I think Ross Douthat makes many good points in response to Robert Kagan’s “Neocon Nation” but let me remark at greater length on the problem Ross identifies and then passes over lightly in favor of a different problem:
The first is the broadness of its argument, which elides the fact that those “variations” within the interventionist camp can be very significant indeed, and that the shared belief in “American power and the ability of the United States to use that power to beneficial ends in the world” is for many critics of neoconservatism the beginning of the argument, rather than the end of it.
I think this is what comes of dwelling too long in rhetorical foxholes alongside people who accuse their political opponents of holding “anti-American” views. Obviously, the vast majority of Americans are going to believe that American power ought to be used to beneficial ends in the world. It would be bizarre, after all, to hold a self-conscious believe that American power ought to be used for malign ends. That’s just human psychology, not a fact about our political culture or our foreign policy. The whole game is in answering questions like what kind of power? what kind of uses? which ends are beneficial? Adolf Hitler and Angela Merkel both believe that Germany, as Europe’s largest nation, ought to play a significent role in the affairs of the continent and this tells us nothing at all about either of them or their policies.
Some people believe that things like invading Iraq will help secure beneficial ends. Others believe that a defensively-oriented military posture combined with an economy open to foreign goods and immigrants will best secure beneficial ends. Some think the United States ought to secure beneficial ends by working to strengthen and uphold international institutions and laws, whereas others regard these institutions as tools of the week designed to prevented us from bringing the beneficence of unilateral hegemony to the world. This is the entire content of our foreign policy debate.
For neocons to stand amidst the wreckage that their ideas have wrought vaguely muttered that everyone who believes that it’s good to do good stuff really agrees with them is a little absurd.