last updated: July 23, 2013
Please note: The Militarist Monitor neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.
- New York Times: Columnist, 2003-president
- National Public Radio: Commentator
- Public Broadcasting System: Commentator
- Weekly Standard:Former senior editor
- Newsweek: Former contributing editor
- Atlantic Monthly:Former contributing editor
- Wall Street Journal: Former reporter, op-ed editor
- University of Chicago, BA
David Brooks is a New York Times columnist and a widely quoted conservative pundit on politics and culture. Prior to joining the Times in the fall of 2003, Brooks served as a senior editor for the Weekly Standard, a flagship neoconservative publication that is edited by William Kristol. He has also been a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he worked for nine years as a reporter and op-ed editor for the Wall Street Journal.
Brooks is often considered a political moderate, particularly on economic and social issues. “If you define ‘conservative’ by support for the Republican candidate or the belief that tax cuts are the correct answer to all problems, I guess I don’t fit that agenda,” Brooks said in 2012. “I’m part of a longstanding conservative tradition that has to do with Edmund Burke, which is be cautious, don't think you can do all things by government planning, and Alexander Hamilton, who wanted to use government to help people compete in the capitalist economy."
Brooks is a supporter of limited abortion rights and has expressed support for same-sex marriage since at least 2003, before it was recognized by any U.S. state. He has also advocated U.S. immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants residing in United States. “If Republicans reject immigration reform,” he wrote in July 2013, “that will be a giant sign of disrespect [to voters of color], and nothing else Republicans say will even be heard.”
On foreign policy, however, Brooks has evinced a distinct hawkish streak. From his perch at the Weekly Standard, Brooks was an avid supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, penning scores of articles for the Standard and other outlets promoting George W. Bush’s agenda for the Middle East and often mocking the antiwar camp.
“Among the smart set, Hamlet-like indecision has become the intellectual fashion,” Brooks wrote in March 2003, shortly before the war. “But those who actually have to lead and protect, and actually have to build one step on another, have to bring some questions to a close. Bush gave Saddam time to disarm. Saddam did not. Hence, the issue of whether to disarm him forcibly is settled.” After the fall of Baghdad the following month, Brooks praised Bush for “destroying the most murderous regime of our age” and explicitly credited the president’s neoconservative advisers with bringing the war to fruition. “I'm glad that the much maligned hawks are around to watch the images of Saddam's statue falling and the torture chambers emptying,” he wrote. “Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld deserve their share of the glory.”
Subsequently, Brooks disparaged Rumsfeld’s handling of the war, accusing the former defense secretary of supposing “that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones.” But Brooks continued to insist that the war itself was necessary, advocating several others along the way. Writing about the Middle East more generally in 2011, Brooks declared, “To have a peaceful Middle East, it was necessary to get rid of Saddam's depraved regime in Iraq. It will be necessary to try to get rid of [Muammar] Gadhafi's depraved regime in Libya. It's necessary, as everybody but the Obama administration publicly acknowledges, to see [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad toppled.” Philip Weiss, editor of the blog Mondoweiss, dubbed Brooks’ remarks “unreconstructed neoconservatism, transplanted to the Arab spring.”
Like many of the neoconservatives he admires, Brooks often adopts a one-sided “pro-Israel” line on U.S. foreign policy, echoing neoconservative talking points that Israel lacks a "negotiating partner" within the Palestinian leadership. Grouping together Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran—whom he terms the "leading playersin the Middle East struggle”—Brooks argued in a 2009 op-ed: "This new game is not oriented toward a final agreement. The extremist groups believe in the eventual extermination of Israel. They’re not interested in a handshake on the White House lawn." He added, "The extremists’ goal is to kill as many Jews as possible and wait for God (or Iran) to kill the rest. Israel’s goal is to restrain the brazenness of the extremists until their movement somehow burns itself out or is destroyed from within Arab society. Israel’s realistic immediate goal is not to achieve some permanent resolution, but to merely suppress terrorism week by week and month by month."
Brooks has also supported a heavy U.S. footprint in Afghanistan. “These are the realistic choices for America’s Afghanistan policy—all out or all in, surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building,” he wrote in 2009. Endorsing the Obama administration’s troop surge in the country, Brooks claimed that a “Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would endanger the Pakistani regime at best, create a regional crisis for certain, and lead to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda at worst.” More vaguely, Brooks also warned that American “self-respect” would suffer in the event of a Taliban victory.
Brooks has not looked kindly on every change of regime in the Middle East, however. He was a fierce critic of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government that took power in Egypt after the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Endorsing the 2013 coup that saw Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi deposed just a year into his term—and many of his supporters arrested and killed—Brooks claimed that “radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government,” accusing the Brotherhood and its allies of rejecting “pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity.” Islamists, Brooks proclaimed, lack the “mental equipment to govern,” and Egyptians generally “lack even the basic mental ingredients” for democracy.
The column was the subject of considerable criticism. “According to Brooks,” wrote David Sirota, “a country and culture of 82 million is having a difficult time transitioning to democracy not because it has been repressed for decades [in part by a U.S.-backed military], and not because it has few well-established democratic institutions, but instead because the people inherently don’t possess the cognitive (‘mental’) capacity for self-governance. To know this is some hardcore bigotry, just imagine saying the same thing about another demographic subgroup.” After pointing out numerous omissions and errors of fact in Brooks’ column, a writer for the Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) blog quipped, “You were hoping for informed, nuanced commentary on the politics of a Middle Eastern society? David Brooks lacks the mental equipment.”
Brooks seems to favor politicians with strongly hawkish views on national security and moderate to conservative views on domestic issues. He has often praised John McCain and Joe Lieberman, writing in 2006 about a fictive “McCain-Lieberman party” that “rejects those whose emotional attachment to their party is so all-consuming it becomes a form of tribalism, and who believe the only way to get American voters to respond is through aggression and stridency.” Among other concerns, Brooks’ McCain-Lieberman party “agrees with Tony Blair (who could not win a Democratic primary in the U.S. today): The civilized world faces an arc of Islamic extremism that was not caused by American overreaction, and that will only get stronger if America withdraws.”
Brooks was an early admirer of Barack Obama, penning a column in 2006 urging the then-freshman senator to run for president. “The times will never again so completely require the gifts that [Obama] possesses,” Brooks declared. “Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you should hope Barack Obama runs for president.” At least one biography of President Obama has called Brooks the Democratic president’s “favorite pundit.”
Brooks is the author of several books, including Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2000), On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (2004), and The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (2011). He also edited a 1996 collection of conservative writings called Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing.