Jeffrey Lord still has his panties in a wad over the Monroe Doctrine, and Jim Antle replied. Roger Kaplan, who posts infrequently, chimed in with an attempt to clarify. While Kaplan makes some important points, I also think he attempts some deliberate misdirection. Read his post for context. Below is my reply.
Mr. Kaplan, there is some truth here, but I am afraid some misdirection also.
First, the First Gulf War may have been an exercise in international border enforcement, but it wasn’t our fight. Nowhere is it written in stone by the Hand of God that the US must lead or participate in such ventures. We went to war because the Bush I Administration, with the slobbering acquiescence of Republicans and Democrats alike, took it upon this country to play global enforcer, something I see nowhere in the job description of the US government called the Constitution. Likewise with “get-the-varmints” warfare. Don’t see that in the job description either.
Second, I agree that people throw around the word neoconservative too casually. Many hyper-interventionists (John Bolton for example) are not neoconservatives proper. They are a type of bellicose, militaristic nationalist, and are less motivated by spreading democracy than they are by stomping out perceived (and always alarmingly exaggerated) threats.
I also agree that there is a difference between the “first generation” of neoconservatives, Irving Kristol for example, and “second generation” neoconservatives, Kristol the Younger for example. The second generation is more fixated on foreign policy as you indicate and more grandiose and less cautious with their rhetoric and plans. But it is clear that the seeds of neoconservative thought that grew into the Jacobin radicalism of “second generation” neoconservatism were there from the beginning.
But while I agree that we need to be more careful with the use of neoconservative, confining the term only to those with a direct lineage to the originals is precision with the intent to mislead. Rumsfeld and Cheney may be more Bolton like, but Wolfowitz not a neoconservative? Come on now.
In most cases the term neoconservative is not meant to indicate only people with a direct lineage, but the ideas they promulgated. Kristol the Elder didn’t write a book called Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea for nothing. Unfortunately, neoconservatives ideas suffuse the whole “conservative” interventionist paradigm making it very hard to sort out.
I think most “conservative” interventionists are primarily concerned with what they see as our national interests and suppressing imagined threats, and less concerned with democratization projects, but the tension still exists as was illustrated here in the AmSpec blog regarding Egypt and Libya. But these bellicose nationalists have a very hard time disentangling themselves from neocon ideas and rhetoric especially when pressed on national interest questions. They quickly resort to classic neocon formulations of US as necessary enforcer of world order and bringer of light complete with all or nothing Jacobin–like good guys vs. bad guys scenarios.
There are a few illiberal interventionists who recognize neoconservatism as the post-Enlightenment liberal ideological dogma that it is and still maintain their interventionism (Ron L who comments here at times is one), but they are few and far between. In my experience neoconservative presumptions suffuse the thought processes of the average run-of-the-mill “conservative” interventionist to the point where it is very hard to make distinctions.
For example, Newt Gingrich’s (is he or is he not a neoconservative?) latest book is on the necessity of American Exceptionalism. (It is interesting that he felt the need to write that as his campaign book instead of something on the economy.) Romney (is he or isn’t he a neoconservative?) babbles incessantly about American Exceptionalism and sings pitch perfect from the neocon hymnal. American Exceptionalism, as it is (mis)understood by “conservatives” today, is an entirely neocon infused idea. Both the militant nationalists and the neocons share the presumption that American has a special role to fill in the world and since there are no more naked Imperialists (let’s invade country x so we can pump their oil) this is always prefaced on a notion of America as benign hegemon. It is conceivably possible to be a militant nationalist without having pretensions of being responsible for the whole world. A militant nationalist might conceivably be concerned only about his own “sphere.” So the world hegemon thing is a neocon baby whether you like it or not.