October 1, 2007

The Right Must Fight. (2/2)

Posted in War on Terror at 9:18 pm by Caleb Winn

Last week, I blogged about the Neoconservative principles behind the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Specifically, I looked at Neoconservatism as a way of looking at history, and briefly touched on the role that this historiography may play in Bush’s eternal optimism. In this follow-up post, I’d like to delve into Neoconservatism in greater detail, examining what it mean, why it makes sense, and how it works in the real world. 

The October 2007 issue of Commentary Magazine examines the nature and ascendency of Neoconservatism in greater detail. Though the whole article is well worth reading, it is rather long. In particular, though, I think it would be useful to reference their definition of neoconservatism in order to have a more robust understanding of what exactly it entails. The author outlines four basic traits of neoconservative foreign policy; which are as follows:

What Neoconservatives Believe

  1. Neoconservatives are idealistic moralists. They do not subscribe to the doctrine of Realism. They don’t want to create a “balance of power” by reaching compromise with oppressive regimes. They want to bring down communism (Reagan’s “Evil Empire”) an the totalitarianism of rogue nations (Bush’s “Axis of Evil”). They believe that America has a moral obligation to confront tyranny. They believe that the United States is locked in a battle between Good and Evil, and understand foreign policy as a part of this global ideological struggle.
  2. Neoconservatives are internationalists. They tend to favor international cooperation wherever possible, whether through NATO, the UN, or some other international organization. More broadly, they recognize that the events of one nation or region are not isolated to that nation or region, and that freedom and tyranny tend to spill over into surrounding regions. Thus, they reject isolationism and seek to proactively confront threats abroad, rather than waiting for them to gather insurmountable strength.
  3. Neoconservatives are hawkish. They believe that military action is often necessary to break down repressive regimes that suppress ideological transformation.
  4. Neoconservatives are democratic apologists. That is to say, they see the ideas of Freedom and Democracy as inextricably linked. They do not support benevolent dictatorships, but want to establish real self-governance around the world, because Democracy is the only real guardian of Freedom, and the only really moral form of government.

These four basic principles of Neoconservative foreign policy are unmistakably the guiding forces behind Bush’s foreign policy, and his vision for a democratic Middle East. Since September 12th, 2001, President Bush has argued that the United States is locked in an epic struggle against an evil ideology that despises freedom, that we must work proactively to defeat this ideology internationally, that we must do so through our military might, and that we will achieve long-term victory through the Democratization of the Middle East. In President Bush’s vision, the hearts of men and women yearn to be free, and the good ol’ US of A must throw off the tyrannies that prevent their freedom so that they may join the ranks of Democratic nations and promote global peace, stability, and prosperity.

Why Neoconservatism Makes Sense

  1. This is a moral struggle, and we are on the side of the Good. America is not perfectly Good, and our enemies are not perfectly Evil. But the fight against Communism was a moral struggle against a truly Evil Empire, who trampled on human rights and murdered countless millions. The fight against Islamo-Fascist Terrorism is a moral battle as well. Saddam Huessein was a ruthless and immoral man. The Taliban was a tyrannical, brutally repressive government. We ought not stand aside and allow their ideology to fester.
  2. This is an unavoidable global conflict, whether we recognize that or not. Islamo-Fascist Terrorists attacked the United States in New York in 1993, in Saudi Arabia in 1996, in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, and in Yemen in 2000, all before the September 11th attacks. We cannot pretend that we will be left alone if only we keep a low profile. The strength of Islamo-Fascism in one nation threatens to spill over into others. And the establishment of Freedom can open the people’s eyes to an alternative. This is first and foremost an ideological battle, and it is one which must be waged globally if we hope to succeed.
  3. Military force is often necessary to remove tyrants. Creating a popular demand for democracy does little good if the people are precluded from self-rule by violent dictators. The global spread of freedom necessitates the overthrow of brutal dictators, even through military power. The people of Afghanistan could not be free as long as they were held under the boot of the Taliban. The military power of the United States, working with NATO allies, enabled them to pursue freedom. An entire nation held hostage was delivered.
  4. Democracy is the best way to preserve freedom and human rights. We may attempt to establish puppet leaders and benevolent, pro-US dictators, but this is often times not really a moral improvement. If the goal is to promote the global recognition of human rights, then we must move being the strategic interests of Realpolitik and strive to offer people a real chance at self-governance.

Neoconservatism represents truly noble goals, and attempts to deal head-on with some very real problems. But is it a tenable solution? Policy, and especially foreign policy, is not really very abstract. Ideas are tested in the Embassies and on the battlefields, and not ultimately in the classrooms or journals of academia. So to really grasp the strength or weakness of Neoconservatism, we need to analyze its basic tenets in light of reality.

Why Neoconservatism Might Just Work

  1. Freedom is more attractive than tyrrany.

    Those who oppose the United States do so with rabid ideological fervor, but they have little to offer the average person on the street. If given the choice between the tyranny of sharia law and the freedom of Western-style democracy, few would choose the former. If this really is an ideological struggle, we are on the winning side.

    The transformation of the Anbar province of Iraq is a good example of this. Though once an extremely hostile and violent place, Anbar has become a major success story in the War in Iraq. The common people have turned against the Al Qaeda-in-Iraq insurgency, cooperating with the United States and working toward a Democratic future. Many have scoffed at the idea that the United States can claim credit for the progress in Anbar, since it is the result of a change in the hearts and minds of the local people. But really, isn’t that the point? The transformation of Anbar shows the universal appeal of Democratic freedoms, and shows what can happen once a people reject tyranny.

  2. The Domino Effect Cuts Both Ways.

    Abhorrent ideologies like Communism and Islamo-Fascism may spread regionally, but freedom can do so as well. Success in one region provides an example and a model for those in surrounding areas, and creates and intellectual basis for future transformations.

    Early signs after the invasion of Iraq were very promising. The high level of voter turnout within Iraq itself was amazing. More interesting, Democratic progress in Iraq led to local elections in other nations in the region, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Democratic progress in Iraq created a demand for increased democratic representation among the people throughout the region. A successful democracy in Iraq would be a “City on a Hill” that exposed the tyranny of its neighbors, increasing the people’s desire for liberty and spreading the ideological seeds of Democratization throughout the Middle East.

  3. Ideological and Military Progress Go Hand-In-Hand.
  4. Unfortunately, the Democratic gains in Iraq have not continued to flourish, or if they have they have been overshadowed by dramatic military losses. Sectarian violence has cast a shadow over many parts of the nation. The insurgent forces have waged an effective war against coalition troops, and sectarian violence has threatened to rip Iraq’s fledgling national government to pieces. This has outstripped the people’s desire for stable, democratic government.

    The ideological conflict is really the key to winning the military conflict here. If the people reject extremism and embrace national harmony, and if we have the troop presence to support them, we can stamp out the conflict. The power of the insurgency is in their ability to recruit from disaffected Iraqis, and to strike and then retreat to friendly shelters. If Iraqi people become less disaffected, and if the friendly shelters evaporate, the insurgency will dwindle and die. Commentary Magazine puts it this way:

    What is apparent is that most Iraqis want democracy, but their wishes are hostage to a sizable minority of violent recalcitrants, backed by outside force.

    This is where the success of Anbar may be encouraging. When the democratic majority turned against the violent minority and assisted the United States in rooting them out, they came to enjoy a far greater measure of peace and stability. This may serve as a model to other regions in Iraq.

    The troop surge shows signs of progress. Allocating more troops, and embedding them within Iraqi neighborhoods, has decreased U.S. deaths and diminished sectarian violence. If we do not cut our losses and run away, we may yet stem the violence long enough to see the people of Iraq re-assert their desire for peaceful, stable democracy.

  5. Democracy Really Does Work.

    It seems as if the Iraqi people are committed to a national, democratic government. Though there are a number of political benchmarks to be met, the people themselves have overwhelmingly participated in national elections, and almost universally oppose partitioning the country into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish territories. This is especially interesting given the amount of sectarian violence. The people’s commitment to national unity belies the sectarian killings, and gives credence to the argument that a violent minority is exerting power against the wishes of a more peaceful democratic majority.

Success in Iraq, and in the global War on Terror, is far from certain. The Neoconservative vision of regional transformation may be irreparably damaged by the success of Islamo-fascist terrorism. Our ideological strengths may be obscured by military defeat, as in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. This is a generational struggle, and there will surely be many failures along the way, even if success is eventually attained.

But those claim that the War on Terror is nothing more than a bumper sticker, or say that Islamo-fascist terrorism should be treated as a simple police action, are missing the bigger picture. At its core, this is an ideological struggle between Freedom and Tyranny. It is a moral battle between Good and Evil. It is a battle worth fighting, and one which the enemies of Freedom will continue to fight whether we oppose them or not. We must use our military might to defend our own Freedoms and to extend those same Freedoms to those who are kept enslaved by petty tyrants and repressive ideologies.

The triumph of Good is not assured, but the greatest weapon in our favor is the natural thirst for liberty etched into the heart of each man and woman, if only we can fight to give them the chance to be free.



  1. […] My review of “Neoconservatism.” To Make Amends:  The Hardest Thing in this World is to Live in It […]

  2. […] was initially seen as a figurehead for modern conservatism– specifically, neoconservatism, which is not so far from “actual” conservatism as Ron Paul zealots might think. By attacking Bush, many (certainly not all) political activists are (in many cases unwittingly) […]

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