CAMBRIDGE, England, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Portrayed as the big bad wolf of U.S. foreign policy, Paul Wolfowitz and the supposed "neo-con cabal" continue to inspire deep suspicion and fear among both the liberal left and the conservative right. But Cambridge professor and author Brendan Simms has different ideas about why we should be afraid.
The "near-demonic hatred" of the neoconservatives today represents a "veiled expression of anti-Americanism that is almost without parallel," the history professor said in an interview with United Press International.
"It tends to bring out even among people who don't see themselves as particularly anti-American a very strong animus;" an animus that hints to a widening schism in trans-Atlantic relations, and according to Simms, "enables people to say I'm not anti-American, it's just the neo-cons I don't like."
Speaking at the inauguration of The Henry Jackson Society at Cambridge University earlier in the week, Simms analyzed the neo-con quandary: why all the hatred surrounding them and who exactly are the neo-con werewolves we are all so quick to vilify?
A familiar portrait painted of the neo-cons is one of a radical Republican Jewish band of conspirators who have "hijacked" the Bush administration as a means of self-aggrandizement while pursuing their own interests on a "Middle East agenda."
Talking to this dispassionate academic in a book-cluttered office in Southeast England however, a very different picture emerges.
"Critics make great play of the fact that so many of the neo-cons are Jewish or linked to Israeli organizations and lobbies in the U.S.," Irish-born Simms told UPI.
"I think they see the whole issue back to front. They support Israel not because they are Jewish but because they see Israel as the only democratic state in a region of theocracies and dictatorships."
He qualifies this by stating that Henry "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983)-- the long-serving senator from the state of Washington and in whose tradition of "cultural centrism, compassionate economics, strong defense and the aggressive promotion of human rights" the most influential neo-cons of today emerged -- was neither Republican nor Jewish. The student society is named after the Washington state-born senator to "promote the values that Jackson stood for."
Simms is keen to challenge any untruths about the neo-con position, and he stressed to UPI the objectives of his society.
"One of the points we try to make in the Henry Jackson society is to show that actually many of the ideas considered to be neoconservative are actually ideas that come very much from within the mainstream tradition of U.S. foreign policy."
In the speech he delivered to the students of the society, the historian sought to dispel some commonly held myths about neoconservativism by placing the movement in a larger context.
Simms began by sketching to his audience the foreign policy backdrop against which the neoconservative strand of U.S. foreign policy first emerged. The author of "Unfinest Hour: How Britain helped to destroy the Balkans," recalled his visit to the United States and his encounter with one of the most prominent neoconservatives in the Pentagon - Richard Perle, who resigned in February.
As part of his research into the subject of his book, Simms interviewed Perle, assistant secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan and a fierce critic of Britain's Bosnia policy in the 1990s. Britain's "betrayal in the Balkans" as described by Simms, is a significant springboard into the neo-con debate because it represents the first significant split in U.S.-European foreign policy in the post-Cold War period.
The British "malice" of then-Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and his Tory colleagues who refused to act in the former Yugoslavia "stands alongside Munich and Suez as a great Conservative foreign policy disaster," Simms argues in his book.
In consort with America's initial isolationism at the end of the Cold War, Britain demonstrated a "Conservative Pessimism" that maintained that nothing could be done in this threatened region. Refusal to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian government nearly permitted the genocide of the Bosnian population at the hands of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
It was at this point, Simms stated, that the neoconservatives in the United States set an important precedent as proponents of Liberal Interventionism. Breaking ranks with "conservative realists" such as Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger, who strongly opposed such intervention as "unnecessary and impracticable," the neoconservatives touted that "stopping such atrocities in the middle of Europe, rather than appeasing the aggressor, should be an American concern."
The war in Iraq as seen through the lenses of cynics such as Michael Moore was "a sinister plot spearheaded by a group of neoconservative masterminds in Corporate America who took us into an illegal and immoral war because they stood to profit most from oil and military contracts."
However, a better understanding of neo-conservative history, Simms explains, illustrates that this movement arose from a leftist Democratic base. In 1999 Perle and the neoconservatives joined with left-liberal intellectuals to call for action in Kosovo.
By spurning the United Nations and supporting "humanitarian intervention" without authorization, Simms suggested that the experience of Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s can be viewed as a precursor to the current conflict in which we are engaged and "is crucial to understanding the impatience with which some left-liberals shrugged aside the U.N. over Iraq."
Simms argues that the removal of Saddam Hussein can also be justified as "a humanitarian intervention" so supporting intervention in Kosovo but opposing the war in Iraq reflects a "double standard when couched in the principles of the international community," he told UPI.
When pressed on the differences, Simms concedes that on "prudential grounds" one could argue it was right to go into Kosovo because we were "better able to impose our will on (Yugoslav leader Slobodan) Milosovic in a way that hasn't been the case in Iraq. However, in terms of principle, in both cases there was no Security Council authorization," he told UPI.
According to Simms' understanding, the "watchword" we can ascribe to neoconservative policy is "robustness." However, a major factor that accounts for "so much misunderstanding" of neo-conservatism, Simms claims, is the tendency, particularly in the media, to "lump individuals under one bloc."
This serves to "coarsen and simplify the whole process," he told UPI. The neoconservatives, according to Simms, "represent an "incredibly diverse group" with "bipartisan interests."
Democrats such as Joe Lieberman and Madeleine Albright may occupy as much of a neoconservative platform as hard-line Republicans Wolfowitz, Perle and Douglas Feith, Simms said.
"The cohesion that they have is to a great extent the cohesion that the outside world has imposed upon them," and many neo-cons have very different notions of what it is that informs their political views.
For the assistant editor at a "neoconservative" publication, Commentary Magazine, neo-conservatism means being a "realist over an idealist" even though most neoconservatives claim to be "ideologically driven to support democracy."
"It is a realist approach to see that after all these years trying to be friendly with regimes like Saudi Arabia because we needed to cultivate good relationships in the region are in fact contrary to the interests of the United States," the assistant editor who asked not to be named, told UPI.
Alan Mendoza, co-founder and president of the new neoconservative society in Cambridge, is confident that Simms' views are representative of a large section of student opinion in the university.
"Judging by the questions after the talk, there was a good mix of "clued-in people." Mendoza told UPI. For those who don't necessarily identify with the neoconservatives, it was at least a "good, interesting and informative evening" Mendoza said.
The Commentary Magazine spokesman told UPI that he was not surprised to learn of the establishment of a new neoconservative society on a British university campus.
"The ideas of neoconservatives in America on the possibility of democracy and workable governance on local and federal level are ideas that can be appreciated not just in America but around the world."