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Cheneyism Is No Better Than Trumpism

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Good piece by Yglesias about how while the Weekly Standard is being euthanized for the wrong reason it represents a highly pernicious strain of thought in its own right:

The people who control the commanding heights of conservative media often long to run propaganda outlets — and they’ve achieved their goal in many respects. But the Standard did not spend the Trump years publishing pro-regime propaganda. It carried on the tradition of the “small magazine” genre, providing intramural criticism, which is arguably the core purpose of this corner of ideological media.

It remained an outlet for reasonable conservatives who believe that abortion should be banned, guns should be legal, and taxes should be low, while also recognizing that Donald Trump — though in some respects a useful vessel for those causes — is also a corrupt buffoon who spouts nonsense constantly.

Yet the demise of the Weekly Standard is not exactly a disastrous blow to American intellectual life. The independence from Trump’s perspective was welcome, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean its brand of conservatism was any better than that of the ranting demagogue. In fact, it was arguably more damaging in terms of its concrete impact on the world.

The Weekly Standard isn’t just any conservative magazine. It’s distinctively the “neocon” magazine. Its founding editor, Bill Kristol, was the intellectual architect of the Project for a New American Century, a think tank that shaped the Republican Party’s foreign policy agenda for years.

It was most notably the creator of the preventive war doctrine that spurred President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Its current editor, Stephen F. Hayes, made his bones with the absurd 2004 book The Connection: How al-Qaeda’s Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America.

And there’s no coincidence here. The American business community has learned to love the “Tariff Man,” and evangelical Christians are deeply devoted to perhaps the least pious president on record. But neocons both inside and outside the direct orbit of the Standard have the distinct honor of being the conservative faction that has demonstrated the most intellectual integrity in the Trump era.

Despite this, there’s an inconvenient truth to neocons: Of all the conservative factions, they are objectively the most dangerous.

Never-Trump neocons’ essential paradox is that for all Trump’s many sins, he (so far) hasn’t done anything even remotely as pernicious as the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In its main phase from 2003 to 2011, this war led to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers, plus what appears to be around 400,000 Iraqis. And that was only the beginning. The regional destabilization the invasion touched off led directly to the rise of ISIS and a whole new round of fighting in Iraq in which many thousands of people have died.

More broadly, the extremely deadly civil war in Syria likely also counts as a knock-on consequence of invading Iraq. This is to say nothing of the extent to which the war counterproductively undermined the global nonproliferation regime by convincing North Korea to go for broke in its quest for nukes.

At a certain point, trying to calculate the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq is impossible. But what we can say for sure is that the direct cost of war — $1 trillion in narrow fiscal terms — was high, and it brought about essentially none of the promised strategic or humanitarian benefits.

It’s easy to snark about the conspiratorial thinking of the current president and the relentless dishonesty of his press operation, but the Bush-era conspiracy theories about Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were similarly ridiculous, and got way more people killed.

Strikingly, this was not incidental to the neoconservative project. It was, rather, an ideology fundamentally grounded in a politics of perpetual war.

Fortunately, even as neocons reject Trump the Democratic Party is moving further away from them as well.

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