
As the neocon advisers were being replaced, two important trends emerged. One, editorials, major articles, and books critical of neoconservative foreign policy fell from the publishing skies. Two, leading neoconservatives, seeking to dig themselves out from under the avalanche of criticism, responded on television, in print, and on the Web by blaming CIA intelligence, the State Department, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other high-level targets for the debacle in Iraq. There was blame enough, of course, for widespread sharing, but the neocons overreached. They pushed a revisionist history in which they accepted little if any responsibility for the debacle. When that did not convince people, the word “neoconservative” was quietly exorcised from the American political lexicon.
But neoconservatism itself, particularly its militaristic foreign policy toward the Middle East, has not disappeared. For one thing, neoconservative foreign policy under a different name, “conservative,” now finds a voice with numerous men and women in the U.S. Congress. As well, leading neoconservative thinkers have for several years been welcomed by the media and the press in America as “conservative” commentators and writers, including in Time and The New York Times. And it is not possible for the discerning to listen to conservative talk radio or Fox News political analysts for very long, on topics such as Iraq, Syria, and Iran, without hearing neoconservative militarism being touted as the solution.
As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge say in their book The Right Nation, the role of the neocons “may be exaggerated both by themselves and their enemies, but conservative American has moved in their direction.” This explains a good deal of the strong “conservative” pushback in America to President Obama’s diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East, especially regarding negotiating with Iran.
The absorption and promotion of neoconservative foreign policy into the worldview of American conservatism is an alarming development and little understood in this country outside of Washington, including by the conservative electorate that has bought into it. It is especially troubling to me as a Christian to see many well-meaning conservative Christians supporting it just because it’s being passed off as conservative. If they knew what they were being asked to sign off on, many would most likely reject it.
Beginning in the next post, I want us to look at this alarming development by exploring the fascinating history and influence of neoconservatism, its leading figures, and its militarism.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer
Image by Chris Smith/Out of Chicago (permission via Creative Commons)