Friday, February 09, 2007

Hating those dreadful neocons (Part II): Right and Left unite

As I wrote yesterday in Part I, neocon-hatred is sometimes connected with poorly-veiled anti-Semtism. But there are many other reasons that some people on both Left and Right hate neocons. This post will, of necessity, contain many generalizations; I don't mean to say that all on the Left or Right hate neocons, or even that all neocon-haters are motivated by the factors I'm about to discuss.

On the Right, paleocons have plenty of ideological disagreements with neocons. There's a certain amount of anti-Semitism among a few paleocons (think Pat Buchanan), but more commonly there's the idea that neocons have perverted the conservative agenda for their own
nefarious and antithetical purposes. In other words, they've hijacked the party and infiltrated the mind of George Bush, wielding undue influence, hypnotizing him into betraying conservative impulses.

Paleocons believe in liberty and justice for all, but the "all" doesn't tend to include anybody outside our borders, at least not though our own direct efforts. They are willing to defend this country--and will do so vigorously--when it is attacked. But otherwise, isolationism is common (although not universal) among paleocons. And, when not isolationist, paleocons tend to be of the school of realpolitik, supporting whatever dictatorship happens to be perceived as best fitting our interests.

President Bush has betrayed paleocons by being a big spender. But their perception of even greater betrayal stems from the fact that Bush listened to the siren song of the neocons, who managed to talk him into a costly and useless war that has, among other things, caused the Party to lose the control of Congress so recently gained and hard fought.

Another factor is that paleocons, unfortunately, don't have much of an answer to the underlying problem of the rise of Islamic totalitarianism. This may be another part of the reason for their anger. Their traditional answer: pulling back, hunkering down--doesn't cut it in the modern world as easily as it did even fifty years ago. This time, the enemy came here; in fact, it probably is here. The world forces that created Islamic totalitarianism are not going away easily, and the other traditional paleocon approach--realpolitik: supporting, dealing with, and in many cases allying with and helping whatever dictator happens to suit our purposes--has failed to contain it.

The neocons offer an alternative that goes against the paleocon grain. As for the justifications behind the Iraq War, the WMD argument is the only one a paleocon would tend to see as valid, and the postwar failure to find actual WMDs only adds to the sense of betrayal.

Some paleocons actually see neocons as liberals by another name. And they're not that far off, in a way; neocons do not tend to share much of the cultural and social conservatism of paleocons; in this, many neocons do have more in common with liberals.

But of course, liberals seem to hate neocons even more strongly and universally than paleocons do. In a way, this is puzzling; after all, the neocon agenda involves the liberation of third-world peoples from tyranny. Is that not a traditional liberal, (and Leftist--although Leftists have different goals for any such "liberation") agenda?

For liberals, though--at least recently--one of the subtexts of liberation around the world is that it must be altruistic and for humane purposes only. That is, our motives need to be pure. The neocons are considered much too bold about our own stake in the matter. Their belief that liberal democracy (meaning: democracy accompanied by guarantees of human and civil rights and liberties) is a desirable thing for those countries themselves is not so bad. The problem is their idea that this is not merely an altruistic principle, but rather that furthering the cause of democracy around the world would benefit the US, and that this could at times be done by military means.

Liberals see the neocon agenda as a form of imperialism and/or colonialism, another big no-no (see here for my previous discussion of colonialism and Iraq). That's the underlying reason that wars of liberation are only defended by liberals if there is no US self-interest involved; that's the only way the war would be free of the "colonialism" taint.

Any hint of self-interest is not only defined as colonialist exploitation in the economic and political sense, it also smacks of the violation of certain sacred cultural relativistic principles. Cultural relativism, originally a corrective to certain racist ideas of innate superiority, has slowly morphed into something quite different: a morally relative inability to make judgments about the actions of any country--with the strange exceptions of the US and Israel, who are always guilty, by definition. That way, the Left asserts its superior tolerance of others.

Liberals and the Left feel they have the corner on nobility and humanitarianism: it's their territory. Those on the Right are defined as heartless red (not blue) meanies. So the motives of those on the Right when they cite humanitarian concerns are always suspect. The Right, by definition, is about money, exploitation, bloodthirstyness. Only when the Left wants a war of liberation can it really be one of liberation.

So we have the odd spectacle of watching liberals twist themselves into pretzel-like contortions trying to fit the old isolationist stance of the Right into the liberal agenda. People are supposed to get whatever dictatorship they deserve, I suppose; that's most respectful of their cultural mores.

For liberals and the left, Bush Derangement Syndrome comes into the mix, as well. Even though he's not a neocon, he listened to neocons. So those who hate Bush anyway hate neocons more because of their connection to him, and those who hate neocons anyway hate Bush more because of his connection to them--in an ever-increasing loop of anger.

This why liberals and Leftists who criticize the Iraq war must downplay the justifications for it given earlier by the Clinton administration, or the fact that it involved vioations of international UN agreements on the part of Saddam. No, it must be a solely neocon war, and its flaws are due to the stupid neocons, not just the flawed (and correctable) execution of a just and correct war that many of them supported when Bill was talking about it (such clips exist, by the way; I've heard them).

And so we have the interesting spectacle of Right and Left united--perhaps temporarily--in the chill grip or realpolitik and/or isolationism, and against the neocons.

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