Reviewing Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right in the Washington Post, Ted Widmer refers to the neoconservatives’ “suffer[ing] a fall as unexpected as their rise.” Even some of my paleo friends, at least the ones who live within the D.C. beltway (and yes, beltway paleo is a bit of an oxymoron) believe the neocons’ day is done. It’s not, unfortunately, not even close.
After Iran-Contra many on the Left also thought the neocons would vanish, but they didn’t. Nor did the Democrats’ retaking of the White House in 1993 put an end to the neocons. Bill Kristol just moved over from being Dan Quayle’s chief of staff to launching the Weekly Standard and PNAC — and, of course, now he has a perch at the New York Times. The neocons do not need a friendly president to flourish. Not that Bush I or Clinton were exactly un-friendly presidents anyway.
Nor has scandal brought them down in the past. Iran-Contra ignominy did not prevent Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter from resurfacing in the Bush II administration a dozen years later. So even Scooter Libby might be poised for a comeback some day.
Are the neocons on the run in the Republican Party? Not hardly: John McCain, the candidate Kristol and company favored over George W. Bush in 2000, is contending for the Republican nomination, and his closest rival at the moment, Mitt Romney, has said he would like to “double Guantanamo,” might launch an undeclared war against Iran after checking with his lawyers, and has as foreign-policy advisors former AIPAC staffer Dan Senor and Blackwater vice chairman Cofer Black. Kristol, meanwhile, has written kind words about Mike Huckabee, a fellow who doesn’t know the difference between Jordan and Syria but who offered what John Podhoretz called a “passionately Zionist riposte” to a Ron Paul in the Jan. 10 Republican debate. What kind of foreign-policy advisors do you think Huckabee would turn to?
Neoconservatives still have institutions of their own — magazines, think-tanks, and foundations. They still hold great power in conservative institutions generally, and many conservatives who do not think of themselves as neocons or have institutional or family ties to the Kristols and Podhoretzes nonetheless toe the neocon line of an interventionist foreign-policy abroad and adulterated free-market policies at home. (The neocons are less interested in economics and social policy than they are in foreign-policy, but there are still some characteristic traits: they don’t like too much talk about immigration restriction, they like globalistic trade agreements, and they tend to see political economy as a means of engineering society — the last point is something I should write about at greater length some time.) So what makes anyone think that the neocons won’t continue to be a powerful influence on the country over the next decade? Who’s to say they won’t be even more powerful in some future George P. Bush administration? The neocons are hardly even down, and they’re certainly not out yet.
What would be a major setback for them, however, would be to lose their grip on the Right. The only truly anti-neocon candidate is, of course, Ron Paul. His success is one thing that can really drive a stake through the dead heart of neoconservatism.