Neocons never go away–Marco Rubio hires Jamie Fly, ultra-hawk on Iran

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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Jamie Fly Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative (Photo:

Despite the neoconservative movement’s ideas being thoroughly out of the mainstream, the noecons remain with us, shaping the U.S. foreign policy debate. The latest example of their staying power: the decision by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to hire neoconservative operative Jamie Fly as his “counselor for foreign and national security affairs,” as the Tampa Bay Times reports today.

Rubio, a star in the Republican Party who has been lavished with lots of attention, is a likely candidate for president in 2016. He praised Fly in a statement. “Our nation is facing serious challenges around the globe, and it’s critical that we do everything we can this Congress to ensure that America remains a leader in the world,” said Rubio. “Jamie’s experience in both the government and private sector will make him an asset to the foreign policy challenges and initiatives we look forward to working on this year.”

The experience Rubio refers to is Fly’s stints in the Bush administration. Fly worked in the National Security Council and the Defense Department during the Bush years.

After Fly left the Bush administration, he went on to head the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), another neoconservative organization in Washington similar to the famous Project for a New American Century (PNAC). In fact, prominent FPI members like William Kristol and Robert Kagan were also members of PNAC.

FPI strongly supported the Obama administration’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. And the organization pushes a pro-empire line on U.S. military operations around the world, laughably claiming that “the United States remains the world’s indispensable nation — indispensable to international peace, security, and stability, and indispensable to safe-guarding and advancing the ideals and principles we hold dear.” (This line is an article of faith in American politics generally, of course–the Democrats routinely invoke similar ideals to justify American empire.)

On the issue of Iran, FPI and Fly push a predictably hawkish line. In a piece for Foreign Affairs, Fly (and co-author Gary Schmitt) argued that

“if the United States seriously considers military action, it would be better to plan an operation that not only strikes the nuclear program but aims to destabilize the regime, potentially resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis once and for all…[Matthew] Kroenig is correct then to argue that a military strike should be in the cards. But he is wrong to suggest that a limited strike is the one option that should be on the table. If strikes are chosen, it would be far better to put the regime at risk than to leave it wounded but still nuclear capable and ready to fight another day.”

These ideas are thoroughly out of step with what the American people want. In the midst of the raging debate over Defense Secretary-nominee Chuck Hagel, Jim Lobe pointed out that, contrary to the neoconservative claims, Hagel is decidedly in step with public opinion:

The fact is this: Hagel’s views on the Middle East — favoring a “lighter footprint” in the region; taking a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; strong skepticism about any U.S. military intervention in Syria, and military intervention in general; opposition to an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program — very much reflect those of a significant majority of the U.S. public. We know that because poll after poll of U.S. public opinion during the last year and more shows it.

Fly and his organization argue for the exact opposite: they are for a large footprint in the Middle East; favor the U.S.’s one-sided deference to Israeli wishes; and push military intervention in Syria and Iran.

Despite all this, the neoconservative movement is the main player in Republican foreign policy circles, as Rubio’s hiring of Fly indicates. There’s no other game in town for them; the Republican realists have been marginalized and driven out. And it’s also important to note that the neoconservatives’ advocacy for what is essentially economic warfare on Iran has been adopted by the Obama administration.

Of course, this should come as no surprise to those watching Rubio as he prepares for a potential 2016 presidential run. I wrote on Rubio’s big foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution last year:

The speech is an indication that the neoconservative wing of the party still commands immense influence.

Rubio’s speech made no mention of Palestine, but he did train his focus on Syria and Iran–ground zero for the current neoconservative agenda. Rubio called for a policy of US intervention in the Syrian crisis that would bring “an end to the bloodshed and the Assad tyranny in Syria…”

While he expressed tepid support for negotiations with Iran, he also said that “they should not be deemed a success when they only lead to further negotiations.” But he also repeatedly raised the specter of a US or Israeli strike on Iran.

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