The "Neocons": From the Cold War to the "Global Intifada"

By Hadar, Leon T. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 1991 | Go to article overview

The "Neocons": From the Cold War to the "Global Intifada"


Hadar, Leon T., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


As the first scenes from the Gulf war were broadcast on American television, more than a few victory signs were probably raised in the editorial offices of magazines like Commentary or the New Republic and in the study rooms of think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute or the Hudson Institute.

Indeed, as in the headquarters of the Likud party in Tel Aviv, there was a sense of triumph and celebration at these centers of the neoconservative movement on the East Coast. For the members of this intellectual group, who during the Reagan era produced and implemented the militant pro-Israel and anti-Soviet agenda of the administration, the Persian Gulf war signaled the success of the coordinated effort they launched at the end of the Cold War. Its goal was to replace the decaying Soviet threat with a new enemy, the Arab world, and to set in motion a collision course between the West and Islam, whose only beneficiary would be the uncompromising and annexationist Israeli government.

It was not difficult to trace in the first days of the war the sense of satisfaction reflected in the columns of such neo-conservative writers as William Safire, "Abe" Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer or Daniel Pipes. All welcomed the possibility of an American-Arab war which would turn the Palestinian intifada into a sideshow. At the same time, any television viewer could observe the glee with which Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud government's chief propagandist and darling of the neoconservatives, reacted to the Iraqi missile attacks on Israel. According to him, these vindicated Israel's refusal to recognize Palestinian national aspirations.

The neoconservatives hoped that the end result of the war would be to revive the concept of Israel as America's "strategic asset," which had seemed doomed by the changing relationship between the two superpowers. These hopes were dashed, however, by the obvious desire of President George Bush that Israel stay on the sidelines, and the effectiveness with which such Arab countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia cooperated with the US, both militarily and economically.

Who are these neoconservatives, or the "neocons," as both admirers and enemies refer to them? The neoconservative movement was founded in the 1960s by a group of New York-based intellectuals, mostly academics and journalists, many of whom were concerned about the "anti-Israel" drift they detected among the ranks of the New Left and Black leaders who were gaining increasing power in the Democratic Party.

Among the major figures in the movement were former Trotskyites who studied in the '30s and '40s at the then "poor man's Harvard," the City College of New York, a center for socialist activism. They included Irving Kristol, who in the 1950s launched an anti-Soviet CIA front, the International Congress for Cultural Freedom; Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the American Jewish Committee's monthly magazine Commentary, which he turned into a major neoconservative outlet; Podhoretz's wife, Midge Decter, the chairperson of the now-defunct Committee on the Free World; sociologists Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell; and Democratic Party pamphleteer Ben Wattenberg.

That neoconservative "nuclear family" was later joined by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Walt and Eugene Rostow, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams (Podhoretz' son-in-law), Kenneth Adelman, and other Cold Warriors and advocates of hawkish Israeli policies. Individually and, later, as a group, they have had a major impact on the foreign policy of several administrations, beginning with that of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Born-Again Zionists

Israel became a central cause for these neocons after its victory in the 1967 war turned most of them into born-again Zionists. Neocons like the Rostow brothers and Ben Wattenberg, who served in the Johnson administration, helped LBJ drum up support for the Vietnam War among Jewish liberal Democrats who had been opposed to that military adventure.

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