In foreign-policy battles, are neocons losing their hold?
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Observers say it was a series of columns by classic conservative George Will that signaled the Republicans' foreign-policy war. Saying the administration's Iraq policy has been too "neo" and not sufficiently conservative, Mr. Will hammers his central point: As exceptional as America may be, it should not blindly believe it can overcome the force of culture in foreign places.Skip to next paragraph
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Others point to a battle of the books as a sign of a fight for foreign policy. On one side are titles like "Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives are Putting the World at Risk," or "America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order"; on the other side is "An End to Evil," by neocon dean Richard Perle and former Bush speechwriter David Frum.
In the latter, the authors warn that "the will to win [the war on terror] is ebbing." But that alarm bell is simply a "note of panic" that the neocon star is fading, says Stefan Halper, a GOP foreign-policy specialist and coauthor of "America Alone."
Active in three previous Republican administrations, Mr. Halper admits that his book's objective is to move neocons "to the periphery of power, where as a special interest group they belong."
But some conservative analysts say such a transformation in foreign policy is unlikely without fireworks. At a recent Washington conference, columnist Robert Novak, a traditional conservative, said a Bush loss could lead to a "volcanic moment" in US politics, with Republicans deciding what to do, for example, with the neocon influence - whose failure in Iraq will be blamed for the party's loss. Debate would also grow, he says, over the place of the Christian Right, which has championed the neocons' foreign policy.
There are signs that the battle is already on. For example, some senior administration officials now suggest that Powell, who was once assumed to be set on leaving office at the end of this term, might stay on at least through a transition period - on the condition that the neocon forces don't dominate foreign-policy decisions again. Such talk may be nothing but smoke signals from the White House, some say, because Powell, though damaged by his marginalization, remains popular with the public.
But others note that Powell does little to hide his distaste for Mr. Cheney's neocon-influenced foreign-policy staff, or for the civilian (and neocon-leaning) staff that has bloomed at the Pentagon.
Beyond politics however, some say the experience of 9/11 will keep the neocons alive. That means their detractors, both conservative and liberal, will have to offer more convincing scenarios for addressing terrorism if they want to dent the neocon appeal. (One idea that appears to be building bipartisan steam is the notion that the Iraq project erroneously diverted American attention from Al Qaeda.)
Yet even if Iraq has soured Americans on waging war to fell dictators and spread democracy, as surveys show, Toensing says other crises will arise - Iran, for example, already part of Bush's "axis of evil" - where the neocons' idealism and blunt calls to action will receive a warm audience.
"The Iranian crisis is going to arise sooner rather than later, and what the neocons say about it will resonate," he says. "Unless someone else can provide answers ... I will not be surprised at all if the neocons again have their day in the sun."