Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Neoconservatism: The Right Side of History

Jacob Heilbrunn's They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons is out this week.

I'm on my way in a couple of minutes to pick up a copy, but I thought I'd share
Peter Wehner's review of the book over at the New York Post.

Unlike Timothy Noah's review at the New York Times, Wehner defends the neoconservative record (and provides a counterbalance to what he sees is Heilbrunn's "animus"):

The author is forced to acknowledge that neoconservatives were right about a few things - like understanding early on that the Soviet Union and jihadism were genuine causes for concern. But, he quickly adds, even the proverbial stopped watch is right twice a day.

This is silliness. To have been right before it was fashionable about the nature and threat of Soviet Communism and militant Islam are deeply impressive achievements. Moreover, neoconservatism has correctly critiqued and offered remedies for many domestic ills. Neoconservatism is an imperfect movement comprised of people of sometimes different and competing views, but it has certainly enriched and deepened our public life.

Heilbrunn believes the Iraq war will return neoconservatives to exile since they were the primary advocates for the war, which to him has been a colossal failure. The bad news for Heilbrunn's book (and the good news for America and Iraq) is that 2007 was a year of remarkable improvement in Iraq, thanks to the counterinsurgency strategy. We have seen often staggering progress, on many key fronts.

Heilbrunn can also be sloppy. He writes that in the aftermath of the failure to find WMDs, President Bush “suddenly veered to embracing the democracy crusade" in his second inaugural (delivered in January 2005). Yet Heilbrunn cites President Bush's November 2003 speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, in which Bush said, “Iraqi democracy will succeed and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the future of every nation." The truth is that President Bush promoted the Freedom Agenda before the Iraq war began.

Heilbrunn also asserts that neoconservatives like William Kristol, in an effort to deflect criticism for their role in the Iraq war, turned on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on precisely Dec. 14, 2004, in a Washington Post op-ed. Except that Kristol and Robert Kagan were critical of Rumsfeld and his strategy as early as the summer of 2003, writing “[i]t is painfully obvious that there are too few American troops operating in Iraq." The success of the surge is vindication for Kristol and Kagan. They, like Sen. John McCain, were right in their concerns - and Iraq would be in far better shape today had we heeded their early counsel.
Woo hoo, go McCain!

Also, check out
today's essay from the New York Times' public editor, who defends the paper's decision to hire Kristol as a columnist.

Kristol pointed out Monday that the Democrats - in their predictions on the war - were wrong throughout 2007.