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Definition of Terms


A serious observer of both Middle Eastern and American politics asked me whether it was a sin or a provocation to mention the group known as "the neoconservatives."

At least in the manner that is fashionable today, it is exactly that. This remains true whether or not the person who uses it is aware of it.

Consider the following. Once upon a time, back in the 1970s and 1980s, "neoconservatives" referred to a group of liberal intellectuals and Democratic Party activists who increasingly found themselves parting ways with where the rest of the their party seemed to be headed on race and domestic policy. Like most liberal intellectuals and Democratic Party stalwarts, they were mostly if not exclusively Jewish and Catholic, e.g., Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Richard John Neuhaus. Their foreign policy views were anti-communist, but this was not their defining trait. Neither did their faiths and ethnic backgrounds define them, although these were significant descriptors.

Most of the original neocons are still alive, but now "neoconservative" refers instead to an almost completely distinct group of people. They have no known body of views on domestic policy, and are defined by two features. One is support for Israel's right wing. The other is being Jewish.

After all, who is a neocon, to judge by what's written in the papers, the magazines, and on the web? The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan? If you saw most of the obits, you'll recall that it didn't come up. Neuhaus? The smart set calls him a "theocon" these days. Zalmay Khalilzad, Paul Wolfowitz's soul mate? No. Dick Cheney? No. Condi Rice? No. Don Rumsfeld? He's well to the right of Wolfowitz on Palestine, but no! Richard Armitage? He signed the same 1998 get-Saddam paper that Wolfowitz did, but no, sorry. Bill Bennett? Nope. Laurent Murawiec? Not that I've seen, and he's a total lunatic. Mr. "Rogue State Rollback" himself, Sen. John McCain? Sorry, no. Gen. Jay Garner? Not yet. Dick Cheney? No. "Scooter" Libby? No, he doesn't come up often at all. George Bush? Not him - indeed, he's frequently not credited with having thoughts of his own. Richard Perle? Ah - here we go. Yes. Douglas Feith? Yes. Paul Wolfowitz? Yes. Elliot Abrams? Yes. Bill Kristol? You bet.

One of these days, someone will have to trace how the label slid from one group to another. Probably by way of the Kristol lineage. At any rate, it's fair to say that the word has now become pretty stark code language for "Zionist Jewish imperialist cabal member" with the emphasis on "Jewish," since fairly prominent non-Jewish individuals with the same sorts of foreign policy views but a different sort of lineage, such as George W. Bush, never get placed in this category.

There are a few writers who have been very careful when invoking the "neocons" to describe a set of views rather than a set of Jews, by including Khalilzad and Libby and so on. But even then, they never let the label rise any higher in the Bush Administration's hierarchy than the level of Deputy Secretary, basically because that's where Paul Wolfowitz is stationed. The idea, after all, is to describe a cabal, rather than a legitimate or mainstream point of view.

Even this fancy dancing is the exception. From most writers' pens, the distinction is totally arbitrary. It lies somewhere between an ethnic slur and a McCarthyite smear. Indeed, there are two very simple reasons that "A Clean Break" has gotten more play in recent discussions than much more high-profile or widely read (but mostly now forgotten) Clinton-era position papers on overthrowing Saddam: in distinction to the other papers (which much more faithfully describe the current Administration's policy, I might add) every single author of "A Clean Break" was Jewish, and it was addressed to an Israeli leader rather than an American. It's also on the web.

If anyone disagrees, can they explain what "neocon" is actually supposed to mean these days?

Clearly, we are better off without this pernicious label.

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by Analyst @ 04:15 AM CST [Link]


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Replies: 3 comments

The word neoconservative is still chosen by some people to describe themselves therefor it isn't wrong to use the word.

I'm haven't yet spent the time to investigate who these people are and what they stand for but I do know some web sites that were mentioned on NPR when interviewing a neocon and one of his critics.



Perhaps the problem isn't that neocon is a bad word, but simply that antizionist propaganda that is mostly at least cryptically antisemetic (if only by the implication of the lies it's based on) has been extremely successful.

There's a propaganda war on and both Jews and Israelis have successfully been painted as monsters...

The neocons who are pro-Israeli and Jewish of course get smeared, but they'd get smeared no matter what they were called. The solution is to fight the lies, fight the propaganda that the world is soaking.

Posted by Joshua Scholar @ 04/18/2003 07:50 AM CST

Dear Josh Scholar Remove This,
That may all be very well, but how do you explain an article like this one:
Protocols of the Elders of Neocons
Hussein Shobokshi
[Arab News, undated]

It is not useful to bury your head in the sand and make believe it isn't there.

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 04/25/2003 01:05 PM CST

Neoconservatists are not Jewish, but rather represent the movement that has taken over the Republican party. The republican party orignal conservatism was preserving American heritage by looking inwards (isolanist). The reason the neocons are called what they are called is that they appear in the conservatist party but have new policy. But they are neither neo or conservatist. The neocons (the word con means also grifter or trickster) seem to have the idea that civil liberty and democracy has to be spread around the world using the barrel of a gun. Since our world has had it fair share of leaders that chose to spread their ideology through the use of violence, we learnt not to trust these con artists. We have learnt that violence is no answer to protect and/or spread an ideology. Also compare this to Jabotinskys interpretation of zionism, who choose clearly the path of violence and I do believe he still has a fair share of followers in Israel.

Posted by Lennart Reus @ 04/30/2003 07:42 PM CST

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