The American-Jewish intellectual Irving Kristol once explained that a neoconservative is "a liberal who's been mugged by reality." His son and the successor to the idea, William Kristol, is under attack from around the world for his enormous influence as one of the leading neocons influencing the American administration. The younger Kristol, a guest here this week of Tel Aviv University's School of Government and Policy, presented his political vision at an event held in his honor in a lecture entitled, "President Bush's foreign policy after September 11 and the neoconservative ideology."
The attacks on the neoconservatives in the Arab world, Europe and the U.S. is often characterized by anti-Semitism. For some years, the Jews among the neocons have starred in many articles that use classic anti-Semitic imagery depicting them as part of a Jewish "conspiracy" controlling the world.
One of the favorite terms used by those writers is the "neoconservative cabal," which often appears in the Arab but also the Western press. It adds a Jewish-mystic tinge (echoes of kabbala) to the "conspiracy" of philosophers, think tanks and writers as well as media magnate Rupert Murdoch (even though he is not Jewish), whose goal is to lead the U.S. into an aggressive foreign policy that aims for regime change in anti-democratic countries that support terror as its centerpiece.
The neocons have been speaking openly for the past several years about how it is America's duty to assume leadership and responsibility for global security. They say that since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been lax in protecting its vital security interests, undertook deep cuts in its military budgets and created a sense of uncertainty about its attitude toward threats to world peace and the values represented by the democratic superpower.
William Kristol is the editor of The Weeky Standard, which President Bush has said he reads regularly. Eight years ago, the magazine came out with a cover story arguing for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Another well-known article by Kristol and Robert Kagan in a 1996 issue of Foreign Affairs emphasized the danger of terror and non-conventional weapons, and argued that after the Soviet empire had ceased to threaten the world, it was the duty of the U.S. to export aggressively democracy to the world.
The first generation of neoconservatives also included a group of Jews who had moved from left to right - Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, and Irving Kristol, William's father, were both Trotskyites in their youth. In the 1980s, they, together with non-Jews in their circle, created the ideological framework for the Reagan administration's struggle against the evil Soviet empire. In the 1990s, they warned against the Clinton administration's complacency in the face of threats to world peace. At first the Bush administration did not demonstrate it had a comprehensive foreign policy, but the events of 9/11 led it to adopt the ideology of the group, some of whom were already serving in the administration.
It is still difficult to assess the influence of the neoconservatives on Bush's second term. On the one hand they are encouraged by the democratic elections in Iraq, but on the other, as William Kristol recently pointed out, they are disappointed by the erosion of democracy in Russia and are especially worried by what seems to be a feeble American response to the nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea.
Indeed there are a large number of Jews among the neoconservatives, but the vast majority of American Jewry is to the left of them. On the other hand, among the pro-Israel Jewish neoconservatives, like Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council, there are those who don't hide their support for the disengagement and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
These facts do not prevent Westerners and Europeans from accusing the Jewish neoconservatives of nurturing a war policy against Iraq because of their concern for Israel, or dual loyalties. There is nothing new in such sweeping anti-Semitic accusations, and it is difficult to find any logic or consistency in them: In the 1930s the Jews were accused of pushing Roosevelt's New Deal from the left (anti-Semites referred to it as the Jew Deal). But as is well-known by now that Roosevelt did not move in response to Jewish pleas to save Jews during the Holocaust.
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