New York Times columnist Frank Rich has written about a neo-con group in the Bush Administration being behind the war in Iraq. Rich may not mean neo-con to be Jewish. But if that is the case, his use of the term lacks significance. If neo-con is supposed to mean a desire to extend U.S.-style democracy around the world, then this is a philosophy that dates back to the time of America’s founding fathers.
Thomas Jefferson was a firm believer in an American “empire of liberty.” He envisioned the young nation expanding into the entire continent of North America. He also declared that if America were able to “include the north [Canada] in our confederacy,” then “we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self-government.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have Canada in the American orbit?
So was Thomas Jefferson a neo-con? The founders clearly wanted to avoid involvement in European affairs because France and England were formidable powers. But they also saw the American experiment as something to be promoted and spread around the world. From that perspective, why is it self-evidently stupid or crazy to want to see the democratic experiment work in Iraq? It may fail, but it holds enormous promise and hope for the world. Rather than say outright that he believes the Iraqis are incapable of self-government, Frank Rich prefers to fault the administration for pursuing this noble cause.
As the AIM film, Confronting Iraq, demonstrates, the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq can be viewed as a logical reaction to the events of 9/11. It was not only designed to eliminate a potential threat but to build a society which did not pose a threat to America in the future and could serve as an example to the rest of the region. People can have different opinions about the policy. But what separates Frank Rich from the thoughtful critics is his apparent belief that some kind of mysterious neo-con group is orchestrating the policy behind the scenes and that it was crafted as a lie from start to finish.
If Frank Rich had been alive during America’s founding and early years, he would have denounced Thomas Jefferson as a neo-con.