Where Have All the Neocons Gone?

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As Barack Obama
prepares to take the inaugural oath, it almost seems otiose to note
that his victory represents a sweeping repudiation of the neoconservative
movement. Though neocons such as Randy Scheunemann formed a kind
of Praetorian Guard around John McCain during his presidential campaign,
their truculent approach to foreign affairs sabotaged rather than
strengthened McCain’s electoral appeal. The best that Sarah
Palin, a foreign-policy neocon on training wheels, could do was
to offer platitudes about standing by Israel. It seems safe to say,
then, that the neocon credo is ready to be put out to pasture.

Or
is it? One problem with this line of argument is that it’s
been heard before – sometimes from the neoconservatives themselves.
In 1988, after George H.W. Bush replaced Ronald Reagan, neocon lioness
Midge Decter fretted, “are we a long, sour marriage held together
for the kids and now facing an empty nest?” Then in the late
1990s, Norman Podhoretz delivered a valedictory for neoconservatism
at the American Enterprise Institute. Neoconservatism, he announced,
was a victim of its success. It no longer represented anything unique
because the GOP had so thoroughly assimilated its doctrines. In
2004, a variety of commentators scrambled to pronounce a fresh obituary
for neoconservatism. The disastrous course of the Iraq War, Foreign
Policy editor Moisés Naím said, showed that the
neoconservative dream had expired in the sands of Araby.

Yet the neocons
show few signs of going away. The Iraq surge was devised by Frederick
Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and spearheaded by William
Luti, a protégé of Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney who
is currently at the National Security Council. Its success has prompted
some neocons to claim vindication for the Iraq War overall. Nor
has the network of institutions that the neocons rely upon melted
away, from the Hudson Institute, where Scooter Libby and Douglas
J. Feith are now ensconced, to the Weekly Standard and Fox
News.

It’s also
the case that the realists inside the GOP feel more embattled than
ever. Sen. Chuck Hagel has pretty much resigned from the GOP itself
as well as from his Senate seat, denouncing Rush Limbaugh and others
as retrograde conservatives. What’s more, former national security
adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has co-authored a new book with Zbigniew
Brzezinski about the challenges facing the next president, has been
informally advising Obama. Scowcroft told CNN, “I think we
developed in the Republican Party a – well, you know, the buzzword
for it is ‘neoconism.’ But I think what it is, it’s
an ideology – it’s really an idealistic approach to things.
But it’s a combination of idealism and, if you will, brute
force.” As Scowcroft sees it, the neocons remain in control
of the GOP. “Where do I go?” he recently asked me.

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the rest of the article

December
27, 2008

Jacob Heilbrunn,
whose book They
Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons
has just appeared
in paperback, is a senior editor at The National Interest.

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