In 2006, Francis Fukuyama published America at the Crossroads, Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. In it, he covered three important facets of American foreign policy with regards to Iraq. First, he went over neoconservative ideology, something often talked about with regards to the invasion of Iraq, but little understood. Second, he debunked the idea that it was solely neoconservatives within the Bush administration who were responsible for the war. Finally, he discussed how neoconservatives betrayed their own ideas by how they dealt with the invasion and reconstruction of the country. Altogether, the neoconservatives did contribute to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that would in the end, help discredit them.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq brought neoconservatives to the attention of American pundits, but there was broad misunderstanding of their origins and ideas. For example, some believed that because many of the neoconservatives within the Bush administration such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, and head of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle were Jewish, their main concern was protecting Israel. Others mentioned University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss as being an influential thinker behind the movement. James Atlas of the New York Times wrote an article in May 2003, which went into great length arguing that Strauss was the intellectual godfather of neoconservatives. Strauss had little direct influence on any of the neoconservatives involved with the Bush administration, and said little about foreign policy to begin with. Neoconservatism actually had its roots with a group of leftists in 1930s and 1940s New York City. Irvin Kristol, Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Seymour Martin Lipset, Philip Selznick, and Nathan Glazer are considered the founders of the movement. All of them were initially socialists or communists who ended up turning against those ideas, because of the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. They came to see oppressive governments as being a threat to other countries, because if they were willing to mistreat their own citizens, they would not regard the interests of other countries either. During World War II and the Cold War, they became opponents of liberals and the New Left, because they believed they were soft or sympathetic to the Soviet Union. They also saw World War II as a great moral victory for the United States against dictatorship, fascism and oppression, which helped spread democracy around the world. Kristol and Bell went on to found the journal Public Interest that dealt with American domestic politics. They were opposed to things like President Johnson’s Great Society, which they thought was liberal social engineering that would make the recipients dependent upon the government. By the 1980s, neoconservatives backed President Reagan, and saw the end of the Cold War as another victory for democracy. Irving Kristol’s son William went on to found the magazine the Weekly Standard in the 1990s, and he, along with Frank Kagan began advocating for a neoconservative foreign policy. In 1996, they wrote an article in the journal Foreign Affairs, and then in 2000 published a book Present Dangers that advocated for “benevolent hegemony” by the United States now that the Soviet Union had been defeated. The U.S. was to use its power to spread democracy, and keep its opponents at bay using overwhelming military superiority. The move from Left to Right happened to many Americans in the 1930s to 1960s. The brutality of Stalin made them disillusioned not only with communism, but with liberalism as well, while the victories in World War II and the Cold War emboldened them. Neoconservatives eventually became a vocal element of the larger conservative movement within the United States.
Neoconservatism ended up contributing a fourth approach to foreign policy in the United States in the 1990s. There are two dominant views of foreign affairs amongst American elites, realism, and idealism. Realism is based upon states acting as rational actors that want to protect and expand their power. Idealists want to establish a world order based upon law and global institutions. Fukuyama noted a third trend, which he called nationalists who only care about national security, but also have a strong isolationist view as well. In the 1990s, neoconservatives like Kristol and Kagan added their ideas, which were based upon four main principals. First, their beliefs about dictatorships led them to believe that the internal politics of countries were of great importance, because oppressive countries were much more likely to cause trouble in the international system such as wars. Second, was that morals should play a role in international relations, namely the promotion of democracy and human rights. Third, there was a distrust of international law and organizations to solve anything. Finally, neoconservatives’ dislike of liberal American domestic policies led them to believe that social engineering in other countries would not work either. The movement’s early opposition to Stalinism shaped their opinions of foreign affairs. It was also an alternative to the realist and idealists in American political thought. During the 1990s neoconservatives were also in the odd position of supporting many of President Clinton’s policies such as the intervention in the former Yugoslavia to stop the slaughter there, which mainstream conservatives opposed. Neoconservatives therefore pushed for a liberal foreign policy, but through American military power.
During the 1990s, Iraq became a major concern of neoconservative foreign policy experts. That started with the 1991 Gulf War. Neoconservatives supported the war to stop Saddam Hussein from expanding his power, but became opponents of the first Bush administration’s decision not to support the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings that followed the cessation of hostilities. Neoconservatives began pushing for regime change afterward, and supported various Iraqi exile groups such as Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Their concerns about dictators, especially aggressive and oppressive ones, made them opponents of Saddam, and push for his removal. Their distrust of international organizations made them believe that the United Nations would not solve the problem, so the U.S. needed to deal with Iraq unilaterally, perhaps using a pre-emptive strike. Many of these ideas were pushed within the second Bush administration, but they were not the dominant ones.
Many commentators believed that the neoconservatives were the main reason why the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, but they were wrong. It seemed like almost every article that discussed the Bush administration’s decision to go to war mentioned the neoconservatives by talking about officials like Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz and the desire to spread democracy in the Middle East. This argument ignored the fact that Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were not neoconservatives, and were the ones that shaped Iraq policy. In January 2001, Rumsfeld distributed a report on asymmetrical threats to the United States now that the Cold War was over. Iraq was mentioned, because new technologies offered it and other countries the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and nuclear devices, which could threaten U.S. interests. That was the Defense Secretary’s main concern about Iraq from day one of the new administration, to remove the security threat Rumsfeld believed Saddam posed. There was nothing about dictatorships or democracy. President Bush too was concerned about Iraq from the start of his administration, but he voiced none of the neoconservative agenda. In the first two meetings of the National Security Council, the president simply allowed each agency within his administration to follow its own strategy with regards to Iraq from the State Department working on smart sanctions to the Treasury Department looking into cutting off Iraq’s finances to the Pentagon looking into reforming a coalition against Iraq and supporting Iraqi opposition groups. Only that very last point of backing Iraqi opponents was a neoconservative idea. It wasn’t until 9/11 happened that the Bush administration finally started pushing for invading Iraq. Bush thought that Saddam might be involved in the attack, and Rumsfeld hoped that 9/11 might provide an opportunity to strike Iraq. An Iraq-Al Qaeda connection and WMD were not original neoconservative arguments against Iraq, but were adopted by them, so that they could achieve their goal of overthrowing Saddam. That showed that the Bush administration was the one driving the agenda, rather than the neoconservatives.
Fukuyama believed that in backing the Iraq invasion, neoconservatives ended up betraying one of their own ideas, which was the belief that social engineering does not work. Neoconservatives had no ideas on how to build a democracy after the fall of Saddam, or how to develop the country. That’s because almost all of the neoconservative writing focused almost exclusively on using the U.S. military against the country’s enemies, but nothing about what would happen afterward. Neoconservatives in the government seemed to think that the whole process would be quick and easy. Wolfowitz for instance, said that the reconstruction of Iraq would cost little, and would mostly be funded by Iraqi oil revenues. Many neoconservatives also supported the disbanding of the Iraqi security forces having no idea that such institutions as the military were one of the things that held Iraq together, and would be necessary to fight the insurgency. Instead, many seemed to believe that once Saddam was removed, democracy would just come about naturally. Nine years later, Iraq is still struggling with establishing rule of law, building institutions, developing its economy, and creating a democratic form of government showing that the neoconservatives might have been right that grand attempts to change societies usually run into all kinds of problems.
Neoconservatives’ support for the invasion of Iraq brought them into the spotlight in America, but would also discredited many of their ideas immediately afterward. Almost every writing about the Bush administration’s war mentioned neoconservatives as being some of the major movers and thinkers behind the invasion. While they were strong proponents of getting rid of Saddam since the 1990s, they were not the main decision makers within the government. Their support for spreading democracy and concerns about the internal politics of other countries only came to the fore after the invasion when no weapons of mass destruction or Al Qaeda connection were discovered. Those two failures would also not only discredit the administration, but the neoconservatives in general since so many believed that they were the main architects of the war. Neoconservatism went on to cause more problems as they had little to contribute to rebuilding Iraq, because their ideology was originally opposed to such ideas, and they had only focused upon using military force against America’s enemies. Neoconservatives are still involved in American politics today, which is why its important to cut through all the myths about their involvement in Iraq, and understand what their real origins and ideas are.
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