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Goodbye to All That? A Requiem for Neoconservatism

Kenneth Anderson

American University - Washington College of Law; Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; Brookings Institution - Governance Studies

American University International Law Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 277-332, March 2007
American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2008-74

The war on terror and the war in Iraq have occasioned a ferocious debate over the Bush administration's commitment to neo-conservatism as the guiding philosophy behind war aiming at democratic transformation. Two recent, widely noticed 2006 books have attacked neo-conservatism - one, by a former neoconservative, Francis Fukuyama (After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads), and a second, by a centrist liberal, Peter Beinart (The Good Fight). Each seeks to anatomize neo-conservatism and what, in each author's view, has gone wrong with it; each seeks to offer an alternative foreign policy.

This review essay examines the two books, considering the respective cases they make against neo-conservatism and the rationales it has provided for the Iraq war and the war on terror. The essay considers the broader intellectual framework of neo-conservatism and its history within American conservatism, and the long-running American foreign policy debate over realism and idealism, setting out a seven point schema of neoconservative doctrines. It is respectful of Fukuyama's critiques, and particularly the internal contradictions that Fukuyama identifies within and among neoconservative premises that have led to what Fukuyama sees as disastrous policies. Still, the essay does not believe - even granting the strength of the critiques - that Fukuyama has decisively knocked down the neoconservative case for the Iraq war or, more broadly and importantly, the neoconservative commitment to democratic transformation as against realist doctrines of the accommodation and stability of corrupt or wicked authoritarian regimes. With respect to Beinart, the essay praises his call for the Democratic Party to recognize that the fight against transnational Islamist terrorism is really a fight against a form of totalitarianism, and hence similar to the Cold War. It rejects, however, Beinart's characterization of neo-conservatism and Bush administration foreign policy as likewise a threat to American values, different in degree but not necessarily in kind. The essay also rejects the new foreign policy proposed by Fukuyama or Beinart - amounting, in each case, to a version of increased realist multilateralism, what Fukuyama calls realistic Wilsonianism - concluding that each is guaranteed from the outset to be merely ineffectual.

(Parts of this essay are drawn from a short review by the author of the Fukuyama book appearing in the Times Literary Supplement.)

Number of Pages in PDF File: 57

Keywords: Terror, terrorism, Iraq, democracy, Middle East, war, war on terror, Cold War, Fukuyama, Beinart, neoconservatism, neoconservative, realism, idealism, multiculturalism, Islam, jihad, multilateralism, international law, United Nations, Burke, Muslim, Europe, 9-11, Truman, Reagan, Bush

JEL Classification: K33

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Date posted: March 16, 2007 ; Last revised: December 20, 2008

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, Goodbye to All That? A Requiem for Neoconservatism. American University International Law Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 277-332, March 2007; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2008-74. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=973883

Contact Information

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)
American University - Washington College of Law ( email )
4801 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
United States
Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace
Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
Brookings Institution - Governance Studies
1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
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