The Broad Reach of Neoconservatism

Just because certain prominent neoconservative acolytes are no longer official members of the Bush administration does not mean that the movement has lost its institutional sway or its ideological commitment to war. Writing on these pages two and a half years ago, I warned that the neoconservative propensity for conflict is inscribed in the worldview of its agents. Fast forward to today and we can easily discern that they continue to export their kill-or-be-killed Hobbesianism, primarily to Muslim countries.

Ultimately, neoconservatism functions as a mediation between individual events and the target enemy. To be more precise, by way of establishing a presence in public discourse through the media and other institutions, in politics and in the foreign policy process of the United States, neoconservatives transform disparate crisis situations into a clear and immediate threat to the national security of the United States. As a consequence, an event in West Asia is presented as more than just a singular occurrence. It is metamorphosed into a giant conspiracy against the United States and, by implication, against Israel.

Typically, it is alleged that a single, prime mover can be detected, the enemy par excellence exemplified by Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait, and now increasingly by Iran. Consider various neocon statements regarding the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006. “‘No one should have any lingering doubts about what’s going on in the Middle East,” according to Michael Ledeen.

“It’s war, and it now runs from Gaza into Israel, through Lebanon and thence to Iraq via Syria. There are different instruments, ranging from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon and on to the multifaceted “insurgency” in Iraq. But there is a common prime mover, and that is the Iranian mullahcracy, the revolutionary Islamic fascist state that declared war on us 27 years ago and has yet to be held accountable.”

Ledeen organizes the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the complex politics surrounding it into one whole encapsulated in the term “Middle East.” He then moves on to link the conflict to Iran, the “fascist state” that is considered to be the “prime mover.” A similar logic motivates Larry Kudlow when he argues, “All of us in the free world owe Israel an enormous thank-you for defending freedom, democracy, and security against the Iranian cat’s-paw wholly-owned terrorist subsidiaries Hezbollah and Hamas.” According to him, they are not only “defending their own homeland and very existence, but they are also defending America’s homeland as our front-line democratic ally in the Middle East.” So a conflict that emerged from the capture of Israeli soldiers by Lebanese Hezbollah and has a complex historical dynamic is turned into a conflict between Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah on the one side and the forces of freedom, Israel and the United States, on the other. By means of this constellation, a whole new agenda opens up. Quite suddenly Iran is a clear and immediate threat, not only to the United States but to Western civilization as a whole. Take a look at what is being written about Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza at this very moment and you will see that this sophisticated spin is still with us.

One must agree with Walt and Mearsheimer that there is no such thing as a neoconservative headquarters, manifesto, conspiracy, or even party. Among the neocons there are Republicans and Democrats, entertainers such as Glenn Beck and historians such as Andrew Roberts, Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the pervasive concentration of think tanks and activists – the neoconservative apparatus – transcends the fault lines of domestic politics in the United States. Ultimately, the term “neoconservatism” denotes simply the latest manifestation of American imperialism. This imperial attitude permeates the political culture of the country to its core, which explains why it is not easily discarded. When Democratic leaders such as Barack Obama announce that in dealing with Iran “we must never take the military option off the table,” or when Hillary Clinton states that “to those who believe we should become involved only if it is easy to do, I think we have to say that America has never and should not ever shy away from the hard task if it is the right one,” they reflect a widespread belief in the special status of the United States.

This consensus about America’s “indispensable” global leadership role is shared by both neoconservatives and “missionary” liberals and accounts for Iran’s image as an “international pariah” that the U.S. must “deal with.” This image is less the result of Ahmadinejad’s confrontational rhetoric than of an ideological myth-making process in American culture. It is within this tight-knit cultural habitat that the invasion of Iraq was made possible and the idea of military intervention against Iran is cultivated. I hope that I have made it clear that neoconservative ideology is central to this process, because it pulls together and integrates into one whole disparate issues, it eschews coexistence, it reduces complexity, and it continuously works to legitimize its ultimate aim – war!

Author: Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is an SOAS academic, critical theorist, and author of Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic (Columbia University Press, 2008, 2010) and A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and Them Beyond Orientalism (Columbia/Hurst, 2010).