Recently, it has become popular to sound the death knells for the neoconservative movement. I, myself, am not a ready to dismiss this section of the power elite as other, but, no matter what, in order to address this question it is essential to refresh our minds as to what the neocons represent and where they come from. One thing about this group of US policy makers–they don’t hide. They like to advertise themselves and are therefore quite easy to track down. The fact is that this section of the US power elite has been around since the 1960s where some of its origins can be found in the writings of Norman Podhoretz, who was once a leftist and wrote a book about his turnabout. More seeds of this movement can be found in the writings of Irving Kristol, who was editor of the once-liberal anticommunist rag Commentary before Mr. Podhoretz. Besides these fine examples of US intellectualism, other early neocons included Democratic party members that opposed the antiwar wing of their party that came to fruition in the McGovern campaign of 1972. Henry “Scoop” Jackson is the prominent name in this group of politicians. Jackson, who represented Washington State–home of Boeing and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation–was known as th e Senator who never met a defense contract he didn’t like.
It was the presidency of Ronald Reagan, however, that truly brought the neocons into the upper echelons of US power. Anecdotal proof of this can be found in the fact that many of them were eventually implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal of that period. Reagan’s opposition to government interference in business issues and his belief that Washington should spend as little money on social programs and as much money on the military is a simplified definition of the ideal neocon government. Many neocons were once liberals and even leftists who (as they like to say) grew up. Implicit in this statement is that they went where the money is. Other well known neocons include Wolfowitz, Perle, Negroponte, Adelman, and Cheney–all Republicans.
Now, about their philosophy—perhaps the best statement of the neocon philosophy is the document guiding the current administration–the Project for a New American Century. Briefly put, that statement calls for increased military spending and the use of that military to maintain and expand US hegemony. First and foremost, this means gaining control of the world’s essential resources–oil and gas being foremost among those. Secondly, this means isolating and destroying any forces opposed to the first endeavor–and they mean any forces, whether they happen to be popular or governmental..
Culturally, and this explains in part their fascination with Reagan, the neocons are millenarianists. They want the culture of the lily-white United States of the 1950s back for everyone. Irving Kristol once wrote: “If there is any one thing that neoconservatives are unanimous about, it is their dislike of the counterculture.” Norman Podhoretz agreed: “Revulsion against the counterculture accounted for more converts to neoconservatism than any other single factor.” Continuing this tradition, today’s neocons rail against Sixties-influenced culture, hiphop, Hollywood (other than Clint Eastwood and Rocky movies), and feminists; that is when they aren’t busy railing at gays, Cindy Sheehan and the antiwar movement.
Some on the left and the non-neocon right claim that the neocon movement is actually a movement that exists primarily to serve the interests of Israel and not Washington. These folks point to the relatively large influence of pro-Israel individuals at the head of the neocon ranks and in the institutions it controls–(American Heritage Institute, Heritage Foundation, etc). They then draw lines from these individuals’ statements and actions back to Tel Aviv. The primary problem with this analysis–besides its implicit antisemitism–is that virtually every element of the US power structure shares the same philosophy on Israel. That philosophy is that Israel has the right to do whatever it wants to its neighbors, its citizens, and the rest of the world in the name of self-defense. This fact alone pulls the plug on the argument that the neocons are some kind of Zionist conspiracy. They may be more aggressive in their statements regarding US support for Israel, but I believe that if one looks at any number of liberals and their statements regarding Israel’s right to expand, they would find no difference in their bellicosity. After all, it is the Congress that provides the monies for Israel no matter what their military does and no matter who is running the US Congress.
Which leads me quite nicely to the next part of this piece. Are the neocons an anomaly in the US foreign policy scene? Are their methods and ideas without precedent in US history? Is it because of their rise that US forces are currently bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it because of the neocons that the US military is now openly based in approximately 130 nations around the globe? Is it because of the neocons that the US military budget is around a half trillion dollars? Of course it isn’t.
The neoconservative foreign policy is certainly an interventionist one. Early on in its ascendancy to power, it supported the US war on Vietnam, the overthrow of Allende in Chile. Its members were involved intimately in the arms for hostages deals with Iran before Reagan’s election that sabotaged Carter’s attempts to negotiate their release and they were also involved in the subsequent deals that financed the contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. This movement also helped organize the US war in El Salvador and Honduras (where neocon John Negroponte condoned torture and helped set up death squads that were used in El Salvador and Nicaragua), and Reagan’s intensification of the arms race with the Soviet Union–a long term policy that helped bankrupt that regime and send it to oblivion. After Reagan’s retirement, the neocons began their campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein, after years of supporting him in his war against Iran. They did this through their supporters in Congress and elsewhere in the US government.
Let’s go down a side road for a moment….The name of that side road is Henry Kissinger. Known as the master of realpolitik during his time in the Nixon administration, Mr. Kissiinger has not been an official in any US government since. However, he has continued to play an important role in every administration since that one that ended in August of 1974. Besides that, his swinish face appears all too often on various news shows as one of the great wise men of US foreign policy. Why? Not because he says anything different, but because his imperial mystique lends a credibility based in history to Washington’s continued march toward world domination. I mean, essentially, that’s what we’re talking about here. The Empire and its pursuit of total domination. That’s been the program since before we were born and will be the program unless the people rise up and demand something completely different. Henry the K knows this and so does most everyone else in Washington, Wall Street and every other power center of US capital. Which is why I brought up Henry in the first place.
According to Bob Woodward’s most recent book State of Denial, Dick Cheney confided to him (Woodward) in the summer of 2005: “I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by and I guess at least once a month, Scooter [Libby] and I sit down with him.” [Page 406.] Woodward goes on to state: “The president also met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making the former secretary the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs.” Now why could this be? Isn’t realpolitik contrary to the ideology driven neocon foreign policy? Aren’t the neocons war-crazy madmen intent on pursuing their exclusive ideology? I would argue that they are not. Not only was Henry getting Dick and George’s ear every couple weeks, it was Henry’s boy Paul Bremer who went to Iraq in 2003 and served as the colonial overseer long enough to get the Iraqi constitution written so that it would facilitate every single one of the goals Washington had set for the invasion. Before his Baghdad assignment, Mr. Bremer was Managing Director of Kissinger Associates, Inc. for more than a decade.
Which brings me back to the point I really want to make. The neocon policy is not a neocon policy. It is the policy of Washington. It is not George Bush or Richard Perle. It is Washington and Wall Street. It is Boeing and Bank of America.
But, someone might say, Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Yet, Bill Clinton and Al Gore attacked Iraq several times, maintained an illegal flyover program on the country that bombed the country almost daily, and enforced sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. All of these policies along with others not mentioned created the situation George Bush and his administration found themselves in in March 2003.
The rise of the neocons is related to the historical situation the ruling class in the United States finds itself in. Economically weaker in terms of its debt and industrial output than at any time since WW II, Washington has been on a course of more frequent and greater use of military force to get its way in the world. Their hold on the controls of US power are being contested by other power elites but the other elites have been unable to maintain a successful challenge. Why? It is my opinion that this is because the other power elites in the US do not have a viable option to the aggressiveness of the neocons–at least not one that can achieve the goals all factions desire. In other words, the power elites that oppose the neocons methods still share their goals–the goals that the neocons have nicely titled the Project for a New American Century. The ongoing battle in Congress and between Congress and the White House over Iraq funding and withdrawal is the prominent battlefield in the struggle over how to achieve this era of hegemony.
While the crisis that the capitalist US finds itself in has certainly been exacerbated by the neocons hold on power, it would have come about sooner or later. Even if the neocons fail to get their man (or woman) into the White House in 2008, their strategy and approach will be ever present in whatever any neoliberal administration undertakes.
In a 2006 essay by Jacob Heilbrunn titled “Neocons in the Democratic Party,” it was written that a new generation of Democratic “pundits and young national security experts” are trying to revive the Cold War precepts of President Harry S. Truman and apply them to the war on terror. “The fledgling neocons of the “left” are based at places such as the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), whose president, Will Marshall, Their political champions include Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and such likely presidential candidates as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).”
So, the neocons may disappear from the White House, but they will not disappear. While we should certainly celebrate the fall of Wolfowitz, Feith and the rest of the neocons who don’t currently rule, we should be forewarned that they will be back and so will their proteges throughout the establishment. Besides their actual personages, their goals for the US are no different than the goals of the rest of the the Washington establishment. Only their means differ at times. They will continue to have a lot of input at the Pentagon, where various powerful officers adhere to the philosophy of neoconservatism and they will continue to run the think tanks that so often offer their spokespeople to the media–a media that is all too willing to accommodate their opinions and proposals and report them as fact. Their continued presence at the university level and in the rising ranks of the Republican and Democratic parties will also insure their presence at the table of US policy. Furthermore, they have begun to expand their presence in U.S. government-funded and supported media outlets such as Voice of America (VOA), al-Hurra, and Radio Farda.
The neocons are a cancer that may to be going into remission. However, their particular form of cancer will most likely be back should the circumstances require it. It is up to those opposed to US imperialism in all its cancerous forms to ensure that there is no recurrence.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org