As I understand it, contemporary neoconservatism is a philosophy that advocates the promotion of “democracy” and liberal ideals abroad – and one that isn’t shy about using military power to achieve those goals. It’s a doctrine that is far more hawkish than the one Salam describes. The central argument of the neocons in the early 2000s was that an invasion of Iraq would result in the spreading of democratic values across the Middle East; ideals that would be embraced by the people and transform once-bellicose adversaries into reliable allies. For a time, regrettably, I supported the Iraq War because I naively bought into the notion that the United States could turn a neighborhood of authoritarian regimes into a peaceful, economically integrating Middle East. (I also believed one of these regimes had WMDs). As it turned out social engineering doesn’t work abroad either.
Here, Salam answers some of his critics by admitting that his initial piece was “somewhat idiosyncratic” about what neoconservatism because his “intention was to reframe the discussion.” Defending neoconservatism means reimagining the doctrine and reframing means offering a false choice. Salam argues that though we have a better understanding of the limits of military power, we shouldn’t forget that at one time “U.S. policymakers were so dismissive of humanitarian considerations that they aided and abetted in a humanitarian disaster through their malign neglect.” Promoting American ideals is preferable to engaging in “amoral realpolitik,” he argues.
Well, yeah, when you put it that way!