Andrew Sullivan Gets It About Neo-Conservatism’s Core

As he makes clear in this post, The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan has finally come to the conclusion that the democracy claptrap that neo-conservatives have spouted since 9/11 has been a facade for their core foreign-policy worldview with Israel at its heart.

“I took neoconservatism seriously for a long time, because it offered an interesting critique of what’s wrong with the Middle East, and seemed to have the only coherent strategic answer to the savagery of 9/11. I now realize that the answer – the permanent occupation of Iraq – was absurdly utopian and only made feasible by exploiting the psychic trauma of that dreadful day. The closer you examine it, the clearer it is that neoconservatism, in large part, is simply about enabling the most irredentist elements in Israel and sustaining a permanent war against anyone or any country who disagrees with the Israeli right. That’s the conclusion I’ve been forced to these last few years. And to insist that America adopt exactly the same constant-war-as-survival that Israelis have been slowly forced into. Cheney saw America as Netanyahu sees Israel: a country built for permanent war and the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of waging it (with a few war crimes to keep the enemy on their toes).”

(Sullivan’s post has predictably infuriated John Podhoretz, the keeper of the neo-con flame at Commentary.)

Given their long-established affinity for “friendly authoritarian” regimes, I never understood why so many foreign-policy and other intellectuals were gulled by the neo-cons’ efforts to dress up their Arabo- and Islamophobia in the guise of Wilsonianism and democracy promotion (although I accept that Wolfowitz — a neo-con who is not a Likudnik — may have been sincere). The contradictions in their arguments, let alone with their historical record, always seemed so glaringly obvious. (How can you be a Wilsonian and indefinitely deny self-determination to Palestinians or condition it on their becoming Finland, as one of Ariel Sharon’s closest advisers suggested?) Just this past week, I attended a presentation by Council on Foreign Relations fellow Stewart Patrick, the author of a new book on the origins of U.S. multilateralism, who described them as Wilsonians who disdain multilateral institutions. The sooner people disabuse themselves of the notion that the spread of Wilsonian democracy is a core tenet of neo-conservativism, the more realistic any discussion of the movement and its contribution to the disastrous situation both the United States and Israel now face in the Middle East will be.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Jim,

    To think, it only took the better part of a decade for Sullivan to realize the obvious, which is ahead of the curve as far as pundits go.

    As for Wilsonians and their inconsistent veneration of democracy: Woodrow Wilson himself, despite his avowed commitment to self-determination, never cared much for extending the privilege to non-whites — see his occupation of Haiti, for starters. That Wilson’s modern day heirs share his bigoted views on depriving “inferior” peoples of democracy is unsettling, but not surprising considering the disdain U.S. policymakers, liberal or not, have long shown for populations that don’t display absolute fealty to the U.S. government.

  2. This is why I never get around to reading Sullivan. Maybe one day I’ll find myself far enough behind to understand him.

    Mr. Davis is right about Wilsonians. After all, Wilson was an overt racist, a fan of “Birth of a Nation” who told racist jokes in Cabinet meetings, and refused to meet with Ho Chi Minh when both were in Versailles as Wilson claimed to be promoting democracy.

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to call neo-cons neo-Wilsonians. They’re overt racists uninterested in democracy, just like he was.

  3. The question is has the Obama administration realised that “the democracy claptrap that neo-conservatives have spouted since 9/11 has been a facade for their core foreign-policy worldview with Israel at its heart.”? Going by Joe Biden’s speech in the Munich security conference, it seems that the penny has not quite dropped yet. Will it ever?

  4. What disturbs me is that I WANT Democracy for the Arab world. I BELIEVE Democracy is the only solution to the tyranny there. Jim, why point to Palestinian elections, this is a one off event, but our support for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Pakistan better describes not an occasional disdain for democracy but a long and consistent pattern of being antithetical to democracy. Our Declaration of Independence stands as an utter condemnation of this America.

    Jim, OK the Neo-con’s are full of shit, what about everyone else that endlessly regurgitates the nonsense that we support liberty? Who in “serious” circles supports democracy? Amy Goodman, you and I ain’t much of a quorum.

    I love your reporting and your fight, but how the hell can the truth be so obscure to so many? I see the whole system here falling before it gets reformed. I’m glad you see hope in Obama, I hope against reason and my senses that something will change.

    But, to protect this country we are gonna have to roll up the pentagon and legalize drugs. Mexico is dangerously close to free-fall. And, legalizing drugs would go a long way to undercutting their biggest threat, and legitimizing one of Mexico’s best assets, agriculture.

    Domestically the Drug War is part and parcel of legitimizing the military war at home. Simply put, we can’t afford our policies. Why are WE supplying Korea, Germany and Japan with self-defense? Meanwhile, we are losing our ass to them economically.

    If we want to rent out our military services, I has less compliant with that. But we are subsidizing the economies of our competitors, Why? If we are truly offering a service, let’s threaten to withdraw our forces. If our services are truly needed, I bet we get someone to pony up.

    It’s like you Jim, you work too hard for free. You’re so stupid you do 10 times the reporting of the NYTimes and WaPost combined, but you get peanuts. If you’d hold out on us, then we’d probably come clamoring… Well, maybe not, there is no premium on the truth but on advocacy.

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