October 19, 2003

The Neoconservative Cabal

Joshua Muravchik brings some perspective and history as well as some sanity to the topic of the so called "neoconservative cabal" advising the Bush administration and influencing U.S. foreign policy. I finally caught up with this article reading my September Commentary magazine, and then found it online at AEI, Muravchik's employer. So it's a bit dated, (9/3/03) but I found it helpful in understanding the much-discussed influence of Leo Strauss on the neocons, and the attempts of the left to portray that influence as malign.

Muravchik also argues persuasively that the "Jewishness" of many prominent neocons, often made an issue by their critics as a way of suggesting a bias toward Israel's interests, doesn't appear any more significant than does the "non-Jewishness" of other key Bush advisors like Rice, Powell, or Cheney. That many neoconservatives happen to be Jewish should not be surprising, however. Here's an excerpt::

Many neoconservatives are in fact Jews. Why this should be so is not self-evident, although part of the answer is surely that Jews, whenever and wherever they have been free to indulge it, exhibit a powerful attraction to politics and particularly to the play of political ideas--an attraction that is evident all across the political spectrum but especially on the Left. Indeed, the disproportionate presence of Jews in early Communist movements in eastern and central Europe became grist for the Nazis and other far-Right movements that portrayed Bolshevism as a Jewish cause whose real purpose was (yes) to serve Jewish interests. In reality, Trotsky and Zinoviev and the other Jewish Communists were no more concerned about the interests of the Jewish people than were Lenin and Stalin which is to say, not at all.

As it happens, the Jewish affinity with the Left may be one reason why neoconservatism boasts so many Jewish adherents: it is a movement whose own roots lie in the Left. But the same affinity is to be seen at work in many of the insinuations against Jewish neocons by leftists who are themselves Jews or who profess some Jewish connection. Michael Lind, for one, has gone out of his way to assert his own Jewish "descent," and Tikkun is in some self-professed sense a Jewish magazine. Even the BBC's assault on the neocons featured a Jewish critic in the starring role. So passionate are these Jews in their opposition to neoconservative ideas that they have not hesitated to pander to anti-Semitism in the effort to discredit them. What about their ulterior motives, one wonders?

The Bosnian intervention is one example cited by Muravchik in which the so called neocons disproved the theory that they act and advise to promote the interests of Israel over those of America, and this excerpt also makes a pretty fair attempt at summarizing the neoconservative view of foreign policy goals post-9/11:

...when hostilities first broke out in Bosnia and then-President George H.W. Bush dismissed them as a "hiccup," while Secretary of State James Baker declared: "We have no dog in that fight." These two were not heartless men, but they were exemplars of a traditional conservative cast of mind. The essence of the matter, as they saw it, was that Bosnia engaged little in the way of American interests, which in the conventional view meant vital resources, or strategic geography, or the safety of allies.

Then a movement coalesced in opposition to American inaction. Its leaders, apart from a handful of young foreign-service officers who had resigned from the State Department in protest and who carried no ideological labels, were almost all from neoconservative ranks. Perle, Wolfowitz, Kirkpatrick, and Max Kampelman were among those in the forefront. So ardent was I myself on the issue that Bosnia was the chief of several points impelling me to support Bill Clinton against Bush in 1992, a choice over which I would sing my regrets in these pages when Clinton turned out to care no a whit more about Bosnia than had the elder Bush.

It bears recalling that the Bosnian cause was championed by international Islamists, and that the Bosnians themselves had been part of the Croatian fascist state during World War II, infamous for it brutality toward Jews. Logically, then, if there was any "Jewish interest" in the conflict, it should have led to support for the Bush-Clinton position. But as the bloodletting wore on, neoconservatives, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, were much more likely than traditional conservatives to support intervention. Despite the occasional, prominent exception--neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer was an opponent of intervention, conservative Senator Bob Dole a supporter--the prevailing division on Bosnia demonstrated that a distinctive neoconservative sensibility, if not ideology, endured, or perhaps had been reborn, after the end of the cold war. It centered on the question of the uses of American power, and it was held even by some who had not made the whole journey from liberalism with the original neocons.

What is that sensibility? In part it may consist in a greater readiness to engage American power and resources where nothing but humanitarian concerns are at issue. In larger part, however, it is concerned with national security, sharing with traditional conservatism the belief that military strength is irreplaceable and that pacifism is folly. Where it parts company with traditional conservatism is in the more contingent approach it takes to guarding that security.

Neoconservatives sought action in Bosnia above all out of the conviction that, however remote the Balkans may be geographically and strategically, allowing a dictator like Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic to get away with aggression, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder in Europe would tempt other malign men to do likewise elsewhere, and other avatars of virulent ultranationalism to ride this ticket to power. Neoconservatives believed that American inaction would make the world a more dangerous place, and that ultimately this danger would assume forms that would land on our own doorstep. Thus it had happened throughout the 20th century; and thus, in the fullness of time, it would happen again on September 11 of the first year of the 21st.

Posted by dan at October 19, 2003 11:38 PM
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