Here Come the Progressives!

Well, well, well – it looks like our war-birds over at the American Enterprise Institute are getting kicked out of their very well-feathered nest, as Jacob Heilbrunn, author of a fascinating book on the neoconservatives, reports:

"The neocon world has been rocked by recent events at AEI. Numerous neocons told me that a vicious purge is being carried out at AEI, spearheaded by vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies, Danielle Pletka. There can be no doubting that change is afoot at AEI. Recently, Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht have departed AEI. Joshua Muravchik is on the way out as well. Other scholars face possible eviction."

It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch. Although Heilbrunn avers that Muravchik is one of the more "reasonable" neocons, in my book he’s one of the worst. Here, after all, is someone who openly argues that we must start bombing Iran immediately if not sooner, and defends the tragic history of our invasion of Iraq – the lies, the pointless deaths, the horrific blowback. In an article published in Commentary, he accused anyone who so much as whispered the word "neocon" of spreading "conspiracy theories," and, of course, anti-Semitism. Ledeen is an outright loon, whose "faster, please" jeremiads – published even as the grandiose schemes of the neocons come crashing down on our heads – have only underscored how utterly clueless he’s always been. As for Gerecht, he’s typical of these legends in their own minds, with his ex-spook persona of world-weary intelligence "expert" and air of smug certainty while mouthing the worst whoppers as undisputed fact. He was even invited by the Cato Institute to palaver on one of their little-read Web sites, giving his pro-war, let’s-invade-everyone spiel for the delectation of libertarians – as if this jerk didn’t have endless platforms from which to spread his line of guff!

It looks like Muravchik & Co. will retreat to the safety of the Hudson Institute, where Scooter Libby has gone to lick his wounds and write his memoirs. The Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies, whose made-in-Israel stamp was detected in an investigative report published in The American Conservative, has already taken in Gerecht, and others will certainly jump into this particular lifeboat. Whatever their fate as individuals, however, the neocons’ brand of armed fanaticism will wind up in the same historical dustbin occupied by their intellectual progenitors and rivals, the Marxist-Leninists.

So, can we say, with absolute certitude – and unabashed joy – that the neocons are over, and the War Party is through?

Not by a long shot.

Because what’s rising on the left-end of the political spectrum is a new brand of neoconservatism, a "liberal" and even "enlightened" variety of the same old hubris-in-arms that animated the departed warmongers of AEI. You can forget AEI; it doesn’t matter that much anymore, now that the Republicans are out of power – but get ready for PPI!

What the heck is PPI? I can hear you asking that question, and the answer is simple: it’s the neocons all over again, albeit this time in "liberal" drag.

The Progressive Policy Institute was set up by the Democratic Leadership Council, a "centrist" Scoop Jacksonish group that aims to keep the Democrats on the pro-war straight-and-narrow: it is the War Party’s intellectual outpost in the Democratic Party. These "national security Democrats" are just as unabashedly militaristic as their right-wing counterparts over at AEI, the only difference being rhetorical. Thus, PPI’s chief theoretician Will Marshall avers, in a 2005 screed hailing "national service and shared sacrifice":

“True patriotism is at odds with the selfish individualism that shapes the Republicans’ anti-government ideology. It means accepting obligations to the community to which we all belong and must contribute if we are to enjoy the fruits of membership. In wartime, not everyone can fight, but everyone can find ways to sacrifice for the common cause. Bush has sent U.S. troops into battle, but he hasn’t challenged the rest of us to do our part.”

Marshall’s beef is that the Bush crowd wasn’t warlike enough on the home front. Along with Marshall Wittmann, the ex-Trotskyist who went on to become chief public relations flack for the Christian Coalition and is now with PPI, the other Marshall spent the Iraq war years attacking the Bushian foreign policy from the right – it wasn’t interventionist enough, and certainly not in a "smart" way.

Now PPI is pushing for NATO expansion, addressing an open letter of "advice" to our new president and declaring openly the war agenda of the left-neocons: "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the most successful defense alliance in history," intones Commander Marshall. So it’s time to declare victory, throw our hats in the air, and go home – right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong – no government program, and especially not a transnational racket like NATO, is ever going to voluntarily dissolve the bureaucratic, financial, and cultural bonds that bind together the job-holders, the government contractors, and, in this case, the war profiteers. It’s far too lucrative a business to give up, and certainly the thought never even crosses Marshall’s mind. He bemoans the fact that "the alliance is stumbling badly," and informs President Obama that he "will face no more important task than defining a coherent mission for NATO in the 21st century – a mission that transcends the alliance’s origins as a strictly regional pact and reinvents it as a force for global stability," i.e., a fresh rationale for endless meddling. You have to give Marshall credit, however. He thinks big:

"You should seize the opportunity to lead NATO’s transformation from a North American-European pact into a global alliance of free nations. By opening its doors to Japan, Australia, India, Chile, and a handful of other stable democracies, NATO would augment both its human and financial resources. What is more, NATO would enhance its political legitimacy to operate on a global stage."

Imagine – we would be pledged to go to war in order to defend Chile. Against whom would we be defending it? Hugo Chavez? Oh, there are plenty of new enemies in our brave new world, according to Marshall’s lights.

While Russia merits a "watchful eye," China is seen as the new rising threat: they dare to tout their "market Maoism" as an ideological competitor with Western-style social democracy, and they’re getting richer by the hour! While not yet "a direct threat" militarily, China’s "stunning economic growth rates, sustained over two decades," are clearly a source of envy and irritation on Marshall’s part, as if he despises the market part of what he calls "market Maoism" far more than the Maoist aspect. That’s what being a left-neocon is all about. With the new crew in the White House committed to "fair trade," otherwise known as trade protectionism, it looks like we’ll be confronting a new set of enemies: our economic competitors in the world marketplace.

If you were the Chinese government, and you read Marshall’s missive, realizing that PPI is tremendously influential in Democratic Party circles, the veritable voice of the party establishment, what would you do? I’ll tell you what I would do: launch a preemptive strike.

No, I wouldn’t mount a military assault, but a much more effective and devastating economic attack – I’d dump my Treasury bonds, sell off my federal agency bonds, and call in all private-sector debt.

The result would be a financial Pearl Harbor: the U.S. economy would sink so far below sea level that we’d wind up alongside Atlantis.

What’s scary about this PPI proposal is that its proponents aren’t some fringe group, but representative of what passes for the "centrist" wing of the Democratic Party.

John McCain may have lost the election, but his dotty neoconnish agenda lingers on in the form of this proposal, which resembles nothing so much as McCain’s idea that the U.S. should organize a "Concert of Democracies," as a new instrument of intervention worldwide. In a piece for The American Conservative, I predicted that we would see this idea come up if Obama won the White House:

"If NATO as an instrument of the new Cold War isn’t working as the War Party hoped, then the Concert of Democracies is Plan B, one that will have appeal beyond the offices of the American Enterprise Institute and the Weekly Standard. Neoconservative internationalists, such as Robert Kagan, are reaching out to liberal internationalists, such as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution: the two recently authored an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the establishment of such a league to fulfill ‘the responsibility to protect.’ Daalder is an influential advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, while Kagan, Newsweek noted, is ‘McCain’s foreign policy guru.’"

Get ready for a new rationale for a massive military buildup. PPI calls for at least 100,000 more troops to beef up our ability to intervene anywhere and everywhere, and it demands more money for the "defense" budget. As the incoming administration takes the reins of power, watch for the "national security Democrats" to extend their talons. With the mad Keynesian professors at the helm in Washington, looking eagerly about for "projects" to lavish ever-depreciating dollars on, preparations for war with China, or some newly-declared "rogue dictator" (Putin?), will no doubt be factored into their "stimulus package."

When people are poor and getting poorer, it’s fairly easy to convince them that the evil "foreigners" are to blame – for stealing "our" markets and selling quality consumer goods to "our" people at prices that Americans can actually afford. Economic nationalism will be the War Party’s new battle-flag. As a great libertarian economist once put it, "if goods don’t cross border, then armies soon will."

Look for the return of the "Yellow Peril" and the revival of a half-forgotten "progressive" tradition of left-wing anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese feeling. On the West coast, starting in the 19th century, the labor unions agitated against the importation of "coolie" labor, and anti-Japanese sentiment was also rife. This anti-Asian movement found political expression in the Asiatic Exclusion League and the Workingman’s Party. The movement had enough clout in 1906 to pressure the San Francisco-based California state Board of Education to exclude students of Japanese descent from public schools white children attended.

We hear echoes of this in Rachel Maddow’s rants against that Republican congressman from a southern state who has a Toyota factory in his district, which Rachel referred to as if it were an invading army instead of a source of income for thousands of Americans. How dare he oppose the bailout of our sclerotic auto industry, which long ago deserved to go belly-up! What I want to know is where-oh-where do these people learn economics?

In short, it’s going to get increasingly ugly out there, as the Democrats take control and this kind of talk becomes more commonplace. Call it bread-and-butter imperialism – the War Party’s appeal to the common working man. Full employment through global interventionism – yeah, that‘s the ticket!

The names change, the rhetoric undergoes a subtle shift in tone, but from AEI to PPI is not a long road to travel. Those who are hoping for "change" – the mindless slogan relentlessly pushed by the Obama-ites until it becomes a mantra devoid of meaning – are in for a shock. What we’ll see in the foreign policy realm is more of the same, including a fresh crop of neocons with considerable influence among key policymakers. As a new year dawns, it’s the same old same old.


I see that The American Conservative has posted my piece on the unfolding saga of Rod Blagojevich, in which I examine the career of this new cultural icon as a symbol of the new bossism. Go on over and check it out.

Scheduling note: I’m taking off Christmas Day, so no Christmas column, but I’ll see you next week.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].