Joshua Muravchik in the Washington Post, November 19, 2006 “We neocons were a small group of political thinkers who broke with fellow liberals during the war in Vietnam. Most liberals came to believe that the United States had gotten into Vietnam out of what President Jimmy Carter later called an ‘inordinate fear of communism.’ By contrast, neocons held to the conviction that communism was a monstrous evil and a potent danger. For our obstinacy, we were drummed out of the liberal camp and dubbed ‘neoconservatives’—a malicious gibe to which we eventually acquiesced.”
“Neoconservatism grew out of a split in the 1930s between Stalinists and the followers of Trotsky.” The neoconservative mindset has been “shaped by the Jewish immigrant experience, by the Holocaust, and by the twentieth century struggle against totalitarianism.”
Democratic hawks: Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) Introduced new principle of recognition. Famously declared in 1917 that “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Sent U.S. forces to Mexico (twice), Haiti, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Russia.
The “Isolationism” of the 1930s In the 1930s, as Japan, Italy, and Germany armed and used force, the American public had little appetite for military interventions in Europe or Asia. Neutrality Acts of 1935-37 “Before WWII, isolationism had been a major tendency, perhaps the major tendency, on the right” (Foer article) In the late 1930s, the “isolationist” forces came together in a group called “America First” (see Foer)
Republican doves: Charles Lindbergh—a leading “America First” spokesman
Republican doves: Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio)—see Foer article
Democratic hawks: President Harry Truman Articulated the “Truman Doctrine” in March 1947. Presided over the U.S. intervention in Korea Presided over the quadrupling of the US defense budget in 1950-51.
“Cold War Liberalism”—key political figures LBJ and Hubert Humphrey (L); Humphrey with MLK (R-top); JFK; Henry (Scoop) Jackson
“Cold war liberalism”—New York intellectuals Arthur Schlesinger (L); Irving Kristol (C); Norman Podhoretz (R)
In the late 1930s alcove 1 at the CCNY cafeteria was the second home of Trotskyites like I. Kristol
Leon Trotsky with American supporters in Mexico, 1940
Liberal anti-Communist publications: The New Leader Founded in 1924 as an organ of the Socialist Party of America. Edited by New York intellectual, former menshevik, Sol Levitas 1936-1961 Became a voice for liberal anti- Communism and for civil rights.
Liberal anti-Communist publications: The Partisan Review Founded in 1934 by the Communist Party. Broke with the party in 1937 and aligned itself with Leon Trotsky. Fought the “cultural Cold War”
Liberal anti-Communist publications: Commentary Launched in 1945 by the American Jewish Committee Its founding editor, Eliot Cohen, was a former Trostkyite. Its “true animating passion was a deep hatred for communism” (Midge Decter) Edited from 1959 to 1995 by Podhoretz. Now edited by his son John. Norman Podhoretz
The decline of cold war liberalism in the Democratic party (from left: Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter)
Alienated “cold war liberals” drift toward the Republican party, assuming the label “neo-conservatives” Jeanne Kirkpatrick (top); E. Abrams Perle (top); Wolfowitz
In the meantime, on the Republican Right,... from “Taftite” isolationism to militant anticommunist globalism (see Foer article)
William F. Buckley, 1925-2008 Founder of the National Review Re-invented conservatism in America (see Foer)
Sen. Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) “Tribune of revenge” “Helped ease the isolationists into their new hawkish identity” (Foer)
Under Reagan’s umbrella, the neo-cons join old conservatives (“paleo-cons”) – Pat Buchanan, Reagan’s communications director
Caspar Weinberger The Reagan administration reversed détente, continued a massive buildup begun by the late Carter administration, and issued the “Reagan Doctrine” (“Freedom... is the universal right of all God’s children”—state of the union address, 1985). Alas, “the military wanted no more involvements such as Vietnam” (LaFeber, p. 709). This sentiment was articulated by the (Caspar) Weinberger doctrine (1984), alluded to by Snyder, p. 303. Result: intervention in the third world gets done mostly through proxies (Contras, Mujahedeen)
In the 1990s, the Republican Party became splintered on foreign policy The realists (e.g., Scowcroft, James Baker) The neo-cons: lost their mission with the end of the Cold War; were in disarray until ~1997 Isolationists I: many of the new members swept into Congress by the 1994 Gingrich revolution bragged about not having a passport. Isolationists II: Pat Buchanan
In the 1992 Republican primaries, Pat Buchanan challenged President Bush, garnering 38% of the New Hampshire vote “When we hear phrases like ‘New World Order,’ we release the safety catches on our revolvers” (Buchanan, quoted by Foer)
The return of the neo-cons The founding of the Project for New American Century, 1997—”a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.” See http://www.newamericancentury.org/index.html http://www.newamericancentury.org/index.html The George W. Bush admin. was initially said to be dominated by “realists.” But then came 9/11
But before we pin the blame for the Iraq War on the neoconservatives alone, let us not forget that: War advocates included Republican officials who have not shared the background of the neocons (e.g., Cheney, Rumsfeld). Many Democrats supported the war, including 29 of 50 Democratic senators (including Clinton, Biden, Feinstein).