Right Web

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

Neoconservatives Losing Hold Over Republican Foreign Policy

Neoconservative dominance of Republican Party foreign policy trends is steadily waning, with leading 2012 candidates expressing doubt about U.S. military engagements abroad and massive majorities of Republican voters turning their backs on the Bush-era “Freedom Agenda.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Inter Press Service

Nearly ten years after seizing control of Republican foreign policy, neo-conservatives and other hawks appear to be losing it.

That is at least the tentative conclusion of a number of political analysts following Monday’s first nationally televised debate of the party’s declared Republican candidates – none of whom defended the current U.S. engagement in Libya, while several suggested it was time to pare down Washington’s global military engagements, including in Afghanistan.

"This sure isn’t the Republican Party of George Bush, [former Vice President] Dick Cheney, and [former Pentagon chief] Donald Rumsfeld," exulted one liberal commentator, Michael Tomasky, in the ‘Daily Beast’. "The neo-cons are gone."

"Is the Republican party turning isolationist for 2012?" asked ‘Washington Post’ columnist Jackson Diehl, a liberal interventionist who has often allied himself with neoconservatives in support of "regime change" against authoritarian governments hostile to the U.S. or Israel.

"All in all, this first Republican debate offered a striking change of tone for a party that a decade ago was dominated, in foreign policy, by the neoconservative movement, which favoured [and still does favour] aggressive American intervention abroad," Diehl wrote on his blog.

Of particular note during the debate was a comment about Afghanistan by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is widely acknowledged to be the current front-runner in the Republican field.

"It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the [Afghan] military in a way that they’re able to defend themselves," Romney said, adding, perhaps fatefully, "I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation."

What precisely he meant by the latter sentence was left unclear, but it was sufficiently negative for one prominent neoconservative, Danielle Pletka, to tell ‘Politico’ that her inbox had been flooded Tuesday morning with emails calling Romney’s remarks a "disaster".

"I’d thought of Romney as a mainstream Republican – supporting American strength and American leadership, but this doesn’t reflect that," Pletka, who heads the foreign policy and defence division of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told ‘Politico’, adding that perhaps the front-runner was "a little bit of a weathervane".

Whatever Romney meant, Monday’s debate – and the candidates’ apparent lack of enthusiasm for the military adventures of the near-decade that followed the 9/11 attacks – marked at least an "incremental… shift", as the ‘New York Times’ put it, in the party’s foreign-policy stance from "the aggressive use of American power around the world" to a "new debate over the costs and benefits" of deploying that power, particularly in a time of "extreme fiscal pressure".

Since the mid-1970s, Republicans have been divided between aggressive nationalists, like Cheney, and Israel-centred neoconservatives – who also enjoyed the support of the Christian Right – on the one hand, and isolationists and foreign-policy realists on the other.

The balance of power between the two groups has shifted more than once in the nearly four decades since. Under most of President Ronald Reagan’s tenure, for example, the nationalists and neoconservatives largely prevailed until they were overcome by the combination of the Iran-Contra scandal, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Under President George H.W. Bush, the realists gained virtually total control.

The two factions spent much of President Bill Clinton’s eight years fighting each other. Indeed, it was during that period that the nationalists, neoconservatives, and Christian Rightists formed the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) – initially to counteract what they saw as growing isolationism and anti-interventionism among Republican lawmakers in Congress.

PNAC’s founders, neoconservatives Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol, backed John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries, against George W. Bush – whose calls for a "more humble" and "modest" foreign policy conjured bad memories of his father.

Once in office, however, President George W. Bush chose leaders of both factions as his main advisers – most importantly Cheney and Rumsfeld, both nationalists surrounded by neoconservatives; and Colin Powell, a classic realist, as his secretary of state. For the first eight months, the two sides locked horns on virtually every major foreign-policy issue.

But the 9/11 attacks changed the balance of power decisively in favour of the hawks who, even as they gradually lost influence to the realists within the administration during Bush’s second term, retained the solid support of Republicans in Congress for all eight years. The fact that McCain, whose foreign-policy views were distinctly neoconservative, won the party’s presidential nomination in 2008 testified to the hawks’ enduring strength.

But the Sep 2008 financial crisis – and the economic distress it caused – laid the groundwork for the resurgence of the party’s realist-isolationist wing, according to political analysts.

"The economic duress is undermining the national greatness project of Bill Kristol and the neo-cons," according to Steve Clemons, a national-security expert at the New America Foundation (NAF), whose washingtonnote.com blog is widely read here.

"What we are seeing evolve among Republicans is a hybrid realism with some isolationist strains that believes the costs of American intervention in the world at the rate of the last decade simply can’t be sustained," wrote Clemons.

That evolution has gained momentum in the past few months, particularly since President Barack Obama yielded to pressure from a coalition of neoconservatives, liberal interventionists, and nationalists like McCain, to intervene in Libya, and, more importantly since the May 2 killing by U.S. Special Forces of the Al-Qaeda chief in Pakistan. The killing of Osama bin Laden, according to Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), "symbolised a closure in some ways to the wars that began after the 9/11 attacks."

Indeed, in just the last month, 26 Republican congressmen deserted their leadership and joined a strong majority of Democrats in calling for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan, while last week, in an action that drew charges of "isolationism" from the neoconservative ‘Wall Street Journal’, 87 Republicans voted for a resolution that would require Obama to end military action in Libya within 15 days. And each new day seems to offer a story about yet another Republican insisting that the defence budget should not be exempt from major cuts to reduce the yawning federal deficit.

"The party was moving in this direction quite decidedly before 9/11, and then 9/11 silenced the voices of restraint and neo-isolationism," Kupchan told IPS. "And now, they are finally coming back with a vengeance."

"That emergence may make for some interesting alliances across partisan lines where you have left- leaning Democrats uncomfortable with the use of force lining up with Republicans interested in bringing down the deficit," Kupchan noted.

Tomasky observed, Republican candidates might now be changing their tune not so much out of conviction as out of the desire to win elections.

Just last week, the Pew Research Center released its latest poll on U.S. foreign policy attitudes which found that "the current measure of isolationist sentiment is among the highest recorded" in more than 50 years.

While, for much of the Bush administration, only one in four Republicans said the U.S. should "mind its own business" internationally, that percentage has nearly doubled since Bush left office. The Pew survey also found a 50 percent increase in Republican support for "reducing [U.S.] military commitments overseas" – from 29 percent in 2008, to 44 percent in May, 2011. Moreover, 56 percent of Republicans said they support reducing those commitments as a way to cut the budget deficit.

Similarly, Republicans appear to have lost virtually all interest in promoting Bush’s and the neoconservatives’ "Freedom Agenda" abroad. According to the Pew poll, only one in ten Republicans said they believe democracy-promotion should be a long-term U.S. priority.

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web (https://rightweb.irc-online.org).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.


Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.


Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.


Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.


Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share