Neo-conservatism and the American future

“A former official in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations and a former British diplomat argue that neo-conservatism is a manifestation of a deeper syndrome that has structural roots in United States history and politics.” (openDemocracy) The core thesis implies that, merely because the Bush administration neo-cons have foundered so badly in orchestrating the invasion of Iraq, we should not assume that their values are finished as a driving force in American foreign policy; indeed, they represent a deep, enduring and recurrent tendency in the American political process. Despite the fact that our Vietnam policy was formulated by the ‘liberal’ Democratic ‘best and brightest’, the authors identify a triad of common features — “the combination of a crusading idealism, an assertion of the universal applicability of American values, and the willingness (indeed eagerness) to use force to back them” — which have in each instance overwhelmed calm and balanced decision-making and allowed special interests to shape the projection of American force without counterbalance. We should take it as a warning sign of recurrent danger of this sort “whenever unchecked special interests within an administration can act on their belief in American exceptionalism, demonise an opponent, and present his position in monolithic terms as a target for destruction”. While the authors’ observation that this pattern transcends partisan ideological differences is a useful one, so is their comment that Republican administrations are more vulnerable to this process because the ‘cosmopolitan globalists’ of the party have given way to ‘America-first populists’ and because of the growing influence of ‘conservative and fundamentalist talk-radio culture.’ I would add that the public’s growing reliance as their primary or sole source of news on broadcast media that inherently do not ask difficult questions of our political leaders makes such hijacking of American policy by jingoist adventurism far easier.

The articulation of this ‘exceptionalist’ ethos, however, should not merely be applied to drawing parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. The proper scale on which to see it operating, I think, is more that of both the Cold War and the War on Terror as a whole, of which Vietnam and Iraq are local manifestations. (While many criticize the invasion of Iraq as a diversion from our proper business of the post-9/11 WoT®, from this perspective the administration’s assertion that it is part and parcel of the larger struggle is truer than they know; it is not Iraq which is ill-advised and poorly formulated, but the WoT® as a whole, since it is driven by the same misguided adventurism.) Those of us who live long enough will likely see the growing competition with China become the overarchng context and preoccupation of US foreign policy, which will manifest the same crusading idealism, projection of force and demonization we have applied to the ‘Communist’ and the ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ demons.(Of course, the authors are unwilling to apply this analysis to the central struggle of the 20th century against Nazi fascism and its allies. As the undisputed modern incarnations of pure evil, it would be difficult to suggest that a similar neo-conservative agenda and its concomitant distortion of the perception of the ‘Kraut’ and ‘Nip’ enemy might have been in play. But might it?)

Sasha Abramsky, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, agrees that European loathing for the US is only on the surface about Iraq:

“In many ways, the Iraq war is merely a pretext for a deeper discontent with how America has seemed to fashion a new global society, a new economic, military, and political order in the decade and a half since the end of the cold war. America may only be riding the crest of a wave of modernization that, in all likelihood, would have emerged without its guiding hand. But add to the mix a discontent with the vast wealth and power that America has amassed in the past century and a deep sense of unease with the ways in which a secular, market-driven world divvies up wealth and influence among people and nations, and you have all the ingredients for a nasty backlash against America.”

And there’s this:

“…the endlessly reiterated claim that George W. Bush ‘squandered’ Western Europe’s post-9/11 sympathy is nonsense. The sympathy was a blip; the anti-Americanism is chronic. Why? In The Eagle’s Shadow — Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World American journalist and NPR commentator Mark Hertsgaard purports to seek an answer. His assumption throughout is that anti-Americanism is amply justified…” (Hudson Review)