Always Something to Say

There are very few neoconservatives, people disagree on who they are, and they have no popular following or definite organizational structure.  Even so, they have deeply affected American public life for 40 years.

Their influence has not gone unopposed.  The term neoconservative began as an insult and remains one.  Opponents tie the tendency to foreign interests, foreign wars, and the betrayal of conservatism and liberalism.  Supporters respond with accusations of antisemitism and anti-Americanism, and sometimes take refuge in denials that the movement exists.  There is room for a well-informed foreign historian to provide background and perspective.

Justin Vaïsse, a Frenchman, is at home among policy professionals on both sides of the Atlantic.  The son of a prominent historian, he studied at Harvard (which published his book), is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and has served as an advisor on matters concerning the United States with the Policy Planning Staff of the French Foreign Ministry.

That background aids his understanding but imposes limitations.  Vaïsse avoids idiosyncrasy and falls back on conventional wisdom when discussing matters he has not specifically studied, such as the nonneoconservative right.  He attends more to particular policies than to basic principles and pays little attention to neoconservatism in intellectual and cultural...

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