It's been a while, so you may have forgotten just what a great time it was for the national security hawks widely known as neoconservatives back in 2002 and 2003. With the memory of September 11 still fresh and Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, there was little to stand in the way of the dream of remaking the map of the Middle East, the region that had so vexed us for so long. Democrats sure weren't going to—most of them were only too eager to show that they weren't lily-livered pacifists, so they provided barely any impediment at all to a new war.
Sure, when it came to justifying an invasion of Iraq, the hawks had to exaggerate a little here, twist the facts a little there, spin out ridiculous scenarios everywhere. But it would all be worth it once victory was won. Saddam Hussein would fall, we'd quickly set up a new government, and democracy would spread through the region as a glorious new age dawned, brought forth by the beneficent power of American arms.
Then, of course, everything went wrong. Four thousand Americans dead, a couple of trillion dollars spent, Iraq ripped apart by sectarian conflict, and one clear victor in the war: Iran, which saw a dangerous enemy removed by the U.S. and a friendly government installed in Baghdad. Back at home, the neocons saw themselves mocked and scorned, and even worse, saw Barack Obama become president of the United States.
But they stayed true to their faith. They did not abandon for a moment the idea that with the proper application of military force, any country in the Middle East can be made to bend to America's will. They knew their time would come again.
And maybe it has, or at least that time is growing closer. Forty-seven senators, nearly all of the upper house's Republicans, sent a letter to the Iranian government intended to persuade it against signing a deal currently being negotiated with the United States and five other countries. It may have been a P.R. fiasco, but it clarified Republican thinking. They all agree with Benjamin Netanyahu that a "bad deal" with Iran is worse than no deal at all. As far as they're concerned, any deal the Iranians would agree to is bad almost by definition. And if there's no deal, then the case for war becomes so much clearer.
On Sunday, one such hawk, Joshua Muravchik, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post stating bluntly what many of them were probably thinking but were afraid to say: Iran's leaders can't be reasoned with, sanctions won't work, and that leaves us with only one alternative. "Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran's nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does." In other words: Urgent as the need for war is, this will be easy. You might even call it a cakewalk.
How many neocons read Muravchik's piece and went aquiver with delight? Sure, some people reacted with horror. But now it's been said: War isn't something we should fear or something to avoid. It should be welcomed and advocated without apology. There will be assurances of reluctance, of course—we wish it hadn't come to this, truly we do!—but there will be no shame.
That's particularly important; for such a long time, those who cheered us into war with Iraq have been told that shame is precisely what they ought to feel. But that kind of shame is not in the constitution of those who know that if you want to make an omelet, sometimes you have to bomb a few chicken farms to dust. And what Iran offers now is redemption. The success of this next war will wipe away everything that went wrong with the last one. This time, we'll get it right.
We'll destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities from the air in a series of precision strikes that leave their targets in rubble and produce no collateral damage. The people of Iran will cheer the American warplanes, then take the opportunity to overthrow the regime that has oppressed them for so long. With the Iranian problem solved, Israel will be safe and all the conflicts of the region will quiet, fade, and then disappear. Democracy and freedom will spread, for real this time. And everyone will look to the neocon hawks with admiration in their eyes and say, "You were right. You were right all along."
That is their dream. And it will be easier to realize than you may think—at least up until the point where the bombs start falling. Spend the next year and a half sowing the seeds, writing the op-eds, going on television, giving the speeches, making the dark predictions of cataclysm should we fail to muster the courage to act. If the Iranians walk away from negotiations, declare that we now have no choice but to use force; if there is an agreement, declare that its weakness is precisely why we have no choice but to use force. Condemn those who disagree as weaklings who refuse to stand up to the ayatollahs and their plan to destroy Israel and then the United States. Pressure the Republican presidential candidates to take the most hawkish position possible, as they compete to see who's the toughest and strongest. If next November brings the blessed return of a Republican to the White House, with a Republican Congress behind him, the war will be all but begun.
Yes, the neocon moment may be at hand once again. Aren't you excited?