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What do neocons have to do with Obama?

President Obama may be a pragmatist, but he's now in charge of two fundamentally neoconservative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fundamentally "neocon" wars. They were shaped by the neoconservative belief that American military might can replace rogue regimes with Western-style democracies that won't threaten US security.

Today, these wars are being led by a commander in chief, Barack Obama, whose views on foreign policy amount to a polar opposite of neoconservatism.

The neocons' grand ambitions are now in the hands of a pragmatist.

The resulting tension will shape much of Mr. Obama's work in foreign affairs. And it will also test one of America's most enduring claims: its commitment to spreading democracy abroad.

Today, Dick Cheney is probably the most famous neocon, so many people assume that neoconservatism is a right-wing movement that took root after 9/11. Not so.

Neoconservatism was founded in the 1960s and '70s when Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and other Democrats came to view their party – with its demands for an expanding welfare state and a less militaristic approach to the USSR – as a bastion of naive and destructive policies. They were liberals who despised hippies.

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