An Arsonist as Fire Chief at the State Department?

Two incompatible views of the world have cohabited under the conservative label since the fall of Communism: a national-interest view that seeks to keep the insoluble problems of failing states at a distance from America, and a Utopian vision of a world remade in America's image.

American voters puked out the Utopians in the Republican primaries, shunning every candidate who embraced the George W. Bush "Freedom Agenda" in favor of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz -- the candidates who refused to carry the Bush administration's foreign policy baggage. Trump said it best: the Iraq War was one of the dumbest things America ever did in foreign policy, the equivalent of "throwing rocks into a hornet's nest."

Grandiose blunders of this kind are not made out by stupidity, though, but by insanity. The American conservative movement was infected by a cult that eroded the common sense of its victims and instilled a messianic, fanatical commitment to nation-building and democracy promotion. What are broadly (and sometimes inaccurately) referred to as the "neo-conservatives" are a cult that succeeded in persuading the unfortunate George W. Bush to spend trillions in treasure and tens of thousands of casualties for the mirage of democracy in Iraq. Such was their influence that an entire generation of Republican foreign policy officials was vetted for cult loyalty.

The Bush administration incubated a generation of ideologues rather than diplomats who created the mess that is now the Middle East. Almost without exception, they backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the belief that Clinton would pursue Utopian globalism. They bitterly opposed Donald Trump's national-interest realism.

As a matter of public record, the most fanatical of these ideologues is Elliott Abrams, who ran the Middle East desk at Bush 43's National Security Council. As Daniel DePetris reports at National Interest, Abrams denounced "Trump and Trumpism" throughout the campaign and declared that he would not vote for his party's candidate because it was "a question of character and fitness to be Commander-in-Chief."

The job of American foreign policy, Abrams has argued throughout the past two decades, is to promote democracy. Like the Bourbons in Talleyrand's bon mot, he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. As recently as Dec. 13, he wrote the following on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations:

When the Arab Spring began in 2011, supporters of democracy in the Middle East had widespread hopes that the region might turn a corner and move from autocracy to democracy. Those hopes have been realized reasonably well in Tunisia, which has seen free elections and the peaceful alternation of power between political parties. But many other Arab countries have cracked down on dissent and political speech.

The United States should nevertheless support those seeking peaceful change toward more open and democratic political systems. The Arab uprisings of 2011–2012 suggest that the public desire for change is widespread, and democratic political systems provide paths for peaceful change that can accommodate many different social and economic views through compromise.