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Liberal Hawks: Flying in Neocon Circles

In the heat of Iraq the neoconservatives are seeing their visions of Pax Americana turn into nightmares and headaches. But they are not alone....

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In the heat of Iraq the neoconservatives are seeing their visions of Pax Americana turn into nightmares and headaches. But they are not alone. Liberal hawks like Ivo Daalder, Robert Kerrey, and Will Marshall also find themselves discredited as the quagmire in Iraq swallows up all their arguments supporting the invasion and occupation.

Without the support of the liberals, President George W. Bush’s plan to invade and occupy Iraq may have foundered in Congress. The support of our closest allies and the United Nations wasn’t as important as was the buy-in by Democratic Party leaders. In the lead-up to the war, President Bush also received critical support from well-known writers and analysts who hailed from the center-left.

Brandishing arguments that the invasion of Iraq would spark a democratic revolution in the greater Middle East, the neocons managed to forge a powerful political coalition that sidelined Republican realists like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft as well as anti-war Democrats like Robert Byrd and Paul Wellstone. As the invasion plans advanced, both the neocons and the liberal hawks dismissed the opponents of the war as being reflexively pacifist and hopelessly naïve.

Two PNAC letters in March 2003 played to those Democrats who believed that the invasion was justified at least as much by humanitarian concerns as it was by the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction. PNAC and the neocon camp had managed to translate their military agenda of preemptive and preventive strikes into national security policy. With the invasion underway, they sought to preempt those hardliners and military officials who opted for a quick exit strategy in Iraq. In their March 19th letter, PNAC stated that Washington should plan to stay in Iraq for the long haul: "Everyone–those who have joined the coalition, those who have stood aside, those who opposed military action, and, most of all, the Iraqi people and their neighbors–must understand that we are committed to the rebuilding of Iraq and will provide the necessary resources and will remain for as long as it takes."

Along with such neocon stalwarts as Robert Kagan, Bruce Jackson, Joshua Muravchik, James Woolsey, and Eliot Cohen, a half-dozen Democrats were among the 23 individuals who signed PNAC’s first letter on post-war Iraq. Among the Democrats were Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and a member of Clinton’s National Security Council staff; Martin Indyk, Clinton’s ambassador to Israel; Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute and Democratic Leadership Council; Dennis Ross, Clinton’s top adviser on the Israel-Palestinian negotiations; and James Steinberg, Clinton’s deputy national security adviser and head of foreign policy studies at Brookings. A second post-Iraq war letter by PNAC on March 28 called for broader international support for reconstruction, including the involvement of NATO, and brought together the same Democrats with the prominent addition of another Brookings foreign policy scholar, Michael O’Hanlon.

The PNAC letters clearly demonstrated the willingness of liberal hawks to bolster the neocons’ overarching agenda of Middle East restructuring. But it was not the first time that leading Democrats joined hands with the neocons. In late 2002 PNAC’s Bruce Jackson formed the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq that brought together such Democrats as Senator Joseph Lieberman; former Senator Robert Kerrey, the president of the New School University who now serves on the 9/11 Commission; Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute and the Democratic Leadership Council; and former U.S. Representative Steve Solarz. The neocons also reached out to Democrats through a sign-on letter to the president organized by the Social Democrats/USA, a neocon institute that has played a critical role in shaping the National Endowment for Democracy in the early 1980s and in mobilizing labor support for an interventionist foreign policy.

The liberal hawks not only joined with the neocons to support the war and the post-war restructuring but have published their own statements in favor of what is now widely regarded as a morally bankrupt policy agenda. Perhaps the clearest articulation of the liberal hawk position on foreign and military policy is found in an October 2003 report by the Progressive Policy Institute, which is a think tank closely associated with the Democratic Leadership Council. The report, entitled Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy, endorsed the invasion of Iraq, “because the previous policy of containment was failing,” and Saddam Hussein’s government was “undermining both collective security and international law.”

PPI President Will Marshall said that the progressive internationalism strategy draws “a sharp distinction between this mainstream Democratic strategy for national security and the far left’s vision of America’s role in the world. In this document we take issue with those who begrudge the kind of defense spending that we think is necessary to meet our needs, both at home and abroad; with folks who seem to reflexively oppose the use of force; and who seem incapable of taking America’s side in international disputes.”

“We also argue,” said Marshall, “that a strong international leadership should not be equated with a kind of toothless multilateralism that puts the quest for consensus above the hard and risky business of grappling with chaos, of dealing with real conflicts, and confronting real enemies and aggressors. And we warn against an anti-globalization agenda that not only hurts our economy but that condemns developing countries in the world to poverty. So, however troubling the Bush record is, we think that the pacifist and protectionist left offers no viable alternative.” Among the other liberal hawks who contributed to the Progressive Internationalism report include Bob Kerrey; Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution and the National Endowment for Democracy; and Michael McFaul of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

An open question facing the presumptive Democratic Party leadership and the presumptive party nominee John Kerry is whether they will align themselves with the militaristic and supremacist foreign policy advocated by the liberal hawks. Kerry, a member of the “centrist” Democratic Leadership Council, has thus far failed to outline a national security policy that sets him apart from such discredited liberal hawks as Bob Kerry and Will Marshall.

Tom Barry is policy director of the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC), online at www.irc-online.org.


For More Information See the following IRC Right Web profiles about the liberal hawks:

Project for a New American Century http://rightweb.irc-online.org/org/pnac.php
Will Marshall http://rightweb.irc-online.org/ind/marshall/marshall.php
Progressive Policy Institute http://rightweb.irc-online.org/org/ppi.php
Democratic Leadership Council http://rightweb.irc-online.org/org/demleadcoun.php
Social Democrats/USA http://rightweb.irc-online.org/org/social-demorcats.php




Tom Barry, "Liberal Hawks: Flying in Neocon Circles," IRC Right Web (Somerville, MA: Interhemispheric Resource Center, May 20, 2004).

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