Antecedents of Neoconservative Foreign Policy

ArticleinHistorically Speaking 12(1):35-38 · January 2011with 56 Reads
A frequently heard complaint on the Old Right is that American foreign policy has changed for the worse since the neoconservatives have become a dominant force in our political life. Neoconservative influence, which was particularly evident during the Bush II administration, has linked American foreign policy to certain problematic visionary ends. These ends are no secrets but have been stated repeatedly in the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Weekly Standard, National Review, and other publications in which neoconservative philanthropists and advocates have made their weight felt. We are also speaking here about those foreign policy ideals that the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and other predominantly neoconservative think tanks have propounded for decades. Among those aims that the neoconservatives wish to promote is making as much of the world as they can reach bear a close resemblance to Anglo-American democracy. Although other favored countries such as Israel are given high political grades, neoconservatives stress the shared democratic inheritance of the English-speaking world, as illustrated by the statesmanship of such heroes as Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson. Although critics of this Anglo-American democratic world order, such as Andrew J. Bacevich, James Kurth, and Claes Ryn, have certainly not been anti-British, they have tried to turn the discussion of international affairs away from making the world safe for democracy—in conjunction with the rest of the English-speaking world and often by force of arms—to a more limited, realistic policy line. Some of these critics have been conspicuously unhappy with Andrew Roberts, James Bennett, Max Boot, and other glorifiers of the "Anglosphere." This supposed cultural-political entity has been praised by its advocates for having worked to advance "democratic values." The Anglosphere is thought to have been preeminently at work in the Anglo-American struggle against the undemocratic enemy in the two "German wars." And one would have to be truly obtuse not to notice the anti-German theme present in neoconservative Anglophilia. This Teutonophobia has arisen in all probability out of memories of the Holocaust, the past that will not pass, and it has taken an identifiable narrative form in neoconservative publications. In the now authorized neoconservative version of the early 20th century, one accepts at face value the anti-German propaganda released by the American government after the U.S. entry into the First World War. One also strains to find continuities between Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany, typically by citing the controversial accusations against Imperial German war aims associated with now deceased German leftist historian Fritz Fischer. This Teutonophobic source is usually brought up to confirm a preconceived notion, but without much knowledge being exhibited about Fischer's thesis or its demonstrated multiple weaknesses. The anti-German Atlanticist Paul Johnson, who writes frequently for the neoconservative press, tells us in Modern Times that "the case for German war guilt [in 1914] is established beyond doubt." But what Johnson declares to be axiomatic is never shown to be plausible, let alone "established beyond doubt." Those who have deplored such bias have sometimes assumed that there was a time when truly dispassionate people oversaw American foreign policy. Then, sober, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and other staid types were able to supervise our foreign policy establishment. These embodiments of prudence, fortified by a belief in original sin, warned our heads of government against ideological fanaticism. Whether these advisors were like the subject of Lee Congdon's admiring biography of George F. Kennan or the "wise men" described by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas in their celebratory study of the blue bloods who became presidential advisors in the 1940s and 1950s, we are made to believe that foreign policy advisors were not always like Madeleine Albright, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Michael Ledeen. At one time, perhaps fifty or eighty years ago, there were patricians, or so some would like to think, imbued with a sense of limited national interest and with a desire to stay out of entangling alliances, unless American survival was at stake. In the good old days, secretaries of state and presidential confidants did not rant against the nondemocratic world or call for foreign crusades to impose the American way of life. Such an...

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