Right Web

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

Ten Years After Iraq War, Neo-Cons Struggle to Hold Republicans

Neoconservatives and like-minded militarists continue to hold sway over the Republican Party's foreign policy establishment 10 years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but they face a growing insurrection from libertarian deficit hawks.

Inter Press Service

Ten years after reaching the height of their influence with the invasion of Iraq, the neo-conservatives and other right-wing hawks are fighting hard to retain their control of the Republican Party.

That fight was on vivid display at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where, as the New York Times observed in a front-page article, the party appeared increasingly split between the aggressively interventionist wing that led the march to war a decade ago and a libertarian-realist coalition that is highly sceptical of, if not strongly opposed to, any more military adventures abroad.

The libertarian component, which appears ascendant at the moment, is identified most closely with the so-called Tea Party, particularly Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whose extraordinary 13-hour “filibuster” against the hypothetical use of drone strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. territory on the Senate floor last week made him an overnight rock star on the left as well as the right.

Republican unity was not helped by the hostile reaction to Paul’s performance by Sen. John McCain, and his long-time ally, Sen. Lindsay Graham, whose national security views tilt strongly neo-conservative and who are treated by most mainstream media as the party’s two most important foreign policy spokesmen.

McCain dismissed Paul and his admirers as “wacko birds on the right and left that get the media megaphone” and charged that Republican senators who joined Paul – among them, the Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell – during his oratorical marathon should “know better”.

But, beyond drones, the party is deeply divided between deficit hawks, including many in the Tea Party who do not believe the Pentagon should be exempt from budget cuts and are leery of new overseas commitments, and defence hawks, led by McCain and Graham.

The split between the party’s two wings—which have clashed several times during Barack Obama’s presidency over issues such as Washington’s intervention in Libya and how much, if any, support to provide rebels in Syria—appears certain to grow wider, if for no other reason than deficit-cutting will remain the Republicans’ main obsession for the foreseeable future.

For now, it appears that the deficit hawks have the upper hand, at least judging from the reactions so far to the March 1 triggering of the much-dreaded “sequester” which, if not redressed, would require the Pentagon to reduce its planned 10-year budget by an additional 500 billion dollars beyond the nearly 500 billion dollars that Congress and Obama had already agreed to cut in late 2011.

“Indefensible,” wrote neo-conservative chieftain Bill Kristol in his Weekly Standard about Republican complacency in the face of such prospective cuts in the military budget.

“(T)he Republican party has, at first reluctantly, then enthusiastically, joined the president on the road to irresponsibility,” he despaired.

The great fear of the neo-conservatives is that, given the country’s war weariness and the party’s focus on the deficit, Republicans may be returning to “isolationism” – a reference to the party’s resistance to U.S. intervention in Europe in World War II until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec 1941.

Just as Adolf Hitler’s subsequent declaration of war silenced the isolationists, the rise of the Soviet Union after the war – and its depiction as a global threat – ensured that the party remained committed to a hawkish foreign policy over the next 45 years.

The end of the Cold War, however, created a new opening for those in the party – particularly budget-conscious, limited-government conservatives – who saw a big national security establishment with major overseas commitments as a threat to both individual liberties and the country’s fiscal health.

Thus, many Republican lawmakers went along with significant cuts in the defence budget that began during the George H.W. Bush administration. The party also split over a number of military actions in the 1990s, including Bush’s “humanitarian” intervention in Somalia, and Bill Clinton’s campaigns in Bosnia and later Kosovo.

Republican lawmakers also strongly opposed Clinton’s dispatch of troops to Haiti to restore ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994.

Indeed, it was during this period that the neo-conservatives allied themselves with liberal interventionists in the Democratic Party to help prod an initially reluctant Clinton to intervene in the Balkans.

In 1996, Kristol and Robert Kagan co-authored an article in Foreign Affairs entitled “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” that was directed precisely against what they described as a drift toward “neoisolationism” among Republicans.

The following year, they co-founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose charter was signed by, among others, eight top officials of the future George W. Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.

The new group was not only to serve as an anchor for Republicans who supported its founders’ vision of a “benevolent (U.S.) hegemony” in world affairs based on overwhelming military power, but also as a lobby for ever higher defence budgets and “regime change” in Iraq, as well as a more confrontational relationship with China which it saw as the most likely next challenger to a U.S.-dominated global order.

Occupying key positions in the new Bush administration, these hawks took full advantage of 9/11 and reached their greatest influence when, exactly 10 years ago this week, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq to “shock and awe” the rest of the world into compliance with the new order.

And while a tiny minority of Republicans—including notably, Paul’s father, Rep. Ron Paul, and Sen. Chuck Hagel (who was just confirmed as Obama’s defence secretary despite an all-out neo-conservative campaign to defeat him)—voiced strong reservations about the war at the time, the overwhelming majority of the party enthusiastically embraced it, sealing the hawks’ own domination of the party.

Ten years later, however, that domination is increasingly under siege, not only because of the growing national consensus that the Iraq invasion was a major strategic debacle, but also because of the increasing popular concern – noted in a number of major polls over the past six months – that Washington simply can no longer afford the kind of imperial vision the hawks have promoted.

And the fact that younger voters – so-called millennials, aged 18-29 – are, according to the same polls, especially repelled by that vision can only strengthen those in the party calling for a more restrained foreign policy.

Still, true to their nature, the hawks will not give up without a fight, and their hold on the party remains strong, as demonstrated most recently by the fact that only four Republican senators, including Paul, voted to confirm Hagel, a Republican realist, in his new post.

“It is way too early for budget hawks to declare victory,” noted Chris Preble of the libertarian Cato Institute on foreignpolicy.com last week. “The neocons won’t go down without a fight, and they will have other chances in the months ahead to ratchet the Pentagon budget back up to unnecessary levels.”

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web. He blogs at http://www.lobelog.com/.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Haim Saban is a media mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party known for his hardline stance on Israel and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.


Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and is widely considered to be a future presidential candidate.


Brian Hook is the director of policy planning and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is the head of the Iran Action Group.


Josh Rogin is a journalist known for his support for neoconservative policies and views.


Laurence Silberman, a senior justice on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was a mentor to controversial Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and has been a vocal supporter of right-wing foreign and domestic agendas, including the campaign to support the invasion of Iraq.


The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, advocates regime change in Iran and has strong connections with a wide range of top political figures in the U.S.


Eli Lake is a columnist for Bloomberg View who has a lengthy record of advocating for aggressive U.S. foreign policies towards the Middle East.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The tragic end of Jamal Khashoggi should serve as a reminder that it’s time for the United States to move on and leave the motley crew of undesirable Middle Eastern partners, from Israel to Saudi Arabia, to their collective fate. They deserve each other.


Jobs should not be an excuse to arm a murderous regime that not only appears to be behind the assassination of a U.S. resident and respected commentator but is also responsible for thousands of civilian casualties in Yemen—the majority killed with U.S-supplied bombs, combat aircraft, and tactical assistance.


The contradictions in Donald Trump’s foreign policy create opportunities for both rivals and long-standing (if irritated) US allies to challenge American influence. But Trump’s immediate priority is political survival, and his actions in the international arena are of little concern to his domestic supporters.


While the notion that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is decades old, it has been bolstered in recent years, by the campaign to add to the definition of anti-Semitism any criticism that singles Israel out and doesn’t apply the same standard to other countries. The bottom line is that this entire effort is designed not to combat anti-Semitism but to silence criticism. 


Short-term thinking, expedience, and a lack of strategic caution has led Washington to train, fund, and support group after group that have turned their guns on American soldiers and civilians.


Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


RightWeb
share