Don’t call it a comeback

Bret Stephens of the WSJ says neoconservatism is making come back…even though he can’t say what neoconservatism is:

None of this is to say that neoconservatism represents some kind of infallible doctrine—or that it’s even a doctrine. Neocons have erred in overestimating the U.S. public’s willingness to engage in long struggles on behalf of other people. They have erred also in overestimating the willingness of other people to fight for themselves, or for their freedom.

But as the pendulum has swung to a U.S. foreign policy based on little more than the personal attractions of the president, it’s little wonder that the world is casting about for an alternative.

I can tell you what neoconservatism is: it’s John Birchism with an intellectual veneer. It owes it’s political sense to the undeniable power of shouting “appeasement”, “Hitler”, “freedom”, “Munich” in Murdoch media while shouting “Burke”, “Thucydides”, “Mars” in the pages of the New York Times.

In some ways, this is understandable. When you read a serious piece about foreign policy, such as this one, there’s a lot to take in. It’s natural that some will take refuge in the simplistic pretension of neoconservatism.






59 replies
  1. 1
    JasonF says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think these are the same people who would have been isolationists 75 years ago. Back then, the U.S. was going to do its own thing and to hell with the rest of the world. Now, the world is too small for that kind of attitude to lead to isolationism, so instead it leads to an insistance that the U.S. unilaterally impose its will on the rest of the world — the rest of the world’s own views be damned.

  2. 2
    Lyle4 says:

    Wait, the world is casting about for an alternative? Was this written last year and only just published? Last I heard, we did get an alternative guy. So now generally the world doesn’t have to worry that we’ll go and blow up some other country.

    It could still happen, but at least it’s not as inevitable as it once was. And I think the world is pretty ok with that.

  3. 3
    Ben says:

    I rather liked Larison’s take on that column, mainly because of the phrase “the firm smack of incompetent warmongering”.

  4. 4

    “When you read a serious piece about foreign policy, such as this one…”

    no comment here, i just came for the Ali G jokes.

  5. 5
    dadanarchist says:

    Ruh-roh:

    Michael Steele just called the Moustache of Understanding a “nut job” for suggesting that the atmosphere or murderous vitriol emanating from the American Taliban is not good for our democracy.

    How will the Village react?

  6. 6
    Rick Massimo says:

    Neocons have erred in overestimating the U.S. public’s willingness to engage in long struggles on behalf of other people. They have erred also in overestimating the willingness of other people to fight for themselves, or for their freedom.

    “We neocons aren’t perfect. Our biggest fault is that we often make the mistake of thinking everyone is as awesome as we are.”

  7. 7
    Citizen_X says:

    “Doctrine” my eye. It’s just tarted-up jingoism.

    We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do
    We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too

  8. 8
    Lev says:

    Actually, it’s just overgrown adolescence: “Fuck you, UN! You can’t tell me what to do! I’m going to bomb Iraq and there’s NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, ASSHOLES!…Who needs them, anyway. [sobs] So mean!”

    Actually, that’s pretty much all conservatism these days. (In six year-old voice) “I want tax cuts and smaller deficits and wars and prescription drugs, and I want them now!” “But there’s not enough…” “NOW!” So, I’d like to believe that conservatives are now experiencing their painful and long overdue adolescence, and that they’ll grow up eventually, but I’m rather pessimistic at the odds of that happening.

  9. 9
    Linkmeister says:

    a U.S. foreign policy based on little more than the personal attractions of the president

    He’d prefer one based on the loathing of the president, which we had for the last eight years?

    He seems to think that imperialism is poised for a comeback.

  10. 10
    Zifnab says:

    Neocons have erred in overestimating the U.S. public’s willingness to engage in long struggles on behalf of other people. They have erred also in overestimating the willingness of other people to fight for themselves, or for their freedom.

    Iraq won’t give us it’s oil at cut rate prices! The Chinese are turning into a self-enriching economic powerhouse! The middle class is demanding insurance companies can’t price them out of the market!

    They’re trying to take our freeeeeeeeeeedom!

  11. 11
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    No, Doug. Birchers were isolationists. Neoconservatism is simply the philosophy that sustained advantageous political gains can be had by killing the right people. It takes its cues from the perceived success of the Israeli land grab in the middle east.

  12. 12
    THE HEHINDEEDITRON says:

    HEH. You will submit to The Hehindeeditron, libs. Read the whole thing. HEH.

  13. 13
    John S. says:

    It takes its cues from the perceived success of the Israeli land grab in the middle east.

    I read “Israeli land grab” as pertaining to any territory the state of Israel acquired through military aggression, i.e. Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, etc., without any serious repercussions.

    Is that what you are referring to?

  14. 14
    Svensker says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    Also, Birchers were against the Iraq adventure, bless their pointy little hearts.

    I’d LOVE it if the Repubs were real isolationists. And not ignorant and hubristic American Exceptionalist xenophobes.

  15. 15
    catclub says:

    How about:
    neocons == pnac
    and
    pnac approx= aipac.
    (can I get an approximately symbol?)

    ‘Those people’ are definitely NOT the birchers cup of tea.

  16. 16
  17. 17
    wasabi gasp says:

    Hey kids, here’s the Emoconservatives whinging their hit song Tears On a Trigger. It’s got a good beatdown and you can dance the ants in your pants to it.

  18. 18
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    When the Left refers to Neocons, this is code for Jews who do not agree with their agenda. Julia Gorin from the Wall Street Journal explains it here.

  19. 19
    parksideq says:

    Shorter Neo-con Theory: I’m gonna knock you out! Mama said knock you out!

  20. 20
    CalD says:

    Neoconservativism is what you get when the desire to remake the world into one’s own comic book image of one’s self meets contempt for any necessity of understanding that which you seek to remake with a healthy dose of disregard for any possible consequences of either thrown in.

  21. 21
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    No, Doug. Birchers were isolationists. Neoconservatism is simply the philosophy that sustained advantageous political gains can be had by killing the right people. It takes its cues from the perceived success of the Israeli land grab in the middle east.

    I’d say it goes back further than that – it is Kipling’s “Bearing the White Man’s Burden” with a shiny new coat of post-Cold War paint slapped on the side of the hoary old Victorian mansion. The neocons sound less like Americans of the 1940s and 1950s and more like British imperialists of the 1890s to early 1900s who had a taste for radical social engineering both at home and abroad (especially the ones who would later go on to become Fascist sympathizers). Joseph Chamberlain, call your office.

  22. 22
    freelancer says:

    Like This– Girl Talk

    Here’s some more win.

    Since the Democrats are typically the Big Tent party where everyone gets accepted but can’t get anything done legislatively b/c each member has their own pet project, and usually the GOP is the march In lockstep, loyal to one cause, even if it’s stupid, it is now almost funny to see how fractious the right is.
    Every conservative voice is trumpeting something different: Secede! Socialism! End the Fed! Bailout Boo! They’re Pulling the Plug on Grandma! It’s Obama’s Recession! Where’s the Birth Certificate?!

    The latest head-scratcher comes from National Review writer John Derbyshire:

    http://thinkprogress.org/2009/.....-suffrage/

    DERBYSHIRE: Among the hopes that I do not realistically nurse is the hope that female suffrage will be repealed. But I’ll say this – if it were to be, I wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep.
    COLMES: We’d be a better country if women didn’t vote?
    DERBYSHIRE: Probably. Don’t you think so?
    COLMES: No, I do not think so whatsoever.
    DERBYSHIRE: Come on Alan. Come clean here [laughing].
    COLMES: We would be a better country? John Derbyshire making the statement, we would be a better country if women did not vote.
    DERBYSHIRE: Yeah, probably.

  23. 23
    freelancer says:

    Goddamn.

    Vista is more stable than this fucking website.

  24. 24
    jl says:

    The WSJ column is full of fantasy and projection.

    The fantasy:

    ‘ As for Russia, its ambassador to the U.N. last week bellyached that the U.S. “continues to be a rather difficult negotiating partner” ‘

    Has there been such an existential threat and betrayal since the treachery exhibited by Sylvania in Duck Soup?

    Rufus T. Firefly: I’d be unworthy of the high trust that’s been placed in me if I didn’t do everything in my power to keep our beloved Freedonia in peace with the world. I’d be only too happy to meet with Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit of which it is offered. But suppose he doesn’t. A fine thing that’ll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept. That’ll add a lot to my prestige, won’t it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap of me in front of all my people? Think of it – I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept. Why, the cheap ball-pushing swine, he’ll never get away with it I tell you, he’ll never get away with it.
    [Trentino enters]
    Rufus T. Firefly: So, you refuse to shake hands with me, eh?
    [slaps Trentino with his glove]

    ‘ Contrary to current conventional wisdom, democracy is often imposed, or at least facilitated, by U.S. pressure n the Philippines, in the Balkans and, yes, in Iraq. ’

    The Philippines? Yeah, we sure fought against that corrupt and violent Marcos, right?

    ‘ Anwar Ibrahim, the beleaguered Malaysian opposition leader, told me last week that “the only country that can stand up” to abusive regimes is the United States. “If they know the administration is taking a soft stance [on human rights], they will go on a rampage.” ‘

    Was Cheney-Bush a hard soft line or a soft hard line, or a wink and a nod covered up with impotent bluster?

    The projection

    ‘By contrast, regimes that prey on their own citizens are likely to prey on their neighbors as well.’
    Which nation is he talking about here?

    ‘Neocons have erred in overestimating the U.S. public’s willingness to engage in long struggles on behalf of other people.’ Who are the ‘other people’?
    The people we are occupying for the fat and happy neocon sponsors?

    ‘And a view of the world that understands that American power still furnishes the margin between freedom and tyranny, and between prosperity and chaos, is starting to look better all the time.’
    That is why the world was so happy Obama was elected, and we get more genuine and willing cooperation now than over or the last eight years, or am I missing something?

  25. 25
    licensed to kill time says:

    @freelancer:

    No kidding. BJ has done a swan dive on me at least three times today – when’s the new server going live?

  26. 26
    gnomedad says:

    Neoconservatism can’t fail to come back, we can only fail to bring it back! Or something.

  27. 27
    Penfold says:

    Aaawww, I wanted OMFG FIRSTPOST! Seriously, though, I started when this thing was blank at about 12:15 central, and it’s only taken me three hours since the story went up to get the page to load again and be able to post something. YAAAAY!

    Anyway:

    Shorter Bret Stephens: “We didn’t know people would be such pussies and just want to appease Hitler, instead of joining the neocons in fighting for Truth, Justice and The American Way (TM)”

    That’s one of the most disingenuous bits I’ve read in a while. Talk about “conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.”

    It’s also convenient that, post-repudiation-thereof, he cannot define neoconservatism.

    Douchenozzle.

  28. 28
    Penfold says:

    Aaawww, I wanted OMFG FIRSTPOST! Seriously, though, I started when this thing was blank at about 12:15 central, and it’s only taken me three hours since the story went up to get the page to load again and be able to post something. YAAAAY!

    Anyway:

    Shorter Bret Stephens: “We didn’t know people would be such pussies and just want to appease Hitler, instead of joining the neocons in fighting for Truth, Justice and The American Way (TM)”

    That’s one of the most disingenuous bits I’ve read in a while. Talk about “conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.”

    It’s also convenient that, post-repudiation-thereof, he cannot define neoconservatism.

    Douchenozzle.

  29. 29
    Penfold says:

    Of course, in a fit of compensatory irony, it now double posts. And I can’t edit/delete.

  30. 30
    Ailuridae says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    What he said. This is the kind of thing you should correct as you are mistaken.

    Also, one could argue pretty effectively following many of the excerpts and new found focus on Irving Kristol after his recent death that the neo-conservative position has, at its roots nothing more principled than the preservation and expansion of Israel through military means. Everything else (tax cuts and support for Creationism in Kristol’s case) were means to a single end.

  31. 31
    Meanderthal says:

    “Foreign policy is hard! Let’s go teabagging!”

  32. 32
    parksideq says:

    Shorter Neo-con Credo: I’m gonna knock you out! Mama said knock you out!

  33. 33
    kay says:

    It’s way, way too early to write this piece.
    The defining characteristic of “conservative” is fast becoming “a complete lack of discipline and self-control”.
    They can’t shut up. They can’t shut up even when it’s arguably in their best interest to just be quiet and lay low for a while. They’re incapable of even a small measure of prudent self-denial.
    A half-baked, half-assed, preemptive idea enters the collective conservative hive-mind, and they have to EXPRESS it. Really LOUDLY and REPEATEDLY.

  34. 34
    RSA says:

    They have erred also in overestimating the willingness of other people to fight for themselves, or for their freedom.

    This kind of patronizing bullshit infuriates me. Know what else neoconservatives tend to overestimate? Their own willingness to actually put themselves in harm’s way in connection with the belligerent actions, even wars, that they advocate. When you’re delusional, it’s easy to find that others don’t measure up.

  35. 35
    parksideq says:

    Shit: in my quest to somehow tie LL Cool J to neocon ideology, I ended up posting the same thing twice. Apologies to all that saw double the lames.

    But yeah, I can haz iPhone-optumizd websight?

  36. 36
    licensed to kill time says:

    Neoconservatism is a faith based philosophy grounded in American Exceptionalism and Might and will always have True Believers, despite all evidence to the contrary. One does not need facts and logic if one has faith. Hence, it may fade away but will never truly disappear.

    I also find this more than a bit disingenuous considering the last eight years:

    But as the pendulum has swung to a U.S. foreign policy based on little more than the personal attractions of the president, it’s little wonder that the world is casting about for an alternative.

  37. 37
    kay says:

    @Meanderthal:

    “Foreign policy is hard! Let’s go teabagging!”

    They declare victory every twenty minutes, and there’s never a defeat. This is the least-taxing competition in the history of the world. They win when they say they win, and they say that a lot.

  38. 38
    Jack says:

    “Thucydides”

    What’s sad is how the serious thinkers legacy nitwits with War Porn hardcases have hijacked Thucydides and Machiavelli (this was the guy who wrote the Discourses…), both of whom’s work can be useful platforms for a critique of power politics, for a very liberalunderstanding of social interaction.

  39. 39
    WereBear says:

    Mmmmm, gotta second the call for a transparent handheld mode. Been sidelined with a bug and relying on my ipod touch.

    Makes one concise it does. And using fewer commas.

  40. 40
    Jack says:

    …learn me to use the XHTML function…

  41. 41
    Jack says:

    @Lev:

    Conservatives cannot grow up. Not as conservatives. Their frame of reference is always in the past, in the childhood of the current age. That frame of reference needs to be updated every so often, because it loses relevance (hence the periods of crisis in conservatism), but it remains essentially a backward facing longing after (a) the golden age of a lost youth (b) a fixed moment, indelibly written and therefore subject to no further contest (c) past glory, even if imaginary (d) that which is dead, and therefore the most convenient and most juvenile contradiction of present complexity.

    I think, also, that this is why modern conservatives, especially the Movement types, tend towards revolutionism – it’s the sophomoric expression of angst and displacement, of resentment and revenge against all those who can now sit (however far down from the headman’s seat) at the table that was allegedly theirs alone, in the distant yonder of yesteryear.

  42. 42
    Zifnab says:

    @Brick Oven Bill:

    When the Left refers to Neocons, this is code for Jews who do not agree with their agenda.

    LOLS! When did Dick Cheney become Jewish? Or Margaret Thatcher? Or Ronald Reagen?

  43. 43
    burnspbesq says:

    Larison nails it.

    It is not at all clear that neoconservatives have “returned” in any way, and it seems highly unlikely that many people overseas are now craving the firm smack of incompetent warmongering that the neocons can offer. To a large extent, the neocons never went anywhere in domestic policy and political debates. This is because there has not been any accountability in either the foreign policy community or the conservative movement for their colossal failures and misjudgments. That said, they are not exactly riding high, either. Neocons continue to be taken far too seriously and they continue to have access to a great many media outlets, but for the most part they have been leading the Republican Party’s charge into spluttering irrelevance on foreign policy. Having destroyed the party’s political fortunes with the war in Iraq, they seem intent on sinking the party even deeper into the ditch into which it has crashed. If this is a “return,” I wonder what decline looks like.

  44. 44
    burnspbesq says:

    Edit button in Firefox!!!!

    And AC Milan loses to FC Zurich!

    Party time!

  45. 45
    Mike G says:

    But as the pendulum has swung to a U.S. foreign policy based on little more than the personal attractions of the president

    This was written back during the Chimp Assministration, right? The solipsistic asshole who trusted Putin because he “looked into his eyes and saw his soul”, and made US foreign policy revolve around whatever self-centered feelings his “gut” told him about foreign leaders, or whatever shallow Christianist bullshit they fed him, seeing what a gullible dupe he was.

  46. 46
    jl says:

    Machiavelli’s Discourses on on the First Decade of Titus Livius now available at Project Gutenberg.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/10827

    It has amused me that some of the favorte Neocon quotes from Machiavelli come from his chapter in the Prince, CHAPTER VIII — CONCERNING THOSE WHO HAVE OBTAINED A PRINCIPALITY BY WICKEDNESS

    Prince is also available at Project Gutenberg.

  47. 47
    licensed to kill time says:

    @Mike G:

    Bingo!

    I do not think that quote means what Bret thinks it means….

  48. 48
    Penfold says:

    @Meanderthal:

    “Foreign policy is hard! Let’s go teabagging!”

    This one of the funniest things I’ve read in days. Seems like an instant classic destined for the lexicon.

    @Jack:

    I think that’s a pretty insightful description of the “philosophical”/psychological basis for conservatism. Conservatism qua conservatism is sort of like fossil adolescence. MINE MINE MINE! And, of course, the creation of fantastic lost golden ages like an eight year old might imagine, and so on.

    That’s the intersting thing about political conservatism; it’s really more about enforcing rigid orthodoxies generally based more in myth than reality. If conservatives were such in a more tempermental sense, like “Gee, maybe we shouldn’t replace X with Y, because X works pretty well, until we know Y works better”, it wouldn’t be so bad. But this is actually the antithesis of their (current) utopian/revolutionary outlook.

  49. 49

    I find your article insulting.

  50. 50
    asiangrrlMN says:

    WOLVERINES!

    Seriously, no one has said it yet?

    These guys just need to all gather in a room, whip out their dicks, see whose is the biggest and leave the rest of us the fuck alone.

  51. 51
    Mike G says:

    Repig thought patterns are very similar to kids’ TV programming – hyperactive and aimed at the reptile brain. Gimme sugarsugarsugarsugarsugar! And more toystoystoystoystoys! Now make me scared! Now more sugartoysfeartoysfearmommy! Storylines are simplistic, crudely animated, and make no sense to anyone over the mental or emotional age of 12.

    (I am quoting this from somewhere I can’t remember, but it’s too good not to share)

  52. 52
    Jack says:

    @Penfold:

    Thank you.

    *

    If conservatives were as you aptly described (“let’s use X because it still works, and the outcome of X is better than the outcome of Y, Z and XY”) them, they’d still have to make value judgments about outcome (what do we mean by “better”?). Those value judgments would probably still be fixed to a more or less rigid standard.

    But, we’d be able to engage them as contemporaries and theoretical coequals, instead of as spoiled teenaged nihilists.

    It would be the conservatism of an Ortega y Gasset, which would not only be a vast improvement over Movement “conservatism,” but would have the added value of sharing the same post-Enlightenment common cultural heritage.

  53. 53
    J says:

    Rick Massimo @6 You said it. The display of smug self regrard in this column is sick=making.

  54. 54
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @DanSmoot’sGhost: Shew, I was worried Betsy had ya tied up and tortured like Paul Sheldon in Misery.

  55. 55
    p.a. says:

    catclub

    How about:

    neocons == pnac
    and
    pnac approx= aipac.
    (can I get an approximately symbol?)

    ‘Those people’ are definitely NOT the birchers cup of tea.

    seconded. but to add, they love all nationalistic killing, not just that which they perceive benefits Israel.

  56. 56
    p.a. says:

    sigh. no more preview? no more edit fcn post ‘submit’? all above in blue through ‘tea’.

  57. 57
    mardod says:

    I’m still convinced that neoconservatism is nothing more than “might makes right” dressed up as a theoretical answer to foreign policy.

  58. 58
    Dan says:

    They have erred also in overestimating the willingness of other people to fight for themselves, or for their freedom.

    Or, perhaps, in underestimating it.

  59. 59
    Paul in KY says:

    IMO, ‘neoconservatism’ is the USA fighting all of Israel’s battles for her.

Comments are closed.