Monday, April 20, 2009

Neocons Giddy With Obama

Opposing a militarist, interventionist, imperialist American foreign policy, whether waged by Bush or Obama, is a cause around which ideologically/intellectually consistent liberals and conservatives can find much common ground.

This is an area most sorely in need of common ground, common cause, and REAL CHANGE. Unfortunately on this 'anti-war' question there is not a dime's worth of difference between prObama neo-liberals ('Obamacons'?) and their pro-Bush neo-conservative now-fellow travelers.

At least neo-conservatives are honest and consistent about their cold-blooded fondness for global militarism emanating from the United States. The neo-liberals who excoriated Bush for the same are quite deafeningly-silent about, if not outright defensive of, the continuation of these policies, now that Obama owns them...or they own Obama, depending on how one chooses to rationalize it.

To my mind, this makes these neo-liberals at least marginally worse than the neo-cons because the neo-liberals are not only partisan-driven shape shifters in their emergent militarism, but incredibly-hypocritical to boot.

Michael Brendan Dougherty lays it all out in The American Conservative :

After successive elections unseated the Republican majority and sent John McCain to defeat, neoconservatism seemed like a spent force. Francis Fukuyama wrote wistfully about life “After Neoconservatism” in 2006. Ian Buruma described the McCain campaign as the neocons’ “last stand” and harrumphed that they “will not be missed.”

One would expect neoconservatives to be friendless and circumspect, grumbling about Obama’s inevitable failure as they slump away from Washington. Instead, they are jubilant, palling around with liberals again, enjoying renewed respect. Obama is their hero.

On March 31, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Dan Senor launched the Foreign Policy Initiative, the latest neoconservative think tank. Its first conference, dedicated to “Planning for Success” in Afghanistan, had the spirit of a family reunion....

Nearly every attendee, it seemed, was president of another grandly named neoconservative outfit. In one corner was Clifford May, head of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. In another stood John Nagl, who leads the Center for a New American Security. Near him, Randy Scheunemann, the disgraced lobbyist and—bear with me—former president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a program of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Around these figures revolved a constellation of young neocon wordslingers, including blogger David Adesnik, the New Republic’s Jamie Kirchick, and the Standard’s Michael Goldfarb

In 2004, New York Times columnist and Weekly Standard alum David Brooks laughed at those who were fixated on PNAC as “full-mooners” who believe in a “Yiddish Trilateral Commission.” Brooks said the organization “has a staff of five and issues memos on foreign policy” and that the “people called neoconservatives travel in widely different circles and don’t actually have much contact with one another.” Nothing to see here.

But while organizations like PNAC and FPI may seem like little more than an e-mail list and a fax number, these small groups have been able to shape the foreign-policy debate and influence executive-branch policymakers going back to the Cold War.

Upset with the policy of d├ętente, neocons grabbed onto Truman’s legacy and reformed the Committee on the Present Danger. Long before they served in the Bush administration, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz were veterans of CPD. In 1981, the year it closed, Midge Decter launched the Committee for the Free World. Donald Rumsfeld became its chairman. Seven years later, he joined Wolfowitz and Perle, along with Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, to sign PNAC’s open letter to Bill Clinton demanding that regime change in Iraq become U.S. government policy. Now Kristol and Kagan have formed FPI. Contra Brooks, it sounds like the same people have quite a lot of contact with one another.

The first order of business at FPI was a stern warning against “isolationists.” An article, “Yes, We Can,” by Max Boot, Frederick Kagan, and Kimberly Kagan was distributed to the crowd. In the opening paragraph, the authors worry about “voices on the left and the right [who] counsel that the war is unwinnable and we need to scale down our objectives.” A panel comprised of Nagl, Robert Kagan, and the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor, Jackson Diehl, focused on defending the foreign-policy consensus that has been developing since Obama announced his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan....

Kagan warned that “opportunistic” Republicans might attack the administration’s escalation of the Long War. Gushing over the new president’s strategy, he exclaimed, “Obama made a gutsy and courageous decision. … Not only has President Obama made a commitment to Afghanistan, but a commitment to a real counterinsurgency strategy—the idea of ‘clear, hold and build.’”

But the spectacle reached the height of embarrassment when Sen. John McCain took to the stage to be interviewed by Robert Kagan. Asked how his Afghanistan policy would have differed from Obama’s, McCain offered, “First—and he’s doing it—you’ve got to emphasize how difficult this challenge will be. … Second, I would have announced the overall addition of 10,000 more troops rather than be accused of Lyndon Johnson-style incrementalism.” Note that these aren’t strategic departures, but different ways of marketing the same product.

“Thirdly,” McCain advised that Obama “continue to consult with Congress and with leaders on both sides of the aisle to prevent a resurgence of antiwar activity.For McCain, the great threat to American interests in Afghanistan is the possibility of dissent at home. He never specified how Congress should prevent antiwar sentiment.

...FPI began because Kristol and others had been “discouraged” by conversations they were having with members of the House GOP leadership. Republicans balked at their suggestion of increased military spending as an alternative economic stimulus plan. Senor continued, “Our objective right now is to give President Obama cover in the eyes of those who would otherwise be skeptical on the Right.”

This romance between neocons and the White House could have been predicted. Promises of a more humble foreign policy readily dissolve after the candidate becomes commander in chief. The office itself seems to bias its occupant toward interventionism, and neoconservatives have a natural affinity with the president regardless of his party affiliation. The executive branch, thickly overgrown with national security positions, continues to be a source of appointments for neoconservatives or their liberal allies—precisely because they defend a maximalist interpretation of the president’s powers.

As happens every few years, Washington was turned on its head and the neocons ended up back on top. The conservatives who endorsed Obama last year in hopes of seeing change in foreign policy are long forgotten. The hawks who went hoarse trying to defeat him are celebrated by liberals as the responsible faction on the Right. There was no manipulation involved, just a minor rebranding. As easily as one Kagan steps down from the stage, another rises to take his place. So PNAC becomes FPI, and the neocons become the new Obamacons.

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