Many people will remember the excessive use of term "neocon" in both the lead up to and during the Iraq War. As with the word "neoliberalism" from around 2008/9 onwards (a word popularised by, amongst others, Naomi Klein), it virtually had no content most of the times it was used. This isn't to say that "neocon" has no content; only that many of those who used this word simply did so as a term of abuse or to implicate what's often called the “Jewish influence” on such affairs.
Defining the Word "Neocon"
Was Tony Blair a 'neocon' before the Iraq war of 2003? Blair doesn't and didn't think so.
Firstly, he tells us that he “never quite understood what the term 'neocon' really meant” (389). He then tells us what other people mean by the word neocon: “It means the imposition of democracy and freedom...” (388)
So Blair does, after all, know what the term "neocon" means. Despite that, Blair's problem with the term is that he thinks “the imposition of democracy and freedom” is an “odd characterisation of 'conservative'” (388). In other words, Blair knows what many other people mean by "neocon"; though he thinks it's a misuse of the word "conservative." Indeed! Many conservatives would agree with Blair on this one!
Blair also writes:
“It [Blair's position on foreign policy] also utterly confused left and right until we ended up in the bizarre position where being in favour of the enforcement of liberal democracy was 'neoconservative' view, and non-interference in another nation's affairs was 'progressive'.” (225)
Blair elaborated on the imposition of democracy and freedom motive by saying that
“what [neoconservatism] actually was, on analysis, was a view that evolution was impossible, that the region [the Middle East and elsewhere] needed a fundamental reordering.”
We've seen that Blair completely endorsed that position.
Thus although Blair has pedantic problems with the word "neocon," he still knows it represented the position that “evolution was impossible, [and] that the region [the Middle East] needed a fundamental reordering” (388). Importantly, Blair accepted this neocon position – and he did so wholeheartedly. Indeed he repeatedly endorses that position throughout much of his autobiography.
Tony Blair could never have put the neocon foreign-policy position (if that's what it is) better than when he said the following:
“The categorisation of policy into foreign and domestic has always been somewhat false. Plainly a foreign crisis can have severe domestic implications, and this has always been so.” (223)
And in order to deal with these “foreign crises,” Tony Blair argued for a “new geopolitical framework.” That new geopolitical framework, according to Blair, “requires nation-building.” More relevantly, it
“requires a myriad of interventions deep into the affairs of other nations. It requires above all a willingness to see the battle as existential and to see it through, to take the time, to spend the treasure, to shed the blood....” (349)
As stated, “nation-building” is a vital part of neoconservatism and Blair was very keen on such a thing. He believed/believes that the UK and US were/are in a “position of nation-builders.” That means that the UK and US “must accept that responsibility and acknowledge it and plan for it from the outset.” Though, he believes, none of this really occurred “in respect of Iraq” (474).
So whatever you may say about Tony Blair, he is – and was - honest about his championship of an interventionist foreign policy. Indeed he revelled in it.
Blair traces the birth – or rebirth – of neoconservatism to “George Bush's State of the Union address in January 2002” (388). That was when Bush made his “famous... 'axis of evil' remark, linking Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea” together as fellow offenders.
Neoconservatism, of course, pre-dates 2002. Nonetheless, that date – or speech – was an important one in the progression of neocon doctrine.
Part of Blair's acceptance of the neocon position (even if he didn't like the term itself) can also be seen in his Chicago Speech of 1999 (i.e., only two years after becoming UK Prime Minister). In that speech
“I had enunciated the new doctrine of a 'responsibility to protect', i.e. that a government could not be free to grossly to oppress and brutalise its citizens.”
What's more, Blair had “put [this] into effect in Kosovo and Sierra Leone” (400).
Of course this is an impossible doctrine to adhere to. There are simply too many “oppressed and brutalised” peoples in the world today. That means that neocons, and others, will need to pick and choose which people to protect. It also means that reasons other than oppression and brutalisation will need to be taken into account: such as the UK or US's own safety and the lives of our own soldiers. And, yes, financial/economic and other less edifying matters will also enter the equation.
Blair himself says that he knew, at the time, that “Saddam could not be removed on the basis of tyranny alone” (400). What gave Blair a stronger reason than resisting tyranny, apparently, was “non-compliance with UN resolutions” (400). Nonetheless, it can be said that those UN resolutions on the subject of Iraq and Hussein existed in part for reasons of his tyrannous rule (which included the his past use of WMD).
Blair, in his autobiography, also comes clean about what can be called extreme neoconservatism. Or, at the very least, he comes clean about Dick Cheney.
Blair tells us that Cheney “was unremittingly hard line.” He was a man who “was not going down the UN route” (408). Then Blair becomes very honest indeed. He writes:
“[Cheney] would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. In other words, he thought the world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. No ifs, not buts, no maybes.” (408)
Despite Cheney, we can now ask that if neocon foreign policy was right in the case of Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the Balkans (to cite Blair's own positive – in his eyes – examples), why shouldn't the UK and US “work through” Iraq, Syria and Iran - along with Hezbollah and Hamas – too? What's the important and fundamental difference between Sierra Leone and Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran; or the Balkans and Syria? What's more, what's the fundamental difference between, say, Boko Haram/al-Shabaab and Hezbollah? Or, more relevantly, between the Islamic State (IS) and Hamas? After all, they're all Islamists and terrorists fighting to establish an Islamic state in the lands they control – as well as elsewhere.
Therein lies a fundamental problem with neocon foreign policy: possible intervention overload or overkill.
*) All quotes are from Tony Blair's autobiography, My Journey.
*) All quotes are from Tony Blair's autobiography, My Journey.