In the wake of a post-2006 electoral defeat and a seemingly imminent full downfall from power in 2008, American conservatives and Republicans are scrambling for cover. The notable John Podhoretz of the National Review has already endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president on the fatalistic belief that no GOP contender will win the presidency, and on the cynical calculation that the New York Senator has the most moderate stances amongst her peers. Ironically, it is Barack Obama, the media darling of the left, who is poised to be the go-to-guy for many other aisle crossing conservatives.
Indeed, the fact that many former Bush conservatives have defected to the Obama camp is, if surprising, old news. Many say they are drawn to the Illinois Senator for his inspiring rhetoric, his refreshing commitment to bi-partisanship, and his distinct brand of "unity politics." What is new is a neoconservative and hawkish foreign policy elite that is beginning to identify with Obama. Robert Kagan of the Washington Post has written about Obama's Kennedy-esque appeal, commenting on a 2005 speech in Chicago: "It had a deliberate New Frontier feel, including some Kennedy-era references ("we were Berliners") and even the Cold War-era notion that the United States is the leader of the free world."
In a way, a desire to supposedly return America back to its elevated status of benign superpower fits with Obama's themes for a kind of globalist humanism, which is more neocon-friendly than the conventional realism of some of today's Democrats. And certainly, neoconservatives who supported Clinton's belated humanitarian initiatives in Kosovo and the Congo will empathize with Obama's hopes of more aggressively dealing with the genocide in Darfur and revamping our efforts in Afghanistan against a resurgent Taliban. Remarks like the following also help: " we must build up… the capacity of the world's weakest states and provide them with what they need to reduce poverty, build healthy and educated communities, develop markets, . . . generate wealth . . . fight terrorism . . . halt the proliferation of deadly weapons…"
But there is a case to be made that Kagan and some of his colleagues are getting ahead of themselves. They may be conflating their admiration for Obama's style and perceived integrity with their own political ideals, seeing in Obama only what they want to see. This may be understandable at a time when the right longs for a mythologized Reagan and the left hails Obama as a Reagan of its own.
The Kennedy to whom Kagan compares Obama had some severe inconsistencies between his rhetoric and his actual foreign policy. Lest we forget the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy's America did not "bear any burden" for its friends. Like Kennedy, Obama seems ready to abandon some friends, first among them millions of Iraqis. Obama has conceded that if we leave Iraq with only a small contingent of anti-al Qaeda forces that there may very well be bloodshed of genocidal proportions. And yet, he plans to do exactly that. Some may point that he will redeploy those troops into Afghanistan and Darfur, but this should only trouble neoconservatives, who pride themselves on viewing security interests and humanitarian ideals as incontrovertibly linked. One wonders why it makes any sense at all to leave Iraq to both genocide and hostile military takeover from security threats such as al-Qaeda, Iran, and Hezbollah, in order to stop concentrate exclusively on the genocide in Darfur.
This logical confusion is compounded by the problem of political realities, a term Democrats love to throw around when referring to Iraq. If the American people are already weary of a war effort for ideals and security interests, it is inconceivable that they'd be gung-ho about fighting for ideals alone in a conflict that poses no tangible security threats to the U.S. or its allies. If Obama does decide to go ahead with this kind of intervention at the expense of Iraq, he will likely find public opinion precluding him from taking any meaningful action, with the end result akin to Clinton's Mogadishu.
While Obama's focus on Afghanistan is laudable, the lengths he is willing to take are unnecessary. If we are to learn anything about counter-insurgency from Iraq, it is that securing populations, making them feel safe, and facilitating their meaningful reconstruction is the key to defeating rogue insurgents and terrorist elements. If Obama is worried about the troop strength available to do this kind of job, the solution need not be Iraqi redeployment. Instead, he can move American troops, who are currently focused on hunting al-Qaeda operatives at the expense of grave collateral Afghani damage, away from the Pakistani border and integrate them with ISAF forces in the Afghani heartland. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban become effectively marginalized if they are unable to penetrate any Afghan cities and take them over, as they did in Iraq, and are forced over time to reckon with a burgeoning Afghani military.
Obama's latest remarks are also telling. His threat to Musharaff that "if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will" is disturbing. Philosophically, these remarks are compatible with the neoconservative tenet that pre-emption is justified and preferrable in times of grave danger. Yet, part of the neoconservative persuasion is the belief that the war on terrorism is a larger war against jihad that is complicated, large-scale, and global. It is about winning hearts and minds with more than just nice talk and diplomatic initiatives, but with funding and support that actually strengthen dysfunctional Muslim societies. Moreover, many neoconservatives who have been accused of "distracting" the U.S. from the "real" threat of Bin Laden have stressed that the war is more than just al-Qaeda. So it is reckless when Obama proposes that we unilaterally invade an ally, with many societally destabilizing effects no less, in order to capture just a few al-Qaeda operatives. It smacks of the myopia that is so popular on the left these days.
Of-course, the real threats, at least as perceived by neoconservatives, are given carte-blanche by Obama to continue murdering American soldiers in Iraq with 'explosively formed penetrators' and Hezbollah militants, and to black-mail the world for nuclear weapons or annexation of Lebanon, as in the case of Iran and Syria. Not only that, Obama wants to issue significant diplomatic overtures to these nations at a time when the precise punishment for such intransigence, for want of meaningful economic sanctions, is diplomatic isolation. In fact, these suggestions demonstrate a lack of understanding of the motives of these countries and run counter to any neoconservative ideology.
Neoconservatives recognize that a nuclear arsenal, in the face of few incentives to the contrary, is very much in the interests of Iran. While it certainly augments the conventional power of Iran, it more importantly appeals to intangible interests. For Iran, nuclear weapons are also a symbol of Shia-Persian predominance in the world of jihad. Fanatical or not, the mullahs of Iran understand that if they want to make their country a regional power that they must captivate the various jihadist audiences of the region and of the Muslim world to attain 'soft power.' This is also why Iran, along with Syria, which is suing for Lebanon to return to its rule, is disrupting U.S. efforts in Iraq. For the mullahs, there can be no competing narrative in the Muslim world such as democracy. Obama apparently fails to realize all this.
So neoconservatives should not be having wet dreams about Barack Obama. He may talk the talk, but he rarely walks the walk. And when he does, the tradeoffs he proposes are not worth the costs and run counter to any meaningful brand of neoconservatism.Powered by Sidelines