In the play "Embedded," Tim Robbins' 2003 satire about the Iraq invasion, a thinly veiled Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz shout with Nazi-like gusto, "Hail, Leo Strauss!" and get sexually aroused at the prospect of international conquest. During the post-9/11 age of neo-phobia, when an irrational fear of anything that might be called "neoconservative" gripped the nation, such critiques passed as intelligently nuanced.
Neocons have been attacked as secret Trotskyites, open imperialists and perfidious double agents for Israel. Some think the neocons are something like Jesuits (or perhaps Jewsuits) in the service of their dark anti-pope Strauss, a long-dead, German-Jewish political philosopher who emigrated to the U.S. to escape Hitler.
In a hopeful sign that it's once again safe to discuss the topic sanely, Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment offers a renewed defense of neoconservative foreign policy in the latest issue of World Affairs Journal.
"The first thing that could be said about this neoconservative worldview is that there is nothing very conservative about it," Kagan writes. "But a more important question is, how Œneo' is it?" His answer: not very.
From our earliest days, Americans have supported the promotion of democracy around the world, often by force and without undue heed to international institutions. William Henry Seward, a founder of the Republican Party and Lincoln's secretary of state, argued that it was America's mission to lead the way "to the universal restoration of power to the governed." A generation earlier, statesman Henry Clay championed the idea that America had the "duty to share with the rest of mankind this most precious gift" of liberty. Both world wars, Korea and Vietnam would be inconceivable without accounting for America's dedication to the promotion and defense of democracy.
Kagan traces such sentiments to the dawn of the republic. The founders, he writes, saw the U.S. as a "Hercules in a cradle' ... because its beliefs, which liberated human potential and made possible a transcendent greatness, would capture the imagination and the following of all humanity."
Even amid the 15-month riot of Bush-bashing that has been the Democratic Party's fratricidal primary, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama conceded the core neoconservative principle of the Bush doctrine. "There's absolutely a connection between a democratic regime and heightened security for the United States," Clinton said, responding to events in Pakistan. Obama would not only unilaterally attack al-Qaida in Pakistan without Pakistan's permission if necessary, but he also argues that anti-Americanism in the Middle East is a direct consequence of the lack of democracy.