In the most recent Commentary, Josh Muravchik writes of "The Neoconservative Cabal" which those opposed to Bush administration's security and defense policy have suddenly discovered are directing things. Its evil geniuses are supposed to be, of all people, Leo Strauss and Leon Trotsky, and it is often hinted with more or less subtlety that its leaders are predominantly Jewish. Muravchik draws a parallel with the kinds of things that the Nazis were saying about Jewish Communists in the 1930s, which perhaps makes the idea of Trotsky as intellectual godfather just a little bit less absurd.
It would probably be going too far to call Maureen Dowd anti-Semitic, but it's pretty clear how easily her congenital anti-Bushism has been seduced by the sinister-sounding notion of the neocon. "Let others fight over whether the war in Iraq was a neocon vigilante action disrupting diplomacy," she writes with feigned insouciance. "The neocons have moved on to a vigilante action to occupy diplomacy." By this she means that "the audacious ones" are about to give Colin Powell the push from the State Department, even though George W. Bush may not know it yet, since "the president is not always privy to the start of a grandiose neocon scheme." And "when the neocons want something done, they'll get it done, no matter what Mr. Bush thinks."
Do tell! As usual, it is pointless to ask how she knows this since, like everything else she writes about the administration, it is the creation of her own endless mythologizing of what she calls "the Bushies" and not any special knowledge unavailable to anyone who reads the papers. The dull-witted frat-boy who is a mere tool of clever, scheming "neocons" fits perfectly with that mythology, which is reason enough for her to believe it. With such toxic speculation in the background, it is hard to read her subsequent description of "the neocon blueprint for world domination" as being entirely ironic.
Are the otherwise unnamed neocons the same as the "Iraq hawks" -- Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and Newt Gingrich -- who, she says, are ready to move up if the neocon plot to dump Powell is successful? The whole thing would be baffling but for number six in the list of eight parallels she points to between the dump Powell campaign and "the neocons' pre-emptive strike on Iraq," which is: "Make sure it's good for Ariel Sharon." Maybe it wouldn't be going too far to call Miss Dowd an anti-Semite after all. Certainly Pat Buchanan was branded as one for criticizing what he called Israel's "amen corner" in the Pentagon and the State Department, and it's hard to see how he can be anti-Semitic while she isn't.
In ridiculing the neocon conspiracy theorists, Muravchik doesn't mention the right-wing counterparts to lefties like Michael Lind and Elizabeth Drew. For among "paleo-conservatives" such as the Buchananites of The American Conservative or the Chronicles crowd in Rockford, Illinois, the word "neocon" is pronounced with every bit as much of a sneer as it is by Maureen Dowd or others on the left. As is often the case when politicians or political tendencies are being vehemently attacked from both sides simultaneously, one's first instinct is to assume that they must be doing something right.
At any rate, the so-called "godfather" of the neocons, Irving Kristol, has taken the opportunity to come forward and proudly claim the title so often used as an insulting epithet. In doing so, he found it necessary to acknowledge that he himself was wrong when he wrote some years ago that the prefix "neo" no longer added anything to "conservative." It turns out that it still does. Writing in the Weekly Standard, he provocatively claims that "neoconservative policies, reaching out beyond the traditional political and financial base, have helped make the very idea of political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters."
In fact, "Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the 'American grain.' It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic." He identifies as neoconservative policies a priority given to economic growth, but more of a concern with the vulgarization of the culture than would be congenial to libertarians. They share traditional conservatives' concern for national sovereignty and defense, and their suspicion of international institutions, but do not share their fear of the enlarged welfare state. Above all, they are to be recognized by their commitment to an expansive view of the national interest.
"A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests.… Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary." Even Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson can be gathered into the neoconservative fold on this definition.
Are we all neocons now? I take it that the chief result of Mr. Kristol's manifesto will be to put the backs up of the formerly designated paleocons. They are right to be cross. His point is really that conservatives tout court are faced with a choice between marching under the neocon banner or joining the increasingly marginalized rag-tag band who look to Pat Buchanan or Thomas Fleming or Lew Rockwell for leadership, or who want to re-fight the Civil War. Such are now beyond the paleo, and the only place that respectable conservatives, wishing to avoid the taint of racism or anti-Semitism or nativism or protectionism, have to go is to the neocons. If he's wrong, it's now up to the respectable paleos, if there are any, to say how.