Neocon Singlemindedness

NEOCON SINGLEMINDEDNESS….I don’t mind admitting that I find Paul Wolfowitz to be one of the most interesting members of the Bush administration. Sure, I disagree with most of what he believes in, but I’d probably get a kick out of having dinner with him.

(As opposed to, say, George Bush, who strikes me as little more than a vacant, backslapping mediocrity ? a type I’ve had dinner with all too many times. I just never thought one of them would become president.)

Still, the neocon persuasion itself leaves me pretty cold. The Washington Post profiled Wolfowitz yesterday, and one passage in the article goes a long way toward explaining why I find neocons like Wolfowitz fascinating even while I’m simultaneously shaking my head at their self delusion:

To understand Paul Wolfowitz and the policies he advocates, notes a friend and former colleague, it is important to understand that Wolfowitz believes there is real evil in the world, and that he is confronting it. The lesson that Wolfowitz took away from the Cold War, says Eliot Cohen, who knew him at Johns Hopkins University, where Wolfowitz was a dean before moving to the Pentagon, is “that the world really is a dangerous place, and that you have to do something about it.”

Paired with that is his belief that the United States can best respond to totalitarianism by emphasizing freedom and democracy. Wolfowitz possesses “a basic optimism about the potential of human beings for moderation and self-governance, and a belief in the universal appeal of liberty,” Cohen says.

There’s the basic contradiction all at once: Wolfowitz and the neocons seem to truly believe that they’re motivated by an idealistic devotion to democracy, but at the same time they’re willfully blind to the fact that their own Cold War history makes a shambles of that supposed devotion.

After all, this is the same group that spent much of the 70s and 80s so intent on interpreting everything as part of a war of civilizations between the West and a resurgent communism that they ignored ? or in some cases actively encouraged ? the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. (Remember Afghanistan and Iran-Contra?) The very single-mindedness that neocons are famous for blinded them to the fact that they were contributing to the rise of an even bigger problem, one that had nothing at all to do with communism.

A more expansive approach to the Cold War would almost certainly have worked nearly as well ? after all, communism was rotting from within and the Soviet Union was never as strong as the neocons insisted it was ? and might have left room for a more democratically inclined Mideast policy as well. But instead of learning this lesson the neocons have simply shifted their familiar monomania to the very fundamentalism they helped midwife into creation. Even the methods are familiar: proxy wars around the world, domino theories, demonization of the left, and an insistence on huge military buildups. The old hatred of Europe is back too, this time even more virulent than before.

Having failed so spectacularly in the 80s to understand the consequences of a single-minded foreign policy, they are now asking us to give them another chance against a different enemy. But wouldn’t it be better, instead, to try a cure that hasn’t already been proven worse than the disease?