The ISIS horror show: what you now need to know

higher learningSpeaking recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama called ISIS a “brutal, vicious death cult.” As the atrocities and inhumanity of the ISIS horror show spread and worsen, as air strikes continue, and as more combat troops are inserted, even people who have remained largely uninformed now know that they need at least some understanding of ISIS that goes beyond CNN or Fox News. So I thought it would be useful to gather in one place, for easy access, a number of short but informative articles on this.

Last year, over the space of two or three months on this blog, I posted several threads of well researched background articles that readers found helpful for learning what ISIS is on about. These non-sensationalistic but necessary pieces delve well beyond typical news coverage, talk radio punditry, political newspeak, and the religious hyper-ventilating that leaves far too many important questions untouched. Interested? If so, I have listed the first post of each of those threads here, just below, in the order that they were published, beginning with the first post. (At the end of each of those posts is a link taking you to the next piece in that thread.)

We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity. You can probably get through the complete fabric in an hour or two and take away a good “reader’s digest” version of where ISIS/ISIL is coming from and what its religious, political, and social goals are. This will also help you see what leaders of more than sixty nations understand about ISIS/ISIL and why they recently gathered in Washington for an unprecedented three-day summit on countering ISIS.

This is the only place on the Web, at least that I know of, where you can avail yourself of a detailed collection like this in one place. It may not scratch all of your itches, but you will come away pretty well informed.

Here is the list of threads, in order, beginning with the first one. But they have been written in such a way that you could jump in anywhere. I don’t have all the answers (no one does), but such as I have I give to you. If you find this list useful, send it to a friend or two.

1) RELIGION AND THE POST-9/11 BIG PICTURE part 1 of 2

2) THE RELIGIOUS ROOTS OF AL QAEDA AND ISIS part 1 of 4

3) WHERE ISIS STANDS: US VS. EVERYONE ELSE part 1 of 2

4) ISIS & THE RISE AND FALL OF ISLAM part 1 of 3

5) ISIS & AL QAEDA: THE ROLE OF JIHAD part 1 of 2

6) ISIS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE IN ISLAM part 1 of 2

7) ISIS & JIHAD: INEVITABLE WAR

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Brian Donovan (permission via Creative Commons)

ISLAM: IS IT OR IS IT NOT THE PROBLEM?

Islam at nightIn the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris that left 12 persons dead, Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, declared, “It is a war against terrorism, against jihad, against radical Islam.” President  Hollande, Valls’s boss, was more measured. “Those who committed these terrorist acts, those terrorists, those fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion,” he said during preparations for the Paris solidarity March.

There is more going on in the two comments than at first meets the eye. It is not just that Hollande’s is more accommodating to Islam. The two French leaders contradicted each other. From 9/11, to the London Underground bombing, to al Qaeda in Yemen and Boka Haram in Nigeria and the beheadings by ISIS in Iraq, two incompatible views about the role of Islam have saturated political views, the world media, and local coffee bars. Islam is the problem. Islam is not the problem. The horrific and well-planned Paris attack has made this serious bone of contention hugely public again, including comments by leaders such as Hollande and Valls.

Broadly speaking, behind the contradictory views lies, on the one hand, the organizing principle of “inclusion” found in multiculturalism, which too often makes excuses for jihadist violence, and, on the other hand, a religious, political, and social fundamentalism, such as is found in strains of American Evangelicalism, which has a complete and uncomplicated identification of Islam as a violent religion. In the former view, Islam is not the problem. In the latter, Islam is the problem.

The real problem, however, is that neither argument fits the facts. At the end of the day, both leak like a sieve. They lazily avoid the hard and time-consuming work of acknowledging and addressing all of the relevant facts. That’s half of my conclusion after more than a decade of work in the areas of Christian – Muslim relations and U.S. – Middle East foreign policy. The other half is this: Although it is wrong to say that Islam is the problem, it certainly is true that Islam has a problem.

Part of my work has entailed extensive research into this problem, and I recently began feeling brave enough to collect my thoughts about it in a formal essay. Besides writing deadlines and related pressing work, however, I hesitated to start the essay because, heart on sleeve, it would not be easy to write, to aptly cover what needs to be said. I also thought that someone wiser ought to tackle this.

And then I breathed a sigh of relief after reading John Azumah’s essay in First Things. Well written, tightly argued, amply illustrated, and covering all the cardinal issues in just a few thousand words, the essay ought to be required reading. Azumah is associate professor of World Christianity and Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary, and his essay, “Challenging Radical Islam, An Explanation of Islam’s Relation to Terrorism and Violence,” brilliantly subverts both the “Islam is the problem” and “Islam is not the problem” arguments.

Another crucial service Azumah performs for us is this. He deconstructs the is / is not arguments in a way that leaves us at the end of the essay taking away a fair, balanced, and clear understanding of the problems that Islam has, and he explains why only Muslims can solve them. Further, he is well aware that when you point a finger, three more point back at you. So I appreciated his humility, which at the end of the essay addresses ways in which we Christians also need reform.

Enough said. Read Azumah’s essay. He’s spared me a lot of work. And as a fellow writer, I can tell you he worked hard on this one.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image permission of flickr.com.

President Obama, Symbolic Power, Paris, and Public Perception

Paris march millions Every picture tells a story. Finally, instead of more excuses from the Obama administration about why the President was MIA among the world leaders at the Paris unity-against-terrorism March on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday afternoon that “we should have sent someone with a higher profile to the event.”

All day long Monday, images poured into and out of the media of the million+ people who had quietly gathered in the Place de la Nation Square to show the world’s solidarity for the victims of the Paris terrorist attack. At the head of the marching throng were pictured 40 world leaders walking arm-in-arm. But what many saw was: Where is the President of the United States?

Too short of a notice to get the President there, said the White House, given all the high security measures that would have been needed. It would have disrupted this important event.

And yet, there was British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and the King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the others. Their security teams pulled off their attendance on short notice.

Paris march world leadersWorse, the scene lacked the presence of any top U.S. officials. That also stared everyone in the face. No U.S. Vice-President. No Secretary of State. Even Attorney General Eric Holder, who had been at a summit on terrorism in Paris that morning, did not take part. There were no senior cabinet officials either. Only U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley and her staff were present.

Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “Global Public Square,” called the absence of top U.S. officials a “pathetic” mistake. I agree. “I thought this was why God invented Vice-Presidents,” Zakaria quipped.

It’s true that the states represented their by their leaders at the Paris march don’t give a wit about the symbolic “message of the missing president.” The U.S. has been, is now, and shall remain adamantly united with them in their anti-terrorism policies. These leaders know that. Certainly France isn’t fussed about the symbolic message. After the Paris attack last week, President Obama made it a point to reassure French President Hollande of America’s solid partnership with its old ally France on the anti-terrorism front.

Nevertheless, emotional symbols in foreign affairs, like doctrines and explanations, play roles outside the corridors of a state’s power, where they can evoke public responses that can settle in and alter perception. The Paris solidarity march carries such a high degree of symbolism that President Obama’s absence was a glaring image that negatively affected world opinion. For a state that lacks the street cred it had in the world before the war about Iraq, it was indeed a pathetic mistake.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top photo, AP. Bottom photo, Reuters.

THE FALL OF THE WALL: WHAT YOU NEVER KNEW

fall of Berlin wallIn what I jokingly call my spare time, I recently took time to send an impromptu email to some friends whom I thought might like to read some historically fascinating insider-information about the fall of the Berlin wall. I sent it after checking out a short article on the National Security Archive (Georgetown University) that referred to several just released documents (linked at the end of the article) that cut through all the media hoo-ha that’s recently been in the news about the fall of wall.

These archival documents reveal from behind-the-scenes – mostly from European leaders but from some from American sources as well – how this world-historical change really occurred and why some leaders, like Thatcher, did not want it to.

As often happens, I’d run across this info while researching something else entirely. Mostly when this happens, and it can happen many times a day to me, I resist the urge to go there – lest I get even further behind in the day’s work. But after perusing this info, I knew that some friends in the U.S. and overseas might like to see it. So out went my email.

What I didn’t know – until they started replying in emails – was the fascinating stories and memories some had about those weeks when the wall was coming down. One guy, an American scholar, was at an International Book Fair in Frankfurt. Another guy, a British musician, was on tour playing in Berlin. And so on.

As I’ve been reading their replies, I thought if would be cool to hear from a wider audience here on my blog. So if you have a story, do let us know by using the Comments area. Even if you don’t have a personal story about those weeks, check out the National Security Archive release for the behind-the-scenes story. Here’s the URL:

Documents show accident and contingency, anxiety in world capitals.

East German crowds led the way, with help from Communist fumbles, self-fulfilling TV coverage, Hungarian reformers, Czechoslovak pressure, and Gorbachev’s non-violence.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Raphael Thiemard (permission via Creative Commons)

IRAN NUKES DEAL

hour glass 1 (Willi Heidlebach)Behind the cautious rhetoric from President Obama about reaching an agreement with Iran on its nuclear energy program, you don’t have to listen very hard to know that he really wants a deal. And for more than a year now, the public pronouncements about the talks from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seem to indicate that he has the same hope. But Rouhani’s most recent comment, made in Tehran, is instructive for both the United States and Iran.

As talks between Iran and the P5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) wind down in Vienna this week, with the November 24 deadline fast approaching, the U.S. and Iran held a session of bilateral talks on the deal. In Tehran on Wednesday, November 19, Rouhani said that if “the opposite party in the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran has the political will for a deal and avoids excessive demands, the conditions are prepared for the conclusion of a deal.” Apparently this means that the key players in Tehran are of one mind on core issues.

But this may be a misleading assumption. Although Rouhani and his team of nuclear negotiators are of a moderate political persuasion, at least according to Middle East lights, and may indeed be united in reaching an agreement, they have been battling strong opposition to a deal from political hardliners in the regime. And of course the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has the make-or-break authority on any international deal. (For the record, he has stated many times that Iran does not want nuclear weapons because it is against Islamic law.)

Concurrently in the States, as Obama’s team seeks to reach an agreement, it too has been facing strong and sustained opposition from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and at home from political hardliners in Congress, the Jewish lobby, and talk radio pundits. The word “compromise” is anathema to the “anti-deal” groups, who are unable, or unwilling, to see the wisdom of keeping diplomacy going in order to bring this cliffhanger to an equitable agreement.

I wrote several posts, beginning here, about the serious ramifications that followed for many years after the George W. Bush administration’s diplomatic snub of Iran in 2003. When Iran reached out to the United States in 2003, Iran had a reform-minded president, Seyyed Mohammed Khatami, and a foreign policy team that sought, under Khatami’s leadership, cooperation with America and the rest of the West. The Bush White House rudely nixed further progress on that.

Now that the two states have been holding high-level talks for more than a year, a fair and just agreement must not be lost by the two president’s caving in at the last minute to the opposition groups.

If an agreement cannot be reached by the November 24 deadline, the talks should be extended to iron out the minutia. If an agreement is not reached and the talks end sans an extension, potential for cooperation between the West and Iran may be set back for years if not for decades.

Worse, hardliners in the U.S. who have been calling for bombing Iran may then get their way. If so, the hardliners in Iran will have the excuse they have been waiting for, as they had in 2003 with Khatami, to blackball the moderate Rouhani and install another Ahmadinejad. Worse still, you won’t like the blowback to the bombing.

Wisdom is better than weapons of war. Outside the meeting rooms of power, we ordinary mortals can feel so helpless in these situations. But there is an old saying: Prayer changes things. If you are a praying person, pray that the two presidents will succeed.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Willi Heidelbach (permission via Creative Commons)

CONSERVATIVES BEWARE

smoking volcanoAfter the immediate success of the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003 turned into a worst-of-all-worlds counter-narrative, many keyboards were worn out in the ensuing years documenting what went wrong on many levels. There is no need, here, to go into what Thomas Ricks, the acclaimed Pentagon correspondent, aptly called a “fiasco,” in his book with that title.

Many analysts held neoconservative foreign policy thinkers responsible for it, and Donald Rumsfeld’s top neoconservative advisers – Paul Wolfowitz (deputy secretary of defense), Richard Perle (assistant secretary of defense), and Douglas Feith (undersecretary of defense for policy) – began demurring when critics implicated them, big time, in the unfolding disaster. As well, a chill toward neoconservatism set in among Washington’s political elite.

Then in 2005 and 2006, President Bush began removing neoconservative advisors from his administration and filling the positions with those who could be trusted to shift America’s Middle East policy in a more realist direction. Right after the November 2006 midterm elections, Bush accepted Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation and appointed the well-experienced Roberts Gates, a foreign policy realist, as his secretary of defense. In 2006, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank, was shut down, and by 2008 most of the Bush administration’s many neoconservative advisors were out of government.

Although neoconservative ideology nose-dived, it would be a mistake to assume that its adherents crashed and burned. As in the 1990s, they busied themselves. Many leading neocon thinkers engaged in what critics have called a rewriting of their role in the Bush White House, trying to salvage their political philosophy. Claiming that they were merely getting the truth out, setting the record straight, their revisionist history typically has included identifying the State Department, the CIA, and many realists and idealists as having had an exaggerated the role of neoconservatism in the Bush White House. It also has included blaming CIA intelligence, the State Department, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and other high-level targets for the debacle that arose in Iraq.

Certainly there is enough finger-pointing to go around, but the neoconservatives go too far, accepting little if any responsibility for the fiasco – everyone else is at fault (see, e.g., Douglas Feith, War and Decision; Richard Perle, “Ambushed on the Potomac,” The National Interest online; and Nathan Guttman, “No Longer in Power, Free to Talk, Neocons Seek to Rewrite History,” The Jewish Daily Forward online). In my view, the neocons lack the humility to see that when you point a finger elsewhere, three more fingers point back at you.

The neoconservatives, however, still had many high-level admirers, such as Republican Senator John McCain. When he was running for the presidency against Barack Obama in 2008, McCain included leading neoconservatives on his team of foreign policy and national security advisors (he also received ad hoc advice from realists Henry Kissinger and Richard Armitage).

human eyeAlso around this time, formidable neoconservative thinkers such as the columnists Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol were getting regular bylines in Time magazine, and Kristol was writing for The New York Times. And both men became FOX News analysts. But also by this time, the word “neoconservative” wasn’t heard much in the mainstream media, and commentators such as Kristol and Krauthammer were doing their thing under the umbrella “conservative.”

That is, the mainstream media, not to mention talk radio, was now content to use the word “conservative” to test drive neoconservative ideas for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and denouncing President Obama’s diplomatic efforts toward Iran are part of that ride. Of course it is not only the neocons and some conservatives who push such ideas but liberal hawks as well.

Jacob Heilbrunn, a foreign policy realist who knows a thing or two about neoconservatism, writes that the neocons want to engage in regime change around the world, and because that’s not current U.S. foreign policy they are blaming President Obama, big time, and anyone else of consequence who does not believe what they believe. “What the neocons are offering,” Heilbrunn concludes, “is a message of power worship, one that is a recipe for a permanent revolution abroad that will further ensnare the United States in foreign predicaments that it cannot reasonably hope to resolve.” To much of the world, then, it seems as if all the United States has to offer it is “unremitting combat.”

Conclusion. Much of American foreign policy conservatism during the Cold War era saw the world through an “us vs. them” / “good vs. evil” lens. Communism was the enemy, and many of  conservatism’s staunchest foreign policy apologists followed William F. Buckley Jr., whose aggressive anti-communism was at odds with the bipartisan doctrine on “containment – the organizing principle of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union – because it was not consistent with his “good vs. evil” policy frame for U.S. – Soviet relations. Unlike the majority of Americans and U.S. presidents (liberals and conservatives) who supported containment, Buckley was not opposed to rolling back the spread of communism with the weapons of wars, and many conservative politicians followed his lead.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, these conservatives lost the foreign enemy over against which they had organized their foreign policy, and their Manichean frame of reference virtually dissolved, at least until the neoconservatives reconstituted it on September 11, 2001. Now intoxicated with power inside the George W. Bush administration, they used their considerable intellects to sway Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld to restore America’s “us vs. them” / “good vs. evil” foreign policy militarism and point it not toward Eastern Europe but the Middle East.

Despite the fact that “neoconservatism” is little heard today, its militarism since 9/11 has been, and continues to be, a heady brew, and much of foreign policy conservatism in America today walks around in that stupor. If you are an American and consider yourself a conservative, pay attention to the language you’re hearing on talk radio and from conservative politicians about what ought to be U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Caveat emptor.

The previous three posts discuses the strange history of political neoconservatism.

Wisdom is better than weapons of war.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Rudolfo Araiza G. & Cesar R. respectively (permissions via Creative Commons)

THE PATIENT RISE TO POWER OF THE NEOCONSERVATIVES part 3 of 3

Story continued from the previous post.

green sky at night (Adrian Kingsley-Hughes)Perhaps the boldest move by neoconservatives during the 1990s, when they were rethinking their political involvement in U.S. foreign policy, was their January 26, 1998 letter to President Clinton that called for regime change in Iraq. Written on Project for a New American Century stationery, the formal letter argued that “the aim of American foreign policy” should be “removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.”

“We urge you to articulate this aim,” the letter concluded. “We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.” It was signed by Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and eleven other influential political allies.

Many analysts have concluded that Clinton ignored the PNAC letter. Maybe. Certainly he never made any attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But regime change takes time. Consider what did take place quietly in the halls of power. In September 1998, just nine months after Clinton received the PNAC letter, a bill was introduced to both the House and the Senate under the cumbersome title: “To establish a program to support a transition to democracy in Iraq.” It sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Clinton on October 31 as “The Iraq Liberation Act.”

The implication ought to give us pause. Conventional wisdom lays the decision to change the regime in Iraq squarely at the feet of President George W. Bush, who used the U.S. military to remove Saddam Hussein from power in early 2003, but the policy had in fact become official U.S. policy under Clinton, who, with Congressional sanction, got the ball rolling by signing the bill.

So we may never know just what occurred. As Al Gore once told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, the public only knows one percent of what goes on at the White House (The Charlie Rose Show, PBS-TV, July 16, 2009).

2000-2004. For the neocon intellectuals and professional who were in place as high-level advisers to secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America was their “Aha!” foreign policy moment. Several things converged in a short space of time to give them the opportunity they had been waiting for to showcase their militaristic foreign policy in real time.

The first thing was the terrorist attack itself. “In an instant,” writes Andrew Bacevich, “the world was once again divided into two opposing and irreconcilable camps” (Bacevich, American Empire: The Reality and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy). And this was going to be “the world’s fight,” President Bush told Congress and the nation on September 20. “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” Bush warned.

skyscraper at night (Jon Herbert)The neocons warmed to the president’s words. Voilà! Right before their very eyes, a replacement enemy to the collapsed Soviet threat had suddenly materialized – Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network – over against which they could seek to put the militarism of their worldview to test in real time.

Unknown to most people at the time, however, the neocons immediately pushed for invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein instead of going after al Qaeda, bin Laden, and the Taliban government  in Afghanistan. As investigative journalist Bob Woodward writes: “the Pentagon had been working for months on developing a military option for Iraq,” and Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfled’s deputy secretary of defense and a leading neoconservative thinker, was committed to a policy that “would make Iraq a principal target of the first round in the war on terrorism” (Woodward, Bush at War).

During the highest-level discussions at the White House and Camp David between September 12-15, on how best to respond to the terrorist attack, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld suggested striking Iraq. Secretary of state Colin Powell voiced his opposition, and President Bush nixed the idea for the time being, saying that the American people “want us to do something about al Qaeda” in Afghanistan (Bush at War; see also: Thomas Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq).

By the time bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the Taliban had been driven from power in Afghanistan, there was widespread acceptance across the political spectrum in America and in Congress for removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – the primary reason, of course, being the continual circulation by the CIA and the American mainstream media “proving” a threat to the United States from Iraq’s WMD.

Story continued in the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes & Jon Herbert respectively (permission via Creative Commons)

THE PATIENT RISE TO POWER OF THE NEOCONSERVATIVES part 2 of 3

Story continued from the previous post.

Brandenburg Gate1970s-1980s. The neoconservatives now shift from the Democrat to the Republican Party. The move made some sense. For one thing, in 1975, President Gerald Ford, a Republican, had appointed Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a political neoconservative, as U.S. ambassador to the UN. Also, neoconservatives in general were not fans of the human rights foreign policy of U.S. President Jimmy Carter (1976-1980). And by 1980, as the Carter – Reagan presidential election loomed, most had become convinced that they would never become lieutenants of power in the Democrat Party. During the Carter – Reagan presidential campaign, many transferred “their hopes to Ronald Reagan and the Republicans, expecting that a conservative victory would bring them all the opportunities and rewards they had been denied by the Democrats” (John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism).

But that was not to be. The stars had yet to align. After Reagan won the presidency he did bring in the neoconservative intellectual Jeane Kirkpatrick as a foreign policy advisor and in 1981 named her U.S. ambassador to the UN. As with Gerald Ford, this gave neoconservatives at least one high-level access to the Reagan administration. But then in 1983, Reagan, during the Lebanese civil war, acted on reports from the Department of Defense and the NSA and withdrew U.S. troops from Lebanon after a terrorist bombing in Beirut killed 241 American servicemen. Removing those troops did not set well with neoconservatives.

It became clear to the neoconservatives that President Reagan was never going to buy into their political philosophy. This was especially true regarding their foreign policy. Reagan may have gone so far as to call the Soviet Union an evil empire and promote the development of a bizarre “Star Wars” missile defense system against the Soviet threat, but he avoided neoconservative ideas for rolling back communism through military interventions.

In fact, Reagan was the U.S. president who, reached out skillfully diplomatically to the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Over a several year period, and against great political pushback in both countries, they hammered out and signed nuclear arms control treaties. Further, Reagan and Gorbachev are key players for anyone wishing to understand the end of the Soviet Union.

Losing their perennial enemy. With Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika (“restructuring”) and glasnost (“opening”), the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the formal dissolution in of the Soviet Union, or USSR, neoconservatism by the end of 1991 had lost the perennial communist enemy over against which much of its foreign policy had been organized. The net result, politically, was that whatever appeal neoconservatives may been accumulating during the Cold War decades as  dependable guides for U.S. foreign policy dwindled considerably.

engineers (Seattle Municial Archives)1990s. Clinton and the neoconservatives. Their political marginalization was ensured with the election of Bill Clinton to the White House in 1992. Clinton, a liberal internationalist and a Democrat, had no time for “the neocons.” But they had time for themselves, and they spent it rethinking their image. Although small in numbers compared to realist and idealist networks, neoconservatives are well-funded and resourceful. Garaged during Clinton’s two terms in office (1992-2000), they plied their time, re-engineering their basic political philosophy in a language and with policy proposals suited to what now occupied everyone’s mind in Washington: America’s changing role in the world – what would it be, now that the world was no longer divided into two opposing superpower camps?

Neoconservative thinkers addressed this by rolling out their views through the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a respected and influential right-wing think tank, and in National Interest, a foreign affairs journal founded in 1985 by Irving Kristol. Another outlet, The Weekly Standard, was founded in 1995 by William Kristol (son of Irving). These three outlets provided public platforms for a new generation of keen neoconservative intellects, including Elliot Abrahams, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Charles Krauthammer, to disseminate their views.

In 1997, several influential neoconservatives, led by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, founded the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which promoted an aggressive U.S. foreign policy that they called neo-Reaganite. In America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, former neoconservative thinker Francis Fukuyama writes that the 1990s, neoconservative intellectuals “proposed a foreign policy agenda involving concepts like regime change, benevolent hegemony, uni-polarity, preemption, and American exceptionalism.”

Perhaps their boldest move during these years of their marginalization and rethinking was when they sent a formal letter to President Clinton in 1998 arguing for regime change in Iraq. We’ll pick up the story here in the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Werner Kunz & Seattle Municipal Archives respectively (permissions via Creative Commons)