Neoconservatism: The Return

It was a neocon moment: there they were, the organizers of the Foreign Policy Initiative, the new neoconservative think-tank – Bill Kristol, Dan Senor, and Robert Kagan, with Clifford May, Randy Scheunemann, and junior neocon James Kirchick in tow. It was the occasion of FPI’s first public event – their Washington coming out party, so to speak – and who should show up but I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. A more fitting symbol of the neoconservative tendency in American politics – its history, its methods, and its essential criminality – could hardly be conceived.

While John McCain was ostensibly the main attraction, the real focus of the conference was a celebration of the man who defeated him. As David Weigel put it, the FPI conference turned into a "Neocons for Obama" festival, as super-hawkish foreign policy maven Fred Kagan hailed President Obama’s Af-Pak offensive as the best thing since the Iraqi "surge": "He’s definitely saying no to pulling back. It was a gutsy and correct decision." Yet all is not rosy: "Kagan worried/predicted that Obama’s base would bristle at the plan, so ‘he will be counting on some significant amount of support from his political opponents.’"

Not to worry. The brain-dead Obamaites are shamelessly eager to grant their Glorious Leader a pass, no matter what he does. So far, there is not a peep out of Obama’s liberal supporters, except a few voices raised at the Nation, even as the president mounts a major escalation of the Long War. Not only that, but his supporters are rallying around their commander in chief, now that we’re fighting the "right" war in the "right" way. And take a good look at some of his supporters…

FPI is the latest in a long line of neocon front groups, all of them – the Committee on the Present Danger, the Committee for a Free World, the Project for a New American Century [.pdf] – aimed at whipping the country into a militaristic frenzy. There is not only an ideological legacy here, but a genealogical one, as the catalytic role of a member of the Kristol family has always been instrumental in organizing these groups – Irving back in the day, his son William more recently. The one and only aim of this ideological Mafia is to conjure enemies and agitate relentlessly for a more aggressive foreign policy. The neocons may shift from Left to Right and back again when it comes to economic issues, but what they really care about – where their hottest passions lie – is in maintaining and expanding America’s overseas empire.

They are ecstatic that Obama is launching a major offensive on the Afghan-Pakistan front, and they are urging him to do more. Their latest campaign is undertaken in cooperation with the "progressives" over at the Center for American Progress and the Center for a New American Security, both conduits for recent and future administration appointees.

The Af-Pak popular front means an alliance of convenience between the neocons and the White House, not at all a surprising development if one knows the history of these former Scoop Jackson Democrats turned "conservative" Republicans. They can function quite well no matter which party is in power, and they always have a prominent public forum, no matter how discredited their views are in the public mind. Of one thing we can be sure: the infiltration of the Obama administration has already begun, with Dennis Ross – who signed on to more than one PNAC letter urging war with Iraq – now ensconced as a envoy dealing with Iran.

First on the program, John A. Nagl, the Center for a New American Security’s president. CNAS is enormously influential in the foreign policy councils of the Obama administration, and Nagl is a key figure among the so-called national security Democrats. He is the chief theoretician of the "nation-building" counterinsurgency doctrine espoused by Gen. David Petraeus, architect of the Iraqi "surge" that now is backfiring in our faces.

Nagl is paired with Robert Kagan, a second-generation neocon, co-founder, with Kristol the Younger, of PNAC, and a tireless cog in the War Party’s propaganda machine. The topic under discussion: "Internationalism vs. Isolationism." Yes, the "internationalists" of both parties can put aside their differences and unite against the dreaded isolationists, those fearsome, anti-social troglodytes who insist on minding their own business and wish that the American government would, too.

Moderating this anti-"isolationist" hate-fest was Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor at the Washington Post, a newspaper that serves as the voice and guardian of the bipartisan "internationalism" that rules out any real debate when it comes to foreign policy.

Rep. Jane Harman, noted Democratic hawk and chair of the House intelligence subcommittee, also spoke, alongside Republican John McHugh of New York, who was on the House floor the other day demanding that Congress "ensure the [president’s Afghan-Pakistan] strategy is fully funded, resourced, and executed."

It doesn’t matter to these people that the nation is sick of war and near bankruptcy: they live inside the Washington bubble, the Imperial City, where hubris permeates the air. It doesn’t matter how many times the neocons have been repelled, they just keep bouncing back. This is a crew of respected "analysts" and policy wonks that has never been right, not about anything. From their gross overestimation of Soviet military power in the Cold War era, to the "domino theory" that kept us in Vietnam, to their willfully erroneous assumption that Iraq possessed "weapons of mass destruction," their foreign policy prognostications leave behind them a trail of uninterrupted error. It is a record unequaled in the history of ideas, yet the neocons’ influence, while it is currently waning, never disappears altogether. The neocons always make a comeback, and a well-funded one to be sure.

The innocuous-sounding Foreign Policy Initiative is just the sort of camouflage the neocons need in the age of Obama: no more proclamations of a "New American Century," but rather more sober-sounding, "pragmatic" slogans. Together with their newfound liberal and "progressive" allies, they beat the drums for more military spending, a rising confrontation with Russia, and, of course, a showdown with Iran.

Having exhausted their previous host, the GOP, the neocons have no qualms about moving on. The Democrats will do just as well. Whoever’s in power is the object of their affection. Their role is to whisper in the ear of the prince, to make sure he gets the "right" information – and then sabotage him if he fails to respond to their ministrations.

As the neocons hail Obama, their new conquering hero, the irony of all this underscores the difficulties of instituting real change in our foreign policy. The same old faces turn up no matter which party is in power, and the same old ideas – shopworn "internationalist" bromides – dominate a consensus that never questions whether an empire is good for the American people.

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].