Sunday, August 08, 2004

Neo-conservatism or structural problems in American politics?

Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke have written an excellent article on American neo-conservatism. They write:

"The three chief tenets of neo-conservative ideology are:

  • the human condition is a choice between good and evil, and
    the true measure of political character is to be found in the willingness
    by the former (themselves) to confront the latter

  • the fundamental determinant of the relationship between states rests
    on military power and the willingness to use it

  • the Middle East and global Islam is the prime theatre for American
    overseas interests."

As they point out, the disease of neo-conservatism is more in the mainstream of American politics than many would like to admit. At particular points of stress in American history, like September 11:

" . . . it appears that the combination of a crusading idealism, an assertion of the universal applicability of American values, and the willingness (indeed eagerness) to use force to back them can overwhelm the venerable 'checks and balances' considered integral to the American political process. Some argue that Republican administrations may be more vulnerable to this process, since the party's driving spirit has shifted from cosmopolitan globalists towards America-first populists – a development accelerated by the increased influence of a conservative and fundamentalist talk-radio culture.

In the case of Iraq, a determined special interest was capable of leading a march to war without any effective counterweight to its seizure of the levers of power. The central failure was in the Condoleezza Rice-led National Security Council; despite her training in traditional statecraft and alliance management, Rice was unwilling or unable to highlight the imbalances in decision-making arising from the neo-conservative dynamics in the defense department and vice-president’s office."

Congress and the media also completely abdicated their responsibility to serve as a check to the special interests who advocated the attack on Iraq. As these systematic failures are not caused by neo-conservatism, but rather by a combination of intellectual and structural weaknesses in the American political system, the danger remains that the next crisis will lead to the same problem caused by another special interest group, even after the neo-cons are chased out of Washington. I have always thought that neo-conservatism was just a continuation of Kissinger Realpolitik, without the little bit of common sense that Kissinger was able to bring to the table. All the talk about thinkers like Leo Strauss was just intended to add a little false intellectual respectability to what was essentially the same old group of American thugs telling the rest of the world how morally superior America is, and if you don't agree we'll prove it by killing you. The only new factors added by neo-conservatives were their particular interest in advancing the interests of Likudniks in Israel using the assets and lives of Americans, and a bungling incompetence inspired by the current President. Otherwise, it's just the same old combination of moral smugness and violence that has characterized much of American history.