In the early days of the second Iraq War, Bill Niskanen and Ed Crane wrote that neoconservatism had always been “a movement with a head but no body. One rarely runs into a neocon on the street.” The other side of that coin is that sometimes heads matter a lot. Thomas Friedman was overstating things–but not entirely wrong–when he told Haaretz in a 2005 interview in Washington, DC that:
I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.
At crucial junctures in history, having small numbers of the right people in the right places can make all the difference. Ask the Bolsheviks. (Or the Mensheviks, for that matter.)
So if someone were to improve the right-of-center foreign policy establishment, it’s worth thinking about the people who would do so and the outlets for which they write.
The publications already exist. The National Interest is a foreign-policy journal friendly to realists of all policy orientations, and whose leadership has grown increasingly disenchanted with both US foreign policy generally and the neoconservative stranglehold on the GOP in particular. The struggle for such a magazine is to remain identifiably Republican at a time when a liberal Democratic president is running a more conservative foreign policy than the conservative commentariat is calling for, but TNI has managed to walk this line well. It deserves the support of right-minded donors, and one would like to see Republican pols writing for the magazine more often.
A more general interest magazine that could help shape a post-neoconservative GOP is The American Conservative. Founded as an anti-Iraq War magazine for conservatives, TAC has been buffeted by the same forces that have sunk lesser magazines, but has survived through the largesse of a number of different publishers and donors. Beyond its perestroika role on foreign policy, TAC has also asked heretical questions about politics and economics. Much of the credit for TAC’s quality and survival is due Dan McCarthy, who has helmed the magazine for years. (Full disclosure: I have written for both magazines and consider Dan a friend).
In terms of journalists, Daniel Larison at TAC should win some sort of Defense of Stalingrad medal for his sheer doggedness in defending against the many nutty ideas on the right (and the left). Jim Antle has done good work on foreign policy, while taking care not to lose his Vast Right Wing Conspiracy decoder ring, as has Jack Hunter. Sensible donors should promote public fights between these people and the neoconservatives that have turned the GOP’s foreign policy into such a disaster. Like presidential candidates winning elections, however, the neocons have been smart to duck these debates to date.
But perhaps the neocons’ run is coming to an end. Consider: We live in an era where it’s no longer an internet meme to joke about how blindingly stupid Bill Kristol is: the Washington Post ran a Style section story detailing how wrong he always is for which Kristol agreed to be interviewed. One can only hope that this arrogance and indifference to truth and learning is a sign of late imperial decline for the leaders of the GOP foreign policy establishment.
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