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“The kind of Wilsonianism that Bill Kristol advocates, I think, is wrong [because] it over-stretches our power [and] takes insufficient account of the institutional requirements for genuine reform, to simply impose a constitution on Iraq or anybody else,” Mr. Buckley recently told Human Events, a conservative weekly.

“If we cannot rise to oppose empire, the movement deserves to fail,” Mr. Devine says in his memo. “All we need to do is … speak up for our principles.

“Philosophically, either [Mr. Buckley] was right that building an American world empire was against conservative principles, or Bill Kristol, Max Boot and Paul Johnson — with some National Review and Wall Street Journal support — were correct that a new American colonialism was required to bring peace and democracy to the world,” Mr. Devine says. “Even President Bush had said: ‘America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish’ — but neoconservatives were still trying to push him there anyway.”