Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Norman Podhoretz defends the Bush doctrine and neoconservatism in Commentary

Norman Podhoretz defends the Bush doctrine and neoconservative foreign policy in the September 2006 issue of Commentary. Here. I am interested in it, partly because I have been completing a piece on some of Podhoretz's targets in my own work, and partly because he gives a close reading to Bush's September 20, 2001 address to Congress. And partly because he asks, and answers in the negative, "Is the Bush doctrine dead?"

I am not entirely sure whether I count as a neoconservative or not. The label does not bother me, but I'm not sure I really know what the true cognescenti mean by it, even after all my reading about it. Certainly I am an idealist in foreign affairs - not utlimately a realist - of course I accept realist cautions as prudential considerations upon idealism, but that is not the same as embracing realism.

And within idealisms in foreign affairs, I am not a liberal internationalist. Which may leave one wondering, well, what's left? Well, I can think of a few more things I am not. One is a Wilsonian idealist - the use of American power, American exceptionalism really, toward liberal internationalist ends.

Nor am I a Teddy Roosevelt National Greatness idealist - prior to September 11, I thought very few things more ridiculous than Bill Kristol's calls for a new project of national greatness to counteract the self-absorption of the Clinton years. The nature of American democracy is that we do go our own ways, do our own things, sometimes to trivial ends and sometimes not, when not confronted with some crisis that demands unity. Kristol seemed to be trying to invent a Teddy Roosevelt project mostly because he believed that idle American hands would be doing the devil's work and we collectively needed to be put to work on some giant ideological project to take the place of the Cold War. Patronizing, paternalistic, and utterly alien to the American political dream.

Post September 11, well, we have a national project, like it or not, a new totalitarian threat, like it or not, because, as has been said before on this blog, you may not be interested in terrorism, but terrorism is interested in you.

The question of neoconservatism, at this point, perhaps comes down to where one stands on the issue of democracy building, particularly in the Middle East. Is it possible for the US to do so, and even if it is, does the democracy that results contribute to peace and stability, or simply widen the legitimacy of our enemies? Illiberal democracies? The question has enormously practical application at this moment. There is some evidence that the Bush admnistration pressed Israel for a cease fire in no small part to avoid bringing down the Lebanese government, the Cedar Revolution. It was a democratic opening, yes.

But one might ask what, in fact, it brings in the way of peace or stability to the region - empowering Hezbollah, giving it a legitimacy within a democratic framework behind from which it can launch its attacks? Are we not, when it comes to Hezbollah, necessarily in the deep grip of pure, hard-man realism - who wins, who loses, who is seen to win, who is seen to lose, and the neoconservative emphasis on democracy serves merely as a catspaw for the terrorists in Lebanon?

I take the possibility of democratic transformation entirely seriously - in Iraq and elsewhere. The policy of propping up our sonsofbitches merely gives us more Saudi Arabias. If it is neoconservatism to oppose that policy, and support democratic transformation, then that's me. On the other hand, to pronounce something democratic is not to pronounce it liberal. And what interests me is liberal democracy.

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