Stijn van der Kasteel (mahnmut) wrote in talk_politics,
Stijn van der Kasteel
mahnmut
talk_politics

The end of neoconservatism?

Here's the incoherent ramblings of an ignorant layman who doesn't "understand" US politics (I've been told this before, so there you go har har har). I often hear the question "But why can't liberals achieve anything, even when they have the majority and control at the X institution?" - And the automatic response: "Because the liberals are just too diverse, there are many factions there, they could hardly agree on anything, while the conservatives are more ideologically homogeneous and they could rally the troops whenever a serious issue is at stake. I don't think this notion is very true, though. There's obviously a lot of dynamics going on at the conservative side of the barricade right now, processes that get especially highlighted by the ongoing GOP primaries. Despite the mocking we hear from liberals that "This is the best you could come up with, GOP?" and the notion that the GOP is only embarrassing itself by putting "all those clowns" to the fore, and even the borderline conspiracy theory that, you see, the GOP is planning to surrender this next presidential term to Obama so he could drown the liberal idea in a huge stinking heap of inevitable Fail in the next 4 years... I think the GOP primaries are actually very useful - if not for anybody else, at least for the GOP itself in defining its new identity, agenda, and course of action for the years to come.

I don't know how many of you see it that way, but it seems to me that the ongoing US presidential primaries could put the final nail in the coffin of this strange phenomenon that is neoconservatism. But, having said that, I should immediately make an important clarification. Most commentators use the term "neoconservatism" both to denote what they believe the phenomenon itself to be like, and to demonstrate the elusiveness of its definition.

In its broadest sense, at least as far as foreign policy goes, neoconservatism could be pictured as the pursuit of an aggressive foreign policy, combined with recognizing the need for unilateral (and preemptive) US action around the world, coupled with a belief in the need for spreading democracy to foreign lands by all means available. Democracy the "American way", that is. In this broad sense, "neoconservatism" may not just be confined to the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, but of course their (presumed) former boss George W Bush, and also his opponent in the 2000 primaries, John McCain. If we look at it in this broad sense, turns out neoconservatism is not just NOT dead, it may actually be flourishing. Or is it?

Let's look at the (presumed) GOP front-runner (although that might turn out to be a problematic statement), Mitt Romney. You'd hardly imagine him as the epitome of neoconservatism, would you? And while I acknowledge his tendency to constantly flip-flop and adjust his stances in accordance to what he believes is the most politically beneficial position to him at the moment, that doesn't mean we shouldn't look into his statements on foreign policy a bit more closely. And he has clearly gone on record, saying things that come right out of McCain's and GWB's book, like speaking in favor of a tough showdown with Iran; accusations against Obama of disregarding the US's closest ally in the Middle East, Israel (despite Obama explicitly expressing the US's complete and unreserved support for Israel, but who cares), plus a direct promise to his voters to not allow Putin to "restore the Empire of Evil". Oh, and he said the return of Putin to the presidential chair is "a threat to global peace and stability". And that's the guy who's supposedly expected to then sit with Putin in the capacity of a US president, and have a constructive dialogue with Russia.

The fact that Romney finds it necessary to pander to the establishment neocons, the same way McCain did (who in essence was never neoconservative on the matters of economy and culture), might be telling us a lot on the question whether neo-conservatism is dead or not.

However, all of these political acrobatics on his part don't seem to be helping him too much, as the showdown between the "moderate Republicans" behind Romney and his rivals on the far-right (Santorum and Gingrich) reached its peak just before the "decisive" primaries in South Carolina. Gingrich's super-PAC (which of course does NOT cooperate with Gingrich in any way whatsoever, huh huh) released a documentary movie about Romney, which focuses on Romney's activities as chairman of the Bain Capital corporation. As most of us already know, the company bought up near-bankrupt firms, presumably for the purpose of "financial optimization", which translated into a more human language means: laying off jobs. That may be perfectly OK from the POV of the CEO of such a company, but on the other hand it puts a candidate who's been constantly blabbering about creating new American jobs into a very uncomfortable light.

The problem here, election-wise, is not that Romney the financier might've done something inappropriate or illegal for a financier, but that right now it's pretty risky to nominate exactly a financier to represent you as a candidate for the highest office in the land. Both the right and the left are pretty angry right now, and their anger is primarily focused either on government and/or the finance sector or both, albeit in a different form and nuance. America is literally shaking of hatred for the Federal Government, Wall Street and the financiers. And it's not like various power-brokers from the financial circles are not constantly pushing themselves into the higher ranks of power (just look at all the guys Obama has surrounded himself with, and that - right after the bail-outs).

So, we could easily conclude that neoconservatism in fact is pretty much alive and well. And we couldn't be blamed for doing that.

However, the term "neoconservatism" has another, more specific (and special) meaning. Neoconservatism was, above all, a faction inside the broader conservative movement, where many diverse elements participated, such as libertarians, economic and fiscal conservatives, the religious right, and economic nationalists. What essentially united them all was just one thing - the distrust to "big government", this monster that's looking to allocate big public resources and assume broad prerogatives for its purposes of "improving" society in accordance with the mainstream prescriptions of progressivism. The neocons infused themselves into this movement in the 70s, adding new arguments to the mix. Arguments taken from the social science studybooks. By the way, subsequently the neocons, basing their agenda on what came out of the many "think-tanks" and print press of their own, then focused mainly on foreign policy, especially the necessity for preserving the American hegemony in the world. For what it's worth, under Bush Jr it seemed that the entire conservative movement (or at least in terms of foreign policy) was totally being defined by the neocon agenda. Sure, there was a tiny faction within the conservative movement, the so-called paleo-conservatives, grouped around The American Conservative magazine, but those were largely ignored and irrelevant, and they could hardly influence the electoral processes in any way.

Even when the Tea Party gained prominence in the first years of Obama's term, many analysts kept saying that the neoconservative (in terms of its foreign-policy platform) faction around Sarah Palin was going to win over Ron Paul's paleo-conservative/libertarian faction. Hegemonism must overcome isolationism, much to the benefit of "enlightened globalization", analyst Walter Russell Mead argued at the Foreign Affairs magazine. But, much to the surprise of the competent experts, on the current GOP primaries we see one hegemonist after another leaving the race with the tail between their legs, and that same poltergeist of an isolationist Ron Paul consistently breathing down the neck of the likes of Romney in Gingrich (granted, he may've already reached the maximum potential of his fanbase and he may not be able to go anywhere beyond that). And, as much as Ron Paul's plans are far from being short-term and they certainly don't end with these primaries (as a minimum, Ron Paul should prepare his son Rand Paul for the next presidential election), we could conclude that Ron ain't going anywhere just yet, and he'll continue the fight against Romney at least until the beginning of the national Republican convention on August 27, where the GOP's nominee will be finally determined.

This means that the paleo-cons still have a good shot at asserting their supremacy in the conservative movement. And Romney will have to take their positions into account if he doesn't want to split the Republican electorate beyond repair during the general election. Just think about it. The Tea Party movement, after all, is not really so conservative per se, as it is anti-statist, and subsequently in its essence, anti-globalist (therefore anti-exceptionalist, anti-hegemonist, anti-interventionist). Surely the supporters of this movement are opposed to new taxes, to the federal government, but in fact their struggle is a struggle for a more introvert America, as opposed to a more "global" America. In this sense, Ron Paul's "isolationism" is much more organic and appealing to this segment of American society, than the hawkish cackling of the Perry-Gingrich-Santorum trio (Perry is already down, but he endorsed Gingrich, which is quite telling).

Meanwhile the "trio" isn't toning it down, and in their desperate struggle against Romney, the "hawks" are seeing their last chance to try to return to the top of the conservative movement. And this claim on the throne is looking more clearly pronounced than ever now, because it looks like the final desperate assault. It's no surprise that the former Speaker of the House won such a landslide victory in South Carolina, especially after he got support from Rick Perry. Gingrich's result there has been by far his best so far. And my prediction is that the next to go down will be Santorum, who'll endorse Gingrich too.

All that said, and all those internal fights going on on the right, I'd say these strains of neo-conservatism to re-gain its hegemony over the conservative movement, are running out of resource and already coming to an end. The ordinary American conservative just doesn't want to conquer foreign lands, while watching jobs leak by the thousands out of the country. What they are focused on is stopping the federal government from gradually transforming itself into a gigantic apparatus that's somehow designed to manage, police and govern the World Order(TM) at the expense of US taxpayers' money. That was never the intention of the founding fathers in the first place. And so they might find themselves feeling a strange sympathy for the 76 year old man who's urging them to come to their senses and stop wasting their country's last droplets of strength fighting others' battles and aggressively exporting democracy around the world, while losing democracy at home.

The problem with Ron Paul is that this is his only schtick, he's been mostly a one-trick pony, and beside that he doesn't seem able to offer anything like a solution beyond isolationism. That's what makes him so unelectable, not so much some of his other crazy ideas. He looks more like a nugget that's been dug out of the 19th century or something. But we live in the 21st century. And the hard truth of the 21st century is that this is already a globalized world, whether achieved through intention or not, and whether with the US's active participation in the process or not. And refusing to acknowledge the realities and to adapt to them would be like burying your head in the sand like an ostrich. It may feel nice at first, but this position looks rather tempting for outsiders, and eventually someone adventurous might come from behind and decide that fucking you in the ass seems like a nice idea. ;-)

There's no vacuum. If you leave a place, someone else will take your place there immediately. And the neocons know that.

It's hard to believe at this point that Ron Paul, or any successor of his (be it the next kid from his libertarian dynasty), and the "localism" they represent, would somehow manage to overcome the bipartisan "globalist" juggernaut that exists in US mainstream politics, at least when it comes to foreign policy. America will probably never be "just America" any more - whether it wants to be in the position it already is, or not. However, the conservative resistance still has a lot of things to bring to the political process, especially when defining the general conservative direction is in question, and this respectively would have effects on the destinies of many peoples beyond the US borders. And the neocons might still have a lot to say on the matter.
Tags: conservatism, elections, gop
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