Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Libya Splitting Republicans in 1990s Redux

In a replay of the infighting among Republicans over U.S. military interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s, U.S. involvement in the civil war in Libya is exposing serious splits among self-described conservatives.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

In something of a replay of the infighting among Republicans over Washington's military interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s, U.S. involvement in the civil war in Libya is exposing serious splits among self-described conservatives.

On the one hand, Republican "realists" in the tradition of President George H.W. Bush – of whom Pentagon chief Robert Gates was a protégé – are clearly worried that Washington is "overextending" itself by intervening in a country that is not "vital" to U.S. national-security or economic interests.

They are backed by many members of the increasingly influential Tea Party, which is determined to slash the mushrooming federal deficit. They worry that another open- ended military commitment in Libya, particularly if it is protracted, could make their mission much harder.

Arrayed against them are the neo-conservatives and their allies in Congress, notably Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate. The latter have called for President Barack Obama to take all necessary measures, including arming and training rebels and expanding the list of targets subject to U.S. and NATO bombing, to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

As with the Balkan wars of the 1990s, they are forging alliances with liberal interventionists in the Democratic Party and, to the extent they can, inside the administration to get their way.

Whether they will succeed as they did with another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, in Bosnia from 1993 to 1995 and then again in Kosovo in 1999, remains to be seen.

Obama himself has made clear that, while he shares their goal of regime change in Libya, he is very reluctant to involve the U.S. military more deeply in the unfolding conflict.

In this, Obama enjoys strong backing from the Pentagon, and particularly from Gates, who, in Congressional testimony that drew harsh complaints from neo-conservatives last week, rejected a U.S. role in arming and training the rebels, insisting that other countries could undertake such an effort, if they so desired.

Gates' clear lack of enthusiasm for deepening Washington's military commitment in yet another uncertain conflict with no clear "exit strategy" recalls the exasperation felt by then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell in 1993, when he was asked by then-UN Amb. (and consummate liberal hawk) Madeleine Albright, "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"

"I thought I would have an aneurysm," Powell – who, like Gates, was a Bush I protégé – later wrote about his reaction to Albright's question, which he thought betrayed an all too cavalier attitude toward using U.S. military force.

At the time, Albright, strongly supported by most neoconservatives, was lobbying Clinton to intervene in Bosnia, something Bush had refused to do – just as he had rejected their appeals to send U.S. troops to Baghdad at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

By the time the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia were signed in November 1995, neoconservatives had become increasingly dismayed with what they saw as growing "isolationism" among Republican lawmakers who won a majority in Congress the previous year.

In 1996, two prominent neoconservatives, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, published an article titled "Toward a Neo- Reaganite Foreign Policy," in 'Foreign Affairs' in which they criticised a "confused American conservatism" and called for fellow Republicans to embrace a policy of "military supremacy and moral confidence" whose main aim would be to preserve Washington's "benevolent global hegemony … as far into the future as possible."

In 1997, Kristol and Kagan co-founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) whose charter – a distillation of the ideas contained in their 'Foreign Affairs' article – was signed by other prominent neo-conservatives, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams, as well as aggressive nationalists, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who would claim top positions in the George W. Bush administration six years later.

But it wasn't until the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq that PNAC's views came to dominate the Republican foreign-policy thinking.

Many leading Republicans were sceptical of – or outright opposed to – the 1999 Kosovo war, which once more found neoconservatives allied with liberal interventionists in urging its prosecution.

"Before we go bombing sovereign nations, we ought to have a plan," warned Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison at the time in an eerie echo of the current debate over Libya. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, insisted on calling the Kosovo air campaign "the Democratic war" or "Clinton's war" to underline their disapproval.

And when McCain proposed a resolution authorising the use of "all necessary force" in Kosovo, including the introduction of U.S. ground troops, most Republicans lined up against him.

Indeed, in the 2002 presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush, who defeated McCain in the Republican primaries that year, suggested that his foreign-policy views were considerably more "humble" than those of either the neoconservatives or the liberal interventionists. His subsequent appointment of Powell as secretary of state encouraged many observers – and voters – in the belief that he would follow in his father's footsteps.

But the 9/11 attacks tilted the balance of power – both within the Bush administration and the Republican majority in Congress – decisively in PNAC's direction, as Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, among other hawks, seized control of the policy and led the country to invade Iraq in 2003.

Even as Bush himself began to moderate his policies in his second term, and particularly after the Democrats swept the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections and the president replaced Rumsfeld with Gates, Republicans in Congress remained firmly wedded to the PNAC vision.

Two years later, McCain, most of whose closest foreign- policy advisers were neoconservatives, emerged with the party's presidential nomination from a Republican field in which all but one of the major candidates were at least as — if not more–hawkish than he.

But, even before Libya, a combination of the September 2008 financial crisis and growing war fatigue on the part of the public – not to mention McCain's electoral defeat by Obama – appeared to be slowly turning the clock backwards by rekindling the intra-party foreign-policy conflicts of the 1990's.

The Tea Party's emergence as a major force has already resulted in the Republican leadership's willingness to consider cutting the defence budget – a notion that has long been anathema to neoconservatives, whose PNAC has since morphed into a new organisation, the Foreign Policy Initiative, that has sought common cause with liberal interventionists.

The debate over U.S. military intervention in Libya threatens to accelerate the time-travelling process, as McCain's appeals for Washington to take "all necessary measures" to oust Gaddafi – reminiscent of his efforts around the Kosovo war – aren't resonating with his fellow- Republicans in the way they would have two or three years ago.

The fact that Gates, in particular, has made his opposition to a stronger commitment as clear as he has – and that the military brass appears to be backing him up – appears also to have made some in the party's leadership think twice about the political wisdom of indulging the hawks.

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to IPS Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/). He blogs at http://www.lobelog.com/.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Although sometimes characterized as a Republican “maverick” for his bipartisan forays into domestic policy, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks.


Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a stalwart advocate of the Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


A right-wing Christian and governor of Kansas, Brownback previously served in the U.S. Senate, where he gained a reputation as a leading social conservative as well as an outspoken “pro-Israel” hawk on U.S. Middle East policy.


Steve Forbes, head of the Forbes magazine empire, is an active supporter of a number of militarist policy organizations that have pushed for aggressive U.S. foreign policies.


Stephen Hadley, an Iraq War hawk and former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, now chairs the U.S. Institute for Peace.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The Trump administration appears to have been surprised by this breach among its friends in the critical Gulf strategic area. But it is difficult to envision an effective U.S. role in rebuilding this Humpty-Dumpty.


Print Friendly

A recent vote in the European Parliament shows how President Trump’s relentless hostility to Iran is likely to isolate Washington more than Tehran.


Print Friendly

The head of the Institute for Science and International Security—aka “the Good ISIS”—recently demonstrated again his penchant for using sloppy analysis as a basis for politically explosive charges about Iran, in this case using a faulty translation from Persian to misleadingly question whether Tehran is “mass producing advanced gas centrifuges.”


Print Friendly

Trump has exhibited a general preference for authoritarians over democrats, and that preference already has had impact on his foreign policy. Such an inclination has no more to do with realism than does a general preference for democrats over authoritarians.


Print Friendly

The President went to the region as a deal maker and a salesman for American weapon manufacturing. He talked about Islam, terrorism, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the benefit of expert advice in any of these areas. After great showmanship in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, he and his family left the region without much to show for or to benefit the people of that war-torn region.


Print Friendly

Although the Comey memo scandal may well turn out to be what brings Trump down, this breach of trust may have had more lasting effect than any of Trump’s other numerous misadventures. It was an unprecedented betrayal of Israel’s confidence. Ironically, Trump has now done what even Barack Obama’s biggest detractors never accused him of: seriously compromised Israel’s security relationship with the United States.


Print Friendly

Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.


RightWeb
share