I was very upset with what I’ve read of the Vanity Fair interviews with seven neoconservatives who have distanced themselves from the war in Iraq. All I want to know is, where did the idea come from that freedom is the universal desire of all mankind, and that, consequently, functioning self-government would follow the fall of Saddam, so much so that we didn’t even need to secure the country or stop the looting (which was in fact seen as an expression of that very freedom), and that we could rely on elections plus constitution to equal democracy. This is one bad idea I know did not come from today’s academy, which is given to cultural relativism. It has been generally associated with neoconservatism but exactly how did it arise and how did it influence President Bush and his cabinet? Did these seven gentlemen believe that? I can agree that freedom is a universal longing (although it may be in competition with other universal longings in certain cultures, such as “submission” in the Islamic world), but that is not enough to build an entire government on, without the cultural foundations that would make it tangible. How could so many really intelligent people believe that ”freedom” by itself would be enough, almost as if they were inspired by the allegorical paintings which personify “Liberty” as a powerful female goddess leading the people? I really don’t understand. My sense of neoconservatism has always been that it combines idealism with pragmatism, as it did throughout the Cold War, and as in the famous Cromwell instruction to his men: Have faith in God AND keep your powder dry! What happened?
I think the American people wanted to support this effort but when they heard Bush and Rice repeating platitudes about freedom, elections, constitutions, and the awesome spread of democracy in the Mideast, never revising their script to meet the circumstances, even as people were being blown to smithereens day after day, or as Islamic radicals were being elected to office, it almost seemed like some kind of satire by Joseph Heller or Monty Python. The dreamy idealism in Iraq also made a strange contrast to the forceful, specific, pragmatic steps the Administration was taking for national security on the domestic front. It is all very puzzling but one thing is certain. Richard Weaver was certainly right that ideas have consequences, whether from within the academy or without.