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The Road to Perdition: Australia and the Neoconservative agenda

By Dr Strobe Driver

Adding to John Kelly’s fine AIMN article of 11 January, 2016 entitled ‘What is Neoliberalism and why knowing matters’, I would suggest that there are greater dangers coming Australia’s way if it pursues and remains on the current path of Neoliberalism/Neoconservatism.

Neoliberals/Neoconservatives and the backdrop of Imperialism

First and foremost is that Neoliberals—sometimes referred to as Neoconservatives and the more colloquial ‘Neocons’—have since the late-1940s shown a determination to mount what they see as a campaign to instill their worldview. To place the term in context, at the aforementioned point-in-time their existence did not have such a specific title—they were more under the broad-banner of free-market, mercantilist, industrial-capitalists who demanded the world fall into line as they saw it. The concepts and practices set in place during this time, are however, what the Neocons abide by in contemporary times—a blend of God-fearing, puritan and ultra-conservative politics—and as much as it is a mainstay and mantra of the Neocons it does however have its roots in another era. The Neocons have their feet firmly planted in what pre-dated the rise of the United States of America (US): Imperialism. It is pertinent here to define what ‘Imperialism’ and what it actually ‘comprises of’ in order to see why Neocons are so committed to it and moreover, it offers a further understanding of how they tend to view the world. Essentially, the term ‘Imperialism’ is underpinned by an understanding that ‘the dominant investor in one country [is able to] bring to bear military and financial power upon another country in order to expropriate the land, labor, capital, natural resources, commerce and markets of that other country.’[1]

It is at this point that the narrative can begin of what and where the Neocons ‘came from’ which requires a step back in history. The very best example for them is what pax-Britannica—‘pax’[2] meaning ‘peace’ through risking a war with a dominant nation in which the lesser-power would invariably lose—represented to power. The achievements of Great Britain is the exceptional standout when understanding total power. For the Neocons, the fact that Britain ruled the (known) world for over a century (circa-1750 through to 1919, or perhaps to the end of World War Two (WII)) is what the Neocons hold dear. Importantly in the process of their rule Britain also maintained what the French would come to call a mission civilastrice[3] or a ‘civilizing mission’ which consists of a process of normalising peoples to the way of the West which would be part of Britain’s forceful ‘progress.’ The implementation of monotheism (a single God), of loyalty to the king/queen and country, and of a free-market economy being implemented would also be mainstays of ‘progress.’ Within this construct a subjugated country’s currency would also be harnessed to the value of the pound-Stirling, and to a certain extent this is where the real power remains—this would be Britain’s coup de grace in getting others to obey its rule as a subjugated people would consist of a group of wealthy compliant elite—the Raj of India is to name one group. To wit, and even though there was competition from other Western powers (France and the Netherlands as only two examples), Britain would incrementally and then exponentially usurp all other powers. Nothing lasts forever. It is here that the end of pax-Britannica circa-1946 and the subsequent rise of pax-Americana began to take place. At the end of WWII the US began to stamp its authority on the world. This would be through the use of direct force; threat-of-force; patrolling/free-navigation of sea-lanes; the space-race and the harnessing of world trade to the US dollar—the Bretton Woods Agreement are to name only several examples of US dominance. The US would begin its own unique form of Imperialism.

Returning to the main point however, what the British imposed successfully on the world the US set out to do the same, however in the immediate post-WWII world whilst Imperialism remained vibrant, ‘Neoliberalism’ still did exist in the form we know it as today. The phenomenon whilst evident in the actions of consecutive US governments would not be given a name until the 1960s and this will be returned to once a ‘balancing argument’ of how Imperialism was rebuffed by some has been stated.

Imperialism, although a powerful political and economic tool would not necessarily bowed to by all. To assume that Imperialism was always successful is a myth. There are many examples of Indigenous populations rebelling to its mantra and although it is painfully obvious that Imperialist countries such as France, Britain, Japan, and the US were able to recover from the violence they wrought upon others, history shows that ‘belligerent groups/governments’ have often rejected the ‘benefits’ of hegemonic interdiction. Britain being kicked out of India; France being defeated in the First Indo-China War; the Malayan Communists fighting the British and Commonwealth forces in the Malayan Emergency/War of the Running Dogs; Chinese guerrilla forces fighting against the Japanese in the Invasion of Manchuria; the French being forced to leave Algeria; and US forces retreating from Vietnam are only several instances that offer an insight into people’s not wishing to embrace the yoke of Imperialism.

The rise of pax-Americana and the birth of Neoconservatism

Notwithstanding the above, how the Neocons came to exist can now be examined. Neoloberalism is the politics that Neocons implement and it came to the fore in the 1960s. Whilst it is multi-faceted the paradox is, that it came ‘out of,’ and has its roots in what Australians would observe as radical/left-wing politics. Political radicals in the US began rejecting their sense of revolution and began moving toward a more conservative agenda—or they began to lose what the Americans call ‘liberal-thinking.’ These radicals began switching to an ultra-conservative agenda. To wit, Neoliberals sprang from ‘a group of disaffected activists, many of whom were liberals [left wing thinkers] or radicals before turning their backs on their comrades in arms … As one of the movement’s founders, the essayist Irving Kristol, put it vividly: “A neoconservative is a Liberal who has been mugged by reality.”[4] To give this ‘reality’ a perspective it is that one should not ‘buck the system,’ that free-market industrial capitalism is the only worthy system, small government is the most efficient form of government and crucially, where necessary, force should be used to bring a recalcitrant, whether it be a group or a sovereign nation-state ‘into line’ with these ideals. This aspect can be seen in the words of Leo Strauss—a man that helped Kristol articulate this worldview—who advocated, ‘When necessary, democratic societies must be willing to use force against evil in order to survive.’[5] ‘Evil,’ it can be assumed in this instance, is any society that doesn’t want Western industrial capitalism, monotheism, a free-market, their currency bonded to the US dollar, the list can go on. It is pertinent to observe here an historical connection: the Romans too, had a word for anyone that didn’t want their own unique and ‘civilised’ form of cosmopolitanism: barbari, or what in modern day parlance is called ‘barbarian.’[6]

As the rise of pax-Americana continued Neoliberalism as the most important and respectable ‘model’ of how societies should operate began to take hold; and US administrations used force on numerous occasions[7] to bring other countries into line with their ideals. Neoliberalism and the force that was deemed necessary in order to impose it was well under way as the late-1960s rolled on and it was during this time that the tag was given to these political believers. However, what the American elite saw as possible was shattered by several events however, two major events are worth mentioning: the incandescent rage the elite felt in losing the Vietnam War to a ‘tenth-rate undeveloped nation,’[8] (North Vietnam) in the early 1970s; and the formation of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries—an economic bloc—that was developed without the permission and/or guidance of the US. The US government of the time was so disturbed by the latter event and state-of-affairs—of a group of Arab nations having the political, economic and intellectual capabilities to set up an organization—that it sought strategic information regarding an air- and ground-borne invasion of parts of the Middle East in order to assure its supply of oil[9] should US interests be harmed. The Neocons, nevertheless became more and more dominant and reactive to what they saw as the slippage of American power. Things however, would get worse and this would fuel there rage further.

During the 1970s with the disasters of Watergate for Nixon and the somewhat lacklustre performance of Gerald Ford, and the enormous failure of a military attempt to extract American hostages from Iran—Operation Eagle Claw[10]–would exasperate Neocon thinking. The failure of this operation would be an unshakeable problem for the Carter administration, as was Watergate for Nixon, and finally the Neocons would get a man into the Oval Office that they perceived would be of ‘action’: Ronald Reagan. This president would decrease taxes for the rich, bomb Libya, send troops to Lebanon, invade Grenada, destroy several powerful unions, increase spending on the military, enact the ‘war on drugs’ and curtail welfare. The ‘perfect cocktail’ of Neocon objectives were brought together under the tutelage of President Reagan. This would result in the biggest landslide in US political history upon his re-election in 1984. Britain’s Margaret Thatcher would be his political compatriot on the western shore of the Atlantic and this would trigger some ultra-conservative thinking in Europe. However, and finally, all was going well for the Neocons. Then George H.W. Bush was elected. This president, in attempting to establish US supremacy would embark upon the most ambitious military exercise for the US since the Vietnam War. One would think the First Persian Gulf War—the ejecting of Iraqi troops out of Kuwait—was what the Neocons most wanted. And it was. To a certain extent it did offer a resurgence of US might: the rapid deployment of US troops to a faraway land that had been dreamed up in the ‘revolution in military affairs’ during the Kennedy years[11] and implemented in the Carter years. However for the Neocons it was a desperate failure and a blight on US strength. President Bush was resoundingly criticised by Republicans, of which he was one, for essentially not completely disarming Saddam Hussein; and not driving on to Baghdad. The Neocons believed Bush had ‘reinstalled a monarchy [in Iraq] not a democracy in Kuwait.’[12] The Neocons swore this would never happen again and they regrouped.

Stamping authority on the World: the Neoconservative opportunity

Bush’s military agenda was a failure; and this is part of the reason Clinton was elected in 1992. From the perspective of direct power and the projection-of-power Clinton would instil in the Neocons a rage like no other. Clinton would fail in Rwanda, Somalia and the Balkans on the back of a perceived inertia and indecision by the Neocons. Possibly the most profound failure according to the Neocons was the death of 19 US marines in Somalia—of which the book/movie Black Hawk Down brought to world attention.[13] Within the US Republican elite the debate regarding the Vietnam War issues, the loss of the war resurfaced with this failure in particular, and it resided in the belief that the Vietnam War was, for the Neocons, lost was because of the limits on airpower, not the limits of airpower; and moreover the tragedy of Somalia was due to not bringing to bear the force required to crush the enemy. The Neocons were ‘forced’ in the Clinton years to re-establish what they believed America could achieve and it would reinstall Americans’ faith in America as they saw it. A single document was the outcome: Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The document is vast, however there are two aspects that deserve a mention: ‘… we [Americans] need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values; … [and] we need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international security friendly to our security, our prosperity and our principles.’[14] All the Neocons had to do was wait.

This PNAC set the stage for the ‘War on Terror’ that was taken up after the World Trade Center disaster; and was crucial to the execution of the Second Persian Gulf War by the ultra-conservative George W. Bush. The underpinnings of the document was essentially a carte blanche in the US enabling what was its own version of mission civilastrice and the WTC disaster provided the opportunity. Finally US, as the most dominant military nation on the planet could unleash its power and would if necessary, unilaterally oppose any country’s regime and carry out strikes regardless of any legal agreements/conventions that would be contravened. Then Neocons had won the day completely and overall, and even with the implementation of a Democratic government in the days following the defeat of George W. Bush—the Obama administration—continued with what the PNAC set up and of what President Bush had started. Ongoing drone-strikes in Pakistan and the interdiction of troops in the killing and then extraction of Osama bin Laden—regardless of these two events as stand-alone happenings—are contraventions to the sovereignty of what it ‘is’ to be a nation-state. The Neocons and their thinking on the US political landscape however, finally reigned supreme and moreover, with legal underpinnings such as the Patriot Act hey usurped all other political voices. Now it is time to turn to what does this mean for Australia?

Australia and the Neoconservative agenda

Whilst the above is a short narrative of how Neoconservatism—on the back of Imperialism—began its slow but sure political climb into the American political psyche, one may ask ‘what has this got to do with Australia?’ In keeping with the notions of freedom that was incorporated as far back as George H. W. Bush’s ‘New World Order’ speech of 1991,[15] in which America ‘passed the test’ of not surrendering to a nation-state that had invaded their ‘friend’—albeit one of being a brutal and dictatorial monarchy—the message was not lost on Australia. After the tumultuous Hawke-Keating years John Howard—a definitive Conservative—came to power and was quick to commit Australia in the US-constructed ‘War on Terror.’ Going to war with Iraq would also reinvigorate the decades-long friendship of Bush and the Saud royal family.[16] The Bush administration declared war on Iraq due to its ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’—which has since been proven to be prevarication. Nevertheless, Australia was quick to fall in line during the Howard years.[17] Without doubt Howard, at his political heart, mains an Imperialist and Neoliberalism/Neoconservatism is a form of Imperialism redux. What is the end result? Iraq is a shambles and Australia is viewed by much of the Arab world as a compliant and obsequious supporter of the US. Prime Minister Abbott would continue the Neoconservative element of the Howard years with further commitments of Australian troops.[18]

The Neoconservative elements of the Howard government also committed to a war in Afghanistan—which has proven to be a long and arduous war-of-attrition and the longest military commitment in Australia’s history.[19] However, it remains a continual part of the Neoconservative remit to bring ‘offending nations’ into the Western ‘ideal’ and what the PNAC inspired. Nevertheless, what are the dangers of Australia adopting this Neoconservative agenda?

Interdiction, whether it be ground troops, sea-lane denial or airpower is a part of the US agenda and Australia has become part of this mantra and it is being pursued with new robustness from Central Asia to Africa—for instance, the US has partnered up with some of the most odious regimes on the (African) continent in the War on Terror.[20] The Neoconservative agenda however, allows for this type of selective political befriending taking place as it retains the status quo of Western nation-states remaining powerful and dictating to others. The notion and idea that an alternative to what the West has developed since the seventeenth century and any deviation from this norm, is a nightmare for the US; and the Neocons will do all they can to stop this from happening. How will this impact on Australia? As the US attempts to hold on to its post-WWII through to (perhaps) circa-2010 status, it will demand more of Australia in Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Why? Because Australia is historically, the most compliant US supporter in the region; and its longest ally. This is the real danger for Australia, as China rises and places its own brand of political preferences, which will involve military preponderance, just as those that have gone before. Notwithstanding, Afghanistan, has proved to be a disaster for Australia in terms of troop losses and political outcomes and following the Neocons into this nightmare has evolved into Australia being perceived to be at war with Muslim lands and worse, at the behest of US Neocon interests. This is a sad and sorry cocktail of events that Australian governments have placed Australia in.

The road to peril for Australia

What may be the sorriest of outcomes is when the ‘rise of China,’ actually begins to happen in earnest—some 540+ million people moving into the middle-classes will be an astounding happening with far-reaching consequences—it will produce a similar outcome to the Imperialism of Britain alluded to in the beginning chapter and the post-WWII reach of the US—and Australia will be forced by US Neocon policies to bear the brunt of China’s military rise in the region. The point being that a population of the magnitude of the middle-classes of China is near-double the population of the US and some twenty times the population of Australia—this is only counting the people that will move into middle-classes, not the entire population. Why then is Australia aligned to the attitudes and beliefs of a group of people—the Neocons—that are holding on to a political vision that is now redundant. Whilst, it is obviously a traditional, cultural and obsession-with-power issue, it is nevertheless time to drop the pretence and engage with the rise of China and the political, economic, geo-strategic and fiscal reality of what is happening in the Asia-Pacific. Hence, the Australian government should drop the implicit, yet misguided, elements that the Neocons represent as they will ask Australia to intervene in the region in a greater and greater military way. Australia will be forced by the implicit Neocon agenda to engage in standoffs with China to reinforce US preponderance agendas. This will end in tears for Australia. There way of the US ‘unilateral pole’ has gone and whether it be a unipolar world (that of China being the dominant superpower) in the future or a multipolar world, it will be China that is one of the poles. Australia would do well to heed this understanding.

The problem for Australia is, if it stays with the fundamentalist and bloody-mindedness of the US Neocons, it will result in being drawn into an Asia-Pacific war in order to preserve the declining status of an ally. China however, in this process of establishing its primacy will not treat Australia kindly if it remains an obsequious partner of the US. In closing, whilst the Turnbull government touts that it is a movement for change, the traits of the neoconservative Abbott government remain strong and live on the back benches. Therefore it is time to dump the allegiance to Neocons domestically and internationally or Australia will suffer.


[1] Michael Parenti. The Face of Imperialism. Boulder: Routledge, 2015, 11.

[2] See:

[3] D.K. Fieldhouse. The Colonial Empires. A Comparative Survey From The Eighteenth Century.

[4] See: The War for Muslim Minds, 49-50. Italics mine.

[5] Gilles Kepel. The War for Muslim Minds. Islam and the West. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004, 49-50.


[7] For a full list of incursions in the Twentieth century see: ‘Twentieth-century U.S. military interventions.’ Mark Peceney. Democracy at the Point of Bayonets. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 1999, 16.

[8] Harry Summers. On Strategy : A Critical Analysis of The Vietnam War, Calafornia: Presidio Press, 1982, 120.

[9] Glenn Frankel. ‘U.S. Mulled Seizing Oil Fields In ’73. British Memo Cites Notion of Sending Airborne [Troops] to Mideast.’ <> The plan is also referred to as Dhahran Option Four and is articulated in by Shenkman in Saudi Arabia’s Doomsday Plan as, ‘In 1973 the British were told by American Defense Secretary James Schlesinger that the United States might use force to maintain open access to the key oil fields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. Two years later, in 1975, the Sunday Times of London published an account of a classified American plan, “Dhahran Option Four,” which provided for an American invasion to seize the oil wells of Saudi Arabia. In an interview with the media in 1975, Henry Kissinger publicly acknowledged that the United States might use force to free up oil supplies in the Middle East to save the West from strangulation.’ See: Rick Shenkman. ‘Saudi Arabia’s Doomsday Plan.’ HistoryNewsNetwork. <>

[10] Mark Bowden. ‘The Desert One Debacle.’

[11] The ‘revolution in military affairs’ (RMA) it can be argued started with the Kennedy administration and was continued with a more precise focus during the Carter administration. The RMA which is of most relevance to this thesis is the further development of the RMA after the PGW. The ‘revolution in military affairs’ (RMA) it can be argued started with the Kennedy administration and was continued with a more precise focus during the Carter administration. The RMA which is of most relevance to this thesis is the further development of the RMA after the PGW. Each revolves around the concept of a ‘‘win-hold-win’ [strategy], in which U.S. airpower would hold one adversary at bay while the ground forces finished another, and then the ground forces would shift to mop-up whatever the Air Force and Navy had been unable to destroy in the second theater.’ See: Finding the Target, 149-150. Boot however, argues although the Carter administration sought to make changes, the army ‘adamantly resisted moving its focus from conventional conflict.’ See: Max Boot. The Savage Wars of Peace. Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York: Basic Books, 2002, 293.

[12] Adrian Lewis. The American Culture of War. The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. New York: Routledge, 2007, 203.

[13] See: BBC Onthisday. 4 October, 2005. and Mark Bowden. Black Hawk Down. London: Bantam Books, 1999.

[14] The Project for the New American Century has many contributors and the directors are William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Bruce Jackson, Mark Gerson, and Randy Scheunemann. The project was established in the Spring of 1997 and is an initiative of the New Citizenship Project. See: Project for the New American Century. <> Italics mine.

[15] See: ‘Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the Cessation of the Persian Gulf Conflict 1991-03-06.’ Public Papers-1991-March. <>

[16] For a succinct understanding of the Bush family and the Saudi royal family see: Craig Unger. House of Bush, House of Saud. The Secret Relationship between the Two Most Powerful Dynasties. New York: Scribner, 2004.

[17] Fairfax Digital. Sydney Morning Herald. 18 March, 2003.

[18] Michelle Grattan. ‘Abbott denies ‘mission creep’ as more Australian troops committed to Iraq.’ The Conversation. 3 March, 2015.

[19] See:

[20] Hussein Solomon. Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Africa. Houndsmills: Palgravemacmillan, 2015, 123.

This article was originally published on Geo-Strategit Orbit.

Dr Strobe Drive Dr Strobe Driver is a lecturer and tutor at Federation University in History, Social Policy and Social Sciences at Federation University. He completed his doctoral thesis on War Studies in 2011 and comments on issues such as the Asia-Pacific security, War Studies and Terrorism. The views expressed are his own.



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  1. Ted

    A very well researched article and yes alignments are as a result of neoconservative attitude.We must be wary of allegiances when China is rising tricky diplomacy ahead.

  2. Steve Laing

    Very true. And from a trade perspective, our opportunities are with our local neighbours, not those across the pacific. However the recent trade agreement reveals our colonialist attitude. Our opportunity is to sell “services” of which we are apparently highly capable (finance, healthcare etc) to the Chinese. But the one fundamental of service based industry is the ability to communicate, yet I see no great rush for our schools to provide the necessary language skills. Perhaps we assume, like all great colonialist, that they will master ours. The reality is, as you say, that it will all end in tears.

  3. kerri

    Well written article.
    This article is frightening. Good frightening in that it highlights the need to oust the right but makes me realise the current crop of far right left politicians will not be all that different. How can we get away from this US inspired nonsense and regain the strong, equitable country we once strived to be

  4. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    This article is educational and perversely uplifting because it spotlights how irrelevant neo-conservative political thinking and allegiances are and will continue to be further into the Asian century.

    However, now that I’ve read this article and considered more the ramifications of geo-political developments, I wonder where this places Australia’s interests within the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Was it wise for Australia to make such concessions at this point of time under a neo-conservative LNP Government, or did we never have a choice either way?

  5. diannaart

    Terrific article pulling together the multiple and often disparate events into a cohesive and frightening whole.

    I cannot see Neocons, whether they be Australian and, in particular, USA ever changing from their worldview.

    After all, they hold the balance of power.

    Nor will Australia overcome its basic racist core to consider developing an equitable working relationship with China – China has no reason to trust Australia and, more importantly, it does not have to.

    Australia remains dependent upon the USA, a nation which was conceptualised way back by Henry Kissinger as “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”.

  6. Pauline Westwood

    First, you need an editor. I became lost in some of your sentences. Many of your commas are in the wrong place. Secondly, the British Empire was not founded on free trade, but on mercantilism, while some politicians favoured free trade and many payed lip service to it. In fact, colonial countries were forced to open up their markets to British produce, but were often prohibited from competing. Remember the Indian salt marches and Ghandi’s injunction to Indians to do their own spinning, as the British did not want the Indians to compete with the cloth industry in Manchester. This was certainly not free trade.
    Actually, the US similarly mouths platitudes about free trade, but persists in protecting its agricultural industries from foreign competition. Australia has been a dream for the US, as we persistently throw open our markets to all comers without extracting reciprocal arrangements from trading partners. The pending Trans Pacific Partnership is a classic case of US clothing its economic imperialism with free trade rhetoric.

  7. strobedriver

    Thankyou for your insightful comments. The attempt here was to go into as much detail regarding the Imperialism-Neoconservative agenda and the mercantilism-free trade issues, without drowning n too many facts so I do acknowledge its limitations, however your robust comments were great and very helpful in considering the implications I have alluded to. And moreover, they do offer fuel for another go. Thanks again.

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