A David Cameron government would be brimming with hawks
The Conservative frontbench is full of self-proclaimed neocons
The Iraq war is widely discredited. George W Bush and Tony Blair are both out of office. Barack Obama has talked of a "new beginning" in his country's relationship with the Islamic world. Surely it's game over for the neocons, the small group of hardline hawks commonly held responsible for the US-led attack on Iraq in 2003?
Don't bet on it. If, as bookmakers believe, an overall majority for the Conservatives in the next election is a racing certainty, then the proponents of 'Shock and Awe' will once again be back in the corridors of power in Britain.
To understand why the neocons would be in such a strong position if David Cameron does make it to Number 10, we need to go back to the autumn of 2005, the time of the last Conservative party leadership election.
George Osborne praised the ‘excellent neoconservative case’ for war against Iraq
Fearing that in a head-to-head contest between popular former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke and right-winger David Davis, the more charismatic - and anti-war - Clarke would win, the neocon faction within the party started to champion the cause of a young, relatively little known MP for Witney, promoting him as the man who would 'modernise' the party and lead it back to power. The strategy worked a treat, and the little known MP - David Cameron - pulled off a surprise victory.
Cameron's campaign was masterminded by a triumvirate of MPs: Michael Gove, Ed Vaizey and George Osborne.
Gove, who believes the invasion of Iraq was a "proper British foreign policy success", is the author of the polemic Celsius 7/7, which has been described as a "neo-con rallying cry" for its attacks on Islamism, which he describes as a "totalitarian ideology" on a par with Nazism and Communism, and says must be fiercely opposed.
He, along with Vaizey, is a signatory to the principles of the ultra-hawkish Henry Jackson Society, an organisation founded at Peterhouse College Cambridge in 2005 and named after a warmongering US Senator who opposed détente with the Soviet Union.
The Society supports the 'maintenance of a strong military' with a 'global reach'; among its international patrons are the serial warmonger Richard 'Prince of Darkness' Perle, a former staffer of Henry Jackson who was considered one of the leading architects of the Iraq war, and Bill Kristol, the influential American journalist, formerly with the New York Times, who called for military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2006.
As for Osborne, Cameron's Shadow Chancellor and right-hand man; he praised the "excellent neoconservative case" for war against Iraq.
There are other strong neocon influences on Cameron. Policy Exchange, which has been described as the Tory leader's 'favourite think-tank', and which will have an open door to Number 10, was set up in 2002 by Michael Gove and fellow hawk Nicholas Boles, a member of the Notting Hill set who the Tories plan to parachute into the safe seat of Grantham and Stamford at the next election. Dean Godson, the group's research director and adviser on security issues, has been described as "one of the best connected neoconservatives in Britain".
When Godson, a former special assistant to the disgraced publisher Conrad Black, was dismissed by the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper's editor Martin Newland said of him (and Black's wife, fellow neocon Barbara Amiel, who also wrote for the paper): "It's OK to be pro-Israel, but not to be unbelievably pro-Likud Israel. It's OK to be pro-American but not look as if you're taking instructions from Washington."
In 2007, Policy Exchange was accused of deliberately stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain after a controversy over the veracity of some of the evidence it used in its report 'The Hijacking of British Islam'.
Although he said that Britain should learn from the 'failures' of neoconservatism in a speech in September 2006, and denied that he was a neocon himself, Cameron's public pronouncements on foreign affairs since then certainly give the Tory uber-hawks no grounds for believing that they have backed the wrong man.
Last summer, during the South Ossetia conflict, he called for Russia to be expelled from the G8, for Georgia's Nato membership to be "accelerated" and lambasted the British government for allowing Moscow's "aggression" to go unchecked.
He has consistently called for a tougher stance on Iran, warning that "every week, every month that goes by brings Iran closer to possessing a nuclear weapon." And, while staying largely silent on Israel's military assault on Gaza, he has declared his belief in Israel to be "indestructible" and pledged that he would be an "unswerving friend" to the country if he became Prime Minister.
Just as significant has been the way Cameron has protected his neocon allies during the expenses scandal - although they were arguably among the worst offenders. Gove, the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who was described by the Daily Mail's political commentator Peter Oborne as "one of the most notorious milkers of the expenses system", for spending thousands furnishing his London home before 'flipping' to a new property and claiming £13,000 in moving costs, came under no pressure from Cameron to stand down. He is likely to play a major role in the next Conservative government.
So too will fellow flipper George Osborne and Ed Vaizey, who claimed for over £2,000 in antique furniture bought from a business owned by David Cameron's mother-in-law.
The trio will not be the only hawks in Cameron's Cabinet. Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox, is the founder and UK Director of the 'The Atlantic Bridge', an organisation which promotes closer US/British foreign policy ties. Members of the group's advisory council include Gove, Osborne, Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling and Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, a strong supporter of the Iraq war who has attacked Europe's "extraordinary weakness" in dealing with Russia.
It's a sobering thought that before the Iraq inquiry has finished its work, some of the war's most fervent supporters may, if the bookies are right and the Tories win the May 2010 election, once again be guiding Britain's foreign policy. ·