But it’s not clear that the neocons will miss the democracy baggage. Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s famous essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards”—the one that landed her the post of Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, was published in Commentary and considered a primary example of “neo” conservative thinking of the period. But recall that her argument was that “authoritarian” regimes could be reliable American allies in the Cold War, and Washington was destabilizing them by hectoring about human rights and democracy. Kirkpatrick was wrong in the end about how durable communist “totalitarian” regimes turned out to be (compared to the authoritarian dictatorships she favored), but the dominant perspective of the essay was undeniably realist—an attempt to take the world with its myriad political cultures as it was rather than imposing upon it a pre-fabricated American model.
What won’t be dropped is the neoconservatives’ attachment to Israel and the tendency to conflate the Jewish state’s interests (as defined in right-wing Israeli terms) with America’s. So one can look forward to neoconservative agitation on two fronts: a powerful campaign to draw the United States into a war to eliminate Iran’s nuclear potential and an equally loud effort in support of maintaining Israeli dominance over the West Bank and denying the Palestinians meaningful statehood. Those who argue effectively for a more even-handed American policy towards Israel and Palestine will risk the full measure of smears linking them to historical anti-Semitism. The archetypical neoconservative argument will no longer be Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol’s call for American “benevolent global hegemony,” but Gabriel Schoenfeld’s attack on John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in Commentary, an essay that sought to connect the pair’s work to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
This election season ends with neoconservatism widely mocked and openly contemptuous of the president who took its counsels. The key policy it has lobbied for since the mid-1990s—the invasion of Iraq—is an almost universally acknowledged disaster. So one can see why the movement’s obituaries are being written. But the group was powerful and influential well before its alliance with George W. Bush. In its wake it leaves behind crises—Iraq first among them—that will not be easy to resolve, and neocons will not be shy about criticizing whatever imperfect solutions are found to the mess they have created. Perhaps most importantly, neoconservatism still commands more salaries—able people who can pursue ideological politics as fulltime work in think tanks and periodicals—than any of its rivals. The millionaires who fund AEI and the New York Sun will not abandon neoconservatism because Iraq didn’t work out. The reports of the movement’s demise are thus very much exaggerated. ~Scott McConnell, The American Conservative