Defining Neoconservatism Down
Joshua Muravchik, explaining why neoconservatism remains our surest guide to the struggle against jihadism:
As for the neoconservatives, they have taken their lumps over the war in Iraq. Nonetheless, the tenets of neoconservatism continue to offer the most cogent approach to the challenge that faces our country. To recapitulate those tenets one last time: (1) Our struggle is moral, against an evil enemy who revels in the destruction of innocents. Knowing this can help us assess our adversaries correctly and make appropriate strategic choices. Saying it convincingly will strengthen our side and weaken theirs. (2) The conflict is global, and outcomes in one theater will affect those in others. (3) While we should always prefer nonviolent methods, the use of force will continue to be part of the struggle. (4) The spread of democracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe and reduce the need for force.
These "tenets" are pretty anodyne, I'd say. Certainly most liberal internationalists would claim to agree with them; I'd imagine you could get many self-styled realists to say the same (particularly tenets 1-3); and depending on how you interpret them, I could see myself agreeing with all four. Of course, these banalities aren't what actually define foreign-policy neoconservatism, as Muravchik more or less allows elsewhere in the essay. Rather, the neocons are distinguished by what Muravchik, quoting Max Boot, calls their "hard Wilsonianism": The "hard" part makes them more likely to resort to force than liberal internationalists, while the Wilsonian part makes them more likely than realists to favor putting military force in the service of democracy-promotion. It's these tendencies, not Muravchik's four tenets, that look dubious in the aftermath of Iraq, and it's in defending how they played out in our invasion of that unhappy country that Muravchik is largely unpersuasive.