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Obama and the Neoconservatives

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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.

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About Joshua Xiong

  • Mark Thompson

    I have a question, which is pretty stridently absent from alot of what happens in the neoconservative line of inquiry.

    Why is there a near complete absence of discussion regarding the consequences with regard to attempting to attain a hegemony over some larger percentage of the resources of the planet?

    Furthermore, considering that the constraint based marketplace will compel people to become educated with respect to the policy positions – such as the hegemonic advocacy of the neoconservative punditry, presuming then that this is one of a few alternatives available, and in consideration of the decidedly destructive outcomes and negative economic consequences of the implementation of the regime change mandate as put forth in such seminal documents as “Securing the Realm” et al, leaves one inexorably to question the very fundamental principles that form the cornerstone of neoconservativism.

    What compelling argument, then, therefore exists which passes not just the test of fiscal or military responsibility as a republic.

  • Dr Dreadful

    JOM, I don’t know what I’m more amused by: you trying to use Biden to prove a point about Obama when on the other thread you used the exact same quote to argue against taking Biden seriously; or the fact that you now seem to have decided I’m Black. I don’t know where you got that from…

    But, in order not to overstretch your microscopic intellect, let’s lay out the basic points of your scintillating logic:
    1. “Biden is irrelevant. Just look at what he said about Obama…”
    2. “Obama is irrelevant. Just look at what Biden said about him…”

    Just keep talking, q’un homme. You’re doing a fine job of highlighting the idiocy of the Right.

  • JustOneMan

    Dread..you prove my point Biden is an asshole! He represents the real racism in the Dumbocratic party…what dont you get!!

    Boom…you are right their is a “Color Spectrum” There are some – NOT ALL – people of color and/or too lazy to learn the English language that think they deserve and/or are entitled to the same things that a hard working “caucasion” has earned for no reason other than race….pretty pathetic..

    Gee I guess Dr. Rice is too educated for you and your sistas…I guess you would rather have some slut rapper as a role model..make sense to me!


  • Dr Dreadful

    Doc, enough now with the name spinning…

    I’m done. Ruvy picked up the ball and is off and running with it…

  • I just can’t help myself; Booma, The Caucasions, weren’t they a spinoff from The Temptations?

    and Conda Lisa? I thought she was known as Condo Lisa on account of being born in an apartment block?


    Doc, enough now with the name spinning…

  • Dr Dreadful

    as Joe Biden stated, “a clean articulate black”

    Oh, JustOneMan, you’re absolutely priceless…

    In support of your opinion you cite Senator Biden – who on another thread, because of that very same quote, you dismissed as “an international embarrassment… how can anyone take this guy seriously?”

    That the Joe Biden we’re talking about?

    [Enough now with the comedy namechanges please, Doc. The Comments Editor]

  • Booma

    I am with JustOneMan although I am JustOneWo/Man.

    If Obama was not Anglo-Saxon-African, he would not be a controversial topic. The fact is that this country has lost respect for the Caucasions due to the fact that this country has a Color Spectrum Unrepresented people from all continents. The racism which is so evident in the White House is astounding. I mean, common, how did Conda Lisa get her job? She is a token. She does what she is told – period.

    I recall that signs from the African American picketing of the President, “Conda Lisa is not my Sister!” a sign held by African American Women. Common, Obama does not represent Civil Rights. He is nothing like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those people who have a dream that all races are equal.

    When he made jokes about being “Black enough” he was really making a really pointient point. When he wants to be “Black he is black.” When does he want to be White? He wants to be White when the racial issue is not an issue so he does not have to say that he is a privledged man.

    I mean stop acting like he knows what being Have-Not means.

    Obama needs to come off his Black Horse.

  • JustOneMan

    Comby…please lets not let your ignorance take over…Obama’s ONLY claim to fame is that, as Joe Biden stated, “a clean articulate black”…other than that he is just another Dumbocrat hack making a fool of himself every time he opens his mouth…so you attack my opionin because you cannot defend Obama..the guy is a light weight at best…

    Funny…abandoned by his black father..raised by his white mothers RICH white family..yet he denounces his whiteness…so much for racial diversity…


  • combymax

    Jom, your comment smacks ignorance and foolishness. I think most of you are just jealous of Mr Obama’s intellect. He has all that any American would desire in life and it’s special if not exceptional. I would advice that if you have nothing meaningful enough to contribute in a discussion of this nature then keep yourself where you belong rather than showing off your poor understanding, lack of common-sense, and bad judgement to other people. You don’t fly around with rhethorics on experience unless you have any actionalised judgement to show for it.

  • JustOneMan

    Why must we drone on about Obama? The only reason that he is a contender is because he is black! If he were some inexperienced white guy with 18 months in the senate and the same misguided polices we would never have heard of him…


  • Kristol has always been smarmy and unconvincing to me. I’m surprised it took people this long to catch on.

    The article does skirt a very important point. Philosophically the neocons are really more compatible with somne of the more hawkish Democrats like Joe Lieberman than they are with most of the Republicans.

    I think that if a democrat gets elected it would be wise to keep an eye out for neocon infiltration of his or her administration.


  • bliffle

    Well, it’s a wonder that anyone listens to what mssrs. Kagan, Podhoretz or Kristol ever say anymore since they’ve been shown to be so wrong in the past. It doesn’t matter whether they were lying or had poor judgement, they were wrong.

    As it happens I saw Kristol on TV the other day and my first reaction was “nothing this guy says has any value”.

  • I am astonished to hear that neocon Kagan has praised Obama. What’s the world coming to? I’m afraid Mr. Kagan will be very disappointed if Obama actually becomes president and begins to carry out a foreign policy that is extremely unlikely to be neocon in practice.

    Are you sure ‘endorsed’ is the right word for John Podhoretz’s very back-handed compliments for Hillary Clinton? I can’t find any such endorsement on the web. Bill Kristol also paid her some condescending praise as “the responsible Democrat” [meaning less anti-war than Obama].