In a piece examining the continuing presence of neoconservatives in GOP foreign policy debates, Andrea Stone writes, "[I]f neoconservatism has gone out of style with most Americans, the most controversial and consequential foreign policy philosophy since the end of the Cold War has hardly faded away."
The results of the unilateralism, preemptive war and democracy-promotion that the neocons forcefully advocated and helped make the official policy of President George W. Bush’s administration are still playing out as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. President Barack Obama may have banned the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," but other elements of the "War on Terrorism" remain, from secret prisons in Afghanistan and Europe to Guantanamo Bay to the use of illegal wiretapping. And despite Herman Cain’s claim that he was "not familiar with the neoconservative movement" — among other things — its influence is clearly on display in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Leaving aside Stone’s incorrect labeling of the Iraq war as "preemptive" — it was a preventive war, and this distinction matters a great deal, and I will continue to be a pain about it — the article is very much worth reading, both for the attempts by the neoconservatives to whom Stone talks to redefine their ideology as something that wasn’t a huge disaster (rather hilariously, AEI’s Michael Rubin slams President Obama’s Iran policy and then tries to claim Obama as a neocon for doing the things the neocons failed to do, like get Osama bin Laden), but also because it looks at the important question of why, despite their ideas about the transformative capacity of American military power having been rather conclusively discredited, the neocons persist in elite influence.
I delved into this question in a piece I wrote for the Nation back in April 2010:
It turns out, however, that being disastrously wrong on the most significant foreign policy questions of the era is no barrier to continued influence in American politics. Even though their bong-hit theories about transforming the Middle East at the point of an American gun retain about as much popular appeal as E. coli, the neocons continue to impact US foreign policy debates through an entrenched network of think tanks (the American Enterprise Institute, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute), publications (The Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review), supportive editorial boards (the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal) and, of course, Fox News.
With the continuing decline of the Scowcroftian realist faction of the GOP, there are currently no close competitors for control of Republican foreign policy, even though neocons are far from loved by conservative grassroots outside the Beltway. This much was clear at the recent  Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where Liz performed her usual "stab in the back" act, accusing Obama of "usher[ing] Al Qaeda-trained terrorists onto American soil." The audience gobbled it down like chum–then went into a full-on frenzy when Liz introduced her dad. But despite the wild applause for the Cheneys, the big winner of CPAC’s presidential straw poll (with one of the highest totals ever) was Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who represents a more populist-isolationist strain of conservatism and is a longtime critic of Dick Cheney and the neoconservative faction.
But while Paulite isolationists may disdain the role neocons play in the GOP, they lack the organizational tools to challenge it.
The same is pretty much true today. As a recent CBS poll showed, the neoconservative agenda remains broadly unpopular among Americans, but as long as neocons continue to occupy prominent think tanks, editorial boards, and cable news channels, and without any comparably well-funded counterweight within the conservative movement, we’ll have to keep hearing from them, and have to keep reading articles about how they’re still around.