The Neocons Have No Credibility – So Why Do They Get So Much Media Exposure?
Topic: Progressive Op-Ed Program
How Proponents Of Perpetual Warfare Are Shaping Our Discourse
If the media coverage of the Iranian elections has taught us anything, it’s that the neoconservatives have held onto their megaphones in the mainstream press. For those of you unfamiliar with the neoconservatives – or neocons, as they are often referred to – they’re a clique of right-wing foreign policy ideologues who think the use of American military power is always justified under any circumstances. The endgame, as neocon Max Boot put it, is to have American troops occupy the “troubled lands” that “cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.” The neocons’ one real attempt at implementing this doctrine so far has been in Iraq, where our country has been fighting for more than six years to take out Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction stockpiles.
Amazingly, the neocons have learned nothing from the bloody experience in Iraq and would like to see it copied several times over. The recent Iranian elections are a case in point, as the neocons used the crackdown on Iranian dissidents as an excuse to both portray President Obama as weak and to restate their calls for regime change in the country. And of course, it isn’t merely Iran where the neocons would like to see military force applied. Neocon guru and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, for instance, has advocated using the American military to preventatively attack not only Iran, but also North Korea, Sudan and even Somali pirates. The neocons don’t seem to understand that it is simply not possible to fight multiple wars at once with our already-overstretched military. When Newt Gingrich was asked on Meet the Press a few years ago if having 130,000 of our troops stuck in Iraq had harmed our ability to deal effectively with Iran and North Korea, Gingrich actually said that it only hurt us “in our minds.”
But despite the fact that the neocons are demonstrably insane, they haven’t lost any of their credibility in the world of mainstream punditry. Neocons Kristol, Robert Kagan and Charles Krauthammer are all regular columnists at the Washington Post, while Newt Gingrich and Liz Cheney have become fixtures on television talk shows. Why have the neoconservatives been given such a large megaphone in the press when other members of the conservative movement, such as the libertarians and Christian conservatives, get relatively little exposure?
I think one big reason has to be the simplicity of the neocons’ narrative. While debates about healthcare reform and financial regulations are likely to go over many journalists’ heads, everybody understands, say, getting blown up by a North Korean missile. And because the neocons seem to think their target audience does not have the deepest understanding of history, they keep their historical analogies stark and uncomplicated: Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, Jimmy Carter’s handling of the Iranian hostage crisis and the terrorist attacks of September 11. These analogies are typically deployed in the following manner: “(X Politician) is showing the craven incompetence of Jimmy Carter while following Neville Chamberlain’s plan of appeasement, thus placing the nation in grave danger of getting hit with another 9/11.”
While these blatant scare tactics are good at garnering headlines, they are also easy to ridicule. After all, the reason why Adolf Hitler and the 9/11 attacks are so ingrained into our historical consciousness is because they were so uniquely awful. So when Charles Krauthammer claims that the leaders of China, North Korea and Iran are all the next Hitler, for example, the analogy loses a lot of its power. Similarly, when the Weekly Standard compares Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, every 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush and the Iraq Study Group to Neville Chamberlain, you can’t help but laugh. Because let’s face it: if every other country is run by the next Hitler and four out of our last six presidents have been Neville Chamberlains, America should have been overrun by barbarian hordes long ago.
In this light, it seems that ridicule is probably the best weapon for progressives who want to defend the virtues of diplomacy and multilateralism against the neocons’ ceaseless calls for more war. So the next time you find yourself debating a neoconservative who compares you to Neville Chamberlain because you don’t want to invade Venezuela, just roll your eyes and say, as neocon hero Ronald Reagan once did, “There you go again.”
This article was produced as part of Commonweal Institute's Progressive Op-Ed Program