Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Neocons and Their Rise to Power, by Ron Unz - The Unz Review


Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Biden Secretary of State Antony Blinken

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I’ve recently published a couple of articles focused on the Neocons, the ideological faction that has now dominated American foreign policy for more than thirty years.

Having their earliest roots a half-century ago, the Neocons eventually became a very powerful force in our political system, but although I’ve sometimes mentioned them in my articles, I’d never discussed their origins nor their rise to power, and I think these have often been misunderstood. One of the reasons for this confusion is that the very word “Neocon”—short for “neoconservative”—has undergone dramatic changes over the decades, eventually coming to mean something very different from how it was first understood.

The term neoconservative had originally appeared in the early 1970s, applied by critics to a small group of social scientists and other intellectuals who had rejected the radicalism of the 1960s and gravitated towards more moderate positions. Figures such as Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Irving Kristol, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Seymour Martin Lipset were among the most prominent names usually mentioned, with James Q. Wilson and Thomas Sowell also often grouped into that category. In 1965, Bell and Kristol had co-founded The Public Interest, a semi-academic quarterly journal focused on matters of social policy.

Many of these individuals were Jews originally from New York City, often with deep personal roots in the non-Stalinist Left including Trotskyism, and the severe problems their metropolis faced during the late 1960s and the 1970s became an important factor behind their ideological shift, as they grew disgusted and horrified by the rampant crime and racial confrontations, along with the threat of fiscal bankruptcy. Also around that time, Commentary magazine, edited by Norman Podhoretz and based in the same city, moved in a similar direction, replacing its enthusiasm for the radical New Left with sharp criticism, and becoming the leading American publication associated with the early neoconservative movement.

In those pre-Internet days, professionally-produced print publications with a national circulation were an extremely scarce intellectual resource and as such could serve as the focal point for a nascent ideological movement. So Commentary played such a role in shaping the Neocons much as William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review had earlier helped to create the modern conservative movement in the late 1950s. But Commentary was also the flagship publication of the American Jewish Committee and Podhoretz himself deeply identified with Jewish issues. Those factors impacted his editorial line, which naturally included a major focus upon Israel and the Middle East along with the plight of Soviet Jewry. Partly for such reasons, a hawkish foreign policy including heavy emphasis on the Cold War soon became important Neocon concerns.

The aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate dominated the 1970s with the overwhelming majority of influential American publications and the intellectual elites who followed them skewing liberal or even radical in their political orientation. National Review had already spent many years as the lodestar of the conservative movement and many Republicans, but the overwhelming majority of the contributors and readers of Commentary were Democrats or even Socialists, and it had recently been very influential in such circles, so it could easily draw in the sort of disgruntled Democrats who might have dismissed Buckley’s publication out of hand. Thoughtful conservatives hoped to broaden the intellectual reach of their growing political coalition and they recognized how valuable Commentary might be in assisting that project. In a famous 1979 example, the magazine had published “Dictatorships and Double Standards” authored by a conservative Democratic academic named Jeane Kirkpatrick, an article that brought her to the attention of Ronald Reagan, who named her his U.N. Ambassador after he reached the White House.

During the Reagan Administration of the 1980s, Neocons often spearheaded such foreign policy projects and these began overshadowing the domestic social issues that had once dominated the movement. This was partly because Reagan proved much more successful at implementing the former than the latter, with Congress passing his large military buildup against the Soviets even as his efforts to roll back affirmative action, bilingual education, or multiculturalism languished.

Furthermore, some of the earliest neoconservative figures who had focused on domestic matters gradually disassociated themselves for a variety of reasons. Bell had long rejected the claim that he was any sort of conservative, neo or otherwise. Moynihan had won a New York U.S. Senate seat as a Democrat in 1976, becoming an influential figure in that party, but being subject to different ideological pressures he then became a fierce critic of the Reaganite foreign policy promoted by his erstwhile allies and proteges. Glazer, a mild-mannered academic scholar, also retreated from some of his earlier views, eventually even publishing a book entitled We Are All Multiculturalists Now.

So an ideological movement that had once consisted of moderate social scientists became much more strongly identified with fiercely hawkish militarists preoccupied with Israel, the Middle East, and the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union. This transformation was gradual enough and the overlap in personnel and beliefs sufficiently strong that the original name continued in use and those underlying shifts received little public attention. However, I’ve always regarded the changes as so dramatic that I usually refer to Bell, Moynihan, Glazer, and others of their ilk as Elder Neocons in order to clearly distinguish them from their very different political heirs.


The Neocons had possessed no significant popular base and they originally entered the conservative movement as a small group of refugees from a Democratic party that had become too radical for their taste. But many of them proved far more skillful in their organizational infighting than the existing conservatives they encountered and they also possessed much better connections with leading media circles. As a consequence, they steadily expanded their role and during the Reagan era of the 1980s they gained disproportionate influence across the key nodes of the rising conservative movement. Such growing power and authority was often resented by their traditionalist rivals, who had toiled for decades in building American conservatism only to find that many of the fruits of their victory under Reagan were now usurped by Neocon newcomers, who had spent most of those same years on the other side of the barricades. But Neocon control over publications, thinktanks, foundations, and government appointments still steadily increased during the 1980s and into the 1990s. Paul Gottfried’s 1988 book updated in 1993 devoted several chapters to this conflict within the conservative movement, with Gottfried himself having coined the term “paleoconservative” to categorize his own more traditional conservative intellectuals, sometimes pushed aside by their sharp-elbowed Neocon rivals.

During these political struggles with rival conservative factions, the Neocons became noted for their ruthlessness and the effectiveness of their organization, which allowed them to gain ground against opponents who generally had views much closer to those of the movement’s own activists and voters. One important political advantage the Neocons possessed was that outside a fairly restricted range of issues—especially in foreign policy— they were usually quite moderate and mainstream in their views, thus having a cultural background and set of beliefs very similar to those of the powerful and (generally liberal) mainstream media, which they often successfully enlisted in their conservative factional struggles. Indeed, in 1986 Southern traditionalist conservative Clyde Wilson had famously complained:

The offensives of radicalism have driven vast herds of liberals across the borders into our territories. These refugees now speak in our names, but the language they speak is the same one they always spoke.

The heavily Jewish composition of the Neocons and their often intense focus on Israel hardly passed without notice among their resentful traditionalist rivals, but speaking out on such matters might be portrayed as “right-wing anti-Semitism” by the media and was therefore fraught with peril. For decades, Russell Kirk had been regarded as one of the most prominent conservative thinkers, but when he sharply criticized the Neocons in a major 1988 speech, archly declaring that “Not seldom has it seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States,” he was bitterly denounced and his words became “infamous.”

The elderly Kirk was already near the end of his life, but during this period occasional missteps by other leading conservative figures outside the Neocon camp were quickly seized upon and trumpeted to the media as pernicious proof of “racism” or “anti-Semitism,” sometimes leading to the destruction of long careers. Two notable cases were those of Joseph Sobran and Sam Francis.

Although the name of Joseph Sobran may be somewhat unfamiliar to younger conservatives, during the 1970s and 1980s he possibly ranked second only to founder William F. Buckley, Jr. in his influence in mainstream conservative circles, as partly suggested by the nearly 400 articles he published for NR during that period. By the late 1980s, he had grown increasingly concerned that growing Neocon influence would embroil America in future foreign wars, and his occasional sharp statements in that regard were branded “anti-Semitic” by his Neocon opponents, who eventually prevailed upon Buckley to purge him. The latter provided the particulars in a major section of his 1992 book-length essay In Search of Anti-Semitism.

Oddly enough, Sobran seems to have only very rarely discussed Jews, favorably or otherwise, across his decades of writing, but even just that handful of less than flattering mentions was apparently sufficient to draw their sustained destructive attacks on his career, and he eventually died in poverty in 2010 at the age of 64. Sobran had always been known for his literary wit, and his unfortunate ideological predicament eventually led him to coin the aphorism “An anti-Semite used to mean a man who hated Jews. Now it means a man who is hated by Jews.”

A very similar fate for very similar reasons [was also] suffered by the late Sam Francis, one of the leading paleoconservative theorists in America, and a top opinion editor at The Washington Times, then a leading national force in the conservative movement. Despite winning numerous journalist awards and serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan, Francis lost most of his public outlets when he was purged for having the wrong associations, and his large body of accumulated writings have mostly disappeared from the Internet.

A particular flash-point came in 1990 after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and President George H.W. Bush prepared to go to war against him in response. Many leading traditional conservatives expressed very strong reservations about Bush’s Gulf War plans, while the Neocons fervently supported the attack against Israel’s most dangerous regional rival. Pat Buchanan had held important positions in both the Nixon and Reagan Administrations, and he was then a nationally-syndicated columnist with a huge television footprint on Crossfire, the McLaughlin Group, and other popular cable shows, certainly ranking as one of our most influential conservative figures. The ADL and other Jewish groups ferociously attacked the pugnacious pundit when he declared to his national television audience of millions:

Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory…There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East – the Israeli defense ministry and its ‘amen corner’ in the United States…The Israelis want this war desperately because they want the United States to destroy the Iraqi war machine. They want us to finish them off. They don’t care about our relations with the Arab world.

Bush’s unexpectedly easy military victory against Iraq strengthened the hands of the Neocons who had wholeheartedly endorsed the project, but a new political battle immediately broke out after the President began demanding that Israel halt its West Bank settlement activity. This soon provoked a related controversy regarding the long-suppressed story of the 1967 Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty.

At that time, the Evans & Novak column by conservatives Rowland Evans and Robert Novak was among the most widely syndicated and influential in America, running in many hundreds of newspapers, and with Novak also having a large presence on the weekly political television shows. Their November 6, 1991 column dropped a major bombshell, reporting that radio transmissions proved the Israeli pilots had been fully aware that they were attacking an American ship and despite their frantic protestations had been ordered to go ahead and sink the Liberty regardless. These communications had been intercepted and decrypted by the intelligence staff at our Beirut Embassy, and the shocking transcripts were immediately provided to our ambassador, Dwight Porter, a highly esteemed diplomat, who had finally broken his self-imposed silence after 24 years. Moreover, these same facts were also confirmed by an American-born Israeli military officer who had been present at IDF headquarters that day, and who said that all the commanders there were sure that the ship being attacked was American. This may have been the first time I learned the true details of the 1967 incident, probably from one of Novak’s many television appearances.

Pro-Israel elements of the media and their numerous activist supporters immediately launched a fierce counter-attack, spearheaded by former New York Times Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, a fervent partisan of Israel, who denounced the Evans & Novak column as biased, misinterpreted, and fraudulent. When I read Novak’s memoirs last year, he described how Israel’s partisans had spent many years pressuring newspapers into dropping his column, which substantially reduced its reach as the years went by. The columnists were punished for crossing red-lines, their future influence diminished, and other journalists were given a powerful warning message against ever doing anything similar.

So over the course of just a few years, several leading conservative figures suffered considerable damage or were even entirely purged for their candid words regarding the Neocons or Israel, surely leading numerous others of lesser rank to draw the appropriate lessons. In the past I’ve noted the sheer ferocity with which such Jewish activists attacked their perceived critics, thereby producing extreme caution in potential adversaries.

I’ve also sometimes suggested to people that one under-emphasized aspect of a Jewish population, greatly magnifying its problematical character, is the existence of what might be considered a biological sub-morph of exceptionally fanatical individuals, always on hair-trigger alert to launch verbal and sometimes physical attacks of unprecedented fury against anyone they regard as insufficiently friendly towards Jewish interests. Every now and then, a particularly brave or foolhardy public figure challenges some off-limits topic and is almost always overwhelmed and destroyed by a veritable swarm of these fanatical Jewish attackers. Just as the painful stings of the self-sacrificing warrior caste of an ant colony can quickly teach large predators to go elsewhere, fears of provoking these “Jewish berserkers” can often severely intimidate writers or politicians, causing them to choose their words very carefully or even completely avoid discussing certain controversial subjects, thereby greatly benefiting Jewish interests as a whole. And the more such influential people are thus intimidated into avoiding a particular topic, the more that topic is perceived as strictly taboo, and avoided by everyone else as well.

For example, about a dozen years ago I was having lunch with an especially eminent Neoconservative scholar with whom I’d become a little friendly. We were bemoaning the overwhelmingly leftward skew among America’s intellectual elites, and I suggested it largely seemed a function of our most elite universities. Many of our brightest students from across the nation entered Harvard and the other Ivies holding a variety of different ideological perspectives, but after four years departed those halls of learning overwhelmingly in left-liberal lock-step. Although he agreed with my assessment, he felt I was missing something important. He nervously glanced to both sides, shifted his head downward, and lowered his voice. “It’s the Jews,” he said.


Despite his impressive Gulf War victory in early 1991, economic problems and political missteps had severely damaged President Bush’s popularity by the end of that same year. As a result, Pat Buchanan decided to challenge Bush in the Republican primaries, a development that seemed likely to spark an explosive public conflict between the heavily Jewish Neocons and their traditionalist conservative rivals, potentially tearing apart the conservative movement that was home to both of them and drawing damaging scrutiny from the hostile liberal media.

William F. Buckley, Jr. had long reigned as the quasi-pope of conservatives, and he attempted to preempt this looming conflict by publishing “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” a massive 40,000 word article that filled an entire issue of his magazine and was later released in book form, generally coming down on the side of the Neocons and sharply criticizing his erstwhile allies such as Buchanan and Sobran.

However, Buchanan entered the Presidential race just as the issue was hitting the stands and quickly attracted such strong conservative support that Buckley’s magazine was soon forced to endorse the candidate it had so recently anathematized, a development that outraged the Neocons. Buchanan’s remarkably strong showing in the New Hampshire primary dealt a severe blow to Bush’s reelection prospects and galvanized a right-wing populist movement, eventually drawing independent Ross Perot into the race and setting up a three-way race with Bill Clinton that November.

Although they detested Buchanan, many Neocons had also grown quite disenchanted with Bush, leading some of them to return to their Democratic Party roots and endorse Bill Clinton, with Commentary showcasing their views. Under the ownership of Martin Peretz, The New Republic had moved solidly into the Neocon camp, and Peretz was the longtime friend and mentor of Sen. Albert Gore, whom Clinton had selected as his Vice President, making the Democratic ticket an easy choice for many members of that circle, with their efforts crowned by success in November 1992.

So while the Republican Neocons spent much of the 1990s in the political wilderness, the Democratic wing of their movement enjoyed a considerable revival in the Clinton Administration. This was especially the case on foreign policy issues, with Neocons providing very strong support for the Balkan wars that America waged in the former Yugoslavia. Victoria Nuland began her career serving as chief of staff for Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in 1993, and Neocon influence on foreign policy grew even stronger after Madeleine Albright became Secretary of State in early 1997.

Meanwhile, the cross-currents of 1990s domestic policy issues were much more mixed and complex for the Neocons. Tax increases, racial conflict, a failed health care plan, and controversial gun control legislation powered Newt Gingrich’s Congressional Republicans to a major landslide in 1994, unexpectedly giving them control of both the Senate and the House for the first time in forty years. The Republican Neocons had played an important role in this victory and shared in the political spoils, but they regarded the concurrent growth of populist anti-immigration sentiments and the militia movement with horror, seeing these as signs of the white racial activism (with suspected anti-Semitism) that they so dreaded and feared. Although Charles Murray had long been a great hero to the Neocons, the ferocious backlash to his 1994 bestseller The Bell Curve led some of them to completely back away from racially-charged topics.

Huge California had long been overwhelmingly white, but over the course of a single generation heavy foreign immigration had shifted the state towards a non-white majority. The resulting ethnic stresses inspired a series of three high-profile initiatives on illegal immigration, affirmative action, and bilingual education during the years 1994-1998, which served to nationalize those controversial issues in the media. Opposition to the latter two policies had always been leading planks of the domestic Neocon agenda, uniting them with other conservatives despite their sharp differences on immigration.

My own views exactly matched those of the Neocons on these particular issues and my political engagement with them began during these years, as I organized and led the successful effort to dismantle bilingual education and ensure that all public schools taught English in California and across the country. I also began regularly publishing articles in Neocon outlets, becoming one of their leading voices on these controversial, racially-charged topics, later telling the story of these events in a lengthy 1999 Commentary cover-story.


The end of the Cold War and apparent peace in the Middle East had greatly reduced the importance of foreign policy concerns during these years, and domestic issues dominated the 1990s, including those that had traditionally been especially important to the Neocons. The tough on crime policies of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani helped revive New York City, seeming to confirm the effectiveness of longstanding neoconservative nostrums while a huge Wall Street boom produced new fortunes, with some of the beneficiaries supporting Neocon projects.

But all of those matters were completely swept away in the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks, as Neocon power and influence reached its public peak in the George W. Bush Administration. As I told the story several years ago, this represented a strange and unexpected development:

As President George W. Bush began inexorably moving America toward the Iraq War in 2002, I realized with a terrible sinking feeling that the notoriously pro-Israel Neocon zealots had somehow managed to seize control of the foreign policy of his administration, a situation I could never have imagined even in my worst nightmare.

Throughout the 1990s and even afterward, I’d been on very friendly terms with the Neocons in NYC and DC, working closely with them on issues relating to immigration and assimilation. Indeed, my December 1999 article “California and the End of White America” was not only one of the longest cover stories ever published in Commentary, their intellectual flagship, but had even been cited as the centerpiece of its annual fund-raising letter.

I and my other DC friends were well aware of the fanatical views most Neocons held on Israel and Middle Eastern policy, with their foreign policy obsessions being a regular staple of our jokes and ridicule. But since it seemed unimaginable that they would ever be given any authority in that sphere, their beliefs had seemed a relatively harmless eccentricity. After all, could anyone possibly imagine fanatical libertarians being placed in total control of the Pentagon, allowing them to immediately disband the American armed forces as a “statist institution”?

Moreover, the complete ideological triumph of the Neocons after the 9/11 attacks was all the more shocking given the crushing recent political defeat they had suffered. During the 2000 presidential campaign, nearly all of the Neocons had aligned themselves with Sen. John McCain, whose battle with Bush for the Republican nomination had eventually turned quite bitter, and as a consequence, they had been almost entirely frozen out of any high-level appointments. Both Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were then widely regarded as Bush Republicans, lacking any significant Neocon ties, and the same was true for all the other top administration figures such as Colin Powell, Condeleeza Rice, and Paul O’Neil. Indeed, the only Neoconservative offered a Cabinet spot was Linda Chavez, and not only was the Labor Department always regarded as something of a boobie prize in a GOP Administration, but she was ultimately forced to withdraw her nomination due to her “nanny problems.” The highest-ranking Neocon serving under Bush was Rumsfeld Deputy Paul Wolfowitz, whose seemingly inconsequential appointment had passed without any notice.

Most of the Neocons themselves certainly seemed to recognize the catastrophic loss they had suffered in the 2000 election. Back in those days, I was on very friendly terms with Bill Kristol, and when I stopped by his office at the Weekly Standard for a chat in the spring of 2001, he seemed in a remarkably depressed state of mind. I remember that at one point, he took his head in his hands and wondered aloud whether it was time for him to just abandon the political battle, resigning his editorship and taking up a quiet post at a DC thinktank. Yet just eight or ten months later, he and his close allies were on their way to gaining overwhelming influence in our government. In an eerie parallel to the story told in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Lenin in Zurich, the totally fortuitous 9/11 attacks and the outbreak of war had suddenly allowed a small but determined ideological faction to seize control of a gigantic country.

A thorough account of the Neocons and their takeover of the Bush Administration in the aftermath of 9/11 is provided by Dr. Stephen J. Sniegoski in his 2008 book The Transparent Cabal, conveniently available on this website:

  • The Transparent Cabal
    The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel
    Stephen J. Sniegoski • 2008 • 178,000 Words

This raises a larger point. By 2000, the Neocons had gained almost total control of all the major conservative/Republican media outlets and the foreign policy wings of nearly all the similarly aligned thinktanks in DC, successfully purging most of their traditional opponents. So although Cheney and Rumsfeld were not themselves Neocons, they were swimming in a Neocon sea, with a very large fraction of all the information they received coming from such sources and with their top aides such as “Scooter” Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith being Neocons. Rumsfeld was already somewhat elderly while Cheney had suffered several heart-attacks starting at age 37, so under those circumstances it may have been relatively easy for them to be shifted toward certain policy positions.

Indeed, the entire demonization of Cheney and Rumsfeld in anti-Iraq War circles has seemed somewhat suspicious to me. I always wondered whether the heavily Jewish liberal media had focused its wrath upon those two individuals in order to deflect culpability from the Jewish Neocons who were the obvious originators of that disastrous policy; and the same may be true of the 9/11 Truthers, who probably feared accusations of anti-Semitism. Regarding that former issue, a prominent Israeli columnist was characteristically blunt on the matter in 2003, strongly suggesting that 25 Neocon intellectuals, nearly all of them Jewish, were primarily responsible for the war. Under normal circumstances, the president himself would have surely been portrayed as the evil mastermind behind the 9/11 plot, but “W” was too widely known for his ignorance for such accusations to be credible.

Furthermore the political circumstances of the 9/11 Attacks and the Iraq War that soon followed provided the Neocons an opportunity to purge all their critics, conservative and liberal alike, from the mainstream media:

In the patriotic fervor following the 9/11 attacks, few national media figures dared challenge the plans and proposals of the Bush Administration, with Paul Krugman’s column at the Times being the rare exception; expressing “unpatriotic sentiments” as very broadly defined could severely impact a career. This was especially true of the electronic media, with its vastly greater reach and therefore subject to more extreme pressure. During 2002 and 2003, it was very uncommon to find an Iraq War naysayer anywhere on network television or among the fledgling cable alternatives, and even MSNBC, the least popular and most liberal of the latter soon began a sharp ideological crackdown.

For decades, Phil Donahue had pioneered the daytime television talk show, and in 2002 he revived it to high ratings on MSNBC, but in early 2003 his show was canceled, with a leaked memo indicated that his opposition to the looming war was the cause. Conservative Pat Buchanan and liberal Bill Press, both Iraq War critics, hosted a top-rated debate show on the same network, allowing them to spar with their more pro-Bush opponents, but it too was cancelled for similar reasons. If the cable network’s most famous hosts and highest rated programs were subject to summary termination, lesser ranking personalities surely drew the appropriate conclusions about the risks of crossing particular ideological lines.

My old friend Bill Odom, the three-star general who ran the NSA for Ronald Reagan and possessed among the strongest national security credentials in DC was similarly blacklisted from the media for his opposition to the Iraq War. Numerous other prominent media voices were “disappeared” around the same time, and even after Iraq became universally recognized as an enormous disaster, most of them never regained their perches.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks, the Neocons had solidified their control of nearly all existing conservative media outlets, prompting Pat Buchanan and a couple of partners to found The American Conservative in 2002. The following year, he used that platform for a blistering attack on Bush’s Iraq War foreign policy, which he denounced as a Neocon project. David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and one of his targets, launched a near-simultaneous broadside in National Review against Buchanan and other critics, whom he condemned as “unpatriotic conservatives.” Taken together, the two lengthy pieces provide a good overview of the key figures on both sides of that bitter ideological battle.

  • Whose War?
    The Loudest Clique Behind the President’s Policy
    Pat Buchanan • The American Conservative • March 24, 2003 • 5,200 Words
  • Unpatriotic Conservatives
    David Frum • National Review • March 25, 2003 • 6,400 Words

Many moderates and liberals were equally appalled by the Iraq War as it unfolded, but unlike Buchanan they were often quite gun-shy in highlighting the obvious pro-Israel roots and motives of the leading Neocon backers. Perhaps as a consequence, they soon began to depict the Neocons as having Trotskyite origins and ideology, a wildly exaggerated accusation but one that eventually became widespread in the mainstream media. This characterization even carried echoes of the bitter intra-Communist feuds of the 1930s, when “Trotskyite” had sometimes been used as a euphemism for “Jewish.” An excellent 2004 article by Canadian Bill King summarized and very effectively debunked those claims, while also providing a good discussion of the backgrounds and ideological origins of many of the early Neocons.


Despite the unprecedented strategic disaster of the Iraq War, the Neocons fully retained their hold on the Republican Party’s foreign policy, while their Democratic counterparts achieved the same success across the political aisle. Thus, when the manifest failures of the Bush Administration led to the overwhelming victory of Barack Obama in 2008, Bush Neocons were merely replaced by Obama Neocons. Donald Trump’s unexpected triumph in 2016 brought to power the Trump Neocons such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, who were then succeeded in 2020 by Biden Neocons Antony Blinken and Victoria Nuland.

Husband and Wife: Bush Neocon Robert Kagan and Obama/Biden Neocon Victoria Nuland
Husband and Wife: Bush Neocon Robert Kagan and Obama/Biden Neocon Victoria Nuland

As I recently explained:

One difficulty is that the very term “Neocon” used here has actually become much less meaningful than it once was. After having controlled American foreign policy for more than three decades, promoting their allies and protégés and purging their opponents, the adherents of that world view now constitute nearly the entire political establishment, including control of the leading thinktanks and publications. By now, I doubt there are many prominent figures in either party who follow a sharply different line. Furthermore, over the last two decades, the national security-focused Neocons have largely merged with the economically-focused neoliberals, forming a unified ideological block that represents the political worldview of the elites running both American parties.

Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Biden Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Biden Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Our nation’s two most recent Secretaries of State have been Mike Pompeo and Antony Blinken, and I’m not whether either of them even considers himself a Neocon, given that their foreign policy views are almost universal within their political circle. Do fish think that water is wet?

But consider the reality of today’s American foreign policy. In 1992 Neocon Paul Wolfowitz had drafted a Defense document advocating measures to ensure our permanent global military dominance but when it leaked the proposal was immediately repudiated by our Republican President and top military leaders, let alone the Democrats; however a decade later this “Wolfowitz Doctrine” had became our policy under Bush and today it enjoys complete bipartisan support.

Or consider the 28 standing ovations received by the Israeli prime minister when he spoke before a joint session of Congress in 2015, including the Stalinesque touch that some of our elected officials were denounced for applauding with insufficient enthusiasm. Given such a political environment, the strong pressure once exerted upon the Jewish State by such varied American Presidents as Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton would be unthinkable today.

From the moment the Ukraine war began, our entire media and political establishments have been in absolute lock-step, with scarcely a trace of doubt or dissent. There has been no willingness to recognize the role of NATO expansion in provoking the conflict nor to ask questions about a possible American role in the explosions that destroyed Europe’s Nord Stream energy pipelines.

A few weeks after the outbreak of the war, I watched a discussion on the conflict and its origins by John MearsheimerRay McGovernJack MatlockTheodore Postol, and others, all figures of the strongest reputation and credibility. Mearsheimer was the eminent “realist” scholar who had spent many years warning of just such a disastrous possibility; McGovern had spent 27 years as a CIA Analyst, rising to become head of the Soviet Policy group and also serving as the President’s Morning Briefer on Intelligence; Matlock had served as Reagan’s ambassador to the USSR. These individuals represented some of America’s most experienced Russia experts and under other circumstances they might have been serving as top Presidential advisors in the crisis. But because they were outside the Neocon orbit, they were reduced to sharing their views with each other on a privately-organized Zoom call.

However, one ironic aspect of the complete Neocon capture of the American foreign policy establishment is that its key figures have become far less easily swayed by the Israeli government on some other matters than they might have been a couple of decades ago.

When the Neocons were merely a political faction, they were naturally influenced by the leadership of an important world government that controlled powerful assets within the American system. But the newer generation of leaders have grown up at the helm of the world’s sole global superpower and except for Middle Eastern issues probably pay much less deference to the positions of Tel Aviv than in the past.

Consider, for example, the Ukraine war, provoked by the Neocon-driven expansion of NATO and immediately followed by an unprecedented political and economic attack against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country. Despite their ongoing conflict in Syria, Israel has generally maintained quite amicable relations with Russia over the last couple of decades, with the million or more Russian-Israelis constituting a powerful voting bloc and with several of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs holding dual citizenship. For these reasons, Israel has been very reluctant to go along with the West’s anti-Russian sanctions or assist Ukraine, and unlike our European vassals, possesses sufficient political independence to maintain that position against American pressure.

Indeed, early in the conflict, then Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had brokered peace talks between the Russian and Ukrainian governments, with an agreement apparently being close before Britain’s Boris Johnson was dispatched to Kiev and vetoed the proposal.

Israeli leaders have been equally reluctant to join the Neocon-led campaign against China, which they regard as not in their own national interests. Indeed, I had noted in 2020 that under the Trump Administration this divergence of American and Israeli views on China may have taken a strikingly lethal turn:

As our global confrontation with China has grown hotter, my morning New York Times has continued to provide invaluable information for anyone willing to read it carefully.

For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo probably ranks as the most prominent Deep State Neocon in the Trump Administration, and is a leading architect of our confrontation with China. Last week he broke quarantine to take a trip to Israel and hold important talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as reported in a 1,600 word NYT article. Although the majority of their discussion concerned American support for the proposed annexation of the Palestinian West Bank, a serious disagreement arose concerning Israel’s growing economic ties with China, with the piece noting that the Jewish State had “antagonized” Washington by allowing Chinese companies to make major infrastructure investments, some of them in sensitive locations. According to the three Times journalists, Netanyahu firmly stood his ground, determined to “push back” against Pompeo’s repeated warnings and refused to reconsider his government’s China policy.

But just a couple of days later, the Times then reported that Du Wei, the Chinese ambassador to Israel, age 57, had been found dead at his home, having suddenly fallen victim to “unspecified health problems.” The piece emphasized that he had become a leading public critic of America’s current policies toward China, and the juxtaposition of these two consecutive NYT articles raised all sorts of obvious questions in my mind.

According to standard mortality tables, an American male age 57 has less than a 1% chance of dying in a particular year, and given the similarity in overall life expectancy, the same must surely true of Chinese males. Recently appointed Chinese ambassadors are likely to be in reasonably good health rather than suffering the last stages of terminal cancer, but such causes together with obvious, visible injuries account for more than half of all fatalities at around that age. Thus, the likelihood that the 57-year-old Chinese diplomat died naturally within that two day window was probably far less than 1 in 50,000. Lightning does sometimes strike under the most unlikely of circumstances, but not very often; and I think that the unexplained deaths of ambassadors during international confrontations probably fall into the same category.

Thus, it seems exceptionally unlikely that the sudden demise of Ambassador Du was not somehow directly connected with the heated dispute between Pompeo and Netanyahu over Israel’s China ties that had occurred just two days earlier. The exact details and circumstances are entirely obscure, and we can merely speculate. But since speculation has not yet been outlawed by government edict, an interesting possibility comes to mind.

In sharp contrast to the elected leaders of America’s vassal-states throughout Europe and Asia, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hardly regards himself as beholden to the American government. He is a powerful, arrogant individual who remembers the endless standing ovations that he had enjoyed when he addressed our own House and Senate, receiving the sort of bipartisan public adulation that would be unimaginable for a Donald Trump, who remains deeply unpopular with half our Congress and nation. So faced with demands by a Trump envoy that he sacrifice his own nation’s interests by cancelling important Chinese economic projects, he apparently disregarded Pompeo’s warnings and told him to get lost.

The classic 1972 film The Godfather ranks #2 in the IMDb Movie Database, and one of its most famous scenes concerns a conflict between a powerful and arrogant Hollywood film mogul and a visiting representative of the Corleone family. When the polite requests of the latter are casually disregarded, the movie tycoon awakens to discover the bloody head of his prized race-horse in his own bed, thereby demonstrating the serious nature of the warning he had received and indicating that it should not be disregarded. Pompeo had recently served as CIA Director, and he may have called in a few favors with elements of the Israeli Mossad and had them take lethal steps to convince Netanyahu that our demands that he reassess his ties with China were of a serious nature, not to be treated lightly. I strongly suspect that the controversial Chinese-Israeli economic ventures will soon be curtailed or abandoned.

I had never heard of the unfortunate Chinese ambassador prior to his sudden demise, and under normal circumstances any such notions of American foul play might be dismissed as absurd. But consider that just a few months earlier, we had publicly assassinated a top Iranian leader after he was lured to Baghdad for peace negotiations, an act vastly more weighty than the plausible deniability of a middle-aged diplomat being found dead in his own home of unknown causes.

A few days later, my Wall Street Journal carried an article entitled China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ Diplomats Are to Fight, beginning on the front page and running 2,200 words, by far the longest piece appearing in that day’s edition. Yet although the late Ambassador Du had been in the forefront of this ongoing Chinese campaign to challenge American influence, both in Israel and during his previous posting to Ukraine, and the sudden death of this particular “wolf warrior diplomat” was surely known to the journalists, his name appeared nowhere in the text, leading me to wonder whether it had been deliberately excised to avoid raising obvious suspicions in the WSJ readership.

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