Exit Neocons, Stage Left


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Writes Timothy P. Carney at Doublethink:

"David Frum tells us that “[w]ar is a great clarifier” because it “forces people to choose sides.”

It certainly does. For example, it forced us to team up with Joe Stalin in 1941. War forced the U.S. to side with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and the Saudi royal family in the 1990s. Let’s not forget that great clarifying moment when the Cold War forced us to fund Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

In the same way, our war against Iraq created political alliances domestically that may have been unnatural, and which now may be falling apart. Specifically, some moderate-to-liberal hawks temporarily rose to the forefront of the American right and started calling the shots–in some cases declaring who was and who wasn’t fit to be part of the conservative movement.

But it is only in these post-war days (although many object to the claim that the war is over) that the real clarifying happens.

Many of these hawks, called neocons, spent the aftermath of 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq war denouncing the conservatives who voiced opposition to Bush’s planned wars. But now, after the war, with some of the dust settled, their differences with the right are becoming clearer, and their continued alliance with conservatives comes into question.

While neocons have reputations as esoteric Straussians, they have been straightforward in recent months in clarifying their worldview.

In his April 7, 2003 cover story for National Review, Frum declared it unimaginable that Bob Novak (my boss), Pat Buchanan, Scott McConnell and other anti-war writers “would call themselves ‘conservatives.’”

Frum went on and declared that these “paleocons” “are thinking about defeat and wishing for it, and they will take pleasure in it if it should happen.”

“They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.”

These declarations amounted to an attempted purge. David Frum was setting the bounds of permissible dissent and declaring this odd grouping, which included free-traders, protectionists, left-coast anarchists and Latin-Mass Catholics, to be a faction beyond the pale.

It was an interesting role for Frum to assume, considering that the Canadian-born writer is not what one would call a typical conservative. As one clear example of his distance from the American right, he began a November 6, 2003 post in his Diary blog on NRO by declaring: “Now let me say right off: I am not pro-life.”

Frum ended his paragraph with “I have thought about this issue just as hard as you have, and I’m not going to change my mind.”

The Frum situation is thick with irony on two counts: first is the odd spectacle of a devout pro-choicer saying who is not a conservative; and, second, his charges against the paleos last year could be judged today to ring at least as true against the neos.

A year after the Iraq war and after Frum’s attempted purge, the New York Times went to William Kristol to ask him his thoughts on Iraq now that things weren’t moving as smoothly as he had hoped.

Kristol told the Times that John Kerry had the real answer to the problems there: we need to send more troops. Kristol explained that this agreement between the neocons and the Democrats should surprise no one:

I will take Bush over Kerry, but Kerry over Buchanan or any of the lesser Buchananites on the right. If you read the last few issues of The Weekly Standard, it has as much or more in common with the liberal hawks than with traditional conservatives.

Kristol continued, “If we have to make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives, that is fine with me, too.”

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