Sunday, January 07, 2007

Is Neoconservatism dead, or just brain damaged?

“Neoconservatism, one of the dominant ideologies of the past decade, was decisively wiped out in the past six months, slaughtered along with a good number of innocent people in the imbroglio of the Iraq war – a conflict that was devised as a pure test of the neoconservative concept.”

There are a lot of people who would quibble with that, but Globe and Mail European bureau chief Doug Saunders, writing in this weekend’s paper (behind a subscription wall here) presents an assessment of the foreign-policy aspects of "neoconservatism" that is the most clear-eyed and honest I've read in a daily newspaper. It's especially valuable for a saucy question Saunders raises about neoconservatives: "Did they represent, for those of us who consider ourselves progressives, the only group of conservatives who are ever likely to share our values? Were they the conservatives leftists could love?"

My answer would be no, they're not. Not for Canadians of the left, anyway.

Of course it depends what one means when one says `neoconservative': "To many Canadians on the left, it was a way of saying American, in the worst possible sense of the word. For some, it was code for Jewish, and was at the root of many sinister conspiracies involving oil, money, and Washington. Even other conservatives, of the non-neo variety, took to calling the neocons "cowboys" or "imperialists."

Seen through the eyes of "an intelligent leftist," though, what neoconservativism did promise, despite its pathetic domestic obsessiveness with dismantling the state, was a break from paleoconservative isolationism of the kind that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda and the Balkans, just for starters. Of the liberal left that found at the least the basis for a foreign-policy conversation with some neoconservatives, Saunders cites Michael ("I'm cautiously in favour of a military operation on humanitarian grounds against Saddam Hussein under certain circumstances") Ignatieff, and Saunders also takes the time to have a chat with Oliver Kamm, author of the deliberately cheeky title Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case For a Neoconservative Foreign Policy.

Many like-minded people on the left are associated with the Euston Manifesto, which takes an ad-hominum drubbing from the unreconstructed left - the standard, unintentionally funny melange of half-truth and hyperbole - here.

Saunders offers two ways to look at the failure in Iraq.

One: Saddam's overthrow was not accompanied by the necessary "social spending, the aid money, the nation building" because the entire project was left to American neoconservatives. "If that's the case, countries like Canada have a lot to answer for, and the anti-war movement has a lot of blood on its hands." Alternatively: The Iraq project was doomed to failure because it could never have succeeded under neoconservative leadership. They just don't "do" nation-building.

Saunders observes that the latter analysis is now the default position of neoconservativism's repentant architects, such as Francis Fukiyama (who now says neoconservatism is now so irretrievably associated with George W. Bush that any attempt at reviving it would likely be futile) and Kenneth Adelman, who concludes that after everything that's happened in Iraq, it's just "not going to sell."

But out of this Saunders sees something hopeful emerging, "a more socially-focussed form of nation-building," with "elements of a social-democratic, progressive foreign policy."

I'd hope so.

3 Comments:

Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

But out of this Saunders sees something hopeful emerging, "a more socially-focussed form of nation-building," with "elements of a social-democratic, progressive foreign policy."

Well, it's good that someone is somewhat optimistic, and I'd like to see if there are any good reasons for him to hope for some positive outcome, but I see nothing good on the horizon. I'd suspect that Afghanistan will also fail, partly because of an emboldened Islamist movement there, and part because the effort will be tarred with the Iraq brush, and public support will flag.

The current destabilization of the ME will not serve the forces of democratic reform well, and the free-for-all form of global diplomacy that has evolved under the neocon reign makes it unlikely that any truly multilateral efforts at humanitarian intervention will happen for some time.

Does Saunders say why he thinks something hopeful might emerge? Or is it just a vague feel-good ending to the article?

10:46 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

". . .the free-for-all form of global diplomacy that has evolved under the neocon reign makes it unlikely that any truly multilateral efforts at humanitarian intervention will happen for some time."

Aye. What I fear. Saunders' fear as well.

I don't think Saunders' take is a vague feel-good thing. Agree with it or not, his point was that Fukuyama et al are now realizing that they hadn't taken the "problem of development" sufficiently into account, especially in places where no "security threats" as such exist, as in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

His final graph: "In realizing this, and calling for a more socially focused form of nation-building, he [Fukuyama] is a leader of a new, emerging trend - former neocons who are now willing to adopt elements of a social-democratic, progressive foreign policy. Which is maybe the way it should have gone in the first place."

1:53 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

Hmmm. Well, that's a slender ray of sunshine on a dismal prognosis. Some of the neocons may now have seen that they made some errors, but that may not translate into future positive intervention action by the rest of the world.

Still, as they say, even a catastrophic outcome can be a good example. Here's to hoping.

BTW, enjoyed the linked-to Straight piece on Byers. It's good to hear that at least the framework for intervention is being set up, and that Canada is at the forefront.

7:43 PM  

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