Muravchik on the Future of Neoconservatism:

Here’s an interesting article by neoconservative Joshua Muravchik on the future of neonconservatism. As always with Muravchik, it is well-written and provocative. Unfortunately, the article also suggests that Muravchik, and perhaps his editors at Commentary, have learned nothing from the Iraq War.

Muravchik states and tries to refute several critiques of neoconservative ideology, but does not even manage to acknowledge the existence of what I think is the most persuasive critique: that the U.S. government, like all governments, tends to be short-sighted, incompetent, and corrupt. Therefore, charging it with Herculean tasks like spreading democracy to countries with no democratic tradition, and with little in common culturally, linguistically, or otherwise with Americans, is presumptively a foolish idea. The best that can be said for argument that can be made on behalf of neoconservative ideology is that as foolish as this idea seems, the alternative provided by its critics amounts to sitting around and waiting for a rogue state or terrorist group to destroy Manhattan with an atom bomb. [I’m not endorsing this argument, but if I were a neoconservative, that’s the argument I’d make.] But Muravchik, and other neocons, don’t make a “least-bad-alternative” argument, they seem to believe that if the American government just devotes sufficient economic and military resources to democratization, it will somehow inherently use those resources wisely and efficiently, and if democracy fails to bloom, we should just try harder. If that still doesn’t work, it means that the U.S. has encountered insurmountable local barriers to democratization, not that there is something questionable about the whole project to begin with.

The irony is that the other, domestic policy wing of neoconservatism, the wing that focused on the failures of the Great Society, got its reputation and influence by explaining that good intentions (as in failed Great Society programs) aren’t enough, and that throwing government resources at problems not only isn’t enough, but is often counter-productive. Idealism is one thing, but as non-neoconservative P.J. O’Rourke puts it, giving the government money and power is like giving car keys and whiskey to a teenage boy. Foreign policy neocons like Muravchik sound just like the domestic liberals their domestic neocon brethren delighted in attacking in the 70s and 80s: “it wasn’t our policy that failed, much less our ideology, we just need to redouble our efforts, maintain our idealism, and give the government more money and power.”