NEOCONSERVATISIM IN AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
HASAN ARDA İŞ
KEY WORDS : NEOCONSERVATISM, CONSERVATISM, LIBERALISM, OPEN DOOR POLICY, DOUBLE STANDARD
“During the Cold War, Americans made choices in places like
Berlin and Korea whose implications continued to resonate for
decades. Now we face decisions of similar weight and consequences
in places like Afghanistan and, most of all, Iraq.”
Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol, The War Over Iraq (2003)
It wouldn’t be enough to explain only what Neo conservatism is within a political frame. It must also be traced the roots of Conservatism, Liberalism and Open Door Policy, perhaps predecessors to the neoconservative persuasion, that have received more scholarly attention. I should also mention that Conservatives and neoconservatives have certain political and ideological similarities, but the origins and roots of the conservative movement is far different than the neo conservative movement. In my opinion it is essential to look the background of the historical events to understand the actors, ideologies and turning points to better understand the world itself.
Edmund Burke is the leading thinker and philosophical theorist of conservatism. Burke is an 18th century statesmen from Ireland. Burke’s most famous writings related to the French Revolution and The Revolution, for Burke, reflected the worst, hidden and cruel parts of the Enlightenment: “An age when men thought reason could trump revelation and tradition had no value in itself”. (Kramnick, 1999) “The goings-on in France were a “monstrous tragi-comic scene” which brought to mind “alternate hatred and anger, alternate laughter and tears, alternate scorn and horror”.” (Burke 1999: 418) His insistence that it was wise to “conserve” the previous institutions of France anointed him the archetype conservative. After the years of the war of Independence in U.S.A., conservatives were more prone to preserve their status-quo and values that they had shaped with the constitution which was written by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin based on pursuit of happiness, rather than without doing any radical changes. Monroe Doctrine (1825) was a corner stone to emphasize American conservatism and nationalism until the beginning of 1900’s. Eventually, after the Civil war (1861- 1865) there was the industrialization movement in States and all through the world. The country was producing more than it consumes and this created a surplus: (Overproduction) This would lead an economic crisis so, North and South had decided to export this surplus goods to the world especially to the third world. President McKinley, in 1897, decided to open the country to Chinese Market, and had declared via his State of Secretary John Hay, that all countries should have same trade opportunities in Far East Market. Major players in this market must share same interests without exploiting these lands. Open Door Policy term was coined by Professor William Appleman Williams in 1960’s. (Williams, 1972)
President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1901, had continued this policy by opening States market without any intervention in the area. The “Progressive Era” had continued until the end of WW1; President Woodrow Wilson declared his “14 points”; according to his declaration, open door policy should have continued overseas; Free trade opportunities, arms reduction and self-determination was the major topics of the declaration. Besides, he proposed to unite “League Of Nations” to achieve the goals that he had mentioned. For him it was essential to keep the world open to “free trade”. However U.S.A. had never become a part of League of Nations. (Williams, 1972)
Interwar years were an example of Isolationist ideology in foreign politics, but continuing liberal and open door policy in terms of economics. The interventionist ideas around the Latin America, not involving in European Issues and not becoming a member of League of Nations was a demonstration that American policy was set on only trade and economic interests in “ the rest of the world”. While President Roosevelt set the idea of “Good Neighbor” policy in foreign affairs, and “New Deal Acts” in domestic issues, it didn’t prevent U.S. involvement in WW2. Besides Roosevelt repeatedly said he won’t send any American boy to the war, Pearl Harbor created a pretext for democrats to sit to the agreement table with Soviets and British in Yalta as Wilson did the same thing in WW1. But again it was the economic interest and open door policy which paved the way for the both war different from the Cold War. WW2 made Americans one of the superpowers and the world had shifted to a “Bipolar” system. (Ambrose, 1986)
After WW2, mostly the debate was around “containment “theory which was coined by Truman’s advisor Dean Acheson in late 1946. Truman’s Domino Theory suggested that in Eastern bloc, if a country felt down then the countries around would fall like domino stones and be captured by the communist regime (Soviets). This Communist fear led American government to make interventionist movements toward to the third world and Latin America. As long as the Americans had the nuclear bomb, they would do anything and they could suppress any opposition force including Soviet Unions. However Soviets made the bomb in 1948, and after one year from this development United States had lost Chinese government to Communist Mao (1949). Soviet Communism should had been stopped before it spread all around Eastern Bloc. N.S.C. 68 strategy was adopted by Truman in order to stop this “virus” and it must be stopped by using force and war. (Ambrose, 2011)
In the light of these developments, U.S.A. had entered two major wars after the WW2. Korea and Vietnam which both had been lost and was embarrassment in foreign policy. Those wars had damaged international image of the country and were only done by the fear of Communist bloc. Country’s image must be recovered and American people should have been united around one main purpose in order to defeat the enemy. So who lost China? Who lost Vietnam and Korea? The debates was around these questions mostly. After Roosevelt to Reagan, every U.S president applied harsh policies in order to stop communism.
After 1970’s Neo conservatism was born as reaction of this “bad policies” around in foreign affairts and is one of the most influential ideological set of implicit ideas in American foreign policy which its roots can be traced back to 1930’s. If conservatism means maintaining the status quo such as in Korea and Vietnam, then the Neocons, who advocate broad changes, are just the opposite in that sense such as in Iraq and Afgahnistan. The movement was not an interventionist idea at the beginning while it was anti-communist, nationalistic and anti-new deal. (http://www.alternativeinsight.com/Neocons.html, 2004) Peter Steinfels argued in his book in 1978: “It is impossible to understand neoconservatives without understanding their history.” On the other hand Neocons such as Irving Kristol prefer to characterize it as a “persuasion,” a “mode of thinking,” or a “mood.” (Thompson, 2011) Neo conservatism at the heart, is a synthesis of Machiavelli’s prudence and Platonic idealism so it is seen in a philosophical framework rather than a political ideology. What makes neo conservatives so influential in American domestic and foreign policies is that the values they defend; high awareness of Americanism and religious motives which drive Neocons around one main and ultimate goal: “American Superiority.” In metaphysical saying neo conservatives consider themselves as a “political community,” or for Kristol this political community is called “collective self” and the primary source of moral values for neoconservatives.
Leo Strauss, professor in University of Chicago is one of the influencer and thinker of neo conservatism movement while he hadn’t coined the term. He believed that political science and philosophy are two phenomena which intercept at a common point. In that sense Neo conservatism is an attempt to establish solid, persuasive, value-focused and nationalistic political view that is combined with philosophical theories and is fulfilled by great thinkers such as Plato and Socrates’ideologies. Strauss believed that the essential truths about human society and history should be kept by an elite group (neoconservatives), and must be suspended from others who cannot have ability and the courage to deal with truth. Society, for Strauss, needs “consoling” lies. In a way, Leo Strauss paved the way for a new born political ideology in America.
The neocons’ nationalistic philosophy is the driven force behind their foreign policy indeed. Actually Neocons want to shape a nationalistic, patriarchic purpose and impose this ideology to the American people in order to recover the country’s image. The neo-conservatives’ policy of benevolent hegemony will, according to William Kristol and Robert Kagan, “relish the opportunity for national engagement, embrace the possibility of national greatness, and restore a sense of the heroic.” In other words, America should wage war. Sacrificing both national treasure and lives in order to bring democracy to the third world. This is a purpose of this elites and for the sake of America. “By saving the world from dictatorship, America will save herself from her own internal corruption.” (Thompson, 2011)
In 1980’s especially with Reagan’s administration Neocons were at game of with high stakes. At that time, the politicians and businessmen such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Senior George W. Bush and scholars such as Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell, James Q. Wilson, and Seymour Martin Lipset were the leading and rising necons. (Ambrose, 1986)
In a way Neocon ideology was feeding by using Cold War till the end of 80’s. Carter for example, was defending human rights and supported David Camp Act between Israel and Egypt. At the same time he was in good relations with Middle East countries, especially with Iran. Meanwhile, American liberalism and democracy rhetoric wasn’t effective on Iranian people. The people believed that the American values were “evil” for them and even worse they toppled shah in 1979 which had caused a diplomatic crisis over decade and also a double standard sign over the third world. At the same time invasion of Afghanistan by Soviets, fired the fear of “Domino Theory” again. All these interventionist and controversial policies had continued until the end of the cold war. Soviet bloc had eventually collapsed at the end of 1989. (Kirkpatrick, 2004)Reagan and Necons had defeated their biggest enemy. Actually, ex-necon Fukuyama believed that the collapse of Soviet Union was an ultimate victory for human race and liberal democracy had won the battle. So, neo-conservatism was working properly. “Enemy Deprivation syndrome” backed to the scene just after Post Cold War era, when President Senior Bush elected, he didn’t hesitate to enter to war with Iraq, in order to keep the interests of United States in the region but his biggest mistake probably to keep alive Saddam Hussein after his invasion in Gulf. (Kirkpatrick, 2004)
Mostly Bush and Clinton administrations are seen as decrease of Neocon policies which had lost its influence in foreign affairs because of the end of the war with Soviets. But on the other hand, it can be observed that Clinton’s “human rights” policies and Kosovo policy in Europe would be seen as a trial of restore the image.
With the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and his reelection in 2004, some have argued that Bush and his electoral successes are referred to the rise of the neocons again. Among others, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, David Frum, Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice have been the new generation neocons. Especially 9/11 events paved the way for new generation neoconservatives. However the the roots of Al-Qaida terrorist attacks can be traced back to 70’s when Soviets invaded Afghanistan. At that time Muja heeds were supported by Americans in order to stop communists. Same group had planned the tragic 9/11 attacks in 2001. (Thompson, 2011). These attacks however turned out an advantage and prepared a pretext for Bush administration to realize their plans and follow their agenda in the Middle East. So Bush, could do what his father didn’t 10 years ago: Topple Saddam Hussein and make Middle safer and could the democracy. Around this purpose, Bush administration started to give speech about Saddam that he kept chemical weapons in Iraq and they declared him as the head of this terrorist attack while there was no eligible proof in their hands. Especially CIA was informing the government in the wrong direction. They were constantly put pressure on Bush that Saddam had weapons, as the intelligence agency have been imposing this wrong information for decades. As a result, this was the part of the plan of neoconservative agenda. After Iraq invasion and bring the democracy rhetoric in the middle East, Son Bush declared systematically that they are in war and a constant war with terrorism all around the world. But the problem with the idea of terrorism is that it is hard to define who is the terrorist and what are the terrorist organization because in a way some independent group may defend their rights and can be labeled as terrorists in that sense. On the other George Bush, was talking his preemptive strike doctrine which was basically to attack the enemy before they attack you. Preemptive Strike became Bush’s administration’s basic strategy in order to suppress the “terrorists”. Again, no one could know when terrorists would attack or where they could unite that’s why preemptive strike was damaging innocent people more than the “real terrorist groups”. (Thompson, 2011)
In conclusion, if we look at the most important movements of neoconservatives within last two decades we can see that organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Empower America and Project for a New American century are only a few of many organizations that present the new conservative mindset. Top Government officials who share the Neocon ideology include State and Defense department appointees Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and John R. Bolton, former CIA Director James Woolsey and previous Democrat and UN representative Jeane Kirkpatrick. In the media pro-war Campus Watch leader Daniel Pipes, syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and Robert Kagan, media pundit David Brooks, Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and Commentary Magazine’s Norman Podhoretz. News empires and television broadcasters, especially Reverend Moon’s Washington Times and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, favor Neocon policies and personalities. Financial support of the organizations that favor the Neocons (as well as other conservative causes) come from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation ($489 million in 2002 and the largest contributor to conservatives), chemical and munitions profits of the John M. Olin Foundation and the banking and oil money of The Scaife Foundations of Pittsburgh. (North, 2014)
Eventually Neoconservative democracy rhetoric failed in Iraq although Usame Bin Laden had captured by Obama’s administration and killed. The invasion didn’t bring stability to the Middle East, in reverse American Afghan and Iraq invasion cost billions of dollar and lives to the every party which involved at the war. Neo-conservatism views are still considered as one of the most influential idea in foreign politics. The relations with China and Open door Policy as well are still part of neoconservative agenda. The rise of BRICS countries and especially the enemy deprivation syndrome is still pushing U.S.A. to use democratic context and policies toward to the third world and against communists as well. The last Crimean issue and U.S.A. sanctions on Russia, can be seen as a part of double standard and neoconservative movement. After all, because the war is too costly, the evacuation of Afghanistan and not direct involvement to Syrian issue doesn’t mean that States will be keep itself away from it. Apparently last declaration of President Obama which argue that U.S.A. will always be in international issues but has not to be in war seems a bit soft for the right wing and as well as left. The questions will be risen again as same as 40-50 years ago: Who lost Crimea? Who lost Syria?
REFERENCES (APA STYLE)
Ambrose, S. (1986). RISE TO GLOBALISM. Penguin Books.
Fukuyama, F. (1992). The end of History and Last Man.
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Judis, J. (1995). Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 05 24, 2014, from Foreign Affairs: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/51220/john-b-judis/trotskyism-to-anachronism-the-neoconservative-revolution
Kirkpatrick, D. (2004). War Heats Up in the Neoconservative Fold. New York Times.
North, G. (2014, 05 25). http://archive.lewrockwell.com/north/north180.html. Retrieved from http://archive.lewrockwell.com/north/north180.html: http://archive.lewrockwell.com/north/north180.html
Thompson, B. (2011). Rise and Fall Neoconservatism. In Rise and Fall Neoconservatism (p. 11).
Williams, W. A. (1972). The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.