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Sunday, August 17, 2003


Originally published April 24th, 2003, this two-part mini-series was slain and laid to rest in some forlorn wind-blasted graveyard on July 1st, no doubt skyhooting happily ever since with frolicking cyberspace angels . . . or wherever else hacked-into archives end up in the next life. It's reproduced here in mid-August, with part two of the series unfolding right now. Part one was published earlier today.

As the title notes, this is the second article in a series on neo-conservatism: what it is, why it originated, how it has come to have such a deservedly profound influence on the current Bush administration's foreign and security policies. Needless to say, you should read the previous article; it's indispensable background for understanding the three commentaries that follow, the first by the buggy prof himself on neo-conservatism's origins and evolution . . . a follow-up to his initial commentary in the previous article. The remaining two are by Joe Hagan, a journalist, and Prof. Anthony O'Regan.

Some of the introductory comments that appeared in the previous article follow immediately with a few added remarks by way of clarification. Consider them something of a prologue, nothing less. Even if you've read them already, it might not be a bad way to look them over as a jog to your memory.


[1] First there's an extensive commentary on neo-conservatism that the buggy prof sent to his several hundred subscribers last October, fully updated to make it more relevant. (See gordon-newspost) Essentially --- a point worth getting across right from the start --- note that the pioneer intellectuals and policymakers who developed neo-conservative thought were all former anti-Communist liberals, influenced by three intellectual heritages that came together in the late 1960s. These three heritages are shared these days by moderate liberals too, who remain --- the does the buggy prof --- in the Democratic Party. No surprise. Neo-conservatism is anything but rigid primal conservatism of the pre-1980s stuff, and a liberal weekly of notable neo-con thought that is still oriented toward the Democratic Party --- mainly for domestic reasons --- is The New Republic. Here, with some brief clarifying remarks, are those shared heritages:

• A firm adherence to Wilsonian liberal traditions in foreign policy, which espoused waging ideological warfare against the totalitarian challenges of Nazism, militarism, and Communism --- not just managerial realism and diplomatic accommodation to them (AKA appeasement, a EU specialty by the late 1960s, if not earlier . . . almost all the EU governments only too happy to get along in managerial realist ways with brutal Communist, African, and Middle East regimes, and do profitable business with them). Only when clear and important security interests pull in an opposite direction to supporting or encouraging democratic trends abroad will neo-conservatives, like managerial realists on both the moderate left and moderate non neo-conservative right in this country, tone down or reject support for democracy.

--- Thus in Chile in the early 1970s, the Allende government --- though democratic --- was elected with less than 40% of the Chilean population; was criticized and condemned by the Chilean Congress and then the Chilean Supreme Court; and was ruining the Chilean economy even as it was badly polarizing the country. The Nixon administration and the CIA encouraged Allende's overthrow in September 1973, in a brutal and bloody coup ---about 4000 Chileans were killed, according to the subsequent Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed in the post-Pinochet democratic era in the 1990s. But note. For one thing, Nixon wasn't a neo-conservative. He and Kissinger were consummate realist-managers of power politics. Even if there were justified worries about growing Soviet influence in the Allende era, the failure of the US government to openly criticize the magnitude of the Pinochet killings and repression remains a stigma on US policy in the region.

---For another thing, the current political leadership in Chile --- including former members of the Allende coalition, like President Ricardo Lagos --- agreed in the 1999 - 2000 presidential campaign that the Pinochet coup, bloody as it was, followed disastrous errors made by the coalition in its excessive zeal. Specifically, before Ricardo Lagos was elected Chile's president in early 2000, as head of a moderate Socialist Party, he had earlier been in the Allende coalition, then fled the country in the Pinochet era, becoming a US economics professor and returning in the 1990s. During the electoral campaign that he and his Socialist Party won, the party's head, Sen. Ricardo Nunez Munoz, said in an interview [with the New York Times]: "It's wrong to say that the CIA, the armed forces and the bourgeoisie alone brought down the Allende government. It's obvious we need to admit we made critical economic and political errors that were as decisive if not more decisive." Munoz added, "It's possible some are frightened by the prospect of another Socialist president, but while Ricardo Lagos is a son of the Allende years, he and we know another Allende-like experiment would only be a colossal failure." See too the gordon-newspost article commentary on this. Also, an up-to-date survey of those turbulent Chilean years in the early 1970s and down through the coup in September 1973 at Val-e-diction.) As a third thing, note further that in mid- and late-1980s --- when neo-conservative influence was running high in Washington --- the Reagan and later Bush administrations were instrumental in pressing Pinochet to hold free elections and then, when he loss, to resign and allow democratic politics to prevail. That was in December 1989.

--- Nor was that all. Thanks to US pressure in the same period of the l980s, the long dictatorial rule of General Stroessner was ended in Paraguay: specifically, 1989. Earlier, because of the Reagan administration, the corrupt dictatorial regime of General Marcos was ended in 1986, and a democratic era was initiated that has lasted ever since. The same was true of Sandinista Nicaragua. Under unrelenting pressure from the Reagan and Bush administrations, that dictatorial regime held internationally supervised elections in 1990, and it lost in every electoral district across the country . . . including the heavily patronized Sandinista ones. Since then, virtually every government south of the Rio Grande --- save for Cuba --- has been an electoral democracy. Even our neighbor to the south, Mexico, had its first free elections ever in 2000. For that matter, despite its tumultuous economic troubles, even Argentina remains a solid democratic country . . . democracy now institutionalized there for 20 years, with the brutal military that was in power in the previous period currently being extradited for trial to Spain or put on trial in Argentina itself. (There was a brief flurry of similar trials in the early 1980s after Argentina returned to democracy, but the government quickly backtracked after the military complained that too many of the top brass were now being threatened.)

• A related Wilsonian belief that democratic government has to be the ultimate solution for dealing with these totalitarian threats whenever and wherever it could be pushed. But not mindless crusaders --- like moralizing left-wing liberals or many radicals --- neo-conservatives have been careful to subject this ideological goal to competing interests in foreign policy: above all immediate security interests that might pull oppositely, and the concrete tradeoffs with them . . . such as the dangers of nuclear war, or the need at times to ally with unsavory allies for security purposes, which is what the US had to do in WWII when FDR had to forge an alliance the monstrous Stalinist Soviet Union in the struggle against the more pressing dangers of the even more monstrous Nazi and fascist threats from Germany and Japan, or what Truman and his successors had to do at times in the Cold War when the US supported anti-communist dictatorships in the global struggle with the Soviet and other communist countries.

• Not least --- ever since the New Left radicals emerged in the 1960s and implanted themselves as politically correct ideologues in academic life --- neo-conservative have fought back at the radical left's ideological excesses, fervor, and sheer hostility to middle class life, American capitalism, and our governmental institutions . . . along with its no less obvious contempt for civic discipline and the other restraints built into bourgeois civilization. Those restraints traditionally include, it's important to stress, the demand that individuals take responsibility for their wrong-doings and crimes, a moral notion fundamental to all civilized life that the politically correct pulpit-pounders haughtily reject . . . especially for all the alleged victims of American capitalism, including privileged minorities. Neo-conservatives see all this as wrong, decidedly so. They reject the endless antinomian search for self-fulfillment and the corollary rejection of traditional social and civic obligations that politically correct radicals celebrate, for all their lofty rhetoric about socialism and a new community. Oppositely, at the other end of the US political spectrum, neo-conservatives have been at odds with the libertarian right, which is seen as celebrating a form of atomistic individualism of a narrow economic sort, indifferent to culture and social traditions built into the fiber of middle class civilization.



This commentary was originally sent to the gordon-newspost a year ago, a response to a student's query sent to him.

In their origins in the 1970s, neo-conservatives were originally old-time liberals that believed in a welfare state and active redistribution policies. Vigorously anti-Communist too, they supported a strong defense policy and believed in the need to wage ideological warfare against Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, and all other forms of totalitarian communism. That was the case right through the early years of the Johnson administration and the Great Society, which also coincided in the late 1960s with the emergence of the New Left radicals, who rejected the US system of government as hopelessly in reactionary capitalist hands and who were influenced by the Vietnam war and other radicalizing tendencies at the time. By the early 1970s, many of these liberal intellectuals --- Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer of Harvard, Irving Kristol of New York University, James Wilson of Harvard too --- became disillusioned and even disgusted with the excesses of the New Left and saw the Great Society as producing bad social and cultural repercussions: not least, illegitimacy, growing crime, and growing excessive individualism with a neglect of citizen obligations . . . the latter a cultural influence in its own right, which soon spread to encompass large sectors of middle class life as well.

The outcome was PUBLIC INTEREST, by far the most influential policy journal ever: it attracted rigorous scholarly work that showed most government policies of the Great Society were producing bad outcomes and showed too that social science was largely pretending to know things it didn't. Neo-conservatives also emphasized that the New Left --- with its multicultural ideologies etc --- were a nihilistic group essentially, with increasingly bad influence on the humanities.

By the late 1970s, a liberal magazine of big influence in American intellectual life -- COMMENTARY, edited by Nathan Podhoretz --- also moved to the right into the neo-conservative camp. That too had a big impact. Soon the National Interest, a spinoff of the Kristol-Bell-Glazer group that created and ran the Public Interest --- only oriented toward foreign policy --- became influential as well.


Old Conservatives React

Old (primal) conservatives didn't like the neo-conservatives, originally anyway. They didn't want any active welfare state, something the neo-conservatives did. Put it this way. Old conservatives --- essentially organized around William Buckley's National Review--- hated the New Deal of Roosevelt. Neo-cons were former liberals who supported the New Deal (social security, labor laws favoring unions, a more active government role of regulation of business that had been growing anyway from the late 19th century on). Buchanan was and is one of these. Another way to look at this is that Old Conservatives were a largely WASP group un-reconciled to the New Deal. Many were in fact anti-Semites and didn't like the integration laws promoted by the Supreme Court and the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Buckley and the National Review would themselves change. Since the mid-1990s, they are fully in the neo-conservative camp, with a very vigorous group of editors and regular writers. Around the same time, the Weekly Standard became another major influence in neo-conservative circles.  

The Campus New Left Inquisition

A former stalwart of the radical left, David Horowitz --- a talented editor and reporter, once the co-editor along with Larry Collier of the New Left bible, a magazine called Ramparts (Robert Scheer, the Los Angeles Times op-ed reporter, was its chief publisher) --- was so repelled by the extravagant anti-Americanism, totalitarian-like tactics to high-jack higher education, and sheer ideological folly of the politically correct Academic Left --- founded Frontpage, a journal with great influence. Not least, it has been responsible more than anything else for the emboldened counter-struggles of moderate faculty members like the buggy prof to push back these home-grown Inquisitors and chip away at their speech codes and secret tribunals and kangaroo courts and Red-Guard student mascot-thugs used to drive off campus anyone to the right of Al Gore --- or try to intimidate non-conforming professors.

Consider this blatant case at UCLA last month (May 2002), where in the midst of the Iraqi war, a typical power play of the radical left occurred. The Academic Senate, a faculty body that has big influence over curricular matters and faculty privileges and rights, is run there as it is at the other 7 UC campuses by a small legislature, to which faculty candidates are elected. UCLA's has about 200 (UCSB's is about half that size) --- this for a campus with 3000 tenured or tenured-qualifying professors. Naturally, the activists --- most of them, it appears, mediocre scholars in English literature, sociology, ethnic studies, feminist studies, cultural studies, with time galore on their hands --- capture these Academic Senates and seek to turn them into public mouthpieces of a politically charged nature. A resolution was then rammed through the legislature that claimed to speak in the name of all 3000 faculty members of the Academic Senate (you are automatically in it as a professor) that, by a vote of 192 to 7 or 8, condemned the US-UK military intervention that has liberated Iraq from its Saddamite reign of terror and fear.

That's how the public saw things anyway. Fortunately, despite the public impression, three UCLA law professors this last week published a stinging op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. See "We Were Mugged."

  A Fusion Save for the Dinosaur Right-Wing

By the time of the Reagan admin (1981-89), the two groups differences tended to blur. Reagan himself endorsed the New Deal: the enemy was the Great Society programs and the New Left. Buckley denounced Buchanan in a full issue of the National Review (80 pages or so in his article) as a racist and anti-Semite, and since then, many of the editors of the journal --- much more influential now --- have been neo-cons or their descendants.

These days, there is no sharp difference between the two ideologies. People like Buchanan have limited influence in the Republican party, which is essentially Reaganite in its policies. Buchanan is a third-party type on the Right, now flirting with racist-like ideas that the white race is being outdistanced demographically. He would also like to prevent Jews and Asians from being so prominent in the student bodies and faculties of elite universities. The neo-cons have essentially won. And the difference between them and Clintonite mainstream Democrats -- eg, the Progressive Policy Institute (influential moderate liberals, where I stand) --- is basically blurred and hard to pin down in ideological terms. That said, the Republican Party under Bush seems to be moving more in a Libertarian direction --- an ideology on the Right that, without breaking with the new neo-con consensus entirely, looks like being far more suspicious of governmental regulations and redistirbutive policies than neo-cons ever themselves espoused.


The following is an excerpt. For the entire article, see The News York Observer

"It's a small world," said William Kristol, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard, describing the intertwined world of the neoconservatives. And indeed it is, at least to Mr. Kristol: His father is the legendary New York intellectual Irving Kristol, who is widely considered to be the founder of neoconservatism, and Mr. Kristol now edits the magazine owned by the financial godfather of the movement, American citizen Rupert Murdoch. Somewhere between Mr. Kristol's ideas and Mr. Murdoch's muscle, the modern neocon economy was built, complete with speakers' bureaus, think tanks, magazines, newspapers, a television news network and, not to be coy, an official state residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"And that's not even euphemistic! Years ago, during the Reagan administration, the neoconservatives had their first real shot at power after many years in the wilderness. The movement—built on the ashes of fallen heroes and villains like Barry Goldwater and Joseph McCarthy, stoked by urban ethnicity and Western political money, propelled by historical forces as varied as World War II and the states' rights movement—found itself in power with a real President of the United States. Then it lost the football, first to a Republican moderate named George H.W. Bush, then to a clever Democratic moderate named Bill Clinton.

"Now, after eight painful years, the neoconservative network is riding high, determined never to lose power again so easily, to make sure that its ideas are well distributed and that the distributors are well compensated, and that the current President of the United States and his aides—from Vice President Richard Cheney to National Security Advisor Condeleezza Rice—are inspired, cajoled, supported and, when memoir-time comes, well paid. It's the stuff that winners are made of. Now they come upon their greatest triumph: a military victory in Iraq, conceived and wished for in neoconservative clubhouses and brilliantly supported during the course of the war by the neoconservative media.

"Yeah, I think we had some utility," said Mr. Kristol. "Bush could have come to it all without us, too. But it helped that we had already made these arguments. You feel some responsibility when things go well." And Mr. Kristol couldn't have done it without the New York firmament from which the movement came—from the right-wing think tank the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, to the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal, to the elemental neoconservative journal, Commentary, founded by the neocon patriarch and matriarch, Norman Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Decter. Their son, John Podhoretz, is a columnist and former editorial-page editor for the New York Post.

"At the top of this neoconservative network, of course, is Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., home of the Fox News Network and the Post, both based on Sixth Avenue. Mr. Murdoch also owns The Weekly Standard . . . ."



I've set out some comments on a student paper that deals with neo-conservatives. Possibly they might be of interest to your buggy prof visitors. --- Anthony

John: Just a note to congratulate you on your thoughtful and persuasive piece about Iraq. I'd add a few points:

a. Neoconservatives are not some bunch of marauding warmongers--to listen to some commentaries its as if most of the media and Pat Buchanan were talking about The Visigoths. The Neocons won the intellectual argument for ridding the world of Saddam--and now they will be judged based on what happens next in Iraq. Fair enough--as long that is as they are allowed to structure the immediate future. So far the signs from the Bush administration are positive here--this morning the LA Times reported that Bechtel, the Bay area conglomerate will lead a massive project to (re)build the economic infrastructure of Iraq. Now, the political examples of implanting democracy--post war Japan and Germany are poor standard bearers. A better example would be Romania since Ceausescu. This is exactly what Paul Wolfowitz has stated. Forget the baloney about Wolfowitz as some kind of dark Bismarck like figure--he's not. He's quite sober and somber about how difficult the task will be to build anything that looks like democracy in Iraq. But surely, he's right in saying that it's not unreasonable to think that in a decade's time Iraq could be in a similar position to Romania today--hardly a flourishing economy, nor a consolidated democracy--but on both fronts clearly Romania is moving in the right direction. Furthermore, contemporary Romania like Hungary, Poland, and all of the Baltic states are fervently pro-US. They know what living under a dictatorship is like and they know how little you can count on the French for collective security. Surely then Wolfowitz is not the brilliant Dr. Strangelove figure that most of the media seems to project.

b. Interesting to note that after our brilliant military victory, the North Koreans now have seemingly had a change of mind and now want to sit down and talk with us and others. Previously, their stance was rigid: only bilateral talks with the US, nothing more, nothing less. Otherwise, Pyongyang's brutal Stalinist regime, a mass-murdering group of sadistic brutes, happily starving its bankrupt peasantry even as it lives in luxury and has enough money to fund a 2 million man menacing arms and nuclear programs, might go berserk. Now they're ready to talk. Hmm, wonder why?

c. What to do with Syria--as you note, there's no need to go to war here. Syria is a very weak state with a weak leader governing a bankrupt economy, little in the way of oil resources. That said, it does actively support Hezbollah (an Iranian creation) as well as Hamas, and has occupied Lebanon for almost two decades now. By the way, where are the campus protests about the Syrian invasion and their continued presence in Lebanon? War apparently is the answer here. I digress--Syria will likely comply with US demands soon, despite recent French efforts --- all too predictable, I fear --- to prop it up with de Villepin's visits and encouragement. They were helpful in targeting and helping US agents in rounding up Al-Qaida operatives in Syria and Lebanon-of course they did nothing about Hezbollah or Hamas.. Given how violent these two terrorist movements are --- condemned even by the EU and Canada now --- it's time we make it clear that the Bush Doctrine includes all such forces.

d. Russia disappointed me--Putin and Bush had crafted the most positive US-Russian relationship ever--until last December (it's still a positive relationship overall). Russia helped Saddam throughout and that obviously is something that warrants action on our behalf. My (modest) advice to the president would be that we should let Putin know that we certainly didn't appreciate his administration's actions (Russian government today is hardly a unified entity--something to keep in mind) in Iraq--that said, we should use a scalpel in our relations with Russia rather than the sledgehammer that some want to take out.

e. As for France: This breach will take a long time to heal (if it heals at all). What Chirac did was outrageous--not just dissenting from a US-UK position (their right), but actively going around the world trying to convince others that the US was the main threat today in global politics. Villepin, by the way, is still at it. Just today, he was in Iran, where he gave the clerical-hardline regime a thumbs-up for its improvement in human rights (!) ---- there are more dissidents in prison than ever --- while claiming that there has been progress (whatever that might mean, the pitiful guy didn't say) in their handling their nuclear arms program. Huh? Even the Russians, the patrons of their nuclear "energy program", confessed before the Iraqi war that they had been surprised by the speed of the military program there. Still, I wouldn't worry too much about the French--they don't have much influence anyway, and if that's my only recognition of the irrelevance of France today on the world scene--c'est le vie, mon ami. Not to forget that they are already promised their come-uppance, witness Colin Powell's warnings to that effect very recently.

f. Finally the UN: Why the left has such reverence for the UN is beyond me? Its record in Somalia in 1993, then in Bosnia in the next two years, then in Rawanda in 1994 and Burundi the year before, then it was bypassed during the start and course of the Yugoslav war in 1999, then . . . Well, the list is long. Since the Security Council is a forum where the only superpower and others with claims to influence --- the big five with veto power --- pursue their individual national interests. The UN should play a role in humanitarian efforts in Iraq such as refugee relief--but that's about it. The US, and our wartime allies should play the leading role in establishing the foundations of post-Saddam Iraq. If those that opposed our actions now want to play a positive role in building a new Iraqi society then we should welcome their offers--but we should, nay we must make the key decisions.

Best Wishes -- Anthony