Heilbrunn Reviews Neo-Con Travails

Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest, which is related to the Nixon Center, has written two very interesting articles on the plight of the neo-cons after the Republican debacle in November that are well worth a read.

The first, published on the journal’s blog December 19, addresses the departure of Joshua Muravchik and Marc Reuel Gerecht, as well as that reported earlier of Michael Ledeen, from the foreign-policy ranks of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Like Ledeen, Gerecht has found a new home at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which, so far as I can tell, is basically a front for both Israel’s Likud Party and for the pro-Likud Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). Muravchik, who, like Ledeen, had been associated with AEI for some 20 years, is apparently yet to find a new perch. Heilbrunn suggests that these departures are evidence of an ideological purge against neo-cons led by Danielle Pletka, who came to prominence as a staffer for the ultra-right Jesse Helms, but I find this a little difficult to believe if, for no other reason, than Pletka is as neo-conservative (and Likudist) as anyone I can think of. I understand from mutual friends that Muravchik had been worried about his position at AEI for at least the past year and a half due to withering pressure from above to write and publish more than he had. It is true as Heilbrunn points out, however, that Muravchik has been a bit more nuanced in his approach to the various “evils” that neo-cons have identified over the past two decades than some of his ideological colleagues; for example, Daniel Pipes (with whom Pletka has been close) has attacked him (and Gerecht) for entertaining the notion that the West should be willing to dialogue with and possibly even support non-violent Islamist parties in the Middle East, a notion that is anathema to Pipes. Perhaps AEI’s or Pletka’s aim is guided less by Republican loyalty than by Islamophobia, if indeed ideology — and not personality, as was reportedly more the case with Ledeen — is playing a role in these decisions.

The second article by Heilbrunn, whose book, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons I reviewed last year, is much longer and appears in the latest issue (Jan 12) of The American Conservative. It speculates on the internal splits that the neo-cons are going through as a result of the political campaign and Obama’s victory, and the possibility (I would say probability) that at least one major faction — headed by people like Robert Kagan, David Brooks and even David Frum — will seek to forge an alliance with liberal interventionists, presumably led by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton (although Susan Rice also fits the bill), in the new administration, much as they succeeded in doing during the Clinton administration with respect to Balkans policy. As I’ve written before, the two movements have similar historical origins (inspired in major part by the “lessons” — “never again” — they drew from Munich and the Holocaust) and tend to see foreign policy in highly moralistic terms in which the U.S. and Israel are “exceptionally” good. While I don’t agree with everything in Heilbrunn’s analysis, it offers a good point of departure for watching the neo-cons as the Age of Obama gets underway.

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. Danielle Pletka leading a purge of neocons at AEI? Does not compute in this corner, either. There’s got to be something else going on over there.

    Will Obama prove a liberal interventionist? I see him walking a very fine line through the first term. He’s a canny guy, already looking to his re-election. The selection of Hillary was more about (if I may be indelicate) having her inside the tent pissing out, as opposed to the reverse. The question is: can he control not simply the agenda, but his own appointees? I have my doubts. It will be interesting to watch. The Left is going to be increasingly unhappy with this administration, but it has nowhere to go – unless, of course, it wants to render itself completely irrelevant.

  2. I would say there is a great pretense of cleaning up-AEI.

    In particular I would never believe that was Danielle Pletka’s doing.

    They are just being shifted to another room and out of public sight.
    They aren’t gone.

  3. Danielle Pletka is certainly a neo-con, though she was a more effective spokesperson than the other you mentioned who are really creepy. Pipes looks like the devil incarnate, if the archetype found in scores of cartoons is a guide. This is not a defense of Pletka who has no qualm spreading lies and disinformation.

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