Tag: neoconservatism

Nothing New Under the Sun, Diplomacy Edition

A second-term American president begins a diplomatic opening with a long-time adversary. Neoconservatives, citing the adversary’s interpretation of the agreement, suggest that diplomacy harms US interests and tips the balance of power, perhaps irreversibly, in favor of the other party. They cultivate a sense of growing threat and a weakening America. The president responds by suggesting that those opposed to diplomacy seem to believe war is inevitable, and that they fail to appreciate that diplomacy provides an opportunity to avoid such a war, benefiting US interests. His opponents counter by accusing him of appeasement and a lack of will, calling him a “useful idiot for [enemy] propaganda.”

It’s 1988, and Ronald Reagan has just negotiated the INF treaty.

The parallel, of course, is to the current garment-rending over the interim deal negotiated between the permanent 5 members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran. There is absolutely no plausible interpretation of this deal that puts Iran with or closer to a nuclear weapon at the end of the six month period covered by the deal. At worst, it either puts 4-6 weeks onto the breakout time frame, or else Iran cheats and that cheating is detected, given the increased inspection schedules in the deal. As the New York Times’ account notes:

The interim agreement is, in effect, an elaborate pause button that provides a basis for pursuing a larger accord. It adds at least several weeks to the time Iran would need to acquire enough enriched uranium for a bomb if it decided to pursue a military option, but it can be reversed if either side changes its mind.

Under the interim deal, Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent, a level that is sufficient for energy production but not for a bomb. The country’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a step toward weapons-grade fuel, will be diluted or converted to oxide so that it cannot be readily prepared for military purposes.

Iran also agreed not to install any new centrifuges, start up any that were not already operating, or build new enrichment facilities. The agreement does not, however, require Iran to stop enriching uranium to a low level of 3.5 percent, or to dismantle any existing centrifuges.

Increasing Iran’s more highly enriched stockpile of uranium is a necessary condition for their acquisition of a nuclear bomb. This deal either will reduce that stockpile, or the deal is off. Those are the possible outcomes.*

Objections to this interim agreement are really hard to understand on the merits. Supporters of the current Menendez-Kirk bill, which would preemptively hang more sanctions over the Iranians’ heads, insist they support diplomacy, but given that the Iranians have said repeatedly they’ll walk if the bill passes—and given that if they do walk, there are going to be a lot more calls for military strikes—that’s tough to believe. Only two Senate Republicans have yet to sign onto the bill–Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky–both of whom had supported previous sanctions legislation but are exhibiting the conservative values of caution and prudence while diplomacy (and diminution of Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium) ensues.

Then again, it is also hard to understand on the merits the neoconservative objections to the INF treaty (and to diplomacy with the Soviet Union altogether), and that turned out okay. Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail. Again.

* Some observers have worried about a nuclear facility whose location we don’t know at present. This is indeed a concern, although it is the same concern with or without the nuclear deal.

Wall Street Journal: Romney Should Be a Neocon, but Hide It in Debate

Would you buy a foreign policy from this man?

Imagine a world in which the Iraq War had gone exactly as marketed. The United States invaded in March 2003. The Iraqis, with the help of Ahmed Chalabi, rapidly transitioned to become a stable, liberal democracy allied with the United States against Iran. The marvelous and smooth transformation had ripple effects throughout the region: a handful of Arab states followed suit, and the United States had drawn down to under 30,000 troops in country by September 2003, setting up a basing agreement with the new Iraqi government to stay indefinitely. Few American lives were lost, the swamp of terrorism was drained, and an oil pipeline has just been completed running from Iraq to the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Imagine, at the same time, that opponents of the war, despite having gotten every major judgment about the prudence and consequences of the war comically wrong, had been vaulted to positions of power and prestige in foreign affairs commentary. Meanwhile, the war’s proponents, despite their support for a strategy that yielded huge strategic dividends for the United States at a low cost, were banished to the wilderness, heard from sporadically on a few blogs and at a think tank or two.

It would be strange, wouldn’t it?

And yet that situation is roughly analogous to the one in which we find ourselves today, except in real life the war was an enormous disaster, just as its opponents predicted, and the proponents of the war are the ones in denial about its implications. Foremost among the salespeople for war who have yet to come to grips with the facts are the members of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.

But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones: they’ve got some advice for Mitt Romney in his upcoming foreign policy debate.

First, the good news: Even the editorial board of the Journal seems to understand that speaking openly about their plans for more wars would be bad politics. Accordingly, the Journal doesn’t “expect Mr. Romney to offer an explicit defense of the Bush Doctrine” and they worry about the implications of Obama charging Romney with wanting to get the United States into a third (and fourth) Middle East war. This is in keeping with the previous assurance of Bret Stephens (pictured above) that Romney wouldn’t start any new wars. Romney should deny wanting any more wars while doing a number of things that make them inevitable.

Second, the bad news: Instead of suggesting that Romney actually trim the neocon sail a bit, the article suggests Romney continue his strategy of wheeling out a fog machine and saying “leadership” and “strength” instead of discussing details. The American people who tune in Monday night deserve to hear some specifics. Not the level of specifics that would satisfy the people who think about international politics for a living, sure, but some specifics. Instead, while suggesting that Romney “offer[] a serious critique of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy that doesn’t descend to clichés,” the article suggests clichés but not seriousness.

This blends with the ugly news: like an insular clique of Bourbon royalty, the neocons at the Journal appear to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing about strategy over the last 10 years. To the extent their suggestions do go beyond clichés, they are a reminder that Bush-era neoconservatism still lies at the center of their world view, and the world view of the Republican establishment. A few examples:

  • The war in Iraq, we are informed, had “already been won when Mr. Obama became president.” Mission accomplished? Come again?
  • Obama turned that win into a loss by failing to secure “a viable alliance with Baghdad and a bulwark against Tehran.” When you have allocated yourselves 1,608 words, you may want to show your work about how this could have happened.
  • Another Obama failure is that he allowed Israel to have a partially independent defense strategy. He should have “provide[d] Israel with reassurances that it needn’t consider its own military options” on Iran. If Israelis should just rely on the United States to defend them from the most important threats facing their country, why does Israel have such a powerful military in the first place?
  • Obama’s “policies of premature military withdrawals [in Iraq and Afghanistan] have increased rather than diminished the chances that we will be at war in the Middle East again.” How? In which countries?

One could go on. But more broadly the piece suffers from the flaw that has characterized the whole foreign-policy discussion in the election: the idea that the outside world begins at Algeria and ends at Afghanistan. The sprawling essay says exactly nothing useful when it comes to the most important foreign policy challenges facing the United States: the prospect of a European implosion, the wreckage of our war on drugs in Mexico, and preventing American entanglement in a prospective World War III in Asia.

The essay closes by invoking Robert Gates’s invocation of Ronald Reagan, who said that he had lived through many wars but none of them began because the United States was too strong. Gates and the WSJ’s editorial board probably ought to think a little harder about whether the United States blundered into any costly quagmires as a function of its overweening strength and insulation from the costs of its strategic choices. The answer is obvious.

Romney’s Foreign Policy Opportunity

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will duel on foreign policy this week as they both address the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Romney heads off toBritain,Israel, andPoland to burnish his foreign policy credentials.  It will be difficult for Romney to overcome Obama on this set of issues.  Denizens of neoconservatism scorn the president as a weakling on terrorism and other international issues, but that is not how most Americans see him.  The killing of Osama Bin Laden (as well as dozens of other high-level al Qaeda operatives) has largely inoculated Obama against the “weak on terrorism” allegation, and the public generally gives him decent marks on most other foreign policy issues.

In the two areas where there has been grumbling about the president’s performance—escalating and perpetuating the war in Afghanistan and doing little about the bloated Pentagon budget—Romney’s neoconservative allies advocate measures that most voters dislike even more than they do Obama’s approach.  If Romney is to seize the opportunity to score points against the president on foreign policy, he needs to break with the hawkish extremists in his party and take a very different tack than he has done so far in the campaign.  Unfortunately, his harsh statements toward China and Russia—including describing the latter as America’s principal global adversary—and his alarmingly bellicose rhetoric toward Iran suggest that he is taking his foreign policy positions from George W. Bush’s playbook.  That is a bad move both politically and in terms of good policy.

In his speech to the VFW, Romney should outline a new security strategy built on the foundation of cautious, national-interest realism—a position that once characterized the GOP and still finds some resonance among the party’s rank and file.  That move, though, would require him to challenge the neoconservative conventional wisdom on four major issues.

First, he needs to advocate a prompt withdrawal of U.S.forces from Afghanistan, even faster than the Obama administration’s alleged commitment to have U.S.forces out of that country in 2014.  The intervention in Afghanistanis the poster child for how a limited and justified punitive expedition against a terrorist adversary (al Qaeda) can morph into an open-ended, nation-building crusade on behalf of an inept, corrupt Third Worldgovernment.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to discern whether Romney has a policy regardingAfghanistan.  To the extent he has said anything substantive on the issue, it creates worries that he may want to keep American troops in that snake pit indefinitely.

Adopting a new, smarter position onAfghanistanleads to the second point Romney should emphasize in his VFW speech: a repudiation of nation building as aU.S.foreign policy goal.  It is bitterly ironic that, beginning with the Bush administration, Republicans seem to have become more enthusiastic than Democrats about humanitarian interventions and nation-building ventures.  Republicans rightly used to scorn such crusades as wasteful, utopian schemes.  Condoleezza Rice once remarked that it should not be the mission of theU.S.military to escort children to school in foreign countries.  Romney needs to return the GOP to that wise skepticism.

Third, Romney should advocate a complete reassessment ofWashington’s overgrown network of formal and informal security commitments around the world.  It is absurd for theUnited Statesto continue subsidizing the defense of allies in Europe andEast Asiatwo decades after the collapse of the Soviet empire and nearly seven decades after the end of World War II.  Those allies shamelessly free ride on America’s security exertions, choosing to under-invest in their own defenses and refusing to make a serious effort to manage the security affairs in their respective regions.  Even if theU.S.government was cash-rich and running chronic budget surpluses, the current policy toward obsolete alliances would be wasteful and ill-advised.  Maintaining such a policy whenWashingtonhas to borrow money fromChinaand other foreign creditors to do so, borders on insanity.

Reassessing alliances and other security commitments points to the final change that Romney should advocate: a willingness to cut military spending.  The United Statesspends nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world combined.  The House of Representatives just voted to appropriate $606 billion for defense—and that figure does not include $11 billion to pay for the nuclear arsenal, a budget item housed in the Energy Department.  Instead of promising to increase military spending to four percent of GDP—an extra of $2.5 trillion over ten years—Romney should reverse course and support cutting that bureaucracy’s budget as part of an overall austerity program for the federal government.  And as noted, the overseas missions should be trimmed or eliminated to match the capabilities and budget of a smaller force.

Such an agenda might not please the attendees at the VFW convention, and it certainly would not please the junior varsity from the Bush-Cheney administration that Romney has been relying upon thus far for advice on foreign policy.  But it would appeal to a wide swath of American voters and put Barack Obama on the defensive.  Most important, it would be a wise policy alternative for the American republic.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Obama’s Neocon Moment

In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphatically declared, “Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Obama sought to put to rest the notion that he is embracing American decline, as GOP candidates Romney, Gingrich and Santorum have accused him of doing. He likewise affirmed his belief in the country’s exceptional place in history.

In particular, this president believes, as his predecessor did, in the necessity of the U.S. military to act beyond its constitutionally mandated function, put out any fires that flare across the globe, and underwrite world security. I examine this in an op-ed published today on CNN.com:

The president sounded like a neoconservative when he declared during his recent State of the Union address that the United States was, and would remain, the world’s “indispensable nation.” Obama’s proposed Pentagon budget, released last week, affirmed his intention to retain most of the U.S. military’s current missions, even when they aren’t needed to safeguard the United States’ vital security interests.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s latest strategy document was carefully designed to convince allies and adversaries alike that the United States can continue to prosecute multiple armed conflicts in far-flung corners of the globe. Taken together, Obama’s strategy document, budget and State of the Union remarks articulate a coherent philosophy on military spending and global engagement that ought to hold a lot of appeal for the neoconservatives in the GOP.

But … our foreign policy leaders have consistently ignored … an argument that should have strong sway at a time of economic uncertainty: this country’s tax dollars can be better spent than on defending wealthy allies who are more than capable of protecting themselves.

This talk of the United States as the “indispensable nation” is straight out of the neoconservative playbook. They should have no quarrel with President Obama’s policies. And it is interesting that while Mitt Romney criticizes the president in this arena, Romney foreign-policy advisor, neoconservative stalwart Robert Kagan, has gotten the president’s attention.

Like Kagan and Romney, President Obama believes the world is better off with the United States doing for wealthy allies what they should be doing for themselves: securing their interests. President Obama talked of “fairness” in his State of the Union and a “shared sacrifice” among citizens in these trying economic times. But this sacrifice apparently does not extend beyond the borders of the United States. Under President Obama, as under a Romney presidency, the American taxpayer will continue to pay for the security of Europe and East Asia, and our troops will be saddled with a nearly endless list of missions. That isn’t fair, nor is it wise.

Just a Cog in the National Project

Brad Thompson’s excellent new book, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea, adroitly dissects this pernicious political philosophy.  He has received some criticism for attempting to demonstrate that Leo Strauss, the philosophical godfather of so many neocons, had a certain sympathy with fascism.  Indeed, while stating that he is not saying neoconservatives have fascist designs, Thompson does suggest that their philosophy could pave the way to a kind of “soft fascism.”  Far be it from me to pass judgment on such academic debate, but it is interesting to consider the following from the noted neocon columnist for the New York Times, David Brooks, writing in that paper on March 10:

Citizenship, after all, is built on an awareness that we are not all that special but are, instead, enmeshed in a common enterprise.  Our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the nation.  I wonder if Americans are unwilling to support the sacrifices that will be required to avert fiscal catastrophe in part because they are less conscious of themselves as components of a national project.

This Month at Cato Unbound: Neoconservatism Unmasked

This month, Cato Unbound examines neoconservatism – perhaps the most puzzling of current ideologies. The lead essay is from Professor C. Bradley Thompson, author of Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea.

So what is it? Some say there’s no there there – neoconservatism is a disposition or a mood, no more and no less, and it’s got little or no enduring philosophical content. Thompson, however, argues that neoconservatism is a coherent political philosophy, one blending Machiavellian pragmatism with Platonic idealism. Philosophers may apprehend eternal truths, but these truths aren’t fit for ordinary folk, and still less are they a good basis for politics. In these realms, we need national unity, national greatness, national strength – in a word, nationalism.

Is this an accurate portrayal? Some will certainly disagree, and we’ve invited three distinguished panelists to engage Thompson’s thesis – Patrick J. Deneen of Georgetown University, Damon Linker of The New Republic, and Douglas B. Rasmussen of St. John’s University. Be sure to come back throughout the month, or subscribe to our RSS feed to see the conversation as it develops.

President Obama’s Rhetoric on Libya

The prospect of the United States intervening in Libya is uncertain.  Yesterday, Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen appeared to downplay the possibility of military action, while not clearly taking a position.  But lost in much of the reporting is President Obama’s Executive Order declaring a national emergency, and the accompanying letter to congress, issued last Friday.

Obama claimed that the overall situation constituted “…an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”  Over at The Skeptics, I examine why it is a mistake for the president to lump together national security and humanitarian considerations:

Obama should be ashamed of this language. Muammar Qadhafi is a despicable man without basic decency, but this fuzzy rhetoric is wrong and possibly harmful. Not just a “threat” to U.S. national security, but an “extraordinary” threat? What would constitute a trivial threat or a non-threat, then? And what is the rhetorical purpose of adding the clause “and foreign policy” to the sentence? To fuse the argument about national security threat to one claiming that Muammar Qadhafi’s slaughter of his own citizens might influence our foreign-policy decisions, it seems. But writing in that way leads a casual observer to believe that the president is emphasizing what he believes to be a threat to U.S. national security posed by Libya, which does the English language a disservice. For some reason the phrase “giving the appearance of solidity to pure wind” is coming to mind.

I understand that the same clique of neoconservatives and New Republic people and other liberal imperialists who got us into the Iraq war are urging Obama to act and salivating at the prospect of accusing him of being “weak,” but even they did not use the sort of hyperbolic rhetoric that Obama did in his Executive Order and letter to congress.

 Whole thing here.