The label “neoconservative” has been misused and abused so frequently that it has lost most of its substantive meaning. Without getting deep into the details, consider that the most famous neoconservative article ever published, Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorship and Double Standards,” argued against democracy promotion as a guiding principle of American foreign policy:
Although most governments in the world are, as they always have been, autocracies of one kind or another, no idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. This notion is belied by an enormous body of evidence based on the experience of dozens of countries which have attempted with more or less (usually less) success to move from autocratic to democratic government.
Many of the wisest political scientists of this and previous centuries agree that democratic institutions are especially difficult to establish and maintain-because they make heavy demands on all portions of a population and because they depend on complex social, cultural, and economic conditions.
But these days, neoconservatism is most commonly viewed as entailing an over-arching commitment to the promotion of democracy.
Even more confusion arises when neoconservatism is viewed as entailing anything like a Jimmy Carter style commitment to promoting human rights. Neoconservatism picked up steam (and adherents, including me) due in good measure to its disgust with the way Carter executed his human rights policy.
Kirkpatrick’s famous article began by condemning the Carter administration for its role in the demise of regimes in Iran and Nicaragua, both of which committed significant human rights abuses but were pro-American. Kirkpatrick also wondered: “How can an administration committed to nonintervention in Cambodia and Vietnam announce that it ‘will not be deterred’ from righting wrongs in South Africa?”
Yet, we are now told that Samantha Power, the nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, enjoys neoconservative support because of her advocacy of using the U.S. military in response to major human rights abuses and genocide. The “neocons” cited are John McCain, Max Boot, Joe Lieberman, and Alan Dershowitz.
As Keith Urbahn, who served as chief of staff to former Defense Secretary Rumsfield, says Jeanne Kirkpatrick is “turning in her grave right now.”
Max Boot’s praise of Power is probably causing Kirkpatrick to turn the most. Boot expressed hope that Power will “call countries out on misconduct.”
That hope is not unreasonable; Power has a record of calling countries out on human rights matters. Unfortunately, Israel is probably the country she has most persistently called out.
Jeanne Kirkpatrick believed in calling out our enemies, not our allies.
When it comes to Israel, Alan Dershowitz vouches, Chuck Schumer style, for Power — as Max Boot has done in the past. Dershowitz assures us that “I’ve known Samantha for many many years and have been to many gatherings where Israel has been discussed off the record and have never heard her express any views that could be characterized as anti-Israel.”
Dershowitz expresses a Phenomenalism that would make Bishop Berkeley proud. No doubt, the Harvard professor is an important guy. But there is a world that exists outside of Dershowitz’s earshot. To defend Power requires an analysis of her written work and her interviews, not just her statements made in the presence of Dershowitz and Boot. After all, Hillary Clinton probably never heard Power call her “a monster.”
Dershowitz brushes aside one set of Power’s statements about Israel — her 2002 comments in which she suggested “external intervention” may be necessary to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which may mean “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import” (i.e. Jewish Americans). According to Dershowitz, Power told him she regrets making the statement.
I’m sure she does. But the statement nonetheless betrays animus towards Israel, as do others Power has since made — statements Dershowitz doesn’t address.
Let’s give the last word on Power and neoconservatism to Urbahn. He remarks: “[I]t might be helpful to have someone [representing] America at the UN who doesn’t think we are the source of the world’s ills.” That Power doesn’t fit this description is evident, says Urbahn, from a 2003 article in which Power called for a “historical reckoning” with America’s foreign policy evils.
When Jeanne Kirkpatrick said “they always blame America first,” she wasn’t referring to neoconservatives. She was referring to people like Samantha Power.