…Throwing the neocon label around isn’t an argument; it’s name-calling. Cruz argues well enough that he shouldn’t have to rely on name-calling. It must have gone over well with focus groups.
Name-calling is bad enough. To make matters worse, as Goldberg explains, the name doesn’t really fit the view Cruz disagrees with — support of military intervention to bring about regime change.
Goldberg says that “neoconservatism is a product of the Cold War.” But his article suggests that it is actually the product of a debate over domestic policy.
As I understand it, neoconservatism is the product of the rise of the New Left and the failure of President Johnson’s Great Society. The New Left was a movement of juveniles (including me). It left more mature leftists with two obvious alternatives: first, embrace the New Left and have a second childhood; second, applaud the spirit of the New Left but reject its more outrageous tactics and flirtation with the likes of Chairman Mao, and double down on democratic socialism.
Neoconservatives rejected both alternatives. They were appalled by the spirit of movement with a clear totalitarian strain (manifested, for example, by attacks on academic freedom). In addition, the Great Society experiment, animated in part by the thinking of democratic socialists like Michael Harrington, helped move them well to the right of their socialist former comrades.
Goldberg reminds us that the most important early neoconservative foreign policy manifesto — Jeane Kirkpatrick’s famous 1979 article in Commentary — was a brief against democracy promotion in authoritarian states friendly to the U.S. Moreover, Kirkpatrick was not a supporter of the war waged by President George W. Bush in Iraq. Indeed, she said she had serious reservations about it.
It’s true, of course, the most neoconservatives supported that war, in many cases avidly. But the decision to invade Iraq was not made by neoconservatives, and neither was the decision to remain in post-invasion Iraq rather than “get the heck out” (as Cruz likes to say). Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were not part of the neoconservative movement. As for the Congress that voted to authorize war, only a handful of members were.
Neoonservatives (by now referred to, disdainfully and even venomously, as neocons by people who knew little about the movement) became scapegoats for the war. In part, as Goldberg says, this was because they continued to defend it and, above all, advocate that we win it. Some neocons pushed for the successful Iraq surge of 2007. For this, they should be commended….