Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


On January 17, 1961, in his farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the establishment of a “Military-industrial complex”. He said “We must guard against the acquisition of influence by this complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”.

In 1998 the Congress passed, and Bill Clinton signed into law, the Iraq Liberation Act , which neoconservatives had championed, and that made it official American policy to topple Saddam Hussein.

After 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defence) and Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense) teamed up with Vice President Dick Cheney to push for war and isolate the reluctant Colin Powell (Secretary of State). The intelligence agencies were tasked to buttress and even concoct the case that Saddam had intimate ties with Al Qaeda and that he possessed weapons of mass destruction.

President George Bush was happy with that but he was criminally culpable in his naïveté and incuriosity about the costs and consequences of war. At the same time, Cheney and Rumsfeld were inveterate neocon schemers whose cynicism about going to war was exceeded only by their ineptitude in conducting it.


Neoconservatism emerged around the 1960s, through the “3Ps” approach, as a particular group of People (neocons), an array of foreign Policy preferences and an ideological commitment to a set of Principles. These objectifications may reveal what is emblematic of neoconservatism in its particular historical and political context, but they fail to offer deeper insights into what is constitutive of neoconservatism, namely virtue and power.

Currently the latter-day neocons, who are Washington-based political operatives, are interested exclusively in foreign policy, and have a solid, if not excessive, confidence in the ability of the American government to enact social change as it was supposed to happen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The five main neocon tenets are: internationalism, primacy, unilateralism, militarism and democracy.

  1. Internationalism. The overarching goal of American foreign policy is to preserve and extend an international order that is in accord with its material interests and principles. Americans must shape this order, for if they refrain from doing so, surely others will shape it in ways that reflect neither US interests nor US values.

  2. Primacy. “The indispensable nation” was first coined by Madeleine Albright, herself a neocon. To maintain sole superpower status by “preventing the re-emergence of a new rival” was an objective put forward by Paul Wolfowitz in an initial draft version of the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance.

  3. Unilateralism. American power, not the United Nations Security Council, provides peace and security for the rest of the world. The United States, therefore, should not be restrained in their capacity to act: the United Nations is not only ineffective, it is also illegitimate because it is profoundly undemocratic giving as much power to Libya as to India.

  4. Militarism. To maintain primacy and the ability to act unilaterally, large military capacities are needed. Rather than a world where international law, globalization and non-state actors would make war irrelevant in most cases, the neocons see a world in which military force and state actors still play an overwhelming role. This means that the nation must agree to sustained high levels of defense spending.

  5. Democracy. Neoconservatives blend democracy with the muscular assertion of American power. In their eyes, what is true morally is also valid strategically. They see a dark picture: a world in which wars, proliferation and terrorism derive principally from tyrannical regimes. Consequently, they need to achieve regime change, whether in the USSR, Iraq, Iran or North Korea.

From Bush to Obama

Fukuyama argued that Western, liberal democracy, far from being menaced, was the destination point of the train of world history. With communism vanquished, the neocons, bearing the good word from Fukuyama, formulated a new goal: democracy promotion, by force if necessary, as a way to hasten history and secure the global order with the US at its head.

We all know the painful consequences of the neocons’ obsession with creative destruction. In his second inaugural address, three and a half years after 9/11, George W. Bush cemented neoconservative ideology into presidential doctrine: “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

President Obama inherited the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, and various aspects of the War on Terror. Following the neocons' advice, he heavily increased the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Obama, pressured by the neocons, helped organize a NATO-led intervention in Libya and was then involved in Syria, which underwent a long, multi-party civil war between the government , the Syrian opposition, and ISIS. The US supported the opposition throughout the civil war. In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Ukraine, Obama imposed sanctions that contributed to a Russian financial crisis. Russia later intervened successfully in the Syrian Civil War.

President Obama’s final State of the Union address came at a time when, for the first time in his administration, the public believed that the nation’s most serious problems involved foreign policy rather than domestic issues. The majority disapproved of the President’s handling of foreign affairs, and 73% did say they wanted the next President to take a “different approach” to foreign policy.


Neoconservatism as a foreign policy ideology had been badly discredited over the last two decades, thanks to the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump had made clear his distaste for the neocons’ belligerent approach to global affairs, much to the neocons' own entitled chagrin.

Thus Trump sounded neoconservatism’s death knell. He announced his policy of “America First” in a speech at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in 2016, signalling that he would not adhere to the long-standing Reaganite principles.

Trump had already decided to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. He was staging exuberant photo-ops with a beaming Kim Jong Un and was willing to hold talks with the president of Iran, while clearly preferring trade wars to hot ones.

Donald Trump did not drag US into war with Iran. But the neocon military-intellectual complex was very much still intact, with the ability to spring back to life from a state of suspended animation in an instant. Its hawkish tendencies remained widely prevalent not only in the Republican Party but also in the media, the think-tank universe, and in the liberal-hawk precincts of the Democratic Party. And the neocon complex supported Biden's presidential campaign.

Current situation

Donald Trump’s rise to power in the US in 2016 was accompanied by a mass exodus of neoconservatives from the Republican Party. William Kristol, Max Boot, David Frum, Rick Wilson, Jennifer Rubin suddenly became Democrats. Nearly 300 former Bush officials endorsed Joe Biden in 2020.

What characterizes President Biden's politics is the preference for a proactive approach to fixing problems rather than managing them; the refusal to accept a normal, rather than exceptional, America; the restlessness vis-à-vis dependence on others, and the moral idealism. This frustration has created a more congenial environment for the neocons. This, of course, does not mean that neoconservatives have recipes which will be any more effective to guide America in the current world.

Briefly, the doctrine of these people can be formulated as follows: the US should actively interfere in the politics of other countries, remove unwanted regimes, promote liberal democracy with all its might, ensure its planetary hegemony by all possible means and fight against countries that challenge the value and military hegemony of the West: China, Russia and smaller countries like Turkey or even Hungary, where sovereign and “authoritarian” tendencies are too strong. And of course, Israel must be guarded at all costs.

Robert Kagan, Victoria Nuland, Brett McGurk and Kurt Campbell

In 2019, Robert Kagan, a prominent neoconservative, along with Antony Blinken (current Secretary of State) wrote an article urging the US to abandon Trump’s America First policies and continue the policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Specifically, they called for a policy of “preventive diplomacy and deterrence” against “US adversaries,” calling for containment of Russia and China.

Robert Kagan’s wife is Victoria Nuland, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Obama administration. She played an active role in organizing and supporting the color revolution in Ukraine in 2014, infamously advising to the US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyat to “Fuck the EU”.

From 2003 to 2005, Victoria Nuland was a foreign policy advisor to Dick Cheney, the US Vice President that filled the US Administration with neocons.

In the Biden-Harris administration she is serving as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. This is currently the third-ranking position in the United States Department of State, after the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary.

The infamous Brett McGurk, who in his tenure as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State insisted on the support of PKK-related militias in Syria, is also a neocon, and started his career in the George W. Bush administration. He is the Middle East czar in Biden’s National Security Council. At the same time, there are serious anti-Chinese players in the Biden administration, particularly Kurt Campbell, who is the so-called China czar.

Biden and the neoconservatives

The obsession of American foreign policy after the fall of communism was pro-Western democracy in Russia, and the foreign policy establishment has never forgiven Vladimir Putin for returning Russia to the sort of authoritarian governance it has endured for all but a few brief years of its history.

Such obsession is back with Joe Biden and, with it, the neoconservatives who dominated the failed administration of George W Bush.

In Afghanistan, Biden has decided to withdraw U.S. troops by September 11, but his refusal to abide by the May 1 deadline for withdrawal as negotiated under the Trump administration has led the Taliban to back out of the UN-led peace conference in Istanbul. Now Pentagon officials are planning to prolong the US war without “boots on the ground” after September, undoubtedly further infuriating the Taliban and making a ceasefire and peace talks all the more difficult.

Sticking to their usual tired script, US and NATO officials are pretending that Russia is the aggressor for conducting military exercises and troop movements within its own borders in response to Kiev’s escalation. But even the BBC has challenged this false narrative, explaining that Russia is acting competently and effectively to deter an escalation of the Ukrainian offensive and US and NATO threats.

Tensions have escalated with China, as the US Navy and Marines stalk Chinese ships in the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China uses for self defense. Biden's embrace of neocon dogma is thus accelerating a Chinese-Russian-European coalescence that will dominate the world economy

Meanwhile, despite a promising initial pause and policy review, Biden has decided to keep selling tens of billion dollars worth of weapons to authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms, even as they keep bombing and blockading famine-stricken Yemen.

President Biden and the hawks egging him on are pursuing unilateral policies that ignore solemn commitments in international agreements and treaties, riding roughshod over the good faith of America’s allies and negotiating partners.

As the Russian foreign ministry bluntly put it when it announced its countermeasures to the latest round of US sanctions, “Washington is unwilling to accept that there is no room for unilateral dictates in the new geopolitical reality.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping echoed the same multipolar perspective on April 20th at the annual Boao Asian international business forum. “The destiny and future of the world should be decided by all nations, and rules set up just by one or several countries should not be imposed on others,” Xi said. “The whole world should not be led by unilateralism of individual countries.”


The near-universal failure of Biden’s diplomacy in his first months in office reflects how badly he and those who have his ear are failing to accurately read the limits of American power and predict the consequences of his unilateral decisions.

The tragic irony of Biden’s ascent to power in 2020 is that his lifetime of service to a triumphalist American empire has left him ill-equipped to craft a more constructive and cooperative brand of American diplomacy for today’s multipolar world.

The dangerous disconnect at the heart of Biden’s foreign policy is the result of this dichotomy between the neocons’ conquest of Washington and their abject failure to conquer the rest of the world.

The tragedy of such compromises by Democratic Party leaders is that they perpetuate the suffering of millions of people affected by the real-world problems they fail to fix.

In his first three months in office, Biden’s weakness in resisting the bullying of hawks and neocons has led him to betray the most significant diplomatic achievements of each of his predecessors, Obama and Trump, in the JCPOA with Iran and the May 1 withdrawal agreement with the Taliban respectively, while perpetuating the violence and chaos the neocons unleashed on the world.

Biden has escalated tensions with Iran and Iraq by attacking and killing Iranian-backed Iraqi forces who play a critical role in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Biden’s February 25 US airstrike (killing 26 civilians) failed to end rocket attacks on deeply unpopular US bases in Iraq, which the Iraqi National Assembly passed a resolution to close over a year ago. Other airstrikes the Biden administration is conducting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (causing death of civilians: the so-called collateral damages) are shrouded in secrecy.

After releasing the intelligence report on the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi demonstrating that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) approved the murder , Biden refused to hold MBS accountable for the killing.

Biden seems committed to a self-defeating Cold War and arms race with China, talking tough and ratcheting up tensions that have led to racist hate crimes against East Asian people in the United States. But it is the United States that is militarily surrounding and threatening China, not the other way round.

All these policies involve deliberate efforts to unilaterally impose the political will of US leaders on other people and countries, by methods that consistently only cause more pain and suffering to the people they claim - or pretend - they want to help.


The biggest question is why the various US administrations persist and have persisted for so long against countries which, like Iran and other far lesser countries, are not a danger to the United States or to the American people and never have been. If anything, these countries have merely challenged the horrific idea pushed by American Neocons of US “empire” and their insistence on “full spectrum dominance” over the entire globe, something which has created widespread chaos.

The United States of America has no other objective than to destroy Russian culture, Arab state structures, and - eventually - the Chinese economy. This has absolutely nothing to do with the legitimate defence of their people. According to the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the US military budget is at least equal to the sum of the budgets of the other 15 most armed states.

When he became president, Biden surrounded himself with neoconservatives who have always remained in power, except during the parenthesis of President Donald Trump, switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party and back again.

Putin remarked how to “attack Russia” has become “a sport, a new sport, who makes the loudest statements.” Once again Putin stressed that “we really don’t want to burn any bridges. But if someone perceives our good intentions as indifference or weakness and intends to burn those bridges completely or even blow them up, he should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetric, swift and harsh”.

The United States has a short-term view of the world. They do not see themselves as responsible for their legacy. Unilateral, irresponsible decision-making has been endemic in U.S. foreign policy for decades, but America’s economic and military dominance created an international environment that was extraordinarily forgiving of American “mistakes,” even as they ruined the lives of millions of people in the countries directly affected. Now America no longer dominates the world, and it is critical for US officials to more accurately assess the relative power and positions of the United States and the countries and people it is confronting or negotiating with.