The Extreme Center: How the Neocons Went Woke

No lessens, no consequences

The Iraq war was spearheaded by a remarkably small group of people. It has become politically untenable to justify that overt disaster and some of the key architects of that war have, much belatedly, come to acknowledge as much.

As late as 2013 Max Boot was still arguing there was No Need to Repent for the Iraq War. He had changed his tune by 2018, writing in his book The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right, “I regret advocating the invasion and feel guilty about all the lives lost.”

Boot claims, “It was a chastening lesson in the limits of American power,” yet in the same book complains that the modern conservative movement is “permeated with” racism, extremism and isolationism.

David Frum now describes the invasion as “a grave and costly error” and gives a thoroughly equivocal mea culpa. Robert Kagan says that the war “didn’t go exactly the way we wanted it to” and that “many aspects of the war” were “unfortunate.”

Bill Kristol acknowledges that Iraq was “very difficult” and that “many things were done badly,” but concludes, “I’m inclined not to think it was [a mistake].”

Since the inauguration of Trump, Kristol has changed his mind on trans rights, on gays, on abortion — but not on the catastrophe that led to over a hundred thousand civilian deaths.

He told Jewish Insider: “Ironically, I’d say I’ve changed or rethought my views more on domestic policy issues… Foreign policy, I haven’t really changed my views. And I’ve been critical of Biden for the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Despite the repeated disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, these figures remain as combative as ever.

In 2018 Kristol told Vox, “the fact that the public is, quote, “war-weary”… those instincts have be challenged.” He told the Al Franken podcast that the Iraq intervention “didn’t destabilize the entire Middle East, I wish it had destabilized some of those places more.”

The neocons have been consistently wrong about foreign policy, and not just wrong, but wrong in the loudest, most doctrinaire and most uncompromising way possible. You’d think they might face some career blowback…

What actually happened?

Liberal adulation

On his MSNBC show, Ari Melber referred to 2018 as the year when “many people began referring to ‘woke Bill Kristol’.” According to Melber, this was “A tribute to the idea that people do evolve and that Trumpism can create strange bedfellows.”

Joy Reid, perhaps the most noxious personality on MSNBC, was positively glowing with praise:

One of the most amazing outcomes of the Trump administration is the number of neo-conservatives that are now my friends and I am aligned with. I found myself agreeing on a panel with Bill Kristol. I agree more with Jennifer Rubin, David Frum, and Max Boot than I do with some people on the far left. I am shocked at the way that Donald Trump has brought people together.

It turned out that in the throes of Trump Derangement Syndrome, being vehemently against Trump was enough to garner liberal adulation. During Donald Trump’s four years in office we saw the wholesale rehabilitation of the most discredited propagandists of the war on terror.

After Trump called the Iraq war a “big fat mistake” in the 2016 Republican presidential debate, the neocons rebranded themselves as the ‘moderate’ voice against the danger of a Trump presidency. They went on to find lucrative positions in the liberal messaging apparatus.

Frum became a senior editor for The Atlantic. Boot is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a CNN analyst, a columnist at The Washington Post, and a contributor to the New York Times op-ed pages.

Robert Kagan is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an editor at large for The Washington Post. Kristol is a frequent commentator on CNN and MSNBC.

In the liberal imagination, the Neocons shifted from being war criminals to sensible moderate centrists, and, after the 2020 election and January 6th, brave and principled defenders of democracy.

How did this happen?

Hawks for Hillary

In 2014 Jacob Heilbrunn, author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, predicted “the neocons may be preparing a more brazen feat: aligning themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign, in a bid to return to the driver’s seat of American foreign policy.”

Attending a Foreign-Policy-Professionals-for-Hillary fundraiser, Robert Kagan was quoted as saying, “I would say all Republican foreign policy professionals are anti-Trump. I would say that a majority of people in my circle will vote for Hillary.”

Hillary won the endorsement of almost every high-profile Neoconservative you could name. Eliot Cohen, co-founder of the Project for the New American Century; John McCain speechwriter Mark Salter; think tank goon James Kirchick. Boot said he would “sooner vote for Josef Stalin than[he] would vote for Donald Trump.”

The Wall Street Journal’s most hawkish columnist, neocon Bret Stephens, penned an op-edtitled Hillary: The Conservative Hope. But no one else went as far as Bill Kristol, who, when, after running a rival candidate in 2016 proved a fool’s errand, tweeted that he would “prefer the deep state to the Trump state.”

This wholesale coalition between Bush-era neocons and hawkish Democrats started before Trump and it continued after he left the White House.

In 2008 The Weekly Standard celebrated Hillary Clinton as “the great right hope” of foreign policy, hailing her transformation from “First Feminist” to “Warrior Queen.” In 2013 John McCain described Hillary Clinton as a foreign policy “rock star.”

In a 2014 profile of Robert Kagan in The New York Times, Kagan mentions that he served on Hillary’s “bipartisan group of foreign-policy heavy hitters at the State Department, where his wife worked as her spokeswoman.”

He said of Clinton’s foreign policy, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that.”

This was more than a temporary marriage of convenience to stop Donald Trump. This is more than a pragmatic alliance. It’s an ideological convergence. The Neocons have cast off any pretence to conservatism while the Democrat Party has become uniformly pro-war. David Frum explained the realignment:

Trump pushed Never Trump Republicans into partnership with moderate Democrats — and prodded even formerly conservative minded people — to see power in ideas like Me Too and Black Lives Matter. … Old patterns are dissolving into something new.

The neocons had lost access to power in the GOP and needed to find a new constituency. Robert Kagan co-authored an article in 2019 attacking “America First” foreign policy with Antony Blinken, who is now Joe Biden’s Secretary of State. Kagan’s wife is Victoria Nuland. The two fell in love “talking about democracy and the role of America in the world.”

Nuland is the ultimate example of the continuity (only interrupted briefly by Donald Trump) of personnel regardless of the administration. Nuland was a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, a State Department spokesperson under Obama, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Biden administration.

Her worldview is identical to that of her husband.

The Alliance for Securing Democracy, the national security advocacy group responsible for the Hamilton 68 scam of Russian pro-Trump influence, is governed by a board that includes Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security under George W. Bush; Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia under Barack Obama; Bill Kristol; John Podesta; and, at one time, Jake Sullivan, now national-security adviser to President Biden.

If there were ever a meaningful distinction between the liberal interventionists and the Neoconservatives, the two are now fully merged.

Invade the world, invite the world: Imperialism + Immigration

High-profile neoconservative figures have radically changed their positions on a whole range of issues to appeal to their new liberal followers but they’ve always been remarkably consistent on two policies: never ending war and unrestrained immigration.

Preventing the migration of Muslims from such terror-prone countries as Afghanistan is beyond the pale, bombing those same people is seen as just fine.

Bill Kristol wants “new Americans” to replace a population he brands “lazy” and “spoilt” — “luckily you have these waves of people coming in.” Kristol has mourned the “insanity and cruelty” of ICE raids.

“I’d take in a heartbeat a group of newly naturalized American citizens over the spoiled native-born know-nothings of CPAC” he tweeted in 2018. Kristol made open borders a litmus test of respectability.

Asked about his previous endorsement of the brain-dead Sarah Palin he said: “I regret that. … To be fair, if you look at what she said in 2008, apart from some of the silliness, she was not anti-immigration. She was not xenophobic. She was not isolationist. … So, in a funny way, if we could have co-opted some of the populism and given them a place in a McCain-nominated Republican Party, maybe that would have been a good outcome.”

He told Vox: “I will say, you know, the Weekly Standard was pretty unapologetically anti-Buchanan. … Pretty liberal on immigration.”

As documented by the repentant former neocon Scott McConnell in a 2003 article in the American Conservative, and more extensively in the book The Great Purge: The Deformation of the Conservative Movement, the neocons were instrumental in the cancellation of any Conservative that expressed reservations about immigration.

Boot expressed the ultimate synthesis of imperialism abroad and multicultural colonisation at home.Bemoaning the size of the America’s fighting force, he noted, “there is a pretty big pool of manpower that’s not being tapped: everyone on the planet who is not a U.S. citizen.”

He floated the idea of simply paying Afghans to occupy their own country: “The most efficient way to expand the government’s corps of Pashto or Arabic speakers isn’t to send native-born Americans to language schools; it’s to recruit native speakers of those languages.”

Historically the imperial project enabled the successful militarily power to attain new territory for its people to settle. Under the new imperialist framework, America invades countries only to welcome the waves of refugees that war inevitably creates.

So the return on the blood and treasure expended in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya is ever more Iraqi’s, Afghan’s and Libyan’s finding living space in the USA. According to the New York Times, in 2005, just a few years after 9/11, “more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent United States residents—nearly 96,000—than in any year in the previous two decades.”

Invade/invite are both formed by a similar panglossian view of diversity. For all the celebration of diversity, there’s a blindness to it, a belief that that deep down we’re all basically Americans, yearning for secular democracy and ‘freedom’ (in the form of unrestrained liberal hedonism and free markets).

If diversity is a strength, there’s no reason to think that forcing democracy on a deeply sectarian country like Iraq might not work out.

Here’s Kristol on Iraq: “I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni.” In reality the Shia didn’t get along with the Sunni and horrific bloodshed between the two groups followed Saddam’s ouster.

In 2016 Robert Kagan wrote an article about Trump titled This is how Fascism comes to America:

His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

But he won’t bomb them. Therein lies the problem.

Anarchy at home, military occupation abroad

In 2020 over 130 senior Republican national security officials signed a statement that condemned Donald Trump because he “stokes fears that ‘angry mobs’ and ‘anarchists’ are destroying our country” and violated America’s “legacy as a nation of immigrants.”

America’s foreign policy elite would like to wage non-stop war to “keep America safe,” yet when America’s urban centers themselves resemble war zones, the establishment either shrugs or cheers on the rioters (at least25 people died during the BLM riots, including a Trump supporter assassinated in the middle of the street in Portland).

Kori Schake, Director of Foreign and Defense Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, writes: “Recent protests in Amsterdam, London, and elsewhere show that what happens in America matters for the advance of human rights and civil liberties elsewhere. … Our struggles are the world’s struggles, because the values that form our republic are universal values.”

Schake was a foreign policy adviser to the McCain-Palin 2008 presidential campaign and served as director for Defense Strategy on the National Security Council under George W. Bush. In an article titled “This Upheaval Is How America Gets Better,” Schake celebrated the violent riots of 2020: “We are now seeing America becoming better than it was.

This churning, disputatious, and even sometimes violent dynamic is what social change in America looks like.” She praised the military for “modeling how to amplify black voices” while linking to a video of Dave Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, talking about turning the force into a “safe space.”

“I used to be a smart-alecky conservative who scoffed at ‘political correctness,’” wrote Max Boot, but 2017 was “the Year I Learned About My White Privilege.” “The Trump era has opened my eyes. … I have had my consciousness raised. Seriously.”

He has referred to increasing support for BLM as “a reason for optimism.” This is the man who, a month after 9/11, penned an essay for the Weekly Standard titled “The Case for American Empire” where he called for America to “embrace its imperial role.”

David Frum, the man who coined the infamously ludicrous “axis of evil” phrase as a speechwriter for George W. Bush, is a senior editor for The Atlantic, a magazine that marries Black radicalism with rabid militarism.

During the wildly destructive Black Lives Matter riots it published articles with titles like “Anger Can Build a Better World” and “How Rage Can Battle Racism.” I’ve previously written thatThe hegemonic ideology of America is now a mutant symbiosis of the thought of Dick Cheney and Ibram X. Kendi.”

On articles by Kendi and David Frum (albeit not Cheney himself) are but a click apart (Joe Biden’s Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice at the State Department recently met with Kendi and had a discussion about “the ongoing, global impact of white supremacy & the importance of collective effort across sectors to build a world where racial & ethnic equity & social justice prevail”).

The New York Times, the ultimate vector of elite consensus-forming, became a home for Max Boot and Bret Stephens to call for America to act as the world police while also publishing articles like Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police – but not, of course, the military.

Jennifer Rubin, another former neocon and a deeply unserious blogger who specialises in emotion-laden hyper-partisan bluster, has performed a remarkable political one-eighty, but continues to be one of the nation’s most rabid warmongers.

Rubin went from being an anti-abortion zealot to worrying “if women cannot get abortions, will the military have trouble recruiting women?”

In 2011 she criticised Newt Gingrich for being insufficiently enthusiastic about the Iraq war. She wrote a blog post that called out John McCain for opposing “enhanced interrogation techniques.” More recently, Rubin has become the Biden White House’s favorite pundit.

Responding to census data, Rubin tweeted, “a more diverse, more inclusive society. this is fabulous news. now we need to prevent minority White rule.” During the widespread riots and looting of 2020, Rubin tweeted “BLM is peaceful.”

“White Christian nationalism”, by contrast, “will inevitably lead to violence, cruelty and lawlessness.” She blamed the violence of 2020 on “white agitators.”

Combining both her neocon and woke credentials in a single sentence, upon the death of civil rights agitator John Lewis she claimed it “is easy to be despondent — as many were after the passing of John McCain.” Lewis’s courage, she tweeted, was “honored and echoed in the actions of BLM protesters.”

Speaking on MSNBC’s AM Joy of Trump supporters, Rubin said of the Republican Party (that she’d been a member of just a few years earlier):

What we should be doing is shunning these people. Shunning, shaming these people is a statement of moral indignation that these people are not fit for polite society.… We have to collectively, in essence, burn down the Republican Party. We have to level them because if there are survivors, if there are people who weather this storm, they will do it again.

Rubin has shown herself more than willing to support the actual physical levelling of ideological enemies abroad, so perhaps this isn’t hyperbolic rhetoric so much as a literal policy prescription.

When the official GOP Twitter account accurately pointed out that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson supported critical race theory, Bill Kristol shot back “No more dog whistles. Just unabashed bigotry.”


In “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” David Frum managed to accuse those conservatives sceptical of the Iraq war of being both nativists and unpatriotic. The neocons managed to instrumentalize and exploit a redefined version of American nationalism that entangled American identity and nationalism itself with their own ideological proclivities.

In that essay Frum accuses the great conservative intellectual Sam Francis of pursuing “a politics devoted to the protection of the interests of what he called the ‘Euro-American cultural core’ of the American nation,” and he condemns White advocates like Kevin MacDonald.

That, in the minds of Neocons, is the very definition of unpatriotic.

Many conservatives still reflexively venerate the military. This increasingly resembles a case of battered-wife syndrome. Enoch Powell once told Margaret Thatcher that if Britain were to become communist, he would still fight for his country in war. I always regarded that as a moronic sentiment.

One wonders how long Toby Keith-style nationalism can be instrumentalized for a political project that is fundamentally at odds with the interests of those actually doing the fighting and the dying.

For all his faults, Trump was correct when he told Tucker Carlson that the biggest threat to the United States is no external enemy: “Who’s the biggest problem? Is it China? Could it be Russia? Could it be North Korea? No. The biggest problem is from within. It’s these sick, radical people from within.”

In a campaign video Trump reiterates, “The greatest threat to Western civilization today is not Russia. It’s ourselves.”

America won the Cold War against the Evil Empire only to one day resemble a gay, trans, racialized version of it — a woke Leviathan straddling the globe. Michael Ledeen, perhaps the most overtly deranged of all the Neoconservatives, wrote in his book War Against the Terror Masters:

We tear down the old order every day. … Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence—our existence, not our politics—threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.

Increasingly, that historic mission is the global spread of critical race theory and radical gender ideology. If ever it had any moral claim to police the world or export its way of life, that claim was burnt to the ground in 2020.

It’s when the woke mob stops burning the American flag and starts waving it that the world really has a problem. When the moral certitude of social justice meets the impervious militarism of Neoconservatism, it will make for the most noxious and destructive brand of imperialism the world has ever seen.



By Oliver Williams

Published by Occidental Observer



Republished by The 21st Century

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of



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