Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Are the Neocons Migrating Left?
DON'T LOOK now, but neoconservatism is making a comeback — and not among the Republicans who have made it famous but in the Democratic Party. ...
This new crop of liberal hawks calls for expanding the existing war against terrorism, beefing up the military and promoting democracy around the globe while avoiding the anti-civil liberties excesses of the Bush administration. They support a U.S. government that would seek multilateral consensus before acting abroad, but one that is not scared to use force when necessary.
These Democrats want to be seen as anything but the squishes who have led the party to defeat in the past. Interestingly, that's how the early neocons saw themselves too: as liberals fighting to reclaim their party's true heritage — before they decamped to the GOP in the 1980s.
Indeed, the credo of the new Democratic hawks is eerily reminiscent of the neocons of the 1970s, who ran a full-page ad in the New York Times called "Come Home, Democrats" after George McGovern's crushing defeat, in a play on his campaign slogan "Come Home, America." In it, early neocons such as Jeane Kirkpatrick and Norman Podhoretz called for a return to the principles of — you guessed it — Truman and President Kennedy.
One side note: the legacy of Truman is up for grabs. While the liberal hawks claim his mantle, Anatol Lieven, John Hulsman and others claim Harry for the "ethical realist" school.
Meanwhile, Guy Dinmore reports in today's Financial Times that neocons are questioning the president's democratization strategy.
Is the stage being set so that the true "heirs" to the Bush Doctrine may end up being the liberal hawks?
In that case, there is a major hurdle they will have to overcome. It is easy to assert that Democrats, if in power, would have made Iraq a success and Osama bin Laden would be in custody. But what proof is being offered?
It is also going to be tough for Democrats to argue that they represent an "alternative" to Bush.
Republicans have the advantage, as Henry Nau wrote two years ago, of having competing but "organic" schools of thought. Can one argue that, right now, there is a distinctly Democratic approach to foreign policy?
I would make two observations on what Nikolas has posted. The first is that the neo-conservatives of the 1970s were quite different from those after 1996 (eg. PNAC). The earlier generation embraced Jeane Kirpatrick's notion that authoritarian regimes were deserving of US support against totalitarian ones. The later generation has stood for a commitment to democracy that has made it more difficult at least in principle to uphold traditional compromises with undemocratic states.
The earlier group also had a much simpler agenda, of rebuilding US defenses to contain Soviet power and of supporting regime change in places where this could be done by arming insurgents. The later group has had no state adversary in a position militarily to threaten the United States, and the problem of radical Islam after 9/11 has been that to combat it means fighting insurgents instead of arming them.
Later neo-conservatives were not intellectually prepared for this change but neither it should be said were any of their critics. Some neo-conservatives may now be gravitating to the realist position or to some amended version of their previous policy, and these shifts may be tantamount to a collapse of the neo-conservative world view as it existed from 1996 to the present. But because we are hostage to the next terrorist attack, I am not sure the policy won't be revived in even stronger form if there is a much larger terrorist attack on the United States in the future.
The great danger of recent years is that American leaders and the American people will conclude that, in national security, ends need to be commensurate with means or that means need to be commensurate with ends. The real problem is that ends need to be commensurate with needs; it is the nature and adequacy of the ends that matter. Competence is not a matter of executing a policy more effectively. It is a matter of understanding and setting proper goals.
My other observation is that what differentiates the position urged by the new Democratic hawks from the Bush policy is not the pledge to execute better but a desire to give multilateralism more of a chance. The proper criticism of this desire is not that it fails to explain how to embody this sentiment in particular crises but that it represents a deeper misunderstanding of Truman.
What Truman and his generation recognized was that consensus would always fail if it had to be forged on an ad hoc basis every time a crisis occurred. What Truman's generation achieved in the late 1940s was a new institutional framework that embedded a degree of consensus on a permanent basis and left partners free to agree or disagree about lesser matters.
To reproduce this achievement today, Democrats would need to define a new institutional framework (either growing out of one already existing, or creating one anew) that embodies a new level of permanent commitment between multilateral partners. The difficulty of imagining such a thing is a measure of how far we are from achieving it, but at least we ought to be clear about what something identifying itself with the Truman era should strive to do.
I think that the Democrats still have a "multilateralism" gap. THey can't convince people that they understand national interest and that their attempts to forge coalitions and workable institutions are meant to bolster U.S. national interests. Plus the Democrats still have a Vietnam syndrome, they don't want to admit that their government-interventionism at home led to such interventions abroad. This is why they so often want to blame Nixon and the Republicans for Vietnam. Finally, the sense that Democrats think national interests are somehow bad and unsavory means you get people sloganeering how we should get out of Iraq to go to Darfur, which doesn't send the impression that Democrats would be better stewards of U.S. national security.
Indeed, the people have been persuaded that having "...a decent respect for the opinions of mankind..." should be an important part of our approach to foreign affairs.
It just shows how far we have fallen from the ideals of our Founding Fathers.
"Plus the Democrats still have a Vietnam syndrome, they don't want to admit that their government-interventionism at home led to such interventions abroad."
Our interventions abroad have a much longer pedigree than you seem to understand...
"Finally, the sense that Democrats think national interests are somehow bad and unsavory means you get people sloganeering how we should get out of Iraq to go to Darfur, which doesn't send the impression that Democrats would be better stewards of U.S. national security."
As if our national interests have been served by unneccessary wars, or by what Colonal Donovan called "Militarism, U.S.A". His topic was so important that a retired Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Shoup, wrote the preface.