The Rise and Fall of the Neo-Cons – American Empire?

Neo-conservatism is a relatively recent categorization of a political ideology that has infiltrated the culture and been embraced by the current Bush administration. Commonly thought to be synonymous with the far right-wing of the Republican Party or ultra-conservatism, the expression neo-conservatism, or ‘neo-cons,’ describes a new type of conservatism, one whose roots are embedded in the philosophy of the left-wing. Conservatives and neo-cons are generally affiliated with the Republican Party but are often on opposing sides of an issue, the most significant example being the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003 to the present. The foreign policy of a U.S. government operated by this ideology has resulted in dubious, imperialistic actions.

Neo-conservatives have been described as inherently evil, protectionists, and self-absorbed capitalists but also, by a growing minority, as the protectors of the American way of life. With regards to foreign policy, neo-cons advocate a strike-first mentality while conservatives promote a ‘hands-off’ policy. The ‘neo’ or ‘new’ is attached to conservatism for two primary reasons. “Most of its architects were new to any kind of right-of-center orientation, having previously identified with the political left; and second, because the formulation of ‘conservatism’ that they produced was noticeably different in content and style from the mainstream American Conservatism that had prevailed since the New Deal-World War II eras” (Atkins & Tartakovsky, 2003).

Neo-conservatism originated in the 1930s when East coast socialists rejected the totalitarian views of Stalinism. The term became publicly acknowledged during the 1970s. It described liberals who were dissatisfied with the left-wing agenda, particularly in foreign affairs. It has since been used to define those considered ‘hawkish’ regarding foreign military involvement. During the Vietnam era, the neo-conservatism movement expanded due to the political polarization occurring in the country between the anti-war, anti-American sentiments of the counterculture and neo-cons who championed blind patriotism. Neoconservatives were not collected for the expansion or continuance of the war but they were united in their fear that communism would spread. The term ‘domino theory’ was used quite often by the neo-cons to justify America’s military involvement in Southeast Asia. If Vietnam fell to the communists, they reasoned, the remainder of the region would be systematically consumed by the ‘Red Menace.’ (“National Security Strategy”).

The Vietnam War sharply divided the country but neo-cons, even the ones who were less than hawkish, were always on the defensive regarding the consequences of losing to communism. When war opponents voiced the opinion that communism wasn’t the most imperative concern, that American imperialism and expansionistic tendencies were the big issues, neo-cons were quick to rebuke what they thought was unpatriotic rhetoric. They feared the proliferation of communism and argued this fear was not unfounded. President Jimmy Carter believed the neo-cons were overly paranoiac and suffered from an ‘inordinate fear of Communism.’ The leader of the neo-con agenda during the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, won this group’s admiration by calling the former Soviet Union the “evil empire”, a nation to be feared and opposed very much in contradiction with the approach of the Carter administration. Neo-cons of the 1980s as well as today “took the point of George Orwell’s 1984, a book that resurrected the idea of evil as a political category and they absorbed the cautionary warning of the Russian novelist and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn against yielding ground to the Communists in the vain hope that perhaps at some point the wolf will have eaten enough” (Muravchik, 2007). Reagan successfully brought the conservatives and neo-cons together which largely accounted for his popularity within the Republican Party. A former Democrat, Reagan inserted many neo-cons including Elliott Abrams, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Bill Bennett into key foreign relations and domestic positions within his administration. This group of communist hard-liners is generally credited or credits themselves, depending on who is asked, with accelerating the collapse of the Soviet Union by using strong rhetoric and without using military actions. (“National Security Strategy”).

The current President Bush spoke against the idea of ‘nation building’ during his first run for office in 2000. However, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed his view on foreign policy to one of an imperialist tendency. His closest advisors including Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove are all neo-cons who created a neo ‘red scare’ by declaring a ‘war on terror.’ The neo-conservative conservative wing of the Republican Party was successful in misleading millions of terrified Americans following 9/11. At the time of the 2004 election, the majority of Americans believed that Iraq, somehow, was to blame for those attacks and that Saddam Hussein was hiding large quantities of weapons of mass destruction despite information from the U.N.’s weapons inspectors (Coleman, 2004).

Bush and the neo-con infested executive branch’s ‘war on terror included an illegal, immoral, and ill-conceived invasion of a sovereign nation which has resulted in the expansion of terrorist activities and is causing an intensified hatred of Western nations by the entire Middle Eastern region regardless of nationality or ideology and thus has been an effective recruitment tool for Al-Qaeda. The ‘war on terror’ also produced the PATRIOT Act. A close examination of the Act, which the members of Congress did not do before voting, confirms that those that champion civil liberties as such are justifiably alarmed. Libertarian organizations such as the Civil Liberties Union claim that the Bush administration has a proclivity for secrecy and rejects the concept of transparency. The PATRIOT Act has reproved Bush’s agenda for the “outright removal of checks and balances” (Etzioni, 2004: 9). The Bush administration, the best friend of the neo-con ideology, also justifies the use of torture tactics in secretive prisons to extract information from ‘enemy combatants’ as another important tool in the war on terror.

The ultimate culmination of the rhetoric and selective legal reasoning regarding the ‘War on Terror’ was Bush’s order of the U.S. military to invade both Iraq and Afghanistan, an illegal act on many fronts. Bush has constantly maintained that these actions against sovereign countries were legal. First, he argues, because of existing language within the UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq, which is also publicly espoused by the British government, and secondly, the invasions are an act of self-defense which international law permits. However, according to noted neo-con Richard Perle, a top official of the U.S. Defense Policy Board and advisor to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “international law… would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone” (Burkeman & Borger, 2003). Yet, this would have been “morally unacceptable” according to the Bush administration which has taken the neo-con philosophy to its extreme.

In simplistic terms, neo-cons are in favor of forcefully imposing the will of the U.S. onto other countries and, in essence, ignoring domestic issues. The neo-con take-over of the highest office in the land has cost the nation dearly on many fronts. One can only trust that the people of this country have learned a lesson from the myopic and destructive ideology of neo-conservatism. This philosophy has re-structured the real and perceived ideology of the U.S. from one of being of neutrality to one of imperialistic nation-building.


Atkins, Drew & Tartakovsky, Joey. (2003). “Blue Traffic Lights: Neoconservatism History 101.” Daily Nexus. Vol. 84, I. 47, Santa Barbara, CA: University of California, Santa Barbara. 2008. Web.

Burkeman, Oliver & Borger, Julian. (2003). “War Critics Astonished as US Hawk Admits Invasion was Illegal.” Manchester Guardian. 2008. Web.

Coleman, Vernon. (2004). “How George W. Bush Won the 2004 USA Presidential Election.” 2008. Web.

Etzioni, Amitai. How Patriotic Is the Patriot Act? Freedom versus Security in the Age of Terrorism. New York, Routledge, 2004.

Muravchik, Joshua. (2007). “The Past, Present, and Future of Neoconservatism.” Commentary Magazine. 2008. Web.

“The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” (2002) The White House. 2008. Web.

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