Where are the neocons today?
The neocons face their latest challenge in Barack Obama. His election and new vision on foreign policy opens the next chapter in the long-running clash -- and sometimes fraternity -- between presidents and neoconservatives. In their book, "The Forty Years War: the Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama," released today by HarperCollins, Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman explore the influence of the right wing, conservative movement on American foreign policy.
GUEST BLOGGER: Tom Shachtman
Had Senator John McCain won the presidency in 2008, the neoconservatives would still be in charge of foreign policy. A year into President Barack Obama's administration, with its highly pragmatic approach to international matters, the neocons remain the major group opposed to Obama's foreign policy.
But then, throughout their decades in the public eye, the neocons have been more comfortable -- and more effective -- in voicing cogent opposition than in executing policy. The neocons formed in opposition to President Richard Nixon's initiatives of détente with the USSR, rapprochement with China, and a negotiated end to the war in Vietnam. They slowed Gerald Ford's pursuit of Nixonian foreign policies, ground Jimmy Carter's do-gooder foreign policy to a halt, blocked Ronald Reagan from too closely adhering to SALT II and embracing Mikhail Gorbachev's crumbling USSR, and continued their underminings during the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
In a recent interview with Politico, former Vice President Richard B. Cheney disparaged President Obama's drawn-out process for coming to a decision on added troops to Afghanistan, accusing the president of projecting "weakness," and by delaying and over-discussing the question of extra troops, and "apologizing" to other nations for past (read: Bush Administration) actions, emboldening our adversaries in the world.
This Cheney argument echoed a signature tenet of the virtually unknown godfather of the neocons, Fritz G. A. Kraemer, a charismatic civilian strategist at the Pentagon who died in 2003 at the age of 95. Kraemer discovered Henry Kissinger, mentored Alexander Haig, and counseled Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.
Kraemer's concept of "provocative weakness" -- that any hint of weakness by the United States would provoke our enemies to aggressive moves because they would think we would not retaliate -- has been a centerpiece of neocon thought throughout the last forty years. So have Kraemer's other tenets, including a belief that the only foreign policy worth having is one backed by military force and the willingness to use it, a mistrust of diplomacy and of international organizations such as the U.N., and an unrelieved elitism that dismisses the executive branch's need to inform and consult Congress on foreign policy matters.
Recently, when the media has needed a voice to oppose, say, the Obama administration's diplomatic engagement with North Korea or Iran, they knew that neocons such as John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations, would be sure to deliver a stinging critique. While prominent liberal Democrats wring their hands over Bush's war in Afghanistan becoming Obama's war, the neocons and their fellow travelers are the main applauders of the new troop surge.
The neocons have quieted their call for pushing democracy around the world -- that hasn't been working out very well -- and offer no coherent idea on countering Iran's apparent drive to create nuclear weapons, other than to back Israel should that country try to take out Iranian nuclear facilities. Similarly, they have no workable idea on dealing more effectively with missile-happy North Korea.
Today the neocons are on the outs, but they are used to being in opposition and are far from disillusioned, because they understand one great truth about America's foreign policy: that presidents have seldom successfully been harried from the left, but have been repeatedly and successfully assailed from the right.
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