Why the Democrats must learn to love the Neocons


Progressive geopolitics depends on unity between and within our great democracies. For this reason, the recent news that Howard Dean, has become the new Chairman of the DNC, is a worrying sign.

He was the candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2004 whose fiery anti-war speeches electrified the Democratic grass-roots. His appointment raises the prospect that the party will ‘McGovernize’ itself, as it did after Nixon’s election victory in 1972, by embracing a left-leaning apologetic foreign policy which ends up by regarding the United States as a force for evil rather than good in the world. If the insurgency in Iraq continues to cost so many lives, the temptation to call on America to ‘come home’, will be very strong.

It is therefore vital that the dominant strand in Democratic foreign policy should be a robustly interventionist one, which remains committed to the export of democratic values and convinced that the United States is, as Madeleine Albright once put it, the ‘indispensable nation’. This means:

First, stop turning Iraq into a partisan issue. It is worth remembering that virtually all the Democratic Senators voted in favour of authorising the removal of Saddam Hussein. There was no reason why Bush should have claimed this achievement – with all its problems and ambiguities – exclusively as his own, had not the Democrats made it one of the main planks of their campaign.

Secondly, stop demonising the neo-conservatives. Democrat columnists, leftish writers, internet bloggers, ‘realist’ conservatives, isolationists and many others have recently constructed an extraordinary phantasm of a sinister and ultimately un-American ‘neo-conservative’ conspiracy at the heart of the Bush administration. In fact, opinion polls show that neo-conservative beliefs in the imperative to spread democracy in the Middle East, to protect Israel, and maintain US power command widespread support in the American heartland, and not just among evangelical Christians. Moreover, many of the older neo-conservatives are former Democrats, alienated by the party’s shift to the left in the 1970s. They shared the demands of Democrat liberal interventionists in the 1990s for action in Bosnia and Kosovo, when ‘realist’ Republicans, and Democrats, were sceptical. The neo-conservatives are not Amalekites, to be smitten hand and hip. They represent a progressive strain in American history, which should be wooed back into the fold. In short, the Democrats must learn to love the neo-conservatives.

Thirdly, stop apologising. John Kerry frequently referred to the need ‘to make America respected in the world again’. By this he meant, and was taken to mean, that America had somehow put itself beyond the pale through its unilateral action in Iraq. Of course, in individuals, public doubts and diffidence can be a sign of maturity. There was certainly nothing wrong with deploring the shame of Abu Ghraib, or feeling uneasy at the gusto with which some Republican hawks bypassed the United Nations. But in situations of extreme emergency, an uncertain trumpet is liable to misunderstood, by friend and foe. Moreover, the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was itself necessary and overdue, though one could argue about timing and method. Besides, there will be cases when Democrats, even liberal ones, will want to leave international institutions to one side in order to do what is right. Kosovo in 1999 was one; Darfur might be another in future.

Instead, the Democrats should embrace a long-neglected current within their party: that of Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, the long-serving Senator for Washington state. Jackson was a New Dealer, a pioneering conservationist and scourge of the corporations once described by Ralph Nader as ‘the most effective man in the Senate’, a passionate trade unionist, a civil rights enthusiast and supporter of Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society’. He was also a critic of the sixties ‘counter-culture’, a friend of Israel, particularly its Labour party, a supporter of the Vietnam War, and a ferocious opponent of Detente with the Soviet Union, which he condemned as selling out eastern European dissidents. Many of his national security assistants, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, believing the Democratic Party to be ‘soft on defence’ went on later to become prominent neo-conservatives and served in the Reagan administrations of the 1980s. He is a man who would have appealed to ‘tree huggers’ and ‘security moms’ alike. It is the Jacksonian tradition of cultural centrism, compassionate economics, a strong defence, and the aggressive promotion of human rights, that the Democrats will have to rediscover.

This article is adapted from the original, which can be found on The Social Affairs Unit website.


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