Robert Tadjer argues that neoconservatism’s conservative base is
shaky, and relates his critique to contemporary problems
from around the globe
Instead of escaping from history we should take the opportunity to learn. Unfortunately few political science students in Sweden study history as part of their degree. In his classic 2003 speech to the US congress, the right-wing Libertarian Dr. Ron Paul exposed the neoconservative warmongers. The neoconservatives, who have revealed themselves as the antithesis of conservative, are being defeated. They just do not know it yet. Fyodor Dostoyevsky has said: ”The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”
The French 18th century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that humans are innately good. Rousseau had an idealistic view of a uniform human nature when in reality many wills are in conflict with each other. The constitutional democracy of USA implies decentralised self-limited power, as opposed to the plebiscitary democracy which assumes that people are good and equal.
Edmund Burke, the British Whig politician, was highly suspicious of those attached to abstract and ahistorical conceptions. Theory does not match the constantly changing multi-faceted real world. There is a danger in the black or white, with nothing in between, Aristotelian logic. No philosophical theory can replace human experience.
The Swedish-American academic, educator and author Claes G. Ryn, criticised political doctrines based on abstract principles that only put importance on rational thinking, rather than contemporary ethics. Ryn’s weltanschauung, value-centred historicism, is essentially the same as Burke’s Conservatism.
According to Ryn most neoconservatives are not at all conservative. He calls them neo-Jacobins. The Jacobins of the French revolution wanted to spread their abstract freedom ideals. Ryn compares it to the neo-conservative agenda to support ”democratic revolutions” globally, as now in North Africa and the Middle East.
It should be emphasised that the conservatism of Ryn has nothing to do with the radical conservatism of Alain De Benoist. It goes towards a socio-biological perspective rather than the spiritual of Ryn.
History is not needed when principles of reason, that of the political philosopher Leo Strauss’s teachings, can guide us to make moral decisions. In the Jacobin world everything is clear and things are absolute. You are either for or against something, with or against us, in this restricted and self-serving perspective. Categorical assertions are commonly made by influential self-described neoconservatives such a Norman Podhoretz. There is little if any room for compromise with them when only what they believe is right and other points of view are uninteresting.
Although I consider myself an agnostic, the Christian view of moral superiority as a cardinal sin is useful towards the conceited and conformist neo-Jacobin who is disinterested in diversity and likes to impose his beliefs. To the American neo-Jacobin, with his simple world view between good and evil, what existed before does not matter. America must extend its empire because one model is suitable to everyone.
The neo-Jacobin is similar to the immature and paranoid trigger happy desktop nerd of Internet discussion boards. In the same way, he does not understand the consequences of suffering in war. Real war is not a TV game. The neoconservatives disrespect the historical foundation of America which is against imperialist nation building.
Very few understand the menace of neoconservatism
Jacobins and neo-Jacobins would like to remake the world to their liking. It has manifested itself in different ideologies, such as Communism. The parents of many neoconservative founders were part of a movement in the 1940 – and 1950s which were made up of militant anti-Stalinist Trotskyists. The movement was formed when Leon Trotsky left the Soviet Union and condemned Stalin. Later in the 1950s to the 1970s people such as Paul Wolfowitz and Irving Kristol became part of a liberal, anti-Communist movement. They changed Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution to perpetual war for perpetual peace. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have been well known devotees.
Neoconservatives are increasingly talked about in mainstream media yet very few understand the menace. A BBC documentary in 3 parts from 2004, “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of The Politics of Fear”, explained their origins from the 1940s and how Islamism is the opposite side of the same coin. They are not only a concern to non-Americans interested in sustainability, peace and security. Their agenda is destroying the American economy. The neoconservatives were exposed again after what Blair and Bush tried to accomplish in Iraq. Previous efforts to rule out neoconservatives have been premature. They may have only been sidelined.
The conservative is a patriot, proud of historical achievements, but he is not self-absorbed. There is a respect for diversity among these realists. Values are not exported, or at least not imposed, and local considerations are taken into account.
I am not convinced of the uprisings in the Arab world. Democracy, which is related to certain human attitudes, does not appear suddenly only because a dictator is kicked out. Neoconservatism has had a great influence on US foreign policy. USA is the sole superpower, and with that comes a responsibility. Many who say they defend democratic movements internationally have uncritically supported neoconservatism, often times unknowingly.
Neoconservatism is strongly represented in institutions, think tanks, publishing houses and newspapers. The media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s empire is part of this network, with Fox News being the most popular example. The thinking has been adopted by Republicans as well as Democrats particularly interested in foreign policy and meddling in the affairs of sovereign nations.
The neoconservatives are close to the values of the enlightenment with their ideal rational society run by technocratic elites. The collective solutions and willingness to centralise is different from the classic Christian and English culture of America. It is closer to Liberalism, of the hawkish and interventionist kind. The language used by the neoconservatives has more to do with the extreme leftists of USA, which aspire to create a better world. That is why typical Socialists, such as Håkan Juholt, the new party leader of the Swedish Social Democrats, supported the neoconservative war in Afghanistan. In the same way of being stuck in the industrial age, they were out of touch with Afghan reality, and did not grasp that the war has actually turned into an ethnic conflict between Pashtuns and Tajiks.
The neoconservative game is now played in Libya
It is not that conservatives do not believe in universal values. Call them realists or pessimists, but these values are formed in specific historical situations. Ross J.S. Hoffman & Paul Levack, in Burke’s Politics – selected writings and speeches, 1967, wrote ”Politics, he never tired of repeating, should be adjusted not to human reasoning, but to human nature, of which reason was but a part and by no means the greatest part.”
Alexander Dugin, at the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University, has talked about an apparent crisis in the United Nations. Dugin says we must first understand the origin of the United Nations, an organisation developed in accordance with the outcome of the Second World War. It favoured two ideological camps, a Capitalist and Socialist, which were the victors of the war. It was the Stalin of USSR, Churchill and Roosevelt. The countries they represented became the main political players. We had the western countries under control of England and the United States. The Eastern European countries were essentially occupied by the USSR. These two blocks divided up their influence of the world. There was also a large third group, considered independent, with its own development. To Dugin this is in effect the United Nations. It reflects the structure of a world with two poles.
In 1991 this collapsed and the world became unipolar. An international community which presupposed two superpowers became obsolete. The functions of the UN were blocked. United States, when it realised this new world order, decided to build a new league of democracies with its allies. The Russians have financed the UN because it is an instrument to prevent US hegemony. It is naive to think USA would allow the UN to represent a multi-polar world. Dugin believes multi-polarity is an ideology. He is not hopeful because USA could create a new group of allied democracies and the ideology of the Yalta-inspired UN is a two-polar world.
The neoconservative game is now played in Libya. Are the neoconservatives seizing the opportunity? The consensus on Libya is shattered. The French president Sarkozy is essentially a clown of a politician similar to Berlusconi.
The interpretation of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 is dubious. Britain stopped trading with Libya only a few weeks ago. Trade relations with Libya began with Blair when British oil companies were striking long-term deals. The rush to military involvement is suspicious and it is also curious why so much focus is put on Libya. There are protests across the Arab world. Bahrain is a strategic partner of USA, and there is a power struggle between the Saudi Arabians and Iranians. The Saudi monarchy is supported by USA and Britain. The Saudi armed forces have crossed into Yemen and Bahrain several times to crush the opposition. The recent events in Bahrain is evidence of the tilt of power towards Iran. The Saudis used the Gulf Cooperation Council to send in troops, simply because most protesters were Shiites and the king is Sunni. The question is whom should the Americans support in the long run. There is actually no evidence Iran has played any part in the uprising of the young Shiite Bahrainis. Having said that, the natural ally of a Shiite Bahraini government would be Iran, and not Saudi Arabia. There is also the issue of a population which will view USA as complicit in the crisis. It is a strategic conflict and religion is merely an excuse.
The neo-cons are weakened, but not defeated
Turkey, having the second largest military in NATO after USA, was underestimated by Sarkozy. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has warned of a “second Iraq” or “another Afghanistan”. Erdogan got his way. The attacks are now NATO-led and Turkey can soon limit allied operations. Erdogan has argued that Sarkozy has personal interests because of his re-election campaign, and he hoped countries do not look to Libya because of its natural resources. It is better if we are cautious. The winner is the German chancellor Angela Merkel with her Libya policy, deciding not to get involved.
Robert Baer, CIA case officer from 1976 to 1997, and more recently an author, has written extensively on Iran. Baer has said that democracy has to come from within. Instead of confronting the sponsors of 9/11, the Saudis, Bush went after their enemy, the secular pan-Arabist Saddam Hussein. Attacking Iraq was one thing. Planning to occupy it for an eternity was even worse. The insistence on democracy in Iraq has given the Shia parties power. They are a majority of the population and were once discriminated during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Now they report to their masters in Tehran. The Iraq war has been strategically disastrous. Plebiscitary democracy is problematic in societies without a functioning civil society and respect for minority rights. Iran is the key here because they do not have an interest in having unstable neighbours. The Americans and Iranians have common enemies in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
Baer, in his latest book, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, states that the Iranians do not need a nuclear bomb. According to him USA has not completely lost the ideological war. But even in the entirely Sunni Morocco they perceive Iran as an anti-imperialist power.
Baer says Iran is not the country it was in 1979. It was about to fall apart in 1981. In 2006 Iran won a war against Israel through its proxy the Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is huge in the Arab world. The whole balance between Sunni and Shia has changed according to Baer. USA cannot attack Iran as a rational policy because it has oil and can blackmail in the gulf. The assymetrical capability and guerilla warfare after extensive experience from the 1980s and onwards makes the country a regional power. The Iranians can take out the oil in the gulf. America would go into depression in such a scenario.
By bringing the Iranians to the table, relations in the Middle East can be normalised. Baer says we need to talk to Tehran to get what they want. They want the security of their neighbours. Who are the more rational, Baer asks, the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia who attacked USA in 9/11, or the Iranians? The Sunnis are in a clash of civilisation with the west; to the Iranians it is geo-strategy. You do not see Shia putting on suicide vests. To Baer Iran is the most organised society in the region. He says the Iranians are playing chess while the Sunnis will get on the Internet or listen to a sheik which says you have to kill your enemies.
The neoconservative movement has been discredited. We need to keep a watchful eye on the recent events in the Arab world. The neoconservatives are weakened, but not defeated.
The following article was published in Issue 1, May June July, 2011, of The Stockholm Journal of International Affairs, the in-house magazine of The Stockholm Association of International Affairs (UF).
The published article has a few mistakes, such as the date of the Israeli-Hezbollah war, it should be 2006, and not 1996. The spelling should be Jacobin and not Jacobine. Those are a few of the corrections. Where it’s written Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have been devotees, it doesn’t mean they were actually neoconservatives, who are a specific group with a certain mentality. It means they were supportive of them or simply tools to the neoconservative agenda. Some of the wording is outdated because the journal was published later than expected. In case of British trades with Libya, when it was published, June 2011, it was months and not weeks ago.