Diana West

Are the neocons going home?

By "neocons," I refer to followers of the hawkish foreign policy school that began to coalesce in the 1970s around New York writers and academics who had rejected their Communist or Socialist lodestar to become vocal anti-Communists. A generation or so later, from Kosovo to Georgia, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Libya to Syria, from Ukraine and now back to Iraq, they consistently advocate the use of American power, often American troops, to establish and enforce a "liberal world order."

By "going home," I mean returning to the Democratic Party.

The question took shape while I was reading a profile in The New York Times about neocon light Robert Kagan -- brother of Iraq "surge" architect Frederick Kagan, son of Yale professor Donald Kagan, and husband of State Department diplomat Victoria Nuland. The Times describes Robert Kagan as "the congenial and well-respected scion of one of America's first families of interventionism."

If there is something jarring about the "first families of interventionism" moniker -- just think for a moment about the families of the soldiers who actually do the "intervening" -- it doesn't seem to be meant ironically. Kagan, in fact, says he prefers to call himself a "liberal interventionist," not a neocon. This may indeed be more appropriate for the Brookings Institution fellow and New Republic contributing editor that he is, but there's nothing "conservative," or even "neo," about it.

So is this Times profile a "coming out" party? Maybe that accounts for the Times' distinctly warm and fuzzy coverage. Kagan "exudes a Cocoa-Puffs-pouring, stay-at-home-dad charm," the newspaper reported -- not exactly standard Times treatment for a foreign policy hawk ever-ready, it seems, to give war a chance. Or is it?

I will pause here for a flash or two of full disclosure. Irving Kristol, was not only the "godfather of neoconservatism," he was my first boss at The Public Interest, where I was an assistant editor. That spot came my way on the strength of a year at the Yale Political Monthly, a student publication I edited after being vetted by the college publication's co-founder -- Robert Kagan. There are other connections, albeit all of them nearly as historical as the ancient Greek specialty of Bob's professor-father, who was, incidentally, Yale Political Monthly's faculty adviser.

All of which is to say that long ago I started out in what were only then becoming known as "neoconservative" circles. But I didn't stay there.


Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).