American Neoconservatism: A Gentle Throwback

Neoconservatism as a school of thought emerged in the early 20th century and a groundswell was observed in the 1960s. The ideology had its nuances, internal contradictions, but catapulted to significance among the political elite of the liberals who felt liberalism was curtailing liberty by its societal abuse. Cold War at its peak, counter culture parading across the American community, extensive welfare state spending brought in by Lyndon Johnson and sidelining of religion from the mainstream life, brought together intellectuals to reform American politics: Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Patrick were some of the founding members of the movement.

A deep sense of pessimism towards human nature is prevalent at the core of this school of thought. Domestically in the US of 1960s, a hedonistic culture was increasingly becoming a lifestyle facilitated by secularism and modernism. The world through neoconservative worldview is of a Hobbesian state of nature where insecurity is a hallmark. According to neoconservative Irving Kristol, there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience that can be summarized in four “theses”: first, patriotism should be encouraged; second, international institutions should be regarded “with the deepest suspicion”; third, statesmen should make a clear distinction between friends and enemies, since it was a mistake for some to not count the Soviet Union as an enemy; and finally, for a great power, the “national interest” is not a geographical term, but also an ideological one.

In the international paradigm, neoconservativism in the early years was drawn to significance for its vociferous vehemence towards communism. The unilateral supremacy of America has been the priority of the neoconservatives, advocated for military engagements as a first resort in crisis. Promulgation of democracy has been a central tenet of its foreign policy, based on the supposition that when troubled nations are turned into democracies, they cease to be threats. The West Asian region is of significance and defense of Israel is a top priority for the neoconservatives. This is due to the inerrant threat the region poses towards American interests, with its violent Islamic ideologies, sectarian rulers and dictatorial regimes.

A hawkish foreign policy and liberal economy, are the twin pillars of neoconservatism. Neoconservatives believe in American exceptionalism and a unipolar world that emphasizes ‘United States is not like any other nation but other nations should be more like it’. The hawkish foreign policy is drawn from the perceived moral superiority of the United States and therefore military engagements is an imperative responsibility of the global sheriff at crises ridden regions of the world. Further, Israel being the only popular Democratic nation in the Middle East, and with Jewish ethnicity of the intellectuals that pulled the threads together for neoconservatism, the nation has invariably occupied a central position in the neoconservative American foreign policy. Neoconservatism has been in the political game play since the early years of its inception, but its effective influence in policy formulation has been with ups and downs.

Opposition to Nixon-Kissinger strategy of peaceful coexistence equipped neoconservatism as an entity. But it’s the Reagan presidency tenure that moved the neoconservative ideas to the forefront of policy making. The core of his foreign policy was Anti-Sovietism and the imperative of the standing up to the soviet threat in every part of the world, which blend perfectly with neoconservatism. With 9/11, and Bush administration’s global war on terror, neoconservatism became the framework of foreign policy. The US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the attempt to export democracy to the Middle East are the articulation of American neoconservative agenda. Further, the drawing of Iran into the axis of evil despite Iran’s support for American war on terror is perfectly in-line with the neocon interests.

A concoction of unilateralist policies, defiance of international bodies, preemptive destruction of threats and the promulgation of democracy is the neocon ‘drink’ to intoxicate the world with American supremacy, in other words to reinforce the identity of the moral sheriff of the world. Bush administration was determined to draw a new Middle East with American neoconservatism. However, when the elections in Egypt and Palestinian territories brought Islamist parties like Hamas to power the unviability of neocon strategy was observed. And subsequently there was a gradual disengagement of the neocon interests from policy making.

In the years of Obama administration neoconservatives seemed to slumber. The Obama administration’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq and reduction in the number of troops in Afghanistan, a tone of constructive engagement with Iran are all deviations from neocon beliefs. Further, the coldness in the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, is strictly non-neoconservative.

It’s too early to draw conclusions on the influence of neocons in the Trump-presidency but turning a blind eye to the discernable neocon clout in the policy generation would be blatant insensitivity. Trump, during his presidential campaign, was critical of the Al Sauds, vouched against the extensive overseas military spending and the involvement in Syria, denounced the invasion of Iraq that permanently soiled the Middle East and pledged for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. But with recent developments, the new Afghanistan policy that has increased troops in Afghanistan, a tense built up with Iran, intense bonhomie with Israel glean a light hue of neoconservatism in Trump’s policies. The courtship with Israel, vow to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel indicate that Trump is seemingly a neocon protagonist.

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