“The Rise and Decline of the Neocons.”

"This essay examines the rise and decline of the neo-conservatives and their post-Cold War agenda. We conclude that although the neo-conservatives and their allied aggressive nationalists, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, retain sufficient weight to hamper efforts to push through major reversals in US foreign policy, the increasing isolation of this political faction coupled with recent political events in the United States point to the potential emergence of a more cautious, realist-inspired agenda during the final two years of the Bush presidency. "  LA Times


It would be easy, far too easy to see all this recent history as a "morality play" in which the good and virtuous are arrayed against the "evil ones."  It would be easy to do that on either side of the divide or divides among us.  Let us not fall prey to that temptation.

Pat Lang

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22 Responses to “The Rise and Decline of the Neocons.”

  1. Charlie Green says:

    You are so right. The anti-bushites see this election’s results as “proof” of their being right and acting accordingly instead of it being the reaction of a war-weary electorate who might really think “A pox on both your houses”.
    But the essay is a tad premature, as you have pointed out elsewhere. There is no indication of any actual change in policy; just new spin to the old one.
    The one substantive change is Cheney’s refusal to participate in WH meetings in his pique over Rummy’s being sacked. Whether this will affect actual policy remains to be seen.

  2. Michael says:

    Thought the article mentioned above was interesting. Apprently Cheney was NOT impressed with GWB’s handling of Rummy’s firing. Could there be division in the ranks?

  3. Grimgrin says:

    The thing that strikes me about the American branch of the PNAC/ Neoconservative/ Likudnik movement is how little any of them have done in the real world. That is to say the world where failure has consequences and you are only rewarded for competence. While admitedly that world seems to be shrinking daily, I have a hard time identifying any of them who’ve had significant sucess outside of government , punditry or lobbying. All fields where ‘failing upwards’ seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Until that dynamic changes I worry that any time there’s a crisis US policy will find itself influenced by another clique of maniacs with solutions pulled out of an incestuous echo chamber.
    Or, as Eric Blair said it better than I could, well before I was born:
    “The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

  4. Babak Makkinejad says:

    United States is on top of the global heap – she is head honcho, the big enchelada, the big wig, etc.
    For such a power to pursue a Jacobin foreign policy is folly; she cannot improve her position more than it already is and she is risking loosing what she already has.
    Prudence is the better part of Realism; I should think.

  5. Freeman says:

    May I offer, by way of light relief in these difficult times, the wry observation that Sadam has somehow managed to effect “regime change” in the US.

  6. ked says:

    “…with solutions pulled out of an incestuous echo chamber.”
    Thanks, Grimgrin, for that apt euphemism.

  7. It would be wiser for the next President to appoint a well-chosen, fair and balanced team of rivals in government with debatable and valid opinions and perspectives than let one party’s extremists completely control absolutely all phases of government. The saying “power corrupts…absolutely ” has applied with this Administration. Until the Democrats won back Congress this month the government (if it could be called such) has been like having a war savant for president –and letting his crew of (somewhat more clever but unwise) extremist guard–Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzales, et al) run rampant and betray the People in favor of war, as if the People were the enemy. That Office should be about serving the People, not oneself and one’s party and .01%-er cronies. In the ILF Post, an excellent new world affairs blog, noted writer and consultant Douglass Carmichael has posted a series called “American Policy and American Values” and in Part 2 I spied his quote from Diane Ackerman’s “dystopian” novel, Oryx and Crake, after which he heard: “There are leaders and the led, then tyrants and slaves, then the massacres begin. It has always been like this.”
    Power was dishonestly claimed twice (Florida, Ohio) by an arrogant, obtuse individual with severely limited faculties, and we seem to be borne back to the ancient past when tyrants ruled.

  8. lina says:

    You take an intellectually weak chief executive with a history of poor decision-making, add a catastrophic event like 9/11, throw in some fanatical Christianity, and you get policy influencers like the Neocons coming to the fore. It’s almost like the Czarina being influenced by Rasputin.

  9. walrus says:

    Political reality is that provided the neo cons (or any political class) can deliver relative prosperity to the bulk of the population, then they will remain in power. This is what Clinton understood with his famous note to himself during his first election campaign against Bush senior. “its the economy stupid”.
    Unfortunately the American economy is about to go into a meltdown caused by mounting foriegn debt, and the neo cons will fall when that happens.
    My evidence that this will happen sooner rather than later is the frantic activity of private equity firms trying to buy quality foriegn assets with U.S. dollars right now.
    Last month KKR (Kohlberg Kravits Roberts or whatever) bought Vivendi for about 50 billion.
    They also tried to buy the Coles supermarket chain here (down under Oz) for 16 billion but got repulsed.
    Yesterday Texas Pacific launched a bid for Qantas Airlines. Thats at least five billion.
    Rumor today is that another group is after the Fosters brewing group. That would be another billions of dollars deal.
    The share market is heating up as it appears these firms have very big appetites.
    Translation: The rich rats are leaving the ship before it hits a rock called “reality.” They are doing everything they can to convert their wealth into offshore assets not denominated in U.S. dollars.

  10. Frank Durkee says:

    “Given the givens”, plus the complexity both within and around Iraq, and the paucity of obvious solutions, the question remains How do we devlope a strategy that has the least loss and the most gain? At this point I don’t really care who’s to blame. I’m much more concerned with how to arrive at our next moves and th ones after that. Frankly I don’t thind very many, if any, of our political leaders comes out looking very good. I’m sick and tired of posturing and “spin” on all sides and long for a sense of realistic steps to find the best solutiion now available for the near term future. At 74 I would like for some ‘adults’ to show up.

  11. Duncan Kinder says:

    I don’t know whether you want to classify Aeschylus’ The Persians as a “morality play,” but the ancient Greeks certainly did.
    The Persians portrays their reaction to their defeat at Salamis. The great, seemingly invincible empire had overstretched itself, thereby bringing ruin upon it.
    An updated version of The Persians, showing instead the United States’ venture into Iraq, would be apt.
    Like Aeschylus’ Persians, the neocons have certainly demonstrated hubris , which in modern terms is to provoke some very bad karma indeed.

  12. confusedponderer says:

    that Bush’s crew was able to antagonise former reliable vassals such as Germany over the Iraq andventure only underlines your point.
    Leadership is being followed when it is perceived as legitimate. When you need to armtwisting the unwilling to falling into your line, you demonstrate that you’re beyond operating out of the limits of your leadership. When you make armtwisting a principle, you’ve already lost.
    The neo-cons ‘either you’re with us, or against us’ generated resistance where it might otherwise not have been.
    Even vassals want to save face. It became easy for example for Germany to refuse an unpopular war on grounds that the acting US were arrogant bullies, and on top of that, fools who were moving outside international law. The Bushies practically invited being refused. Well, they were served.

  13. confusedponderer says:

    as for the neocons and “All fields where ‘failing upwards’ seems to be the rule rather than the exception.”
    I think, on their terms they would consider themselves highly successful. They have always carried the water for politicos. No neo-con really ever held a position of leadership. Cheney and Rumsfeld aren’t neo-cons but tough ‘peace through strength’ types.
    The neo-cons ahve always tried to deliver to the best of their ability to their political masters. They are first of all political careerists, buereaucrats and lieutenants. They are the ultimate ideologue aidee.
    For leadership they are too ideological. Look at Ken Adelman – America’s least successful yet ambassador to Turkey. Even in Red Russia the doctrinists had a place in the polit buereau, yet they never really led.

  14. Got A Watch says:

    The fundamental incompetence of neo-cons is legendary – I remember reading years ago about Cheney’s career, both in and out of government. It was noted that everything he turned his hand to in his life had gone badly (except the share prices of defense contractors he was associated with), and it was a long article with many parts.
    Events in Iraq may well overtake the plans of any “Group” rendering it dead before arrival. The recent bombing in Sadr City, now said to have killed 250+, is being widely commented as the “real start of the new Iraqi Civil War”, according to the radio news report I just heard.
    There is increasing evidence the Sunnis/ ex-Baathist insurgents seem to be gaining the upper hand. Reports today speak of the highest levels of fear yet seen on the streets of Baghdad. Juan Cole notes “a Sunni sheikh of the Shammar tribe noted to me that thousands of former officers are prepared to assault the G[reen] Z[one]. It is no longer a matter of can they do it, they are only mulling over the timing. The breach of the Green Zone security the other day was a test of their ability to get in, and not a real attempt at a coup, though it is reported as such.”
    IMHO Iraq will totally explode (far worse than what is going on now) probably within 90 days.
    Events on the ground will likely make the “New Plan” totally worthless before the ink is dry. Imagine where US policy will be when the Green Zone is overrun. Hard to believe it can get any worse, but it seems it will. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind many times over.

  15. Will says:

    cognitive dissonance
    when the fox is unable to reach the sweet grapes, he compensates internally by calling them sour.
    Colbert said it- The voters went for the Terrorists.

  16. zanzibar says:

    The private equity deal making is not just about moving dollars overseas I think that its a reflection of the enormous amount of liquidity growth in the world financial system. No doubt dollars are buying less tangible assets as witnessed by the explosion in pricing in the art market.
    What is instructive is the level of credit market speculation involved in many of these private equity deals. The recent $17.6 billion buyout of Freescale Semiconductor by Blackstone Group is a very good example. FSL is a spin-off from Motorola. Semiconductor companies are not known as free cash flow generators and with each chip generation cycle capital expenditures for new fabs keeps doubling. So look at how the deal is done. Blackstone puts in a sliver of equity and borrows the rest. After the deal closed, FSL borrows even more money and pays out a special dividend enabling Blackstone to cash out the equity they put into the deal with a tidy profit over the course of a few months. And the best part the debt deal was over-subscibed. Now what happens if and when consumer spending tapers off from its more recent elevated levels. FSL will be bleeding and they’ll have to renegotiate all their bond covenants. And many of these bond holders will be taking a nice haircut. Of course Blackstone does not care they have already made their profit and returned their capital and control a decent percent of the company.
    The Qantas proposed deal is again instructive. Memories are very short. Folks have forgot what happened when a big airline LBO failed during the last major credit speculation cycle. The failure of the United Airlines deal in 1989 was a precursor to the last consumer led recession. Leveraging airlines which are notorious for unpredictability in cash flows is never a good idea. But what today’s climate shows that there is no venture to which lenders are unwilling to lend. Credit standards are at historical lows. And with credit “insurance” everyone thinks they are covered. The boom in US housing prices through mid-2005 was enabled by lenders who were quite happy to lend with no qualms to anyone with a pulse since they were going to layoff the risk to investors buying mortgage-backed securities.
    What we are witnessing over the last 2-3 decades is that each credit cycle is exponentially larger than the previous. There is a perception that no risk is large enough to take since the “government” (central banks, treasury, etc) is always the buyer of last resort due to the “too big to fail” theory. When that theory gets tested again and if it does not work out will be very painful to taxpayers worldwide. Contemporary capitalism is about privatising profits and socialising losses.

  17. lester says:

    I think one under-discussed element of the neo con thing is how ignorant they are. we often perceive they are middle east experts with radical opinions. In fact, they are not. I saw joshua murcovitch on CSPAN last week and my immediate impression was “this is IT?” this is “the neocons”? this sucks. My only guess is that the standards for middle east analysts were way way lower before 9/11 and these guys were all that were around. He seemed to base his opinions on what he thought people in the middle east would do in a given situation: “well, the islamist can’t just suspend elections after they themselves are elected. people would be wary of that”. how does he know that? what does he base it on? certainly not history.

  18. semper fubar says:

    Well, we can argue all we want about how incompetant and failure-ridden the neo-cons are, but I guarantee you, they are laughing at us all the way to the bank. In the end, I would suggest that they are succeeding *remarkably* well at their true goal, while we’re all distracted by their failures in foreign policy.

  19. confusedponderer says:

    ignorance is a blessing, as it allows you to approach an issue without bias. The neo-cons are famous for being unbiased (-ly pro Israel).
    Possessing unrivalled moral clarity (clairvoyance), they have the ability to see a red light where there is none, or a green light when it in fact is red. It is no accident that there are no neo-conservative racing drivers.
    But for some sort of work that ability is quite helpful. Imagine working for a boss whose political vision requires for instance spreading the word that Russians be three metres tall. They obligingly find Russians, or Iraqis or Iranians or Syrians, that are three metres tall.
    For them willpower forms (communicated) reality (=propaganda). They do think the US lost Vietnam because of national will was sapped at home. Because America can do everything, another core belief, will is the only thing that’s critical. Thus their emphasis on propagandising a war at home instead of devising a workable strategy.
    As America is cannot possibly be defeated, considering the awe inspiring nuclear and conventional arsenal, the excelent training, reconnaissance capabilities – not to mention the technological edge and the blessings of RMA, a workable strategy was the least of their conerns. It was considered a given.

  20. confusedponderer says:

    semper fubar,
    you’re heading in the right direction.
    The neo-cons are successful in what they do. Boiled down they are playing a game where ‘reality based’ people have hard time getting at them. They fuck up an NIE, completely disregarding the facts? So what?
    About time to underline on thing: Where analysts analyze, the neo-cons make a case much like a lawyer would (only without restraints like laws). You can argue ad nauseam that their facts are wrong – they will simply refuse the engagement.
    They are the guerrillas against reality, policy enforcers. Über-hawks will always have a problem with realists, in that they are insufficiently alarmist and thus undermine the resolve neccessary to build a strong military (with the related military spending). Undeniably, they generate hard power. It’s just that reality would suggest different spending priorities for taxpayer money. They can’t have that, as they are obsessed with hard power, thus they long ago declared war on reality, and cowardly appeasing realists in particular.
    I think their war on ‘evil’ is just a pretext for serious hard power politics (that would be plain repulsive if not clad in red-white-and-blue ‘freedom agenda). I have difficulties believing that their ‘idealism’ is real. Well, maybe they talked themselves into finally believeing it. They could talk with Ghaddafi because he surrendered unconditionally, and that is what their policy is about: To achieve the take-it-all ‘Siegfrieden’ to push their brand of the American way down their target state’s throat. Iraq, Iran and North-Korea are less cooperative than Libya.
    One thing where they are right, IMO, is that they stress the primacy of policy over the executive branch. Well, there always is something like ‘too much’. Likely they use that correct point for their own purposes. Like doing well in the process to create American global primacy. Besides, I think they are honest in their patriotism, no matter how much they favour Israel.
    They are good at propaganda, utterly impertinent, skilled beuereaucratic infighters. But business? One mustn’t look at them as entrepeneurs: They collect political contacts and favours, and cash in on them. Without their political contacts they wouldn’t be in business. Quite simple. It’s DC’s culture of entitlement. Everybody does it.
    Were I a politico I’d want a guy as capable and effective as Scooter Libby to work for me (just remember how he ran circles around hapless Condi). Him being reality based would be great too, but you can’t have everything on one package I presume. If you find such a guy, hire him.

  21. lester says:

    I’ll say this for them: they are EXCELLENT propagandists. they are terrible analysts, but good at taking cherry picked pieces of other peoples analysis and “middle mind” ing it so people who mainly read self help books and watch oprah can get it.
    I think they are also a bit like the speculators who caused the great depression. just pure ideology and fantasy. the Iraq war is the great depression of our time.

  22. ikonoklast says:

    Willful ignorance is like a disease with these guys. From the neocon mouthpiece organ Weekly Standard, “Moxie in the Executive” by Freddy Barnes, some points of advice for the still dangerous and foolhardy Lame W. Duck to redeem his place in history:
    ” — A final gift to the world. As Bush is leaving office in January 2009, he could implement the military option and take out all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. The world would be aghast–but also relieved and, without admitting it, enormously grateful. The new president would have one less crisis to deal with. So would the United Nations. Terrorists might respond, but we could brace for that. Anything they did would pale next to a nuclear attack by Iran”
    Listen to what you’re saying. GRATEFUL? This is the kind of strategy stoned teenagers use while playing Risk. “Great plan, dude, pass me the bong.” Are there any grownups on Planet NeoPundit? Hello? Reality calling … hello?
    Freddy, listen up – The dream of an American-style Greater Middle East is DEAD! It was stillborn before we botched it up, and no one anywhere wants to die to prove your theory. Understand? Get it? Ok let me start again … listen carefully so you can tell your friends …
    Seriously, there must be some way to make these people either listen to reason or to shut up entirely. Real-world evidence of failure, that the the crap they’re talking is dangerous, apparently isn’t enough.

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