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Democracy promoter: George W. Bush endorsed neoconservative ideas at the dedication of his presidential library in April 2013 

Zombies, the dictionary tells us, are "animated corpses revived by mystical means, such as magic or witchcraft". This is how their many enemies have often regarded neoconservative foreign policy ideas and those who propagate them. Foreign Policy magazine once happily concluded that neoconservative ideas "lie buried in the sands of Iraq", but back they came, dominating the 2012 Republican Party presidential campaign and dominating the party still. Can this be explained — except by black magic?

There are better theories. Let us first define terms: what is neoconservatism? A writer for the Huffington Post defined it as "unilateralism, pre-emptive war, and democracy promotion". This is reductive and nasty, but the success of neoconservatism appears to provoke such comments. The American expat writer Stefan Halper said neoconservatism was to be understood as "delivering democracy out of the back of a Humvee". On the Daily Beast the journalist David Margolick offered a slightly better definition, stressing "the Manichean world view, the missionary zeal, the near-jingoistic view of America, the can-do spirit, and impatience with nuance". Justin Vaisse, the French historian who wrote the book Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement and is now director of policy planning at the French foreign ministry, suggested five pillars of neoconservatism in his 2010 Brookings Institution paper called "Why Neoconservatism Still Matters": internationalism, primacy (of the United States in world politics), unilateralism, militarism, democracy — and elsewhere in the same article refers to its mix of "assertiveness, patriotism, and self-righteousness".

Now we are getting closer. Omit the negative value judgments in some of these definitions and one is left with patriotism, American exceptionalism, a belief in the goodness of America and in the benefits of American power and of its use, and a conviction that democracy is the best system of government and should be spread whenever that is practical. It should not be shocking that such views win wide popularity in the United States, though perhaps that last idea — spreading democracy — is the most controversial. 

The continuing relevance, indeed power, of these ideas is clear, and it is equally clear that they are not held only by a small coterie of intellectuals in Washington. As that article on the Daily Beast noted, those neocon "impulses" are "as old as the country itself, dating back to John Winthrop and running through Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and John F. Kennedy." President George W. Bush endorsed democracy promotion yet again at the dedication of his presidential library in April when he said, "My deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom." During the 2012 campaign, neoconservatives and neoconservative ideas were prominent in the Romney campaign and throughout the primary season. Indeed this prominence led a disgusted Zbigniew Brzezinski to say, "The Republican would-be candidates are simply regurgitating ideas originally disseminated by the neocons." He was to a large extent correct, in itself a rare enough occurrence to warrant our notice. Jacob Heilbrunn, who in 2008 wrote the book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, now in 2013 writes about a "neocon resurgence" and their "mounting dominance" in the Republican Party. "By and large," he says, neocons "set the template for the discussion of foreign policy in the GOP. Their ascendance suggests that it is most improbable that a debate, let alone a civil war, will erupt within the GOP over foreign affairs. On the contrary, the neocons appear to be more firmly in control than ever," which Heilbrunn, it must be added, laments. Vin Weber, the former Republican congressman who remains an active and influential voice in the party, has said that neoconservatism "remains the dominant intellectual force on foreign policy thinking in the Republican Party". 

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Magnus Sandvik
June 7th, 2013
5:06 PM
Neoconservatism has the same appeal as communism really. It builds on the idea that one "side", or more basically one person, knows how to cure all the ills of the world. In the case of neocons, the believe that imposing an american order on a country will allow it to develop, regardless of the local culture, in the same way that communists believe that the government should decide what is the best way to live your life regardless of personality. That is why both ideologies keep failing and why they retain their appeal. The are not practically feasible as there are too many variables in a given scenario for any person to control, but that does not stop every other arrogant university freshman from believing they can figure all those variables out. In the end, it is best to leave people to their own fates. It may be bloody and violent, but at least they will be the masters of their own fate as a country and as people.

C. L. H. Daniels
June 7th, 2013
3:06 PM
"...patriotism, American exceptionalism, a belief in the goodness of America and in the benefits of American power and of its use, and a conviction that democracy is the best system of government and should be spread whenever that is practical." I can practically hear echoes of "The White Man's Burden": Take up the White Man's burden-- The savage wars of peace-- Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease; And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought, Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought. This article, while brimming over with self-righteousness and triumphalism, has no answers to the substantive criticisms of, for example, intervention in Syria. It does not elaborate on why the fate of Jordan is an "American interest." It does not elaborate on why containing Russia is important. That the author treats these assertions as self-evident is symptomatic of an ideology that is driven by feeling more than fact.

Bernard F. King III
May 31st, 2013
1:05 AM
Neoconservative philosophy has nothing to do with Judaism, but that doesn't stop Abrams from smearing the idealogical opposition as anti-Semites. Its revealing that a once popular foreign policy now responds to reasoned and evidence based criticisms with wild ad hominem. But just look at the 2012 GOP primary - neoconservatives everywhere! Therefore it must be popular, right? Wrong. The reality is that Mitt, Newt, and Rick were pandering for Sheldon Adelson's money. A shrewd move, and it worked; money generously flowed into Mitt's coffers after he secured the nomination. But it did not matter how many GOP buffoons expressed their affinity for perpetual war, because at every debate, every campaign speech, every media appearance, Representative Ron Paul thoroughly exposed the moral, constitutional and fiscal disaster that is neoconservative foreign policy. And he connected, especially with the younger Republicans who have borne the emotional and spiritual consequences of this armchair interventionism. For example, in the Virginia primary last year, there were only two candidates: Paul and Romney. Romney won the 65+ demographic 83-17, but among voters younger than 45, Ron Paul dominated Romney 65-35. Although Mr. Abrams talks about neoconservatism being the zombie that never dies, I think he is playing the roll of Baghdad Bob - spewing propaganda to keep the few remaining neocons from abandoning the foreign policy equivalent of the Titanic.

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