The rumored demise of the Weekly Standard is yet another of Donald J. Trump’s achievements that will go uncelebrated by his liberal enemies: indeed, they are even now mourning the death of the neoconservative flagship.
And of course neoconservatism’s many fellow-travelers are out there with panegyrics. It “stood up for conservative principle” in the age of Trump, writes Meghan McArdle. What principle this might be, Ms. McArdle somehow neglects to say: perhaps it’s a penchant for perpetual war, the only known characteristic this famously eccentric and variable band hold in common. Both McArdle and the editors of the Standard thrilled their readers with stories of the great danger posed by Saddam Hussein, who they told us had nukes hidden beneath his palace ready to launch at a moment’s notice.
Let’s take a look at the three important roles played by the Standard and its editors in the history of the post-9/11 era.
To begin with, Kristol and his neoconservative cadre served as the point men and chief agitators for the series of wars we fought, to disastrous effect, in the Middle East. Through a series of front groups and thinktanks, such as the Project for a New American Century, the neocons spread their propaganda with promiscuous alacrity, to Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, until they finally succeeded in getting Bill Clinton to sign the Iraq Liberation Act. With Ahmed Chalabi and his fellow “heroes in error” – yes, they had the gall to characterize themselves as such! – on the CIA payroll, the machinery of regime change was oiled, fueled up, and ready to go.
PNAC testified before Congress, published reams of literature, cultivated interest groups, lobbied strenuously, and effectively encountered no real opposition: the field was wide open, and they swarmed over it like midges over a swamp.
Secondly, the magazine was key to getting out the disinformation that made the Iraq war possible. Supposedly based on leaked “intelligence,” and given the benefit of a doubt due to the magazine’s closeness to the Bush administration, the Standard told us with full confidence that al Qaeda was behind 9/11, that Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” posed a physical threat to the territory of the United States, and that the Iraqis would greet us as “liberators.” It was Kristol who infamously predicted that the war would last “two months.”
Most importantly, however, the Standard was the flagship of the neoconservative faction of the Right – a querulous group of intellectuals who originally identified as leftists, far leftists, in most cases – who gradually moved rightward until they became “leftists for Reagan” at the height of the cold war. Rejecting the pro-peace stance of Democratic party activists during the Nixon years, they crossed over to the GOP and have been ensconced in the party, especially its policymaking machinery, ever since – until now.
While generally conservative in a temperamental sense, the neocons have never been committed to any economic theory more involved than “two cheers for capitalism,” as Irving Kristol put it. As for the social conservatism of the traditionalists, the neocons have little use for it except, by way of contrast, as a means to signal to their liberal counterparts that they aren’t really horrible reactionaries, since, after all, they recently attended a gay wedding.
What they really care about is foreign policy: for them, perpetual war for perpetual peace isn’t an absurdity: it’s a policy. From their days as the brain trust of Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who was known as the Senator from Lockheed, their agenda has been consistent: establishing and maintaining American military hegemony on every continent. What Britain once was we have become, in large part thanks to their effort: the guarantor of a “liberal world order” that is neither very liberal nor all that orderly. It’s an empire in which everything goes out and nothing comes in – a “modern” sort of Imperium, which (ostensibly) benefits the conquered and costs the conquerors a pretty penny.
The imminent demise of the Weekly Standard is symbolically important to us paleocons – and, by the way, for anti-interventionists of every stripe and persuasion — for it instantiates and confirms our victory over the neocons. For at least three decades the neocons have pushed us aside, minimized our influence, and smeared us as “extremists” – and now they have been finally and justly repudiated by the movement they posed as leaders of and the party they controlled since the reign of Bush II. Trump made neoconservatism untenable, and effectively destroyed it as a viable political force, at least in the short term.
Now we are in the drivers’ seat, albeit that’s one ride that promises to be a bit bumpy, and the neocons are on the outside looking in, plotting day and night to destroy the President who destroyed them politically. Because Trump has indeed done exactly that.
His noninterventionist “America First” foreign policy, which horrifies the elites, won a mandate in 2016 – and the front lines of the struggle for peace are being pushed forward as never before, despite opposition from the usual foreign lobbyists and drooling anti-Trumpers who prefer World War III to negotiations with nuclear-armed Russia.
Whither the neocons? A long time ago – 1999! — I predicted that they would abandon the GOP and go back to where they came from—the left, and the Democratic party. That proved to be correct, but this time around I think I’ll just wait and see what transpires – because, after all, where else can they go after this?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.