Glenn Greenwald theorizes that the opposition to Joe Lieberman by grassroots Democrats is rooted in the latter's opposition to the former's embrace of the administration's "neo-conservatism." Moreover, Greenwald suggests the Connecticut primary battle is indicative of a realignment away from the old conservative-liberal axis and towards a neo-conservative vs. non-neo-conservative dimension. Greenwald believes the Iraq war has been the primary dividing line between Lieberman and the Lamont forces, and that in a broader sense, the nation's new primary default line lies over Iraq as well, Iraq as a symbol of neoconservative politics. As evidence, Greenwald offers the opposition by some Republicans to Bush's and the neo-conservative's foreign policies, in Iraq and elsewhere, the opposition to Lieberman by Democrats despite Lieberman's liberal voting record on domestic issues, and by the support among neo-conservative members of the press--like David Brooks--for the Democratic Lieberman.
I think there is some basis for Greenwald's conclusions. Iraq certainly is the dividing line of our time, as it was in 2002 and 2004. With the exception of last year's Katrina, the Iraq war has dominated the national debate and news coverage since 2002. And one of the effects of Iraq has been to make strange bedfellows in Congress, as conservative Walter Jones of NC and liberal Dennis Kucinich of Ohio appear together calling for a withdrawal from Iraq of U.S. military forces.
But I suspect Greenwald is making too much out of a national--or even regional--neoconservative versus non-neoconservative split where the issue of Iraq is concerned.
In the first place, I agree with Ezra that the basis for the Democratic grassroots opposition to Lieberman is not primarily the war, but Lieberman's vocal opposition to the war's opponents. As Ezra notes, other Democratic Senators up for re-election this year supported the war and have not faced the wrath of the Democratic Internets.
In the second place, I'm not sure that the Iraq war continues to be the exemplary of a neoconservative foreign policy. Only one Republican voted for the Levin Amendment last month, which makes me think that most Republicans still support the administration in Iraq. But I'm not sure that makes these Republicans neocons in the purest sense of the word, nor do I think it makes neocons out of the other five Democratic Senators that voted against Levin. This is the point I think the AltHippo is making as well.
Which raises the question of what exactly a neocon is.
Neo-conservatism, in my understanding, is a foreign policy perspective that prefers the use of military force, or at least the threat of military force, over diplomacy or as the primary piece of diplomacy; unilateral action rather than cooperation with international institutions; that obstensibly targets un-Democratic regimes; and that most ardently promotes American Exceptionalism.
Neo-conservatism contrasts with foreign policy Realism which: generally aims for world stability as opposed to world democracy; is more inclined to work cooperatively with other nations and institutional bodies; is less inclined to rely on military force as a means of diplomacy and is even less reluctant to apply it except in conditions that are of a last resort and which promise swift victory and a clean exit strategy.
A third foreign policy perspective is Isolationism, which shares with neo-conservatism an anti-international organizational stance, a willingness to use force, and American Exceptionalism, but is like the Realists more guarded about applying military force to limited circumstances and generally not concerned with the internal politics of other nations.
A fourth foreign policy perspective I would call Humanistic-Developmental. This foreign policy aims to ensure human rights across the globe and promote the economic and political development of third world countries, primarily through the auspices of international action. There are some similarities between this view and the obstensible support for democracy favored by neo-conservatives, but unlike the latter, the former are less inclined to act unilaterally or favor the use of force in most situations.
Most people probably at one point or another could be in any of these four camps at any particular time, and each might be relevant at any particular period. But most Democrats are probably either Realists or Humanistic-Developmentalists. Meanwhile, most Republicans are spread out over the first three categories, although the neo-con wing of the Republican Party has dominated under Bush II and importantly, since 911, in contrast to the Realism that occured from Nixon to Bush I.
In any event, my sense is that despite the declaration of One Percent Doctrines, pre-emptive wars, and calls from among the neocon dead-enders at the Weekly Standard and in Rupert Murdoch's media affiliates for extending the Iraq war to Iran, North Korea, and other countries throughout the Middle East, the neocon foreign policy agenda is finished, at least as it concerns overt military action in the next two years. Militarily, the neocon agenda is probably dead period. It may live on in anti-UN propaganda and American Exceptionalism rhetoric, but as an action plan, neoconservativism lacks the genuine popular support necessary for carrying out its ambitions. And by genuine popular support, I mean enough boots on the ground to wage global, eternal war.
Neoconservatism could possibly take its ball and go home, and revert to a Pat Buchanan-Tom Tancredo anti-immigration centered Isolationism, but the Republican Party's business base probably won't let that happen, and progressives that share neoconservatism's anti-globalism, won't buy into the anti-immigrant program. So it's probably a bit soon and too much of a stretch to see Iraq or neoconservativism as a realigning force. Yet.