Donald Trump and the Demise of the Neo-Conservatives
Matthew JAMISON | 03.12.2016 | OPINION

Donald Trump and the Demise of the Neo-Conservatives

The election of Donald J Trump as President of the United States represents a dramatic inflection point in American politics, society and government. One silver lining to the victory of Mr. Trump is the demise of one of the most radical and dangerous factions within the US foreign policy community. Under a President Trump the architects of the catastrophic Iraq War of 2003, known as the neo-conservatives, will be locked out of a Trump White House. The neo-cons originally emerged as a force in American politics and public policy during the late 1940s and 1950s and 60s. They were a cabal of mainly, though not exclusively, New York Jewish intellectuals and academics who started off their political life in the Democratic Party. Their number included the likes of Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss. Domestically in the aftermath of FDR they supported the New Deal programmes of Big Government liberalism and internationally an assertive, aggressive and confrontational anti-Communist, anti-Soviet foreign policy. They were fervent adherents of American Exceptionalism. By the late 1960s and the debacle of the Vietnam War they began to grow increasingly disillusioned with the Democrats who, due to the trauma of the disaster of Vietnam, began to embrace an anti-war, semi-pacifist foreign policy of George McGovern's «Come home America».

Yet, they were in no way enthralled to President Nixon. Indeed, their greatest bête noire and ideologically nemesis was Nixon's Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, and his policies of realpolitik triangulation. The neo-cons fervently believed in the Wilsonian principle of remaking the world to become «safe for democracy», that is American style electoral democracy. They were dogmatic idealists who refused to engage with the world and the balance of power structures of global geopolitics as they were, rather seeking to spread American electoral democracy to other countries and cultures, even if it meant through the barrel of a gun, causing civil wars in the process. Henry Kissinger's policy of accommodation and detente with the Soviet Union was anathema to the neo-cons. They viewed it as a sell-out and betrayal of American «values» and tantamount to appeasing «evil». For the neo-cons, ideological purity was always of far greater importance than global stability. They wanted the United States to constantly challenge and assert itself against the Soviet Union rather than engaging in arms control treaties and more liberal US-Russian trade policies.

At first during the early 1970s the neo-cons attempted to recapture the heart and soul of the Democratic foreign policy elites by latching on to Democratic Senator Henry Jackson, who one such neo-con, Richard Perle, worked for on Capitol Hill. A hall-mark of the how the neo-cons operate politically has always been parasitic in nature. They have shown themselves adept over the decades of latching on to various different politicians in either the Republican Party or their original home of the Democratic Party and attempting to influence and mould these sympathetic politicos in their own dogmatic image. Senator Jackson lost the Democratic nomination for President in 1972 to George McGovern and then ran again for the 1976 nomination against Jimmy Carter. 

Once Senator Jackson was beaten a second time and it was clear to the neo-cons they would get no were in the Democratic Party of the 1980s, a new saviour, straight out of Hollywood arrived, to do battle for the neo-cons. To the delight of many neo-conservatives Ronald Reagan, the former Governor of California, had ran on a vigorous anti-detente platform in his insurgent challenge against incumbent President Gerald Ford for the GOP's Presidential nomination in 1976. In Ronald Reagan many previous New Deal, Cold War liberal hawks, found a kindred spirit who believed in the unquestionable moral righteousness of the United States and shared a similar moral contempt for all things associated with the USSR. Many of their number made the final break with the Democrats and hopped on-board the Reagan Revolution such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The first Reagan administration was packed with neo-cons who steered the President towards labeling the Soviet Union as the «evil empire», engaging in a massive build up of American armaments which sent the national debt soaring and brought NATO to the brink of all out nuclear exchanges with the Russians during the early 1980s. 

With the advent of the second Reagan term and the arrival of the reforming and moderate Mr. Gorbachev and his liberalizing policies of Perestroika and Glasnost, the old foreign policy realist moderates of the Republican Party once again gained the upper hand. The neo-conservatives were marginalized, and that is how they would remain for a decade. With the end of the Cold War, fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union the neo-cons, who existed psychologically in a perpetual state of fevered paranoia and war, had lost their greatest enemy, which had defined their life in public service for five decades. 

One strange facet about the neo-cons is that almost none of them have ever been involved in actually fighting wars on the front-line. Very few have any real military experience and most of them would be useless on the battlefield as they are not the most physically impressive, muscular and well built. Yet, what they may lack in physical strength and brute force, they more than compensate mentally, with their fevered obsession, fascination and love of all things war related and militaristic. One senses with the neo-cons that they are attempting to compensate for their own physical inadequacies and deficiencies by politically proving how tough they are. One also senses with their constant seeking out of enemies to take on (from their armchairs that is) that they are exorcising some demons from their childhoods.

Perhaps not surprisingly given how many of their number came from Jewish backgrounds and the strong Jewish influence on their outlook on the world, their attention now firmly turned to the Middle East. The neo-conservatives began to set about defining Israeli security interests as American security interests and became fixated on creating a US style electoral, free market democratic state in the Middle east to, in their opinion «drain the swamp», and create a shining beacon of Western style democracy in a Middle Eastern country to show case to the rest of the region, triggering a hoped for domino effect. They aligned themselves with the pro-Israel Christian evangelical right-wing of the Republican Party and the anti-Palestine hard right of the Likud Party. They set their sights on Saddam Hussein's Iraq and worked tirelessly throughout the 1990s to promote the idea of «regime change» and «democratic transformation» in Iraq and the broader Middle East. Many of their number swarmed around the Presidential candidacy of George W Bush and ended up in senior positions within the Bush Jnr administration such as Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrahams, John Bolton in alliance with more traditional conservative nationalist hawks such as Vice-president Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Within days of the 9/11 attacks the neo-cons were already pushing their pre-conceived agenda regarding Iraq on to the blank sheet that was George W Bush and successfully outmaneuvered more pragmatic foreign policy moderates such as Colin Powell. And, as we all know the neo-cons «shining beacon' of democracy in Iraq has not exactly worked out as they had ideologically planned and laboured for. 

Despite the fact that many leading neo-conservatives were the architects, masterminds and executors of the blood drenched, botched Iraq War which has caused untold regional and global instability, they showed little remorse or regret and for years after it became clear to any sensible, rational person engaged with reality that Iraq was a nightmare not a triumph of Western democracy, they still could not repent and see the error of their ways. One of their British cousins, the loony tune Conservative MP Michael Gove, even had the audacity and worryingly deluded arrogance to write in 2008 that : «The liberation of Iraq has actually been that rarest of things – a proper British foreign policy success. Next year, while the world goes into recession, Iraq is likely to enjoy 10% GDP growth. Alone in the Arab Middle East, it is now a fully functioning democracy with a free press, properly contested elections and an independent judiciary... Sunni and Shia contend for power in parliament, not in street battles». Clearly, Mr. Gove along with quite a few another neo-cons need to be carted off to the asylum and locked away for therapy for a very long time. 

Thankfully, President-elect Trump has no time for the neo-cons, and they most certainly have no time for him. Despite attempting a mini-comeback of sorts and gravitating to the candidacy of Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 and then Senator Marco Rubio in 2016, Trump and his scathing denunciations of the Iraq War, the Bush Jnr foreign policy, American exceptionalism, warmth towards Russia and President Putin and «America First» isolationist/non-interventionist world outlook, was utter heresy to the neo-conservative fundamentalist maniacs. The neo-cons declared open war on Trump's Presidential campaign when it became clear in early February that he stood a chance of capturing the party.

Neoconservative historian Robert Kagan — one of the prime intellectual backers of the Iraq War and an advocate for Syrian intervention — announced in the Washington Post that if Trump secured the Republican nomination, «the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton». Max Boot, an unrepentant supporter of the Iraq War, wrote in the Weekly Standard that a «Trump presidency would represent the death knell of America as a great power», citing, among other things, Trump’s objection to a large American troop presence in South Korea. In a remarkable letter sent by a large body of Republican national security officials and thinkers, which contained a number of neo-conservatives among their ranks, they openly denounced Trump in March 2016 stating they would not vote for him for President. Trump has returned the favour and explicitly attacked their thinking and their ideas as «crazy». It will be interesting to see whether the neo-cons regroup and attempt to weather the Trump years from within the Republican Party or whether they will flock back to their original birthplace of the Democratic Party. One thing is for sure, they will not have the ear of President Trump, in the same way they did President Ronald Reagan and President George W Bush.

Tags: US  Trump 

RELATED ARTICLES