Peter Beinart: Neoconservatism ... The Latest 9/11 Casualty

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His latest book is The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, something unexpected has happened: the ideology that 9/11 made famous—neoconservatism—has died.  The evidence is all around us. In Pakistan, the Obama administration has just executed Al Qaeda’s second in command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, dealing another blow to a network whose defeat, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, is now “within reach.” Post-9/11, neoconservatism posited that jihadist terrorism was the greatest foreign-policy threat of our age, a threat on par with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. And it insisted that the only way to defeat that threat was to remake the Middle East through military force.

Today, by contrast, it is increasingly obvious that the real successor to German fascism and Soviet communism is not Al Qaeda, whose mud-hut totalitarianism repels the vast majority of Muslims. It is China’s authoritarian capitalism, the first nondemocratic ideology since the 1930s to challenge the idea that democracy is the political system best able to promote shared prosperity. And not only is Al Qaeda sliding into irrelevance, its demise is being hastened by exactly the narrowly targeted policies that neoconservatives derided.

The Obama administration is destroying Al Qaeda not by remaking Afghanistan—a project that looks increasingly far-fetched—but through intelligence cooperation and drone strikes. And while political change—and maybe even democracy—is indeed coming to the Middle East, it is coming because younger Muslims are fed up with corruption and dictatorship, not because of anything done by the Fourth Infantry Division. At around the time of the Iraq War, Francis Fukuyama—who famously argued that “history was over” because democracy was the only viable ideology left standing—compared himself to the neoconservatives with whom he had broken ranks. Fukuyama explained that he was a “Marxist”: he believed that democracy would spread organically because it fit people’s deepest yearnings. The neocons, by contrast, were “Leninists:” they believed that the American military needed to give history a push. Today the matter is settled. The neocons were wrong and Fukuyama was right.

But to grasp neoconservatism’s demise, you don’t need to look at the Middle East. Just look at the Republican presidential race...

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