The New Neocons

The last futile, expensive, and grotesquely immoral war launched by the United States was authored by those ideological shape-shifters and creatures of legend, the neoconservatives (neocons for short), whose storied history has been the subject of endless books, articles, and memoirs. There’s even a documentary film in which the aforesaid neocons tout their own intellectual importance in what has got to be one of the most extravagant displays of narcissism since… well, since Narcissus. As the details of their ideological hegira from Left to Right are so well known – I’ve covered the subject in detail over the years – suffice to say that these worthies were the real intellectual authors of the Iraq war.

When Bill Clinton was in power, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol organized an ad hoc think-tank/advocacy group known as the Project for a New American Century, which ceaselessly agitated for war with Iraq and a policy of "regime change" throughout the Middle East. In coordination with like-minded folks over at the American Enterprise Institute, publications such as the Weekly Standard and National Review, plus influential columnists such as Charles Krauthammer and Max Boot, the neocons led the charge as we careened into the Iraqi quagmire. It took them a good decade, but in the end they succeeded: both major political parties are now committed to their program of endless military intervention in the Middle East, with the only differences being tactical.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: In order to bamboozle the American public into believing that this was a defensive and justifiable war, the neocons and their allies came up with various arguments – Iraq’s alleged "weapons of mass destruction," his purported plans to attack his neighbors, and his supposed ability to threaten the continental U.S. – but their central if only implied talking point was that Saddam was in some way instrumental in bringing about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For the most part, this was not stated explicitly; the idea was to link Saddam and Osama by referring to them in the same sentence. Yet the implication was clear, and the administration and its media amen corner returned to this theme again and again, arguing that we had to strike Iraq in answer to al-Qaeda’s murderous sneak attack.

The campaign to link the two figures in the public mind was so successful that, to this day, there are a large number of people who believe Saddam Hussein authored the 9/11 attacks, long after this narrative has been debunked to the bone.

The Democrats took out after this narrative last year, rightly pointing out that the links between Saddam and 9/11 were nonexistent and gleefully pointing to Afghanistan as the "forgotten" front in the war on terrorism, which they claimed had been shamefully neglected by the incompetent Bushies. Once they were in power, they averred during the campaign, they’d fix that by pouring more troops into Afghanistan, and going after alleged al-Qaeda units operating in Pakistan’s untamed tribal areas. These "national security Democrats," as they defensively called themselves – to differentiate themselves, I guess, from your regular run-of-the-mill Democratic surrender-monkeys – replicated the neocon strategy, first, with a think-tank: the Center for a New American Security, founded in 2007 and funded, as the Wall Street Journal reports, by "foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund," as well as "some government money to study particular issues."

In those (few short) years in the political wilderness, CNAS churned out policy papers and allied with the "centrist" Clintonian wing of the party. More recently, co-founder Michele Flournoy authored a study [.pdf] that argued against a fixed timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Like President Obama, they have repeated essentially the same rationale for the Af-Pak war as the Bush administration and its apologists spun for the Iraq invasion – it’s being billed as a proactive strike against terrorist enemies who are "plotting" strikes against America. This argument, however, is no more convincing coming from left-neocons than it was coming out of the mouths of Bush, Cheney, and the PNAC crowd. Osama bin Laden is long gone from Afghanistan, if he’s even still alive – which Pakistan’s president rather doubts – and as for the whole question of "terrorist sanctuaries" and the supposed danger this poses to the continental United States, I agree with Matt Yglesias’ trenchant analysis:

"Plotting doesn’t strike me as a particularly space-intensive activity. When the ThinkProgress team gets together to plot, we usually do it in a small confined space. More generally, the entire safe haven concept strikes me as overrated. The 9/11 attacks were primarily plotted in Hamburg. A terrorist in the Swat Valley is, by definition, not in a position to blow something up in a Western city."

Like the neocons, who came together as a reaction [.pdf] against the perceived pantywaistedness of the antiwar Democrats of the 1970s, CNAS was conceived in response to the Republican charge that the Democrats are "soft" on national security issues. CNAS set out to prove them wrong and proceeded to build a case for widening the "war on terrorism" to include not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan. Ready with their policy prescriptions when the Obamaites were swept into power, CNAS personnel flooded into the new administration (John Podesta, head of the Obama transition team, is on the CNAS board).

In a bit of synchronicity that we would do well to note, Flournoy has been appointed to take over Douglas Feith‘s old domain: the Pentagon’s policy shop, where the neocons prepared the Kool-Aid for general distribution.

CNAS is behind the new counterinsurgency strategy championed by the neoconservatives before their exile from the corridors of power and advanced by their hero, Gen. David Petraeus, in the army’s new counterinsurgency manual [.pdf]. As opposed to the ham-handed slash-and-burn methods of the early years in Iraq, the new militarist dispensation is based on the concept of conducting a political and economic war, complementing and reinforcing the element of pure coercion.

"Clear, hold, and build" is the slogan of the new militarism, and it is one uniquely suited to the demands of an expansive, albeit "liberal," interventionism masquerading as "internationalism." Set for a long-term occupation of Afghanistan – and quite possibly large portions of neighboring Pakistan – the CNAS-niks are committed to the concept of war as essentially a social engineering project. Their chief guru, John Nagl, boasts of the new military doctrine’s ability to "change entire societies."

Gee, I’ll bet that’s one implication of the mindless "change" mantra Obama’s antiwar supporters never imagined possible.

CNAS is the new American Enterprise Institute in that it is left-neocon central in the way that AEI and PNAC performed a similar function during the Bush years. A look at the CNAS board of directors – an institution where Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin, the Albright Group and Armitage International, the Center for American Progress and the Hoover Institution all have a place at the table – provides a few key clues as to its provenance and mission.

The establishment is facing a popular uprising on several fronts, and foreign policy is no exception. There is a general, though inchoate, rebellion against the idea that we have to intervene all over the world, especially given our present economic straits. The Iraq war has soured a new generation on the idea of America as a world-savior, as Vietnam did the previous one, and the left-neocons pushing the Af-Pak war are facing an uphill fight in the long run, although they may hold the temporary advantage of serving under a popular president.

It’s early yet, and already voices are being raised – on the Left as well as the anti-Obama Right – against the widening of the Afghan war and the incursions into Pakistan. Yet the War Party has one big advantage.

Groups like CNAS are financed to the hilt by big corporate interests and the politically connected plutocrats who profit from war and our foreign policy of global intervention. Their intellectual handmaidens in the growing constellation of left-neocon Washington outfits are nothing but the latest window-dressing for the same warmongering, corporatist agenda.

I can’t help but look and marvel at the disparate character of their antipode – this Web site. They’re spending millions to promote the same old militaristic blather, albeit under the banner of an ersatz liberalism, while we’re in the midst of a fundraising drive to raise a relatively measly $70,000 to continue operating. I’ll bet CNAS, which is feeding at the federal trough, spends that much every quarter on lunch!

Our seasonal fundraising drive is just kicking in, and it kills me to look at the highly uneven playing field, with a plethora of political and corporate interests ganging up to continue the same discredited interventionist policies that have poisoned our relations with the rest of the world for the past eight years – and longer.

Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin aren’t paying our bills, and there’s no antiwar equivalent to the corporate and government moguls who populate the CNAS board of directors. The War Party outguns us when it comes to finances and connections to the Washington elite, yet they feel obligated to attack us, as CNAS senior fellow and Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Tom Ricks did recently on his blog. It’s a David-and-Goliath scene, with the stone in our slingshot being the support of the American people. Yet if we are to continue to reach Americans, and the rest of the world, we need your financial support. Unlike CNAS, and their equivalents on the Right, we don’t have any big corporate interests backing us – and we don’t take government money, and would never consider doing so.

If you’re an American taxpayer, you don’t have a choice about funding CNAS, no matter what you think of their viewpoint. However, you do have a choice when it comes to supporting – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I just hope that you make the right choice, and that’s why I’m doing my best to convince you that contributing to is essential right now.

In an age of intellectual conformity and lockstep "Left" and "Right" party lines – both of which seem to agree on the merits of our eternal "war on terrorism" – is more necessary than ever before. And is such a great resource, even if you don’t always (or ever) agree with our worldview. It’s fair to say this Web site is the single most comprehensive news-and-comment portal covering the foreign policy front. That’s why our audience is bigger than a good many "mainstream" media outlets.

Yet we don’t have mainstream money, and that’s where you come in. We’ve always depended on the support of our readers, and we’re turning to you once again. As war clouds gather on the not-so-distant horizon, it’s more important than ever to keep independent reporting on foreign policy alive and well. Contribute today.

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].