The Return of the Neocons

By Margolick, David | Newsweek, February 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Return of the Neocons


Margolick, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Margolick

Neoconservatism was once deemed dead--'Buried in the sands of Iraq.' But it persists, not just as the de facto foreign-policy plank of the Republican Party but, its proponents assert, in Obama's unapologetic embrace of American military might.

For all his eminence--or maybe because of it--the funeral for Irving Kristol this past September was an understated affair. Some thought Dick Cheney might show up, but neither he nor any other Republican leader did; it seemed almost ungrateful, given Kristol's extraordinary contribution to the GOP--how he'd brought intellectual legitimacy and heft to what he himself had once called "the stupid party." None of the Republican congressional leadership was there, nor any of the would-be candidates for 2012--not even Sarah Palin, whom Kristol's ubiquitous son, Bill, had helped turn into a political phenomenon.

The assemblage of about 200 people wasn't exactly small, but in the gargantuan sanctuary of Adas Israel Congregation, built at a time--1951--when American Jews of Irving Kristol's generation wanted to proclaim they'd finally arrived and planned to stick around awhile, it was dwarfed by its surroundings; the burgundy back benches were empty. Adas Israel is Washington's most powerful Conservative congregation, the one to which every Israeli ambassador to the United States in history has belonged. Instead of the usual parade of celebrity eulogists, though, only two people--the rabbi and Bill Kristol--spoke, and briefly at that. In 40 minutes or so it was over.

But the strength of neoconservatism, the intellectual and political "persuasion" (as he once called it) that Irving Kristol launched and led, has never been in its numbers but in its firepower and ferocity. And had the elder Kristol--whose shrouded coffin sat inconspicuously below the stage, nestled between the American and Israeli flags--been able to survey the crowd, he'd have been pleased. For filling the pews were his progeny, not just biological but intellectual, and they were an impressive lot.

They came from the publications that neoconservatives either run, like Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard, or work for, like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Others came from the think tanks where neocons congregate, particularly the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). There were faces from the Iraq War, with which the neocons are inextricably linked, like former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz (making a rare public appearance) and the former civilian administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer. Charles Krauthammer, the impassioned and highly influential neoconservative columnist at The Washington Post, and the political scientist Francis Fukuyama (a rare lapsed and repentant neocon) hadn't spoken to each other for several years--ever since Fukuyama had taken exception to the roseate view of the Iraq War Krauthammer had offered in the American Enterprise Institute's 2004 Irving Kristol Lecture--but Kristol's death had briefly brought them back together, albeit in different parts of the synagogue. The more traditional wing of the Republican Party, the one the neocons had arguably routed, also paid homage: George Will, who'd come to view the Iraq War as an enormous mistake, took his seat respectfully. In his uncharacteristically apolitical, even gentle, eulogy, Bill Kristol couldn't help but gloat over the proliferation of neocons: "scores, legions--hordes they must seem to those who disapprove of them," he said.

Like Bill Kristol, some of those on hand had inherited their right-wing beliefs rather than adopted them (as Irving Kristol, a longtime Democrat, once had). Technically, there is nothing "neo" about conservatives like Robert Kagan, the historian and another Washington Post columnist, or John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary; each is a son of one of neoconservatism's founding fathers. Indeed, no strain in American politics is so dynastic. …

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