I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.
Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.
For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.
Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:
While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.
By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.
Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”
How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.