Michael Kinsley thinks that the “neo-conservatives” owe the public an “admission of error.” He notes that the original neocons opposed efforts to bring democracy to all corners of the world, and thought that there were some authoritarian regimes (as opposed to totalitarian ones) that the U.S. should shore up in the name of fighting Communism. Today, Kinsley finds, the neocons are indiscriminate in their desire to spread democracy, and oblivious to how difficult this can be.
Kinsley misses two points, I think. First, there is a new generation of neo-conservatives. It’s not clear, to use the neocons Kinsley cites, why Jeanne Kirkpatrick should admit error if Robert Kagan does not share her view of the world, and vice versa. Second, Kinsley doesn’t show that today’s neocons are indiscriminate in their quest to spread democracy or that they are oblivious to the difficulties of doing so. The original neocons wanted our advocacy of democracy to focus on countries that posed a threat to the U.S. in the Cold War environment (as opposed to countries like Nicaragua and Iran). Today’s neocons find that the absence of democracy in the Middle East poses a threat to the U.S. in the post 9/11 environment. Hence they seek to promote the spread of democracy in that region. Moreover, the zest with which they desire to promote it there is proportionate to the extent that its absence seems to threaten us. They urge the use of force to promote democracy in countries where the regime has been hostile and/or aggressive (Afghanistan and Iraq); they call for lesser means in countries where this is less true. Thus, the inconsistency Kinsley points to seems more apparent than real.
UPDATE: Joe Weidner at Random Jottings also is unimpressed by Kinsley’s thesis.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
“Proclaim Liberty throughout All the land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.” Inscription on the Liberty Bell