Friday, July 01, 2005

Charles Krauthammer's "Realist Neoconservativsm"

Charles Krauthammer has an intriguing essay in this month's Commentary, titled "The Neoconservative Convergence," here.

Krauthammer argues that during the Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administrations, we have seen unusually clear examples of three different visions of foreign policy in action - classical realism during Bush I, liberal internationalism under Clinton, and neoconservatism in Bush II.

The account of the differences between those visions - or ideologies, if you will - are striking in Krauthammer's essay. Still more striking, however, is his description of two different strands of neoconservatism emerging and now, he says, converging. The first, neoconservative idealism, is the progeny of the movement's original thinkers - idealists about democracy. It is given full voice in Bush's second inaugural speech and in his London speech - an idealistic commitment to backing democracy around the globe, and a break with the past of stability and accommodation to American friendly dictators. (I agree with Tod Lindberg of Policy Review that the second Bush inaugural speech is one of the clearest, finest statements of American ideals in foreign policy since the Second World War.)

Yet, as Krauthammer points out, the main architects today of Bush II's neoconservative foreign policy - its press for democratization - are people with no roots in neoconservatism - Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld. They are all realists by temperment and decades of practice. September 11, however, changed the terms of realism, made it clear that realism, and its emphasis on stability and accommodation, would no longer protect America, and that the new realism would have to take idealism as its core. Moreover, the existing realist stability was precisely that which was producing the terrorist threat to America and elsewhere, and it was that which had to be challenged. Hence, from realism, idealism.

But the new neoconservative realists have not forgotten their realism, and it tempers their approach to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt (and, quite wrongly, in my view, Uzbekistan at this moment). In this, it takes into account both American interests in the short and medium term, in the war on terror, in energy security, and so on, on the one hand, and the lessons of Jean Kirkpatrick's "dicatators and double standards" from the Reagan years, on the other. This new neoconservative realism converges with neoconservative idealism in putting democracy front and center, but treating it as a goal to be achieved, not a revolutionary ideology.

(I would add to this that neoconservatism is distinguished from liberal internationalism in no small part because of its emphasis on human freedom as expressed through democratically sovereign states, rather than the liberal internationalist ideology of top-down human rights, which as ideology is remarkably uninterested in democracy as such.)

(Update, July 1, 2005: Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing in the Washington Times, here, gives a conservative realist's aggressive thumbs down to the democracy ideology.)

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