The Neocon / Theocon Axis (Winning and Losing)

I. Introduction

We can lose the Global War on Terrorism. If we lose it will be because of lack of will. Osama bin Laden and Musab al-Zarqawi are enemies who can win. Likewise, Leftists perceive that they can lose the political battles in the United States and be politically destroyed. If they lose it will be because of a real correlation of forces arrayed against them. They correctly identify the correlated forces, but lack use extremist rhetoric that masks their meaning from nonbelievers. Ironically, poor choices by the American Left may make their defeat by the correlated forces a part of a larger national victory in the Global War on Terrorism,

II. The War That Can Be Lost

We can lose.

America is in an epic struggle against a bitter enemy. We have been here before. The First World War, the Second World War, and the Cold War saw titanic struggles against a hated foe. And in each case our cause was on a knife-edge. If Imperial Germany would have exploited its own doctrine of maneuver trench warfare, the Allied lines would have broken and the Empire would have marched on Paris. If Hitler would have listened to his own generals the War in Russia would have gone to Berlin and Europe would be a Nazi Empire. If the mob of fellow travelers, journalists, activists, and idiots in the 1970s had been marginally stronger the position of America would have been substantially weakened and a clean victory in the Cold War impossible.

An enemy worthy of great struggle is worthy of great victory. The Islamists like Osama bin Laden and Musab al-Zarqawi can fight us for decades. They can win.

Osama bin Laden, Enemy

The greatest danger we face is loss of political will. In his book Colossus, Niall Ferguson writes…

Those who wish to perpetuate American primacy by achieving and maintaining
full-spectrum dominance are, in short, facing the wrong way. For the threat to America’s empire does not
come from embryonic rival empires to the west or to the east. I regret to say that it may come from the vacuum of power—the absence of a will to power—within.

If we lose to our enemies it will be because we do not have the will to victory.

III. The American Left’s Paranoia Against Neocons and Theocons

But other people are concerned about a different way of losing, and different enemies

From the netroots:

I remember when the US had principled conservatives. They stood for what they believed in and argued forcefully for their position. Most were pragmatic, all were committed to their country.

Hah! That is like so totally Enlightenment.

Once the right decided to trash the word “liberalism” by piling up slander upon slander–“liberalism”, which in its small-L form sums up the philosophical basis for the western democracies–they willfully destroyed both principled conservatism and principled liberalism, in the pursuit of pure power.

The innovation of the Neocon/Theocon axis is that it manages to wrap a Nietzschean will to power and a Post-modernist’s radical moral relativism in the apparently all-too appealing cloak of “Christian” values. Pretty deadly combination–especially when backed by gobs and gobs of corporatist cash.


Boomers came of age in the late 60’s and indulged in the worst of the hippie movement, which shares much with the current corrupt theocon/neocon greed fest:

– Self centered, I can do whatever I want and damn the consequences:

Hippies: Freelove, recreational drug use, freeloading.

NeoCon/TheoCon: Tax cuts for you and your friends while leaving the fall out for Gen X and Y. Government corruption, cronyism. Wars of choice fought by Gen X and Y.

– Blinding following rigid idiology, despite available facts:

Hippies: Communes, drug culture, radical movements.

NeoCon/TheoCon: Supply side economics, middle east “liberation” policies, religious fundamentalism.

I believe it was easy for the hippies of the late 60’s to become the greedy, religious conservatives of today. They never were that far apart.


While some may have been non-evil in the past, they continue to ratify the evilness and cunning of the Rethugs, and they willingly take the Theocrat money for their election campaigns.

Thus, by association, all Republicans are evil.

For them to become non-evil again, they must leave the Republican Party and form an honestly conservative party on their own.

Otherwise, so long as they associate themselves with the evil that is the Neocon Theocon Rethug agenda, they will also be evil.

From a scholarly look at Neoconservatism and Theoconservatism:

Heilbrunn’s thesis is that the neoconservatives (the necons) are mostly New York-based Jewish intellectuals who broke with leftist politics in the 1970s. They remade conservatism by articulating serious intellectual critiques of liberalism and the welfare state. When the conservative revival began about 25 years ago, the concerns of cultural conservatives were not much represented among this group. Therefore, they were not much represented in government or the academy, despite the fact it was cultural conservatives, mostly evangelicals and ethnic Catholics, who provided the growing electoral muscle of the Republican Party. Latterly, however, the neocons have been joined by a new breed of conservative intellectual, for whom Heilbrunn has coined the nifty term “theocon.” The theocons, by his account, are predominantly Catholic, and unlike their Jewish colleagues have a tendency to frame political questions with a theological twist. The theocons, in fact, are seeking to restructure American society in accordance with Thomistic natural law. Their efforts are intellectually sophisticated, far more so than anything conservative populists from George Wallace to Pat Buchanan have been able to formulate. However, according to Heilbrunn, “Thomism is an ideology to which only the faithful can subscribe. It is not so much anti-American as un-American.”

From Professor Juan Cole:

AIPAC is not all that rich or powerful, but politics in the US is often evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Because many races are very close, any little extra support can help change the outcome. AIPAC can provide that little bit. Moreover, most Americans couldn’t care less about the Middle East or its intractable problems, whereas the staffers at AIPAC are fanatics. If some congressman from southern Indiana knows he can pick up even a few thousand dollars and some good will from AIPAC, he may as well, since his constituents don’t care anyway. That there is no countervailing force to AIPAC allows it to be effective. (That is one reason that pro-Likud American activists often express concern about the rise of the Muslim-American community and the possibility that it may develop an effective lobby.) Moreover, AIPAC leverages its power by an alliance with the Christian Right, which has adopted a bizarre ideology of “Christian Zionism.” It holds that the sooner the Palestinians are ethnically cleansed, the sooner Christ will come back. Without millions of these Christian Zionist allies, AIPAC would be much less influential and effective.


Franklin is a reserve Air Force colonel and former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. He was an attache at the US embassy in Tel Aviv at one point, which some might now see as suspicious. After the Cold War ended, Franklin became concerned with Iran as a threat to Israel and the US, and learned a little Persian (not very much–I met him once at a conference and he could only manage a few halting phrases of Persian). Franklin has a strong Brooklyn accent and says he is “from the projects.” I was told by someone at the Pentagon that he is not Jewish, despite his strong association with the predominantly Jewish neoconservatives. I know that he is very close to Paul Wolfowitz. He seems a canny man and a political operator, and if he gave documents to AIPAC it was not an act of simple stupidity, as some observers have suggested. It was part of some clever scheme that became too clever by half.

even (kind of) tdaxp guest blogger Aaron!

I can’t say that I think it’s natural. I know that in my eyes, Republicans are the enemy so their deviousness may be exaggerated, but it seems like I have seen time and again that the mainstream right is willing to use what resources are at its disposal

As I’ve told Dan many times, I’m quite concerned about the coming theocracy in America. My only hope is that Falwell and Robertson are indicted in some awful child pornography scandal before the next election so McCain can win the primaries.

William Kristol, Enemy?

A lot of talk about “Neocons” and “Theocons” — even an Axis! One mostly Jewish, one mostly Catholic, somehow involved in Middle Eastern Wars, doubtless frighteningly powerful.

Now, the question: Is Juan Cole, et al, stupid? Are they losers who have lost connection to reality.

IV. American Right Criticism of American Left Perception of American Right

An earlier conversation on tdaxp expresses conservative skepticism of the reality and strength of the so-called Neocon/Theocon Axis.

TM Lutas agrees there is an actual alliance between the two branches of conservatism, but argues it’s a weak alliance of necessity in our political system

There is nothing secret about the neocon alliance with the christian right. Both are part of the general center-right coalition that generally votes Republican in the US. The religious right is there pretty much by definition as long as the Republicans are the center-right party and the neocons have been in alliance since they realized that Ho Chi Minh wasn’t a lovable land reformer and were excommunicated by the left for their apostasy.

While Mark Safranski is agrees with Lutas’ “weak alliance” thesis

Third, I’m not sure it is an alliance so much as a set of congruent objectives held by two very dissimilar demographic groups. Outside of Ralph Reed, I can’t think of too many Religious Right leaders who are culturally comfortable schmoozing at a Bill Kristol cocktail party. They are simply two groups gifted with the same enemies.

… while he argues that Juan Cole is less-than-reliable

Second, I’ll start by saying that you should throw out everything that Juan Cole has ever said about neoconservatism – he’s just flat-out wrong in his analysis and views the movement only through a ME -Israel-Palestinian prism. Which is,frankly, ahistorical ( and I’ve told him so in online debates).

V. The Reality of the Correlation of Forces Against the American Left

So what is going on?

Over and over and over again, the American Leftist complains of “neocons” and “theocons” and how powerful they are. Over and over again he blames them for the wars in the Middle East and how we are “over there.” Over and over again he hopes they would go away.

The geostrategist Tom Barnett has said that the terrorists “do know better”

That is the lawyer with three kids who straps a belt on with dynamite in the West Bank because that looks like the best option for him after going to law school: that is the best future he can come up with. But if you can give him a job a law firm somewhere I guarantee you, he does not get on that bus. The terrorists are not the ones who are so poor they do not know better: it is the ones who do know better, that have an education they are never going to use, and dreams they are never going to fulfill. Nothing kills people more than the sense of a dead-end life.

To put it slightly differently, Your enemy is not stupid. He knows what he is doing. He sees the world he lives in. He feels where it is going. And he wants to make it go someplace else. A corollary: If your enemy is stupid, he wouldn’t be your enemy. He would be an irritation.

In the same way I believe the American left does know better. The “Neocon / Theocon Axis” is not just convenient for two factions. It is a powerful motivation axis with decades-long staying power.

The “Neocons” and “Theocons” have different histories, but share common beliefs: suspicion of government social activism and belief in horizontal controls. For different reasons neocons and theocons want to control individual behavior through cultural norms. They are a real Fourth Generation Political Movement that is ready to peaceful use PISRR and the three stages of insurgent struggle (Stage 1, Stage 2, and Stage 3) to get what they want in a decades-long effort. Additionally, the Christian right have fused fourth generation struggle and family networks in an original and extremely powerful way.

Fighters struggle for a happy ending — a future worth creating. What does this future look like? Where is the revolution headed?

Concluding a historical anylsis of neocons and theocons, Reilly writes

The task of today’s conservatives is the relatively modest proposition of repairing the damage many of them did themselves 20 or 30 years ago. On the other side of the victory of today’s cultural conservatives, there is a world sort of like the Eisenhower Administration but without racial discrimination. Many people might not like this outcome, but it not hard to visualize and few people find it actually repulsive. Thus, we may be in for a larger than average historical irony. The very attitudes and rhetorical style that did so much to institutionalize the ‘60s in our law and popular culture may also be among the chief instruments by which that era is finally dismantled.

Intellectually, their future is a system of strong horizontal controls. But the movements do not abandon the non-ideological. They give them a clear picture of their objective. Every movie of visual representation of the 1950s — from the humorous past of Back to the Future, to the “rebels” in Greese, to Normal Rockwell paintings, show even the least educated exactly what they are fighting for.

A Past Worth Re-Creating?

Juvenile rhetoric (calling Republicans “rethugniks”), anti-Semitism, and a blind attempt to find historical analogies have prevented the American left from spreading knowledge of their enemy. But perhaps taht is a blessing. To repeat a portion of the Reilly excerpt, “few people find it actually repulsive.” Agitation-Propaganda against a racism-free 1950s would fall on deaf ears. Clearly explaining who they hate would isolate the American Left more, not less.

VI. The Utility of Political Ideology in Winning Wars

I sympathize with the Republican program, and I am a registered Republican, though I voted for a Democrat for governor and have never voted for Bush in any election. While on some issues I am “to the right of Attilla the Hun,” I do not find God in Church, I strongly agree with “liberals” like Barnett and Friedman on most issues, and I think Clinton was a pretty good President. I do not self-identify as either a neocon (I could not stand the Weekly Standard) or a theocon (in my view they are more useful than right). What I am about to say should be put in that context.

If we lose the Global War on Terrorism it will be through lack of political will. America needs a strong, rooted, outward-looking ideology to win. It must be a revolutionary ideology.

Revolutions naturally try to export themselves. Until they are subverted by conservative elements, revolutions try to disrupt the world and clone themselves in anyplace they can. Article XI of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union forsaw the Revolution coming to Canada, the French threw Europe into a nightmare of liberation, while Communist infiltrations are well known. While criticizing the Islamic government in Tehran, a dissident nails why revolution ideologies must be expansionist

In the above mentioned article, covering the Revolutionary Guard’s role in Lebanon as far back as 1982, Ayatullah Rafsanjani said “We have weapons and forces there (in Lebanon); initiative and decision making is ours alone; we shall act ourselves and we shall never agree to reconciliation and surrender”. The article also quotes RGC General Haj Ahmad Motavasselian (sometimes referred to as the innocent Iranian diplomat kidnapped by the Israelis in 1982; executed by the Lebanese Phalange militia) regarding IRI military involvement against Israel :“… we shall fight and we believe that we must export the Islamic Revolution to the world … we shall fight with our faith, the army of God fights with its belief (exporting the revolution is called ‘Defensive Strategy’! because any alternative ideology anywhere is considered to be ‘confronting’ Islam).

The neocon / theocon ideological network is a perfect motivating force for the United States in the Global War on Terrorism. It provides tremendous internal energy and is very outward looking — the religious right agitates for System Administration in Darfur, Sudan while secular right sees classic enemies in Syria and North Korea. Their enemy lists overlap almost perfectly.

This has not always been the case. The Kosovo War was much more popular among neocons than theocons. But as they say, “9/11 Changed Everything.” The neoconservatives turned the theoconservatives toward nation building, and that is why we are in Iraq.

America would not be the first country to harness internal ideology for external gain — Communist China has been doing it for years

Their military tactics such as raid, the ambush, and sabotage – are just a means to the end
of eroding the enemy’s will to continue the war

The lasting legacy of the military philosophies of Liu Chi and Mao Tse-tung is reflected in the fact that the People’s Republic of China, alone of the major powers, lists “political mobilization” as one of its principles of war

Stupidly, the American Left has unilaterally disarmed and cannot contribute such an ideology. The netroots — Daily Kos, MyDD, CCK, Atrios, &c, along with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, do not have plans for America. This is because there is no Democrat ideology — there is only opposition to Republicans. A short civil war within the Democrat Party, between reformers like Senator Joseph Lieberman and Representative Harry Ford and establishment forces like Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, was won by the establishment. While Daschle and Gephardt are gone, the instutitionalism they fight for stays on.

Democrats chose not to have an ideology. They chose poorly.

The furthest left viable ideology I can think of for the GWOT is the 1990s Washington Consensus of low spending, low taxes, and few wars. That an agreement by Washington insiders with little popular support that calls for small government is the “Left” alternative is a gong for the death of non-Right choices for American ideology.

VII. Conclusion

There is a real Neoconservative / Theoconservative marriage that is very influential on American politics. It is the reason we are in Iraq, and it is the reason that we will continue to aggressively shrink the Gap. That is why the American Left opposes that axis. That is why we should support that union.

VIII. Works Cited

Neocons, Theocons and the Cycles of American History,” by John Reilly, Culture Wars, February 1997

Have a Clarke Bar,” by Pundit Pap Team, American Politics Journal, 22 March 2004, (from Smirking Chimp).

Introduction,” by Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of America’s Empire, 1 April 2004, pg 29,

I remember when the US had principled conservatives,” by Mondo Dentro, Political Animal, 10 June 2004,

Israeli Spy in Pentagon Linked to AIPAC,” by Juan Cole, Informed Comment, 28 August 2004,

Pentagon/Israel Spying Case Expands: Fomenting a War on Iran,” by Juan Cole, Informed Comment, 29 August 2004,

HTML Version of interview with Raeson,” by Thomas Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, 8 November 2004,

History of Non-Linear Warfare,” by Sean Edwards, Swarming and the Future of Warfare, 2005, pg 65, (from Global Guerrillas).

Boomers, Hippies and GOPers,” by adventuregeek, MyDD, 12 April 2005,

All Republicans are evil,” by Deleware Dem, Daily Kos, 31 May 2005,

Official Launching of New Suicide Terrorist Organization in Iran Promises “Holy Terror”,” Compiled by the Intelligence Council, Marze Por Gohar Party: Iranians for a Secular Republic, downloaded 9 June 2005,

There is nothing secret about the neocon alliance with the christian right,” by TM Lutas, tdaxp, 28 May 2005,

hey Dan,” by Mark Safranski, tdaxp, 1 June 2005,

I can’t say that I think it’s natural.,” by Aaron, tdaxp, 1 June 2005,

9 thoughts on “The Neocon / Theocon Axis (Winning and Losing)”

  1. Yes, we can lose, but decades is too short a time scale for Islamist victory. Islamist victory will only come about after several rounds of losing our will to win.

    I don't think I can do a proper comment all in one shot so I'll break things up thematically. If we lose the will to win, for whatever reason, it will cause us to retreat and permit the creation of safe spaces for Sunni Islamism that are restrained neither by dictators indirectly, nor by us directly. We lost the will to win in the 70s and lived that nightmare in the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now Al Queda wants to replicate the creation of the IRI but with a Sunni cast to the extremism.

    With the creation of Al Queda Land (AQL) the stage is set for the recreation of the Caliphate with the merger of AQL and the IRI, perhaps with an Islamist Turkey thrown in, the major classic centers of Islamic power would merge (probably in a federalist arrangement that would preserve their differences) and realistically could call themselves the Caliphate without major dissent. The Caliphate cannot be created without including all the major Islamic power centers because the existence of resistance negates their claim to fame, that they essentially are Islam.

    We would need to lose the will to win for the creation of AQL. We would recover and need to lose the will to win again for the waterfall attack that AQL will launch on Turkey with weak Ottoman grounded islamists being washed away by their more ideologically committed arab cousins. We would need to lose resistance again for the creation of the Caliphate to be carried through to completion.

    At this point, the Caliphate would have the strength for conventional struggle, but only if the US loses the will to maintain military hegemony, the will to win the war “game”. We would further need to lose the will to win in war after war as non-islamic lands fell to this new caliphate until the correlation of forces is against us, not them. At that point, it is we who would need to hope for the loss of their will to win as we could not win without it.

    This is a process of loss that would take centuries, not decades. Each one of these rounds of loss of will would be highly expensive in terms of lives lost, lives ruined so we should take little comfort in the long time scale of our ultimate destruction.

  2. The Left is not monolithic. There must be a left as long as there is a right and political arrangements structurally require two opposing political forces battling for power in the US. Thus, it is impossible for there to be permanent victory *or* defeat due to political structural issues.

    What can change is that the socialist left can be defeated by a superior correlation of forces, obligating combat on different grounds than big government v. little government as politics has been arranged for most of the past century. It is this unwillingness to detach from a clearly losing cause that is causing leftists so much grief. They are unwilling to bite the bullet and shift ground to non-socialist critiques of the right that they are losing unnecessarily.

    This stubborn sentimental attachment to big government (Clinton 3rd way restraint has almost entirely disappeared) distorts both ideological camps. The left loses because they are unwilling to shift to new battlegrounds that they can win much easier. The right loses their discipline much faster than would be normal because they don't have to fight as hard as they should for victory. They can afford to send up the 2nd string hacks and still win more often than not.

  3. TM, the Left:

    The “first past the gate” election system definitely encourages the existence of two nation-wide parties. However, this does not mean there must always been a “Left.” If the left is sufficiently destroyed, we could expect the two political parties to be both “Right.” In a similar way, every president from either party from 1933 to 1981 (48 years!) was left or center-left on domestic manners.

    I agree that the Democrat Party has forgotten most of the lessons of Clintonism. I believe one of these lessons is to have a forward agenda. There were “Clinton plans” — NAFTA, WTO, the Kosovo War, &c. The current opposition has no such ideas.

  4. TM, al Qaeda:

    The terrorists have grand visions for the future, and know it will take many campaigns to get there. al Qaeda's war on the United States is only one of these, however, and has limited objectives.

    Al Qaeda wants America to leave the Middle East.

    Doing so would be a major victory for them and a major loss for us. It would immediately put Saudi Arabia, al-Anbar, Jordan, Syria, Judea & Samaria, Gaza, Egypt, and Algeria into grave danger. It would show that America is unable to protect its interests. Lennin and Mao achieved similar feats in Russia and China, expelling the international community. bin Laden wishes to repeat that trick.

    Much work would remain after America leaves the Middle East. But that would be the end of what we call the Global War on Terrorism. It would not be a kind peace.

  5. The gravest threat to losing to an Islamist victory would be the loss of Israel as a Core country.

    For the combination of the Left and al Qaeda (and any others) to see Israel succumb to the forces arrayed against her would be a symbolic loss to the Core on par with the defeat of Constantinople to Islam. Yes the war could drag on for centuries but the end would be determined.

    Today that future seems remote and unlikely but even if it were the 'fate of the core' like with Christianity it would not necessarily spell doom – but perhaps darkness.

  6. Stuart,

    The loss of Israel would be a catastrophy. That a democracy with conventional military dominance could lose to a coalition of retrograde nationalists and Islamists would be very, very frightening. It would send a horrible message to everyone.

    After the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottomans hellenized the city because they viewed Greeks as natural merchants; the Patriarch was made an official position in the Empire. I doubt the Jews of Jerusalem would be so lucky.

    The Fall of Constantinople marked the end of one world — the Middle Ages — and the begining of our modern age. A fall of Israel may not mark the darkness of our world. But it would destroy the world as we know it.

  7. Al-Qaeda is not a threat anywhere near the threat Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union was. At the rate of 2 buildings a decade, by the time they conquer and destroy America the sun will have swallowed up the earth in its mass anyway. Clinton stopped them in Seattle in '99/2000, and we've stopped them numerous times since. They don't pose any more of a threat to our government than crazed Montana militias and they pose far less of a threat to American lives than bathtubs.

  8. Traditionally, the Western Way of War has sought to destroy the Enemy's ability to make war. To destroying the enemy's armies, to sowing the fields with salt, to the Total War of Sherman and Eisenhower, the goal of military leaders has been the same again and again.

    Viewing the al Qaeda threat as the ability to blow up building is in this tradition.

    But this is not bin Laden's goal. And it should not be our goal in fighting him. The world has moved to a new generation of war.

    The new style of warcare is called “4th Generation War,” 4GW, or netwar. It focuses on destroying the enemy's /will/ to fight.

    bin Laden is not trying to kill us all. He is trying to exhaust our will. That is the real challenge al Qaeda faces.

    PS: The 9/11 Commission Report concludes that the Millenium Terrorist was thwarted by an alert border guard, unrelated to White House efforts.

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