Left, Right, Left

[The Rise of the Neocons]

excerpted from the book

The New American Militarism

How Americans Are Seduced By War

by Andrew J. Bacevich, Oxford University Press, 2005, paper



In the wake of the sixties, contrarian intellectuals ... mounted a counterrevolution. Their aim was nothing if not ambitious: to reverse the verdict of the 1960s, to repair the political and cultural damage done by that decade, and mutatis mutandis to restore American power and assertiveness on the world stage.

"What rules the world is ideas," observed Irving Kristol, one leader of this insurgency, "because ideas define the way reality is perceived." Contesting the perception of reality prevailing among elites defined the insurgents' central purpose.

Observers soon dubbed this insurgency "neoconservatism," a singularly inapt label that suggests an ideological rigor that neocons have never demonstrated nor perhaps even sought. Irving Kristol is surely correct in observing that neoconservatism is best understood not as a political movement or school of thought but as a "persuasion.

From the outset, the neoconservative project had no more resolute and vigorous advocate than Norman Podhoretz. The self-declared embodiment of the New York intellectual, Podhoretz achieved notable success as critic, writer, provocateur, and above all as editor of the influential monthly magazine Commentary during the years from 1960 to 1995. Without Commentary, it seems fair to say, neoconservatism would have been stillborn.

In a series of books and essays, Podhoretz has rendered a lushly detailed account of his life as a literary intellectual: his rise to prominence as the son of immigrants crossing the East River-"one of the longest journeys in the world"-to find success in Manhattan; his discovery of the "dirty little secret" that a thirst for money, fame, power, and social standing, rather than a passion for truth or beauty, motivated "the well-educated American soul," beginning with his own; his brief flirtation with but eventual rejection of the radical enthusiasms to which the New York literati fell victim during the course of the 1960s; and the ruptured friendships that ensued as Podhoretz broke away and took it upon himself to expose those enthusiasms as puerile and pernicious.'

Once his own fling with sixties radicalism ended, Podhoretz launched a "scorched-earth campaign against the New Left and counterculture." From his editorial command post at Commentary (and through organizations such as the Committee on the Present Danger, in which he figured prominently), Podhoretz did much to create and refine the fiercely combative neoconservative style. That style emphasized not balance (viewed as evidence of timidity) or the careful sifting of evidence (suggesting scholasticism) but the ruthless demolition of any point of view inconsistent with the neoconservative version of truth, typically portrayed as self-evident and beyond dispute.


Six propositions summarize the essence of the neoconservative persuasion. All six feature prominently among the themes to which Commentary paid particular attention from the 1970s until the end of Podhoretz's tenure as editor.

The first and most fundamental proposition is a theory of history. That theory finds its point of origin in the depression decade of the 1930s, a decade that for Podhoretz and other neoconservatives serves as a parable. That parable conveys two large truths, applicable in all circumstances and for all time. The first truth is that evil is real. The second is that for evil to prevail requires only one thing: for those confronted by it to flinch from duty.

In the 1930s, with the callow governments of Great Britain and France bent on appeasing Hitler and with an isolationist America studiously refusing to exert itself, evil had its way. The result was horrific savagery, culminating in the Holocaust. Perhaps worst of all, that catastrophe was an avoidable one, directly attributable to the pusillanimous behavior of the democracies.

Podhoretz and other neoconservatives believed that the cataclysm that befell Europe in the 1930s could easily happen again. It was precisely because the sixties recalled the worst features of the thirties, leaving the United States weak and demoralized, vulnerable to Soviet aggression from abroad, and susceptible to a "kind of spiritual surrender" within, that Podhoretz found the latter decade so disconcerting. A recurrence of the 1940s was the nightmare that the neoconservatives in the 1970s were determined to avert. Time and again, writes John Ehrman in his history of the neoconservative movement, essays by Podhoretz and his compatriots "evoked the memory of French and British behavior in the 1930s, with the refusal to face up to the growing totalitarian threat, the reluctance to shore up the democracies' defenses, failed attempts at appeasement and, worst of all, the slide into a disastrous war.

The remaining five propositions defining the neoconservative persuasion offer variations on that theme of World War II as a preventable disaster, but all bear the imprint of the first.

The second proposition relates to power. Diplomacy, bribes, accommodation, sweet reason, appeals to decency, fairness, or a larger community of interests: none of these deflected Nazi Germany from the path of aggression on which it had embarked. Just as it eventually required armed might to destroy the Nazi regime, so too only the possession of-and willingness to employ-armed might could possibly have deterred Adolf Hitler. The lesson was clear: at the end of the day, in international politics there was no substitute for power, especially military power.

On this issue Podhoretz did not permit dissent America had a mission and must never "come home." This was the third proposition that defined the neoconservative position. Alternatives to or substitutes for American global leadership simply did not exist. For all that Vietnam may have been "an act of imprudent idealism," a challenge that had exceeded "our intellectual and moral capabilities," the United States simply could not allow failure there to become an excuse for turning its back on the world. History had singled out the United States to play a unique role as the chief instrument for securing the advance of freedom, which found its highest expression in democratic capitalism. American ideals defined America's purpose, to be achieved through the exercise of superior American power.

Those unable to grasp that imperative-most notably, President Jimmy Carter who in acknowledging the nation's post-Vietnam "malaise" seemingly accepted it as irreversible-Podhoretz held in particularly low regard. "The survival not only of the United States but of free institutions everywhere in the world," he wrote in 1982, "depends on a resurgence of American power." In such circumstances, pessimism or self-doubt could have no place; indeed, they verged on the treasonous.

Podhoretz, along with many of the foreign policy writers identified with Commentary in the 19705 and 1980s, such as Walter Laqueur, Michael Ledeen, and Joshua Muravchik, were staunch patriots and impassioned nationalists. They were also devout Wilsonians, dedicated to the proposition that American values are by definition universal values. But they did not suffer from the delusions to which they believed Wilson had been prone, rejecting, for example, the proposition that any "covenant" of nations might secure America's safety and the world's freedom. Creating a peaceful world required power, not parchment.

Heirs to the tradition of American Exceptionalism, neoconservatives did not doubt that theirs was a nation set apart. That fulfilling America's providential mission might entail great exertions and sacrifice was a prospect that they were perfectly willing to accept. America's "ruling elites," wrote Midge Decter shortly after the fall of Saigon, had become "spoiled rotten and cosmetically greedy." They had "forgotten what evil is." But millions of ordinary Americans, Decter continued, knew better and were "still willing to pay something, maybe even quite a lot, to see to it that they have companions in the world, preferring... not to live in a small and weak country in a mean and narrow world."" Toughness, daring, and resolve: in American political life after Vietnam these had become scarce commodities; Podhoretz and his fellow neoconservatives were determined to bring them back into fashion.

The fourth proposition defining the neoconservative persuasion concerns the relationship between politics at home, especially cultural politics, and America's purpose abroad. At the center of that relationship is an appreciation for authority.

... part of the task that Podhoretz set for himself was to discredit what he saw as the various forms of nonsense to which the sixties had given rise-prominent among them multiculturalism, affirmative action, radical feminism, and the gay rights movement. By extension he and other neoconservatives cast themselves as forceful proponents of what came to be called "traditional values." Commentary's agenda included not only support for a muscular foreign policy, but also the defense of beleaguered institutions such as marriage and the nuclear family, the advocacy of law and order, and respect for organized religion. In this sense alone did Podhoretz's cultural interests intersect with those of the established Right. Only by ensuring order and stability at home and restoring confidence in basic institutions, he believed, could the United States fend off the Communist threat and fulfill the historical mission for which it had been created.

As an antidote to the cultural disaster of the 1960s, Podhoretz and Commentary promoted what he called "a new nationalism." Americans needed to revive their belief in the American enterprise. According to Podhoretz, only by urgently committing themselves to a great project of national rejuvenation could Americans avoid confronting a choice between war against the Soviet Union and the "Finlandization that an unimpeded culture of appeasement is certain in the end to yield. "

This sentiment captures the essence of the fifth proposition defining the neoconservative persuasion: the United States after Vietnam confronted a dire crisis; absent decisive action to resolve that crisis, unspeakable consequences awaited.

Particulars might change, but for neoconservatives crisis is a permanent condition. The situation is always urgent, the alternatives stark, the need for action compelling, and the implications of delay or inaction certain to be severe.

... According to Podhoretz-according to neoconservatives generally-the antidote to crisis is leadership. This is the sixth and last component that defines the neoconservative persuasion.

Among neoconservatives it is an article of faith that men, not impersonal forces, determine the course of history. Curbing the isolationist tendencies of the American people, steeling the nation against the lure of appeasement, summoning it to pursue its destiny: these become impossible without flinty determination, moral clarity, and inspiration at the very top. Americans, neoconservatives believe, hunger for and respond to heroic-even Churchillian-leadership. In a sort of weird homegrown variant of the Fuehrer Principle, neoconservatives themselves share that hunger.

Many neoconservatives are Jewish, many are not. Some are personally religious, others not at all. For all of them, however, America is the one true universal church, the declaration of 1776 tantamount to sacred scripture, and the District of Columbia the Holy See. In this secular faith, the occupant of the Oval Office enjoys a status comparable to that of supreme pontiff.

In neoconservative lore, 1980 stands out not only as a year of crisis but as the year when the nation decisively turned things around. For the first time in a half century Americans elevated to the presidency a man who gave every sign of sharing the neocon sense of deepening peril requiring drastic remedial action. During the campaign that year, neoconservatives had thrown their support behind Ronald Reagan, seeing him as a kindred spirit who shared their passionate anti-Communism and their distaste for the cultural detritus of the 1960s. In Reagan, Podhoretz and other neocons believed that they had found their man, a leader able to lift the United States out of its slough of post-Vietnam despond.

When Reagan succeeded in ousting Jimmy Carter from office, neoconservatives were quick to claim a share of the credit. A quarter of a century later, the Reagan era remains for neoconservatives a golden moment, at least cording to the mythic version of Reagan's foreign policy.

The fall of the Berlin Wall left Podhoretz by his own admission "unable to make up my mind as to what... America's purpose should be now that the threat of Communism... had been decisively eliminated .1116 At one point, he even pronounced the neoconservative project dead."

His eulogy proved premature. During the course of the 1990s, neoconservatism enjoyed a remarkable rebirth. The movement retooled itself, applying the propositions that had defined neoconservatism in the 19705 and 1980s to a vastly more ambitious agenda. A new second generation of neocons rose to prominence, a constellation in which William Kristol, Irving's son, supplanted Podhoretz as the most luminous star.

The aim of this second generation was to prod the United States into seizing the strategic offensive. In 1979, Podhoretz had written disparagingly that the "fondest wish" of the New Left had "been to turn the United States around altogether-from a counterrevolutionary power into an active sponsor" of revolution." Within a decade, that became the fondest wish of neoconservatives - soon enough including Podhoretz himself. Neocons aimed to convert the United States into an instrument for fulfilling their own revolutionary dreams.

... in 1995 ... Norman Podhoretz stepped down as editor of Commentary. That same year, William Kristol founded a new journal, the Weekly Standard, which in short order established itself as the flagship publication of second-generation neoconservatives. Although keeping faith with neoconservative principles that Commentary had staked out over the previous two decades-and for a time even employing Norman's son John Podhoretz in a senior editorial position-the Standard was from the outset an altogether different publication. From its founding, Commentary had been published by the American Jewish Committee, an august and distinctly nonpartisan entity. The Weekly Standard relied for its existence on the largesse of Rupert Murdoch, the notorious media mogul. Unlike Commentary, which had self-consciously catered to an intellectual elite, the Standard-printed on glossy paper, replete with cartoons, caricatures, and political gossip-had a palpably less lofty look and feel. It was by design smart rather than stuffy. Whereas Commentary had evolved into a self-consciously right-wing version of the self-consciously progressive Dissent, the Standard came into existence as a neoconservative counterpart to the neoliberal New Republic. Throughout Norman Podhoretz's long editorial reign, Commentary had remained an urbane and sophisticated journal of ideas, aspiring to shape the terms of political debate even as it remained above the muck and mire of politics as such. Beginning with volume 1, number 1, the editors of the Standard did not disguise the fact that they sought to have a direct and immediate impact on policy; not ideas as such but political agitation defined the purpose of this new enterprise.

... the neoconservatives who gravitated to the Weekly Standard showed themselves to be the most perceptive of all of Woodrow Wilson's disciples. For the real Wilson (in contrast to either the idealized or the demonized Wilson) had also seen military power as an instrument for transforming the international system and cementing American primacy.

Efforts to promote "a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of military supremacy and moral confidence" found expression in five convictions that together form the foundation of second-generation neoconservative thinking about American statecraft.

First was the certainty that American global dominion is, in fact, benign and that other nations necessarily see it as such. Thus, according to Charles Krauthammer, a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard, "we are not just any hegemon. We run a uniquely benign imperium. This is not mere self-congratulation; it is a fact manifest in the way others welcome our power."

However much they might grumble, the baby-boomer neocons believed, other nations actually yearned for the United States to lead and, indeed, to sustain its position as sole superpower, seeing American dominance as both compatible with their own interests and preferable to any remotely plausible alternative. Despite "all the bleating about hegemony, no nation really wants genuine multipolarity," Robert Kagan observed in this regard. "Not only do countries such as France and Russia shy away from the expense of creating and preserving a multipolar world; they rightly fear the geopolitical consequences of destroying American hegemony." According to Kagan, the cold, hard reality of U.S. supremacy was sure to have "a calming effect on the international environment, inducing other powers to focus their energies and resources elsewhere." Joshua Muravchik concurred; rather than eliciting resistance, American dominance could be counted on to "have a soothing effect on the rest of the world." With the passing of the Cold War, wrote Charles Krauthammer, "an ideologically pacified North seeks security and order by aligning its foreign policy behind that of the United States.

[This] is the shape of things to come."

Failure on the part of the United States to sustain its imperium would inevitably result in global disorder, bloody, bitter, and protracted: this emerged as the second conviction animating neoconservatives after the Cold War. As a result, proposals for organizing the world around anything other than American power elicited derision for being woolly-headed and fatuous. Nothing, therefore, could be allowed to inhibit the United States in the use of that power.

On this point no one was more emphatic than Krauthammer. "Collective security is a mirage," he wrote." For its part, "the international community is a fiction." "The allies' is a smaller version of 'the international community'-and equally fictional." "The United Nations is guarantor of nothing. Except in a formal sense, it can hardly be said to exist." As a result, when serious threats arise to American national interests... unilateralism is the only alternative to retreat. "

Or more extreme still, "The alternative to unipolarity is chaos." For Krauthammer the incontrovertible fact of unipolarity demanded that the United States face up to its obligations, "unashamedly laying down the rules of world order and being prepared to enforce them."" The point was one to which younger neoconservatives returned time and again. For Kristol and Robert Kagan, the choice facing Americans was clear-cut. On the one hand loomed the prospect of "a decline in U.S. power, a rise in world chaos, and a dangerous twenty-first century"; on the other hand was the promise of safety, achieved through "a Reaganite reassertion of American power and moral leadership." There existed "no middle ground."

The third conviction animating second-generation neoconservatives related to military power and its uses. In a nutshell, they concluded that nothing works like force.

The operative principle was not to husband power but to put it work-to take a proactive approach. "Military strength alone will not avail," cautioned Kagan, "if we do not use it actively to maintain a world order which both supports and rests upon American hegemony. "61 For neoconservatives like Kagan, the purpose of the Defense Department was no longer to defend the United States or to deter would-be aggressors but to transform the international order by transforming its constituent parts. Norman Podhoretz had opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam "as a piece of arrogant stupidity" and had criticized in particular the liberal architects of the war for being "only too willing to tell other countries exactly how to organize their political and economic institutions. "61 For the younger generation of neoconservatives, instructing others as to how to organize their countries-employing coercion if need be-was not evidence of arrogant stupidity; it was America's job.

By implication, neoconservatives were no longer inclined to employ force only after having exhausted all other alternatives. In the 1970s and 1980s, the proximate threat posed by the Soviet Union had obliged the United States to exercise a certain self-restraint. Now, with the absence of any counterweight to American power, the need for self-restraint fell away. Indeed, far from being a scourge for humankind, war itself-even, or perhaps especially, preventive war-became in neoconservative eyes an efficacious means to serve idealistic ends. The problem with Bill Clinton in the 1990S was not that he was reluctant to use force but that he was insufficiently bloody-minded. "In Haiti, in Somalia, and elsewhere" where the United States intervened, lamented Robert Kagan, "Clinton and his advisers had the stomach only to be halfway imperialists. When the heat was on, they tended to look for the exits."" Such halfheartedness suggested a defective appreciation of what power could accomplish. Neoconservatives knew better. "Military conquest," enthused Muravchik, "has often proved to be an effective means of implanting democracy." Michael Ledeen went even further, declaring that "the best democracy program ever invented is the U.S. Army. "66 "Peace in this world," Ledeen added, "only follows victory in war."

Using force to advance the prospects of peace and democracy implied that the United States ought to possess military power to spare. The fourth conviction animating second-generation neoconservatives was a commitment to sustaining and even enhancing American military supremacy.

... With the Cold War now history, it seemed, the world was becoming even more dangerous, and the United States therefore needed more military power than ever before." Whether or not a proximate threat existed, it was incumbent upon the Pentagon to maintain the capability "to intervene decisively in every critical region" of the world.

To alarmists, the prospect of conflict without end beckoned. Surveying the world, Frederick W. Kagan, brother of Robert, concluded in 1999 that "America must be able to fight Iraq and North Korea, and also be able to fight genocide in the Balkans and elsewhere without compromising its ability to fight two major regional conflicts. And it must be able to contemplate war with China or Russia some considerable (but not infinite) time from now." The peace that followed victory was to be a long time coming.

The fifth and final conviction that imparted a distinctive twist to the views of second-generation neoconservatives was their hostility toward realism, whether manifesting itself as a deficit of ideals (as in the case of Henry Kissinger) or an excess of caution (as in the case of Cohn Powell). As long as the Cold War had persisted, neoconservatives and realists had maintained an uneasy alliance, based on their common antipathy for the Soviet Union. But once the Cold War ended, so too did any basis for cooperation between the two groups. From the neoconservative perspective, realism constituted a problem. Realism was about defending national interests, not transforming the global order. Realists had a marked aversion to crusades and a marked respect for limits. In the neoconservative lexicon, the very notion of "limits" was anathema .

As the 1990s unfolded, neoconservatives pressed their case for "a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity," emphasizing the use of armed force to promulgate American values and perpetuate American primacy. Most persistently, even obsessively, neoconservatives throughout the Clinton years lobbied for decisive U.S. action to rid the world of Saddam Hussein. From a neoconservative perspective, the Iraqi dictator's survival after Desert Storm exposed as nothing else the cynicism and shortsightedness of the realists who had dominated the administration of George H. W. Bush and who had prevented the American army from completing its proper mission-pursuing the defeated Iraqi army all the way to Baghdad. Topping the agenda of the second-generation neoconservatives was a determination to correct that error, preferably by mobilizing America's armed might to destroy the Baathist regime. "Bombing Iraq Isn't Enough," declared the title of one representative op-ed published by William Kristol and Robert Kagan in January 1998. It was time for the gloves to come off, they argued, "and that means using air power and ground forces, and finishing the job left undone in 1991."

Neocons yearned to liberate Iraq, as an end in itself but also as a means to an eminently larger end. "A successful intervention in Iraq," wrote Kagan in February 1998, "would revolutionize the strategic situation in the Middle East, in ways both tangible and intangible, and all to the benefit of American interests. " A march on Baghdad was certain to have a huge demonstration effect. It would put dictators around the world on notice either to mend their ways or share Saddam's fate. It would silence doubters who questioned America's ability to export its values. It would discredit skeptics who claimed to see lurking behind neoconservative schemes the temptations of empire, the dangers of militarism, and the prospect of exhaustion and overstretch.

Above all, forcibly overthrowing Saddam Hussein would affirm the irresistibility of American military might. As such, the armed liberation of Iraq would transform U.S. foreign policy; not preserving the status quo but promoting revolutionary change would thereafter define the main purpose of American statecraft. After all, wrote Michael Ledeen well before 9/Il, stability was for "tired old Europeans and nervous Asians." The United States was "the most revolutionary force on earth," its "inescapable mission to fight for the spread of democracy. The operative word was fight. According to Ledeen, Mao was precisely correct: revolution sprang "from the barrel of a gun"

By the end of that decade [1990s], neoconservatives were no longer insurgents; they had transformed themselves into establishment figures. Their views entered the mainstream of public discourse and became less controversial. Through house organs like the Standard, in essays published by influential magazines such as Foreign Affairs, through regular appearances on TV talk shows and at conferences sponsored by the fellow-traveling American Enterprise Institute, and via the agitprop of the Project for the New American Century, they warned of the ever-present dangers of isolationism and appeasement, called for ever more munificent levels of defense spending, and advocated stern measures to isolate, punish, or overthrow ne'er-do-wells around the world. As a mark of the growing respectability of such views, each of the three leading general-interest daily newspapers in the United States had at least one offering regular foreign policy commentary-Max Boot writing for the Los Angeles Times, David Brooks for the New York Times, and both Charles Krauthammer and Robert Kagan for the Washington Post." Neoconservative views also dominated the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. As a direct consequence of this determined rabble-rousing, neocon views about the efficacy of American military power and the legitimacy of its use gained wide currency. On issues ranging from ethnic cleansing in Bosnia to the "rise" of China to the proper response to terror, neoconservatives recast the public policy debate about the obligations imposed upon and prerogatives to be claimed by the sole superpower. They kept the focus on the issues that they believed mattered most: an America that was strong, engaged, and even pugnacious.

Ideas that even a decade earlier might have seemed reckless or preposterous now came to seem perfectly reasonable. A good example was the issue of regime change in Iraq. On January 26, 1998, William Kristol and Robert Kagan along with more than a dozen other neoconservative luminaries sent a public letter to President Bill Clinton denouncing the policy of containing Iraq as a failure and calling for the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein. To persist in the existing "course of weakness and drift," the signatories warned ominously, was to "put our interests and our future at risk." Nine months later, Clinton duly signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress. That legislation declared that it had now become the policy of the United States government to "remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein," with legislators authorizing the expenditure of $99 million for that purpose." Clinton showed little enthusiasm for actually implementing the measure, and most of the money remained unspent. But neoconservative efforts had done much to create a climate in which it had become impolitic to suggest aloud that publicly declaring the intent to overthrow regimes not to the liking of the United States might be ill-advised.

Writing in 2000, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, echoing Podhoretz twenty years earlier at the end of the Carter presidency, proclaimed that a great crisis was at hand. Although Americans no longer faced a great-power adversary comparable to the Soviet Union, "there is today a present danger."

The present danger is that the United States will shrink from its responsibilities as the world's dominant power and-in a fit of absentmindedness, or parsimony or indifference-will allow the international order that it sustains to collapse. The present danger is one of declining strength, flagging will and confusion about our role in the world.

... the grand vision entertained by second-generation neoconservatives demanded that the United States shatter the status quo. New conditions, they argued, absolved Americans from any further requirement to adhere to the norms that had defined the postwar international order. Osama bin Laden and the events of 9/11 provided the tailor-made opportunity to break free of the fetters restricting the exercise of American power.

The moment of decision was now at hand. "Either we act aggressively to shape the world and change regimes where necessary," wrote William Kristol and Gary Schmitt, "or we accept living in a world in which our existence is contingent on the whims of unstable tyrants."" According to Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan, "The alternative to American leadership is a chaotic, Hobbesian world." In such a world, "there is no authority to thwart aggression, ensure peace and security or enforce international norms."

Immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and despite the dearth of persuasive evidence linking Saddam Hussein's regime to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, neoconservatives in and out of government began pressing insistently for an all-out invasion of Iraq. The key to ultimate victory in the war on terror, neoconservatives believed, lay in Iraq. "The road that leads to real security and peace," argued William Kristol and Robert Kagan, was "the road that runs through Baghdad."

If neoconservatives harbored any lingering doubts about the ability of U.S. military power to carry off such a bold scheme, those doubts vanished with the first skirmish of the global war on terror-the nominally successful U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Victory over the Taliban in the fall of 2001 convinced Krauthammer for example, that "the way to tame the Arab street is not with easement and sweet sensitivity but with raw power and victory ... . The elementary truth that seems to elude the experts again and again... is that power is its own reward. Victory changes everything, psychology above all. The psychology in the [Middle East] is now one of fear and deep respect for American power. Now is the time to use it."

But Afghanistan was hardly more than a preliminary bout. The main event-the contest that promised to determine the future of the international order-was Iraq. "Either it will be a world order conducive to our liberal democratic principles and our safety," argued Robert Kagan and William Kristol, "or it will be one where brutal, well-armed tyrants are allowed to hold democracy and international security hostage. Not to take on Saddam would insure that regimes implicated in terror and developing weapons of mass destruction will be a constant-and growing-feature of our world. " Thus, Saddam had to go; the imperative of liberating and remaking Iraq demanded immediate attention.

The "political, strategic and moral rewards" of doing so promised to be enormous, according to Kristol. "A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated and Syria cowed; the Palestinians more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel; and Saudi Arabia with less leverage over policymakers here and in Europe," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2002. "Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power presents a genuine opportunity," Kristol emphasized, "to transform the political landscape of the Middle East."

Soon enough, this line of reasoning found favor with President George W. Bush. Viewing the global war on terrorism through a religious rather than an ideological lens, Bush nonetheless found much to like about the neoconservative prescription for U.S. policy, both as it applied to Iraq and more generally.

As a result, the period between the summer of 2002 and the spring 2003-bounded on the one side by Bush's speech to graduating cadets at West Point and on the other by the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, but with its true centerpiece the publication of the Bush administration's U.S. National Security Strategy-became for neoconservatives something like a dream come true. During this interval, the doctrines of preventive war and permanent military supremacy were officially enshrined as U.S. policy, with Operation Iraqi Freedom removing all doubts as to whether President Bush meant what he said. The fall of Baghdad in April 2003 presented to the United States, in the words of one neoconservative, the opportunity "to create a landscape for real revolution in the Middle East-a reordering that might prevent a future clash of civilizations."

As a consequence of these developments, the younger Bush, a born-again Christian, was reborn yet again in neoconservative eyes. He became what Reagan ought to have been, not only expressing all the correct sentiments but also (unlike the real Reagan) backing up words with action. Thanks to President Bush, noted an approving William Kristol just months after 9/It, "American foreign policy can be said to be at war with tyranny in general." Buoyed by the shift in policy inaugurated by the Bush Doctrine, the neoconservative writers David Frum and Richard Perle declared with confidence that with the United States having "become the greatest of all powers in world history, its triumph has shown that freedom is irresistible." Looking beyond Iraq, they glimpsed a world of universal peace Land freedom, "brought into being by American armed might and defended by American might."

No one applauded this prospect with greater enthusiasm than did Norman Podhoretz, who saw in these developments the fulfillment of longstanding neoconservative hopes and expectations. According to Podhoretz, .the sheer audacity" of the attack that Osama bin Laden had orchestrated on September 11 could have only one explanation: the weakness displayed by Bush's immediate predecessors during the 1990s had bred "contempt for American power.

When James Burnham had argued in the 1940s that the only alternative to the communist World Empire is an American Empire which will be... capable of exercising decisive world control," critics had denounced him as unhinged. But with 9/11, neoconservatives had come fully to embrace this imperial vision. Waging preventive war to overthrow recalcitrant regimes and free the oppressed-this had become the definitive expression of America's calling.

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