There was a time when neoconservatives sought to hold the moral and intellectual high ground [bold mine-DL]. There was some- thing inspiring in their vision of America as a different kind of superpower–a liberal hegemon deploying its might on behalf of subjugated peoples, rather than mere self-interest. As the Iraq war has curdled [bold mine-DL], the idealism and liberalism have drained out of the neoconservative vision. What remains is a noxious residue of bullying militarism. Kristol’s arguments are merely the same pro-war arguments that have been used historically by right-wing parties throughout the world: Complexity is weakness, dissent is treason, willpower determines all. ~Jonathan Chait
That first line is amusing. Certainly, neocons have always sought to strike the morally and intellectually superior pose, but their taking of the “high ground” usually consisted of declaring that their policies are the ones most consistent with American values and then declaring those who oppose them to have lost faith in those values. Chait is right that neocons did stress the idealistic cant about “benevolent global hegemony” and their enthusiasm for democratising the world more than they tend to do these days, but when exactly was this pristine time when they did not simultaneously engage in vilification, demonisation and, as he calls it, “thuggery”? Thuggery and intimidation have always been part of their method, and they have, at least until very recently, been fairly successful in marginalising political rivals as a result. Neocons learned fairly early on that ideologically-charged demonisation of opponents was quite effective in either shutting up or discrediting their foes, and it seems to me that some of them taught Mr. Bush a thing or two about this.
Part of the advantage of their support for democratisation, a foreign policy of “values” as well as interests and an idealistic hope to reform politically dysfunctional societies was that they could–and did–very easily cast anyone who opposed their preferred policies as people who were not very supportive of, or who actually hated, democracy and American values (or who actively sympathised with despots and noxious ideologies). To deny the feasibility and practicability of the democratisation of the Near East was not just common sense or prudence. No, it was evidence at once of cultural supremacism and/or racism and also cultural relativism. If you did not accept that freedom and democracy were universally possible, you did not really think people in other countries were fully human, and so on. This was the standard kind of argument put forward by neoconservatives. Nowadays, it is true that the neocons tend to go straight for the jugular by smearing their opponents as unpatriotic backstabbers, but this is simply because their more “idealistic” rhetoric does not have the power to shut down debate that it once did. Heavy-handed nationalist and militarist appeals (which have been integral to neoconservatism for at least the last 12 years) are their best rhetorical weapons for shoring up their base of support and bludgeoning their foes. Naturally, it is not persuasive or intelligent, but that has been true of these people for a very long time.
Accusations of treason are a dime a dozen for these people–what does Chait think their unending warnings against policies of “appeasement” are if not accusations that their policy opponents are aiding and abetting the enemies of the United States? The embrace of simplistic abstractions in the place of complex analysis has been commonplace, and you need only browse Krauthammer’s archives for a few minutes to find some nauseating invocation of the power of the will and the need to show “resolve.” This was all true before the invasion of Iraq, and for years before that. If Chait has finally discovered the hollowness and shallowness of modern neoconservatism, good for him, but it is not exactly a new thing.