One of the more appealing aspects of neoconservatism in the wake of 9/11 was its belief - utopian in retrospect, idealist at the time - that the only way past the pathologies of Jihadism was some kind of model Arab democracy that could pave the way for others to follow, thereby draining the Arab desert of the autocracy that breeds terror. We know what happened in Iraq - about as catastrophic a failure as one can imagine. The face-saving patch-up is still unraveling before our eyes, as al Qaeda (which did not exist in Iraq before the invasion) still shows an ability to kill and maim and murder and intimidate fellow Sunnis at will. The end-result of an invasion that led to the deaths of countless thousands and removed no WMD threat may well be far greater influence for Iran in the region and a lawless Sunni desert where al Qaeda retains a foothold. Meanwhile, the latest neocon fantasy is an alliance with Sunni Arab dictators in order to launch a war against Shiite Iran's nuclear facilities, thereby both inserting the US into one of the oldest theologico-political disputes in human history and deepening the alienation of Muslims on the street toward the little and big Satans of their imagination. I cannot think of a greater boon to Islamism than an atatck on Iran, or a more powerful way to cut the Green Movement off at the knees.
But the concept of a model Arab democracy is still latent within the cynical circles of the pro-Israel wing of neoconservatism. So let me pose a question: where is there a fledgling Arab state whose leaders are now focusing on the humdrum details of housing and economic development and better policing? Where is the state that could be used to show the benefits of cooperation with the West - as opposed to the brutality of Hamas?
It's sitting right there on the map just to the East of Israel proper. Its leaders want more autonomy, its population is showing signs of economic vitality, Europe, Russia and China would be eager to join the US in aiding and helping the nascent state, and it would help resolve one of the core issues fueling Jihadism worldwide: the Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank.
And yet it is a visceral stance of the neocons that the radical Israeli settlements, which prevent any such state from emerging, must remain. Or rather that no pressure should be brought to bear on Israel to freeze or curtail let alone reverse them. The result is a walking away from an obvious experiment that brings the positive and liberal aspect of neoconservatism to the fore. And I ask you: what else that is actually doable would transform the region more than this?
In the end, I fear, the neocons' paranoia about Israel's security - which apparently required the deaths of so many civilians in Gaza and demands the daily humiliation of so many Muslims in the occupied territories - renders any such game-changer moot. My view is that a neoconservatism that wasn't rooted and founded in the ideology of Greater Israel would leap at this chance. And support for a real, democratic, Muslim Palestinian state on the West Bank is the acid test of neoconservatism's broader principles.
So far: fail. But maybe some will see the folly of their current stance and move tioward a more constructive engagement. Is neoconservatism just about Israel? Or is it about Israel, America, democracy and a future where Jihadism is defused in the war of ideas as well as defeated in the heat of a long and arduous battle?