The New 'Neocon' Landscape Kenneth Adelman and Joshua Muravchik, two individuals who have been identified by others as neoconservatives, talk about American policy abroad in the wake of Iraq.
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The New 'Neocon' Landscape

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The New 'Neocon' Landscape

The New 'Neocon' Landscape

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, how the Iranian Revolution paved the path to Iowa.

But first, not too long ago neoconservatives were some of the most influential people in the government. They were often former liberals like Norman Podhoretz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, who thought that liberals had accommodated communist totalitarianism at the cost of human rights. Neocons were not isolationists. They were skeptical about many programs of the great society but didn't shrink from big government like many conservatives.

In this year's political campaign, the term has become an epithet among Democrats. John Edwards used it against Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's debate.

Senator JOHN EDWARDS (Democrat, North Carolina): So the way to do that is to vote yes on a resolution that looks like it was written literally by the neocons.

SIMON: The term isn't even uttered among Republicans as the war in Iraq has grown unpopular and costly.

We're joined now by two people who've been identified as neoconservatives. Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, author of an article in a recent Commentary magazine titled, "Past, Present and Future of Neoconservatism."

Thanks so much for being with us.

Dr. JOSHUA MURAVCHIK (Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research): I'm glad to.

SIMON: And we're joined on the phone by Kenneth Adelman, who is a member of the Defense Policy Board from 2000 to 2006 and, of course, is a former director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Mr. Adelman, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. KENNETH ADELMAN (Former Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations): You're welcome, Scott.

SIMON: Let me begin with this - Mr. Muravchik first, then Mr. Adelman - how do you explain Iraq. Good idea, badly executed? Was the idea wrong? Or has it worked out?

Dr. MURAVCHIK: I'm not sure. That is I'm not sure between all three of those possibilities. It's been a horrible mess and a failure until now, but it's possible it still could work out in the end. We have, in the recent months, a little bit of a shift of momentum there. So of all three choices you gave me, I'm not sure which box to check.

SIMON: Hmm. Mr. Adelman?

Mr. ADELMAN: I am sure, however, that the whole Iraq fiasco has discredited the idea of the neocons. I should tell you, Scott, that I don't consider myself a neocon. However, it's very interesting to me that in this day and age when the neocons are discredited, the U.N. is starting a whole movement called Responsibility to Protect, which is basically an obligation of the international community or the countries in there to intervene - militarily if need be - to save people in Darfur, to save people in horrendous situations which is, to me, the very essence and the very identity of the neoconservative movement.

SIMON: What about the idea that stimulating democracy around the world was a good thing? When you surveyed the globe, did they — not just pointing to Iraq — but let's say Iran where elections have installed Mr. Ahmadinejad, Palestine where Hamas has taken power, and perhaps now even Pakistan.

Mr. Muravchik?

Dr. MURAVCHIK: Well, people misunderstand what democracy promises. Democracy doesn't promise that the people will always vote for the best possible government or, in any case, the government that you or I might think is the best possible government.

Democracy rather promises that people will, in the long term, make wise decisions by the experience of governing themselves and being, in effect, responsible for what happens to them.

I think probably the election of Hamas is a necessary stage in the evolution of the Palestinian polity toward reaching a situation where it realizes that if its own society is going to advance, it's going to have to learn to live in peace with its neighbors.

SIMON: Mr. Adelman, how do you see the idea of encouraging democracies around the world? Is that idea still looking good?

Mr. ADELMAN: It's the only idea that makes sense anymore. The fact is when you look at migrations of people you realize no one ever was rushing in to live under a dictatorship, not of choice.

Now, having said that, Scott, let me say that we are not and should not be in the business of exporting institutions. I don't personally care if any country adopt American institutions. And these are not American values, they're universal values. The fact is that over 200 years of our existence, no country in the world has adopted our institutions. It seems unique for the people of the United States to have a separation of power the way we do. So we're talking about universal applications that are applied one way in the United States, a different way in Canada, a different in Germany, today, a different way in England. And that's fine.

SIMON: Mr. Muravchik, in your piece and commentary, you explored the idea that Iraq might have been the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place. That maybe the U.S. should have been more determined to hunt down Osama bin Laden, maybe the U.S. should have been more determined to, by itself, mostly secure institutions in Afghanistan, and that the United States has been left out of position to confront a threat in Iran. Could I get you to follow through some of that thinking?

Mr. MURAVCHIK: Yeah. Whatever you might have thought about, you know, how much connection there was between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, what was crystal clear was that the biggest state supporter of terrorism in the world was the government of Iran. And logically that should have been our next focus. Whether that would have meant an invasion of Iran or some less dramatic actions to try to squeeze the Iranian government is a separate question. But we made a choice instead to go to Iraq.

SIMON: Mr. Adelman, what are your thoughts on this? Is the United States just out of position when it comes to credibility on Iran at this point?

Mr. ADELMAN: I believe that military solution is impossible in Iran because the main problem is nuclear weapons being developed there, and the nuclear weapons there are hidden, buried and dispersed. And with that situation, it just does not invite military intervention.

Mr. MURAVCHIK: I have a directly opposite view on Iran to Ken's. Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons; it has nuclear facilities. And some of them maybe hidden but we know where most of them are. And I believe we can cripple Iran's drive to get nuclear weapons through airstrikes and I think that, in fact, airstrikes are absolutely the only way that we're going to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

SIMON: Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kenneth Adelman was director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under President Reagan.

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