I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the neoconservatives are on the run. The latest upheaval in Iraq has further discredited them for destabilizing the country in the first place; and they are being called out in the mainstream media. Andrew Sullivan criticizes them all the time, so do Chris Matthews. The Washington Post has a column assailing the “neocon gang,” Eric Alterman has a column at Salon blasting Bill Kristol for banging the war drum again.
All good. But the neoconservatives’ partners in crime have gone largely blameless: American liberal interventionists and the Israeli right. When will they come in for criticism? Until they do, it seems that the neoconservative agenda is alive and well.
Here are some recent items that touch on the new status of the neoconservatives, and the blamelessness of their allies.
First, you may remember that neoconservative Robert Kagan got star treatment in the New York Times 10 days ago, as a “liberal interventionist” and a “Cocoa-Puffs” dad. Conservative columnist Diana West expresses outrage that Kagan has managed to slip the neoconservative label, and concern that he is going to come back to power soon, in the Democratic Party.
The Times describes Robert Kagan as “the congenial and well-respected scion of one of America’s first families of interventionism.”…
If there is something jarring about the “first families of interventionism” moniker — just think for a moment about the families of the soldiers who actually do the “intervening” — it doesn’t seem to be meant ironically. Kagan, in fact, says he prefers to call himself a “liberal interventionist,” not a neocon….
I can see it now: A new ship of state under Hillary Clinton sailing home, carrying a crew of neocons-turned-liberal-interventionists. And The New York Times will find it all Cocoa Puffs charming.
Sharp. Maybe that’s why Chris Matthews is careful not to bash liberal interventionists; they’re Hillary’s braintrust. But Kagan was Bill Kristol’s wingman all through the Project for a New American Century days, when they pressed Bill Clinton and then George W. Bush to invade Iraq.
At Foreign Policy, Steve Walt picks up on the liberal interventionist service to neocons. In a piece titled “Being a neocon means never having to say you’re sorry,” he says that one source of neoconservative persistence
is the continued support they get from their close cousins: the liberal interventionists. Neoconservatives may have cooked up the whole idea of invading Iraq, but they got a lot of support from a diverse array of liberal hawks. As I’ve noted before, the only major issue on which these two groups disagree is the role of international institutions, which liberals view as a useful tool and neoconservatives see as a dangerous constraint on U.S. freedom of action. Neoconservatives, in short, are liberal imperialists on steroids, and liberal hawks are really just kinder, gentler neocons.
The liberal interventionists’ complicity in the neoconservative project makes them reluctant to criticize the neoconservatives very much, because to do so draws attention to their own culpability in the disastrous neoconservative program. It is no surprise, therefore, that recovering liberal hawks like Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait — who both backed the Iraq war themselves — have recently defended neoconservative participation in the new debate over Iraq, while taking sharp issue with some of the neocons’ position.
The neoconservative-liberal alliance in effect re-legitimates the neoconservative world view, and makes their continued enthusiasm for U.S.-led wars look “normal.”
Walt was promptly attacked by Chait at New York Magazine:
Walt’s column today is about how people who have been proven to be ignorant about foreign policy should no longer have prestigious outlets in which to disseminate their ill-informed beliefs.
Notice Chait’s emphasis on prestige, and Walt’s unworthiness of a prestige post. Elite opinion is what matters to neocons and liberal interventionists because it influences leaders. In a democracy, that is a highly unstable approach.
Chait cites an interview with Benjamin Netanyahu on National Public Radio as proving that Israel doesn’t want the U.S. to intervene in Iraq. But he doesn’t quote Netanyahu, because Netanyahu’s not saying that. He is still trying to remake the Middle East using American power. NPR gave the rightwing leader a seven-and-a-half-minute platform last week to spout propaganda about Iran being a “mortal enemy” of the U.S. that we shouldn’t cut a deal with.
And it sounds like Netanyahu wants unending war:
And my view is that when your enemies are fighting each other, you don’t strengthen either one of them. You weaken both. And in this case, that means that you take the action you deem necessary to counter ISIS forces in Iraq. But it also means not allowing Iran to dominate Iraq as it has dominated Lebanon and Syria….
I think that’s why we should be doing everything in our power to dismantle Iraq’s military capability. And I think that should remain the single, most important objective in the Middle East…
Everything in our power to dismantle Iraq’s military capability: intervention.
In fact, it’s very hard to read Netanyahu’s words and not recall the famous neoconservative vision for the Middle East that three American neocons came up with for Netanyahu in 1996, before they went on to serve in the Bush administration. “A Clean Break” said, Let’s end the peace process, manage the conflict, and export the conflict to our neighbors. As Sidney Blumenthal once explained:
“A Clean Break” was written at the request of incoming Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and intended to provide “a new set of ideas” for jettisoning the policies of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of trading “land for peace,” the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of Likud’s terms, “peace for peace.” Rather than negotiations with Syria, they proposed “weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria.” They also advanced a wild scenario to “redefine Iraq.” Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain “control” of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them “wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria.”
You’d think that the mainstream would be reexamining this neoconservative-Likudnik transnational manifesto now, but they steer clear. Chris Matthews spoke warningly of “Sabra and Shatilla” in Iraq if we go in there, but he didn’t explain to viewers that he was talking about an Israeli invasion and massacre. Matthews regularly cites Israel’s security needs, but does so approvingly.
Though last week, regardless of their affection for Hillary Clinton, Matthews and his guest David Corn both praised Republican Rand Paul’s populist rhetoric against any involvement in Iraq. Matthews played Paul’s statement about whose children should die for the next intervention:
You have to ask yourself, are you willing to send your son, am I willing to send my son to retake back a city, Mosul, that they weren’t willing to defend themselves? I’m not willing to send my son into that mess.
And Paul blamed the neocons:
“You know, were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? That’s what the war was sold on. Was democracy easily achievable? Was the war won in 2005, when many of these people said it was won? They didn’t really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out.”
And Paul opposed a liberal interventionist’s appointment as judge because he had favored killing Americans by drone overseas:
I’ve read David Barron’s memos concerning the legal justification for killing an American citizen overseas without a trial or legal representation, and I am not satisfied.
It’s a reminder that some of the strongest arguments against the reckless idea of remaking the Middle East have come from Republicans, and that leading Democrats were an essential part of the neoconservative coalition for the Iraq War.
Another Republican, General David Petraeus lately said that there must be a political solution in Iraq:
“You cannot have 18 to 20 percent of the population feeling disenfranchised, feeling that it has no stake in the success of the country,” Petraeus added. “There has to be a government that is trusted by all elements of the society.”
Now what country could he be talking about? Israel has that very problem west of the Green Line– and let alone the disfranchisement of millions under occupation. The neoconservative agenda was always to export Israel’s conflict to the region, so that Israel’s troubles would look minor compared to the troubles of its bad neighborhood. Whatever the neocons call themselves, the media are still letting them get away with it.