Outside Analysis

The Conservative Split I: An Introduction to Neoconservatism

(NOTE: This is the first in a series of recent commentaries on developments in the conservative political movement– namely the “rise of the neo-conservatives”, and the concern this is causing with the more traditional conservatives and “paleo-conservatives”.)

Gary North, a veteran of the modern conservative movement, provides an extraordinary overview of the history of the “neoconservative” branch of that movement, which has culminated in the sharp changes in U.S. foreign policy focus and demeanor seen since the September 11th attacks. His analysis is long, intensely revealing, and it is delivered from the view of a long-time insider and “player” in the conservative ranks.

An Introduction to Neoconservatism

Questions relating to neoconservatism � what it is, who runs the show � have begun to be raised by the conventional press, mainly due to the invasion of Iraq, which is clearly the fruit of policy recommendations made by neoconservative advisors to President Bush. Foreign policy is the traditional monopoly of the Establishment. After all, the Council on Foreign Relations is not called the Council on Domestic Policies. Any invasion of turf by outsiders is therefore resented by the Establishment. The neocons are turf-invaders, which bothers the Establishment far more than the invasion of Iraq does.

Criticism of neoconservatism from the paleoconservative Right has also escalated. If the paleoconservatives had any institutional turf to defend, their resentment might be compared with the reaction of the Establishment. But because the paleos have served the Right as non-interventionism’s John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness, they were on the attack against neoconservatism as early as the first Bush’s Administration. Their decade-old name is a self-conscious reaction to neoconservatism. Their attitude is straightforward: “We don’t need no stinking neo.”

The paleos resent the neocons for the same reasons that their spiritual forbears, the Taft Republicans, resented the post-war foreign policy interventionism of both Democrats and Republicans: first under Dean Acheson and then long-time internationalist John Foster Dulles. (By far the best book on Dulles is Alan Stang, The Actor, Western Islands, 1968.)

I am a paleo, but with distinctions. I was an anti-Communist. My view of national defense during the Cold War was strictly defensive. I publicly promoted the Strategic Defense Initiative even before President Reagan announced it. I favored the creation of a national civil defense program. (Arthur Robinson and Gary North, Fighting Chance, 1986.) I favored the replacement of offensive ICBM’s by thousands of mobile, subsonic, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, which would have eliminated any strategic possibility of a Soviet first strike against these strictly defensive weapons. I was opposed to MAD: Mutual Assured Destruction, where civilians were held hostage by both sides. The idea of war against civilians appalls me. As to my anti-Communist bona fides, you can download a free copy of my 1968 book, Marx’s Religion of Revolution.

In tracing the rise of neoconservatism, it is best to use the five W’s of old-fashioned journalism: what, who, when, where, and why, in that order. I offer these thoughts as an introduction, not as anything remotely definitive. Let us begin with the pre-neo conservative movement.

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