It’s easy for critics of the neo-cons to cast them as marginal thinkers with out-sized influence, along with all the dark conspiracies that implies. Harder, though more honest, is to recognize that the neo-cons are really championing tendencies in U.S. foreign policy that run much deeper in American life than the pockets of their advocacy shops. Yes, the regular cast of characters signed those PNAC letters that get quoted all the time, but at one point or another, so did folks like Jim Webb, Bob Zoellick, Ivo Daalder, John Bolton, Jim Steinberg, Rich Armitage, Dennis Ross, Michael O’Hanlon, Philip Gordon, Richard Holbrooke, and many others who would sooner take your scalp than be called a neo-con.
Indeed, as was apparent today, the latest “conspiracy” is rather mainstream stuff, like supporting Obama’s Af-Pak policy, and it enjoys healthy bipartisan support — just as Clinton’s Balkans wars did, and yes, just as Iraq did initially. Criticizing these policies is fair. But those criticisms should be aimed at a broad swath of the foreign policy establishment, on both sides of the aisle, not just at the neo-cons.
But go back to Iraq. Shouldn’t the neo-cons be held accountable for their views? Yes. Them and a whole lot of other people — Senators, Congressmen, and columnists, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, who seemly want to believe that the votes they cast and the articles they wrote in support of the war had nothing to do with how we found ourselves in it. Iraq was all the neo-cons’ fault, and blaming it on them absolves the rest of us. This is a convenient untruth for a lot of people in this town today.
The fact is, Iraq was a long-standing problem over which reasonable people disagreed, and many of those reasonable people came to believe in the aftermath of 9/11 that war was the answer. That they did says less about the neo-cons, I think, than it does about the prevailing mood at the time in America, and especially in Washington — the willingness of many people, shocked by a national trauma, and seized by the transformational potential of American power, to support a high-risk course of action over the uncertainty of no action at all. Yes, there are serious criticisms to be made of the Bush administration’s case for war, but it’s worth going back and reading what Bill Clinton and Al Gore said about Iraq back in the 1990s. Most of their statements are indistinguishable from Bush’s.
And here we are again. Obama is escalating America’s involvement in a distant war, and like Iraq in 2003 or the Balkans before that, he is doing so with considerable bipartisan support, only a small fraction of which comes from the neo-cons. I support this policy. Maybe it will end tragically. Maybe the critics will be proved right. If so, I won’t blame the positions I took on the Foreign Policy Initiative.
–Christian Brose. I should note that I post this as a non-neo-con.