chapter  4
28 Pages

The war of ideology

This chapter critically engages with what is often described as the neoconservative war of ideology. The attempt to promote liberal democracy is, for many neoconservatives, intimately bound with the attempt to protect the national idea. It is, after all, only within a liberal democracy, it is often argued, that a citizen’s civil and political liberties can be respected. Yet it is predominantly for ideological reasons, I argue, that neoconservatives endlessly emphasize the necessity of advancing liberal democratic principles around the world. There are, to be sure, instances when neoconservatives speak of the strategic reasons as to why America should undertake this task, but their ideological mindset makes them prone to recycle any argument that reinforces the need to promote liberal democracy. The influence ideology has had on neoconservatives cannot be understated, for they regularly speak of its impact on their personal lives. “I was raised,” Joshua Muravchik explained, “in a home in which ideology was everything” (2007). When neoconservatives speak of ideology, they always speak of it in

a combative and confrontational way. They do not clearly define what ideology is, but they leave their readers with no doubt that they believe that liberal democracy must be defended against all rival ideologies competing for the loyalties of humankind. They speak of ideology in rather simple dualities – liberal democracy vs. totalitarian communism, liberal democracy vs. Islamic fascism, liberal democracy vs. autocracy. While one can sympathize with those who insist that “ideology” itself is a term deserving of greater analytical thoroughness and conceptual clarity, this chapter engages with the neoconservative war of ideology on neoconservative terms, asking to what extent has this ideological combativeness led American foreign policy astray. Neoconservatives wage their ideological struggles on behalf of liberal

democracy in a variety of theatres, from the chambers of the United Nations to the corridors of power in Washington, DC to the lion’s den of the Middle East. Whether it was Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s struggles at the United Nations against the growing number of Third World dictatorships that had recently won independence from European colonial powers, or Henry Jackson’s attempt to lift restrictions on the number of people the Soviet

Union permitted to emigrate, neoconservatives often betray their credentials as formidable and earnest ideologists. After documenting these instances of ideological contestation, I argue

that the neoconservative elevation of ideology above all else has led to two problematic policy recommendations, the first throughout the Cold War and the second throughout the war on terror. In the former instance, it left neoconservatives intellectually ill equipped to appreciate fully the role statesmanship can play in defusing international conflict. In the latter, it has led to a costly failure to come to terms with the complexity of the contemporary wave of Islamic suicide terrorism. While in the last chapter I argued that the neoconservative attempt to protect the national idea was a worthy rhetorical undertaking, even if some neoconservatives were not entirely clear as to what the national idea required of America; this chapter strongly questions the desirability of placing such a strong emphasis on ideology in international affairs. In fact, I argue that the ideological mindset of neoconservatives precluded them from even contemplating that Cold War tensions could be reduced, just as it encouraged them to call for the ideological transformation of the Middle East. It has, in short, led to policy recommendations mired in ideology and devoid of prudence. When it came to the Cold War, Ronald Reagan fortunately turned away from such recommendations. When it came to the war on terror, George W. Bush did not. That, at least in part, is why America went to war in Iraq.