Foreign Affairs

2021: The End Of Neoconservatism?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re no doubt aware of the Afghanistan withdrawal, after 20 years of trying and failing to impose stability and democracy there.

With the Taliban taking over in a span of weeks and the possibility of an Iranian-style hostage situation to take place due to many of the US and UK citizens still stuck there, it has become a blot on Joe Biden’s record. Millions of Afghans face a tyrannical reign under the Taliban, as many flee the country, and politicians in the West contemplate how to respond to this development.

However, one thing that has gone unnoticed is that it signals the possible end of something else: neoconservatism as a mainstream political philosophy.

The War in Afghanistan – and the larger War On Terror it was a part of – was their collective baby since the 9/11 attacks, seeing those events as the perfect opportunity to launch their ideology to bring democracy to countries run by dictators and keep the United States as the world hegemon.

But 20 years on, their fortunes seem to have run out. Consider the vast contrast; in 2001, their intellectual founders (like Bill Kristol and Max Boot) were taken very seriously, their policies were within the Overton Window and were represented at the national level by President George W. Bush’s administration and other American politicians below them.

In 2021, this is far from the case. Their intellectual founders are now marginalized, their policies are utterly reviled by both ends of the spectrum and their political influence is waning. This was something best illustrated this year when Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney was removed from her position of Chair of the House Republican Conference, and when the political action group The Lincoln Project was completely discredited following sexual misconduct allegations against co-founder John Weaver.

But this has been a long time coming. 

Most tellingly, during the 2015/6 Primary Season for both major political parties, openly anti-war candidates did very well. A decade prior, the likes of Democrat Mike Gravel and Republican Ron Paul were seen as fringe figures, with them running for President on such a ticket being openly mocked and dismissed by much of the political establishment. 

Nearly a decade on, Democrat Bernie Sanders nearly won his party’s nomination to be the Presidential candidate based on such a platform – and Republican Donald Trump not only won his party’s ticket on a similar agenda, but won the Presidency, and for all his undoubted faults, at least stuck to that part of his policy proposals; he didn’t start any new wars, and did try and get more American troops home.

Otherwise, there were other telling signs – media outlets that either propagated their worldview are now defunct (such as The Weekly Standard) or has turned against it, such as in the case of Fox News. One only needs to see Tucker Carlson, the network’s most popular anchor, and his criticism of both the ideology itself and clashes with its bigwigs to acknowledge such a paradigm shift. Others who used to be prominent in the movement are now broadcasting on far smaller channels, with Bill Kristol’s minor YouTube show being a good indicator of that.

With all of this building up, it’s hard to see the fall of Kabul as anything other than the end of this ideology’s time in the limelight, at least for now. 

All of this is good. Because in the last 20 years, what have the neocons actually achieved? All of their desired conflicts have ended in disaster.

Iraq is now a quagmire of division among ethno-cultural boundaries, Islamic terrorist groups and is now a sphere of influence for the brutal Iranian regime. Libya is now a failed state akin to that of Somalia, of whose central government has collapsed among tribal warfare and who practices modern-day slavery. And of course, Afghanistan has fallen within days, despite the endless monetary and military aid we gave it, with a drastic dash to the finish line to get out of there by many major Western countries as a result. 

However, just because they have waned in influence doesn’t mean that they’re gone for good. Some of its intellectuals remain prominent, with Max Boot being a columnist for The Washington Post. Many neocon politicians still remain in the public eye, like the South Carolina GOP alumni of Senator Lindsey Graham and former Governor Nikki Haley. Meanwhile, there is still much pushing for more armed conflict in countries like Syria, Iran and Russia, often touted by the neocons.  

So while this ideology is in hibernation for now, those who oppose it should always be wary of it springing up once again, getting us involved in another foreign quagmire we don’t fully understand. It may be gone for now, but we should always be alert of when it inevitably rears its ugly head yet again.      

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