What do neocons have to do with Obama?
President Obama may be a pragmatist, but he's now in charge of two fundamentally neoconservative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fundamentally "neocon" wars. They were shaped by the neoconservative belief that American military might can replace rogue regimes with Western-style democracies that won't threaten US security.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, these wars are being led by a commander in chief, Barack Obama, whose views on foreign policy amount to a polar opposite of neoconservatism.
The neocons' grand ambitions are now in the hands of a pragmatist.
The resulting tension will shape much of Mr. Obama's work in foreign affairs. And it will also test one of America's most enduring claims: its commitment to spreading democracy abroad.
Today, Dick Cheney is probably the most famous neocon, so many people assume that neoconservatism is a right-wing movement that took root after 9/11. Not so.
Neoconservatism was founded in the 1960s and '70s when Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and other Democrats came to view their party – with its demands for an expanding welfare state and a less militaristic approach to the USSR – as a bastion of naive and destructive policies. They were liberals who despised hippies.
They associated themselves with the perceived more muscular liberalism of the first half of the 20th century, especially concerning foreign policy. In a 1995 Foreign Affairs piece, John Judis writes that neocons "were Cold War liberals who searched for a Truman in the 1970s and found Reagan."
The neocons' shift rightward initially brought them to the offices of Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the Washington senator and Democratic hawk on Vietnam. Later, many flocked to the Reagan administration. George W. Bush didn't campaign as a neocon, but his staff was dominated by neocon thinkers. After 9/11, neoconservatism was virtually synonymous with Republican foreign policy.