Today “neoconservatism” in American foreign policy is widely discussed. Neoconservatism is an ideology of neoconservatives, which is political ideology directed on foreign affairs rather than on internal affairs. It can be characterized by certain kind of imperialist views or much attention paid to the protection of political interests on world arena: good example could be war in Iraq, prolonged confrontations in the Middle east and in Israel. Today many journalists mark neoconservative tendencies in policies promoted by G.W. Bush administration.
The history of neoconservatism in American politics goes all the ways back to 1970’s as most of its founders were liberals in the past and belonged to Democratic Party. The conservative ideas were always present in American ideology and foreign politics, but they were also inspired by the new wave of conservatism, which started after the end of the WW II and the start of the cold war. It’s very interesting that neoconservative ideas also gained support in the circles of pro-socialist politicians and in the circles of American intellectuals. The biggest influence of neoconservatism on American politics was marked under administration of Ronald Reagan and G. Bush. In many respects the views of a number of neoconservatives diverge and their views on different foreign issues are not the same.
Originally neoconservatives were not only the supporters of expansionist foreign policies but also were distinguished by their socialist views, as they were the supporters of welfare state and supporters of democratic freedoms. For example during Nixon’s office they supported administrations’ campaign against communism on world arena, supporting the policy of Vietnam War and military aid to Israel in its war against Arabian neighbors. In foreign policies neoconservatives had an independent strategy which distinguished them from the main line in the US foreign policy doctrine: for example they thought that actions of the USA on world arena could be coordinated without any agreements with the United Nations organization and that US has the only legal right to dictate conditions in NATO.
Irving Kristol, former managing editor of Commentary and now a
Senior Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington
and the Publisher of the hawkish magazine The National Interest, defines neoconservatism as follows:
“Neoconservative is a “liberal mugged by reality,” meaning someone who has become
more conservative after seeing the practical impact of liberal foreign and
As neoconservatism appeared under the influence of foreign policy factors such as growth of communism in the Eastern Europe, spread of the USSR aid to the former colonial countries in Africa, South Asia and in Latin America, there appeared a danger to the western values and the security of the Western Europe and the USA in general. That’s why neoconservatism can be regarded as a reaction of American politicians to the changes of world political climate in general. In domestic affairs neoconservatism stranded for the unity of the nation and any policies, which would provide the support of the nation and trust to current government. They saw stability and security only in national unity and total trust to the government, that why they offered wider welfare programs than traditional conservatives and liberals, they supported civil equality of African Americans and other ethnic minorities in the USA, they sympathized non-traditional tendencies in foreign diplomacy and international law. In fact neoconservatism has a very aggressive approach to foreign issues and its concept in the whole may be regarded as imperial one, as they demanded free penetration into international affairs, issues of free trade and affairs of states which represented local opposition to its neighbors (for example Taiwan and Israel). In many points neoconservative perspective, which is based on the Woodrow Wilson, points contradicts them as is doesn’t include the cooperation with other countries an international organizations in the war on terrorism and in the war against anti-democratic regimes. Neoconservative ideology is different from traditional conservative in the issues about domestic affairs and welfare state and in many ideological particularities of conservatives: protectionist policies, isolationism, nativism that can be found in the ideology of Republican Party. In many respects neoconservatives are flexible in foreign political strategies as they are able to revise any contraversary issues and find the most beneficial solution for the country: an example can be trade agreement with People’s Republic of China, arms control with the USSR, etc. In these respect neoconservative members of Nixon administration succeeded in negotiations with a number of dictators of that time.
The foreign political strategy of neoconservatives is often compared to the foreign interventionist policies of Theodore Roosevelt, which got the name “big stick policy”. In after war years it was developed as a reaction on the spread of communism and was supported by nationwide propaganda of anti-communism.
Critics of neoconservatism argue that neoconservatism perceives international political situational through monochromic prism dividing all nations on allies” and “enemies”. Such perceptions similar to the views of W. Churchill or American politics of the 1939 when it was obvious to name allies and enemies. So in today’s politics Osama Ben laden and most of Islamic nations are regarded to have the same threat for the USA, as Germany and Japan had during WW II. In comparison to American liberalism and conservatism, neoconservatism is characterized by the growth of military spending and wide defense programs, on the hand with beliefs in free-market relations and democratic values, neoconservatives were often convicted in subsidizing undemocratic regimes only because it was economically or strategically beneficial for the USA.
The main arguments of neoconservatives in their forced support of democratic regimes and their ambitions to establish democratic regimes in the countries where there is lack of democratic freedoms is that authoritarian regimes lead to the instability and growing danger of extremism and militarism. Authoritarians regimes are characterized by lack of democratic freedoms, lack of economic opportunities which as a result reflects in the whole nature of domestic political relations, which can as a result grow in open confrontation with neighboring state accusing it in harmful actions against the country, etc.
Neoconservatism itn today’s foreign affairs of the USA plays a very important role as it had turned into one of the main doctrines of the country after terrorist attacks of September 11. Thomas Donnelly describes it in his article “The Underpinnings of the Bush doctrine”:
“the fundamental premise of the Bush Doctrine is true: The United States
possesses the means?economic, military, diplomatic?to realize its expansive
geopolitical purposes. Further, and especially in light of the domestic
political reaction to the attacks of September 11, the victory in Afghanistan
and the remarkable skill demonstrated by President Bush in focusing national
attention, it is equally true that Americans possess the requisite political
willpower to pursue an expansive strategy.”
In many respects neoconservatism of the USA in today’s politics had defined its political position and balance of powers on world arena. Prolonged military campaign in Iraq and presence of American troops in Afghanistan still witness that neoconservatism has a lot of weak points, as for example its idea of independent actions which are free form any discussion in NATO or UN is ineffective in many ways. Most of analysists argue that in case the USA had formed the coalition long before the outbreak of war in Iraq, the conflict would have been solved and American troops would have been withdrawn from the country. Ideas of neoconservatism have to be revised, as they were formed in the period of the Cold war and today’s new enemy in the face of international terrorism is very different from Soviet Union and its communist allies, and it would be nearly impossible to defeat it acting alone without any support from the traditional allies.
Donnelly, Thomas, “The Underpinnings of the Bush Doctrine,” AEI Online. February 1, 2003.
Kristol, Irving Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. Ivan R. Dee
Lindberg, Tod “Neoconservatism`s Liberal Legacy.” Policy Review, 127 (2004): 3-22.
Mann, James Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush`s War Cabinet. (2004) Viking.
Muravchik, Joshua “The Neoconservative Cabal”, Commentary, September, 2003
Ruppert, Michael C. Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at
the End of the Age of Oil, New Society Publishers, 2004
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