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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Who Are the “Eurocons”?

Neoconservatism is generally regarded as a distinctively American worldview that is characterized in part by a deep-seated belief in the moral righteousness of U.S. military force. Europeans, however, are increasingly using the term in their own foreign policy debates. These "Eurocons," who can be found across the European political spectrum, see the continent embroiled in a Manichean struggle between western democracy and Islamist totalitarianism. However, while the neocons and their European cousins have some shared convictions, there are also many differences, and the Europeans themselves often disagree on many issues. So who exactly are the Eurocons?

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As the United Kingdom gears up for a general election in 2010, there is growing debate among opposition Conservatives about Britain’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Journalist Peter Oborne recently called on Conservative leader David Cameron, the clear frontrunner to be the next prime minister, to develop an independent strategy, lamenting that “the ‘Neocons,’ despite being discredited by the Iraq War, have furtively regained their position at the heart of the Tory Party.” [1] Defensively pointing out that the neocons on the candidate’s team are “silent on foreign policy,” conservative London blogger David Blackburn retorted that Cameron is “emphatically not” a neoconservative. [2]

The popularity of the neocon label on the European side of the Atlantic has grown considerably since the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the resulting notoriety surrounding the many pro-war ideologues in the administration of President George W. Bush. However, as use of the term expands in the United Kingdom and other European countries, an intriguing question arises: What exactly is a European neocon?

Neoconservatism is widely regarded as a distinctly American ideological phenomenon, in part because at its core is a deep-seated belief in the moral righteousness of U.S. military force. [3] However, neoconservatism’s roots are embedded in twentieth-century European history—notably in the authoritarian, antiliberal political philosophies of the 1930s and the U.S.-inspired and supported anticommunist propaganda networks of the Cold War era. And since the George W. Bush’s presidency, disciples of this ideological tendency have emerged across the European continent.

These “Eurocons,” as they might be dubbed, share their U.S. counterparts’ devotion to military might and interventionist foreign policies. Although the unilateralism of U.S. neocons is tempered in Europe by a greater emphasis on the role of certain international alliances, the underlying vision is fundamentally the same. Eurocons see multinational institutions like NATO as vehicles for pushing the agenda of the United States and its European allies, and as instruments of global power, regime change, nation-building, and “democratization.” But they regard as illegitimate any attempt to check or curb Western power via the United Nations.

This worldview is evident in declarations such as the Prague Charter signed at the 2007 Democracy and Security International Conference, the Statement of Principles of the Henry Jackson Society, and the Euston Manifesto. [4] (For more on the Henry Jackson Society and the Euston Manifesto, see Luke McCallin, “The Henry Who Society?” Right Web, October 17, 2006).

Representative Eurocons include politicians such as Conservative education spokesman Michael Gove and former Labour Foreign Office Minister Denis McShane in Britain; former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and foreign minister Ana Palacio; former defense minister Antonio Martino in Italy; and foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg in the Czech Republic.

The ideologies of many of these conservative figures have roots in the Cold War, when hardline anti-communism helped forge transatlantic networks of militant Cold Warriors. Today, Eurocon theorists such as Gove see the battle against political Islam as a similarly good-versus-evil struggle between democracy and totalitarianism, one that encompasses geopolitical threats, domestic subversion, and ideological conflict. [5]

However, while the Eurocons share this central tenet about a Manichean struggle with Islamic totalitarianism, these European ideologues are a diverse bunch who would disagree on a number of issues. The Eurocons can be divided into three broad ideological tendencies, each of which has connections with like-minded political factions in the United States.

 

Establishment Neoconservatism

The extraordinary influence of neocons in the top echelons of the Bush administration was paralleled by the emergence of like-minded policymakers across the Atlantic. Over the last decade, Europe’s own “establishment neoconservatives” have become entrenched in elite circles of policymakers and opinion-leaders. One of their main projects has been to revive the Cold War-era Atlanticist networks of hawks that first emerged to promote anti-communist, anti-Soviet propaganda.

In a 2004 article assessing the European political horizon, neoconservative writer Christopher Caldwell noted that in the “war on terror” era, Christian democrats and right-wing socialists—the traditional bulwarks of Atlanticism—were not reliable counterparts and were being supplemented by “an unfamiliar mix of New Labor (in its British and Dutch variants), continental human-rights activists (particularly in France), Eastern European ex-dissidents, and post-cold war parties of the right (in Spain and Italy).” [6]

A number of these factions, particularly those based in eastern and southern Europe, were strongly represented at the Democracy & Security International Conference in Prague in June 2007, which was described by one observer as a “neoconservative international” because of the many core U.S. neocons who attended the conference along with President George W. Bush. [7] Among those present was Devon Gaffney Cross, whose work in Europe Caldwell had trumpeted back in 2004. [8] Cross’s London-based Policy Forum, which sought to bring to Europe the “widest possible variety of foreign-policy voices,” has some ideological similarities to the Cold War-era Congress for Cultural Freedom, a CIA-backed network of anti-communist intellectuals. [9]

Policy Forum’s ostensible variety was in fact clearly restricted to a narrow neoconservative-neoliberal spectrum, stretching, in Caldwell’s description, “from Bush Republicans (she has invited the under secretary of defence, Paul Wolfowitz, to participate) to Clinton Democrats (such as the former CIA director James Woolsey) to the human-rights activists of the Democratic left (who cluster around the Freedom House Foundation and American organised labour).” [10]

Putative evidence that U.S.-inspired neoconservatism had taken root within a section of Britain’s foreign policy elite came in March 2005 with the launch of the Henry Jackson Society, dedicated to “the maintenance of a strong military, by the United States, the countries of the European Union and other democratic powers, armed with expeditionary capabilities with a global reach.” [11]

The society was partly based at Peterhouse College in Cambridge, home to an elitist conservative tradition associated with the historian Maurice Cowling. [12] This British pedigree raised some eyebrows among observers, who wondered why the group felt the need to name itself after an obscure U.S. senator, Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a key Cold War hawk around whom many early neocons rallied during the 1970s. Journalist Samuel Britten wrote that in the society’s manifesto, The British Moment, “comes wrapped in a Union Jack cover, and all the emphasis is on British policy. Why, then, take the name of a U.S. senator with a very mixed bag of views?” [13]

Another outpost of British establishment neoconservatism is Policy Exchange, which has become the UK’s most prominent right-wing think tank since its foundation in 2002. One recent episode serves to demonstrate it ideological persuasion and raises questions about its credibility. In October 2007, under the supervision of its research director, U.S. neoconservative Dean Godson, Policy Exchange published a report on British mosques which alleged that 25 percent of the institutions surveyed stocked politically radical material. A BBC investigation subsequently concluded that some of the receipts used to support the report’s case had been fabricated. [14] (In 2005, Freedom House published a similar report about U.S. mosques titled “Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques,” which was criticized for looking at a small number of mosques and then suggesting that all mosques harbored hate propaganda.)

Some centers of establishment neoconservatism are focused on pressuring pan-European institutions. One example is Realité EU, a London-based outfit with links to the U.S.-based Israel Project, which has sought to pressure the European Parliament to toughen its stance on Iran. [15] Another is the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute, founded by the American Jewish Committee and headed by Commentary contributor Emanuele Ottolenghi, who has called for Europe to “use its mighty economic, financial, and commercial clout to squeeze Iran.”

Other examples of establishment neoconservatism in Europe are groups like the Geneva-based UN Watch, whose work is aimed at discrediting European-based international organizations. UN Watch, which is affiliated to the American Jewish Committee, is ostensibly devoted to “formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and the United Nations system.” However, the group’s work has been repeatedly criticized for its excessive bias toward Israel. [16]

 

The “Decent Left”

In the years following the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, liberal hawks of the U.S. Democratic Party developed close links to a coalition of British journalists, academics, and bloggers who supported the Iraq war, many of whom identified themselves as the “decent left.”

The “war on terror” led to a renewal of old Cold War battles on the European left between pro-NATO, pro-Iraq War Atlanticists and their traditional opponents in the peace movement. A new element was the role of European Muslim communities in the grassroots mobilizations that produced the massive demonstrations against the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In Britain, the “pro-war left” blog Harry’s Place attacked the alliance of Muslim and left groups involved in organizing the antiwar protests. [17] So to did the Labour Friends of Iraq, which endeavored to heed academic Alan Johnson’s call for the creation of a “decent left“—a term borrowed from Michael Walzer, professor at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies who is best known for his efforts to revitalize the “just war” theory. [18]

Mirroring some of these developments across the Atlantic were the Social Democrats USA, who held a conference in Washington, D.C., in May 2003 that looked at the role of the European left “in encouraging the strident attacks on the United States that have been mounted in Europe and elsewhere over the past year” and looked for a repeat of the days when “American and European intellectuals and sections of the labor movement rallied to found such institutions as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Encounter magazine.” [19]

One notable European effort to recreate a European-wide pro-war coalition was the network of British intellectuals that published the 2006 Euston Manifesto. This coalition of bloggers, journalists, and academics found themselves “increasingly out of tune with the dominant anti-war discourse,” in the words of one of their number, Norman Geras. [20] Supporters of Harry’s Place, Labour Friends of Iraq, and other pro-war left groups were strongly represented among the signatories to the manifesto, which condemned those on the left “for whom the entire progressive-democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic ‘anti-imperialism’ and/or hostility to the current U.S. administration.” [21]

Prominent neocon William Kristol warmly welcomed the manifesto as “reminiscent of the much-missed liberal anti-totalitarianism of the early Cold War period.” [22] Others questioned its credibility. U.S. writer D.D. Guttenplan suggested that the project had “been shaped far more by the crew at Dissent magazine (and which shares Dissent founder Irving Howe’s fixation on the mote in the eyes of the left rather than the beam blinding American foreign policy) than anything native to these shores.” [23]

The close links between the U.S. Social Democrats and the British Eustonites has also been reflected in Alan Johnson’s online magazine Democratiya, which consists largely of contributions from the two groups. Anticipating criticism for publishing an interview with well known neocon Joshua Muravchik, Johnson attacked what he called “neoconitis” as an “obstacle to grown-up political debate on the decent left.” He added, “We should have the self-confidence to establish for ourselves our points of contact with, and our critical distance from, neoconservatism.”

As an example of neoconitis, Johnson cited “the reaction of the Muslim Council of Britain in October 2007 to the finding by a think tank, Policy Exchange, that antisemitic and anti-western hate literature was on sale at a quarter of UK Mosques.” He failed to mention that the evidence used in the Policy Exchange’s report had been challenged by the BBC. [24]

 

The Counter-jihad Right

Just as some U.S. neoconservatives, in seeking to forge new alliances, have overlooked the anti-Semitism of the Christian Right, so too have they embraced sections of the European far-right to create a populist “counter-jihad” movement.

As Devon Gaffney Cross has worked to forge ties between U.S. and European neoconservatives elites, her brother Frank Gaffney has concentrated on building links with Europe’s populist right. Gaffney’s Washington, D.C. think tank the Center for Security Policy is committed to ideological warfare and has links to a variety of right-wing transatlantic and pan-European initiatives, such as the International Free Press Society and the Counterjihad Europa network. [25]

These organizations have contributed to the growth in Europe of what security analyst Toby Archer has called “counter-jihad discourse” (a tendency that some left-leaning U.S. analysts have called “Islamophobia”). In a September 2008 article for the Royal United Services Institute, Archer argued that this perspective “mixes valid concerns about jihad-inspired terrorism with far more complex political issues about immigration to Europe from predominantly Muslim countries. It suggests that there is a threat not just from Islamic extremists but from Islam itself.” [26]

One remarkable feature of the European counter-jihad movement is the extent to which it has developed links with far-right organizations with roots in Europe’s fascist past. Examples include the Sweden Democrats and the Belgian Vlaams Belang, both of which were involved in the Counter-jihad Brussels conference in 2007. [27]

Among the organizers of the conference was Christine Brim, later a senior vice-president at the Center for Security Policy. In November 2007, Brim suggested that other far-right parties in France and Britain could be enlisted in the counter-jihad: “We suggest looking for the possible movement of Le Pen’s political party Front National towards the center-right, as they may change their platform to pro-active support to improve the situations of European Jews and Israel. The same trend is happening in Austria, and with the BNP [British National Party] in the UK.” [28]

Although this overt flirtation with fascist parties would be anathema to establishment neoconservatives and the “decent left,” elements of the counter-jihad faction continue to accumulate political currency. Toby Archer cited the work of journalist Melanie Phillips and Conservative politician Michael Gove, arguing that “these writers are far from the angry, often racist, bloggers of the far right, but their writings are used to bring intellectual credibility” to the counter-jihadist discourse on Islam and Islamism. [29]

However, the most sophisticated statement of the counter-jihad perspective on contemporary Europe comes from an Euro-focused neoconservative, Christopher Caldwell. In his recent book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, Caldwell concluded: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.” [30]

Caldwell’s observation unintentionally recalls the deep historical roots of the Eurocon worldview. Just as neoconservatism’s progenitors, the authoritarian political philosophers of the 1930s, blamed liberalism for the weakness of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazis, so European liberalism—not Islamic extremism—is the real object of Caldwell’s contempt.

Tom Griffin is a contributor to the UK-based Spinwatch (http://www.spinwatch.org.uk/) and Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/).

Citations

1. Peter Oborne, Is David Cameron making the same catastrophic mistake as Iain Duncan Smith?, Daily Mail, 26 October 2009.
2. David Blackburn, The Tories’ support for the war in Afghanistan owes nothing to neoconservatism, Spectator Coffee House blog, 24 October 2009.
3. Jim Lobe, What is a Neo-Conservative Anyway? Inter Press Service, 12 August 2003.
4. Prague Charter, Democracy and Security International Conference website, accessed 20 November 2009. Statement of Principles, Henry Jackson Society, accessed 20 November 2009. The Euston Manifesto, accessed 20 November 2009.
5. Michael Gove, Celsius 7/7, Phoenix, 2006, pp.127-128.
6. Christopher Caldwell, With friends like these, FT.com, 13 February 2004.
7. Jim Lobe, “A Neoconservative International Targets Iran,” Inter Press Service, Lobelog, June 9, 2007.
8. Christopher Caldwell, With friends like these, FT.com, 13 February 2004.
9. Christopher Caldwell, With friends like these, FT.com, 13 February 2004.
10. Christopher Caldwell, With friends like these, FT.com, 13 February 2004.
11. Henry Jackson Society, Statement of Principles, accessed 26 October 2009.
12. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Obituary – Maurice Cowling, The Guardian, 6 September 2005.
13. Samuel Britain, Two Views of Foreign Policy Morality, Financial Times, 14 August 2006.
14. Peter Barron, 'Disastrous misjudgement?',, BBC News - The Editors, 13 December 2007.
15. Tom Mills and David Miller, Réalité-EU: Front group for the Washington-based Israel Project? Spinwatch, 30 October 2009.
16. Ian Williams, "Casting the First Stone," Guardian "Comment is Free" blog, April 4, 2007.
17. WHAT WAR, WHAT LEFT?, Harry's Place, 29 November 2002
18. Alan Johnson, The Worst Advertisement: The Socialists and the Iraq Election by Alan Johnson, Labour Friends of Iraq, 29 January 2005.
19. EVERYTHING CHANGED: What Now for Labor, Liberalism and the Global Left?, Social Democrats USA, 17 May 2003, archived at the Internet Archive.
20. Norman Geras, Introducing the Euston Manifesto, guardian.co.uk, 13 April 2006.
21. The Euston Manifesto, eustonmanifesto.org, accessed 6 March 2009.
22. William Kristol, A Few Good Liberals, The Weekly Standard, 1 May 2006.
23. D.D. Guttenplan, No sects please, you're British, Comment is free, 17 April 2006
24. Global Politics After 9/11: The Democratiya Interviews, p.xxiii.
25. Tom Griffin, The Neocons, the BNP and the Islamophobia Network, Spinwatch, 17 September 2009.
26. Toby Archer, Countering the ‘Counter-Jihad’, RUSI Monitor, 15 August 2008.
27. Speaker Biographies, Counterjihad Europa, accessed 26 October 2009.
28. Haaretz: Jews for Le Pen, Centre for Vigilant Freedom, 22 November 2007, via the Internet Archive.
29. Toby Archer, Countering the ‘Counter-Jihad’, RUSI Monitor, 15 August 2008.
30. Christopher Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, Allen Lane, 2009, p.286.

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