Labour activist Alan Johnson issues a rousing call for a sensible left-wing, anti-Guardianista strategy on Iraq. But along the way he makes some very odd assertions about neocons. ("They talk of freedom and democracy, they may even sincerely want it…") It’s always hard to generalise about neo-conservatism, because it's such an amorphous, contradictory beast. Yet surely the one thing that has got neocons into trouble with traditional cons is their passionate belief that democracy is a universal, not a purely Western or American value. As for the claim that they don’t understand "the pivotal role of civil society", neocons spend most of their waking hours reciting Tocqueville.

There’s nothing sinister either in arguing for US primacy, either, in a world where the EU bows down to China and Russia is slipping back into its bad old ways. (What does Alan Johnson's "doctrine of the international community" mean in practice? Would left-wingers necessarily be happier if the UN was based in Beijing?) And how many neocons really "dream" of a US-led military intervention in Iran? Michael Ledeen is the leading voice on the subject of how to get rid of the mullahs, and to the best of my knowledge he wants the US to support a popular uprising. Nor does being a neocon mean opposing a two-state solution to Palestine.

The one point I’d partly agree with Johnson on is that neocons, by and large, have become enthusiastic free marketers. Although Irving Kristol, the real godfather of the neocons, (don’t believe all those conspiracy theories about Leo Strauss) used to insist on giving only two cheers for capitalism, my impression is that he’s now happy to offer the full quota. But that doesn’t mean he’s some sort of grind-their-faces-in-the-dirt plutocrat. Irwin Stelzer sums it up in the introduction to his recent anthology: "Neocons tend to distinguish between Franlkin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society." In short, they approve of the former, but think the latter undermined the lives and values of the working poor.

Kristol expands on this point in one of the essays in the book, calling for a welfare system "consistent with the basic moral principles of our civilization and the basic political principles of our nation. The essential purpose of politics, after all, is to transmit to our children a civilization and a nation that they can be proud of. This means we should figure out what we want before we calculate what we can afford, not the reverse, which is the normal conservative predisposition."

I think a lot of Labour Party members would agree with him on that. I’m not trying to argue that neocons are flawless (although I think post-war Iraq might have gone more smoothly if they’d had a bigger say in the main decisions) only that they have more in common with the Left than some people like to think.

All credit to Alan Johnson, nevertheless. I’m more than happy to give him two cheers.
|||Clive|||http://clivedavis.blogspot.com/2005/05/right-and-wrong-on-iraq-labour.html|||5/03/2005 10:57:00 am|||||||||