I think other people have covered this, but I want to take a run at it anyway.
I think some of the cold warriors must have become neo-cons at some point. Well, obviously, as a function of being in government and a particular political party over time, but there is something I am getting at. The function of opposing communism and promoting capitalism/democracy must have really worked its way into the subconscious of some conservatives. To put it another way, what is the difference between (a) offering democracy as an alternative and (b) believing that people should be able to live in a free, democratic society? In fact, what is the difference between (a) believing that democracy is the natural state of an industrialized or service economy and (b) believing that people should be able to live in a free, democratic society? Well, it might be the difference between the policies of a democrat or liberal like Clinton (a) and the policies of a republican or conservative like Bush (b). The (a) philosophy admits the possibility that a majority of a people living inside a set of State borders may choose not to live in a democratic country, even if it is offered to them, because they value a government that offers them security or a religious structure, say. The (b) philosophy rejects this notion as running against human nature. When you add the connection to the president’s religious beliefs in there, you end up with a fairly inflexible policy, the stay the course policy. Even the use of the relatively small number of troops might be explained in this context, as a people who are naturally yearning to be free should not need a large number of policemen. The President was never a cold warrior (well, I’m not sure how to take the Air National Guard thing, but the cold war was over by the time the President first took political office). His father was, though, and I think some of the father’s beliefs were quietly embraced by the son as intimately as the son’s religious beliefs. The notion of Iraq is the place where he and the conservatives have invested their hopes for the redemption of America, where victory will set in motion the process that will free us from the fear of future terrorist attacks. No wonder the reaction of conservatives against liberals, accusing them of giving aid and comfort to the enemy or even of treason. Liberals questioning this policy is a lot like insulting conservatives’ (or at least Bush’s) religion.
Besides Bush, other top men in the administration were in fact cold warriors, quite possibly of the realpolitik vein, but for whom there are some unquestionable core beliefs. I say this because otherwise I can’t understand the administration’s blind eye to some of the problems that have occurred with corruption and ineptitude, in Iraq and also here in the US. The cold war became a time of calculated decisions, of working with the distasteful and making hard choices. People in the Pentagon must have decided that working with Iraqis means making bribes and that likewise some corruption on the part of US civilian contractors is a way of compensating them more fairly (for danger perhaps) than the official system allows. Positing this kind of cognitive dissonance allows us to believe that people in the Pentagon have not simply decided to steal from taxpayers.
The way I see it, though, the people at the very top, and many of our soldiers and some pundits are true believers, who avoid even the tortured logic those in the Pentagon must navigate in the war on terror. That Communism has been replaced by “Islamic Fascism” as the force literally trying to destroy the west and take over the world is a topic for another post. The antagonism of conservatives towards liberals can be understood though this prism, though.