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Neocons Launch 2016 Manifesto

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A mostly neoconservative group of national-security analysts have published perhaps the first comprehensive outline of what they believe a Republican foreign policy should look like as of Inauguration Day 2017. It’s titled “Choosing to Lead: American Foreign Policy for a Disordered World.”Although it concedes that “there are limitations on American power,” according to the book’s “Forward” by former George W. Bush speechwriter, Peter Wehner, all of the contributors

…understand, too, that with the right leadership and policies in place, the United States can once again be a guarantor of global order and peace, a champion of human rights, and a beacon of economic growth and human flourishing. There is no reason the 21stcentury cannot be the next American Century. …Choosing to Lead offers perspectives and recommendations on how to make the next American Century happen. In doing so, we believe it will serve the world as well as the United States of America.[Emphasis added.]

If you sense a rebirth of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), you’re probably not far off, although Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol, who co-founded PNAC, are not among the large number of contributors. PNAC published two volumes, Present Dangers and Rebuilding American Defenses, that together formed a neocon manifesto for the Republican presidential candidate in the 2000 election in which the organization initially backed John McCain.

John Hay Initiative

The new compilation is the product of the John Hay Initiative, named after Theodore Roosevelt’s chief diplomat, and brings together many of the foreign-policy advisers to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. The Initiative is co-chaired by Eliot Cohen (a charter member of PNAC), former Romney adviser Brian Hook, and Eric Edelman (who succeeded Doug Feith as undersecretary of defense under George W. Bush and has since served as co-founder and director—with Kagan and Kristol—of PNAC’s lineal descendant, the Foreign Policy Initiative). The 200 “experts” connected to the Initiative have reportedly advised almost all of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

The Initiative has made no secret of its hope that a successful Republican presidential candidate will appoint many of its members to senior policy-making positions (much as PNAC’s charter members, such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Elliott Abrams, were all rewarded with senior posts under George W. Bush. Cohen positioned himself for an appointment in that administration by writing the perfectly timed book, Supreme Command, in the run-up to the Iraq invasion about how the best wartime presidents ignored the more cautious advice of their generals. A faithful signer of PNAC’s letters, Cohen was named counsel to Condoleezza Rice in Bush’s second term.

In a chapter entitled “Rebuilding American Foreign Policy,” Cohen, Edelman, and Hook offer the predictable Republican/neocon critique of current U.S. foreign policy. They describe what they are against and hint—albeit not explicitly—that maybe the Bush administration may have made some mistakes.

U.S. foreign policy today is failing every test that a great power’s foreign policy can fail. Today, America’s enemies do not fear the United States and America’s friends doubt that they can trust it. Neither the American people nor the world-at-large understands anymore either the purposes of American power or even, in some respects, the principles that shape them. Indeed, after a decade and a half of conflict in the Middle East and South Asia, some Americans have concluded that the best thing to do is to pull back from the world and its troubles. Some argue that America’s role as guarantor of global order is no longer necessary, history having ended with the Cold War; there are also those who think the United States is too clumsy and incompetent to do much of anything right; and there are, finally, those who think that “nation-building at home” is some kind of alternative to engagement abroad.

We disagree. We believe that a strong United States is essential to the maintenance of the open global order under which this country and the rest of the world have prospered since 1945; that the alternative is not a self-regulating machine of balancing states but a landscape marked by eruptions of chaos and destruction. We recognize the failures as well as the successes of past policies, because to govern is to choose, and to choose in the world as it is, is necessarily to err. But while we believe that we must understand those failures and learn from them, we also believe that American power and influence has, on the whole, served our country and the world far better than American weakness and introversion.[Emphasis added.]

In the same essay, the authors also assert that “the first principle of American foreign policy…should be prudence” given the fact that, among other things, the U.S. economy is not nearly as dominant in relative terms as it was after World War II. “Our resources will be finite, and so will be the ability of our leaders to focus on more than a few problems at a time.” It’s somewhat refreshing there’s no more talk here about being mightier than the Roman or British Empires. But they still believe that the U.S. should be the “guarantor of global order.”

Thus, they deem Beijing’s aspirations unacceptable and decry “replac[ing] the American-shaped order that enabled China’s ‘peaceful rise’ with a system in which we are only one of multiple, equal participants.” Russia, Iran, North Korea and “non-state actors—most notably, jihadi movements of several stripes”—also qualify as key threats. Unlike the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission and most other nuclear proliferation experts, the authors also believe that Iran’s “nuclear ambitions will not be blocked and, indeed, may even be eased by the Obama Administration’s misconceived deal with it.”

Although the authors do not believe that this is 1938, and Iran is Nazi Germany, they don’t hesitate to invoke the 1930s—the neocon touchstone for understanding just about any challenge to American power and prestige—to depict the present moment and the consequences that may be drawn from it:

We do not yet face a cataclysm like that of the late 1930s. But it is fair to compare our era to that of the early 1930s, when the democratic powers seemed to have lost much of their military edge and, equally important, their self-confidence and will to use their power. At the same time, pitiless dictators and virulent ideologies were making use of new technologies to threaten, in ways previously inconceivable, the international order.

A New Generation

Most of the book’s contributors, unlike Cohen, were not associated with PNAC in its early years. This is a somewhat younger generation.

Nonetheless there are some golden oldies, too, most noteworthy Elliott Abrams who wrote the chapter 16 years ago on “Israel and the ‘Peace Process'” in Present Dangers. Abrams had the opportunity to put his ideas about the “peace process” (his quotation marks) into practice when he served as George W. Bush’s top Middle East aide on the on the National Security Council, and we can all see how that turned out. In light of his outstanding achievements in that position, the John Hay Initiative awarded him responsibility for writing the chapter on the entire “Middle East.” And, surprise, surprise, his views correspond almost precisely with those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly in how to deal with Palestinians and on the overriding necessity of “defeating Iran’s regional ambitions.” Abrams, who was also in charge of democracy promotion under Bush, believes in establishing an alliance between the U.S., Israel, and Sunni-led (authoritarian) Arab states in an echo of the elusive “strategic consensus” sought 35 years ago by Alexander Haig after the Iranian revolution.

Another Present Dangers contributor and PNAC alumnus, Aaron Friedberg of the American Enterprise Institute, reprises his role as the Paul Revere of the China threat in a chapter entitled “A New China Strategy.” He served as Cheney’s top Asia adviser.

I couldn’t find any reference to “climate change” in the main chapters, which is consistent with Republican orthodoxy, but a more careful reading may find a reference.

If you want to see the likely foreign-policy worldview of a Republican administration, should one take office in 2017, Choosing to Lead offers a pretty reliable guide.

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