In an article titled "Where do the neocons go from here?" Richard Dunham attempts to explain to a lay audience what a neocon is and where the "movement" is headed. As anyone who's participated in various political and policy struggles inside the Beltway over the past few years can attest, this is no small feat, as the word neocon has meant many things to many people at many different times. It wasn't too long ago, lest we forget, that to be a neocon meant supporting John McCain for president in 2000, which could have led a casual observer to conclude that the "neo" part meant "moderate."
But in the current era, there seems to be a strong tendency to use neocon as a label for someone who strongly supported the war in Iraq or to describe someone who is, well, Jewish. Mr. Dunham's Business Week piece at first only seems to be doing the former. Using neocon interchangeably with "superhawk," he further writes, "The close-knit intellectuals who make up the neoconservative movement have been called extremists, warmongers, American imperialists -- and even a Zionist cabal." Eschewing the traditional news reporting practice of countering criticism with praise, Mr. Dunham allows those shockingly harsh adjectives to go unchallenged.
After laying the groundwork of neocons as superhawks, the Business Week piece informs readers that the key members of the movement who advise President Bush are "Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith and Defense Policy Board member Richard N. Perle." Fair enough. All three have, at various times, been labeled neocons. But then, Mr. Dunham draws an interesting distinction. He describes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney as "key allies," but not as "neocons." In the remainder of the article, former Reagan administration official Ken Adelman and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol are identified as other "neocons."What's the difference between members of a supposedly ideological movement and their allies? After all, to agree with someone's ideology--and in the case of Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Perle, that's almost all the time in the foreign policy realm--would seem to make someone not just an ally but an actual subscriber to that ideology. Someone who supports lower taxes, smaller government and market-based solutions on the domestic front, for example, is not an ally of conservatives--he
So how do Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney not make the "neocon" cut in Mr. Dunham's mind, when the two Bush officials hold the very same worldview as the people labeled neocons? The only difference between the two categories is not one of ideology, but religion. Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Feith, Mr. Perle, Mr. Adelman and Mr. Kristol--the "neocons" (or "superhawks")--are Jewish. Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney--the key allies (who interestingly were given no "super" in front of their "hawk" designation)--are not. Why did Mr. Dunham not list fellow ideological travelers such as Gary Schmitt, Max Boot or even Newt Gingrich? None is Jewish.
Ironically, nowhere in the article does one find "Jew:" or "Jewish," although Mr. Dunham did manage to cite unnamed critics who have called the neocons a "Zionist cabal." But that's par for the code-word course. People who mean Jew or Jewish carefully avoid use of either word, often allowing the word "neocon" to roll off the tongue, injected with a tinge of disgust. Just as with Mr. Dunham, those who assail the "neocons" in the administration fault the supposedly all-powerful "Zionist cabal" as militarily trigger-happy idealists who will overextend American resources.
It's possible Mr. Dunham didn't intend to portray being Jewish as a prerequisite to joining the "neocon" club, but it's difficult to fathom that that's the case. Maybe to avoid any future confusion, Mr. Dunham--and others--would be wise to simply abandon the use of "neocon" altogether.