It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun. Commenter “Steve G” proves it by helpfully pointing out a WSJ article by Bret Stephens in which the author coins the phrase (that is, he believes he coins the phrase): “neo-neocon.”
Stephens isn’t referring to me, of course. In fact, unless he’s a devoted reader of the Right side of the blogosphere, there’s no particular reason for him to know that I even exist (although Google would have gotten him there). He uses the term instead as a pejorative to refer to people who demand a level of righteousness from Hamid Karzai that they don’t require from other third world leaders:
In the matter of Hamid Karzai (this would be the feckless, warlord-backed, corruption-tainted and dubiously re-elected president of Afghanistan), it’s wonderful to observe how he has single-handedly created a new designation in the American ideological lexicon: the neo-neocon.
Who are the neo-neocons? They’re a bipartisan, single-issue group that has recently discovered the virtues—nay, the necessity—of clean, orderly, democratic governance.
Stephens goes on to excoriate the group he calls “neo-neocons”—on the Left, those who championed Arafat as Palestinian spokesperson; and on the Right, practitioners of morally neutral realpolitic. He himself leans more in the latter direction regarding Karzai; his problem with neo-neocons on the Right is that those who were in favor of the similarly compromised Musharraf but are critical of Karzai are inconsistent hypocritics.
Stephens goes on to say:
It is not Mr. Karzai’s fault that NATO insisted for years that the Afghan National Army be no larger than a constabulary force, leaving it in no position to join the battle against a resurgent Taliban. It is not his fault that foreign aid organizations consistently botched the delivery. Much less is it his fault that the former government of Pakistan essentially ceded its frontier provinces to the Taliban, which promptly turned them into havens of militancy.
None of this means that Mr. Karzai is a saint or even much of a statesman. But neither is he a despot, a fanatic, a sybarite, or an uncouth bigot—qualities that typify the leadership of countries for which the U.S. has also expended blood and treasure in defense of lesser causes. Our failures in Afghanistan so far have mainly been our own, and they are ours to fix.
That sounds quite reasonable to me. In Afghanistan, we are faced with the usual problems of nations that have little tradition of democracy and civil liberties, which also lack the educational levels that must go along with democracy if it is going to be anything other than an empty promise. I’ve written before about these choices, and the difficulty inherent in them (see this and this), and my conclusions actually somewhat resemble those of Stephens.
Karzai is no angel; it does appear that the elections in Afghanistan were seriously compromised. But remember that if Karzai is no angel, Afghanistan is a far cry from heaven. The real question is whether there are better alternatives available to the country at this point, and the answer appears to be “no.”