The return of the undead

After the recent death of their flagship magazine The Weekly Standard, the neoconservatives have come out with a new magazine called The Bulwark. Matt Taibbi reminds us of the history of the neoconservatives, opportunists all, who align themselves with any party that they think will best satisfy their bloodthirsty warmongering needs and have decided that Democrats currently fit that bill.

Neocons began as liberal intellectuals. The likes of Bill Kristol’s father, Irving (who famously said a neoconservative was a liberal who’d been “mugged by reality”), drifted from the Democratic Party in the Seventies because it had become insufficiently hawkish after the Vietnam debacle.

They abhorred realpolitik and “containment,” hated Richard Nixon for going to China and preferred using force to spread American values, even if it meant removing an existing government. Reagan’s “evil empire” gibberish and semi-legal muscle-flexing in places like Nicaragua made neocons tingly and finalized their defection to the red party.

The neocon-Republican marriage wasn’t exactly smooth. After all, it required sanctimonious, left-leaning intellectuals to get into political bed with the Jerry Falwells of the world and embrace all sorts of positions they plainly felt were absurd. But they believed pretending to support religiosity or other popular passions was fine for ruling elites. This was supposedly a version of Plato’s “noble lie” concept, as Irving Kristol wrote in Commentary half a century ago:

“If religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without…let men believe in the lies of religion… and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves,” Kristol wrote, adding: “Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the philosophers and the common men.”

But given the discrediting of the disastrous Iraq war, the neoconservatives have started moving back into the Democratic fold and that party’s oligarchic friendly establishment ranks are enabling that move because they are both afraid of the party’s new populist energy and seek to suppress it.

So, longtime Democratic Party advisers are once again triangulating against their party’s own progressive wing, which was the core strategy of the original “Third Way” Democrats in the early Nineties. Party leaders now want to kick out populist, antiwar liberals in the same way Frum once wanted to excommunicate antiwar conservatives.

As Glenn Greenwald noted in the Intercept last year, the “most extreme and discredited neocons” began uniting with Democrats “long before the ascension of Donald Trump.”

These two groups came together over a common enemy: the insufficiently bloodthirsty Barack Obama. In July 2014, in “The Next Act of the Neocons,” New York Times writer Jacob Heilbrun predicted the future union:

“Even as they castigate Mr. Obama, the neocons may be preparing a more brazen feat: aligning themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign, in a bid to return to the driver’s seat of American foreign policy.”

Democracy Journal ran a similar piece in 2015, in which Robert Kagan talked about a union with Democrats, hoping to replace the term “neoconservative” with the less-infamous-sounding “liberal interventionist.”

The neocons are trying to create with Democrats a true political movement of shared goals and common adversaries. Apart from “liberal interventionism,” they’re emphasizing stridently anti-populist leanings, making little distinction between Trump and “mouth-breathers” like Rep. Steve King on the one hand, and Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other.

Onetime neoconservative icon Max Boot even went so far as to compare Ocasio-Cortez to Sarah Palin, bemoaning the fact that she has more Twitter followers than Nancy Pelosi — more evidence of democracy’s imperfections!

Both groups get starry-eyed around generals and spooks and mourned the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis like music-lovers after the death of Prince (“I am shaken,” said Nancy Pelosi). There were even shared fantasies about a presidential run by the Nosferatoid ex-Defense Secretary, whose greatest achievements to date had been grimacing with military severity while standing next to Trump, and clamoring for an increased role in the bombing of Yemen.

If you’re not concerned about undead neocons making a comeback while Trump is in office, that’s understandable. Many people will take allies against Trump from wherever they can.

Just don’t be surprised if “liberal interventionists” are sitting in the White House once Trump leaves the scene. These are determined revolutionaries who’ve been scheming for years to throw a saddle on the Democratic Party after decades in bed with Republicans. Sadly, they have willing partners over there.

One should never, ever trust people like Bill Kristol, David Frum, Max Boot, Robert Kagan, and the rest of the neoconservative crew. Sure, some of them have become the most strident anti-Trump critics because he may too erratic in his style and his instincts are to curb American military involvement around the world which is heresy for neoconservatives, but that does not mean that they should be welcomed as allies. They are a pernicious force in politics and should be kept out of positions of power and influence.


  1. says

    But given the discrediting of the disastrous Iraq war, the neoconservatives have started moving back into the Democratic fold

    They deserve the blame for Vietnam, too.

  2. lorn says

    Given the earlier term: hawk, and the (IMHO) better use of the term neo-conservative within economic spheres as a politician favoring pro-business/ privatization economic policies (underlying philosophy that free-market capitalism will cure most ills most efficiently) I think that the sooner we shift away from neo-con to “liberal interventionist” the better. It helps to clarify things by separating the military and interventionist aspects from the more purely economic ones.

    Yes, I know. There is a lot of overlap between aggressive economic and military policies, and the people advocating for each, and they are simply not of a piece. The nuance might best be observed and taken advantage of.

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