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The Neoconservative Debacle

Wednesday 22 November 2006, by Donald Cucioletta

The George W. Bush presidencies of 2000 and 2004 were the beneficiaries of the conservative coalition, which came into existence under the Reagan administration of 8 years in the Whitehouse.

This coalition had produced the Reagan victory, Bush senior’s victory, the displacement of the Democratic Party from the left to the right of centre under the Clinton 8 year administration and eventually gave the Congress to the Republican party in 1994 with the Common Sense Revolution under Newt Gingrich. It was a loosely bound network of conservatives whose common goal was to exercise executive power in the Whitehouse.

This coalition was made up of evangelical Christians who had come to the Republicans as Reagan democrats during the 1980 presidential election, because they had become disenchanted with the liberal approach to family values and religion held by the Democratic Party. Another faction were the traditional conservatives who had always been in the Republican party dating back to the post-Civil War era, who believed in the lassez-faire capitalism of John Locke, Adam Smith and his dauphin Milton Friedman, and the small government thesis held since the American Revolution by Alexander Hamilton. They had always been the main stay of conservatism in the Republican Party. The more recent group to join this coalition was the neoconservatives, better known as the neo-cons. This group gravitated around the writings of Irving Kristol, Norman Podohoretz and Daniel Bell, who were in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s intellectuals who sided with the leftist side of the political spectrum, even embracing a Trotskyite world vision of change. They became attracted to the conservative side of the political spectrum, when they became disenchanted with democrat’s role in Vietnam, social chaos in the streets of the major cities in the US and a total capitulation with regards to Stalinist Soviet Union.

The traditional conservatives made fiscal responsibility and small government their main focus, the evangelical conservatives the return to conservative social values and the neo-cons to empower American foreign policy with a world view of implementing American liberty and democracy around the world. They coalesced under Reagan and took control under George W. Bush

Before the mid-term November 7th elections sparks were already beginning to fly within the coalition. The traditional conservatives, prone to be more secular, were disenchanted with the overt control of the Republican Party by the religious right whom they believed had no place in a secular state. Meanwhile the religious right was angry with the neo-cons, also secularists, for not implicating them or consulting them in structuring American foreign policy. And everyone was at odds with the neo-cons for having taken over the Pentagon, the foreign policy community, the State department and having enormous inroads into the oval office. Even within the neo-conservative camp we could detect rumblings of dissent. Francis Fukuyama, in latest work, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy (2006), was leading the charge in disavowing the strategy. Once a self-proclaimed neoconservative he now repudiated their idealistic and unrealistic stance in foreign policy.

After November 7th every one was looking for a scapegoat, with the neo-cons receiving the brute of the criticism. As its stand this coalition is on shaky grounds with the traditional conservatives willing to jettison the neo-cons and the religious right and reaffirming what they believe is a true American conservatism which practices small government, fiscal responsibility, pragmatic realism in foreign policy, and no unnecessary social cultural wars. The debacle of the Republicans and continuous blame game will further weaken this coalition. Bush being a lame duck President and weak politician will not be able to stop the schisms. The rebuilding of the coalition will be one of the battles left to the new Republican presidential candidate of 2008.

* Donald Cuccioletta is Senior Research Fellow Center for the Study of the United States, Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies, University of Quebec at Montreal