The Neoconservatism of Democratic-Party Foreign Policy
Vivek Ramaswamy, the incels’ preferred presidential candidate, has been talking a lot about neoconservatism. He even has a “no neocon” pledge he’s trying to get other Republicans to adopt.
But the way he uses the term betrays complete ignorance. Not only does neocon sound like a term with a certain vintage; he deploys it as a pure straw man that distorts what neoconservatism was/is while obscuring how much his nationalist militarist agenda replicates and builds on actually existing neoconservative foreign policy.
I bring this up because I’ve been thinking for a while about the neoconservative legacy in relation to Democratic Party foreign policy.
The Democratic Party is the far lesser evil of the two parties, but its dominant foreign policy cadre is, at best, intellectually adrift. At worst, they are intellectually committed to a global agenda that does not work for most Americans and mirrors its political opponents in disturbing ways.
Biden’s blank check to Israel despite ongoing war crimes against Palestinian civilians is rightly a source of massive grievance, but it’s nothing new. Yes, the particulars are gruesomely unique and politically inept.
But far from being some anomaly, the Democrats’ Israel policy looks at home amid other decisions in a US foreign policy that has become increasingly hard to distinguish from what we used to call neoconservatism—the most hawkish, imperialist variant of liberal internationalism.
The blank-check Biden administration is the same that:
Has shifted to techno-containment of China;
Not just overlooked but abetted Modi’s Hindu fascism in India;
Thought it was a good idea for Biden to meet with Italy’s fascist-adjacent Prime Minister, Giorgio Meloni in the name of “great-power competition”;
Considered a nuclear energy program and NATO-like security commitment to journalist bone-sawing, woman-head-chopping, 9/11-terrorist incubating, Yemeni war-waging Saudi Arabia;
Has allowed the North Korea crisis to fester (as I predicted), indirectly empowering an increasingly reactionary government in Seoul;
Denies self-determination to multiple nations in the Pacific and preserves a sphere of influence arrangement that formally and informally limits the sovereignty of others;
Runs an economic statecraft that actively cuts off growth pathways for developmental states;
Has pushed spending on the national security state to well beyond even Trump levels; and
Insists on US military primacy in the context of having a giant lead over its next closest rival everywhere but the Taiwan Strait.
This is not to deny bright spots, like its handling of Brazil or completing the Trump-initiated Afghanistan withdrawal (like I said, Dems are the lesser evil).
It’s also not that we should be “blaming” Biden for the state of the world. The language of blame is not especially productive, but also 80% of the list above is stuff he inherited. Trump was more vitriolic and chaotic, but otherwise ran a similar set of policies. And I can’t imagine Obama doing much differently given the circumstances.
But that suggests the problem is bigger than Biden. We’re unlikely to see much change from Biden on foreign policy. And the next president and the next and the next are just as likely to hold onto a set of basic propositions about foreign policy that fly in the face of peace, democracy, and equality. Republicans will just do it more crazily, and Democrats will do it more competently.
A question I’ve been pondering for years though is when precisely this right-ish, militarist turn in Democratic foreign policy happened, and why.
You could periodize Democratic hawkishness to long before neoconservatism had entrenched itself as a foreign policy ideology (Vietnam War, anyone?). I’m sympathetic to those who argue that there’s nothing “neo” about neoconservatism. I tend to agree. And I understand those who think that neoconservatism is a distraction from what is really just militarism or liberal imperialism—a bipartisan project.
But “neoconservative” captures the historically specific social milieu from which US militarism arose as a particular expression in policy at a particular moment in time.
What I mean is, militarism has many hues, and if we get rid of the label “neoconservative,” we risk obscuring both the content of a very specific militarist agenda and the power-elite social network that produced, spread, and implemented that agenda.
So in this hybrid essay-post, I’m going to first address the social aspect of Democratic Party militarism, and then address the question of content and Dems’ foreign policy preferences compared to neoconservatism.