Politics

Say What You Will About the Tenets of Neo-Conservatism, At Least It’s An Ethos

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I’ve been pretty harsh on philosophical neo-conservatism over the last year or so. In fact, it’s safe to say that of all the various (actual) political philosophies that form a significant portion of our governing political coalitions, I have consistently held neo-conservatism in by far the most contempt.

And without a doubt, the basic tenets of neo-conservatism, with its emphasis on the spread of democracy as an end unto itself, are tenets with which I profoundly disagree. But it’s also worth remembering that neo-conservatism, at least in its most philosophical form, is very much concerned with a positive, idealistic worldview just as any other true political philosophy is. And while, just as other strains of conservatism and libertarianism, many prominent neo-conservatives have fallen under the spell of “talk radio dogmatism,” the actual philosophy of neo-conservatism itself – again much like other strains of conservatism and libertarianism – has deep intellectual roots.

Perhaps nothing provides a clearer example of the distinction between this “talk radio dogma” neo-conservatism and actual philosophical neo-conservatism than the reaction in conservative circles to the impending nomination of Leon Pannetta to head the CIA. As an outspoken critic of torture (aka “harsh interrogation techniques”) and the intelligence failures of the last 8 years who has no previous connection to the CIA, the Pannetta nomination has unsurprisingly drawn the praises of civil libertarians of all stripes – including Greenwald, Sullivan, Schwenkler, and Hilzoy.

What is, however, surprising is the way in which the pick has split the portions of the political Right that hold to a more-or-less neoconservative view of international relations. On the one hand, some of neo-conservatism’s biggest intellectual heavyweights, including Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, are almost completely supportive of the nomination – in spite of Panetta’s harsh criticism of policies that Feith and Perle either pushed or excused. The common thread for this group seems to be an acknowledgement of the failures of the last eight years, and a belief that those failures arose due to systemic, institutional problems within the Agency. To them, these problems can only be fixed by someone outside the Agency with strong managerial skills, and preferably, it would seem, a critic of the Agency. At base, this group recognizes that a neo-conservative agenda cannot succeed unless there is some sort of comprehensive reform of our intelligence services – and it is that idealistic (if, in my view, deeply flawed) neo-conservative agenda that remains their ultimate concern and goal.

But the GOP dogmatists, who do not understand the intellectual roots of the fundamentally neo-conservative foreign policy they advocate, have taken a vastly different tack.

Ed Morrissey, who is as close to an intellectually honest dogmatist as you will find:

Even the notion of “change” doesn’t apply here. Obama has no executive experience in government, and neither does Panetta, but Panetta hardly represents a breath of fresh air in Washington. He’s another Clinton-era retread, only in this case, put in charge of an organization about which he knows nothing. He’s there to exercise Obama’s political will and nothing more.

Similarly, Wizbang calls the pick the equivalent of the Bush decision to choose Mike Brown to head FEMA, while Ace of Spades says Panetta’s only qualification is “being a lifelong partisan hack.” And, of course, Michelle Malkin says “Another day, another clueless Clinton crony named to a top job for which he has no experience. The unqualified fish rots from the head down, after all. ”

Notably missing from any of the discussion amongst the dogmatists is an acknowledgement of the systemic problems faced by the CIA, whether it be in terms of the moral issues related to interrogation techniques or in terms of the embarassing intelligence failures in recent years.

Cross-posted at Publius Endures.