Like Ross, I am underwhelmed by the “Save the Neocons” agenda put forward by Joshua Muravchik (an old member of the Young People’s Socialist League–those crazy kids!). But right away, in the summary beneath the title, he starts off with a suggestion that will never win acceptance among his fellow neocons (who apparently really do exist–who knew?): “they must admit mistakes.” It’ll never catch on. After all, why start now? They’ve never had to do it before and they and their allies have worked for one Republican administration after another.
The question is not whether most of them will admit mistakes (they won’t), but whether future Republican administrations will be so stupid as to listen to their recommendations and appoint some of them to high office. If McCain wins, the answer is clearly yes. McCain has been the Weekly Standard’s dream candidate since I was in college, and he shares their reckless and obtuse understanding of foreign policy (help the Chechens! bomb Iran! let Islamists vote!). Giuliani (if he could get the nomination, which I doubt he can), probably. Romney, almost certainly, because he will be, like Bush, a governor whose foreign policy expertise seems to involve saying, “Islamofascist” and making growling noises about Iran. Even with a Duncan Hunter administration (no laughing), they might weasel their way back in by talking about expanding the military and fighting to keep China British, er, American, though I would hope that Hunter would be less susceptible to their influence.
Realists may be in the ascendant at the moment and Jim Baker is riding high, but neocons have the political street smarts that allow them to out-maneuver and crush their opposition nine times out of ten. Realists have this funny idea that it is the soundness of policy ideas is what counts, and not how frighteningly alarmist and militarist you can sound at any given moment (for an example of the latter, see Rick Santorum’s dire warnings of Iranian world mastery and Venezuelan empire). In the case of the latter, realists will always lose that contest. Neocons don’t have to say that they’re sorry for what they’ve done or admit that they were wrong about anything, because the GOP has become a sort of addict dependent on them for their foreign policy “expertise” and tough talk. This gives them the feeling that Republicans need them more than they need Republicans (which may be a mistake, but not one that they would admit), and as long as the narrative of “Bush ruined our perfectly clever intervention” prevails they will feel no reason to admit error (even though a great number of the strategic and conceptual errors in Iraq were theirs).
This will be the winter of their discontent, as almost every major position with which they are closely associated (pro-Iraq war, pro-immigration, free trade) is increasingly unpopular, so look for them to push hard to find a suitable candidate and to tear down the others. Even if, as I believe, these elections will mark a clear repudiation of their kind of foreign policy, they themselves will escape real accountability as usual, and will return to menace us all another day.