by Jim Lobe
March 24, 2016

I’ve been asked to give a kind of Neoconservatism 101 over the next 15 minutes or so, which is a big challenge for me. It took seven hours to get through the subject with the Institute for American Studies in Beijing 12 years ago when Chinese analysts were first trying to fathom why the U.S. had been so stupid as to invade Iraq.

So I’ll start by summing up.

If I were asked to boil down neoconservatism to its essential elements—that is, those that have remained consistent over the past nearly 50 years—I would cite the following:

a Manichean view of a world in which good and evil are constantly at war and the United States has an obligation to lead forces for good around the globe.

a belief in the moral exceptionalism of both the United States and Israel and the absolute moral necessity for the U.S. to defend Israel’s security.

a conviction that, in order to keep evil at bay, the United States must have—and be willing to exercise—the military power necessary to defeat any and all challengers. There’s a corollary: force is the only language that evil understands.

the 1930s—with Munich, appeasement, Chamberlain, Churchill—taught us everything we need to know about evil and how to fight it.

democracy is generally desirable, but it always depends on who wins.

The Emergence of Neoconservativsm

Although many of you have heard about its Trotskyite origins, the neoconservative movement as we know it today dates mainly from the 1960s. It was in that decade that you see the startling rise of Holocaust consciousness beginning with the Eichmann trial and the Oscar-winning movie Judgment at Nuremberg, both of which had a major impact not only on the Jewish community but on the general public here as well. These events were followed by the rise of the New Left, the Counter-Culture, and the anti-war and Black Power movements, as well as the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. All of these left a number of mainly—but by no means exclusively—Jewish public intellectuals and liberals feeling, in the words of Irving Kristol, “mugged by reality” in a way that launched them on a rightward trajectory.

That trajectory gained momentum in the early 1970s, when the anti-war candidate, George McGovern, won the Democratic nomination for president, and when Israel seemed to teeter briefly on the edge of defeat in the early stages of the 1973 war, which itself was immediately followed by the Arab oil embargo. Two years later, the UN General Assembly passed the “Zionism is Racism” resolution, and U.S. power globally seemed in retreat after the collapse of its clients in Vietnam and the rest of Indochina. These all created a context in which neo-conservatism gained serious political traction.

At this point, it may be useful to address an important ethno-religious issue. Neoconservatism has largely been a Jewish movement. By no means, however, are all neoconservatives Jewish. The late Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, former CIA chief James Woolsey, and Catholic theologians Michael Novak and George Weigel are just a few examples of non-Jews who have played major roles in the movement.

That said, it’s true that most neoconservatives are Jewish and, increasingly, Republican. So it’s very important to stress that the very large majority of Jews in this country are neither neoconservative nor Republican—a source of considerable frustration to Jewish Republicans over the last 30 years. Recently, for example, The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial pages are probably the country’s most influential neoconservative media platform, ran an op-ed entitled “The Political Stupidity of the Jews Revisited,” in which the author bemoaned the persistent tendency of Jews to vote Democratic, and most recently for Obama.

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