Neoconservatism: Serious Again?

Over my sick break, Alex Massie pointed to my old disavowal of neoconservatism and argued that Egypt has made the philosophy newly relevant:

Neoconservatives are hardly the only people who believe in the long-term potential of democratic reform in the Middle East (plenty of liberals think so too) but they are much more likely to believe in it than other conservatives. It's an intra-mural skirmish more than anything else. ... I know that many people on the British left refuse to believe that the neoconservatives are actually serious about liberalisation and democracy but that doesn't prevent them from actually being serious. Perhaps they are wrong, naive and utopian but they believe this stuff and it's silly to pretend they don't because doing so satisfies your own preconceptions.

I have indeed been impressed with Bill Kristol's and Bob Kagan's enthusiasm for the uprising in Egypt. I share it. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to. But the point of my post was that freedom and democracy cannot be imposed by force of arms and subsequently bloom overnight in a deeply divided and degraded place like Iraq. That was my error.

Egypt and Tunisia (and Iran in 2009) do not change my judgment on this. The revolutions erupted in part because the US had nothing to do with either, wisely kept its distance for a while, and the uprisings were indigenous and spontaneous.

I remain of the view that Jihadist government will discredit itself - as it has in Iran and Afghanistan and those parts of Iraq where it got a foothold. I also remain of the view that democracy is also the best answer to Jihadism in the medium and long run. But you cannot force people to be free; and the future of democracy in Egypt and Tunisia is still opaque and unknowable and risky. These are the heady days. More troubling ones may lie ahead.

What I will say is that, as I watched these miracles on television, I found my love of freedom and joy for the people of Egypt and Tunisia (as for the people of Iran) overwhelmed for a few days by my worries about such events spiraling out of control. But revolutions differ in their trajectories. Burke famously opposed the French one and backed the American one. What will make the difference is the character of the people, and the prudence of the statesmen and women who emerge in both countries. And others.

In the end, we live in an era where hope is battling fear. Suddenly, hope is winning again. Let us not lose our skepticism. But let us not be intimidated by it either.