Right Wing News argues that the term “neo-conservative” seems to be a slur against Jewish conservatives:

Furthermore, I hate to break this to Pat Buchanan, Arab News, the French, the anti-war movement, etc, but Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Jonah Goldberg, etc, have mainstream Conservative views on foreign policy. The overwhelming majority of American Conservatives are hawkish, Pro-Israel, and strongly supported using the military to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, the majority of all Americans would have supported invading Syria in the last poll I saw so I’m sure the numbers among Conservatives are probably 70%+ there as well. So again, there’s nothing unusual about the positions taken by the prominent Jewish Conservatives who kooks think are somehow manipulating the President into settling scores for Israel. Just how do you look at foreign policy position supported by almost every prominent Conservative in the US from Rush Limbaugh to Ann Coulter and go, “See! See! There are some Conservative Jews who support it too! That means it’s all a plot the Jews have come up with to support Israel!” Of course, that makes no sense whatsoever.

That’s why I always suspect anti-semitism when I hear someone ranting about “neoconservatives” (by which they usually mean Jewish Conservatives) influencing Bush administration foreign policy. There’s simply nothing to distinguish the views of people like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle from their superiors other than their Jewishness. So to pick that out and spin conspiracy theories about it says more about the person doing the spinning than the “neoconservatives” they’re speculating about…

I think John is correct, at least insofar as Pat Buchanan is concerned. However, there is legitimate confusion over what the term “neo-con” means.

Clearly, the term is misused. It was popular in the early 1980s to describe people like Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol (fathers of John and Bill, respectively), Jean Kirkpatrick, and Bill Bennett. Namely, 1960s liberal democrats who got disgusted and left their party and became staunch conservatives–mainly over anti-communism and moral relativism.

But the Weekly Standard crowd, which I think epitomizes the modern-day neocons, is different from the more traditional conservates represented by National Review. Mainly it comes in terms of support for an very interventionist foreign policy. Unlike most Republicans, the neo-cons supported Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and all manner of other military actions to liberate the natives and establish international norms. Buchanan and other “paleo-cons” are extremists in the other direction; I wouldn’t consider them mainstream conservatives at all.

During most of the 1990s, I tended to disagree with the neocons. I saw no American interest in most of those conflicts and thought them a poor use of American resources, an unfair burden on the military, and an invitation to terrorists to come attack us for meddling in their internal affairs. In terms of foreign policy, I tended to agree with Buchanan more than, say, Bill Kristol. I suspect George W. Bush did, too, given his aversion to “nation building” in the 2000 campaign.

The attacks on 9/11 have created a new sense that letting tyrants rule can have far-flung conseqences. The views of the neo-cons are becoming much more widely accepted among traditional conservatives, but that doesn’t make them traditional conservatives. While conservatives have a long tradition of anti-Communism, which often led to what in hindsight were some rather foolish interventions in order to “stop the spread of Communism,” they have traditionally been rather isolationist. Republicans opposed entry into WWI and WWII until the bitter end, for example, long after leftists such as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were in favor of war. Which is, incidentally, why Buchanan and his like are called “paleo-cons”–their views were once very mainstream conservatism. Sixty years ago.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Lemon says:

    Hm. I too see the term “neo-con” as misused. However, my impression of it — perhaps reflecting my own transformation during the mid-80s — was that neo-con stood for a brand of supply-siders. In other words, my view of neo-con is from an economic angle. Useless term anyways. How ’bout we use the terms “smart people” and “dumb asses” instead?